SCOTTSDALE — Austin Slater just had his first professional offseason in years without serious work put into tweaking his swing and won’t have to worry about the infield this year, now definitively an outfielder.
There’s a different drawback, though, that has kept him from an offseason of focusing in a swing that worked last year and defense duty that can be narrowed this year.
After an elbow flexor strain kept him from playing the field and throwing for the last few weeks of last season, Slater “hit a plateau” while rehabbing the right elbow injury. That led to a platelet-rich plasma shot that, about six weeks later, helped him feel OK again.
Slater took right-field reps on Thursday and was throwing again. After the PRP shot, he said, he’s “feeling pretty much 100 percent,” and he’s hopeful that will last. The Giants will try to make it a bit easier on him.
Because of the club’s deep infield and because they want “him to stay as healthy as possible,” Kapler said, Slater won’t be seeing more time on the dirt. In 2019 he had played second and first and has manned third base in the past, too.
This being the Giants, there may be a position addition, however. He had played one major league game in center field — in 2017 — and may get more looks this season after the Giants did not bring in someone to complement Mauricio Dubon.
Dubon has struggled against righties in his short career, and while Slater is also a righty hitter, he looked solid against all pitching last season. He slashed .255/.352/.383 in 55 plate appearances against righties last season.
“He had great at-bats against right-handed pitching,” Gabe Kapler said over Zoom. “They didn’t always end with something great happening, but oftentimes he worked good at-bats and looked dangerous against righties.”
Can he help fill a gap that Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr., also, will get cracks at?
“I’ve played center field in the past, so it’s not something that’s completely foreign to me,” the 28-year-old said from Scottsdale Stadium. “I would say of all the positions, center might actually be one of the easiest to pick up. You don’t really deal with slice or different angles off the bat — you’re seeing everything straight on. But then again, you have to be better with your routes, your breaks and things like that. There’ll be a little adjustment, but I don’t see it being a major stretch for me.”
Before injuries struck, Slater appeared to be joining Yastrzemski as a potential outfield All-Star. In 19 games through Aug. 21, he posted a .458 on-base percentage with four homers in 59 plate appearances. He has overhauled and tweaked and shored up his swing over the past few seasons, each leading to incremental improvements until his explosion. But then he went down with a groin injury and the elbow issue followed.
He didn’t have the offseason to painlessly swing and throw and get ready, but there wasn’t a swing project to undergo over the winter, either. If his elbow holds up, there’s plenty of breakout potential.
“The swing feels great. It feels like I left it in a great spot last year,” said Slater, who finished last season with a .914 OPS. “I have a ton of trust in the guys that we have on the coaching staff from the hitting side to make the slight adjustments when we need them.”