With minor league Spring Training camp breaking on Sunday, all four full season affiliates have now announced their Opening Day roster. In point of fact, they've named 28 man rosters, which will be trimmed to a 25 man active roster before next Thursday's season opener, but for now we'll just work with big tent and consider the full squad part of the team. Full rosters are linked to the team names and parenthetical numbers refer to rankings in the 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
The Highlights: Though the RiverCats don't really have any of the very biggest names in the system, they do have a large contingent of players on the BA Top 30 led by Clayton Blackburn (8), Jarrett Parker (9), and Mac Williamson (11) and former top prospect Andrew Susac (#1 last year). There's a strong chance all three will wear a SF Giants jersey at some point this year, and in Parker and Williamson's case in particular, OF opportunities are clearly going to open in the not too distant future. With all four current OFs on the SF roster in their 30s and with a fairly extensive recent injury history, it's likely that a DL stint or two will provide either Parker or Williamson a chance to make a major league impression. And with both Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco facing FA next winter, those opportunities could well lead to a big league future.
For Blackburn, he's going to want to shake off a rough end to spring training and put himself in position to be the guy tagged to take some big league starts should (likely) Jake Peavy or Matt Cain, or even (shudder) Johnny Cueto take a return visit to the DL. Andrew Susac, who suffered through an injury plagued 2015 needs to get healthy, get regular ABs and perhaps take the opportunity to get some regular work improving the subtleties of the defensive side of his game. He too, will almost certainly be a SF Giant for some (probably significant) parts of the year.
Could be Helpful: It's AAA, so virtually the entire roster qualifies here. But other BA top 30 guys on the roster include Ty Blach (20), Derek Law (23), Steven Okert (24), and Chris Stratton (26). Stratton's strong spring makes him another potential callup should one of the Giant's rotation members hit the DL, while Derek Law, who threw just 25 innings last year in returning from TJ surgery, has an excellent chance to work himself into the bullpen mix. Steven Okert's uneven 2015, allowed Josh Osich to leapfrog over him in the depth chart (Osich essentially jumped from AA to the majors), but Okert is still likely to get the call should one of the SF situational lefties need DL time or should Osich prove ineffective in his sophmore year. Jake Dunning, who suffered two separate groin strains last year put himself back on the map with a very strong spring training, and could also see major league time this year, though not being on the 40 man is a hindrance. The same is true for several former major leaguers and/or top prospects from other organizations, including Gorkys Hernandez, Grant Green, and Conner Gillaspie.
Missing: Kyle Blanks seemed to have the inside track to a potential major league job, but his poor health record struck again, and now he isn't even a part of the AAA roster. It's to be assumed he's begun the year on the DL, but there's still a chance that he can work his way back to action in Sacramento, and if he can prove to be healthy there, maybe even SF.
The Highlights: Richmond's roster boasts two of the Giants last three #1 picks (and their top 2 prospects on the BA list) in 2013 first rounder Christian Arroyo (1) and 2014 first rounder Tyler Beede (2). The bullpen includes Mr. 103 MPH himself Ray Black (13). And if that's not enough firepower, the roster also includes 2013 second rounder Ryder Jones. Arroyo has lifted his prospect profile at nearly every level with a career .303/.348/.448 line in the minor leagues. Arroyo's mostly played at SS in his career (with just 27 games at 2b and 3b in Augusta) but we might expect to see him move around in Richmond, building some versatility into his game. Tyler Beede rocketed to AA after just 15 pro starts at lower levels. He ran into some late year fatigue issues, but hopes that adding weight and strength to his legs during the winter, and bringing back the 4-seam fastball he mostly shelved last year, will help him conquer the AA level.
The Giants promise to take the training wheels off the oft-injured Ray Black, giving him back-to-back game assignments and attempting to build him up to a major league reliever workload. If all goes well with the increased work, we might well see Black's extreme velo in the majors this year, as the org will doubtless want to use whatever bullets he got in that frequently injured right arm of his. The team continue to show great faith in Ryder Jones, moving him up another level after yet another questionably successful season in the Cal League. Jones has great size and "looks the part" as they like to say (they being John Hart I guess). He made an impression on the big league staff in his few Spring Training appearances, but this could be a crucial year for Ryder as he needs to have his results match his profile at some level. In the past two years, he's shown a significant decline in the second half of the year.
Could be Helpful: Several other of the best pitching prospects in the Giants' system dot the roster including Adalberto Mejia (10), Chase Johnson (14), Joan Gregorio (18), Jake Smith (22), former top prospect Kyle Crick (27). The pitching staff also includes former major leaguer Mike Kickham. Two more members of the 2014 draft who raced to AA return to Richmond in OFs Hunter Cole (29) and Austin Slater (30). Both look to profile as versatile UT types if not more.
Of this group, Mejia, Gregorio, Smith, and Crick are all members of the 40 man roster like Black, and could find their way to SF with good results. Remember, this time last year Josh Osich was returning to Richmond for a third season in AA.
Missing: Ian Gardeck was slated to move up with his high velo SJ teammates Smith and Black in a formidable back of the bullpen for Richmond. Instead he takes the year off and begins the arduous rehab from TJ.
Surprising: C Matt Winn was a 14th round pick last June but begins the year with the highest level assignment of any one in the draft class. Winn, a local boy who attended nearby VMI, was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award for the nation's best catcher in college (ironically, Bench himself never attended college!). Winn played just 36 games last year between the rookie league AZL and Augusta in the Sally league (A ball) and he hit just .216/.277/.328 in those games, but the defensive specialist could just Jax his way to a big league career at some point.
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The Highlights: SJ's roster boasts one-third of the top 15 prospects in the system and the excitement begins with the starting rotation which will be anchored by Sam Coonrod (7), last year's 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez (12), and everybody's sleeper pick for the Giants' system Jordan Johnson (14). All three return to SJ following late 2015 promotions and all three were big parts of the team's run in the Cal League playoffs last year. Coonrod made a big impression in spring training with his combination of velocity and deception and seems likely to play a part in a future Giants' team whether as a starter or late inning reliever. Suarez, the LHP out of UMiami, offers a lot of present polish of four-pitch repertoire. Suarez is more high floor than high ceiling, and his health history is extremely spotty, but some see him as the best LHP prospect in the system. If Suarez' health history is spotty, then Jordan Johnson's is a full-on Pollock painting, but Jordan's still getting a lot of people excited for the promise of his high 90s fastball matched with solid command of a three pitch repertoire. A fully healthy year could rocket him up the national prospect charts.
The lineup also includes last year's supplemental 1st rounder Chris Shaw (5) and 2014 2nd rounder Aramis Garcia (7). Shaw was considered one of the best power bats in last year's college class and despite recovering from a broken hamate bone in the spring, he led the NWL in HRs, SLG, and Iso. He should put up some big numbers in the hitter friendly Cal. Garcia is a bat first Catcher whose 2015 was a tale of three parts: a slow start, a "crazy-out-of-his-gourd" torrid spell that at one point included 6 HRs in 10 games and then, after a promotion to SJ, another slow start at the new level. Despite playing just 83 games in Augusta, Garcia ended up tied for 4th in the league in HRs.
Could be Helpful: The SJ club includes five hitters who are making their full-season debut in A+ which is the most in recent memory and possibly the most since the minor leagues adopted the current A/A+ alignment. In 2008 the SJ team included four hitters making their debut: Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Conner Gillaspie, and Roger Kieschnick. This year the group includes Shaw as well as his Salem-Keizer teammates CF Ronnie Jebavy (21), RF Steven Duggar (25), 3b Jose Vizcaino, Jr. and SS CJ Hinojosa. Hinjosa's inclusion certainly involved logistics as there were no other obvious candidates for the position (the primary SS for last year's Augusta club are currently either retired or suspended), but in short season NWL, Hinojosa showed a combination of contact skills (7.4% K rate) and power (.185 Iso) that certainly beat watching from a MI.
The club features very few promotions from last year's Augusta club, but the ones who did come up are highly intriguing. Johneshwy Fargas led the system with 59 SB last year, attempting to steal virtually any time he was on any base. He also flashed some plus defensive chops in CF (how he shares time with Ronnie Jebavy, who's also a plus defensive CF will be an interesting part of the Giants' season). Jonah Areado is in many ways, the RH version of Ryder Jones. He's big, he's strong, he's pretty athletic, and his overall numbers have mostly been disappointing. He's played only 3b up to now, but has been practicing a lot at 1b and figures to rotate time between the two positions and DH, splitting with Shaw and Vizcaino.
If you haven't tired of waiting for Ray Black, prepare yourself to begin waiting for Rodolfo Martinez, another reliever who threatens triple digits regularly and adds a killer slider. Martinez will team with Reyes Moronta to light up radar guns around the Cal league this year from the back of the Sj bullpen.
Missing: Two power hitters from the 2014 draft, 3rd rounder Dylan Davis and 6th rounder Skyler Ewing surely hoped to make this club. Instead they've seen themselves passed up by 2015 draftees Shaw, Jebavy, and Duggar. The same could be said of Seth Harrison, who spent most of last year in SJ only to get demoted back to the Sally this year.
Surprising: Martin Agosta was a somewhat surprising 2nd round pick in 2012 and for the first half of his 2013 season he made that pick look good. But his career since then has been uneven to say the least with injuries, blowups, and demotions to the bullpen, sandwiched around the occasional streak of brilliance. Agosta heads back to SJ for his third full season in the Cal League.
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courtesy of Conner Penfold!
The Highlights: The Augusta club features the top two amateur acquisitions from last year in 2015 1st round selection Phil Bickford (3) and $6 million international free agent Lucius Fox (4). And if that's not enough excitement for you, Fox's primary MI partner will be the 2015 3rd round pick Jalen Miller (16) who you may have read recently is a very exciting prospect! But wait, there's more! The Greenjackets' lineup will also include 2012 top IFA signee Gustavo Cabrera, making his full-season debut after nearly two years off injury rehab. Gustavo, too, you may have recently read was a guy to watch for.
Because the Giants tend to be an organization that favors college players in their drafts, the cream of their draft crops have a tendency to skip over Augusta and head straight to SJ (as most of the college guys did this year). As a result, Augusta tends to be a bit of a prospect backwater in the Giants' system. But that is clearly not the case this year as the team opens the season with a huge concentration of some of the most exciting high-upside players in the system. This is also by far the youngest Augusta squad in years, including an 18 year old (Fox), four 19 year olds (Miller, Logan Webb, Kelvin Beltre, and Manuel Geraldo), and five 20 year olds (Bickford, Cabrera, Mac Marshall, Michael Santos and Jean Angomas). 21 year old MI Tyler Brown (Bickford's college roommate) is practically an old-timer on this squad.
Could be Helpful: Beyond Bickford, the rotation is loaded with interesting arms (I've virtually never said any such thing about an Augusta team before). 2014 4th round pick Logan Webb was a late rising HS pitcher who was more famous for being his HS football team's star quarterback. Webb was one of the youngest members of the 2014 draft class and starts the 2016 year still just 19 years old. He struggled getting his results to match his stuff in the NWL last year, but went out on a high note, dominating a Hillsboro Hops team that included 1-1 pick Dansby Swanson and a load of college and minor league vets (the Hops would go on to win the league championship). Another 2014 HS draftee (for the Houston Astros), Mac Marshall (28) fell victim to the Brady Aiken imbroglio and ended up coming to the Giants as their 2015 4th round pick. 2015 8th round pick Cory Taylor came from the highest octane pitching staff in the NCAA last year, Dallas Baptist University. The Giants used Taylor strictly in relief last year, but appear ready to move him back to a starter's position this year. He features mid 90s velocity and a slider that should befuddle Sally league hitters.
With Fox and Miller dominating the middle of the diamond, it'll be hard to manage playing time for the many other MI on the roster. The oft injured Kelvin Beltre was the Giants highest bonus signee ($650k) on the IFA market in the 2013 July 2nd class and was rumored to be headed to Augusta out of spring training last year before a last minute thumb injury derailed him. Another member of the 2013 July 2nd class, Manuel Geraldo signed for $375k, and has spent the last two seasons in the DSL rookie league. He's the only member of last year's championship DSL Giants to make the leap to full-season ball.
Missing: I had some hopes that two more six figure IFA signees might make this club. CF Mikey Edie signed for $400k in 2013 and spent last year playing on the AZL club. Edie is young, born just one day after Lucius Fox, and slight, but tremendously athletic. He'll likely show up in Salem-Keizer in June. Also, 20 year old LHP Sandro Cabrera, who last year was 2nd in the DSL in strikeouts (by 1), will likely have to wait until short season ball to start his US career.
Surprising: Well besides the bushels of youth and impact tools you mean? How about the feel good story of Adam Sonabend who spent all of last year as an organizational bullpen Catcher, never appearing on an active roster until the final week of the season, making the active roster. You can read Sonabend tell his own story of how he went from Undrafted to Inactive here. Congrats, Adam! And for more good feelies, very very hard throwing LHP Caleb Smith will paly just down the road from the small towns where he starred in HS and college. Hopefully the home cooking and friendly crowds will inspire him.
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So that's it. There's excitement to be had at every level of the org and a lot of fascinating young careers to follow. If you're interested, you might want to get a subscription to MiLBtv for just more than $10 a month, as quite a few of the games are televised (sadly, neither the Augusta nor Richmond teams telecast their home games as of yet). Or just check in daily with Minor Lines which will be starting up on Friday with our daily review of each night's games.