In the flurry of trade deadline activity in 2019, the Giants got a lot of new names. But Mauricio Dubón’s stood out in one way. Of all the guys the Giants got, he was the one very highly ranked prospect.
The Giants got some older minor leaguers who had a chance to make impacts, like Jaylin Davis and Joe McCarthy. They got some prospects of lower rankings that would get an extended chance, like Tristan Beck and Kai-Wei Teng.
But Dubón was the #3 prospect in the Brewers system, when he came over as the primary piece in exchange for Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black. That carried some expectations with it, that he was going to be one of the parts of the next generation of stars.
But now, in 2020, he may need to prove that he will have that role.
Dubón did come to the Giants and immediately began to fill the fan favorite role that has long belonged to Brandon Crawford. He’s a childhood Giants fan with the receipts to back it up. He didn’t make his Major League debut with the team, but essentially started his big league career here with a couple of months in 2019. Fans took to the smiling, friendly young man quickly, both because of his backstory and his talent.
Nothing is guaranteed, though, and that’s especially true with the current Giants organization. After starting as a shortstop, Dubón’s projected role as a starter was as a second baseman. Marco Luciano had a future at either shortstop or third. Dubón was unlikely to have the ideal power to stick at third and be the followup to Evan Longoria. But in the offseason, the Giants traded for 2019 first round pick Will Wilson, who also projects at second base. Their second round pick in the 2020 draft was a third baseman, Casey Schmitt.
Dubón, meanwhile, has holes in his game. He lacks the power that has become a big part of today’s offensive profile. While he’s a speedster, he’s coming off of an ACL injury in 2018 that may limit him now and in the future. And while he’s shown a good bat for contact, he doesn’t have the longest track record of top success.
Now, as I said, nothing is guaranteed. Neither Wilson nor Schmitt are guaranteed starters, so maybe it’s just competition. But the Giants are still pushing Dubón, and this February, he was taking a lot of reps in center field, a brand new position (and another one with a number of current players in the minors, including Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop, and Alex Canario among several others).
But it’s clear that Dubón’s future is not clear right now. While Zaidi is certainly all about positional flexibility, for now star players still seem like primary-position guys. After all, for all the talk about Joey Bart playing other positions after the drafting of catcher Patrick Bailey in the first round this year, the Giants had not had Bart play any other positions yet in his career, and it would be curious if the Giants decided that his first game in his pro career at a non-Catcher position would be happening in the Majors.
For Dubón, no position is a clear home. Not second, not shortstop or third, and not center field. Of course, a possibility might be for that super-utility role, changing positions every day, or working off the bench as a contact hitter or pinch runner. And maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I’d be disappointed with that role for a highly ranked player. It’s debatable whether that is considered a demotion or such, but it’s a possibility.
Regardless, this is the year for Dubón to make a statement about what role he will play in the future. Part of it is that he’ll get to do it without much of that future competition like Wilson or Luciano. But part of it is also that one thing we’ve seen about Farhan Zaidi is that he has not shown a lot of patience to let players develop. From Connor Joe to Mike Gerber to Mac Williamson, players on the verge did not get much of a chance to prove themselves. If you didn’t prove yourself quickly, you didn’t get a second chance.
If Dubón does not grab a starter’s role, or at least put together a good case for it, when 2021 comes around, he might be seen as being a guy who had his chance and missed it, pigeonholed into a role of being a bench player at best, or a fill-in until the next big prospect comes in. Maybe Zaidi and new GM Scott Harris will give Dubón more than a shortened season to really prove himself, but I haven’t seen that tendency yet in the team’s leadership. Sure, Dubón will still be a Giant…but he’d be that fan favorite fifth outfielder/backup infielder. And only that until he gets to be too expensive as a utility guy when there’s lots of versatile guys coming from the minors.
So, 2020 is Dubón’s chance, at least that’s how he should be looking at it. Because filling that fan-favorite, locally-grown player role is not going to be enough in the new Giants.