The Giants have recalled outfielder/infielder Austin Slater to make his season debut, the team announced. In a corresponding move, right-hander Dereck Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento for the second time this season. Slater will be the 12th different outfielder used by the Giants in 2019. Five of the previous outfield options are no longer with the organization.
Now 26 years old, Slater showed some promise when he was called up for his big league debut in 2017, hitting at a .282/.339/.402 clip with three home runs in 127 plate appearances. Over a larger sample of 227 plate appearances the following season, however, Slater’s strikeout rate spiked from 22.8 percent to 30.7 percent as his batting line dipped to .251/.333/.307. He posted characteristically strong numbers in Triple-A last year, but his struggles led him to pursue some changes to his swing mechanics in the offseason, as recently explored at McCovey Chronicles.
Within that interview Slater admitted to struggling with his new swing in Spring Training, but the results so far in 2019 have been promising. Slater has posted a .308/.436/.529 line with a dozen homers and 17 doubles in 296 plate appearances. The Pacific Coast League is a known hitters’ haven, so the numbers are surely a bit inflated, but it’s also worth noting that Slater is walking at a career-best 15.5 percent clip as well.
Perhaps most interesting with Slater is the manner in which he’s been deployed defensively in Sacramento. While he’s primarily been a corner outfielder and first baseman in recent seasons, Slater has played all three outfield positions as well as first base, second base and third base. That marks his first real exposure to third base and his first significant action at second base since playing 96 games there back in 2015. If he’s able to continue his hot hitting in the big leagues, he could be deployed all over the diamond and give manager Bruce Bochy some flexibility when making moves late in games.
The demotion for Rodriguez, 27, is the latest speed bump in what’s been a disappointing season for the righty. Rodriguez looked like a needle-in-a-haystack find for the Giants last season when he parlayed a minor league contract into a 2.81 ERA / 3.74 FIP over the course of 118 1/3 innings. The organization surely hoped that Rodriguez could be a long-term option, at least at the back of the rotation, but he’s struggled to a 5.27 ERA in 2019. Rodriguez’s walk and home-run rates have soared while his strikeout rate has simultaneously dipped. San Francisco has also tried him in the bullpen, but Rodriguez has yielded 10 runs in 15 innings out of the bullpen. Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggests (via Twitter) that the plan for him is to go to Sacramento and get regular work as a starter once again.