San Francisco Giants: Two unsung heroes quietly lead the way

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 29: Mike Yastrzemski #5 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates with teammates after he hit a walk-off home run in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on July 29, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 29: Mike Yastrzemski #5 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates with teammates after he hit a walk-off home run in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on July 29, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Mike Yastrzemski and Donnie Barrels are out to prove that their 2019 seasons were no fluke for the San Francisco Giants.

A quick look at the current Wins Above Replacement leaderboard now approximately 20% of the way through the 2020 MLB season shows a very surprising name at the top, San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski.

At 1.1 fWAR, Yastrzemski sits just ahead of names like Chicago White Sox rookie phenom Luis Robert, San Diego Padres outfielder and fellow surprise name on this list Trent Grisham,  New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, and Cincinnati Reds hot hand Nicholas Castellanos.

Even the most optimistic San Francisco Giants fan could not have imagined Yastrzemski having this sort of success early on in 2020, but the Giants outfielder is proving to everyone that his 2019 was no fluke.

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Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor league pitcher Tyler Herb in March of last year, Yastrzemski hit a total of 46 extra-base hits (including 21 home runs) with a .272 batting average and .852 OPS in his debut MLB season.

At 28 years old, Yastrzemski made the most of his first big league action after being passed up by the Orioles as a potential option on another rebuilding roster. Despite six productive seasons in the Orioles minor league system and a rotating door of outfielders coming, going, and failing to make an impact in Baltimore, Yastrzemski never got an opportunity to see what he could do in the majors with the Orioles. The Orioles loss has been the Giants gain.

Through 12 games this season, Yaz has collected three home runs, three doubles, one triple, has walked just as many times (13) as he’s struck out (13) and owns a .310/.473/.643 slash line. His .473 OBP ranks fifth in baseball, behind one of his teammates and fellow Giant here discussed in a moment.

He does it from the left side (156 wRC+) and the right side (124 wRC+), he’s largely refusing to swing at pitches out of the strike zone (18% swing rate), and he’s showing that he can improve on his 7.8% walk rate from last season. Yastrzemski’s numbers may come down to earth a bit as the season progresses, but there’s no denying that he’s fully capitalizing on his opportunity and is a prime example of what just giving a player a chance can do.

Yastrzemski isn’t the only standout on this San Francisco Giants roster.

Joining Yastrzemski in a blazing start to 2020 is infielder Donovan Solano. Solano has played sparingly in the major leagues since 2012 with the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees and appeared in 81 games last season, his first with the Giants.

Solano hit .333 with a 116 wRC+ in San Francisco as a utility option who played around the field at every position except first base.

Perhaps, Solano’s 2019 season was also not a fluke. In 10 games this year, Solano is hitting .457 with a 1.131 OPS, one home run, four doubles, and 13 runs driven in. He’s already accumulated 0.7 fWAR, quicky approaching his career-high 1.3 fWAR season in 2019.

Solano has been used as a platoon option this year, but the 32-year-old utility man deserves a bigger role in the San Francisco Giants lineup.

While Yastrzemski just never received an opportunity in Baltimore, Solano has been given numerous opportunities throughout his career but appears to be a late-bloomer, and a valuable one at that.

Solano isn’t going to walk a lot (career 5.4% walk rate), but he doesn’t strike out much either (17.5% career rate). He puts the ball in play and knows how to barrel a baseball, hence the nickname, “Donnie Barrels.”

“He’s just a real professional hitter,” Gabe Kapler said. “That nickname — Donnie Barrels — didn’t come from me. It came from his teammates, people who were here with him before me. But I certainly think it applies.” (via Mark Sanchez at KNBR.com)

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Hopefully, both of these hot starts continue for the San Francisco Giants. Both players deserve this opportunity to shine.