Mauricio Dubón has drawn rave reviews from the Giants this spring, not only for his bulked-up physique, but also for his more selective approach at the plate.
Dubón, 26, entered Thursday with a team-high eight walks and only one strikeout over 26 plate appearances in nine Cactus League games this year. Dubón drew just five walks over 109 plate appearances after the Giants acquired him from the Brewers at the Trade Deadline in 2019, but he’s now making a concerted effort to chase fewer pitches and instead focus on the ones he can drive.
“Pretty much, if I can't hit it out, I'm not swinging,” Dubón said earlier this week. “It's been helping out a lot. Even though I don't have any home runs right now, it feels like I’ve made a lot of progress. Being able to have that in my pocket, that I'm not chasing anymore, it's pretty neat.”
Dubón first sought to alter his approach after enduring a slow start at the plate last year. He opened the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign by slashing .264/.308/.319 over his first 28 games of the season, posting a 6.3 percent walk rate while chasing 42.5 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, according to FanGraphs. He started speaking with his teammates, including first baseman Brandon Belt, to learn more about their approaches and then began using their advice to try to improve his own plate discipline.
The changes eventually began to show up in his results at the plate. Over his final 26 games last year, Dubón slashed .282/.361/.447, boosting his walk rate to 10.3 percent and cutting his chase rate to 31.7 percent.
“Dubón really stands out as a player that's made significant adjustments to his approach,” manager Gabe Kapler said during a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday afternoon. “Last year, he improved his walk rate relative to his career norms. I think that you want to see it again, you want to see that continue. He's demonstrated that he can stay more balanced now than he was able to [before], stay in his legs more and have a more calm approach at the plate.
“Last year, as we got to the bottom part of the lineup, sometimes the at-bats were quick. Sometimes there was not the matching of the guys at the top of the lineup in terms of their patience level and their aggressiveness on pitches they can drive. I think Mauricio’s made pretty big improvements in that regard.”
The other noticeable change Dubón made over the offseason was putting on 12 pounds of muscle to his naturally lean frame. He reported to Spring Training at 182 pounds and hopes his improved strength will help him hit for more power in 2021, though he said he’s perfectly comfortable with taking a walk if he doesn’t get a good pitch to hit.
“I want to do damage,” Dubón said. “Especially now that I’m a little stronger. I’m going to stop wasting at-bats. If they’re not going to give it to you, then just take your base and take your walk. If it’s not there, don’t swing. If it’s two strikes, go into battle mode. But I’m trying to elevate and celebrate, that’s it.”
Dubón, a natural shortstop who shifted to the outfield last season, is expected to once again be a key presence up the middle for the Giants this year. He is projected to start in center field and is viewed as the club’s top option to back up Brandon Crawford at short, but he can also fill in at second and third base if needed.
After spending most of last season in center, Dubón has been working to reacclimate to the dirt and is logging plenty of game reps in the infield this spring. He’s looked a little rusty at times and has committed two errors in five Cactus League starts at shortstop, but he said he feels comfortable and has no concerns about his ability to handle the position during the regular season.
“I feel really good out there,” Dubón said. “I feel really good taking ground balls. Talking with [bench coach] Kai [Correa], in spring I don’t care if I make errors. I’m trying to work on some stuff. And then when the season comes, it’ll be go time.”