SF Giants: The Arbitration Case for Outfielder Austin Slater

Could SF Giants outfielder Austin Slater be the team's everyday answer in center? (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Could SF Giants outfielder Austin Slater be the team's everyday answer in center? (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Outfielder Austin Slater is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, but what are the odds that the SF Giants tender him a contract?

The SF Giants must decide whether to tender contracts to 11 arbitration-eligible players before the December 2, 2020 deadline. After struggling to find consistency over the years, Slater found another gear last season.

Austin Slater Before 2020

The Stanford University product originally debuted with San Francisco in 2017 where he showed promise in his rookie campaign as he posted a .740 OPS across 127 plate appearances. He battled inconsistency as he registered a .640 OPS and .750 OPS in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

His 2019 season looked like a step in the right direction, but he experienced a brutal September in which he slashed a .128/.146/.128 line with 19 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances.

To complicate matters, the right-handed bat had shown extreme platoon splits. Throughout his career, he has generated a .674 OPS with an eye-popping 32.1 percent strikeout rate against righties compared to an .823 OPS against southpaws.

This meant that Slater might fit nicely into a platoon role, but the splits indicated he might not have been able to handle a starter’s workload.

In the batter’s box, Slater had no problem making solid contact, but he struggled to get a good angle on the ball. Before 2020, he had posted ground ball rates well north of 50 percent, which limited his extra-base pop.

Slater entered the 2020 season with an undefined role. He had proven capable of playing all around the outfield as well as first base, but the bat was not consistent enough to become a role player.

Austin Slater with the SF Giants in 2020

Despite the shortened season, this turned into a really positive campaign for the 27-year-old. In an interesting and savvy decision, Giants manager Gabe Kapler penciled in Slater as the leadoff hitter against left-handed pitching.

This made sense because while Slater had struggled to manufacture any type of power output, he has always put together strong and gritty at-bats. In four seasons, the former eighth-round pick has generated a 10.2 percent walk rate, so he has typically demonstrated the plate discipline and patience needed from the leadoff spot.

This turned out to be a good role for Slater. In 104 plate appearances, he slashed a .282/.408/.506 line (152 OPS+) with five home runs and seven RBI. Furthermore, he posted a 15.4 percent walk rate against a 21.2 percent strikeout rate. Though, anyone who watched the last game of the season knows a couple of those strikeouts were undeserved.

In a surprise development, Slater became a base-stealing threat as well in 2020. Before this season, he had been successful in all eight of his stolen base attempts in his career. However, he proved to be more aggressive in this area as he successfully swiped eight bags in nine tries.

Perhaps, the most encouraging note was how Slater hit the ball. He produced an 89.2 MPH average exit velocity along with a 10.9-degree launch angle. Both are which were career highs for the young outfielder.

If there was one knock on his season it is that he struggled to stay healthy. Slater has battled injuries for much of his career, and he sustained groin and elbow injuries in 2020, which forced him to miss time.

Should the SF Giants Tender Austin Slater a Contract in 2020?

This is a very easy decision for the Giants. Slater is projected to earn $1.1 – $1.7 million in his first trip through arbitration. If he can stay healthy, his value will far outweigh the cost to lock him up for the 2021 season.

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Plus, Slater seems like he has the offensive skill set that the Giants front office seeks and can coach up. He has good patience and plate discipline and continues to show growth at the plate. The Giants outfield is beginning to stabilize from both sides of the plate and a lot of that has to do with Slater’s development as a player. The Giants will tender him a contract.