With the opening of minor league baseball this past weekend, let’s take a spin around the San Francisco Giants’ system to see who’s where and what you should be looking for on each of the different full season affiliates. We’ll check in on the star prospects and maybe identify a dark horse or two.
Reasons to be excited:
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) April 4, 2018
Video courtesy of MinorLeagueBaseball.com YouTube channel
The Giants‘ AAA affiliate is the repository of most of the Giants near-major league ready prospects. The team currently features half the Giants’ top 10 prospects on the MLBPipeline list. That includes the Rivercats entire OF: LF Chris Shaw (#2) CF Steven Duggar (#3) and RF Austin Slater (#5). Mixing in with that group and DHing will be Mac Williamson, a post-prospect to keep an eye on. Williamson spent the winter working with Justin Turner’s swing doctor and has shown up this swing with a significantly re-tooled swing that showed tremendous power in spring. With Duggar and Shaw nearing their major league call ups Williamson needs to show his time is now to avoid being passed up, but he may well do so. Duggar’s time in AAA could be very short-lived as the Giants are known to be high on the young CF and looking to install him as their starter before 2018 gets too long in the teeth.
On the pitching side, Tyler Beede (#4 prospect) and lefty Andrew Suarez (#10) anchor the rotation. In a interesting move, Beede was actually transferred to San Jose for opening night, but that move was made with an eye on keeping Beede on schedule to make his major league debut in San Francisco on April 10. With Sacramento opening in Tacoma and rain scheduled, the Giants didn’t want to take a chance on weather delay throwing Beede’s schedule off. He’s slated to make 2-3 starts as the Giants’ #5 starter and then return to Sacramento when Jeff Samardzija returns from the DL. Suarez, who impressed Giants‘ brass in spring training, would require a 40 man move to be activated, so for now, look for any major league depth needs in the starting rotation to be filled by Beede.
The Rivercats’ bullpen also features several relief arms who will likely make appearances in the big leagues this year, including former major leaguers Steven Okert and Derek Law and lefty DJ Snelten, a 40 man member who is still looking to make his debut. The big lefty brings some funk and can be a tough AB for left-handed hitters. Reyes Moronta was scheduled to start the year in Sacramento until Mark Melancon‘s DL stint gave him an unexpected opening day assignment in the big leagues.
Richmond Flying Squirrels
Reasons to be excited:
Video courtesy of Conner Penfold, @giant_potential
The Squirrels are a little light on the position player talent, with only C Aramis Garcia sticking out among the system’s top prospects. The real excitement is in the rotation where two of last year’s best surprises make up a potent 1-2 combination. RHP Shaun Anderson and LHP Garrett Williams are two of the best starting pitching prospects in the system and both, in different ways, were 2017 surprises. In Anderson’s case, the surprise was that he was in the system at all, as he came over from the Red Sox in a trade deadline deal for Eduardo Nuñez. Anderson was stuck in the bullpen of a powerful University of Florida rotation (that included four future 1st round picks) but the Giants like the big right-hander as a starter, thanks to his four pitch mix and good build for eating innings. He has solid command of a low 90s fastball and possesses two different breaking balls that he can use for out pitches. Williams’ surprise was that he started throwing more strikes, allowing his package of two plus pitches (fastball and curve) to begin to play up. Williams struggled to get on the field at Oklahoma St because the coaching staff didn’t trust him to throw strikes. But the regularly workload of pro ball seems to have been the tonic he needed and in 2017 Williams showed a greater feel for his pitches. With less than 60 IP of A+ ball combined for the pair in 2017, the Giants are giving a challenge assignment to both in moving them up to AA.
Between Garcia, Anderson, and Williams, that puts MLB Pipeline’s #6, 7, and 8 prospects in the system in Richmond to open the year. The team also features yet another in the Giants’ long line of contact oriented MI, in Ryan Howard (no not him, the other one) and a couple of corner guys with some interesting pop in 3B Jonah Arenado and 1B/DH Dillon Dobson. In the bullpen, Tyler Cyr is coming off an impressive AFL campaign and while he doesn’t have blow you away stuff, his well rounded repertoire has allowed him to have success at each level so far. The Richmond bullpen of 2018 also features the return of Mr. Triple Digit himself, the prodigal Ray Black.
San Jose Giants
Reasons to be excited:
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) April 6, 2018
Video courtesy Fangraphs YouTube channel
The Giants historically like to stack the San Jose team. It’s partially owned by the Giants and it’s also an easy drive for investors and front office brass. But that’s not the case this year. Only three of the Giants’ top 30 prospects on MLBPipeline.com are calling SJ home to start the year (though a fourth, Kelvin Beltre, would be had he not broken his leg late in camp). The pitching staff does have some interesting arms though. In addition to extreme velocity stylings of Melvin Adon (who has also been displaying a very interesting slider), the rotation features two young starters returning from TJ surgery in RHP Logan Webb and LHP Mac Marshall. Both are essentially leaping over A ball, after having succumbed to elbow injury after short stints in the Sally League in 2016. Webb was one of the stories of minor league camp, firing mid-90s fastballs as part of a very effective three pitch mix and he’s as good a pick as anybody in the system to turn in a true Pop Up year in 2018. Mac Marshall has struggled to throw strikes as a pro though he was showing excellent life on his fastball in Instructional League last fall. This is a big challenge assignment for both youngsters.
Another pitcher to keep an eye on is reliever Pat Ruotolo. The 5’10” righty from UConn has posted huge numbers in his first two years as a pro, posting astonishing strikeout rates that hover near 40% over three lower levels. Ruotolo doesn’t have huge stuff, but he spots a 92-94 mph fastball very well and puts hitters away with a sharp breaking ball. He’ll have to keep proving it out at every level but if you squint just right maybe you can see a shadow of a young Sergio Romo in this package? (I say this full in the knowledge that Romo’s slider is literally one of a handful of the greatest pitches that anybody in MLB has thrown this century, so I don’t want to push the analogy too far).
On the offensive side, 20 year old Fabian is really the feature here, as he tries to keep up the momentum of a strong second half in the Sally league in 2017. He’ll need to show more discretion of the plate to keep having success, but he’s shown excellent instincts for the game thus far in his career. Fabian’s surrounded by a group of teammates trying to improve in their second chances at the Cal League. Heath Quinn, Gio Brusa (now moved to 1b), and Jalen Miller all flash some premium tools, but none had much success in their first go round at the league and all hope to change that in 2018.
Augusta Green Jackets
Reasons to be excited:
Top 100 prospect @HeliotRamos and @SFGiants #1 prospect has huge upside. Amazing athlete and and even better person. If you guys get the chance go out and see him play. @MiLB @BaseballAmerica #stayhumble #futurestar pic.twitter.com/o4gjCyslWc
— Troy Collins (@WCoastScouting) April 4, 2018
Heliot Doubles. NC-17 pic.twitter.com/904vmbEy57
— Chris Kusiolek (@CaliKusiolek) March 19, 2018
Yup, it’s Heliot time, with a side of Jacob Gonzalez! The Giants top two picks from 2017 who took the AZL by storm have moved up together to take on full season ball. It’s likely the must follow of the season for Giants‘ fans and I encourage minor league followers to make the small subscription commitment on MiLB TV to catch these guys on the internet when possible (it kills me that Augusta built an entirely new stadium in 2018 without, apparently, installing a video feed!). Ramos’ power/speed/CF defense combo is by far the highest ceiling in the system and he’s about to play an entire year of full season ball at age 18. Patience is required, and there will be strikeouts, but there’s no doubt that Ramos is the Guy for this organization right now and hopefully for several years into the future.
Heliot lines a single. 2 for 2 today w 2 line drives to R/CF pic.twitter.com/7clKcAMUM5
— Roger Munter (@rog61) March 18, 2018
The lineup does involve a few other intriguing kids, including Malique Ziegler (#30 prospect in the system on MLB Pipeline), a true plus CF who’s being moved to LF in deference to Ramos. Ziegler has possibly the system’s best speed, though he needs to add strength to develop his offensive potential. 2b Orlando Garcia is probably playing too low for his experience. The former Texas Tech SS has excellent defensive skills and enough pop to be interesting. He’ll likely hit his way to San Jose sometime this year.
The Augusta pitching staff features the Giants’ 4th and 5th round picks in 2017, Garrett Cave and Jason Bahr, both tall, hard throwing RHP. Cave needs to refine his control but he brings two strong offerings in a high octane fastball and sharp breaking ball. He’s something of a right-handed version of 2017 Garrett Williams, who also began the year in Augusta. Another pitcher on the staff to keep an eye on is 20 year old Camilo Doval, who features a wicked breaking ball that led him to an incredible 14 K/9 in the AZL last year. He’s control challenged but there’s a lot of arm there.
Who’s Not Here: Alexander Canario
Reasons to be bummed:
Alexander Canario hit a ball really hard today. https://t.co/XxRmsGEgPh
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) March 20, 2018
Canario double pic.twitter.com/fvDBmbPnd1
— Roger Munter (@rog61) March 16, 2018
Aside from Heliot Ramos, Canario has the biggest physical tools and the highest upside in this system and it’s not particularly close. Though a totally different build than Ramos, he shares Heliot’s power/speed combo and will likely be manning CF when short season ball opens. Even with a top 2 pick coming into the system this summer, and quite possibly some major expenditure on the international market as well, Canario is likely positioned to leap into the system’s top 5 next year, and possibly top 2.
Article featured image of Sandro Fabian – courtesy Conner Penfold/Giant Potential
Roger is a hopelessly lost Californian living in Capitol Hill in Washington DC. A life-long Giants fan raised on the days of Mays, McCovey, and Marichal, he can remember seeing the legendary players of the 50s and 60s (Aaron, Clemente, Robinson) but still loves the legendary players of today just as much (Trout, Harper). Roger also writes for McCovey Chronicles on SportsNation, where he chronicles the daily box scores of the entire Giants’ system. He can be followed on Twitter @rog61.