Why a ‘narrow’ approach will expand Steven Duggar’s chances with the Giants
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the spring after the Giants traded for third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, all eyes in Scottsdale were trained on a player who had yet to make his major league debut.
Giants fans desperately wanted to see young prospect Steven Duggar seize the starting center field job in 2018, and despite limited opportunities, Duggar played his way into the conversation.
With a tough early schedule featuring matchups with several left-handed starters, the club ultimately elected to send Duggar to Triple-A Sacramento to open the year. At the time, manager Bruce Bochy still believed Duggar was the franchise’s center fielder-of-the-future.
“He’s a gifted center fielder,” Bochy said at the time. “We know that. I just don’t want him sitting at this stage in his career.”
Two years later, Duggar began spring training in a familiar position: He’s still fighting for a job. A pair of shoulder injuries, a low on-base percentage and a high strikeout rate in 114 major league games have prevented the left-handed hitter from establishing himself as a full-time starter.
Duggar is healthy and eager to prove the Giants should be as confident in his future as they were two years ago, but he recognizes the need to adapt. The Giants love his range in the outfield and his speed from the left-handed batter’s box, but they need him to reach base at a higher clip if they plan to rely on him on a regular basis.
That’s why Duggar has changed his stance, narrowing his feet and holding his hands in a place that allows him to let pitches travel closer to the plate before he makes a decision to swing.
“I think it’s just trying to find the most consistent way to hit,” Duggar said. “There’s been a couple of flaws that I’ve got away with as I’ve come up, but just trying to maintain a little better posture. It’s easier for me from a narrower position.”
As a rookie in 2018, Duggar struck out in nearly 29 percent of his plate appearances, which was more than six percent above the league average. In 2019, Duggar cut his strikeout rate by a full percentage point, but his average dipped and his .278 on-base percentage was nearly 50 points below the league average.
For Duggar, the most frustrating element of his struggles was that he was able to identify pitches, but his timing was thrown off to the point where he couldn’t make solid contact.
“It’s like, I know it’s a curveball, I see it’s a curveball, why can’t I pull the trigger?” Duggar said. “Or that’s a changeup, why am I just flailing at it? I see the pitch and it’s got nothing to do with visuals.”
During Duggar’s offseason batting practice in Southern California with private hitting instructor Craig Wallenbrock, he narrowed his stance in drills and began striking the ball with more consistency. That adjustment translated into success when new Giants hitting coaches Dustin Lind, Donnie Ecker and Justin Viele began working with him this spring and Duggar said he now feels like he has more “freedom” at the plate.
In Monday’s Cactus League matchup with the Diamondbacks, Duggar drew walks in both of his plate appearances and also stole a base. It’s exactly the type of showing the Giants want to see from a player who is also focused on improving his baserunning skills.
“It’s a philosophy of ours to tunnel up and look for a pitch in a certain location and be especially aggressive on those pitches and passive on anything that’s not in that zone or in that tunnel,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That’s something our hitting coaches have harped on, something that Duggar has taken to, he’s taken it into games and it’s looking good so far.”
Duggar isn’t far removed from the days when the Giants viewed him as one of their top prospects and most important future contributors. And at 26, he still has plenty of time to reach his full potential at the major league level.
So while two serious shoulder injuries and inconsistent performance have derailed his progress, Duggar is in a much more confident player this spring. The tools the Giants loved so much two years ago haven’t disappeared, and now, Duggar believes he’s made the mechanical tweaks required to give him a better chance to thrive against major league pitching.
The Giants have surrounded Duggar with other players vying for the right to play center field on a regular basis, but they’ve also given him the chance to win the job they’ve long believed he would eventually hold.