On Wednesday, the Giants announced that outfielder Austin Slater had been diagnosed with right elbow neuritis and won’t be able to throw or hit for at least the next week. After the week, Slater will be re-evaluated.
It’s unclear right now how long this will keep Slater out or if he will be ready for Opening Day. Even if he does come back at the one-week timetable, that leaves just three weeks of ramp-up time before the season starts.
Last season Slater owned a .264/.366/.408 line, good for a 124 wRC+. Slater is usually used as a platoon partner for the Giants’ lefty-hitting outfielders.
Although Slater’s role with the team is a unique one, he has established himself as a vital piece of the Giants team, and this season was projected to share center field in a platoon with Mike Yastrzemski. Metrics are split on Slater’s value as a center fielder. In his 537 CF innings last year, DRS gave him a mark of -9, yet Statcast OAA gave him a +1 mark.
He is capable of playing center field and was projected to do so this year, but he is usually better suited in a corner outfield role.
Slater’s most value comes as a pinch hitter, though, and he owns the best pinch-hit OPS of any player in the history of baseball. Throughout the last few seasons, Slater established himself as a player that could come off the bench into a variety of circumstances and produce.
If Slater needs to miss an extended period of time, that leaves the Giants with Mike Yastrzemski being the only player on the team with significant center-field experience. The Giants would then presumably give a right-handed hitting prospect a chance on the Opening Day roster, but their options are limited. Currently, the best available are Heliot Ramos, Bryce Johnson, Luis Matos, and Vaun Brown. Brown and Matos have never played above High-A, Johnson was outrighted off the 40-man roster in the offseason, and Ramos struggled mightily in Triple-A last season.
Out of that group, the likeliest to potentially replace Slater is Ramos. Even though Ramos had a bad season last year, he has been working with hitting coaches to retool his swing, and he is a former first-round pick.
The Giants will surely hope that Slater doesn’t miss extended time, as his role is nearly impossible to replace fully.