San Francisco Giants: Leadoff LaMonte, the All-Star?

LaMonte Wade Jr. was something of an afterthought before his breakout season in 2021. Two unremarkable cups of coffee with the Twins were not an indication of the impact Wade would later enjoy after his February 2021 trade to the Giants.

Once he settled by The Bay there was no stopping him. A seemingly endless series of clutch hits over the course of the historic 107-win season helped create one of my favourite nicknames in all of baseball:

Late Night LaMonte.

It felt like every night Wade stepped to the plate with the Giants within reach of victory, he would deliver. Whether it was a single through the infield or a towering home run, Wade’s clutch heroics put some extra shine on what was an immensely memorable year.

Inevitably it couldn’t last and 2022 saw Wade crash back to earth. Injuries robbed him of his power and athleticism, limiting him to just 77 difficult games. This created a fair amount of uncertainty heading into 2023. Fans weren’t sure what to expect from Wade; a repeat of his golden 2021 or plagued by more injuries?

Now we’re into mid-June, the Giants have gotten something else entirely, something fresh and new from the 29-year-old Baltimore native. This season, Wade has transformed himself into an on-base machine, the type of player a Moneyball disciple could only dream of.

At the time of writing Wade is leading off for the Giants daily and has an incredible .413 OBP, good enough for second place in the entire league (only trailing Miami’s talented Luis Arraez, who is somehow making a legitimate attempt to hit .400 this year).

The plate discipline Wade has displayed has been truly exceptional, his patience unrivalled on the ballclub. Wade’s 43 walks lead all Giants and by a significant margin (Michael Conforto trails in second place with 27 walks). His impressive 17.6% walk rate is currently third-best in the majors, just narrowly behind Oakland’s Ryan Noda and renowned on-base guru Juan Soto.

Wade does more than just walk though; his 139 OPS+ put him above all other Giants and his 2.3 WAR trails only Thairo Estrada, who is enjoying a sublime season himself. Wade has some serious clout too: his 8 home runs are currently fourth highest on the team. He’ll be forever enshrined in Giants history for one of his more recent efforts: on 2 June facing the Orioles at home, Wade connected on a Dean Kremer first-pitch fastball and sent it straight over the right field wall and into the water of McCovey Cove. It was Oracle Park’s 100th splash hit home run by a Giants player, a landmark moment for the most beautiful ballpark in the nation (don’t argue with it, just accept this as fact).

Remarkably, Wade has achieved all of this whilst adjusting to his new home at first base. Primarily considered an outfielder for most of his career, Wade wasn’t unfamiliar with first base but it would be a stretch to say it came naturally to him. However, after devoted offseason workouts and dedicated study during the spring, Wade has shaped himself into one of the supreme first basemen in the league. According to Fangraphs, Wade’s 5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) rank him joint-first in the majors at the position, tied with the Rangers’ Nathaniel Lowe. Wade’s quick reflexes and athleticism have made him invaluable to San Francisco, particularly to the Giants’ rotation and their armada of groundball pitchers.

Wade is certainly enjoying an All-Star calibre season and it would be a crime for him to be dismissed by voters ahead of the Midsummer Classic in Seattle next month. There’s no doubt Wade will face stiff competition for selection though, as the National League is home to mega hitters like Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson and Paul Goldschmidt (among others).

Nevertheless, Wade’s emergence as one of the key contributors on this Giants’ roster has been a pleasant surprise. His strong performances at bat and in the field have made him a vital piece in Gabe Kapler’s lineup.

If the Giants are to go far in 2023, Wade leading the way will be key.

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

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