If and when there is a baseball season in 2020, the San Francisco Giants roster breakdown remains to be seen. A core group are locks to make the roster, and then there are some question marks.
Mauricio Dubón is not one of those question marks.
Acquired at the trade deadline in 2019 in a trade with Milwaukee that sent Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black to the Brewers, Dubón played in only 28 games with the Giants down the stretch.
In limited action, he impressed on defense and with his bat. Most believed Dubón to be the future at second base, but the Giants had different plans. This offseason, Dubón was asked to learn to play the outfield, in an effort to maximize his playing time and transform him into a super-utility type player.
Saturday’s intrasquad game featured the newly-converted outfielder Dubón starting in center field for the first three innings of the game. Learning the outfield is not something that is new to Dubón’s approach to 2020. Before the Covid-19 shutdown, Dubón played the outfield in Spring Training games in March.
Learning a new position can be difficult for any player, let alone a rookie like Dubón. What have been the keys to his transition? He said:
“Just forgetting everything I knew before. … Forget everything I know, and learn how to play center field. Some guys will tell you ‘just play the same way you play at shortstop,’ but for me, it was kind of hard to do it. There’s just some stuff that I do at short that I don’t do in center, so for me it was just ‘I’m going to be a center fielder, and think like a center fielder. I’m not a shortstop.’ I’ll just pick somebody’s brain, and learn why they’re so successful out there, and just try to emulate and bring that to my game.”
Following Sunday’s intrasquad game, I asked Giants manager Gabe Kapler about Dubon’s progress thus far, and how confident that he will be ready to take on the super-utility role come Opening Day.
“I’m confident in Dubon’s ability to play multiple positions; second base, shortstop, centerfield and the corners in the outfield, are all on our minds right now. He came very close to making a tremendous play today, and this is as he ran, he put his glove up on a ball that went over his head, directly towards the centerfield wall. He put his glove up just a second too soon, and as a result, stopped pumping his arms. I think as he gets more experienced out there, you’ll see him continue to use his arms and legs to track down the ball, and then at the very last second, throw his glove up. I’m very confident in his athletic ability, very confident in his aptitude and attitude. From an all-around athleticism perspective, I’m confident that he’s going to be prepared.”
Learning a new position in the middle of a global pandemic where you are unable to access team facilities sounds challenging enough. How did Dubón continue his training at his Miami apartment? It took some creativity, and, he said, a trip to a hardware store:
“It was really fun because I had to improvise and do a lot of stuff. I remember going to an ACE Hardware store and buying PVC pipes, ordering on Amazon, and just trying to make a little cage on the balcony, and ordering machines so that I can stay ready. I didn’t want to get my fiancée sick or get sick either, so I just stayed at home. The Giants were sending me the weight [training] program, and I bought some dumbbells too so that I can start working out. It worked out pretty well, I was doing some drills, working on some basic stuff that I needed to do to get ready.”
Dubon made great strides towards feeling comfortable in the outfield back in “Spring Training 1.0.” Kapler discussed his improvement from the previous spring training to now, and how he is turning heads throughout the organization.
“Absolutely, and that improvement has been noticeable, not just by his teammates, but by our outfield coaches as well. So much so, that they made note of it, and pretty immediately, Antoan Richardson noted that he’s much more comfortable in the outfield, getting better reads and taking better routes as well.”
Now that Dubón is back practicing with the rest of his team, he has already had plenty of looks in the outfield. With the July 23 season opener quickly approaching, what are the challenges of learning a new position this quickly? Dubón said:
“I think it’s just knowing where to be, and knowing where to position. Like I said, when I was at shortstop, I knew where to position myself, and right now with learning a new position, it’s just a matter of trusting the coaches. I’ve talked to my teammates next to me too, and asked ‘hey what do you think about this?’ It’s just a matter of playing there a little more and trusting where you are.”
One way the Giants may get creative with Dubón’s versatility is moving him to different positions mid-game. Whether that’s second base, shortstop, outfield, or third base, Dubón has to be ready to make that switch whenever the team needs to get creative. Having to change mindsets mid-game could be a tall task in the heat of the moment, but Dubón said he is up for the challenge:
“Oh yeah, we’ve been doing it since the first Spring Training, and I feel confident. The stuff I do in the infield, I’m never going to forget, just because I’ve been doing it my whole life. And with the outfield, it’s like I said, just catch the baseball. I feel really confident, my adaptability is pretty good. I just have to switch my brain. I don’t think like a shortstop in center field, and I don’t think like a center fielder when I play shortstop. Wherever I play, I’m that position. So when I’m playing center field, I’m a center fielder. When I play right field, I’m a right fielder. If I’m playing shortstop, I’m a shortstop. If I’m playing third, I’m a third baseman. For me, it’s just about switching brains.”
If all goes well, Dubón could be starting in a new position come Opening Day. The chances that he starts in center field have yet to be determined, but will he be ready if his name is penciled in as the starting center fielder?
“Oh yeah, I’m comfortable right now. I’m comfortable, and I don’t doubt my ability. I’m just excited to be out there. I tell Antoan [Richardson] all the time, it’s going to be fun, I’m excited to be out here. Sometimes they get on me, and say ‘hey you need to work on shortstop,” but I’m like “I like the outfield.’ It’s fun, I’m enjoying it, and I’m ready to be out there.”