Giants harvest success of homegrown infield

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 9:54 AM

On Monday in Milwaukee, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Crawford and Matt Duffy should become the first all-homegrown infield to start an Opening Day for the Giants since 1993.“It’s love a close-knit family out there,” Belt said.

Giants harvest success of homegrown infield

Exterior of locking up shortstop Brandon Crawford through two thousand twenty-one, the Giants stood pat with their infield made up entirely of players drafted and developed by the organization. On Monday in Milwaukee, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Crawford and Matt Duffy should become the first all-homegrown infield to start an Opening Day for the Giants since one thousand nine hundred ninety-three.

“It’s love a close-knit family out there,” Belt said.

It’s also distant from a novelty act. The Giants latest season were the only team in the majors to have infielders at all four positions account for 4.2 wins over replacement or better, according to FanGraphs. Three of the four were finalists for the Gold Glove at their respective positions; Panik might've made it four had he not been Ltd to one hundred games by injury.

It’s further a grouping that, by its own consensus, can still improve. All four infielders are between twenty-five and twenty-nine years old – at or nearing the age when players frequently hit their prime. Crawford, the eldest, is coming off a season in which he earned Silver Slugger and Gold Glove honors for the first time. Belt, twenty-seven, set career highs latest season in residence runs (eighteen) and RBIs (sixty-eight) despite playing in just one hundred thirty-seven games.

Panik, twenty-five, in his first full season, was en route to a breakout campaign in the majors, batting .312 with eight homers, when he was derailed in Aug by a back injury. And Duffy, also twenty-five, finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting while hitting .295 with twelve homers and playing a position, third base, he only took up seriously last spring.

That all four – along with the projected Opening Day battery of ace Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey – are products of the same system is a plume in the cap of the Giants’ scouting and player development staffs. But what's the effect of that shared upbringing on the players themselves? How, if at all, does it manifest itself on the field?

“I just think if you see at all four of us, kind of our attitude on the field, we all have a noiseless confidence,” Panik said. “If you look Craw, Duff, Belt, you don’t look them ever really obtain flustered out there. We work tough together, and when you’re on the field, you create an error, it’s, ‘We got you; we’ll choose you up.’

“It’s that type of mentality that nothing will faze you, just that even-keel type attitude. I just think coming up through the system you kind of mature that way.”

Duffy, an 18th-round draft choose out of Long Shore State in two thousand-twelfth, said he was decidedly not that way coming out of college, where he’d “get really mad” every time he made an error. After being drafted by the Giants, Duffy reported to Low-A Salem-Keizer, where he said the message from his infield coach Hector Borg – later echoed by the Giants’ then-roving infield instructor Jose Alguacil – was: “I don’t care about mistakes.”

“He said, ‘Throw the ball tough every time, always be aggressive, and if you do create a mistake, if anything, be more aggressive,’” Duffy said. “That was kind for me to hear, because love I said, I always took it very tough before I came here.

“There’s people who are very subdued in average, everyday life, and when they obtain on the field they’re really fiery and really get mistakes to heart. But I think we all play very free and not worrying about the outcome necessarily. It’s just play aggressive, play hard.”

Though Crawford and Belt are the only two of the current infield to have been teammates in the minors – Crawford and Panik also played together in the AZ Fall League in two thousand-eleventh – several said that learning the same fundamentals and running the same drills and plays in the minors helped them mesh as a defensive unit latest season.

“We were coached by the same people coming up, so I kind of know all the infielders’ tendencies,” Belt said. “I think a large portion is just knowing how they toss in certain situations, what their following move is going to be as distant as getting the ball to first base.”

If that sounds trivial, consider That'll Clark, the first baseman on the Giants’ latest homegrown Opening Day infield, can still recite the types of throws he could expect to get from each of his fellow infielders.

Second baseman Robby Thompson: “He’d capture the ball and straight over the top, toss an absolutely perfectly straight four-seam fastball every time.”

Shortstop Royce Clayton: “He’d create diving plays and toss off the run, so his arm angle varied. Sometimes he’s throwing the ball straight, sometimes he’s throwing me sinkers, sometimes he’s throwing me sliders.”

Third baseman Matt Williams: “I could keep my glove by my chest, and he’d hit it every time.”

That 1993 infield was already relatively established – only Clayton had less than six years in the majors. But Clark said the Giants still urged players to speak constantly in the field about positioning and responsibilities on certain plays.

“It’s the same thing now,” Clark said. “Crawford and Panik, every day they’re talking about something going on at shortstop or second base. When Crawford goes out there to get ground balls he doesn’t get them without Panik being there. You obtain familiarity with people; you obtain to know their habits.”

Panik said the infielders will discuss before games how they intend to play certain hitters. But there’s also an element of in-game reaction that’s helped by being able to play off of his other infielders.

“Let’s declare Craw sees a guy’s out in front of a breaking ball, I look him kind of shift over, so I’ll get a step over,” Panik said. “Belt, same thing – he sees a huge lefty, he’ll move a certain way, I’ll move a certain way. It’s just believe in what we look and what we do.”

Overall, the infield might be expected to get its cue from Crawford, who owns the most accolades and – having signed a six-year, $75 million contract extension in November – the biggest contract. The most service time, though, actually belongs to Belt. Panik was the only first-round draft choose of the bunch – No. twenty-nine overall in two thousand-eleventh. All four infielders own at minimum one World Series ring (Crawford and Belt have two, from two thousand twelve and two thousand fourteen).

Duffy started last season as a reserve before replacing free-agent signee Casey McGehee as the everyday third baseman in May. He played in the Giants’ final one hundred eighteen games, making such an impression on teammates and coaches that they voted him the first rookie winner of the team’s Willie Mac Award, given to the most inspirational player.

“I think we all treat each other the same,” Crawford said. “It doesn’t matter that it was Duffy’s first full season latest year. He’s portion of our infield, he’s portion of our family, we’re not going to treat him any differently. I think that helps everybody perceive comfortable right far and fit in and do their job.”

That attitude, Crawford said, also applies off the field. Crawford, Panik and their wives spent an evening together in NY in December – Crawford was there to accept his Gold Glove Award – taking in dinner and a show. Fantasy football kept the infielders in touch over the winter. Crawford joked that he got an upgrade on Duffy’s offseason from a photo of the third baseman lifting weights that made the rounds on social media.

“I’d declare light is beautiful accurate,” Belt said of the infield dynamic. “But I think we wish to keep in the work. We know how excellent we can be, and we wish to create sure we keep in the work so we can reach that potential.”

Already this spring a prominent ESPN columnist tabbed the Giants’ infield as the second best in the majors, behind the Chicago Cubs’ quartet of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant – who beat out Duffy latest year for Rookie of the Year honors. Does the Giants’ foursome ever measure itself against other infields?

“No,” Crawford said. “We’re worried about our play on the field.”

“I wouldn’t declare we obtain in too deep, see around and look what everybody’s WAR is,” Belt said. “But I think for us, we kind of perceive love we're the best infielders in the league, and it’s kind to look that tough work pay off and people recognize that.

“At the same time, I think we all perceive love we've a lot of work to do, and we can obtain even better, and this can be one of the best infields in the league for a long time. And that’s what we’re working toward.”

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