With Spring Training starting to ramp up a couple questions come up in the San Francisco Giants camp. One such question is what will 3rd base look like this season? The Giants have a few options in the organization to fill this spot. This off season the Giants signed 3rd basemen Jae-gyun Hwang to a minor league contract. Hwang could very well be the starting 3rd basemen come the start of this season.
In the 2016 season the Giants traded away rookie 3rd basemen Matt Duffy to acquire pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Giants had just previously acquired Eduardo Nunez to replace Duffy at 3rd. Along with Nunez, veteran Conor Gillaspie split time at 3rd in the 2016. Both players represent choices for being the starters come opening day but newcomer Hwang might give them a challenge for the job. Hwang had previously spent spent his whole career in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Hwang’s time with the KBO
Hwang has been playing baseball in South Korea since 2007. In those 10 season 7 of them were spent with the Lotte Giants. With the Giants he was primarily at 3rd base and shortstop. Hwang could represent a significant power boost for the Giants at third base since losing longtime 3rd basemen Pablo Sandoval in the 2014 off season. Hwang has hit a career 115 home runs in the KBO. His power could be a welcomed site for a power weary Giants team. Hwang also has hit almost 1200 hits in his 10 years of play.
With many teams experimenting on KBO players in recent years, Hwang could provide a low risk/high reward situation for the San Francisco. Many analysts have compared the KBO to AA level baseball here in the US but some gems do exist among top teams in the KBO. Even with the transfer rate being slightly different between leagues, Hwang could be a stable everyday player in the MLB.
Hwang might have the power behind his swing and hits generally for contact but one thing his stats show is his consistency. Over the last 6 seasons Hwang has maintained a high level of consistency in many batting categories. His hit totals sit around an average 139 per year. His batting average has been in the high .200 hundred range, even going into the low .300 range in a few years. OPS has steadily improved over 6 years. Hwang’s slugging % has also increased in that time by over 200 points since 2012. Even with his home run increase in the last 2 years his offense has shot up by leaps and bounds turning in to a vert competent hitter in the KBO. Fangraphs showcased him as one of the next be Korean postion players before he signed with San Francisco. Here’s some selected highlights from his career.
Hwangs fit with the Giants
Now comes the question. Will Hwang make it to San Francisco? Short answer: yes. Long answer: still yes.
Hwangs competition for third isnt terribly steep. On one hand you have Conor Gillaspie. Gillaspie started at 3rd 34 time last season. In that time Gillaspie preformed admirably for a sub. In September of last year Gillaspie came through for the Giants at 3rd and proved to be much needed asset when the team was on the verge of not getting into the postseason. The rest of the season Gillaspie was more or less average in his duties at 3rd. Nunez, who was acquired in July. Withe the Minnesota Twins Nunez was an All Star and was likely a gonna be a great pick up for the Giants. Nunez would go on too start 3rd base for a majority of the 2nd half with the Giants until he got injured later near the end of the regular season.
All 3 players have likely shots at being the starter. All 3 players are 29 years old so age likely won’t be a factor. Nunez and Gillaspie have the edge on Hwang in terms of experience in MLB playing time. Hwang is a newcomer so if he isn’t hot out of the gate then he’ll likely spend time in the minors. Hwang will have to continue to produce at similar style to how he was in KBO. If Hwang can hit for contact and get on base then it could be a no brainer. The power boost could prove instrumental in this decision if it transfers over from the KBO.
With his couple of starts in spring Hwang could be looking to become the breakout player this spring for the Giants. Already with a home run under hos belt Hwangs power could prove to be just the reason for the Giants signing him this off season.