The Minor League season is officially off and running, so it’s time to take a look at where all your favorite San Francisco Giants prospects are.
Let’s work our way down the system, and kick things off by previewing the roster of the AAA Sacramento River Cats.
Here are the dudes playing in Sactown, with their placement on this year’s Community Prospect List shown, when applicable. You’ll see that some players are noted as being on the 40-man roster, as well.
Kervin Castro (40-man) — No. 26 CPL
Sean Hjelle (40-man) — No. 30 CPL
Jakob Junis (40-man)
Yunior Marte (40-man)
Gregory Santos (40-man) — No. 32 CPL
Enmanuel De Jesus
Ricardo Genovés — No. 20 CPL
David Villar — No. 19 CPL
Jaylin Davis (40-man)
Heliot Ramos (40 man) — No. 4 CPL
Holy right-handed pitchers, Batman! There are 31 players on the roster and a whopping 15 of them are right-handed pitchers. The moment a righty on the MLB roster hits the Injured List it’s going to be a mad scramble to rival the bouquet toss at the wedding in any rom com.
Top pitching prospect: Kervin Castro
I mean ... kind of?
It’s pretty hard to choose a top pitching prospect between Castro, Gregory Santos, and Sean Hjelle. Castro was the highest ranked in our CPL, but they were all bunched together. He’s also the only one of the group who has had MLB success, and there’s a fair amount of chatter that he might get stretched back into a starting role in Sacramento.
But Santos throws the hardest, and has some smart people who have bought up all of his stock — he’s still the No. 7 Giants prospect in Fangraphs’ eyes, ahead of every single pitcher in the system save for Kyle Harrison.
And Hjelle, while the least interesting of the three, is the only one that is (for now, at least), clearly a starting pitcher, which means he comes with a higher ceiling.
But it’s still Castro for me, who allowed no earned runs in 13.1 innings in the Majors last year, only just turned 23, and was the very rare person who actually deserved the best shape of his life camp praise.
Top position player prospect: Heliot Ramos
By a country mile.
He’s no longer in contention for the top prospect in the system, as he once was, but he’s still firmly one of the team’s best prospects, and far and away the top prospect in Sacramento.
At his best, Ramos is a defensively solid corner outfielder who can draw a fair amount of walks, consistently make contact, and blast balls over the fence. He’s still looking for the plus skill to make him a high-quality every day Major Leaguer, but he has all kinds of tools.
Most likely to make the Majors this season: Jakob Junis
It feels like cheating to pick the one player in Sacramento who was a Major League free agent over the offseason, but here we are. It’s unclear if the Giants optioned Junis — who was rocked in Tuesday’s season opener — because they wanted him to clean some stuff up before joining the bullpen, or because they want him to continue to be a starter for when someone in the rotation invariably needs a stint on the 15-day IL.
Either way, you’ll see him spend plenty of time on the Major League roster this season.
As for players who haven’t yet made the Majors, I’ll take Yunior Marte. Marte is one of three players in Sacramento — joining Hjelle and Ramos — who is on the 40-man roster but has not yet made his MLB debut. I suspect we’ll see all three at some point this year, but Marte — who despite middling numbers, pitched well enough in Sacramento last year to be a Rule 5 Draft protection — feels like a given.
Remember, the Giants used 31 different pitchers last year, not including the position players they threw on the mound. If you’re a pitcher on the 40-man roster, you gotta do something really wrong to not get a call up.
Under the radar pitcher: Michael Plassmeyer
I’ll always be a little confused as to why the Giants decided to give up on Matt Wisler so soon a year ago. But Plassmeyer — a lefty starting pitcher — has the ability to make me stop dwelling on that trade very quickly.
Plassmeyer came over to the Giants midseason in that trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, and got slotted into the rotation at AA Richmond. His ERA was bad (5.08), but his FIP (3.74) was quite nice. More impressively, he had 91 strikeouts to just 16 walks in 79.2 innings.
Admittedly he turned 25 in November, but who cares. If he can put up similar numbers in Sacramento he could quickly start to look like a future member of the big league rotation.
Under the radar position player: David Villar
Villar has been getting his flowers around these parts lately, as he finished as the No. 19 prospect in the CPL. But he remains underappreciated elsewhere, in part because he turned 25 in January and has yet to play a level higher than AA.
But the third baseman was brilliant in AA last season, hitting .275/.374/.506, good for a team-best wRC+ of 141 (for reference, Ramos had a 107 wRC+ in Richmond a year ago). Villar had a walk rate of 10.3%, and hit 20 home runs, which set the franchise record.
He doesn’t have a huge margin for error, as he’s average defensively, plays one of the strongest offensive positions in baseball, and is on the old side for a prospect. But it’s not hard to envision a scenario where he’s getting 300 plate appearances for the Giants and hitting 20 home runs.
Storyline to watch: are leaps hiding in plain sight?
The Giants have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to prospect development. Their evaluation, coaching, and overall development of young players has been pretty sensational over the last two years, even if, due to timing, Logan Webb is really the only prospect we’ve seen them turn into a high-level Major Leaguer.
I appeal to their authority, but it’s still fun to look at where I might be skeptical if I weren’t appealing to their authority. Because, if you’re appealing to their authority (and I’m appealing to their authority), that’s where the magic is likely to happen.
Ramos had just a 107 wRC+ in AA last year, which was well behind Vince Fernandez and Jacob Heyward, and only a hair ahead of Sandro Fabian. Those players are all older than he is, but still, it puts the performance into perspective. Despite that, the Giants promoted him midseason to Sacramento, where he struggled a bit, with a wRC+ of just 80, and only four home runs and 15 walks in 229 plate appearances, with 65 strikeouts.
Hjelle was similarly average in AA, having a 4.00 FIP and modest strikeout-to-walk numbers in a pitcher-friendly atmosphere. But, like Ramos, he was promoted to AAA midseason, struggled, and then added to the 40-man roster as a Rule 5 protection.
On a slightly different but still related note, let’s talk about Ricardo Genovés. The catcher, who is still more than a month away from his 23rd birthday, got assigned straight to AAA after skipping AA. Not only did he skip AA, but he struggled mightily in High-A.
Genovés started 2021 in Low-A, where he was beyond brilliant, slashing .338/.441/.551 in 161 plate appearances, good for a 161 wRC+. That earned him a very well-deserved promotion to Eugene, where he had a lot of challenges in 245 plate appearances, hitting just .217/.294/.364, for a wRC+ of 77.
He’s a very strong defensive catcher, and struggles are expected at that age, so the future is quite bright for him ... but jumping straight from a subpar High-A season to AAA certainly raises an eyebrow or three.
On paper, these three (and a few other players) maybe should be starting the year in AA. Instead, they’re in AAA, and both Hjelle and Ramos are expected to be in the Majors at some point this year. If history tells us anything, it’s that the Giants are seeing something that we’re not yet noticing.
I’m excited to find out what that is.