The beautiful thing about baseball is the depth. Having to explain minor league baseball to people becomes a nightmare because they just can't fathom how many players each organization controls. The non-baseball personnel assume Mark Appel gets drafted in June and reports to the Astros the next day to begin doing — I don't know — Astros things, probably. But unless your name is Stephen Strasburg, putting on a big league uniform is far more complex.
The end result is a system of more than 200 professional baseball players committed to a daily grind with one goal in mind — a goal some may never grasp. San Francisco has even had at least two minor leaguers retire before this year's spring training. The bottom line is, not everyone can be a top-20 prospect. Heck, not everyone can be a top-100 prospect. So, with that being said, a plethora of names go unnoticed. Here are four Giants prospects whose unfamiliar names might soon start to perk ears.
1. RHP, Cody Hall
Cody Hall rarely gets the credit he deserves. Heading into his fourth season in San Francisco's minor leagues, Hall has a career ERA of 2.00, 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and 34 less hits than innings pitched. Comparatively, he has slightly better numbers than Heath Hembree, with a full run lower earned run average.
Seems worthy of recognition, right? Especially when you consider Hall throws a mid-90s fastball with three other specialty pitches — a cutter, a split-change, and a slider. The cutter, Hall says, made a resurgence in 2013 and contributed to his success that year.
"I threw it my first year and it was a really good pitch for me," Hall said in October "I started working on my slider and went away from the cutter. I've started to bring the cutter back ... it was my best pitch."
Hall was a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions alongside Kyle Crick and Derek Law in the Arizona Fall League. He wasn't awesome in a month of work there, allowing 17 base runners (13 hits, four walks) in nine innings, but kept the ERA right at three. Still. hard to argue with these numbers:
|A- (1 season)||A-||3||1||2.63||23||20||4||27.1||21||8||8||1||19||42||5||125||1.463||6.9||0.3||6.3||13.8||2.21|
|A (1 season)||A||3||0||1.60||36||31||20||39.1||36||7||7||0||12||54||1||164||1.220||8.2||0.0||2.7||12.4||4.50|
|A+ (2 seasons)||A+||3||1||1.71||35||9||3||42.0||27||14||8||2||11||58||2||166||0.905||5.8||0.4||2.4||12.4||5.27|
|AA (1 season)||AA||2||2||2.39||20||15||8||26.1||17||8||7||4||8||27||1||105||0.949||5.8||1.4||2.7||9.2||3.38|
Hall was unhittable those 26 games in San Jose a year ago.
Though he's beginning the year in Richmond where he pitched the remaining two months of the 2013 season, Hall will surely put on a Grizzlies uniform before September.
Projection: 5-3, 50 games, 2.49 ERA, 65.0 IP, 11 saves, 42 H, 24 R, 18 ER, 21 BB, 83 K
2. SS, Matt Duffy
I happened to be in Stockton when Matt Duffy, after a promotion from Augusta, hit his first home run as a member of the San Jose Giants. The camera was also rolling, which is always nice. I never anticipated Duffy to be much of a power hitter, but more a plus defender at shortstop with an average bat. Though after watching multiple batting practices at spring training where Duffy was the one of the few players hitting home runs in a group that included Mac Williamson and Angel Villalona, I knew there was clearly some pop in that bat.
Now, do I think he's really a "power hitter?" No. But he definitely puts more into the barrel than I gave him credit for. He hit five dingers in 26 games with San Jose, finishing the his brief stint at High-A with a .509 slugging percentage. Clearing the fence will be more challenging for Duffy now that he finds himself in Richmond, but hey, Andrew Susac hit more homers in Richmond than in San Jose.
Like I said, Duffy is a remarkable defender. He's not a Christian Arroyo-type that the Giants will consider moving to second base. He's a true shortstop. Impressive were the amount of times the Long Beach State product made appearances with the big league club in Arizona this spring. I don't have exact totals, but I'm almost positive he got more looks at shortstop than anyone other than Ehire Adrianza. The Giants like what they see. And they rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A after a season split between two A-ball teams. Here are his pro stats up until this point:
Totaling more walks than strikeouts in his 78 games with the GreenJackets in 2013 is most impressive. Hopefully he'll show that same mix of average, patience, and occasional power with the Flying Squirrels this season.
Projection: 115 G, 422 AB, 122 H, 27 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 60 BB, 65 K, (.289/.380/.448)
3. RHP, Luis Castillo
Googling "Luis Castillo Giants" yields this. Pablo Sandoval face-planting into a railing is clearly the most relevant. As are Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada baseball card thumbnails. But it's mostly the retired infielder, two-time National League base-stealing champion Luis Castillo, and understandably so. Google doesn't know our Luis Castillo. Yet.
Frankly, I don't know much about Castillo. The internet told me he's 6'2", 170 pounds, a native of the Dominican Republic, and dominated the Dominican Summer League in 2013.
Castillo was easily the best relief pitcher in the DSL last year, leading all relievers in saves and WHIP. Rumors are abound that he throws 100. It's an optimistic call, as it's hard to say how someone transitions from rookie ball into a full-season roster, but I think Castillo explodes in 2014, especially if he receives everyday closing duties.
Projection: 2-2, 48 games, 2.12 ERA, 51.0 IP, 24 saves, 39 H, 19 R, 12 ER, 12 BB, 70 K
4. 1B/RF, Brian Ragira
Brian Ragira played a good chunk of right field with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in his first professional season. But after being listed as an infielder on the San Jose Giants roster, his first full-season team in only his second year since being selected in the fourth round last June, it looks as if the ex-Stanford ballplayer will get a majority of reps in 2014 at first base — the position he held most at Stanford.
Though Ragira didn't display his power as frequently as expected in the Northwest League, this year could be a different story in the California League. Look for Ragira to be a heart-of-the-lineup hitter, hopefully replacing the home run potential left behind by Mac Williamson and Devin Harris (Note: Williamson will begin the season with San Jose, though only as an injury rehab assignment).
Slugging less than .400 in 47 games with the Volcanoes was surprising. I don't see that happening starting today. Ragira will be a crucial part of San Jose's lineup, providing power, defense, and a cannon when he plays right field, which he should occasionally do.
Projection: 120 G, 450 AB, 129 H, 25 2B, 6 3B, 15 HR, 82 RBI, 58 BB, 98 K, (.287/.373/.469)