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Minor League round up, 9/21: Mason Black ends the season strong

Yesterday’s action on the Giants farm.

Mason Black with his leg kicked up in his pitching motion while at Lehigh
Mason Black gave up just 1 run in 5 innings for AAA Sacramento
Hannahally Photography/Lehigh Athletics

For the final time this season, the San Francisco Giants had multiple Minor League Baseball affiliates in action. From here on out it’s just AAA Sacramento, until Sunday, when the sweet, beautiful Minor League season concludes and we’re left to wait until April to watch the youngsters.

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

All listed positions are the positions played in that game.


The only news to come from the Minors is Friday’s announcement of the eight prospects that the Giants are sending to the Arizona Fall League: catcher Zach Morgan, outfielder Carter Howell, pitchers Will Bednar (No. 25 CPL), Jack Choate, Hayden Wynja, Seth Lonsway, and Marques Johnson, and two-way player Reggie Crawford (No. 8 CPL).

The exciting news is that the Giants are going to use Crawford strictly as a hitter in the AFL, after barely letting him hit in the season. That’s exciting for two reasons: first, it means we’ll get to see Crawford hit regularly for the first time in his career. And second, it means that the Giants, even though they’re openly developing Crawford primarily as a pitcher, are still taking his development and progression as a hitter seriously. There was some question as to whether they were actually developing him as a hitter, or just letting him hit ... this answers that question.

AAA Sacramento (66-80)

Sacramento River Cats beat the Salt Lake Bees (Angels) 4-3
Box score

Sacramento’s season is coming to a fairly quite and dull end, and they have just 3 games remaining. But this win provided a little excitement, as the River Cats scored all of their runs on one swing of the bat, which can only mean one thing: a grand slam!

This one came courtesy of first baseman Armanda Alvarez, who gave Sacramento all the runs they would need in the 3rd inning.

It’s been a great year for Alvarez, who finished the day 1-3 with 2 walks. He’s up to a .970 OPS and a 126 wRC+ in his first year in the organization. But as a 29 year old defensively-limited corner infielder, it’s hard to view Alvarez as much more than emergency depth and AAA filler, unfortunately. Hopefully he proves that’s not the case, either with the Giants or with someone else.

Designated hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo had a fun game in just his second outing with Sacramento. He went 0-1, but drew 4 walks! That’s all kinds of fun, and certainly gives some insight into why the Giants were interested in him ... across 2 levels and 2 organizations, Tsutsugo has drawn 51 walks in 66 games this year. That’s awesome.

A nice day for left fielder Wade Meckler (No. 42 CPL), who hit 2-4 with a walk. But perhaps most notable was that Meckler stole a base. He has some of the best speed in the system, but has not been much of a base stealer in his career. It’s clear that he and the Giants both want him to change that. In the last 6 games, Meckler has 5 stolen bases without being caught. Prior to that, he’d gone 41 consecutive games (spanning 3 levels) without a stolen base. Which is pretty wild for a speedy player who leads the organization in on-base percentage.

An uninteresting game for the other Sacramento hitters who are on the 40-man roster. Shortstop Casey Schmitt (No. 3 CPL) hit 1-4 with a walk, but struck out 3 times. Right fielder Brett Wisely (No. 33 CPL) hit 1-4, while third baseman David Villar hit 0-4 with a walk and 2 strikeouts. Outfielder Heliot Ramos (No. 12 CPL) did not play.

Schmitt did, however, end the game with a phenomenal defensive play.

A really nice end to the season for RHP Mason Black (No. 11 CPL), who will enter 2024 in prime position to make his MLB debut. Black pitched 5 innings of 1-run ball, giving up just 4 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 4.

A 3rd-round pick in 2021, Black turned all kinds of heads in his first full season last year, but this year has been an even bigger step forwards. After an excellent few months in AA Richmond, Black earned a promotion and hasn’t missed a step in moving up to the Pacific Coast League, which has taken out so many pitchers. He finishes his AAA season with a 3.86 ERA, a 5.35 FIP, and 72 strikeouts to 31 walks in 60.2 innings.

Among 59 PCL pitchers to make at least 10 starts this year, Black’s ERA is 6th, albeit with the 4th-worst negative gap between his ERA and FIP. His 1.38 WHIP ranks 9th, and his 10.68 strikeouts per 9 innings ranks 5th. It would certainly seem like he’s the real deal, and don’t be surprised if he works his way into San Francisco’s rotation fairly early into the 2024 season.

Speaking of pitchers who should become a part of the team next year, LHP Juan Sanchez tossed a perfect inning with a strikeout. Sanchez has had a few bumps in the road following a promotion, which came after dominating AA Richmond. But it’s still been a fantastic year for the southpaw, who has a 4.56 ERA and a 4.89 FIP in 17 games with the River Cats. He doesn’t turn 23 for 2 more months, and in my mind is very likely to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

And on the topic of Rule 5 protections, the frontrunner is LHP Erik Miller, though he had a tough Thursday, giving up 3 hits and 1 run in an inning of work, albeit with 2 strikeouts. It was the second straight game where Miller allowed hits and runs, which came after a truly staggering span in which he gave up just 1 hit and 0 runs over a 16-game stretch. Unreal!

Among the 122 PCL pitchers with at least 40 innings thrown this year, Miller ranks 4th in ERA (2.82), 7th in FIP (4.08), 6th in strikeouts per 9 innings (12.88), 14th in WHIP (1.33), 8th in home runs per 9 innings (0.35), and 1st in batting average against (.153). The only — and I mean the only — point against him is the 7.24 walks per 9 innings, which ranks 110th. But it tells you how unhittable he is that he can have such a huge walk number while still having one of the lowest WHIPs in the league.

Miller, whom the Giants traded Yunior Marte for in January, feels like a lock to be protected.

AA Richmond (season over)

Richmond Flying Squirrels lost to the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) 7-3
Box score

The Flying Squirrels put together an incredible stretch to end the year and sneak into the playoffs, which included winning 4 of 6 games in their final series, which was against the SeaWolves. Then they played the SeaWolves in a best-of-3 series and lost the first 2 games. And thus ends the AA season.

It was a fairly nondescript game. RHP Hayden Birdsong (No. 36 CPL) finished off a breakout season with a little bit of a lull, giving up 9 baserunners and 4 runs in 3.2 innings of work. Birdsong, the team’s 6th-round pick in 2022, had one of the best years in the farm, dominating Low-A and High-A before getting a promotion to AA.

His time in Richmond was odd but still encouraging. He got unlucky, with everything from poor defense to rain delays keeping him from getting to have long outings. He also struggled a bit, walking 13 batters in 23 regular season innings, after walking just 31 in 77.2 innings in San Jose and Eugene. And he also had a 5.48 ERA with Richmond.

But there’s a whole lot to love. Not only was this Birdsong’s first full season, but he struck out 33 batters in those 23 AA innings, and finished the regular season with a 3.36 FIP. He’s an honest-to-goodness starter with pretty decent command, a large repertoire of pitches, and the 5th-most strikeouts per 9 innings (13.32) among the 72 Giants prospects with at least 40 innings pitched this year, trailing only top prospect Kyle Harrison (No. 1 CPL) and relievers José Cruz (No. 35 CPL), Ben Madison, and Mat Olsen.

Birdsong will start 2024 in AA, but he probably won’t need many good appearances there before he’s in AAA where, as Gabe Kapler and Farhan Zaidi are fond of pointing out, he’ll be just a step away from the Majors.

Speaking of good pitchers, RHP Tyler Myrick capped off a lovely year with 1.2 scoreless innings of relief, giving up just a walk and striking out 2. Not even counting this playoff outing, Myrick led those aforementioned 72 Giants pitchers in ERA, posting a 1.24 mark across High-A and AA. His FIP is a less-pretty-but-still-nice 3.40, but I think there’s a lot to be said for preferring ERA to FIP in the Minors.

Myrick finished 4th among those pitchers in WHIP (1.12), in large part due to his 2.82 walks per 9 innings, which ranked 10th. His ERA is propped up (or down, as the case may be) by having a >80% left on base rate in both Eugene and Richmond, which probably isn’t sustainable ... but then again, maybe he has that magical high-pressure torturous reliever blood that the Giants have been injecting in prospects for the last 30 years.

A pretty quiet day on offense. Catcher Andy Thomas stood out a bit, hitting 2-3 with a double and a walk. Thomas certainly didn’t have a standout year in Richmond, finishing the year with a .685 OPS and a 91 wRC+. But it’s fairly easy to see him soon (maybe next year) taking over the Ricardo Genovés role of being a quality Minor Leaguer that you’re fine viewing as the emergency option so you can justify only carrying 2 backstops on the 40-man roster. We’ll see.

The only other Squirrel to reach base multiple times was left fielder Ismael Munguia, who hit 1-3 with a hit by pitch. I’m really looking forward to watching him next year, hopefully in AAA. A .747 OPS and a 110 wRC+ look even nicer when you remember that Munguia was shaking off the rust of missing the entire 2022 season and, for better or for worse, Munguia is a very Giantsy player: he doesn’t have a ton of power, but his 13.4% strikeout rate is 4th-lowest out of 57 Giants prospects (minimum: 200 plate appearances) and 3rd-lowest out of 136 Eastern League hitters (minimum: 200 plate appearances). That’s pretty awesome.

And thus ends Richmond’s season. One team remains.

Home runs

AAA Armando Alvarez (18)

Friday schedule

Sacramento: @ the Salt Lake Bees, 5:35 p.m. PT