How Hunter Pence is helping Giants’ young outfielders find their footing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It may be early in spring training, but Hunter Pence’s presence and passion are already impacting the Giants’ young outfielders.
“I believe that energy is infectious,” Chris Shaw said. “He brings it every single day, so you can’t help but get your energy levels up when you’re around him and really bring yourself to another level.”
Pence, 36, is in camp on a one-year, $3 million deal which includes incentives. The Giants signed him after his bounce-back season in 2019 with the Texas Rangers when he hit .297 with 18 home runs, 59 RBI and a .910 OPS in 83 games and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team.
He brings 13 years of major league experience, seven of them in San Francisco, to a Giants team where he is the only outfielder over the age of 30. The four-time All-Star brings plenty of playoff experience as well, including World Series championships in 2014 and 2016 in his first stint with the Giants.
As a veteran, Pence also brings a much-needed leadership element to the young group of outfielders.
“As a leader, I just want to create camaraderie,” Pence said. ”Create an environment of support, an environment of encouragement, of getting better, of growth, of getting it right, not being right.”
Jaylin Davis, a 25-year-old outfielder who still has his rookie status intact, said Pence is already doing that.
Pence took time out of his day before spring training even started to get to know him, Davis said.
“I met him when we went up for FanFest and talked to him for about 30 minutes,” Davis said. “He just tried to get to know me. It was my first time actually meeting him. He was just asking about where I was from and stuff like that, and stuff that I like to do. And then just told me that, ‘Hey, I’m here if you need anything, if you have any questions.’”
Pence said that as an older player, learning about younger teammates is key.
“It’s very important to get to know everybody,” Pence said. “We’re all in this together, and we want to help each other as much as we can. It’s part of being a teammate. You’ve got to talk to them, especially as the older guy. A lot of times we need to initiate (the conversation) and make it easier and let them know, ‘Hey, whatever you need. We’re here to help. We’re in this together and we’ve got each other’s backs.’”
Pence is not just a vocal leader. He also plans to lead by example.
A career .280 hitter, Pence struggled in 2018 with the Giants, hitting just .226. So, instead of stubbornly working on the same approach he always used, he said he recognized the need for change.
He decided to tweak his swing so he could keep playing at the highest level and went to the Dominican Winter League to work on it – a commitment Shaw admires.
“I think that just shows you his passion and love for the game to be able to go down, play winter ball in the Dominican after having a 12-, 13-year (major league) career with a couple World Series titles under your belt,” Shaw said. “And for a guy like me, it’s kind of inspiring to see the love of the game is still that important and that impactful for him that he’s willing to go and do that.
“And then he goes up to Texas and has the year that he has. So that was pretty incredible.”
Giants manager Gabe Kapler agreed.
“I think it’s impressive when players who are established and have had long track records of success are willing to make adjustments,” Kapler said.
Jesse Morrison is a senior majoring in sports journalism at Arizona State University. This story is a part of a partnership between the Bay Area News Group and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.