Though much of the pre-season attention has focussed on San Jose (due to the Bart-Ramos super duo) Augusta may end up with the more interesting roster just due to the depth of the pitching staff. Four of the system’s top seven pitching prospects start the year in Augusta (by Baseball America’s top 30) and the rotation is likely to feature an honest-to-God major league prospect every single night of the week. This accumulation of pitching talent hasn’t appeared anywhere in the system in a good long while.
Juan De Paula
Austin (Blake) Rivera
Franklin Van Gurp
Wander A. Franco
Best Hitting Prospect:
ROGER: Hey did I mention how strong the pitching is?! Lots of great, great pitching! Oh, the offense… well with the omission of Alexander Canario (who’s meh spring performance left him back in XST again) we’re left with a lot of guys who are kinda-sorta of interesting to the Deep Cut afficianados. I’ll go with Jacob Gonzalez as the best of the group still in his return to Augusta. His 2018 was very very rough as he simply made far too much poor contact. After a strong AZL season his K rate spiked, his BB rate dropped and he hit bushels of ground ball outs. But I’ll give him a mulligan and say that much of that could be caused by the physical challenge of a teenager facing a full season assignment for the first time. There’s the makings of a good approach here and Gonzalez is going to grow into some of the best raw power in the system at some point. His movements aren’t fluid enough for 3b but he’s more athletic than hit-meister Diego Rincones and should be able to handle LF if a transition is in the offing at some point.
KEVIN: Diego Rincones. Rincones boasts strong bat-to-ball skills, and does not strike out often, just 32 strikeouts in 257 at-bats in Salem-Keizer last season. The 19-year old has shown excellent growth over the last three seasons as a pro, and expectations will be high for him to continue, particularly his power production. This will be his first year in full-season ball, and he’ll be very interesting watch.
Best Pitching Prospect:
ROGER: This is an honest-to-god really difficult decision as the likely rotation includes Sean Hjelle, Gregory Santos, Jake Wong, Seth Corry, Juan De Paula, and possibly Blake Rivera or Keaton Winn. I’m going to take Santos here, the youngest of the bunch. Santos will play virtually the entire 2019 season at just 19, likely making him one of the Sally’s youngest pitchers. He’s still growing into his body but he already generates mid to upper 90s heat on a sinking fastball, has at least one (and possibly two) plus breaking balls and the makings of a change. He piles up groundballs and misses bats. He’s tremendously athletic which hopefully will help him smooth out the violence of his delivery as he develops. There’s plenty of reliever risk outcome here, but if, five or six years from now it turns out there was a Star Pitcher in this system, I’ll wager it was Santos.
KEVIN: Sean Hjelle. Hjelle gets downgraded by some as being ‘just’ a mid-rotation starter, but considering the high floor he has, the clean mechanics, and a possibility to really work his unique frame and motion, I believe there’s more ceiling here than others think. The nearly 7’ frame doesn’t generate the top velocity we’ve come to think of from tall pitchers, but he should get a lot of ground balls and limit big innings as he learns how to work with it.
Dark Horse Prospect:
ROGER: Frankie Tostado. There’s actually a lot of guys who could fit this description, Rincones, Aaron Bond, Blake Rivera, CJ Gettman, loads of pitchers, but I’ll go Deep Deep Cut here and mention the California JuCO Player of the Year for 2017. Tostado had a beast-mode Freshman Year at Oxnard JC in 2017, posting a 1.008 OPS while playing a decent CF. Unfortunately, his pro debut was delayed when he had to have Tommy John surgery almost immediately after signing, and when he did get to play in 2018 he was mostly limited to 1b. Tostado is athletic and has present power and even the makings of a decent approach. It wouldn’t shock me if he emerges as one of the Greenjackets best hitters this year.
KEVIN: Blake Rivera. One of the several 2018-drafted pitchers, Rivera did not come out with a great pro start, posting a 6.16 ERA in 9 games with Salem-Keizer. Still, the 21-year old Rivera has an excellent hammer curve that may translate into a strong pitching role, either as a starter or a reliever. How he develops, and in what role, will be interesting to see.
Most Exciting Prospect:
ROGER: Gregory Santos. Even in rotation that includes Hjelle, Wong, Corry, and probably De Paula (who Kevin quite rightly highlights below) Santos’ games are going to be Must See TV for me. This is a tremendously exciting young pitcher.
KEVIN: Juan De Paula. In his first game with the Giants system, De Paula struck out 9 in five innings of work. He had a 1.72 ERA overall in 2018, and is just about to take his first full step into full-season baseball. He works with a mid-90’s fastball, but is still developing that and his offspeed pitches. Now that he’s 21, it’s time to see if he’s harnessed what tools he has. Assuming he has, he could have a fantastic season coming.
Most Surprising Assignment:
ROGER: Sean Hjelle. As a high floor 2nd round pick, the former SEC Pitcher of the Year seemed to have an easy path to San Jose along with his top of the draft mate Joey Bart. Reports were good early in spring as he consistently worked out with the High A development group. How and why Hjelle ended up in a league that absolutely should be too low for his level of experience is a real question. Maybe they wanted to make him feel comfortable by putting the Kentuckian close to home? By all rights, he should dominate this level of competition and get out soon.
KEVIN: Jacob Gonzalez. Gonzalez struggled in his first full-year assignment in Augusta, with a .227/.296/.331 line and 107 strikeouts, and also a difficult time fielding third base. However, there was a thought that Gonzalez might still get the push to San Jose, considering his bloodlines and support. Now, we’ll get to see him repeat in Augusta to see if he has improved. And quite possibly, we’ll see if the Giants are having him try another position. For now, he’s listed as an infielder.
Who Will Be Better Than You Think:
ROGER: Jeffry Parra. A long history of batting .190 isn’t really that impressive I understand! But the 21 year old Parra really does features strong catch and throw skills and legit power. And he knows how to work a count and take a walk. Now that doesn’t really help when you’re hitting .190, but I’m willing to say that Parra’s 30% K rate of last year was an aberration brought on by his first full-season assignment. If he can cut that back down to the 20% range, there is a path to success possible here. Strong defensive Catcher with some power and on-base skills paired with very low average -- I can look around MLB and find some of those guys.
KEVIN: Seth Corry. Corry was the third high schooler the Giants drafted in 2017, but the one that has fallen upon the most troubles. In 2017, his control was wild. In 2018, he showed some of his control in the Arizona League, but struggled after a short promotion in Salem-Keizer. The Giants will push the 20-year old to prove he has gained his control in Augusta, as well as added more velocity to his low 90’s fastball. If he can, his curveball can be a true out pitch and he could be very fun to watch make hitters look silly.
Who Should You Be Paying Attention To:
ROGER: Diego Rincones. Rincones isn’t much of an athlete and may be a true 30 runner, but he’s got extremely pure bat to ball skills. In fact, Rincones is really heir to Miguel Gomez “I can hit any pitch they throw hard somewhere” mantle. He swings at everything. He makes contact with most everything. He barrels an incredible variety of pitches and is coming into increasing power simply due to that ability to make strong contact. But like Gomez, he will be dogged a bit by the lack of physical tools and the question of what else he can do on a diamond. If you’re going to be a one-tool player, having it be the hit tool is a good way to go, but Diego will have to hit and hit and hit every level along the way.
The Augusta OF really contains a lot of this kind of interesting but oddball prospect. Aaron Bond, Jose Layer, Ismael Munguia all sort of qualify as compelling but flawed. Of course, you should also be paying attention to the starting pitcher every night, so Sean Hjelle, Jake Wong, Seth Corry, and Juan De Paula are collectively a good answer here, too.
KEVIN: Jake Wong. Wong is still a bit of an unknown, even as a 3rd round pick by the Giants from Grand Canyon University, the highest draft pick out of the university in years. Wong doesn’t have the most overwhelming stuff, but he came into Salem-Keizer last season and was as effective as any pitcher that the Volcanoes had. There is nothing outstanding about him in any particular way, with a low 90’s fastball, a plus curve and a slurvy slider. and no one gets excited about that, but Wong may come out of this team as one of the most interesting pitchers of a very interesting staff.
Other Team Notes: The Giants released one Wander Franco, but Wander A. Franco is still in the system, and could be a sleeper after a good year in Salem-Keizer last season...Aaron Bond struggled when he started in Augusta in May last season, but gets a second chance this year. He had a .905 OPS in Salem-Keizer after getting sent down, so there’s still potential in there. Jose Layer has performed well everywhere he’s been on a field as his career .296/.373/.436 line shows. But staying on the field has been a constant challenge for the CF who has accumulated just 288 PA in three years. Franklin Van Gurp pitched a dominant 40 innings out of Augusta’s pen last year with a 1.77 ERA and a 30% K rate, though he had a harder time of it at higher levels. CJ Gettman missed all of 2017 and much of 2018 with TJ surgery, but he was throwing mid 90s and higher in camp this spring. The 24 year old could move up quickly if healthy.