More mature Dubón fighting for utility role

March 28th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --  wasn’t one to hide his emotions over his first three seasons with the Giants, but he’s trying to adopt a more level-headed approach now that he’s in the midst of a crucial spring.

When he cranked his first Cactus League home run on Sunday -- a two-run shot off Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval at Tempe Diablo Stadium -- he didn’t celebrate too hard, showcasing the maturity that resulted from his rollercoaster 2021 campaign.

“You can’t get too low, you can’t get too high,” Dubón said. “I knew the ball was gone as soon as I hit it. I wasn’t going to stand there and pimp it. It was, ‘Act like you’ve been there before.’ That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Dubón, 27, was expected to play a key role with the Giants last year as the primary center fielder and backup shortstop, but he found himself squeezed out of an everyday job following the emergence of LaMonte Wade Jr. and Steven Duggar. With Brandon Crawford, Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores holding down spots in the middle infield, Dubón found himself relegated to a bench role, where he struggled to adjust to limited playing time.

“It’s always hard,” Dubón said. “Coming up as a prospect, you play every day. We had a loaded team, so it was kind of in my mind. I think I wanted to go above and beyond to try to win something. But my role was not that.”

After slashing .234/.272/.373 over his first 66 games, Dubón was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento in late June, eventually falling behind Thairo Estrada on the infield depth chart. Dubón returned to the Majors as a September callup, but he appeared in only eight games down the stretch and ended up being left off the postseason roster.

Dubón said he worked with mental skills coach Shana Alexander to help cope with the disappointment of last season and reframe his mindset coming into 2022. This spring, he’s ready to compete for a utility spot with the Giants, though his challenge will be heightened by the fact that he’s out of options and can’t be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers.

Estrada, who is also out of options, and non-roster invitee Alex Blandino are also vying for the role, but Dubón said he’s trying not to focus on things that are out of his control.

“I’m taking it day by day,” Dubón said. “That’s how I play. When I don’t try to go above and beyond, things work out for me. Honestly, I’ve been playing like this for a while now. Just coming in and having a game like this, it’s pretty good. Just taking that toward the season, it’s going to be a big game-changer.”

Manager Gabe Kapler, who has spoken to Dubón about the concept of stoicism, said he has seen a “noticeably different” mentality from the Honduras native this year.

“He’s more confident, more sure of himself, more comfortable in his own skin,” Kapler said. “His at-bats have been improved. Even on balls he hasn’t squared up, he’s taken really good, aggressive swings. I think his pitch selection has been strong. We try to look at the process, both at the plate and on the dirt, and so far, the process has indicated good swing decisions. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think that’s ever what we’re aiming for with Mauricio or with anybody else. Good steps in the right direction.”

Dubón entered Monday 2-for-11 over five Cactus League games thus far, splitting time between shortstop and second base. He’s gotten reps at third and center field as well and said he’s willing to play anywhere the Giants need him.

“Whatever they decide to do, I’m up for it,” Dubón said. “I’m on board with the whole process.”