Dabovich quickly rising through SF's system

Right-hander impressed for High-A Eugene, earning promotion to Double-A Richmond

July 4th, 2021

Last month, the High-A Eugene bullpen was abuzz with the news that the Emeralds were planning to use an opener during an upcoming series against Hillsboro. It was a coveted assignment among the relievers, most of whom spent the day lobbying manager Dennis Pelfrey for the chance to earn the starting nod.

Later that night, Pelfrey summoned one of those hopefuls -- right-hander R.J. Dabovich -- into his office.

“He goes, ‘Hey Dabo, I hate to say it, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to start you on Wednesday. I talked to the higher-ups,’” Dabovich recalled. “And I go, ‘Oh Pelf, that’s OK. It’s not that big of a deal.’ And he goes, ‘That’s probably because you’re going to Double-A.’ I was pretty shocked.”

Dabovich, 22, had to wait nearly a full year to make his professional debut after being selected by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB Draft out of Arizona State, but he’s been making up for lost time this season. The hard-throwing reliever logged a 1.42 ERA with 28 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings with Eugene before earning a promotion to Double-A Richmond on June 15, making him the first member of San Francisco's 2020 Draft class to join the Flying Squirrels.

“I didn't think I'd be up here this fast, but I think it’s a testament to the Giants as a program and how they develop players and how they set out plans for players,” Dabovich said. “I think it’s a testament to myself following that plan.”

There were no Minor League affiliates for Dabovich to report to after he was drafted in the middle of a pandemic, but the Giants still found ways to put their development plans into motion with the newest members of their organization last summer. A week after he signed, Dabovich said he found himself on a Zoom call with director of pitching Brian Bannister and coordinator of pitching sciences Matt Daniels, who presented him with data and information that showed how they thought he could best optimize his arsenal moving forward.

“All the smart people up there, they kind of sat me down and showed me a plan for how they want me to attack that [down] time,” Dabovich said. “We kind of figured out what we wanted my pitches to look like and how I can tunnel them and shape them. And then the people down there at Arizona PUSH Performance, the gym I work out at, we really hammered those cues and really developed. I took a huge stride in development and came in ready to pitch this year.”

One of the areas of focus for Dabovich was reshaping his breaking ball, which he calls a spike curveball, to better complement his mid-to-upper-90s fastball.

“Basically, it was trying to throw my spike curve that I threw before a lot harder,” Dabovich said. “That was a big adjustment. In college, it was like 79-80 [mph]. I think the target for us was 84-86. That would be ideal. The weird thing is that metrically, on Rapsodo, it doesn’t look like that good of a pitch, but because of the way it’s thrown, the way they explained it to me is that it’s going to get a lot of swing-and-miss. And it definitely has, when I execute it.”

Dabovich didn’t allow a hit over his final nine outings with Eugene, tossing 10 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out 23 of the 30 batters he faced during that span. The only two hits he allowed with the Emeralds came when he gave up solo home runs in back-to-back games to start the year.

Dabovich has endured a few more stumbles since making the jump to Double-A, where he’s given up seven runs (six earned) over his first six appearances. But he’s continued to miss bats, racking up 12 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings. He entered July with a 62-percent strikeout rate and a .086 batting average against, both of which led the organization.

If Dabovich can continue his dominant stretch, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him develop into a potential relief option for the Giants sooner rather than later. But he said he’s trying not to look too far down the road right now.

“I just want to compete every single day and let the cards fall where they will,” Dabovich said. “I’d love to help the big league team this year, but all I’m really focused on are where my feet are right now, getting 1 percent better every day and competing every time I step on the mound.”

Giants acquire Toffey
The Giants traded left-hander Anthony Banda to the Mets in exchange for infield prospect Will Toffey on Friday.

Banda, 27, was acquired from the Rays at the Trade Deadline last year, but he never received a callup with the Giants and was outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of the 2020 season. He re-signed with San Francisco on a Minor League deal and opened the season at Triple-A Sacramento, but he logged a 6.86 ERA over 10 games (five starts).

Toffey, a former fourth-round Draft pick of the A’s in 2017, endured a rough start to the season at Double-A Binghamton, where he was batting .178 with a .703 OPS and six home runs over 34 games. Still, the 26-year-old left-handed hitter can play multiple positions, including first and third base and the outfield, and has a career .360 on-base percentage in the Minors, two qualities that are highly valued by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Giants’ front office.

Toffey, a Vanderbilt alum like current Giants Mike Yastrzemski and Curt Casali, is expected to report to Triple-A Sacramento.