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Minor League round up, 9/20: Tyler Fitzgerald, gone stealin’

Yesterday’s action on the Giants farm.

Tyler Fitzgerald diving into second base.
Tyler Fitzgerald hit 1-2 with a walk and 3 stolen bases for AAA Sacramento.
Photo by David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Only two of the San Francisco Giants Minor League Baseball affiliates are still playing, and that number could be slashed in half tonight. AA Richmond had Wednesday off, but they’re back in action with a must-win playoff game tonight, in which RHP Hayden Birdsong (No. 36 CPL) will take the mound. Keep the season alive, Squirrels!

Now, onto the small action of Wednesday.

Link to the 2023 McCovey Chronicles Community Prospect List (CPL)

All listed positions are the positions played in that game.

AAA Sacramento (65-80)

Sacramento River Cats lost to the Salt Lake Bees (Angels) 12-4
Box score

Update: This article was written before the Giants announced that Tyler Fitzgerald, Marco Luciano, and Tristan Beck had all been added to the roster.

The River Cats are limping to the finish line, losing 3 consecutive fairly listless games as their season winds to a close. They play every day through the weekend, and then their season is over — and with it, the 2023 Minor League Baseball campaign.

The most intriguing and important part of the game revolved around prospects not playing. After Brandon Crawford was injured in the Giants loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Marco Luciano (No. 2 CPL) was scratched from Sacramento’s lineup. This prompted speculation from yours truly that bordered on reckless presumption that Luciano would be called up to replace Crawford.

Then, in the 6th inning of the River Cats game, center fielder Tyler Fitzgerald (No. 18 CPL) was removed from the game. I’ll be honest, it didn’t even register with me, as it had seemed so obvious that Luciano was headed up. And then The Athletic’s Melissa Lockard reported that Fitzgerald is heading to Los Angeles to meet the Giants.

We haven’t heard anything else yet, so time will reveal everything. As Bryan wrote about, it could be that the Giants are calling up both Luciano and Fitzgerald, and punting on the whole Paul DeJong veteran depth thing in the process.

If Luciano isn’t called up, that means he suffered an injury setback, which is obviously a bad thing. It’s also cruel symmetry — if you’ll remember, the last time Luciano was injured, he was removed from the middle of Sacramento’s game almost immediately after news broke that A.J. Pollock was injured. Everyone (myself included) assumed he was San Francisco bound. Instead, he was IL bound.

As for Fitzgerald, I’m extremely curious as to what the team’s plans are. People’s opinions about Fitzgerald range from “quality MLB role player whom the Giants needed to protect from the Rule 5 Draft,” to “probably won’t ever have an impact in the Majors, no risk to be selected in the draft,” and it’s unclear where the Giants stand.

This move might signal that they’re high on Fitzgerald. It might show that they planned on protecting him in November, and want to work him into the fold as part of their MLB depth in 2024, so why not start now?

But this move also might signal that the Giants view 2023 Fitzgerald the same way they viewed 2022 Bryce Johnson (No. 43 CPL). The similarities are very much there: defensively-talented prospects with a ton of speed and excitement, but who are on the older age for prospects and only hitting about league average. Johnson was called up for his MLB debut last September, but it was clear — or at least, it is in hindsight — that the Giants called him up knowing they’d DFA him when the season ended. Is that the situation with Fitzgerald? That the Giants either are low enough on him that they don’t see him as a part of the future, or they’re confident enough that he’d clear waivers that they believe they can outright him in the offseason, the way they did with Johnson?

On the one hand, Fitzgerald is pretty clearly a more exciting prospect, given his 20-homer power and his ability to play the middle of the infield, not just the middle of the grass. On the other hand, the 40-man roster has a lot more quality depth this year than last, and the Giants are entering this offseason with a lot more pressure to find a way to win immediately.

We’ll soon find out the answers to some of these questions. In the meantime, what an awesome and exciting day for Tyler Fitzgerald and his family! Assuming the report is accurate, Fitzgerald will become the 12th Giant to make his MLB debut this season, which represents well over 20% of the team’s players. Pretty cool!

Before getting lifted, Fitzgerald hit 1-2 with a walk and stole 3 bases. Fresh off of watching the hyper-athletic Diamondbacks run all around the Giants, I turned on Sacramento’s game and watched Fitzgerald draw a 1st-inning walk. 2 pitches later and Fitzgerald had stolen 2 bases. That was enough for me to clamor for the Fitzgerald experience. I’ve certainly been lower on Fitzgerald than the bulk of Giants fans and writers, but I’ll happily and quickly change my tune the second I see some of that athleticism that’s been sorely missing in Giantsville for .... umm .... a really long time.

Fitzgerald now has 29 stolen bases in Sacramento, and has been caught just 3 times, to go along with his 20 homers. All that and defense at second, shortstop, and center. The overall batting line (.857 OPS, 103 wRC+) and swing-and-miss tendencies remaining concerning, but it’s not hard to find reasons for excitement.

The only other notable offensive days belonged to shortstop Casey Schmitt (No. 3 CPL) and third baseman David Villar, who both hit 2-4 with a double.

The future is a little murky for each player, and I’m excited to see it unfold. Do the Giants see Schmitt as their future every day third baseman? Do they see him as a utility infielder who will play second, third, and shortstop as a moderate-impact 1-2 WAR player? Will he be given a role out of the gates next year? And will Villar, after his disappointing season, survive the 40-man crunch this winter?

Things started smoothly on the mound, as LHP Raymond Burgos — pressed into starting duty after RHP Sean Hjelle (No. 30 CPL) was called up earlier in the day — was fantastic, pitching 3 no-hit innings, with just a walk allowed, albeit with only 1 strikeout. It was great to see Burgos, who is just 24, have a nice outing. He had such a dynamic season with AA Richmond, but had been struggling in his short stint with Sacramento since a recent promotion (this was just his 10th game in a River Cats jersey).

RHP Drew Strotman briefly kept the good times rolling with a no-hit inning which allowed Sacramento to take a no-hitter into the 5th inning. Then Strotman and RHP Matt Frisbee fell apart, and the Bees put up an 8-spot in the 5th inning, en route to 12 unanswered runs scored over a 3-inning period. Yikes.

So yeah, not the best day in Sacramento. But yay, Tyler Fitzgerald! He’s such an awesome dude, so assuming the report is accurate, this is really cool.

Thursday schedule

Sacramento: @ the Salt Lake Bees, 5:35 p.m. PT
Richmond: @ the Erie SeaWolves, 3:35 p.m. PT

Reminder that Minor League games can now be watched on MLB TV.