Some fun action for the San Francisco Giants Minor League Baseball affiliates on Wednesday, and I wrote way too many words on it! Let’s jump in.
All listed positions are the positions played in that game.
AAA Sacramento (24-29)
Sacramento River Cats lost to the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners) 7-6 (10 innings)
A bit of a heartbreaking game for the River Cats, who took a 1-run lead into the bottom of the 9th inning before allowing the Rainiers to tie it, then took a 1-run lead into the bottom of the 10th inning before Tacoma walked it off.
It was a funny game for Sacramento’s offense, as the River Cats had 11 hits and a wild 13 walks, but managed just 6 runs in 10 innings ... in part because they only had 1 extra-base hit.
That hit came from someone you have to feel for: third baseman David Villar. The Giants publicly stated in Spring Training that Villar would have the chance to be the everyday third baseman and they hoped he would run with it. Between his struggles and J.D. Davis’ shocking defensive transformation, Villar did not run with it, and was optioned after struggling mightily. He briefly returned last week following Thairo Estrada’s injury, but only played in 2 games (in which he went 0-8) before being optioned again. Along the way, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about how Villar has been, in his words “in a dark place” due to his struggles.
Meanwhile, Villar keeps mashing every time he’s in Sacramento, where he won the 2022 Pacific Coast League MVP. He was the star of this game, hitting 3-6 with a home run.
In 9 games with the River Cats this year, Villar is hitting 10-34 with 3 home runs, 1 double, and 7 walks. He’s doing everything the Giants could possibly ask of him in AAA ... it’s just a matter of if it can ever translate to the Majors, and how much patience the organization will have in answering that question.
A day after I wrote about how center fielder Luis Matos (No. 4 CPL) was 4th among 837 qualified Minor Leaguers in strikeout rate, the 21 year old did the unthinkable: he struck out twice! It doubled his strikeout total in Sacramento, where he has 63 plate appearances, and was the first time he struck out multiple times in a game since April 29, when he was with AA Richmond.
Yet despite that (and despite the other negative: he got caught stealing for the 1st time as a River Cat), it was a lovely game for Matos, who hit 3-5 with a walk and 2 stolen bases.
Multiple hits. Multiple steals. Luis does it all. pic.twitter.com/fA4QhbXSGO— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) June 1, 2023
He’s up to an .896 OPS and a 120 wRC+, despite the fact that his power is currently in hiding a little bit (just 5 of his 21 AAA hits have gone for extra bases, with no home runs).
Luis's 3rd hit of the game puts the Cats on top!— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) June 1, 2023
Cats - 6
Rainiers - 5 pic.twitter.com/1BaR99jsuT
With Joey Bart injured, and with Patrick Bailey (No. 10 CPL) looking like he’ll be the primary catcher for the Giants going forward (which could make Bart a trade asset), the AAA catchers have a chance of being the next line of depth at the position. And they both performed well on Wednesday.
Catcher Ricardo Genovés hit 0-2, but he drew 3 walks, bringing his OPS to .762 and his wRC+ to 91. His 14.3% walk rate is surely something that the Giants have taken note of.
Recently-acquired first baseman/catcher Jacob Nottingham hit 2-3 with a walk, a hit by pitch, and a stolen base. In 3 games since joining the River Cats, the 28 year old from Redlands is 6-11 with 1 double, 1 walk, and just 2 strikeouts.
And we have to shout out left fielder Michael Gigliotti, who hit 2-3 with 2 walks. Always celebrate reaching base 4 times! He now has a .708 OPS and a 76 wRC+ in his 1st go-around in AAA (and 2nd season in the organization for the 27 year old).
RHP Sean Hjelle (No. 30 CPL) got the start and did something that’s been very rare on the Giants farm this year: pitched 5 innings. He was fine in those innings, giving up 6 hits, 1 walk, 3 runs, and 2 earned runs, with 3 strikeouts. Hjelle, who is trying to earn a spot back in San Francisco, has a 3.00 ERA and a 5.69 FIP in 6 starts with Sacramento this year, though everything we know suggests that the advanced tracking info likes Hjelle’s stuff more than the raw numbers might indicate.
His strikeouts remain hilarious to me: in his career, he has 132 strikeouts in 174.1 AAA innings ... and 44 strikeouts in 38.1 MLB innings. Go figure.
RHP Cole Waites (No. 15 CPL) gave up 2 baserunners in an inning of work, but kept runs off the board and struck out 2. The emergence of RHP Ryan Walker and the health of RHP Luke Jackson will make it difficult for Waites to find his way back to the Majors, but he’s sure staying ready. In 7 games since getting optioned, Waites has pitched 7.1 innings and allowed just 6 hits, 2 walks, and 0 runs, with 5 strikeouts.
AA Richmond (21-25)
Richmond Flying Squirrels lost to the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) 10-3
The season’s gone downhill for the Flying Squirrels a little bit. They opened the year as clearly the most talent-stacked of the Giants affiliates, but promotions to a bunch of their top prospects — including center fielder Luis Matos (No. 4 CPL), catcher Patrick Bailey (No. 10 CPL), and infielder Tyler Fitzgerald (No. 18 CPL) — diluted things a little bit, and even with the return of some other top prospects, Richmond has fallen on hard times: they’ve now lost 6 games in a row.
But those returning top prospects sure do make the Flying Squirrels worth watching, even when they’re losing. And that was 100% the case on Wednesday.
Right fielder Vaun Brown (No. 5 CPL) had the best game of his young and injury-plagued season, as he hit 3-5 with a home run, a double, and an outfield assist at third base. What a game!
Vaun Brown ties up this game pic.twitter.com/cSudnM1iPm— Richmond Flying Squirrels (@GoSquirrels) June 1, 2023
Brown, who has an 1.121 OPS and a 199 wRC+ in 8 Richmond games this year, is picking up right where he left off during his breakout 2022 campaign. If he keeps up these blistering numbers, it will be interesting to see if the Giants give him the quick promotion they gave Matos and Bailey ... or if they want to see him improve his strikeouts before they do that (2 more Ks on Wednesday gave him 14 in just 36 plate appearances).
Shortstop Marco Luciano (No. 2 CPL) also showed off his prospect pedigree and his power, hitting 2-4 with a massive home run.
A NO DOUBTER FOR MARCO LUCIANO pic.twitter.com/P8nJZtKtB4— Richmond Flying Squirrels (@GoSquirrels) May 31, 2023
Luciano, who has a .724 OPS and a 93 wRC+, is having a bit of a funny season. His batting average is a paltry .185, due to a probably unlucky .208 BABIP that ranks 115th out of 122 Eastern League hitters with at least 90 plate appearances. His strikeouts are a bit high — he had none in this game, but has a 31.3% rate, and has struck out multiple times in 12 of his 23 games. But my goodness is his power on display, as he’s rocking a .432 slugging percentage despite that ultra-low batting average, and is homering once every 19.2 plate appearances, despite being in a pitcher’s league. And none of those home runs have been cheap.
As a team, Richmond was the opposite of Sacramento: they had just 8 hits and 0 walks (with 15 strikeouts), but 5 of their hits went for extra bases ... including a double by left fielder Carter Aldrete, who hit 2-4, bumping his OPS to .763 and his wRC+ to 106.
Second baseman Jimmy Glowenke made his AA debut after a brilliant start to the year in High-A. He struggled, hitting 0-4 with 2 strikeouts and an error. Start slow, and then you can only get better, Jimmy!
And third baseman/left fielder Brett Auerbach (No. 38 CPL) capped off an awful May by hitting 0-5 with 2 strikeouts. Auerbach will want to work very hard to forget the month, in which he hit just 9-80 with 0 home runs, 0 triples, 1 double, 5 walks, and 31 strikeouts.
Back to the returning prospects! RHP Landen Roupp (No. 20 CPL) made his 5th appearance of the year after starting the season injured. And, like the other 4 games, it went well: he struck out 7 batters in 3 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 run.
That’s five punch outs in a row for Landen Roupp pic.twitter.com/0C5XBNcQaJ— Richmond Flying Squirrels (@GoSquirrels) May 31, 2023
Roupp, a 12th-round pick in 2021, was a breakout star last year, beginning the year in Low-A and finishing it by pitching very well in AA. So far this year he has a 2.31 ERA, a 2.38 FIP, and 19 strikeouts to 4 walks in 11.2 innings. If he keeps this up as he builds up arm strength and gets stretched out a little more, we’ll see him in Sacramento soon.
RHP Carson Seymour (No. 28 CPL) was the piggybacking starter and pitched pretty well. He gave up just 4 baserunners in 4 innings, with 4 strikeouts, though he did allow 2 runs. It was good to see Seymour, who has a 3.11 ERA and a 4.14 FIP on the year, have some strikeouts. He was a brilliant strikeout artist in High-A last year, but this was just his 2nd time in 10 games this year having as many strikeouts as innings pitched. On the year, he has 21 strikeouts in 37.2 innings, after having a 135 strikeouts in 111 innings across Low-A and High-A last year.
High-A Eugene (24-23)
Eugene Emeralds beat the Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays) 8-1
It was a dominant pitching performance for Eugene, highlighted by a dominant performance from the most dominant pitcher in the organization this year: LHP Carson Whisenhunt (No. 9 CPL).
After a minor hiccup (by his exceptional standards) his last time out, Whisenhunt was back to his normal self on Wednesday, looking far too good for the level. He cruised through 5 scoreless innings, with a single against him representing the lone baserunner he gave up, while he struck out 7 batters.
Count 'em, 7⃣ punchouts in a row for Carson Whisenhunt!— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 1, 2023
The @SFGiants' No. 8 prospect (2022 second-round pick) lowers his opponents' BAA to .154 this year after five dominant frames for the @EugeneEmeralds: pic.twitter.com/LtOtL4FXoY
You can’t do much better than that!
Whisenhunt — the organization’s 2nd-round pick in 2022 — now has a 1.42 ERA and a 2.77 FIP. In 25.1 innings with Eugene he’s allowed just 9 hits and 8 walks, while striking out 36 batters.
12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings is a high figure, but it’s a lot higher when you factor in that Whisenhunt is facing so few batters, courtesy of a 0.67 WHIP. For comparison, Whisenhunt’s strikeout per 9 rate is well below the 16.0 mark of LHP Kyle Harrison (No. 1 CPL), the top strikeout prospect in the organization and, arguably, in all of baseball. Yet Whisenhunt, in his High-A stint, has struck out nearly as high of a percentage of batters he’s faced (38.3%) as Harrison has this year (40.1%).
Of course, Whisenhunt is a 22 year old in High-A and Harrison is a 21 year old in AAA, so this isn’t a direct comparison, just a reminder that his strikeouts per 9 innings are probably underselling him a little bit. But the comparison to Harrison 2 levels above him is a good segue into something our friend (and 80-grade Giants prospect writer) Roger Munter wrote about yesterday:
I said going into the year that Low A wasn’t going to tell us much about Whisenhunt’s development, because having a 70 grade changeup is simply a cheat code for the hitters of that level. They can’t do anything with it. He knows they can’t do anything with it. And, when push comes to shove, if in a two-strike situation or maybe some traffic on the basepaths, it really is too much to expect of someone not to go a weapon of that magnitude when they have it in their back pocket — even if working on the fastball command or improving consistency of the curve might be better development activities.
That’s a tiny bit less true in High-A, but the sentiment still applies, with Roger adding that “I think that once he reaches Double A, we’ll begin to see a lot better takes than A ball hitters are giving him, and better swings, particularly against the fastball and curve. Once we see what better level hitters do against his non-changeup pitches, then we’ll have a real sense of how wide our eyes should be, exactly, and how fast to expect him to move.”
A reminder: subscribe to Roger!
Back to the game, and it’s only sensible to move to another dominant pitcher: RHP José Cruz (No. 35 CPL), who continued his excellent season, pitching 2 perfect innings with 4 strikeouts.
Cruz, who was a Rule 5 protection in the offseason (and thus on the 40-man roster), has a 1.45 ERA, a 2.68 FIP, and 28 strikeouts to 7 walks in 18.2 innings. Even counting hit batters, Cruz has given up less than a baserunner per inning this season.
His last 5 outings have been incredible: 9 innings, 2 hits, 2 walks, 1 hit batter, 0 runs, and 17 strikeouts. It’s at the point where every outing now serves as a surprising reminder that he hasn’t been promoted yet.
On offense, left fielder Carter Howell was dominant in his 2nd game with Eugene, hitting 4-5 with a triple and a double. We’ll need more than a 2-game sample before we can make any declarations about the 2022 undrafted free agent, but his very early answer to the question “can he keep this up at the next level” is extremely enticing.
Center fielder Grant McCray (No. 6 CPL) and left fielder Victor Bericoto both had 2-hit days with a walk. McCray now has a .762 OPS and a 104 wRC+, and finished his May with a .909 OPS after having just a .554 mark in April. Bericoto, who has quietly been one of the better players in the system this year, has an .827 OPS and a 111 wRC+, and doesn’t turn 22 until December.
Also a 2-hit day for shortstop Aeverson Arteaga (No. 7 CPL), though it’s worth noting that, after spending all year hitting 2nd, he’s been moved towards the back of the lineup, which is rare for a top prospect. Either way, he has a .705 OPS and an 86 wRC+ which, combined with elite defense and having just turned 20, makes him a very exciting prospect nonetheless.
Low-A San Jose (30-17)
San Jose Giants beat the Fresno Grizzlies (Rockies) 8-5
After a rare mid-series off day on Tuesday (to accommodate playing on Monday for Memorial Day), the Baby Giants were back in action Wednesday, and continued their excellent play.
It was highlighted by a dynamic Low-A debut from shortstop Anthony Rodriguez. Rodriguez, a 20-year old international signing from 2019, skipped the Dominican Summer League and went straight to the Arizona Complex League for his debut season in 2021 and again in 2022. That, plus an $800,000 signing bonus, suggests the Giants are pretty high on Rodriguez.
He showed why on Wednesday in his season debut, hitting a perfect 3-3, with all of his hits going for extra bases: a triple and 2 doubles.
BOT 5— San Jose Giants (@SJGiants) June 1, 2023
Giants 4 | Grizzlies 5
Anthony Rodriguez cuts the Fresno lead with a 2-run triple! pic.twitter.com/QCPgIqmapH
The switch-hitter topped it off by reaching base a 4th time after getting hit by a pitch (the rustiness also showed, as he committed 2 errors, but who cares).
That’s a fun addition to an infield that already features red-hot prospect Diego Velasquez (No. 41 CPL).
Rodriguez wasn’t the only debuting player on Wednesday. Center fielder Turner Hill also made his debut ... not just his Low-A debut, but his professional baseball debut. Hill is certainly a bit of a different situation, as he’s already 24, and was an undrafted free agent last year. He hit 1-4 with a double in this game ... welcome to the pros, Turner!
And another nice game for designated hitter Onil Perez (No. 44 CPL), who hit 2-4 with a triple. Perez hasn’t been able to play a ton this year — he’s played in just 29 of the team’s 47 games — but he has an .808 OPS and a 123 wRC+, which are darn good numbers for a defensively-skilled catcher who won’t be able to legally drink until the end of the season.
Perez is certainly not the old school catcher archetype, though. His power is very low — he has a .104 ISO this year, and in 438 career plate appearances across 3 levels he has just 5 home runs, 3 triples, and 20 doubles — but perhaps that will improve with swing path changes and physical growth. But he has just a 9.0% strikeout rate this year, which ranks 12th out of 838 qualified hitters in the Minors. And, again, he’s still just 20! For his career he has 60 walks to 57 strikeouts.
RHP Hayden Birdsong (No. 36 CPL) made the start, and it wasn’t his best work, with 3 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs in 3.1 innings. But the strikeouts were again on display, with 6 of them.
The organization is openly very high on last year’s 6th-round pick, and the strikeouts show why: he has 59 in 33.2 innings this year. The walks — he’s given up 20 already — are the only stain on his resume, as he has a 2.67 ERA and a 2.76 FIP on the season. If the walks get sorted out, I’d assume he’ll be in High-A soon.
RHP Sam Delaplane struck out a batter in a clean inning, which was great to see. We’ll worry about the performance later — for now, it was his 6th appearance of the year, after injuries (and the pandemic) limited him to 4 appearances in 2022, and none in 2021 or 2020. Great to see him out there.
AAA David Villar (3)
AA Marco Luciano (5)
AA Vaun Brown (2)
Sacramento: @ the Tacoma Rainiers, 7:05 p.m. PT
Richmond: vs. the Erie SeaWolves, 3:35 p.m. PT
Eugene: @ the Vancouver Canadians, 7:05 p.m. PT
San Jose: vs. the Fresno Grizzlies, 6:30 p.m. PT
Reminder that all Minor League games can now be viewed on MLB TV.