Well folks, the 2023 Minor League Baseball season is over. Only one of the San Francisco Giants affiliates played over the weekend, and they played their final games. What a year it was! Let’s dive into the final action.
All listed positions are the positions played in that game.
AAA Sacramento (67-82)
And so Sacramento’s odd season comes to an end. The River Cats didn’t play very well this year, but they were a very fun team to watch and keep tabs on all year thanks to the sheer number of exciting prospects that came through Sacramento. But with a large portion of those prospects in the Majors to end the season, San Francisco’s last-standing Minor League team had a quiet end to the year over the weekend.
There were certainly some good performances, particularly from players who figure to be in the Giants’ plans going forward.
Center fielder/left fielder Wade Meckler (No. 42 CPL) had a truly delightful end to the year, hitting 4-7 with a double, 3 walks, and a stolen base over the weekend. That’s the Meckler experience, or at least it is at the Minor League level.
Meckler finishes a season in which he was perhaps the fastest-rising Giants prospect since Tim Lincecum, which is not something that is expected of an 8th-round pick. Among the 57 Giants prospects who had at least 200 plate appearances this year, Meckler — who played in High-A, AA, and AAA — was 1st in batting average (.371) by a whopping .040 points. He was 1st in on-base percentage (.456) by nearly the same margin, 7th in slugging percentage (.510), 12th in walk rate (13.5%), 10th in strikeout rate (16.0%), and 1st in wRC+ (161). Among 1,583 Minor League hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, Meckler’s batting average was 2nd, his on-base percentage was 14th, and his wRC+ was 18th. Not bad for someone in their first full season!
The stolen base was also great to see, as it was Meckler’s 7th in his last 9 games, without getting caught. That comes after going 41 consecutive games across 3 levels without a stolen base, and 39 games without an attempt. Meckler has some of the best speed in the system, but you need more than just that to steal bases ... it seems like he’s working hard on that.
Meckler has fully proven himself in the Minor Leagues, but work remains in order for him to become an MLB contributor. In his stint in San Francisco this year, Meckler had a .578 OPS and a 71 wRC+, with a 39.1% strikeout rate. Take these numbers with a grain of salt as Meckler only saw 271 pitches in the Majors, but he had a batting average of .000 on breaking balls, and .154 on off-speed pitches. So you can probably guess what the Giants will have him work on this offseason.
Shortstop Casey Schmitt (No. 3 CPL) didn’t have a very good final weekend, as he hit just 1-9 with a walk ... but the hit was a home run, which was nice to see.
Schmitt says see ya later!— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) September 24, 2023
Casey takes this homer the opposite way to put Sacramento on the board! pic.twitter.com/MmIIxLnnP9
It’s kind of hard to judge Schmitt’s season. He made his MLB debut and spent a good chunk of the year on the roster, which has to constitute a pretty big win. At the same time, he struggled in the Majors, where he had a .554 OPS and a 53 wRC+ and put up one of the worst WAR figures in the Majors. To make matters worse, he didn’t have an overwhelming line while in AAA, finishing the year with a .781 OPS and an 88 wRC+.
So his season is a success in that he made the Majors which is a huge thing for any player, and that it seems the Giants really believe in him. But it’s a failure in the sense that I don’t think anyone feels comfortable penning or even penciling him into a role on the 2024 team.
Speaking of players with unknown roles, third baseman David Villar hit 3-8 with 2 walks and a home run over the weekend.
It's not Tuesday but the River Cats still like (oppo) !— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) September 24, 2023
David Villar hits the second opposite-field homer for Sacramento today, cutting the deficit to just one! pic.twitter.com/R5T7vjIvst
It was undoubtedly a disappointing season for Villar. A year after posting a 148 wRC+ in AAA (where he won league MVP) and a 125 wRC+ in the Majors, Villar was given public support to win the Giants starting third baseman job. Instead, he spent most of the year in the Minors, finishing the 2023 campaign with a 109 wRC+ in Sacramento and a 52 wRC+ in San Francisco.
Given the tough year, given the swing-and-miss stuff in his game, given the rise of other prospects in the system, given the defensive emergence of J.D. Davis, and given that he’ll be 27 when Spring Training begins, I’m not sold on Villar still being on the Giants 40-man roster at the end of the winter. But I’ll be pulling for him wherever he is.
Also a nice weekend for right fielder/center fielder Bryce Johnson (No. 43 CPL), who hit 3-7 with a triple, a double, 3 walks, and an outfield assist. With an .828 OPS and a 103 wRC+, Johnson’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. But anything even close to those numbers in the Majors would make him an awesome player, given his exceptional center field defense and baserunning. I’m not sure he’ll get that chance though ... Johnson is about to turn 28, and has already been outrighted twice. The Giants have a crowded outfield and need some serious offensive improvements on that front, so don’t be surprised if he ends up elsewhere.
Bullpen games on both Saturday and Sunday, with plenty of good, bad, and mediocre performances. RHP Sean Hjelle (No. 30 CPL) appeared on Sunday in what could be his final appearance as a member of the Giants organization. He gave up 2 hits and 1 run in 2 innings, finishing his year with a 6.00 ERA and a 6.01 FIP in AAA, to go with an 8.10 ERA and a 4.63 FIP in the Majors.
Hjelle is still super interesting, and his 6’11 frame gives the Giants a different look to throw at opponents, which they love. But in the starter/bulk innings bucket, Hjelle is clearly behind fellow RHPs Keaton Winn (No. 16 CPL) and Tristan Beck (No. 24 CPL) on the depth chart. The Giants will likely want to protect RHP Kai-Wei Teng from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, and you can probably expect LHP Carson Whisenhunt (No. 9 CPL) and RHP Mason Black (No. 11 CPL) to be factors in the Majors next year, possibly with RHPs Carson Seymour (No. 28 CPL) and Hayden Birdsong (No. 36 CPL), too. So I’m just not sure there’s space remaining for Hjelle.
RHP Joe Ross struggled, starting Sunday and only recording 2 outs, while allowing 1 hit, 3 walks, and 4 runs. Still, it’s less about performance and more about health for Ross, an MLB veteran whom the Giants are surely evaluating for next year.
RHP Matt Frisbee had a nice outing, striking out 3 batters in 2.1 scoreless innings, giving up just 1 hit. Frisbee spent the bulk of the year in AA where he wasn’t particularly good, so nice to see him end the year on a high note.
And some strong final auditions for Rule 5 protection from RHP Nick Avila and LHPs Juan Sanchez and Erik Miller. Avila, who was taken in the Rule 5 Draft by the White Sox last year, but eventually returned to the Giants, allowed 3 baserunners in his inning of work, but escaped the trouble unscathed. He finishes the year with a 3.00 ERA but a 5.02 FIP.
ICE IN HIS VEINS!— Sacramento River Cats (@RiverCats) September 24, 2023
Nick Avila works out of the bases-loaded jam and holds onto the lead with this punchout to end the eighth! pic.twitter.com/ublYrB7m42
Sanchez gave up 2 baserunners in 1.2 scoreless innings, with 2 strikeouts. He ends the year with just a 4.26 ERA and a 4.78 FIP in Sacramento, but that came in limited time after a mid-late season promotion. Sanchez was fantastic in AA and is still 22 for about 6 more weeks so he seems very likely to be protected.
And Miller pitched a perfect inning, finishing off a sensational season. Among the 127 Pacific Coast League pitchers who threw at least 40 innings this year, Miller finished 3rd in ERA (2.77), 7th in FIP (4.07), 1st in batting average against (.150), 11th in WHIP (1.31), and 6th in strikeouts per 9 innings (12.63). If he can correct some of the walks (7.10 per 9 innings, 113th out of those 127) then he won’t just be an MLB reliever, he’ll be a dominant MLB reliever. I’d guess he’s the closest thing the Giants have to a Rule 5 lock, given all of those stats plus the fact that he’s a southpaw whose fastball flirts with 100.
Thanks for tuning in for another Minor League season, everyone! Looking forward to lots of Minor League content over the offseason!
AAA David Villar (17 in AAA, 22 total)
AAA Casey Schmitt (4 in AAA, 7 total)