The Giants announced to reporters, including Maria I. Guardado of MLB.com, a few health updates on players in camp. One of those updates was that outfielder Austin Slater has right elbow neuritis and will not throw or hit for a week, after which he will be re-evaluated. Slated has yet to appear in a game this spring after being scratched from the club’s opener.
At this point, it’s unclear how long the club expects Slater to be out of action. It will surely depend on how things progress over the next week of inactivity. At that point, there will only be about three weeks until Opening Day. Even if the week of rest gets Slater back to health, he will have a short ramp-up before the regular season gets underway.
Slater, 30, has emerged as a key piece of the Giants’ roster in recent years. Over the past three seasons, he’s hit 24 home runs and stolen 35 bases. He struck out in 26.5% of his plate appearances but also drew walks at an 11.4% clip. His .256/.353/.428 batting line in that time amounts to a 118 wRC+, indicating he’s been 18% better than league average.
Defensively, he’s spent time in all three outfield spots but has primarily been deployed up the middle over the past two seasons, with advanced defensive metrics split on his effectiveness there. Defensive Runs Saved is the most bearish, giving him -9 last year. Ultimate Zone Rating also had him in the negative range but Outs Above Average comes in at +2 over 2021 and 2022 combined.
The Giants should have a different outfield mix this year, as they signed both Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto, in addition to re-signing Joc Pederson. Those three were likely going to cover the corners and the designated hitter slot, leaving the right-handed-hitting Slater and lefty Mike Yastrzemski to platoon in center. Slater has been noticeably better against southpaws in his career, producing a line of .285/.377/.468 for a wRC+ of 132. Against righties, his line is .227/.313/.336 and a wRC+ of 82. As for Yaz, he’s hit .247/.334/.485 against righties for a 120 wRC+ in his career but has a line of .227/.303/.406 and a 93 wRC+ against lefties.
If Slater needs to miss some time, it will leave Yaz alone in center. That should be fine in the short-term, even if it makes it harder for the club to shield him from lefties. But it would leave the Giants thin at the position overall, since Luis González is out with a lower back strain and won’t be ready for Opening Day. Conforto and Haniger have some center field experience but neither since 2019. Given they’ve each dealt with significant injuries since then, it’s unlikely the club would want to throw them into the more-demanding position. Pederson also has experience there but grades as a poor fielder even in a corner. Heliot Ramos is on the 40-man but struggled badly at the plate last year. Bryce Johnson is in camp as a non-roster invitee though he also didn’t hit much last year either.
If the club ultimately deems it necessary to look outside the organization for some extra center field depth, players like Albert Almora and Jackie Bradley Jr. are still available in free agency. While Bradley hits left-handed, Almora’s right-handed bat could potentially platoon with Yaz.