Soler gives glimpse of tantalizing strength with pair of knocks

February 27th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It wasn’t nerves that caused to lose his bat in his first trip to the plate while making his Giants debut on Monday. It was just, well, him.

The power that the All-Star slugger had on display as he dug in for his first at-bat since signing a three-year, $42 million deal just over a week ago is something Giants fans hope to see all year long in 2024. The bat slipped free from his hands on that first swing, but Soler held firm the rest of the afternoon, finishing 2-for-2 with an RBI while batting cleanup in the Giants’ 11-9 loss to the Angels at Scottsdale Stadium.

“[Angels starter Griffin Canning] threw me a fastball middle-middle, and I just swung hard and the bat just slipped out of my hands,” Soler smiled and said via an interpreter after his debut was in the books. “I felt really good, thank God.”

In Soler, the Giants are looking for the franchise’s first 30-homer batter since Barry Bonds in 2004. San Francisco’s new everyday designated hitter, who turned 32 on Sunday, batted .250/.341/.512 with 36 homers and a 128 OPS+ over 137 games with the Marlins in 2023.

After a big ovation from the crowd, Soler with a loud crack of the bat delivered a single to left in the bottom of the first. In the third, his single to center brought home Wilmer Flores, who had led off the frame with a double to right.

“You watch him take batting practice, and it’s not all about hitting homers,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said of his new slugger. “He knows how to get himself ready. His batting practice is usually the other way -- shorter swings, and then once he gets into a game, he lengthens it out a little bit. But obviously, two really good at-bats [today].”

Elsewhere on the Giants’ to-do list on a cool, gray day in Scottsdale was right-hander Mason Black’s first spring outing.

San Francisco's No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, the 24-year-old ended last season with Triple-A Sacramento and had figured to get a callup at some point in 2024. But with projected No. 4 starter Keaton Winn’s right elbow soreness keeping him a bit behind the other members of the rotation, Black has a shot to break camp with the Giants.

Black got a quick hello to his first Cactus League start when Angels leadoff man Ehire Adrianza took his very first pitch way deep to right and out of the park.

“I gotta do a better job of just going out there and mixing my looks, I would say. But that first one, I heard them say, ‘Step off’ just a split second too late. I already lifted my leg,” Black said. “I just have to make that pitch afterwards.”

He did settle in, though. In the second inning -- his last before giving way to Taylor Rogers -- Black set the Angels down in order on six pitches, including two groundouts.

“It gets your attention when the first pitch of the game is a homer,” Melvin said of Black, who faced eight batters without walking or striking out anyone while being touched for two runs on three hits. “A lot of times, that’s what you look at in Spring Training -- how a guy responds to adversity. Second inning was way better than the first.”

Should Winn experience any other setbacks, Black could be a prime candidate to join Logan Webb, Kyle Harrison, Jordan Hicks and Tristan Beck in the rotation at the start of the year.

The Giants on Monday also signed veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training.

Ahmed turns 34 next month and in 2022 lost almost the whole season to a right shoulder injury -- his throwing arm -- that required surgery. He is “fully healthy now, looks great physically,” Melvin said of the two-time Gold Glove winner who had spent his entire 10-year career with the D-backs.

Rookie Marco Luciano is expected to succeed Brandon Crawford -- who agreed to a deal with the Cardinals -- as the club's starting shortstop and is nursing a hamstring injury that again made him a scratch for Monday’s game, although Luciano did get in some swings in the cage.

The Ahmed signing, though, doesn’t set up a position battle between the veteran and the emerging rookie.

“[Luciano] tried to run pretty hard yesterday and still wasn’t there, so it’s gonna be a few more days,” Melvin said. “But I don’t think Lucie needs any pushing. It’s just about adding depth to the position, and I think the most important thing was finding a guy that defended really well.”

Also, don’t look for Ahmed to play anywhere else other than shortstop, where he has played in all but two games in the field in his career.

“We don’t need him to have the versatility-type role,” Melvin said. “Shortstop’s what he’s done, and he’s done it very well.”