SF Giants: Austin Slater stays hot, but pitchers struggle in 5-5 tie

SF Giants right fielder Austin Slater (13) bats against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning at Scottsdale Stadium. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
SF Giants right fielder Austin Slater (13) bats against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning at Scottsdale Stadium. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /
SF Giants, Nick Tropeano
SF Giants pitcher Nick Tropeano against the Chicago Cubs during a Spring Training game at Sloan Park. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

. . 9. . 5. 40. 5.

The SF Giants and Chicago Cubs finished their nine-inning spring training game on Friday at Sloan Park in a 5-5 tie. Nick Tropeano got the start for San Francisco and faced off against Kyle Hendricks. While Chicago stretched Hendricks out into the fifth inning, the Giants split the first four innings between Tropeano and Caleb Baragar. Baragar was the most effective of the bunch, but no one in the trio left the game unscathed.

San Francisco fell behind in the first inning after Tropeano allowed a two-run homer to Joc Pederson. However, the Giants responded when Brandon Crawford doubled, Curt Casali was hit by a pitch, and Austin Slater blasted a three-run home run. Tropeano surrendered a double to Eric Sogard to lead off the bottom of the second but quickly retired the next three hitters.

Baragar looked great in his first inning of work, inducing a pair of groundouts and striking out Javier Baez. His second inning was much more choppy, allowing triple, walk, and a run. While Baragar is hoping to prove he can be a viable big-league starter, his outings thus far this spring have seemed to continue suggesting his future is in an MLB bullpen.

Each team scraped across a couple more runs over the rest of the game, but aside from a second Pederson home run in the fifth, everything else stayed inside the yard.

Notes from SF Giants 5-5 tie with Chicago Cubs
Austin Slater is flashing a high ceiling

Slater has now homered in his last three games. He’s now hitting .409/.480/1.000 this preseason. He has struck out in 28% of his plate appearances but is obviously generating incredible results when he connects. Prior to his elbow injury last season, Slater quietly performed like one of the best outfielders in baseball. He still finished the season with a .914 OPS with nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (22) and led the league in steals before missing time with injury.  Slater has only stolen two bases this spring, and given his injury history, the Giants may be cautious giving him the green light, but he’s looking more and more like a 20-20 player that walks and could hit for a decent average.

Perhaps more importantly than his offensive performance, Slater once again looked comfortable in center field. He did overplay a Jason Heyward triple that he probably could have held to a double with a better read off the wall, but otherwise, Slater had good jumps and showed the necessary range to stick in the middle of the outfield grass. Even if Slater plateaus offensively, that defensive flexibility makes it easier for him to carve out a long-term role in San Francisco. Still, if healthy, a future as a platoon bat looks like the floor.

Notes from SF Giants 5-5 tie with Chicago Cubs
Brandon Crawford heating up

Crawford’s 2020 season was overshadowed by Brandon Belt and Mike Yastrzemski‘s breakouts, but he had a career-year of his own. The 10-year veteran posted the best OPS (.792) of his career and hit home runs at a higher rate than he ever had before as a professional. With that said, most advanced statistics were skeptical of Crawford’s performance. Given his advanced age and apparent luck in 2020, many expected him to regress in 2021.

After starting spring 1-8, Crawford is hitting .360 with a .720 slugging percentage since. Unlike many exceptional preseason performances, like Slater’s, Crawford has not been carrying his performance with the big fly. He’s blasted two home runs, but he’s been putting together strong at-bats and generating hits at a consistent rate. On Friday, he added a pair of doubles to lift his overall triple-slash to .303/.378/.576. Another strong season from Crawford at the plate would be a huge development for the Giants, especially given their dearth of other viable defenders at short.

Notes from SF Giants 5-5 tie with Chicago Cubs
Other notes

  • Yastrzemski was inconsistent defensively in 2020 and has had some struggles this spring. On Friday, he made a good catch against the wall in right on a high flyball hit by Pederson. If Slater has passed him on the depth chart in center, it might be easier for him to focus on improving in right.
  • Joey Bart has looked great at the plate this spring. He continued his strong offensive play on Friday with another opposite-field double off Jake Jewell. Defensively, Bart has had some issues behind the dish working with pitchers. He seemed to have an issue with Matt Wisler, but everything settled down after a mound visit.
  • Jose Alvarez had been effective this spring but easily had his worst outing of the preseason on Friday. He gave up a pair of runs and recorded just one out. Still, a lead-off single by Ian Happ barely squeaked out of the infield, and Joc Pederson was locked in, a few feet away from two other home runs on the day. There’s no reason for alarm.
  • Wandy Peralta has been tracking towards losing his spot on the 40-man roster, but things are looking up for the southpaw after the Giants optioned Sam Selman. He further solidified his case, recording a strikeout in a quick 1-2-3 inning.

FanGraphs Projections Low on SF Giants Hitters. Next

The SF Giants will be back in action tomorrow at 6:40 PM Pacific Standard Time against the Seattle Mariners. They now have just three spring training games left before they have to solidify their final 26-man roster for Opening Day on April 1st.