Depth Charts: Left-Handed Relievers
An annual tradition begins again!
Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson | Getty Images
This week, Giants minor leaguers will all assemble in Scottsdale and start trying to earn their way to plumb assignments for the upcoming year. Kyle Haines and staff will have to gather and process a lot of information in a short period of time to figure out where everyone best belongs. And at There R Giants, I’m here to help!* So it seems like a great time to bust out what I can now call my Second Annual Depth Charts. (I LOVE annual traditions!)
*Offer of help has no actual real world value.
So, over the coming weeks, I’ll start moving through the organization position by position and focus on all the prospects you should know at that position. Like last year, I’ll move through the positions in reverse order of their strength in the organization (at least in my view). But unlike last year, I’ll provide two different looks at each position: 1) a prospect ranking, taking in mind each player’s future value, and 2) a real depth chart, lining them up from Triple-A level down through Rookie level (if appropriate). Of course, the obvious caveat at work here is that we haven’t seen most of these guys in action for a long, long time and much could have happened during the baseball blip. In 18 months, Luis Matos went from an oft-forgotten also ran of the 2018 J2 class to a player blowing up into the Top 5 in the system. A lot can happen in 18 months! And with that quick acknowledgement that everything in here could be completely misinformed and obsolete, let’s jump in with both feet, shall we?
We’ll start the series off with a look at the organization’s left-handed relief, and it probably shouldn’t be a shock that I have this group at the bottom of the organization’s power pyramid. If you recall when I was doing my “way too early” roster previews, I actually had some difficulty finding left-handers to put in some of the teams’ bullpens. The fact of the matter is there just aren’t a ton of lefties in the system at the moment — at the lower levels, at least; the major league/Triple-A levels are fully stocked up! But below that level (and above the DSL/AZL rookie level) we’re really only looking at a half dozen arms.
And secondly, of course, the most talented LHP are unlikely to get shunted into the reliever track until starter options have been exhausted. There are many observers who still wonder if Seth Corry or Nick Swiney don’t eventually turn out to be relievers. Sam Long looked fantastic as a reliever in camp, and he’d definitely top this list, but it sounded like the Giants viewed him as a starter, so that’s where I’ll be keeping him for now. If any or all of that group finds that their ultimate path leads to success as a reliever, then retroactively this group could look a lot stronger. But for now, it’s a somewhat spindly-looking crop!
Lining Up the Prospects!
Well, honestly, relief pitchers don’t tend to burn up prospect lists in general, and there’s nobody in the left-handed relief corps I’d put in the organization’s top 30 prospects (possibly even the top 50). Of course that was true of Caleb Baragar prior to the 2020 season and he ended up having a terrific rookie year! So what do prospect rankings know?
JJ Santa Cruz
For me, the headliners of this group include two guys who were exposed to the Rule 5 draft this winter and went unselected. Both of these talented arms have been waylaid by injury issues over the years. Marshall detailed his long injury list for me recently in There R Giants Pod-26. This should be (knock on wood) his first full year working in relief, and, if he stays healthy, his stuff could really play up in that role. Given his starting background, Marshall might even be able to transition into a multi-inning type reliever, given strong 2-3 inning stints, which is a tremendously valuable swing role in the current evolution of the position. You can, of course, read much more about Mac in my “under the radar prospects” review of his career.
Way back in 2015, Amaya was possibly the youngest player in professional baseball, and the 16-year-old had a tremendous year, throwing 45 innings for the DSL champions, striking out 50 and posting a 1.77 ERA. He seemed to be on a fast-track, moving up to the AZL at just 17. But he didn’t appear in a game until late August, and after just five late-season appearances he underwent Tommy John surgery. That would keep him off the field until 2018, when he came back to the AZL and rehabbed through a ragged 22 innings of work in which he walked 15 and allowed 13 earned runs. More importantly, though, he showed that he was healthy again. In 2019, he finally made his full-season debut, and it was excellent. He was a vital member of Augusta’s bullpen, pitching mostly in late-inning relief, striking out more than a batter an inning and posting a 1.95 ERA. Moving up to San Jose in the second half of the year, Amaya didn’t miss a beat, almost exactly reproducing his Augusta statline, albeit with an even lower 1.26 ERA. In 121 IP as a pro, Amaya has consistently held K rates in the 26-28% range. He’s also been nearly impossible to go deep on, with just 1 career home run allowed so far. Amaya is coming off a tremendous winter campaign in Venezuela, and could be poised to finally take a big step forward.
Bryce Tucker was the Giants 14th round pick in 2018 out of the University of Central Florida. He didn’t make his pro debut, however, until June of 2019 in the Northwest League. He had a strong campaign for Salem-Keizer, serving as one of their primary late inning relievers. He finished 11 games (most on the team), allowing just 2 earned runs over 13.1 IP while striking out 22 and walking just 6. You know the Giants love pitchers who control the strike zone like that! After a late season promotion to Augusta, Tucker received a surprising invite to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued his strong debut season with nine more excellent innings against the game’s finest hitting prospects. You know the Giants like a 47 to 14 K/BB ratio. Tucker also has a certain funkiness to his delivery that the Giants seem to be prioritizing these days (apologies for the ancient video, but camera angles I could access from his minor league season are primarily from the CF angle and don’t capture the funkiness).
When Marciano last pitched with the Giants, he was starting for San Jose. So perhaps I shouldn’t have him in this category at all, but the way Joey’s been blowing up radar guns in his work the past year, I can’t help but wonder how valuable he could be as weapon out of the pen. Marciano has an excellent pitcher’s frame, so it’s possible he could hold this velocity in a starter’s role as well. If that’s the case, then he could find great success in that role with his excellent secondaries. We’ll see how that shakes out, but for now I’ll dream of him coming in from the pen and blowing gas past people.
Even people like All Star Tim Anderson!
Seriously. When you make Tim Anderson look like that, you’re putting in good work! Joey’s working on a comeback following his mid-2019 retirement, so we’ll want to see him back in action before blowing him up too far on this list, but he could get helium quickly. You can listen to Joey talk about his baseball journey with me as well, in this conversation that predates the There R Giants podcast!
JJ Santa Cruz did tremendous work for Augusta in 2019, striking out 69 batters in 49 innings. Like Tucker, members of the Giants developmental staff mentioned how good he looked during the 2020 spring camp before it was shut down. The 6’7” lefty isn’t a power pitcher, but like Sean Hjelle he brings a tough angle at batters, spots his fastball low in the zone, and tosses a beautiful back-foot breaker. Plus, he’s a Fresno State Bulldog, and that means something in my house!
At the lower levels, distinctions between starter and reliever roles get pretty fluid — especially this year, I’d imagine. Chris Wright, the 2019 12th round pick out of tiny Bryant University in Rhode Island, is reportedly coming to camp with a chance to start (and he’s interesting in that role). The 2019 AZL Orange team had a pair of young Dominicans — Juan Sanchez and Jesus Gomez — leading their starting rotation. It’s highly unlikely that both could pitch their way into San Jose’s rotation. But either or both might have their transition to full-season ball eased with a bullpen assignment. Both are intriguing arms and Sanchez has shown the makings of a plus pitch in his changeup.
Does Caleb Baragar make the Giants roster (looks like yes!)? Does Wandy Peralta (possibly!)? Sam Selman definitely isn’t. But anybody with options is likely to be seeing time in both San Francisco and Sacramento, so perhaps it doesn’t matter too much — although that’s easy to say when you’re not the one riding buses back and forth on I-80 and watching your paycheck bounce up and down like a pinball. (In case you were wondering, Baragar and Selman both used up their rookie eligibility in 2020, so I didn’t include them in the prospect rankings above.) The Giants acquired LHP at Costco bulk rates this spring, so they’ll be plenty stocked in Sacramento regardless of who’s up and who’s down.
And behind that group, Richmond should be pretty strong from the port side as well. Former starter John Gavin was transitioned to bullpen work in San Jose in 2019, but he suffered through a pretty rough season in the pen with the Giants. Like Marciano, he’s the type of prospect who will need to make a strong impression after the long layoff. Hopefully, he’s been hard at work reinventing himself as well.
Marco Gonzalez has spent four seasons with the Giants in rookie ball, two in the DSL and two in Arizona. He’s primarily been a starter but had some success out of the pen in the AZL in 2019. Now 23 years old, he’s the kind of prospect who has a lot riding on getting an assignment in the next month.
Still and all, there’s just not a lot of inventory here. It makes sense that the front office has prioritized grabbing every available left-hander on the MiLB free agency market this spring — this depth chart just didn’t have a lot of depth to it. Don’t worry, we’ll fix that problem when we get to the right-handed relievers down the road a bit. But next time, we’ll switch over to the hitters side of things…
Quick Update Before I Go
In last Friday’s piece on the Alternate Site I speculated that the Giants might send prospects like Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart down to minor league camp. Almost immediately, Farhan Zaidi clarified things, giving this quote to reporters on Friday:
"We'll probably be aggressive early in sending guys who are in big league camp to the alternate site to start with. One big advantage we have this year is that we can kind of add and remove guys to the alternate site with flexibility, which we did not have last year. For guys that have kind of been ramped up, played in games, to go back to square one with minor league camp starting (April 1) without a lot of clarity and certainty on playing minor league scrimmages -- we may want to keep them going."