The Augusta Greenjackets opening day roster has generated a lot of excitement leading up to opening day. And not just from me, it's got even bonafide professional minor league writers excited too. See:
And one would suspect the Giants FO themselves are pretty excited about this team, as well, seeing as how they've got a whole lot of money tied up in this roster. The Augusta club includes four different million dollar bonus signees: Jalen Miller ($1.1mm), Gustavo Cabrera ($1.3mm), Phil Bickford ($2.3mm), and the big one, Lucius Fox ($6mm). It's quite likely that you, you right there, reading this right now, are more excited about the 2016 season of one of those four players than anybody else in the system. And probably some of you are eagerly anticipating the performances of many of the minor gems dotting the lineup: Mac Marshall, Kelvin Beltre, Michael Santos, Logan Webb, even Tyler Brown has his fierce devotees.
But we shouldn't sleep on the guy who represents probably the single most surprising minor league assignment the Giants made this week: Manuel Geraldo, another MI looking for playing time in a very crowded middle infield.
Geraldo himself isn't without some pedigree. The Giants signed him for $375,000 in 2013, one of the higher bonuses they handed out that year, just slightly less than their bonuses for Kelvin Beltre ($650k), Kendry Melo ($500k) and Mikey Edie ($400k) and about the same as that given to Rodolfo Martinez. At the time of the signing, BA's expert of all things international Ben Badler had this to say about Geraldo:
At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, the 17-year-old Geraldo is a 60 runner and has plus arm strength. With good actions, range and footwork, he has a chance to be a quality defender at shortstop.
Read more at http://www.baseballamerica.com/international/international-reviews-san-francisco-giants/#vQ5iUy8zMTmXTZXc.99
As a skinny 17 year old, Geraldo's pro debut in the DSL was solid but not exactly eye popping, hitting .251/.323/.338. The most impressive thing he did was stay on the field for 62 games, mostly at SS, without wearing down as a 170 lb 17 year old. Still it wasn't surprising when the Giants chose to keep Geraldo in the DSL for a repeat season last year, allowing him to grow and mature.
Geraldo responded to the second chance with a break out performance, this time hitting .328/.383/.431. Now caveat: the DSL is an extremely low level of competition; the kind of environment where hitting truck loads of ground balls can be rewarded kindly with high BABIPs and batting averages. Still, in addition to the higher slash lines, Geraldo showed some nice improvement across his peripherals as well. His K rate dropped from 21% to 15% while his BB rate and Iso both increased nicely, if modestly. He was a spark plug at the top of the order for what turned out to be a championship team. In the 65 games he played, Geraldo produced multiple hits in 30 of them. He had 3 or more hits in one of every six games he played. He reached base multiple times in 40 different games. It was a good year!
And now the Giants have rewarded him with an ultra-rare assignment, jumping him from the DSL all the way to full season A ball. The last position player who went from the DSL to an opening day assignment in full season ball was Francisco Peguero, in 2008 (which was also the last time the Augusta team was this loaded with teenagers). To put that in perspective: the last time the Giants made this particular promotion, Madison Bumgarner was waiting to make his pro debut (as one of Frankie Pegs' teammates). Peguero would end up going down to Salem-Keizer mid-season and returning to Augusta again the following year. Peguero was also a tooled up monster who it turned out, could neither stay healthy nor avoid swinging at every thing thrown his way, but that's entirely beside the point I'm making.
Since then? Nyet. DSL hitters move up methodically: AZL, NWL, Sally. Mikey Edie was a teammate of Geraldo's in the DSL in 2014, where he had an excellent season, moved up to the domestic rookie league AZL last year, and now sits in XST waiting his chance in short season ball. There were rumors that Kelvin Beltre (another 2014 DSL teammate) was on the verge of making the "DSL to Augusta leap" last March, until a thumb injury kept him in Scottsdale. Beltre, too, showed up on the AZL roster last summer. Now he and Geraldo will be sharing an infield once more, fighting for playing time behind Fox and Miller.
In many ways, Geraldo represents something of a poor man's Lucius Fox, the player he'll most likely be backing up. One of those ways is that Fox literally has several million more dollars! But from a baseball perspective, Geraldo brings athleticism, particularly defensive athleticism, to the field with plus speed and an excellent arm, and footwork, range, and hands that all suggest a he's a true SS. And like Fox, Geraldo is a switch-hitter with a potential line drive oriented bat as he gains strength and physical maturity, though he's been an extreme ground ball hitter thus far as a teenager.
In addition to the plum assignment, Geraldo's rising stock was featured today in Badler's annual roundup of the 20 best prospects coming stateside from the DSL/VSL, in which Ben noted, among other things, that Geraldo was the most exciting prospect on a Giants championship team that had a decent amount of exciting prospects.
Geraldo was a good athlete when the Giants signed him, but he returned last year with more strength and quickness.
Read more at http://www.baseballamerica.com/international/top-20-dslvsl-prospects-from-2015/#zvJYQSCCw1CxTk5X.99
And now he's bringing that athleticism to one of the most athletically gifted minor league affiliates that the Giants have ever fielded in my memory. It's also a fascinating experiment in aggressive promotions. Kelvin Beltre has just 56 PA above the DSL. Gustavo Cabrera has just 8. Lucius Fox, of course, will make his pro debut in Augusta on Thursday. And Manuel Geraldo jumps up straight from the Dominican rookie camp. It's an audacious, and very un-Giantsy strategy: throw a bunch of a incredibly athletic teenagers at the A ball wall and see who sticks. It might be Lucius Fox. It might be Jalen MIller. But don't sleep on the chance that it's Manuel Geraldo, who may well be the most surprising Greenjacket of them all.