Five early candidates to win the Giants’ coveted Willie Mac Award

SF Giants newcomers Stephen Vogt, Kevin Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski are among the favorites

DENVER, COLORADO – AUGUST 03: Kevin Pillar #1 of the San Francisco Giants is congratulated by Mike Yastrzemski #5 after scoring on a Buster Posey 2 RBI double in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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SAN FRANCISCO — As the season begins to wind down, the San Francisco Giants are now five weeks out from the day of the Willie Mac Award presentation.

The team’s highest honor is annually awarded to the most inspirational player and despite the Giants’ sub-.500 record, there are no shortage of deserving candidates this year.

In the first year of Farhan Zaidi’s tenure and the final season of Bruce Bochy’s run with the Giants, a handful of newcomers and a few of the club’s elder statesmen have emerged as favorites.

The Giants will present the award on Friday, September 27 ahead of their final regular season series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2019 season will mark the first year the award will be presented since the death of McCovey, who passed away on October 31, 2018 at 80 years old.

Much can change in the season’s final month, particularly if the Giants enjoy another hot streak like the one they embarked on at July. There’s plenty of games left for under-the-radar candidates to build their résumés, so we’ll call this an early peek at five players who have emerged as front-runners.

Pablo Sandoval

An elbow injury could prevent Sandoval from playing again this season, but that shouldn’t diminish his overall contributions to the Giants this season.

A switch-hitting infielder who completely embraced his role as a bench player, Sandoval has spent the season finding various ways to provide a spark in clutch situations for a team that embraced his energetic personality.

Sandoval was on the roster bubble during spring training, but one of Bochy’s favorite players wasted little time proving his value to the club as he was the team’s most productive player during early-season rough patches.

Sandoval already won the Giants’ Heart & Hustle Award which honors the player who best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he’s deserving of the Willie Mac Award too.

Stephen Vogt

Catchers have an impressive history when it comes to the Willie Mac Award and it wouldn’t surprise any players Vogt has teamed up with during his seven-year major league career to see him win an award such as this one.

One of the most respected players in the league and a veteran leader in the Giants’ clubhouse, Vogt has posted some of the best offensive numbers of his career while essentially splitting time with Buster Posey behind the plate.

To make his candidacy more impressive, Vogt is doing all of this after missing the entire 2018 season following shoulder surgery that prevented him from making the Giants’ Opening Day roster.

Vogt is beloved by his Giants teammates, a model of consistency and a future major league manager who should be a hot commodity to lead a club when he eventually decides to retire.

Mike Yastrzemski 

Only one rookie has ever won the Willie Mac Award, but Mike Yastrzemski has a decent chance to join 2015 honoree Matt Duffy if he continues to build on a dream season.

Friday is Yastrzemski’s 29th birthday and after toiling in the minors for seven seasons, his story of resilience and perseverance has resonated in a remarkable way with veteran teammates who are in awe of what he’s accomplished.

“Yaz has been one of my favorite baseball players of all time this year,” Vogt said Wednesday. “Couldn’t root for a better human, a better kid, he’s 28, but you know what I mean. What he’s doing is so special.”

With 17 home runs in 259 at-bats, Yastrzemski has already hit the most homers by a Giants rookie since Buster Posey (18) in 2010 and the most by a Giants rookie outfielder since Chili Davis (19) in 1984.

Kevin Pillar

It’s easy to look at Pillar’s offensive numbers and understand why he’ll be in consideration for the award.

Pillar’s 19 home runs and 69 RBIs are already career-highs and he recently set a single-game career-high with five hits in a Giants win over the Diamondbacks.

The numbers, however, only tell part of his story. Pillar’s candidacy has much more to do with his style of play, an aggressive, all-out, intense approach that leaves no doubt that Pillar is putting forth maximum effort every time he steps between the lines.

Giants pitchers love his willingness to fling his body with reckless abandon in the outfield to make catches while his coaches love the way he flies up the first base line when he puts the ball in play.

There’s a reason Pillar was a fan favorite in Toronto and there’s little doubt his effort has won over folks who pay to watch the Giants at Oracle Park.

Jeff Samardzija

Is there a better comeback story in the National League than Jeff Samardzija?

The right-hander spent much of last summer wondering if he’d ever be the same on a major league mound, but after returning from shoulder inflammation that he admits lingered into the offseason, Samardzija is back and almost better than ever.

Outside of a 2014 season in which he earned an All-Star nod, Samardzija has never pitched as well as he has in 2019 as the Giants veteran has been the club’s best starter for much of the year. Since July 1, Samardzija owns an ERA of 2.00 in 10 starts and has provided much-needed stability in a rotation that hasn’t received much production from its younger starters of late.

Toughness, dependability and effort matter when it comes to the Willie Mac Award, and Samardzija has displayed all three qualities this season.

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