The SF Giants confirmed on Tuesday that veteran outfielder Austin Slater has ben ruled out for Opening Day after suffering a hamstring strain. Hopefully, the injury is not serious. That said, it puts pressure on an outfield that is already light on depth, especially in center field.
SF Giants News: Austin Slater injury strains thin outfield depth
When spring training began, the Giants had Slater penciled in the outfield along with Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, and Mike Yasrtzemski. Conforto and Haniger will see a lot of time at the corners, but Slater was expected to serve as a platoon mate with Yastrzemski in center field.
Haniger has been battling an oblique strain as well. He is beginning to ramp up baseball activities, so the hope is that he is ready by Opening Day. However, the Slater injury leaves the Giants without a backup center fielder.
They may be able to get by in the first week of the season, but they will need to find a solution sooner rather than later, especially if Slater is unable to return when he is eligible. San Francisco has a couple options on the 40-man roster including Thairo Estrada, Blake Sabol, and Brett Wisely.
None of the three are ideal options. Estrada and Wisely are pretty light on outfield experience with the latter getting Cactus League reps in center field for the first time in his pro career. Can he be a stopgap until Slater returns? That is asking a lot for someone with just a handful of games at center field under his belt.
The Giants originally added Sabol as a catcher and he could still serve in that role. Though, the Slater injury could create opportunities for playing time in the outfield to begin the year. Outfield is not a new position for Sabol, who was drafted as an outfielder. However, outfield reps do take away from him learning the nuances of being a catcher.
The Giants also have Stephen Piscotty and Bryce Johnson in camp as non-roster invitees. Piscotty has performed well in spring training, recording eight hits and seven RBI in 23 at-bats. However, he has not played center field in years and the defensive metrics paint him as a below-average outfielder at this point in his career.
On the other hand, Johnson has been fantastic in camp. The switch-hitter has tallied 11 hits in 30 at-bats. He has also swiped 11 bases, which is the most among spring training participants. The 27-year-old would give the Giants another strong defensive outfielder as well as a speed threat on the bases.
Can he sustain the offensive production he has flashed in the Cactus League? That remains to be seen, but he has posted a .736 OPS with a 23.8 percent strikeout rate across five minor league seasons, so the spring numbers could be a bit misleading.
The regular season begins in less than two weeks. The injuries are slowly starting to creep up and the Slater one is tough to fill. There are a few options, but none of them inspire a ton of confidence.