Steven Duggar, who has played the part of an elevator operator the last few years in consistently going up to San Francisco and back down to Sacramento, wanted to make a good impression after an offseason in which the Giants dealt for LaMonte Wade Jr., whose skillset (lefty-hitting outfielder with center-field capabilities) was redundant with his own.
He began Cactus League play by going 1-for-8 with six strikeouts.
“I think it was a few weeks in camp where I wasn’t super comfortable,” he acknowledged Sunday.
He hadn’t been super comfortable for a long while now. After he struggled through a poor 2019 season, he arrived in 2020 spring training with a new batting stance that was far more narrow. He did not hit well with the taller look, though, and reverted to his older stance over the course of the shortened 2020 year — in which the outstanding outfielder again could not prove he could hit at the major league level, going 6-for-36 (.176) in 21 games.
There is even more competition for a job right now, with Mike Tauchman added to the mix. And yet, since his call-up in late April, Duggar has shown more comfort at the plate since…
“Um,” Duggar said before pausing for a few seconds. “It’s been a little bit.”
As a 27-year-old who’s no longer a young prospect and on his final option year, the time is now if Duggar wants to make it as a Giant. And his swing has responded.
In eight games since April 30, Duggar has a .385 on-base percentage while going 7-of-23 (.304). He has shown extra-base power, with two doubles and a triple, and he has shown an ability to lay down a bunt, which he did last Tuesday and sped his way on base.
He has said simplicity is the key with his swing, and the fact it’s not being retooled has helped. The mentality he espouses could come from any Giants hitter under the Donnie Ecker/Justin Viele/Dustin Lind era.
“The more simple we can be, the more consistent we can be, the more stress we can put on the defense and pitchers, swinging at the pitches that we can drive and laying off the ones that we can’t and ultimately working those guys down,” Duggar said over Zoom. “Getting into the pen early over the course of a series, that makes a big difference. So I think just the holistic approach change [to my game], and just being really intentional with the details.”
The bunting detail is an important one. When Duggar, whose speed is excellent but has been underused, laid down a nice one last week, Gabe Kapler called it his “proudest” moment from Duggar’s game. Duggar wants to steal more bases, too, which has not been actualized thus far, and emphasizing his speed and athleticism has been a focus through spring training and the alternate site.
Kapler mentioned bunting as a weapon especially against southpaws for Duggar, and if he can be consistent with it, “it’s going to make it easier for him to stay in the lineup.”
It’s funk-proof. He might not be swinging well, but he can point the bat and try to catch a pitch.
“Whether it’s something to get you out of a slump or if it’s something … situationally to find a way on base. You find a way on base, you score more times than not,” said Duggar, whose career OPS is 45 points lower against lefties than righties. “I think that that’s definitely something that I’ll continue to work on, but it’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been with bunting, I will say that, in my career so far.”
His major league job is not secure, and he could be optioned down at any moment off an active roster that, as of publication, has six outfielders and no real backup infielders (apart from Mauricio Dubon and Darin Ruf, who would slide onto the dirt). Injuries to Mike Yastrzemski and Wade made Duggar the pick, and Heliot Ramos is already tearing up Double-A and threatening to announce himself this year as the center fielder of the future.
Including the ones on the 60-day IL, the Giants have 10 outfielders on their 40-man roster, and adding Wade and Tauchman, who could command significant time, puts his job in jeopardy.
If not his MLB career, Duggar’s Giants career is in the balance — and, even if he is sent down soon, he is making an early case that he belongs. He said he tries not to let the increased outfielder competition affect him.
“I just try to focus on what I can control, and that’s showing up to the field every day with a positive attitude, just a drive to get better,” he said.
Although he has noticed the increased facial hair competition. He has been talking with Yastrzemski and Austin Slater about Mustache May.
“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “I might show up tomorrow with a nice caterpillar.”