Giants' emerging young core showing encouraging signs for 2023 MLB season

Kapler, Giants encouraged by progress of emerging young core originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

CHICAGO -- As David Villar took grounders at second base an hour before the Giants' game against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field, Gabe Kapler crouched down on the edge of the infield dirt. He took his phone out and started recording, checking every few seconds to see how the shot had turned out.

At first it appeared Kapler might have been examining a young infielder’s footwork or first step, but the longer he stayed in the crouch, the more it looked like the manager was trying to gather content for Instagram. Anyone who made that guess wouldn’t have been far off.

"I was more interested in the shoes he was wearing," Kapler admitted after the game. "He had some cool purple Jordans on that I thought were really good. I thought they were good with the sweats that he had on."

Kapler loved seeing them, and not just because he might own more pairs of shoes than anyone in the clubhouse. He wants the rookie infielder to show more confidence on the field, even if that comes off as swagger or cockiness.

“Don’t shrink,” was Kapler’s message to Villar. “Be yourself, let your personality emerge. I think the first time he came up he struggled with that a little bit and we talked about how important it is just to be you, be the same dude you were in Triple-A. That includes all your swag and all your confidence and even a little bit of cockiness. It's totally fine. It's going to be embraced."

It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re contributing, and right now Villar is the hottest hitter in the lineup. His homer Saturday capped the scoring in a 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs that was led nearly entirely by young players. That is, to put it bluntly, very rare around here.

Logan Webb threw seven strong innings to pick up his 13th win. Camilo Doval got his 21st save. The scoring came from Villar and Joey Bart, who homered in a four-run second inning. All four players are 25 years old.

In the grand scheme of things, that's not particularly young given the way the game is going. Moving forward, the Giants will have to find a way past a San Diego Padres team that has two 23-year-old superstars in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. The frisky Arizona Diamondbacks are building around 22-year-old outfielders Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas.

But for the Giants, 25 is young right now. It's exciting. It's a breath of fresh air for the oldest roster in the National League.

"It's a very cool thing," Kapler said, "And to see it all happen and on display today is encouraging."

It has been years since the Giants had an emerging young core, and this group has a long way to go. Webb is already established as the ace and Doval as the closer, but Bart and Villar both know they have a lot of work to do. The recent signs are encouraging, though.

Bart's homer was his 11th and raised his average over his last 22 games to .343. Villar is following a similar path, and his homer was his fourth of the road trip. Like Bart, Villar struggled at first to adjust to big league hitting. But like Bart, he has been on a tear since returning from Triple-A.

"All he needs is a taste of blood," Bart said of Villar. "I've been saying that. You can tell he's got real ability. Ever since he got drafted, all he's done is hit."

The Giants plan to let the young quartet close things out strong this season. Villar, the last of the bunch to join, is playing every day, and Kapler said he'll see more time at second and possibly in left to prepare for 2023, when he could be a mainstay at a corner infield spot.

Before the next season arrives, the roster will undergo significant changes. Webb was hesitant when asked about the emergence of a "young core," noting that 15 new players could arrive in the offseason. But no matter how things shake out, the Giants know Webb will be there next opening day, throwing to Bart with Doval hoping to close things out.

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Villar is putting himself in position to be there, too. With every good swing, he's gaining confidence, and perhaps that's the most important thing right now.

"I don't know what the percentage of baseball is (confidence), but that's a big part of baseball, having confidence in yourself to be able to do it," Webb said. "It's funny. We go our entire lives being the most confident people in the world and we get to the best level and your confidence might go down. You say, why is it going down now that I've gotten to the level I've been trying to get to since I was five years old?

"It takes time. That's just kind of the way it goes. There's a small percentage of guys that do it from day one, so I'm very excited for some of these guys to get the opportunity. There's nothing to lose right now. Just go out there and have fun, and when you do that, good things happen."

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