A year ago, the San Francisco Giants had an extremely eventful Rule 5 Draft, both adding and losing a player in the Major League portion (Blake Sabol and Nick Avila, respectively), and seeing a whopping seven more players depart their system in the Minor League portion of the draft.
The assumption was that the 2023 Rule 5 Draft would be a quieter one for all of baseball, as it aligned with the truncated 2020 MLB Draft class. That assumption proved correct, with only 10 players being selected in the Major League portion — the fewest since 2013.
It was widely viewed that the Giants could have a reliever taken in the Major League phase. They protected lefty pitcher Erik Miller and righties Kai-Wei Teng and Trevor McDonald, but there were still intriguing names like Avila (whom the Chicago White Sox returned in Spring Training), Juan Sanchez, R.J. Dabovich, Nick Swiney, and Ben Madison. While losing a pitcher was most likely, it was probably the small chance of losing center fielder Grant McCray or shortstop Aeverson Arteaga that led to the most nail-biting among San Francisco’s front office.
That fear perhaps intensified when the Washington Nationals used their first-round pick on Nasim Nuñez, a shortstop with no AAA experience and poor offensive numbers in AA. Some of that fear was surely alleviated when the Detroit Tigers — with former Giants GM Scott Harris at the helm — opted against selecting a player. They seemed the most likely team to poach one of San Francisco’s prospects, given Harris’ knowledge of the system (though the White Sox and Boston Red Sox both have former members of the coaching staff leading their pitching divisions).
From there on, it was smooth sailing. No team added a Giants player to their 40-man roster, and San Francisco, predictably, didn’t add anyone to their roster (which sits at 36 players), either.
The Minor League phase was a different story, and we got some vital data before it even began. Teams are allowed to protect up to 38 players on their AAA rosters, but neither the names nor the numbers are made public. Until Wednesday, that is, when the league reveals the number (not the names, however), before starting the draft. We found out that the Giants had 36 players on their AAA roster, which suggested two things: that they intended to draft players in the Minor League phase, and that they weren’t concerned about having to part with any of their unprotected players.
San Francisco did, indeed, fill those final two spots. And it got the attention of many prospectors, including Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus.
This is a weird thing to say but the Giants are crushing the minor league Rule 5— Jeffrey Paternostro (@jeffpaternostro) December 6, 2023
The Giants used their first pick on right-handed pitcher Nick Garcia, a 24-year old. Garcia had an awful 2023, posting a 7.35 ERA and 5.80 FIP for the Colorado Rockies AA affiliate. But there’s a lot to like about the righty, who was a third-round pick (No. 79 overall, with an overslot bonus) in the 2020 draft, and put up quality numbers in 2021 and 2022 while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has four pitches, and Fangraphs at one point gave him a FV of 40. In true baseball is a circle fashion, Garcia was traded from the Pirates to the Rockies in exchange for Connor Joe ... the same Connor Joe that made his MLB debut with the Giants while being a Rule 5 draftee.
But San Francisco’s second pick was perhaps their most exciting, as they nabbed shortstop and third baseman Dariel Lopez from the Pirates. Lopez, who is only 21 years old, has a whole bunch of power. He’s moved quickly for his age, beginning A-ball only a few months after his 19th birthday. In 2022, as a 20-year old in High-A, Lopez bashed 19 homers in 420 plate appearances, while hitting .286/.329/.476, good for a 116 wRC+ ... not bad for a shortstop who was 2.5 years younger than the league average. Though it’s worth noting that he isn’t exactly known for his defensive chops, and seems likely to move to a less valuable defensive position given his size.
Lopez — who was ranked as the Pirates’ No. 14 prospect by MLB Pipeline — missed all of 2023 due to a knee dislocation. Hopefully he’s healthy and good to go, because he sounds like a very intriguing player to me. Looks like one, too!
The Giants also lost three players in the Minor League phase, and so we have to say goodbye to some folks we’ve become accustomed to. Most notable is the loss of third baseman Sean Roby, who was once a very exciting prospect. Roby, who is 25, had arguably the most power in the system, and set a AA Richmond franchise record with 25 home runs in 2022. Unfortunately, those 25 homers were accompanied by a 39.7% strikeout rate, and a .286 on-base percentage. He was limited by injuries in 2023, and struggled when he was on the field. But anyone with that power has potential, so hopefully the Miami Marlins can unlock something.
Speaking of intriguing tools, the Giants lost outfielder P.J. Hilson to the Pirates (preferring Hilson to Lopez is certainly a choice by the Pirates ... but then again, so was leaving Sabol unprotected!). A sixth-round pick in 2018 out of high school, Hilson was one of the best athletes in the Giants system. But the 23 year old never really found a way to have that translate into performance. He did a great job this year of cutting back on strikeouts (though it came at the expense of walks), but even so, hit just .247/.283/.420 in Low-A, good for just an 85 wRC+, while being nearly a year older than the average player at the level.
Rounding out the three players San Francisco lost is the first player they had taken from them: 25-year old infielder Hayden Cantrelle, who heads to the Chicago Cubs. Cantrelle has a ton of tools, but the holes in his game make it hard for me to see him advancing to the Majors. He has really good speed (though he doesn’t steal a ton of bases) and draws a bunch of walks (he had a spectacular 18.5% walk rate in AA this year). But he doesn’t have great contact skills, and posted just a .215 average in 2023. That comes with a distinct lack of power: he had only four homers this year, and just 16 total extra-base hits in 357 plate appearances. Combine that with somewhat pedestrian defense, and it became clear towards the end of the season that the Giants didn’t see much of a future with Cantrelle, a player they acquired in 2022.
Best of luck to Cantrelle, Hilson, and Roby. And welcome to the Giants, Garcia and Lopez!
Now, can we get a Major League move???