The San Francisco Giants offseason plan was simple: count on strong years from veteran players. They were counting on strong years from the veterans they had, and on strong years from veterans they acquired.
There wasn’t much of a hope that the farm would deliver anything bearing fruit. Not this year, at least. It was all about the veterans, a sign that this team was playing for immediate results, rather than to build a foundation on which to contend for the next five years.
100+ games into the season, that holds mostly true, but there have been some exceptions. The team whose farm was viewed by many as “Heliot Ramos, and....uhh.....” has found some bright spots from young, cost-controlled players who could very likely play pivotal roles on the next Giants team that plays meaningful October games.
Yesterday Grant wrote about the excitingly mysterious entity that is Dereck Rodriguez. The strike-throwing righty rewarded Grant with another six-inning, two-run showing. Rodriguez entered the year on absolutely no one’s radar, and now, 59 innings into his big league career, he’s already amassed 1.0 WAR, while achieving a 3.47 FIP, with zero glaringly unsustainable peripherals.
Will he regress? Possibly. Will the league figure him out? Possibly. Will he continue to be an above-average pitcher who could fit into the third slot of a quality rotation? Also possibly.
If Rodriguez wasn’t on anyone’s radar, Andrew Suarez was. But that radar had a gigantic sign with flashing neon lettering that read “Ceiling: Fifth Starter”. Suarez is now 94.2 innings into his career. He’s struck out 7.89 per nine innings, and walked only 2.19. His FIP is 3.68, despite a normal BABIP, and a home-run rate that is likely to improve. Fangraphs pegs him for 1.3 WAR thus far.
Suarez has a little more pedigree and history than Rodriguez, so his success seems a bit more sustainable, but still, the small sample size questions remain. But in March most of us would have said a career as a fifth starter would have been an impressive and satisfactory outcome for Suarez. Now he looks like the third or fourth starter could be his destiny.
Reyes Moronta has been extraordinary in his first full season at the bigs. Ray Black is still just 6.1 innings into his MLB career, but has shown great signs. Would you be surprised if either of these two were closing games for the Giants this time next year, or in 2020? I wouldn’t.
The questions about Steven Duggar’s bat persist, but with a slash line of .286/.314/.408, he’s been good enough at the plate to let his defensive abilities shine. His sample size is tiny, but he looks comfortable, in control, and has displayed strong contact skills. If he can keep that up, he’s well on his way to being an above-average center fielder.
Austin Slater has looked like a quality starter, even if the Giants have refused to treat him like one. Free agent camp invite Alen Hanson has dazzled his way to a strong season in which he’s displayed the bat skills and athleticism that once made him a top prospect. He is team-controlled through 2023.
Some of these players will regress. But in all likelihood, some of them will not.
It’s vital to have stars on your team, and stars in your farm. Currently the Giants farm, from a star standpoint, is Ramos, Joey Bart, and nothing else. But as Mike Trout reminds us every single day, star talent can only take you so far. Filling out a roster with 25 stars is an impossible game; you need a large crop of solid starters and bench players to augment your best players. Preferably cost-controlled ones.
If there’s a positive takeaway from this season thus far, it’s that they appear to have found some of those players.