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The lottery tickets

Who’s your pick for this year’s breakout player?

California Joins Mega Millions Lottery Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Giants have adopted Farhan Zaidi’s practice of acquiring intriguing players who have the potential to breakout. When he ran the Dodgers, those players were Chris Taylor and Max Muncy, to say nothing of the way the team got maximum value out of Enrique Hernandez and others via platoons and positional flexibility. When he worked for the A’s, he wrote “The Moss Manifesto” as a way of making a case to give 1B/OF/DH Brandon Moss more playing time. He has a knack for finding surprise value in surprise players.

Now, to be sure, Chris Taylor’s success didn’t come out of nowhere — he had a .400 OBP in the minors — and Max Muncy’s success (35 home runs and a .973 OPS in 2018) didn’t happen overnight — after the Dodgers claimed him at the beginning of 2017, he spent that entire season in the minors, and both were well-regarded prospects previously. The Giants didn’t really acquire any player like this during the offseason, so, what we’re really talking about here are players who could “breakout” to be league average players for the Giants — which would be a tremendous accomplishment! The Giants have struggled to grab players like that “on the cheap” over the years.

My five candidates for a Max Muncy / Chris Taylor-sized performance:

5. Gerardo Parra

He hasn’t had a league average season by OPS+ since 2015 (111) and for his career he’s just a 92 OPS+ hitter; however, he’s got a .763 OPS in 71 career games at Oracle Park. Since 2009, the top five Giants hitters (by OPS) at Oracle have been:

  • Pablo Sandoval - .845
  • Brandon Belt - .828
  • Buster Posey - .823
  • Andres Torres - .810
  • Angel Pagan - .748

It’s a low bar to clear, but I think he can do it, especially if they platoon him properly.

4. Nick Vincent

An elite spin rate reliever whose numbers were comparable to two big-deal relievers (Joe Kelly and David Robertson) whom the Giants got on a minor league deal. I jumped out of my computer chair when the Giants signed him, and here’s a good reason why:

Free Agent RHP comps 2019

Joe Kelly 30 65.2 23.9% 11.2% 1.36 67.9% 4.39 3.57 3.92 3 years, $25 million
David Robertson 33 69.2 32.2% 9.2% 1.03 67.5% 3.23 2.97 2.88 2 years, $23 million
Nick Vincent 31 56.1 23.8% 6.1% 1.16 67.6% 4.14 3.75 3.65 minor league deal

Now, it’s a bit of a bummer for me to include a relief pitcher here on a list of breakout candidates because 1) it’s easy to make a decent pitcher look amazing by pitching him at Oracle Park and 2) the Giants desperately need offense. But Nick Vincent figures to be really, really good.

3. Anthony Garcia

He’s hit 118 home runs across 10 minor league seasons, but 50 of those have come over the past two seasons and he just turned 27 years old. His OBP hovered close to .360 in 2017 and 2018, too. Taken together, it’s possible he’s figured something out and is turning the corner, meaning the Giants signed him right as his value has begun to peak. Cheap power ha been a really tough thing for them to find, and even if he plays half a season, he could provide 10 home runs — which I think you’d agree is a big deal for a Giants hitter.

2. Breyvic Valera

The only position he’s yet to play in his pro career is catcher, and that’s probably fine since the Giants have stockpiled that position a lot in the past week. His numbers suggest he could perhaps be a better version of Alen Hanson with just a little less pop. The most Giantsy and success-suggesting measure, though, is a career 273:255 walks to strikeout rate in the minors. That’s right, he’s drawn more walks than strikeouts in 8 minor league seasons. In 37 MLB games, he’s got an 8:13 ratio. That will play, even if he doesn’t have a lot of pop.

1. Yangervis Solarte

Oblique strains have hampered his last two seasons, but he still managed to hit 35 home runs. He’s averaged 16 home runs over the past four seasons, the first three of which came as a member of the Padres. His power played in Petco. His power can play in AT&T Park. As long as he can stay healthy. After Joe Panik, he was the Giants’ most consistent, best hitter of Spring Training, for whatever that’s worth, but four of his 16 hits were for extra bases (25%). His career rate is 32.8%. To put that in context, Buster Posey’s is 30.4%.

One of these guys might just be the winning lottery ticket for the new Giants regime, or it could be someone else. Who’s your lottery ticket winner?