Depth Charts: CF
Put them in coach; they're ready to play!
Photo Credit: Randy Vazquez | Bay Area News Group
Let’s start off today by giving a great, big There R Giants congratulations to my #1 right-handed relief prospect in the system, Camilo Doval, on making a spectacular big league debut. Doval’s 1 inning of perfect relief helped the Giants salvage a victory in the House of Horrors in Miami. Stick around awhile, kid!
And with that, let’s get back to the Depth Charts before someone else gets a call up and messes up my charts! You could make a legitimate case that the catcher position should have been my final destination in this series — the deepest position in the system with the biggest potential. As noted in our last installment, the Giants have a ridiculous amount of big league depth in the skwaaat.
You can make a legitimate case that the Center Field position absolutely should be my final destination. I’m topping this position with the prospects I ranked as the 4th and 5th best in the organization last fall. In fact, each of the last five positions I’m going to touch on in the Depth Charts series is topped by two of the very best prospects in the system. And each, in its own way, features intriguing depth beyond the elite guys. This is the measure of a strengthening system: prime positions feature talent and big league tools at levels up and down the system.
But today we’ve come to discuss center field, which is probably the most difficult position to get a handle on in the system. That difficulty, of course, is in trying to figure out who actually belongs here. The Giants organization is just dripping with fantastic hitters currently manning the Willie Mays spot in the field. Ah, but who will stay there? Heliot Ramos’ future position is a topic of continual conversation, and will likely remain that way up to and beyond his looming major league debut. Alexander Canario and Hunter Bishop split time in the 8-spot in Salem-Keizer in 2019, but observers have question marks about both of them sticking there.
I answered this question one way in last year’s series and, to be honest, I had a different line up in my head when I started this year’s series. But here’s where I’ve landed as my Monday morning deadline looms:
Ranking the Prospects!
Before you start yelling and throwing things at me, the top of this list is really a “Pick ‘Em” for me; it’s a 1 and 1A. So, while I know that my podcast interview with Josh Norris really got folks running Luis Matos up their personal prospect rankings, I had Matos at 5 and Bishop at 4 when I ranked the system in October, so I figured I’d go ahead and leave them at that order here, giving a slight nod to the guy with Pac-12 résumè over the one who’s barely played outside the DSL.
More controversially might be my inclusion of Hunter Bishop at the CF position at all. I actually did intend to put him in the LF group when I started this series. But, as I’ve said in other places, the logic behind moving Bishop to LF is predominantly an issue of body-bias: there have been very, very few players his height who have ever played CF regularly in the major leagues and nobody who had his Strong Safety build. From a body-comp perspective, Bishop seems unlikely to stick up the middle simply because there’s no precedent for someone looking like him doing so.
And that’s been the logic I’ve often followed in thinking this issue through previously. But we’ve been through a generation now where increasingly large, athletic bodies have been breaking precedents in baseball. Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are the tallest players to man the shortstop position regularly (matching Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.). There aren’t many comps for a man of Aaron Judge’s size tromping around the OF since the days of BIG Frank Howard. If/when Sean Hjelle pitches in the majors, he’ll tie for the tallest player in big league history. Heck, the Pirates best prospect is a 6’7” shortstop (O’Neill Cruz) and general discussions in the prospect world seem to be coming around to the idea that, yeah, sure, he can handle it.
So I’ve decided not to be quite so quick to shove Hunter over to the Barry Bonds spot, completing their parallel climbs from Serra High School to Arizona State to the Giants. The former football player shows true plus speed — some of the best in the system — and can get an extraordinary head of steam going (seriously, fellow-OF, when Hunter calls “Ball” you best get out of his way if you know what’s good for you). His arm might be somewhat lacking for the deeper parts of Oracle Park, but Bishop is a tremendous athlete who can certainly go get ‘em:
Being able to stick in CF would give Bishop a very clear path to big league success, ameliorating questions about his hit tool that have followed him throughout his amateur and pro career. If he can ball hawk in CF, then the walks and huge power should be enough to make him a valuable part of a lineup, even if they come with strikeouts and a lower average. Bishop missed 2020’s Summer Camp due to a positive coronavirus test and took a while to join the Alternate Site. But he was reportedly one of the standouts of the site last summer and continued his torrid hitting through Instrux. He was slowed by an ankle injury this spring, but has been playing in scrimmages with the A’s and should be ready to make his full season debut (likely in Eugene) in a couple of weeks. In addition to handling the middle of the field, one thing we should keep an eye out for with Bishop is his launch angle. If we use Baseball Savant’s spray chart tool, one thing that’s quite noticeable about Bishop’s debut in 2019 is that he didn’t put the ball in the air all that often.
When he did get balls in the air, good things tended to result, thanks to his very loud power tool. How loud, you might ask?
Bishop has Giants officials very excited, and while I expect that he starts the year in High-A, he’s a guy that I think they’ll be looking for opportunities to push. A good start could move him to Richmond fairly quickly.
And honestly, it would behoove Bishop to move quickly because he could have Luis Matos right on his butt if he doesn’t! If there’s anything better than having one sensational top-end CF prospect, it’s having two! And both of these guys could well be jumping up Top 100 lists by the end of the year. Matos was the third highest signing of the Giants tremendous 2018 J2 class, but he quickly served notice that he won’t be mentioned behind anybody else for long. Matos was considered an advanced hitter for a teenager when the Giants inked him, but in his DSL debut he showed an advanced ability to barrel balls all over the strike zone that took many observers by surprise. By the end of the year, he’d put himself in the conversation as perhaps the very best pure hitter in the organization. Matos is the type of player who doesn’t wow observers with any one tool, but seems to do everything well, and the hit tool makes the whole package rise above the sum of its parts. In fact, in this year’s Prospect Handbook, Matos was one of just seven prospects in all of baseball with 55 (above average) or better grades on all five tools (hitting, power, speed, arm, fielding). Matos announced his presence with authority at Instrux last fall, getting the entire prospect world buzzing with his performance.
And he’s showed up hitting at camp again this spring, picking up three hits in just his second game of camp:
Matos definitely projects to stick in CF and could hit enough to be a star. One thing that we can see from his spray chart, however, is that, at least as a 17-year-old, he showed a pull-heavy approach, with all of his power laying in the extreme pullside zone:
That could be an especially important aspect of getting the power he showed last year to play at higher levels. Generally, the more you see young players produce power to the opposite field, the more you can believe in it. Just by way of comparison, here was Heliot Ramos’ spray chart as a 17-year-old:
If Bishop’s goal this year is to get more balls in the air, let’s assign Matos the goal of using more of the field.
But wait! There’s more! Call “GIANTS CF PROSPECTS” in the next five minutes and we’ll throw in this amazing Grant McCray and Alexander Suarez duo for free! McCray is the purest CF in the system — a speed and defense type who showed more feel for hit than expected in his CF debut. McCray’s father, Rodney, played in the majors for parts of three seasons and, yes, famously ran through a wall trying to catch a fly ball in the minors. Rodney gave Grant his speed, athleticism, and ball hawking traits, though it’s still an open question whether Grant will run through walls. Kyle Haines told The Athletic’s Melissa Lockard that McCray “could be the most talented player on the field when things align.” Of course, a long hero’s journey lies between is and could be. McCray will need to get stronger and turn his nascent feel for hitting into a more refined, developed skill. He has a survivor skill, though, in his ability to chase balls down and he’ll rise as high as his bat allows him to go.
Suarez is Matos’ cousin and boon companion. His game, though, is much more akin to Alexander Canario’s. Like Canario, Suarez impresses observers most with his tremendous bat speed — in fact, Eric Longenhagen said “he’s all bat speed.” Suarez was a somewhat surprising invite to Instrux last Fall and impressed there, but there’s still much work to be done cleaning up his bat path, which currently covers the top of the zone but struggles below that. He’s another good athlete and pretty physically mature for his age. Suarez’ debut in 2019 was cut short by a muscle strain, but he was impressive in his short time on the field. He hit .308 and posted a .959 OPS in 53 Plate Appearances. Here are the cousins enjoying time together at the Papago Park camp (Suarez on left, Matos right).
Skye Bolt was recently plucked from the waiver wire and added to the back end of the 40 man. Bolt plays in a lot of ways like a switch hitting Steven Duggar with his plus instincts in the OF being his greatest asset. He has some natural power from the left side and can draw a walk, but he’s always shown a below average hit tool in the minor leagues, which has held his profile down to an “up and down” guy.
And, speaking of troubles with the hit tool, PJ HIlson, the Giants 6th round pick in 2018 out of the Arkansas high school ranks, can run like the wind, fires thunderbolts from his right arm, and has a swing that generates tremendous raw power. He’s also K’d an eye-popping 37% of the time over two seasons in rookie ball, which doesn’t augur well against better competition. Hilson was a somewhat surprising omission from Instrux, which doesn’t augur well for his reputation with a front office that prioritizes control of the strike zone. He has the big league tools, but has so far lacked the skills to compete at even a rudimentary minor league level. There is some possibility that Hilson could be a pitcher conversion candidate, as he threw in the low 90s in high school.
Beyond the star prospects, the system has a pretty interesting array of speed and defense types who are worth keeping an eye on. The major league game is so focussed on power these days that guys like Bryce Johnson are getting squeezed out unless they can post OBP in the .360-.400 range like Brett Gardner. Johnson is a switch-hitting speedster who had a productive Double-A debut in 2019, with an offensive performance just above league average (102 wRC+). He can play all three OF positions well, has always gotten on base at a good clip, and is a handy guy to have around the roster. He offers very little power, however, which likely gives him an uphill battle.
A level or two down we find a similar player in the Nicaraguan Ismael Munguia (though unlike Johnson, Munguia bats only from the left-hand side). Munguia’s been a favorite of scouts and fans alike wherever he’s gone because he plays his butt off, is a tremendously high energy kid, and he hits everything in sight. Munguia’s posted a solid .350 OBP in his minor league career, but the walk rate has dipped as he’s moved up, so it’s very batting average dependent, and he, too, hits for very little power.
Najee Gaskins, drafted out of tiny St. Cloud State (MN), had one of the more surprising pro debuts in 2019, when he hit .340 and posted a .447 OBP in the AZL. He was old for the level and had college experience (albeit of the small and northern kind). But on base numbers near .500 will get you noticed at any level, especially when they come with more walks (20) than strikeouts (19). His power was mostly limited to hustle doubles, but he did also steal 19 bases in 21 attempts.
Baseball America tabbed Richgelon Juliana as the Best Defensive Outfielder in the system two years ago, but he hasn’t hit much so far as a pro and, say it with me, shows very little power.
Previously on “Depth Charts”
Notes from Camp
Very sadly, this is the second straight year I haven’t gotten out to Scottsdale for minor league camp thanks to COVID-19 (next year I’ll be back at it for sure!). But fortunately, the Giants official @SFGProspects twitter channel is picking up a little of the information slack, posting actual videos from camp games for the first time ever. So now, in addition to the highlights coming out of the Sacramento RiverCats twitter feed, we’ve got some Scottsdale highlights to pour over as well. A friend in the Scottsdale area had told me that Patrick Bailey’s debut was a sight to see, so it wasn’t surprising that he was one of the first highlights put out by the Giants:
They’ve also posted highlights from R.J. Dabovich, Jose Marte, and Carson Ragsdale, who I believe I totally omitted in my Depth Charts for right-handed starters! Curses! Ragsdale was drafted in 2020 by the Phillies, and came to San Francisco in the Sam Coonrod deal.
Meanwhile, up in Sacramento, Gregory Santos is doing Gregory Santos-type things:
If you enjoyed Doval’s debut, just wait until you get a load of Santos’ in the orange and black. Ricardo Genovés has also been stepping it up at the Alternate Site, with HRs in back to back games this weekend:
Recently acquired shortstop Thairo Estrada saw his first action with his new organization this weekend in the Alt Site scrimmages.
Lastly, some of you folks are getting out to the games (which I’m totes jealous of) as well. Reader Steve sent me several videos from Sacramento this weekend, including this great shot of yet another Heliot Ramos hit. Keep ‘em coming, folks!