MLB

Inside the Clubhouse: How the Giants turned LaMonte Wade into a cornerstone

This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at how the Giants got the most of LaMonte Wade Jr., Teoscar Hernandez’s breakout, MLB Trade Deadline winners and more.

When the San Francisco Giants acquired LaMonte Wade Jr. in February, they envisioned adding another hitter who could work counts and draw walks. They also hoped to break into some of his raw power, something he had not shown much of in two years with the Minnesota Twins.

There was reason for the Giants to be optimistic, considering the work Gabe Kapler and the team’s hitting coaches have done to increase the team’s home run numbers by swing or approach adjustments. But even one Giants coach recently joked that no one could have seen Wade breaking out quite like this.

Wade, 27, is hitting .251/.321/.533 with 17 home runs in 227 at-bats this season. He’s averaging a home run once in every 13.35 at-bats after hitting no more than 11 home runs in each minor-league season. He has increased his exit velocity from 88.7 mph in 2019 to 91 mph in 2021. His average launch angle has increased from 11.6 degrees in 2019 to 20.1 in 2021.

Wade credits his work with Maryland assistant hitting coach Matt Swope, who he met with four days a week in the offseason. Swope detailed to MLB.com that Wade’s swing was too flat and got him into a more upright position, with people close to Wade believing it limited him from showcasing his natural ability.

The work with Swope, combined with getting consistent at-bats in San Francisco, has allowed Wade to emerge as a key contributor for the Giants. He is their primary leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while also playing at first base and all three outfield spots. The next step for Wade will be showcasing he can replicate that success against left-handed pitching, who he has hit 2-for-24 against this season.

People with the Giants are optimistic that Wade will eventually improve against left-handers. But that they turned Shaun Anderson, a struggling right-handed pitcher, into a potential franchise cornerstone ranks among the best moves president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has made since joining the Giants.

Teoscar Hernandez is finally realizing his potential

The baseball people who knew Teoscar Hernandez best saw a breakout coming. Maybe not something like this. But they always believed the ability was there despite never being a top prospect and his struggles early on in his career.

Hernandez’s ability was evident immediately after being acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2017, hitting .261/.305/.602 with eight home runs in 88 at-bats. He flashed in the next three seasons, hitting at least 16 home runs in each season, though concerns about his plate discipline and strikeout rate persisted.

This season, however, Hernandez has dropped his strikeout rate to 25.3 percent, down from 37.9 percent in 2017. He has improved his strike zone recognition, leading to a career-best 69.9 percent contact rate. He is now hitting the ball to all fields, slashing .305/.347/.521 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI in 407 at-bats, forming a dynamic trio in the Blue Jays lineup alongside Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

“He’s a top-10 hitter in baseball,” a Blue Jays executive said recently.

Since the 2019 All-Star break, Hernandez ranks eighth in baseball with a .384 wOBA and ninth with a 143 wRC+. His 56 home runs rank eighth in baseball while his .916 OPS ranks ninth. His 6.4 fWAR in that span averages out to 4.9 per every 650 plate appearances.

Hernandez, 28, was part of the Blue Jays’ return along with outfielder Nori Aoki from the Houston Astros for left-hander Francisco Liriano. The trade, completed by Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, looked like a coup at the time but looks even better now than it did then. And Hernandez has continued his strong play, hitting .330/.361/.583 with seven home runs and 25 RBI in the last 28 days, putting him in position to earn a lucrative extension in the winter.

Might be a good idea. It looks like this version of Hernandez is here to stay.

MLB Trade Deadline winners:

Atlanta Braves: When Ronald Acuña Jr., baseball’s most dynamic leadoff hitter and a strong National League MVP candidate, tore his ACL on July 10, the Braves were .500 and seemingly headed nowhere fast. Then general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Richard Rodriguez and Eddie Rosario and everything changed.

The Braves are now 68-58 and lead the NL East by five games. Soler, 29, has hit .250/.384/.475 with five home runs in 80 at-bats. Pederson, 29, has hit .255/.339/.427 with four home runs in 110 at-bats. Duvall, 32, has five home runs and 18 RBI in 83 at-bats. Rodriguez, 31, has a 0.75 ERA in 12 appearances since the trade while Rosario, 29, is expected to come off the injured list in the coming days.

Milwaukee Brewers: There hasn’t been any trade deadline acquisition more impactful than Willy Adames, who is hitting .295/.379/.547 with 17 home runs and 50 RBI in 81 games with the Brewers. Adames, combined with the additions of Rowdy Tellez and Eduardo Escobar and Christian Yelich’s recent breakout, have resulted in Milwaukee having the third-highest OPS (.802) and third-most runs (197) scored since the All-Star break.

Oakland A’s: The Starling Marte addition couldn’t have come at a better time for the A’s, considering outfielder Ramon Laureano was suspended for the remainder of the season after testing positive for PEDs. Marte, 32, has filled in admirably, hitting .353/.391/.490 in 102 at-bats, and Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes have helped further deepen Oakland’s lineup. Andrew Chafin, a left-handed reliever acquired from the Chicago Cubs, has a 1.42 ERA in 12 appearances.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Max Scherzer and Trea Turner have come as advertised. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and are only 2.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West in what will be the most exciting division race in September.

New York Yankees: The additions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo confirmed that the Yankees were trying to compete for a World Series this season, adding left-handed bats to a right-handed heavy lineup and much-needed defensive improvements. Both Clay Holmes and Joely Rodriguez have pitched meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

I’ll echo the concerns I have previously written on Gallo’s strikeouts. He has struck out in 53.8 percent of at-bats entering Wednesday. Yes, the Yankees have won 12 consecutive games and team officials are confident that his athleticism and power will offset the strikeouts.

But that just can’t happen.

Are the Padres getting desperate?

The San Diego Padres were confident their offseason additions of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove fortified a championship-caliber rotation. Fast forward 126 games and these same Padres, 34-41 since May 29 and with a 27.1 percent chance of making the postseason, fired their pitching coach Larry Rothschild, a move that signaled their internal level of desperation.

Snell, a former Cy Young Award winner, leads the majors in walks. Darvish, who entered the season as the Padres’ ace, has a 3.70 ERA. Young pitchers Chris Paddack and Ryan Weathers have not come close to pitching to their potential, though general manager A.J. Preller and manager Jayce Tingler have been careful not to place the blame solely on Rothschild.

But clearly, the Padres felt that a change needed to be made. They hope interim pitching coach Ben Fritz can provide immediate results but have given him only 34 games to do so. Rothschild is likely the only in-season coaching change the Padres will make, as Dennis Lin of The Athletic first reported, but if their struggles continue, perhaps Preller begins the offseason looking for his fourth manager in seven seasons of running the organization.

Carlos Correa isn’t going to be with the Astros for long

In an interview with Andy McCullough of The Athletic, Houston Astros shortstop said, “My last year with the Astros, hopefully, we can win another championship. I can leave this great organization with two of them.”

The Astros paved the way for Correa’s departure when they offered him a $120-125 million extension, as Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported. The offer, which came in at just over one-third of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Francisco Lindor’s $340-341 million extensions, was recently described by a high-ranking rival executive as a “punch to the face.”