Photo Credit: Ryan Soderlin | Omaha World-Herald via AP
This is good! This is right! A healthy system should have 2b pretty far down their list of stocked positions in the minors. Major league 2b don’t, in general, grow out of minor league 2b. Major league 2b come from minor league SS or 3b, guys missing just the tiniest bit of arm to stick on the left-side, guys who are pushed over because there are established SS in front of them. Aside from the odd Jose Altuve or two, major league 2b take the Donovan Solano or Wilmer Flores route to the position. Even Joe Panik was a SS as far as Double-A. So we really should be coming to the 2b position early on in a healthy farm system. And, indeed, here we are!
Not that it wasn’t touch and go. I could have swapped 2b out with either of the next couple of positions — especially had I decided to list Will Wilson here. I do suspect this is Wilson’s ultimate end point, as the youngster had some noticeable issues (to my eyes) at the SS position this spring. But, at least for now, the Giants are committed to developing him at the Six, so I’ll leave Will out of this post for now, though I am moving a couple of others. Suffice it to say, however, that it’s a tough gig rising up the ladder as a 2b prospect, fending off all those not-quite-shortstops who sooner or later want to horn in on your business. It’s a nasty business that’s tough to survive, but let’s check in on the players who are most likely to give it a go this year.
Ranking the Prospects!
I’m not putting Wilson in this category just yet, but I am moving a few other non-2b into the category at this point. That’s a tricky row to hoe, but my rationale is that I think all of the players listed below will see time — possibly substantial time — at the position this year, while I expect Wilson to spend most of his summer trying to hone his SS chops. So with that said, here’s how I rank them:
Now that I actually see that list in black and white, I see that I have some sort of unconscious appreciation for keystone guys, because no fewer than three of these players have already been the subject of various “Under the Radar” posts, and I’ve had a draft “Under the Radar” piece on Sean Roby I’ve been toying with for weeks! I was once on the Little League All Star team as a 2b back in the day — who knew the experience had such stickiness in my heart of hearts! But, putting my subconscious emotional life aside for the moment, since I have recently gone into some great lengths writing about Glowenke, Santos, and Rosario, perhaps we can dispense with the character sketches for this one and look, instead, at the overall picture.
And, from the Big Picture, a pretty clear theme emerges: we can see that literally everybody on this list is a refugee from some other position. Glowenke, Fitzgerald, Santos, and Rosario have all primarily been SS heretofore and Roby has mostly played 3b. It’s probably that last one that has you all rubbing your eyes like cartoon Mr. Moneybags winning the McDonald’s Monopoly game. “Wha-huh?” you might be saying?
Given that there have been some questions as to whether Roby has the athleticism to stick at 3b, it might stretch our imaginations beyond the comfort point to mentally transition him over to 2b. But the Giants were working him at 2b in Instrux and I believe plan to continue to do so in Spring Training. And I don’t think it’s too hard to understand why. As with everybody on this list, opportunity is the key.
Jimmy Glowenke is my #1 ranked 2b. Jimmy Glowenke very much would NOT be near the top of my SS rankings (not to give anything away). For each and every one of the prospects I’ve chosen to rank here at 2b (with maybe the exception of Rosario), getting onto the field is going to require them to show — let’s all say it together folks — positional versatility!
Marco Luciano is going to be the starting SS in San Jose. Full stop. Will Wilson is going to be the starting SS in Eugene. Full stop. For at least the opening movement of this year’s symphony, those two guys, both of whom the org sees as foundational pieces, will be taking the lion’s share of shortstop reps to hone their skills. And when they look to their right? On most nights, Luis Toribio is lining up next to Luciano, and it’s Casey Schmitt that Wilson will be bantering with on most nights. The left sides of those A ball lineups are pretty locked in.
Which means for the non-elite dudes, getting on the field means bringing some extra gloves. Tyler Fitzgerald was a star shortstop at the University of Louisville, but his path to a big league career has a big giant wayfinding arrow that says “Utility Guys This Way” on it. He’s a polished glove, good arm, decent contact sort of guy straight out of the classic baseball Utility Closet. He provides a little of everything, not a lot of anything, and will make his bones as a versatile, depth option, not terribly unlike Ryan Howard, whom we’ll encounter later on in this series.
Where things get more interesting is with Roby. If you listened to my podcast with Jim Callis last week, you heard him mention that one club official has compared Roby to “a David Freese-type player,” which would be a pretty tremendous outcome for a 12th rounder out of the JUCO ranks. Though Fitzgerald is likely to provide more defensive value than Roby (or Glowenke, for that matter), where Roby rises slightly above Fitzgerald for me is his power potential. Though Roby hasn’t been a big power hitter so far as a pro, there’s plenty of raw power in the body. He led Arizona JUCO hitters in HRs and won the home run derby during the NWL-Pioneer League All Star festivities in 2019. He even displayed some of that juice for spring training fans in 2020.
Roby’s probably never going to have a ton of range, but as Jim said, infield defense is somewhere players can really improve developmentally just by putting in the work and taking thousands of grounders. On the other hand, the Giants have, over the years, tried working some pretty good athletes into 2b experiments that returned somewhat ugly results (Juan Perez, Austin Slater), so it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion it can succeed. Whether this is an experiment that can gain traction or not will be another interesting low-key story this season.
Of course, even with plenty of positional versatility on display, getting game time is still going to be tricky for this group. It’s quite likely that Glowenke, Fitzgerald, and Roby might all be on the same roster together, along with Wilson and Schmitt. Or Glowenke could start out in San Jose sharing time with Luciano and Santos and Toribio. Or Roby might. Rosario, no doubt, will put his best case forward for being part of the San Jose mix. No matter how you cut it, the A ball infields are going to be highly competitive environments where at bats don’t come easy.
Some of that logjam could be eased if someone (Wilson, for instance) were judged advanced enough to proceed straight to Double-A. But that’s a tough ticket for me. Roby and Fitzgerald are the only two players I’ve mentioned in this piece who’ve taken even a single Plate Appearance in full-season ball in their career, and neither of those guys exactly shined in their late season runs with Augusta. Wilson hasn’t played above rookie ball and scuffled some there. That was two seasons, an Alternate Site and a couple of big league camps ago, but it still seems to me that trying to start Wilson’s full-season career in the Eastern League would be setting him up for failure.
Instead, I think we’ll see something like I’ve outlined above: the main prospects lock down 3b and SS while everyone else fights for time at 2b, DH, and spot starts. Ultimately, these things sort themselves out. Performance, development, health — over the course of the season there are usually at bats to go around. And, if somebody gets out to a strong enough start to make the jump up to Double-A, then the playing time pressures ease considerably, as the upper minors are exceptionally thin when it comes to infielders, as I mentioned when I wrote the “way too early” Richmond preview. For now, here’s how I see things working out:
As I said, from A ball down, it’s Thunderdome, but rise above that and it’s like heading out to frontier and claiming all the land you can lay your eyes on. The upper minors are nothing but minor league FA and Rule 5 pick ups. And, honestly, there is no depth behind that group either. Until the front office finds the Triple-A shortstop depth they’re hunting for, one presumes Alcantara is the Sacramento starting SS and there’s really nobody on the bench to spell either him or Tolman (other than Jason Vosler, who will presumably be starting at 3b. Maris and Mottice can share MI duties with Ryan Howard, but beyond that, the Giants could once again be casting their lonely eyes towards the Indy Leagues to fill out some of Richmond’s roster.
With the A ball teams, the situation is very different. And there’s a harsh reality living in these depth charts. One developmental level has been eliminated from minor league baseball and many opportunities are going with it. For the players listed above, getting a full-season assignment out of spring might mean the difference between continuing as an affiliated pro player and not.
Beyond all of the players listed here, SS Simon Whiteman is likely to be part of the MI mix for one of the two A ball clubs as well, and that doesn’t even get us to C/2b Brett Auerbach. The last spots on that bench are going to be very hard tickets to come by, and the players without a seat when the music stops might just find himself squeezed out of the organization. I say this with no relish, and certainly wish all of the players the best of luck. But the competition for slots will be fierce.
It’s likely that the guys who stick will be able to showcase their versatility. Carter Aldrete talked with my friend Marc Delucchi about the efforts he’s taken to show Giants officials his skills in the infield, and being an IF/OF with power is exactly the kind of “survival skills” that could advance a player through this system. All of these guys need playing time though, and playing time is going to be somewhat scarce. That’s both the advantage and the disadvantage of developing an increasingly deep system.
The Depth Charts continue on Friday. What position do you think we’ll be coming up to next?
Previously on “Depth Charts”
News and Notes
Last night Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper broke the news of how COVID protocols will be handled in the upcoming minor league season and it will involve serious restrictions on the part of all players and staff, plus an incredible amount of organizational work (and costs) on the part of minor league teams. You should definitely read this entire article, but one aspect that I thought should highlight, as it impacts minor league rosters. Since teams are going to be in a quasi-bubble throughout the year, MLB is imposing a strict cap on the number of people who make up a minor league team’s travel party or “covered individuals.” For Triple-A and Double-A teams, “covered individuals” are limited to 44 and for Single-A teams, 46. That includes all players, field staff, bullpen catchers, trainers, physical therapists, clubhouse personnel, and compliance officers (broadcasters, typically part of a team’s traveling party, will not be allowed to travel with teams or have contact with them this year). Teams that are at their maximum of covered individuals will not be able to add a player without dropping some member of the travel party — so no convenient fake IL stints to rotate players on and off the active roster this year. Roster limits will be extremely tight, so it will be a challenge for teams to manage minor injuries along the way.
And with that, Happy Opening Day tomorrow everybody! And Happy Minor Leaguers reporting to camp! It’s been a long, long time coming!