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Player Review: Tyler Fitzgerald

An intriguing prospect sparked a glimmer of hope at the end of the season.

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MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

2023 stats (MiLB): 121 games, 544 PA, .292/.365/.511 (.877 OPS), 22 HR, 78 RBI, 32/35 SB 2023 stats (MLB): 10 games, 34 PA, .219/.265/.469 (.734 OPS), 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2/2 SB

Notable: Kinda the whole “Oh wow, he’s going to get work in centerfield” thing

Speed, power, and defense characterized Tyler Fitzgerald’s profile and see all three of those elements translate to the big leagues even in just a 10-game, 34 plate appearance sample was a relief. Encouraging. Exciting. Promising.

The McCovey Chronicles rated him the #18 prospect in the San Francisco Giants system this past offseason based in large part because of his obvious power-speed combo and no complaints about his defense. Ahead of Spring Training, Fitzgerald spoke with Roger Munter on the There R Giants podcast about what he’d been working on during the offseason. He spent a lot of time relearning swing mechanics in order to improve:

So for me, the power’s always been there. The past two years, I want to be a complete hitter... I want to be a good hitter who also hits for power. I don’t want to be considered a power hitter who strikes out and, you know, with two strikes has no chance. Which is what I felt like a lot of times last year.

It was a key offseason for Fitzgerald. Brady pointed out in the writeup on Fitzgerald after he was selected as the 18th best prospect:

His .229/.310/.424 slash line resulted in a wRC+ of exactly 100. He has a big strikeout issue to fix, as he whiffed in 32.9% of his plate appearances, which followed a 32.2% mark in High-A Eugene in 2021. On paper that looks like an intriguing offensive profile to work with, but given that he turned 25 a few days before the season ended, it’s fair to wonder how much improvement is left to be made.

It’s fair to say that Fitzgerald wondered the same thing and worked to change perceptions — maybe even his self-perception. Listening to that interview with Roger, what struck me was, in order, 1) how much he sounded like a youth pastor (for better or worse), 2) his clear, plain talk (I envy his ability to deliver a thought so directly!) 3) focus and desire to improve.

He’s process oriented, focusing on the given moment, making sure he’s taking care of everything that needs to happen in his swing and in his general preparation. It’s hard to argue against his work ethic paying dividends. He really did show a full game in the minor leagues. After a .998 OPS April in Double-A Richmond, he spent the rest of the season until his call-up with Triple-A Sacramento, posting the following OPS by month:

MAY— .895

JUNE— .826

JULY— .824

AUGUST— .808

Now, I’m leaving out September because that’s when he gets called up, but obviously he performed well enough for the Giants to finally get on board the hype train. He had 20 hits in September before his callup and had raised his season Triple-A batting average from .277 to .287 in the process.

Here’s his first major league home run:

I hope he realizes how many people want him to be a Giant for life with that dinger. Beating the Dodgers is instant fame.

Role on 2023 team

What can you say about the prospect who did everything the team asked of him? He increased his versatility by adding center field to his resume. He was drafted as a shortstop, but has primarily played second base. Being depth up the middle when being strong up the middle is how teams get better — he’s the right player at the right time.

The team had managed to fold in prospects all season long but we didn’t really get to see a speed factor in any of them — Fitzgerald certainly had that. The 3-for-20 over his final 6 games felt a lot more like what happened to most of the team’s prospects during the season, but like those prospects, you can see how the skillset figures into the next good Giants team... which, hopefully, can be next season.

Role on 2024 team

Is he the Giants’ version of Chris Taylor? A right-handed hitter with some pop who can play all around the field, particularly at critical defensive positions? I’m not sure. A straightforward paper scouting doesn’t suggest it:

CHRIS TAYLOR MiLB LINE (2,002 PA): .866 OPS, 1.48 K/BB, 103/135 in stolen bases

TYLER FITZGERALD MiLB LINE (1,709 PA): .808 OPS, 3.16 K/BB, 70/79 in stolen bases

BUT! In 2021 and 2022, Fitzgerald was basically a 32+% strikeout rate guy. This year, at Double-A, Triple-A, and in 10 MLB games, he kept it under 30% and the MiLB walk rate was about 10%. Measurable improvements you can rationally factor into an individual player and team projection. The Giants are already thinking about this, with Fitzgerald namechecked by Farhan Zaidi at season’s end as someone who can solidify their up the middle depth.

Most readers are pretty sober about prospects, I think, but as you know I’m an irrational fool, and so my hope for every prospect is that they become an everyday player if not All-Star very soon after reaching the majors.

Player development isn’t linear, so that doesn’t mean it’s not in the cards for Fitzgerald, but given all available data, I think it’s safer to say that he could perhaps take over the Austin Slater role if Slater gets hurt, traded, or non-tendered. That doesn’t speak so much to Fitzgerald’s hitting prowess as it does to his defensive versatility, but that speed and power combo is intriguing — and, the contact does seem to be improving. His talent is undeniable.

If he starts once or twice a week, pinch hitting and being a late-game defensive replacement the rest of the week, I see him helping the team quite a lot, especially in the early going of the season when having some roster certainty can help teams at least tread water if they don’t get off to a hot start. He has the potential to be a very exciting player. If he continues to hone his processes and evolve as a player, it’s maybe too exciting to imagine a lineup with Luciano, Fitzgerald, and Matos (and Bailey) alongside Estrada, etc.