This Saturday marks a year since the night Adam Duvall was called off the field during a game with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats and informed the Giants had traded him to the Cincinnati Reds.
It was a moment that changed the course of his career.
In the Giants’ system, Duvall was a corner infielder blocked at the major-league level by first baseman Brandon Belt and third baseman Matt Duffy, stuck in Triple A despite slugging 26 home runs in 100 games with Sacramento before the trade.
In his first full season in Cincinnati, Duvall has become an All-Star left fielder who bats fifth and as of Monday night’s series opener between the Reds and Giants ranked fifth in the National League in homers, seventh in RBIs and 12th in slugging percentage.
“I think I got an opportunity,” Duvall said Monday afternoon. “And I took the most of it. And I’m happy with how I’ve played so far. But I know there’s a lot of things that I can do better, and I’m looking forward to progressing as a player and learning, and just trying to continue the growth.”
Duvall always had power. He hit 17 home runs for Double-A Richmond in the tough Eastern League in 2013 and 27 for Triple-A Fresno in 2014. He made his debut for the Giants that year and played in 28 games but returned to Triple A in 2015 until the Giants dealt him and pitching prospect Keury Mella to the Reds for pitcher Mike Leake.
“We were crowded here, and it helped us get a pretty good pitcher to give us a shot at getting to the postseason again,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It didn’t quite work out, but that’s what your system’s for. You hate giving up guys.”
The Giants got nine starts by Leake, who became a free agent after the season and signed with the Cardinals. Duvall got a fresh start. The Reds also had players entrenched at the corner infield spots, so they moved him to left field, where he acclimatized quickly. And with a regular position, his power has translated to the majors – he entered Monday with 23 homers and earlier this month participated in the Home Run Derby.
“(The Giants) needed a pitcher, so I got to be in that trade,” Duvall said. “But the Giants hold a special place in my heart, because I spent so much time growing as a player in their organization. I credit them really for the growth that I’ve been able to make over the past five or six years.”
Duvall said he’s “basically the same hitter” now as he was with the Giants – “with a few exceptions.” He’s trying to be more open to using all fields, though he still pulls the ball often – 51.1 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs – and 17 of his home runs have been hit to the left of straightaway center.
“I haven’t necessarily hit the ball that (opposite) way a lot, but the approach has allowed me to cover more of the plate and different speeds and stuff,” Duvall said. “But that’s something that I battle with. Being a power hitter, I want to try to pull the ball. So it’s a continuous battle.”
One negative is that Duvall’s on-base percentage of .289 entering Monday ranked 72nd among qualified National League hitters, and he had just 19 walks to 101 strikeouts.
But his power numbers are not necessarily, as some might theorize, a product of playing home games now in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Duvall has hit 12 of his 23 homers at home and 11 on the road, where he also has a higher batting average (.255 to .237) and more RBIs (35 to 31).
Could Duvall be posting those numbers for the Giants, had they given him a longer shot?
“As far as the power numbers, I don’t know if they would be the same,” Duvall said. “But I think I could definitely be the same hitter. I could drive in runs. But the thing is, they had a lot of guys up here. There wasn’t a spot. They can’t just bring you up and not do anything with you.”
Cynical fans might picture a Giants outfield featuring Duvall, especially as Hunter Pence recovers from hamstring surgery and injuries to other regulars have thinned the lineup. Giants left fielders have combined this season for seven home runs – third fewest in the N.L. – and 43 RBIs.
Bochy said it’s “always hard to say” whether a prospect’s strengths are going to translate to the majors, but Duvall always had “easy power” and that “I can’t say I’m surprised” by Duvall’s emergence this season.
“I think he’s getting a chance,” Bochy said. “He’s settled in. It takes a while for some guys to make that adjustment, get comfortable, that sense of belonging, all those things. But I think that’s what’s happened with him.”
Duvall’s breakout year
The Reds’ Adam Duvall is having his best major-league season (statistics and National League ranking entering Tuesday’s games):
- Home runs: 23 (tied fifth)
- RBIs: 66 (seventh)
- Slugging: .527 (12th)
- Doubles: 23 (tied 13th)
- Runs: 52 (28th)
- OPS: .819 (33rd)
- Hits: 81 (58th)