Friday marks the start of yet another San Francisco Giants season. But it also marks the start of the season for many of their Minor League affiliates, including the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Like every team on the Giants farm, the Flying Squirrels have some exciting prospects, and will be worth keeping an eye on. So with their roster finally revealed, let’s take a look at the roster, and break down who’s there.
Players who made this year’s Community Prospect List have their ranking next to their name.
R.J. Dabovich — No. 16 CPL
Kai-Wei Teng — No. 44 CPL
Chris Wright — No. 29 CPL
Brett Auerbach — No. 28 CPL
Tyler Fitzgerald — No. 35 CPL
Will Wilson — No. 18 CPL
Diego Rincones — No. 15 CPL
Just as was the case with AAA Sacramento’s roster, Richmond is absolutely full of right-handed pitchers. Exactly half of the team’s roster is right-handed pitchers, and there are 14 of them compared to just two southpaws.
Top pitching prospect: R.J. Dabovich
A fourth-round pick in 2020, Dabovich made his professional debut last season and quickly turned into one of the top strikeout artists in the Minor Leagues. He kicked things off in High-A, where he recorded 28 strikeouts to 6 walks in just 12.2 innings, which earned hm a speedy promotion to Richmond, where he had 34 strikeouts to 7 walks in just 19.2 innings. A debut season in which you average just a hair under two strikeouts per inning is rather absurd, and it’s led Dabovich to being one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, despite his capped ceiling as a right-handed reliever.
If Dabovich can come close to recreating his 2021, in which he struck out 62 of the 127 batters he faced, the Giants just might fast track him.
Top position player prospect: Diego Rincones
From the outside, former first-round pick (by the Los Angeles Angels) Will Wilson might be regarded as the top position player prospect in Richmond, but from where I’m sitting it’s Rincones, who beat out Wilson in our CPL.
Rincones began 2021 in High-A and hit a blistering .300/.385/.533 (141 wRC+), which earned him a promotion to AA, where he hit an almost equally good .290/.373/.505 (140 wRC+) in 213 plate appearances. That 140 wRC+ in Richmond towered over the 107 mark that Heliot Ramos — one of the organization’s top prospects — put up, and Rincones is less than three months older than Ramos.
He is without a doubt one of the top hitting prospects in the organization. The question is, can his offense be good enough to make up for his subpar defense? With the addition of the designated hitter in the National League this year, the answer is more and more looking like a yes, even if his value will certainly be limited if he’s primarily a DH.
Most likely to make the Majors this year: Chris Wright
I’m tempted to pick Tristan Beck, whom I’ll talk more about in a minute.
Despite everything I said about Dabovich, Wright was perhaps the most dominant pitcher in the organization a year ago. He started things off in Low-A, where he had 17 strikeouts to 3 walks in just 8 innings. That earned him an early promotion to High-A, where he had 62 strikeouts to 18 walks in 37 innings.
All in all, he ended the year with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and 79 strikeouts in 45 innings.
Those are the types of players that can fly through the system and make it to the Majors very quickly. Remember, neither Camilo Doval nor Gregory Santos had pitched above High-A entering last season. Kervin Castro hadn’t pitched above Low-A.
All three made the Majors, though being on the 40-man roster certainly helped. Wright isn’t on the 40-man (no one outside of San Francisco, Sacramento, and the Injured List is), but he’s a lefty, and there are currently only five of those split between Sacramento and Richmond. His path to the Majors is pretty clear if he keeps striking out everyone he faces.
Most likely to be promoted quickly: R.J. Dabovich
Dabovich has already made 20 appearances in AA, and looked darn good. The Giants probably don’t need to see very much from him in Richmond to decide it’s time for another early-season promotion.
AAA Sacramento currently has 16 right-handed pitchers, which doesn’t even include two players on the Injured List and Carlos Martínez, who is working at the Arizona facility before joining the River Cats. So they’re not exactly in need of another righty. But Dabovich is one of the more highly-ranked prospects in the organization, so if he forces the issue they’ll make the space.
Under the radar pitcher: Almost all of them?
It’s a cop out answer because there are a few different ways to look at this.
On the one hand we have previously highly-ranked prospects who have been injured and somewhat forgotten about. That category is Tristan Beck and Blake Rivera.
Beck struggled with injuries and only appeared in 12 games a year ago, across three levels (ACL, Low-A, and AA). He was bad in those games, but what pitcher coming off of injuries isn’t? Add in the pandemic season and we really haven’t seen what Beck can do since 2019, when he came over to the Giants at the deadline in the Mark Melancon deal. But Beck still has an exceptional repertoire, and inherent value as a starter. While he might fade away this year, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see him starting games in San Francisco by the end of the season, either.
Rivera has never been as highly-ranked as Beck, but the 2018 fourth-round pick was a well thought of prospect after the 2019 season. He only pitched in 10 games last year between the ACL and High-A, and like Beck, struggled in them. But if he’s healthy, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
On the other end of things we have the high-octane relievers who haven’t earned quite as much attention as Dabovich and Wright. There are a lot of strikeout artists in Richmond, but I’m namely talking about Patrick Ruotolo (50 strikeouts to 5 walks in 37 AA innings last year) and Ryan Walker (66 strikeouts to 10 walks in 49.1 High-A and AA innings last year). Both are on the older side, but both can strike out hitters in numbers, while limiting walks.
Under the radar position player: Sean Roby
Roby’s overall numbers weren’t great last year, as he had a .789 OPS and a 109 wRC+ in High-A, while turning 23 in July.
But it’s more telling to look at the corner infielder’s other stats. The bad? He had 132 strikeouts in just 421 plate appearances, with only 43 walks. The good? He hit 19 home runs.
If he can’t adjust the former, he’ll never get a chance to display the latter. And while the Giants have had many misses in trying to get prospects to improve their plate discipline (/raises a glass to Joey Bart, Jaylin Davis, and Chris Shaw), they’ve also had some hits. There’s no telling what season Roby will have, but an exciting one similar to David Villar’s 2021 is not off the table.
Storyline to watch: All things Brett Auerbach
You could pick a million different storylines with this team, but I made it 1,250 words into this article without mentioning Auerbach, the 2022 winner of the Barney Nugent award, which is handed out to the Giants prospect in their first big league camp who does the best.
You now Auerbach’s story by now. He’s a local kid, signed as a free agent after going undrafted in the five-round 2020 draft, is listed as a catcher but can play anywhere, and so far has shown out every step of the way.
In his debut season a year ago, Auerbach spent time at catcher, second base, third base, and all three outfield spots. Not only that, but he did well at those places, earning rave reviews for his defensive work as a catcher and as a center fielder. That’s not quite Shohei Ohtani levels of positional versatility, but it’s probably the next best thing. And he did it while hitting the ball, as he had a 156 wRC+ in Low-A and a 126 wRC+ in High-A.
Everything about him is an intriguing 2022 storyline. Will he hit well enough to be promoted to AAA? Will the Giants keep developing him at pretty much every position? Will he continue to look the part of an MLB-caliber backstop? Can he handle the improved pitching quality, after looking excellent against Spring Training pitchers?
Auerbach probably doesn’t have to hit the ball too well to have a solid MLB future. It’s pretty easy to envision someone who can be a backup catcher and play anywhere else on the diamond finding playing time for a team led by Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris, and Gabe Kapler.
Keep your eye on him. But also keep your eye on the whole team.