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Austin Slater elbow injury puts OF depth into focus during spring



Courtesy of SF Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Austin Slater has elbow neuritis and won’t pick up a ball or bat for the next week.

The Giants announced Slater’s diagnosis shortly after their Cactus League game against the Arizona Diamondbacks got underway. He had previously been resting his throwing elbow, but there wasn’t a heightened sense of concern either from him or his manager, Gabe Kapler.

“I don’t think so,” Kapler said when asked if the injury is more severe than initially thought. “But again, these things — it’s not black and white. They’re fluid. He hasn’t responded fast enough to where we want him throwing a baseball again and taking swings. We want to be very sure that we don’t rush him at all.”

Slater, 30, is expected to play center field alongside Mike Yastrzemski in a platoon this year. He hit .264 with a .774 OPS last season.

Giants utility prospect Brett Auerbach was recently diagnosed with a similar elbow neuritis injury and was expected to miss camp. But Auerbach recovered quickly and joined the Giants in Scottsdale Wednesday, hitting a home run against Arizona.

If Slater can heal like Auerbach seemingly did, he should be back well before Opening Day.

“So nothing new that says ‘Ah, man this is going to be a long-term thing,’” Kapler said. “At the same time, have him cool a little bit and we’ll wait until he’s ready. Be patient.”

Kapler has said that while anything is possible, the Giants plan on carrying five outfielders on their 26-man roster. That number likely wouldn’t include LaMonte Wade Jr., who’s playing first base, or Joc Pederson, the designated hitter.

That leaves one spot open with a healthy Slater, Yastrzemski, Mitch Haniger, and Michael Conforto as locks.

If all four of those players are healthy, the Giants have several different options to look to fill out their depth chart.

Veteran Stephen Piscotty has the experience and all-around game to be a potentially interesting bat off the bench — if his body cooperates. But elevating Piscotty would require cutting someone from the 40-man.

Luis González has shown flashes of MLB hitting, at least for contact, but is already banged up with a low back strain.

Bryce Johnson has the speed that could wreak havoc with the new disengagement and pitch timer rules, but hasn’t demonstrated an ability to hit big-league pitching yet.

Glove-first prospect Luis Matos and unproven outfielder Heliot Ramos are also on the 40-man roster.

If Slater — or another of those four primary outfielders — misses significant time, the Giants might have to dip into that group.

The plan by signing Haniger and Conforto this offseason was to introduce more stability into a unit that ranked as the worst defensive outfield in baseball last year. Injuries pulling out players like they’re Jenga pieces can prevent that intended stabilization.

There’s no indication that Slater’s elbow neuritis rises to that level, but it is a reminder that bad health luck can spoil even the best laid plans.