Remember the dead of winter, when you’re so distraught from lack of baseball you mark your calendar for impending prospect lists? Waiting endlessly for the updated Top whatevers from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, MLB Pipeline.... Dreaming of superstars on the verge of busting loose.
Then the season starts, reality sets in and you mostly forget all about those lists and glorious fantasies. But not today! We’re right around the quarter mark of the minor league season and regulars have surpassed the 100 PA mark, so let’s check in on the state of the system and see how our prospects are doing.
Well that looks pretty sweet!
My default mode would be to use Baseball America’s list, but due to print deadlines, the Giants top 30 list in this year’s Handbook included five different players who were no longer with the organization, including the #4 and 5 prospects on the list (Christian Arroyo and Bryan Reynolds). That’s an excellent reminder that the Giants thinned out their already thin system this winter in an attempt to compete at the major league level in 2018, but it doesn’t really help us to take the temperature of the system as is. So for expediency’s sake, let’s use MLB’s list instead. It has scouting grades and report for every player publicly accessible and a nifty little one-page look at all the top prospects stats, so it’s a perfect one stop reference. Open that page to get the stats, and over here we’ll bucket out the performances into a few tiers:
The Great Breakout:
Sorry. Nobody really fits in this category sadly. Post-prospect Mac Williamson’s two-week rampage through the PCL was certainly an eye-opener, but none of the organization’s prospects is really putting on this kind of “stand up and pay attention” show so far this year.
Good Show/Good Job!:
In the solidly good category, we have three pitchers and a couple of classic Giants’ flat-swing hitters. Andrew Suarez has leapfrogged over Tyler Beede to seize a major league rotation opportunity, and despite some standard issue growing pains in the majors, it looks like he’s leaping over Ty Blach as well, as a guy who will stick in the rotation as injured starters come back. Garrett Williams was the glory prospect in the Richmond rotation, but Shaun Anderson has managed the transition to AA better so far and Jordan Johnson is rebounding well from back to back poor seasons, in an attempt to Rx his prospect status.
Slater has continued to whack-a-mole AAA pitchers into submission, doubling his way to better than 1.000 OPS but showing some of the same pronounced anti-launch angle tendencies that have plagued his scouting reports for a long while now (perhaps a visit to Mac Williamson’s swing Dr. is in store). Ryan Howard is the latest Giants’ prospect to combine solid SS defense with a high contact approach to zoom his way up the system. Howard’s K’ing just 12% of the time in his AA debut.
If there’s a complaint to be made about this solid Good group, it’s the low impact nature of them. It’s a group of back-end rotation or utility players who are successfully increasing the likelihood that they might be successful in that role.
Heads Above Water:
There’s no doubt at all that the top two guys on this list could very easily slot into the category down the page a bit. And perhaps I’ll be criticized here for putting my thumb on the scale to protect them. Maybe. Ramos and Gonzalez have certainly had their fair shares of struggles in their full season debuts, and I won’t be shocked to see both in Oregon at some point before this year is done, just as another pair of 1st and 2nd round High School picks were a few years back (that’s Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones, if I wasn’t painfully obvious). But Ramos’ youth and inexperience make any success this year mostly gravy, and Gonzalez, though not nearly as raw, gets some of the same pass. They have some of the best power projection in the system still. But if you were hoping for a Vlad Guerrero Jr. or Ronald Acuña A ball breakout here? It’s not happening so far. Still doesn’t mean you should be worried about these guys, but patience is the watchword.
Melvin Adon and Garrett Cave get some level of the same mulligan. They’ve been thrown into the pool and they’re not drowning. Neither is turning their high octane into as many swing thrus as one can hope, and both have a relationship with the strike zone that verges on “frenemies.” Adon in particularly, is a serious arm to dream on.
Miguel Gomez was sent down from AAA to AA, and then up from AA to MLB, where he might have shaken hands with DJ Snelten in the airport. Both may be up and down guys, but that’s a hell of a career from where I’m sitting and there’s a chance each can carve out end of roster roles of some kind (I mean, Kelby’s still here!).
Heath Quinn got off to exactly the kind of “forget about last year’s troubles” start that he and everyone rooting for him was hoping for. Malique Ziegler was stepping out of the shadows that his higher profile Augusta teammates cast and perhaps having the finest all around season of anybody on the Greenjackets roster. Now both are cooling their heels on the DL with muscle strains, which can swallow up 6-8 weeks of the season at a whim. Tyler Herb wasn’t having the same kind of success before falling into the gravitational force of the DL, but his stuff made a lot of positive impressions on scouts this spring. He’s another guy who can have a back of the roster future, if he comes back.
There’s a Scuffle Going On
We Still Need To Talk About Chris Shaw's Facial Hair pic.twitter.com/SrmfsDjFI1— Doug (@moonwalkmcfly) April 15, 2018
Here my critics will say I’m being too harsh on some guys, but I call ‘em as I see ‘em. If you look hard enough, you’ll see a major concern with this group, as it encompasses most of the organization’s top 10 (and obviously, as mentioned above, I could easily have included the #1 and 11 guys here too). There are arguments to be made that some of these folks should be in other groups. Chris Shaw’s power numbers alone rescue his pure slash line. But that doesn’t fully cover up a 39% K rate/4.5% BB rate divide in a repeat of an offense-friendly league. Shaw has also just gone on the DL with a groin strain, so we can add him to the Injuries Blow list, too.
Duggar has the definite carrying tool of defense (probably even a Survival Tool) and his walk rate is still strong, but he’s still posting an 87 wRC+ in the PCL and striking out almost 30% of the time while showing very little power. Aramis Garcia had an encouraging 89 PA in AA at the end of 2017, which makes this season’s .208/.257/.344 line all the more disappointing. Sandro Fabian is struggling to hang on in the Cal League. There’s just a whole lot of ugly going on in those quarter post lines at the top of the system.
Garrett Williams is still probably the best pitching prospect in the system thanks to mid-90s heat from the left side and a killer curve. And you could give him some of the same benefit I extended to Ramos, in that he was thrown into the deep end with a very challenging assignment. But he’s walking nearly a batter per inning and has more walks than Ks. You can’t hand wave that away in AA. Tyler Beede is close to the same lines, with 33 walks in 43 IP over three levels. Control has always been the “if only” on Beede’s scouting report.
Joan Gregorio could have gone into the injury group, but there was almost nothing about his season that was going well before the DL stint.
Season Hasn’t Started Yet
Alexander Canario hit a ball really hard today. https://t.co/XxRmsGEgPh— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) March 20, 2018
Kelvin Beltre, Sam Coonrod, and Sam Wolff could all go above in the Injured section, too. Coonrod and Wolff are both rehabbing from major arm surgeries in 2017, while Beltre broke his tibia near the end of spring training. Coonrod likely will miss all of 2018, while Wolff should return in the second half of the year, and Beltre is likely getting close to assignment. Hinojosa was also looking to return from injury when he was popped for a second “drug of abuse” penalty.
The more exciting elements of this group are the young players who should be populating short season clubs next week — particularly last year’s DSL highights Alexander Canario and Gregory Santos. Both of these guys could leap into next year’s Giants’ top 10 (and Canario is already in this year’s top 5 on Fangraphs’ list). Who knows, maybe we’ll get someone into that first tier before the year’s out!
Jalen Miller has gone from 3rd round pick in 2015 to off the top 30 in 2018. But he’s finally starting to turn his skills and prodigious bat speed into some steady production in the Cal League. Can he keep it up?
The Giants started the year by thinning out their system, and there’s nobody who’s really stepping out of the crowd over the first six weeks to boost the system up. But by the time we reach the halfway point the system should be going through a serious overhaul, as Canario and Santos finally take the field, the #2 pick in the draft comes into the fold, and the J2 class is expected to deliver another huge amateur talent into the org. Hopefully more guys will start to lift up out of their early season doldroms and we’ll be looking at a much improved system two months from now.