The San Francisco Giants were concerned about Steven Duggar’s bat. His Fall League and Spring Training performances have abolished such worries.
After the disastrous season Denard Span had in centre for the Giants, Duggar’s glove was appealing to a front office keen to stay under the luxury tax. Improving outfield defence was the cornerstone for the Giants’ offseason. The arrivals of Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson have done that, but Duggar would be a further step forwards as they look to cover that enormous green space at AT&T Park.
Duggar has an on-base percentage of .383 over his time in the minors. In spring it has been .385, following his .367 in the Arizona Fall League. In the 130 plate appearances Duggar has had in Arizona across the Fall League and Spring Training, he has hit seven homers. Those numbers need to be taken with a handful of salt given the dinger-friendly atmosphere, but it does suggest a breakout in power.
The key, though, is that Duggar has held his own in the Fall League and Spring Training. He is close to the big leagues. His 31% strikeout rate will undermine his cause, but the majority of the signs are good with Opening Day only a week or so away.
There is competition from Gregor Blanco and Gorkys Hernandez for the Giants’ fourth outfield spot. The expectation is that only one of Duggar, Blanco and Hernandez will be on the roster for the season-opening series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Duggar’s spring suggests he will be the best hitter of three. He is the youngest, most athletic of the trio. Even if the year begins at triple-A in Sacramento, it’s a matter of when rather than if for the 24-year-old this season. That’s assuming he avoids injury, unlike in 2017 when he played just 44 regular season games.
Albeit in a weak Giants farm, Duggar is the third-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline. They project Duggar as the best long-term solution to the Giants’ centre field woes. He is ranked at 65 for running, 60 for arm and 60 for fielding. Pipeline are wary of his bat, but they project double-digit homer seasons.
You can never tell how a prospect, however highly regarded they are, is going to cut it in The Show. Duggar has shown signs he can be more than a defensive-specialist centre fielder. If his eye and pop translate to the major leagues, the Giants have a special player on their hands, at least compared to their outfielders of the last few years.
While Duggar’s projections are relatively conservative, including just a .288 wOBA according to ZiPs, his performances over the last few months show he could become more than a passable major league hitter. Combine that with speed that saw him steal nine bases in 20 Fall League games and he can be an offensive threat.
Speed, high OBP, Gold Glove calibre defence and a smidgen of power make for quite a player. Duggar has grown from sixth-round pick to potential Rookie of the Year.
The Giants have the room for him. His defensive prowess means his floor is higher than a lot of other 2018 rookies. The desperation that the Giants have to return to winning ways might mean impatience, but it does suggest they will not be hesitant to make Duggar their major league starter if he proves himself as a viable option.
Bruce Bochy’s desire for athleticism and the Giants’ minimal cap space could be the perfect storm for Duggar to become an everyday player early this year. Few will be picking him as a Rookie of the Year right now, but the former Clemson University outfielder might just surprise the National League in 2018.