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Minor League round up, 9/6: David Villar is still raking

Yesterday’s action on the Giants farm.

Profile of David Villar in the batter’s box
David Villar hit 3-6 with a home run and a double for AAA Sacramento
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Minor League Baseball season is winding down, but all four of the San Francisco Giants A-ball affiliates were in action on Wednesday. Let’s dive straight into the action.

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

All listed positions are the positions played in that game.

AAA Sacramento (60-73)

Sacramento River Cats beat the Las Vegas Aviators (A’s) 9-6
Box score

As if to stick their nose out at the Giants, the River Cats have opened up their series with 32 hits and 18 runs in the first 2 games. Must be nice!

Just a delightful offensive showing for the River Cats in this one, as they not only had 17 hits, but also drew 11 walks. Although you can do the math on that one: they certainly showed solidarity with the Giants with how many runners they left on the bases!

Right fielder Heliot Ramos (No. 12 CPL) was not the star in this game, but he’s still the person to talk about because he’s the position player on the team most likely to play a role in San Francisco this year, so we should be keeping tabs on him. This was his worst game in a while, as he “only” hit 1-4 with 2 walks.

The performance ended his 4-game streak of multi-hit days, but he’s still reached base safely at least 3 times in all 5 September games. Since getting optioned near the end of August, Ramos is 11-26 with 3 home runs, 2 doubles, and, crucially, 9 walks.

What Ramos does is clear, and what the Giants want him to do better is also clear. I watched this game and thought it pretty perfectly encapsulated where Ramos is at the moment ... he’s making dramatic improvements in the areas where the Giants want him to, but they remain weaknesses. Over the last few games I’ve been impressed at his ability to stop swinging at pitches outside of the zone; but he still has a ton of swing-and-miss in his game, and remains very susceptible to chasing (and missing) high fastballs. Teams may not take that scouting info and feast on it at the AAA level, but they do in the Majors, which was apparent at the end of his last stint.

I still think he should be in San Francisco and playing, and I still think he’d help the team. But I do at least understand the hesitations. He struck out twice in this game, with five swing-and-misses, two of which were outside the zone.

At the same time, those swinging strikes are a lot more palatable when they A) come with increased walk rates and B) are on swings where a player who routinely hits the ball 110 mph is trying to hit the ball 110 mph. And Ramos is doing both of those things.

Anyway, I have no idea what will happen with Ramos this year, but I hope the fact that he’s showing improvements not just in the stat sheet — he has a 1.005 OPS and a 136 wRC+ in Sacramento — but in the areas where the Giants are paying close attention at least earns him a spot on the 40-man roster through the offseason, and a chance to show further improvements next year. He’s still young, after all. On that note ...

Happy 24th birthday Heliot Ramos!!

OK, on to the players who played more significant roles in winning this game. There were some offensive stars, all right. Third baseman David Villar had a mammoth game, hitting 3-6 and finishing a triple shy of the cycle, while knocking in 3 runs.

His game was made even more impressive by the fact that his double was hit off the top of the dead center wall. You don’t see many 420-foot doubles!

Also going 3-6 was shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald (No. 18 CPL) who had an absolute bomb of a home run. I mean, just look at this beauty!

I don’t know what the future holds for Villar (.869 OPS, 108 wRC+) and Fitzgerald (.845 OPS, 98 wRC+), but I’m certainly curious to see how the organization views and handles them over the coming months. Both players are intriguing, talented, and have a ton of power. Villar has the added intrigue of having already shown success at the MLB level, but that comes with the knock of having struggled mightily in an extended look this year. Fitzgerald has the added intrigue of being able to play all over the infield and center field, but that comes with the knock that he’s 91 games into his AAA career and hitting a hair below league average.

The Giants have choices to make with each this offseason. Villar is on the 40-man roster and would seem like a candidate to be released or traded when the team invariably needs to clear space to make offseason moves. Are they ready to give up on him? Do they think he can win the job back next year? Do they value him as a rostered AAA depth piece who can play first, second, and third? Fitzgerald, on the other hand, is Rule 5 Draft eligible. I think his cooled-down play over the last month has probably dispelled any internal discussions (if there ever were any) of him being protected, but it’s hard to say for sure.

Either way, it wouldn’t surprise me if either player ended up having a critical role on the Giants in 2024, and it wouldn’t surprise me if either player is nearing the end of their tenure with the organization. After all, Villar will be 27 and Fitzgerald 26 when camp convenes in just 5 short months.

Speaking of depth pieces who may or may not be in the team’s plans, left fielder Luis González had a stellar day, hitting 3-4 with 2 walks and a stolen base. He also made a highly impressive catch. Good defense in left field? Must be nice.

Since getting DFA’d and outrighted, González is 9-30 with 1 home run, 1 double, 4 walks, and 7 strikeouts. The Giants left-handed hitting outfield situation is certainly a thing worth monitoring for 2024. I’d assume that Mike Yastrzemski will be in the fold, but will Michael Conforto opt-in? Will Wade Meckler (No. 42 CPL) be part of the plans in pen or in pencil? Is Blake Sabol (No. 34 CPL) seen in that picture? Will Joc Pederson uhh ... let me stop there and just move on.

Second baseman Brett Wisely (No. 33 CPL) made his return after missing about a week-and-a-half with an injury, and he hit 2-6. Wisely’s return is important for the Giants, because they had no healthy middle infielders on the 40-man roster other than those in San Francisco, which means they would have been in a bit of a pickle had an injury occurred (though they do have 4 different players in San Francisco who play a decent shortstop, so maybe not a big issue).

And center fielder Bryce Johnson (No. 43 CPL) continues to shine post-outright, as he hit 2-4 with 2 walks and a stolen base, while first baseman Trenton Brooks collected 2 hits and 3 walks against his former team.

A fun day for the bullpen, after piggybacking RHP semi-starters Parker Dunshee and Drew Strotman got knocked around a bit. LHP Darien Núñez wasn’t at his sharpest, giving up 2 hits and a walk in 1.1 innings, but he kept runs off the board. It has to feel like a big win of a year for Núñez, who finally made his Giants debut after a 1.5-year injury layoff in which San Francisco poached him from the Dodgers. I think he could play a big role next year.

RHP Melvin Adón pitched a perfect inning, as he continues to look much improved following a development stint in the ACL and Low-A. Since returning to Sacramento he’s pitched in 5 games, and in 4.1 innings has allowed 5 hits, 2 walks, and 1 earned run, with 4 strikeouts. There’s still so much life in that arm!

And closing the door was LHP Erik Miller, who worked around an error and a walk to strike out 2 batters and earn the save. Miller’s numbers really are fairly ridiculous: among 159 PCL pitchers with at least 30 innings thrown this year, his 2.53 ERA is 7th, his 12.6 strikeouts per 9 innings is 8th, and his 0.19 home runs per 9 innings is 5th. He’s Rule 5 eligible, and I would assume the decision there comes down to whether the or not the Giants think his 7.0 walks per 9 innings is something to be concerned about or not. I would be shocked if he makes it through December without being rostered by either the Giants or another team, though.

AA Richmond (67-61)

Richmond Flying Squirrels beat the Akron RubberDucks (Guardians) 5-4 (10 innings)
Box score

A thrilling game on the East Coast, where the Squirrels blew a 2-run lead in the 9th inning, then walked it off in the 10th. The walk-off? A leadoff bunt by right fielder Brady Whalen, which drew an error and led to the Manfred Man, third baseman Shane Matheny, scoring. Hey, whatever works!

A mild-mannered offensive day, but center fielder Ismael Munguia hit a home run. Power has been largely absent for Munguia, and he’s certainly had a cooler second half of the season than first, but he’s still rocking a .742 OPS and a 107 wRC+ in his first year of AA after missing all of 2022. That’s a win in my book.

Left fielder Yoshi Tsutsugo had another nice game, with a single, 2 walks, and a stolen base.

Since joining the organization, the left-handed hitter is 6-23 with 2 homers and 6 walks. That’s good! Though the cold water is that he’s a 31 year old in AA who has failed in 3 attempts to break through at the MLB level. But if the Giants keep Tsutsugo next season, it will be interesting to see if they can work some magic with him. He’s not your average 30-something in the Minors: Tsutsugo was a very good prospect a few years ago, earning a 45 future value grade from Fangraphs, with 60/60 raw power and 55/55 game power. Signed from Japan before the 2020 season and thrown straight into the Majors with no Minor League seasoning, Tsutsugo could just be a case of a player who needs some more development at a lower-stakes level before his MLB game can take off. We’ll see! Or we won’t!

Designated hitter Jimmy Glowenke, first baseman Logan Wyatt, and catcher Andy Thomas all reached base 2 times, with the former adding a stolen base. All 3 players are really ending the season on a positive note, which is great to see. I’d guess we see all of them in AAA at some point next year — perhaps to start the year for Glowenke and Wyatt.

Not too much on the pitching front. Kind of a funny game for RHP Carson Seymour (No. 28 CPL). He spent much of the year with good run suppression but awful strikeout numbers, and did the opposite on Wednesday, ceding 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs in just 3.2 innings, but striking out 6 batters.

Seymour, who has a fairly-pretty 4.10 ERA and 3.53 FIP, has really turned around the strikeouts lately, though it’s come at the expense of runs. I mean, look at this:

First 11 games: 41.2 innings, 22 strikeouts
Next 16 games: 66 innings, 87 strikeouts

I mean ... kind of comical, isn’t it?

A really nice game for RHP Wil Jensen, who has really flown under the radar this year (though in fairness, he is 26). He pitched 3.1 scoreless innings with 3 baserunners allowed and 3 strikeouts. Jensen has spent the whole year — his 3rd pro season — in AA, where he has a 2.70 ERA, albeit with a 4.23 FIP. He had 2 walks in this game and that’s one thing the Giants want him to work on. He’s historically been a control pitcher — he doesn’t have overpowering stuff or get a ton of ground balls. But he allowed just 2.2 walks per 9 innings in Low-A and 2.3 in High-A. This year he’s issuing 4.2.

High-A Eugene (64-64)

Eugene Emeralds lost to the Everett AquaSox (Mariners) 6-5 (10 innings)
Box score

A heartbreaker for the Ems, who scored in the 10th but allowed a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning to get walked off.

Other than that it was a quite uninteresting game. The pitching was mediocre, with the exception of a really nice performance from a really nice place: RHP Eric Silva (No. 13 CPL). Silva’s struggles have undoubtedly been one of the more disappointing parts of this season on the farm, though it’s worth noting that the 2021 4th-round pick is still just 20 years old.

After really struggling, the Giants moved Silva from a starting role to a relief role. It’s unclear whether that’s a permanent shift or just a move to help him get back on track. His age, pedigree, and the fact that they’ve pushed him up to 2 innings lately suggests to me that it’s the latter, but we’ll see.

Anyway, Silva pitched 2 scoreless innings on Wednesday, with just a hit allowed, and he struck out 4. After some initial struggles in a relief role, the young righty has started to figure things out. In his last 3 games he’s pitched 5 innings and allowed just 1 hit, 0 walks, and 0 runs, with 8 strikeouts. He has a 6.08 ERA and a 4.77 FIP on the year, but honestly, a good end to the season would erase a fair bit of that in everyone’s minds.

Center fielder Grant McCray (No. 6 CPL) and right fielder Carter Howell both hit 1-3 with 2 walks. Howell has quietly risen to a .770 OPS and a 111 wRC+ since a late-May promotion, with a sub-20% strikeout rate. After some early struggles, he’s caught fire: since July 27, the right-handed hitter is 45-136 with 6 home runs, 9 doubles, and 17 walks. Amazing!

As for McCray, he’s really turned his season around, thanks to a spectacular July and a quite-good fall. He’s up to a .773 OPS and a 112 wRC+ on the year, and a pair of stolen bases on Wednesday gave him a clean 50 on the year. For a while I thought that McCray was in danger of repeating High-A next year, since his 29.5% strikeout rate is still a bit higher than ideal, and the one thing that leads the Giants to having prospects repeat is when they can’t control strikeouts. But at this point, McCray’s numbers have spiked enough that there’s no way he’s anywhere but Richmond when 2024 begins, at least in my eyes. Might he also have played himself into Rule 5 consideration? I would be curious to see what the Giants mindset is in that regard for both McCray and shortstop Aeverson Arteaga (No. 7 CPL).

Arteaga hit 0-5 by the way. He’s really cooled down lately, but it’s still been a really wonderful season for him.

Designated hitter Matt Higgins and second baseman Damon Dues both reached base twice with a double. Decent, if unexciting seasons for both players. Dues came off the bench early to replace Ghordy Santos, who left the game before an at-bat. His last play was recording a force out at second base, so perhaps he got spiked. Hopefully he’s OK.

Low-A San Jose (66-62)

San Jose Giants beat the Stockton Ports (A’s) 5-0
Box score

A dominant pitching performance for the Baby Giants. LHP Nomar Medina kicked things off with excellence, tossing 5 scoreless frames with just 3 hits allowed, while striking out 5 batters. It hasn’t been a super smooth year for Medina, who has a 5.19 ERA and a 5.78 FIP in his first A-ball season. His peripherals aren’t super exciting either, as neither his strikeouts nor his walks nor his home runs nor his ground balls jump off the page in a positive way.

But he’s just 20 years old, and holding it down in A-ball. So there’s certainly a fair amount of talent there.

Also a great showing from RHP Tyler Vogel, who struck out 5 batters in 3 scoreless innings, allowing just 1 hit. A 12th-round pick last year, Vogel has been fairly streaky this year, and has a 4.41 ERA and a 4.56 FIP. He gives up some loud contact and issues a decent amount of walks, but he’s also striking out 12.2 batters per 9 innings, with a 52.7% ground ball rate. Ground balls and strikeouts, ground balls and strikeouts, ground balls and strikeouts ... I’m fairly certain that equation has worked for a few Giants!

Very limited offense, with the highlight coming from third baseman Justin Wishkoski, who smacked his first A-ball dinger, and finished 1-3 with a walk.

A 16th-round pick in July, Wishkoski has been struggling a bit in his limited time in San Jose, after a spectacular stint in the ACL. But you can bet the Giants (and perhaps yours truly) are salivating when they look at the numbers in his debut season and see that in 96 plate appearances he has 13 walks ... and just 5 strikeouts.

Home runs

AAA Tyler Fitzgerald (19 in AAA, 21 total)
AAA David Villar (14 in AAA, 19 total)
AA Ismael Munguia (5 in AA, 6 total)
Low-A Justin Wishkoski (1 in Low-A, 2 total)

Thursday schedule

Sacramento: @ the Las Vegas Aviators, 7:05 p.m. PT
Richmond: vs. the Akron RubberDucks, 3:05 p.m. PT
Eugene: @ the Everett AquaSox, 7:05 p.m. PT
San Jose: @ the Stockton Ports, 6:30 p.m. PT

Reminder that Minor League games are now on MLB TV.