PHOENIX -- About an hour after reaching base for the fifth time, Austin Slater stood in front of his locker at Chase Field, wiped some sweat off his forehead, and told a story about Barry Bonds. The home run king often speaks to Giants minor leaguers, and Slater recalled Bonds once telling young hitters that he never swung at a pitch he didn't think he could hit out.
"Who knows if it was true," Slater added, smiling.
True or not, Slater is trying to take the same approach, and the numbers are starting to add up. With three hits and two walks Thursday, Slater upped his on-base percentage to .404 (second on the team to Alex Dickerson) and slugging to .516 (trailing only Dickerson and Stephen Vogt). His .919 OPS has been accomplished over a small sample, but a full season like that would rank him in the top 15 in the NL.
At a time when Dickerson Mania has taken over much of the fan base and Mike Yastrzemski is rightfully seen as a big piece of the future, Slater, a homegrown Giant, is quietly keeping himself in the outfield conversation. There's a reason he hasn't been sent down since getting recalled at the start of July, despite having options remaining. He has become a consistent threat from the right side, balancing an outfield possessing mostly lefty power.
"At the end of the day I feel I belong up here," Slater said. "It was just about taking advantage of the opportunity."
Slater has done that by completely reworking his game. The power and speed and hit tool have always been there, but he smothered far too many balls last season, repeatedly hitting grounders to the right side. He changed his swing in the offseason and has continued to work on tweaks, and the difference is dramatic.
Slater's exit velocity is up 2.1 mph year over year and his launch angle is up from 2.3 degrees to 6.1, per Baseball Savant. The hard hit percentage -- 31.8 percent as a rookie and 34.4 percent last year -- is way up to 52.5 percent. Throw in a walk rate that's up six points and Slater has become a dangerous hitter.
For the 26-year-old, all of those numbers go hand in hand. Slater is being selective and waiting for his pitch, and when he gets it, he's swinging with more authority. He's not quite swinging only at pitches he thinks he can hit out, but he's getting closer.
"The stats and analytics are there," he said.
The playing time has been, too, but that will change a bit. Dickerson is back and will play one corner against righties with Yastrzemski in the other. It's a platoon system for now, but Slater doesn't mind. Farhan Zaidi came in and overhauled the outfield mix, but Slater has been the lone holdover to find firm footing. He didn't just survive the purge. He's thriving, and he's ready for whatever role the Giants have in store.
"It stresses the important of team, team above everything else," he said of platoons. "We've got a great clubhouse and guys who put themselves in the back seat and let the team take over."