The 2023 Minor League Baseball season is nearly over, but two of the eight San Francisco Giants MiLB affiliates are still kicking. Let’s check in on them.
All listed positions are the positions played in that game.
Not much news this time of year, but the Giants made some moves on Wednesday that impact the farm. At the MLB level, veteran RHP Alex Cobb and rookie RHP Keaton Winn (No. 16 CPL) were placed on the 15-Day IL, effectively ending their regular seasons. Getting called up were LHP Kyle Harrison (No. 1 CPL) and RHP Sean Hjelle (No. 30 CPL).
Harrison was surprisingly optioned last week, though I suspected this was the plan all along — to have him replace an injured player and have his next start be in the Majors. Gabe Kapler said that Harrison had a highly-encouraging bullpen session on Monday that featured some mechanical tweaks and increased velocity. Regardless of what happens for the rest of the fast-sinking season, Harrison showing out against the Dodgers in the next few days would certainly give us something to smile about through the offseason.
AAA Sacramento (65-79)
Sacramento River Cats lost to the Salt Lake Bees (Angels) 7-6 (10 innings)
A tale of 2 games, as the River Cats were cruising with a 6-1 lead before a rain delay. When the teams converged after the rain subsided, they played significantly differently.
Only 1 player had a standout day for the River Cats, as third baseman David Villar hit 2-3 with 2 walks and a truly majestic home run.
David hits the ball Vi-far pic.twitter.com/Vk8hGyMWx8— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) September 20, 2023
It’s been a very disappointing year for Villar who, a year after winning Pacific Coast League MVP honors and finishing the season with a strong stint in the Majors, has had just an .862 OPS and a 107 wRC+ in AAA, with a very tough go of it in San Francisco. But he’s ending the year on quite a high note: in his last 10 games, the righty is hitting 11-40 with 3 homers, 2 doubles, and 7 walks, albeit with 16 strikeouts. He fits squarely in the “what’s gonna happen to him this offseason?” bucket.
Not many other offensive games of note. Catcher Jakson Reetz hit 1-3 with 2 walks, and first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo singled and walked in his Sacramento debut. A 31 year old with MLB experience, Tsutsugo was signed a few weeks ago to a Minor League contract and hit fairly well in AA Richmond before getting a very late season promotion.
Yoshi Tsutsugo gets a hit in his first AB as a River Cat! pic.twitter.com/39PMEDupHn— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) September 20, 2023
The MLB-adjacent players had the type of performance that you expect players to have in the final week of the season when they’re realizing they probably won’t see the Majors again this year. That’s editorializing, as they all play hard and I have no doubt wanted to have good games, but sometimes the story is written regardless of the characters’ intent.
Left fielder Heliot Ramos (No. 12 CPL) had an OK game, hitting 1-3 with a walk, as did right fielder Brett Wisely (No. 33 CPL), who hit 0-2 but drew 2 walks. Struggles elsewhere, though, as shortstop Casey Schmitt (No. 3 CPL) hit 0-4 with a walk in his Sacramento return, Marco Luciano (No. 2 CPL) hit 0-5 with 2 strikeouts (but played second base!), and center fielder/right fielder Wade Meckler (No. 42 CPL) hit 0-4 with a strikeout.
If you want to dig deep for some silver linings there, Luciano — who has been swinging and missing at seemingly every off-speed pitch since returning from the IL — had just 3 swing-throughs on the day, all on fastballs. And Ramos’ single was 110.9 mph of the bat. I’ll save you my spiel about how maybe the Giants should be a little less stubborn about the mold of player they like and embrace people who hit the ball hard.
Onto the pitching.
RHP Joe Ross got the start, pitching in his 2nd game since joining Sacramento. It was a delightful outing, as he gave up just 3 hits in 3 scoreless innings, albeit with just 1 strikeout. A 6-year MLB veteran who grew up in the Bay Area, Ross was signed over the offseason with the Giants knowing he’d miss most of the year. He made 5 rehab appearances, and has now pitched twice for Sacramento. He could definitely factor into the team’s plans in 2024.
Another nice outing by RHP Nick Avila, who tossed 2 scoreless innings with 1 hit, 1 walk, and 2 strikeouts. After a slowish start to the season, Avila has really settled in lately. Over the last 2 months, the 26 year old has made 20 appearances and pitched 25 innings, allowing 21 hits, 8 walks, 5 runs, and 4 earned runs, with 20 strikeouts. That’s dropped his ERA to 3.04, though his FIP sits at 4.99. I’m not sure how much weight to give FIP in the Minors, and an ERA flirting with the 2s in the PCL is damn impressive.
The Giants left Avila unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft last year and he was selected, but returned. What will happen this year?
A shocking event occurred in this game: LHP Erik Miller gave up hits and runs! 1 hit and 2 runs, specifically, to go with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts in 1.1 innings. Bad outings happen, so rather than focus on what Miller did on Tuesday, let’s focus on why it stood out so much: Miller had gone 10 consecutive appearances without allowing a hit, and in his last 16 outings he’d allowed a grand total of 1 hit and 0 runs. Those numbers are absurd anywhere, but especially in the PCL, where runs are handed out as party favors to all who show up.
Shake it off, Erik. I’m presuming he’ll be protected from the Rule 5 Draft and play a big role in the Majors next year.
AA Richmond (playoffs!)
Richmond Flying Squirrels lost to the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) 5-0
The Flying Squirrels ended the regular season by taking 4 out of 6 games from the SeaWolves, then turned around and got crushed by them in the first game of the playoffs. Oops.
The offense had 0 walks on the day, and their only life came on singles by center fielder Shane Matheny and designated hitter Sean Roby. When you have as many errors as baserunners, you’re usually not going to win the baseball game you’re competing in.
The pitching was OK. RHP Carson Seymour (No. 28 CPL) continued to show off his revived strikeout stuff, K’ing 5 batters in 3.1 innings. He gave up just 3 singles and 2 walks in that time, but thanks to errors that resulted in 4 runs, though just 1 earned.
Carson Seymour strikes out the side to get us rolling tonight pic.twitter.com/MThiQWyMpI— Richmond Flying Squirrels (@GoSquirrels) September 19, 2023
After struggling mightily with strikeouts to start the year, Seymour ended the season back to his bat-whiffing ways, and, more importantly, finished the regular season with a 3.99 ERA and a 3.45 FIP. Will he begin 2024 in AAA? Regardless of the answer to that question, he’s a player to watch next year.
Seymour, who started the game, was a 2021 draft pick by the Mets. So was LHP Nick Zwack (No. 39 CPL), who ended the game. It was a tough year for Zwack, but at least he’s ending things on a high note. Primarily a starter/bulk innings pitcher, Zwack moved to a single inning relief role in this contest and struck out 2 batters in a scoreless inning, allowing just a walk. Take this with an “I just mentioned he’s usually a bulk innings pitcher” sized grain of salt, but it was Zwack’s first outing without allowing a run since his first game of the year back on April 8.
In between the 2021 Mets draft picks was RHP Spencer Bivens, who gave up just 3 hits and 1 run in 4.2 innings, with 3 strikeouts. A sneaky good year for Bivens, who had a 3.69 ERA and a 3.51 FIP in Richmond, while sporting a 51.2% ground ball rate.
The Flying Squirrels now have their backs against the wall. They have today off before playing an elimination game on Thursday. If they lose that game, their season is over. If they win, they play again on Friday.
AAA David Villar (16 in AAA, 21 total)
Sacramento: @ the Salt Lake Bees, 5:35 p.m. PT
Richmond: Off day
Reminder that Minor League games can now be watched on MLB TV.