Photo Credit: Conner Penfold
In a perfect world, the last two Depth Charts would have been reversed. You’d like your RH starters to be better, deeper, with more impact potential than your RH relief corps. You’d prefer strong-armed starters to have the fallback option of becoming strong-armed relievers. In a perfect world, all of these guys would be Gregory Santos — with just enough glimmer of starter-dom surrounding their aura for me to, perhaps optimtiscially, list them there. Alas, that is not the situation with the current Giants system.
On the bright side, though, there really is the potential for a monster back-end of the bullpen looming in this system. And that’s not nothing! Of course, we always need to remember the “it takes five pitching prospects to get one major league pitcher” Rule of Thumb. Still, there are arms to get excited about in this Depth Chart, and excitement that’s not too long in the offing either.
Ranking the Prospects!
If you thought the RH Starters had some names, we’ve really got a wave to throw at you here:
Cast of Millions
So, yes, you’ll note that I’m a cheating cad and I’ve put Gregory Santos in BOTH the starter and reliever ranks. Your ‘umble Narrator follows no line of consistent thinking and you may castigate him thusly: “‘Umble Narrator, you’re a capricious shape-shifter, you are, with these lists!” I bow my head in shame and accept the chastisement, though secretly I’m wishing I’d thought up the same out with Will Wilson when I wrote up the 2b depth charts.
Still, I’m not wrong! At this point Gregory Santos is at a multiverse inflection point that includes both possibilities. Heck, I won’t be surprised if he’s still at that inflection point AFTER he makes the big leagues for the first time. Remember back when Jonathan Sanchez was converted to the bullpen in Double-A, pitched there two or three times, then got called up to play a role in the San Francisco pen, only to get sent down a few months later to stretch back out as a starter? Santos could totally follow that sort of career path. Or, we could leave him, as Fangraphs did, in some sort of hybrid “multi-innings reliever” or “bulk innings” eater category. The point is: he’s a guy who could be gobbling up a few innings at a time for the time being, though he might ultimately be at his most fearsome in a single inning late-leveraged role.
So why, then, do I have Camilo Doval listed above Santos in my rankings?
Well, yeah, there’s that. But two other things, primarily, create a wafer-thin margin for Doval in my mind. The first is simply that we’ve seen Doval handle the role before. We’ve seen his stuff stay crisp and sharp over a full season of bullpen work. Now, it’s true that, like most A ball pitchers, we haven’t seen him work back to back nights. The usage patterns of minor league pitchers are strictly mapped out by the Front Office brass, and young pitchers are kept on two- and three-night rotations normally, with Doval’s usage being no exception. Still, he’s shown that he can maintain premium stuff through five months of wear and tear. Santos’ ability to convert his extraordinary stuff into consistent, daily production is still theoretical at this point. It surely should work, but I’d like to see it work first. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen pretty famously compared the stuff Santos was flashing in Instrux to Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker (a likely top 3 pick in this summer’s draft), but we’ve seen Rocker go out there and deliver innings every Saturday night. That’s still a differentiating factor in my mind.
The second element in Doval’s favor is his pitch characteristics. Though Santos runs his power arsenal up to the plate just as hard, Doval’s spin rates are simply off the chart. As we’ve noted, in San Jose and again this spring, he’s consistently produced spin rates on his fastball and slider that would rank at the very top of MLB’s leaderboard. This is a really razor-thin separation, however, and really these two guys are 1A/1B for me, and the thought of a bullpen that features both of them coming into late-innings Giants games in the near future is thrilling. Doval, I really believe, could be one of the first men up this year, and is likely to be the first prospect we see in a Giants’ uni in 2021.
The third member of what might someday be a real three-headed monster of a bullpen is Blake Rivera, who is locked into the same kind of “is he a starter or is he a reliever” limbo as Santos. Like Santos, I expect Rivera to be pitching in a rotation this year (my guess is Eugene’s) — at least to start out. But I lean pretty hard to a short-inning, high leverage reliever for his ultimate, and most successful role. Rivera hasn’t shown the full triple-digit heat of Santos and Doval but he hits the upper 90s with a lot of arm side run and he pairs that with a true 70 curve that leads the organization in spin rate with 2800 RPM. It’s a true hammer curve. Santos and Rivera give the organization its two best upside plays from the right-hand side. While the hope that they can refine themselves into credible starters (which will take improvements in repertoire, command profile, and stamina) exists, you leave them there to try to forge that path. Failing that, there’s still a clear path to becoming impact relief pitchers and, perhaps, multi-inning relievers.
For me, there’s a clear, if small, step down from the top group to Kervin Castro, though I do want to take a moment to point out that Castro has an 80 grade work pace and that alone deserves to be applauded. In 2019, Castro showed a fairly wide variation in stuff from his work in XST to his starts in Salem-Keizer. If he’s in the upper-90s and flashing a sharp downward break on that curve, as he was in Instrux last fall and again this spring, then he’s going to have a role in a big league pen. The starter version of Castro, who was throwing more low-90s and had some humpback in the curve, would have more trouble sticking. Hopefully, the stuff consistently plays up in one-inning stints and we’ll see him adapt successfully to the new role. If so, he could move quickly as well, with maybe a major league appearance coming in the second half of this year. One thing that may ultimately work in Castro’s favor is that his release point and fastball pitch characteristics are quite different from the other three, so he could serve as a different look, which matters in a league where “tough looks” is becoming the new market efficiency. The shorter Castro with a somewhat over the top delivery is bringing the ball from an unusual release point, and, with a flat plane and slower RPM spin rate, it appears to Rise at the top of the zone, while Santos, Doval, and Rivera all throw fastballs that cut or run.
R.J. Dabovich, last year’s 4th round pick, could take a seat next to the group above him if the pitch characteristics he’s been showing off this winter show up in games in 2021. Social media is the place to follow prospects’ off-season workouts, and Dabovich could be found touching triple-digits on his pulldowns and also showing the kind of elite spin rate on his breaking balls that the Giants love to see. He could easily be Rivera with better control (oh, did I mention Rivera’s control above? Yeah, there was a reason for that…). In his abbreviated 2020 season at Arizona State, the Sun Devils experimented with using Dabovich as a starter. It’s unclear how the Giants intend to use him, but he gives the organization yet another high octane, ungodly breaking ball reliever who could move quickly. Of course, former and future teammate Hunter Bishop still has bragging rights over him:
That group of five is, for my money, the elite set of the organization’s relief corps. But there are loads of arms with potential that come after them. Prelander Berroa was a pure armstrength kid who came as the lotto ticket in the Sam Dyson trade. He worked out of the Volcanoes’ rotation after coming to the Giants in 2019, but struggled mightily to throw strikes. He was also whip-thin and smallish at that time as a 19-year-old. Turning 21 later this month, he’ll be one of those guys worth watching in 2021 to see what a couple years’ physical maturation might have done for them.
Behind Berroa we start to get into the “cast of millions.” Tyler Cyr has been a part of both the Alternate Site and this year’s big league camp. He’s also been exposed to, and gone unselected in, each of the past two Rule 5 drafts. Cyr’s former teammates with Richmond, Melvin Adon and Raffi Vizcaino are both recovering from arm injuries suffered in winter ball. The two power-armed relievers have both suffered from inconsistent relationships with the strike zone over the years.
And then, one last guy I’ve been pretty bullish on since the Giants selected him with the 18th round pick in 2019 out of West Alabama U is Cole Waites. There’s more than a little Nuke LaLoosh at play here, but Waites sits in the high 90s and can touch triple digits. The rest of his game is raw enough to tempt tigers, especially his bottom of the scale command, but there’s an intriguing project to work with here. Look, every organization has a half dozen of these kinds of arms around — in today’s game maybe it’s a full dozen — the key is can they take this raw material and mold a big leaguer out of him? Million dollar arm and ten cent control is a long, sad story, oft told.
Behind that group of 10 there are names, names, and more names. How many, you ask? Well, let’s check the Depth Charts!
Oh my god! so many names! To put this in perspective, as part of the new minor league setup, teams are allowed a maximum of 180 players for their domestic minor league teams this year, including players on the IL. I’ve listed 60 names in this chart who will need to find a spot on one of the organization’s six domestic rosters this year — fully one-third of the maximum number of players! Will 33% of all the Giants’ domestic minor leaguers this year be right-handed relief pitchers? They’ll need to turn the bullpen carts into clown cars if they do.
In all seriousness, though, I said this with the 2b lists and it’s most definitely the case here: people are going to be pitching for their careers the next four weeks. The lists are long, the spots are short, and the numbers game is not going to be kind to everyone. Recall that my Depth Charts for RH Starting Pitchers already had more candidates than the rotations will hold, which means that you could well have spillovers from those lists on here as well — pitchers like Jose Marte or Will Jensen, for instance. Competition in camp is going to be intense.
If we want to read into the tea leaves, I’d assume that pitchers who were invited to Instrux last Fall are coming to camp with a leg up — that’s good news for Ivan Armstrong, Solomon Bates, Wilkelma Castillo, Norwith Gudino, Jorge Labrador, Taylor Raschi, Julio and Randy Rodriguez, Patrick Ruotolo, Ty Weber and Preston White. I wrote about each of those guys back in my Instrux Roster preview, if you’d like more info on them. Probably the Triple- and Double-A pitchers, most of whom were brought in on minor league deals this winter, are in a fairly stable position as well (though that Sacramento is overstuffed like grandma’s sofa). Those A-ball and Rookie league rosters though — there’s going to be a mad scramble for those positions. There’s some quality depth of interesting arms that the Giants will be able to filter through as they make their decisions over the coming weeks.
But let me end by just pointing out a few guys whom I’m particularly interested in seeing return to action. The undersized Patrick Ruotolo has practically built up a cult following among Giants fans, thanks to the gaudy numbers he’s produced at every level. He has a career 1.59 ERA and has struck out more than one-third (36%) of all batters he’s faced as a pro. If that’s not enough to put you in his corner, he modeled his mechanics after Tim Lincecum!
Preston White was mostly an outfielder at The Master’s College (where he was sadly NOT a teammate of Conner Menez, who was drafted before White showed up). The conversion project has an interesting power arm that he’s still learning to utilize.
White’s teammate in Augusta, Solomon Bates, showed huge strikeout stuff in the Sally where he struck out nearly 40% of the batters he faced, though the USC grad was advanced for that level of competition. Taylor Raschi was the closer for UC Irvine and set school records for strikeouts at El Camino JC. Jorge Labrador, Jasier Herrera, and Wilkelma Castillo are all rail-thin J2 signings with quick arms who have needed to put some muscle on and build up stamina. As they all now move into their 20s, they too are worth following to see what a year away from the game has done to their physiques. Of the three, Labrador’s calling card has always been his curve, while Castillo has shown the makings of an interesting changeup. Ivan Armstrong, on the contrary, was a giant of a teenager still growing into his massive body. The makings of a power pitcher have always been there, but he’s another player whose maturation will be interesting to monitor.
That said, there’s just no way to look at this spreadsheet full of names and understand it all. The Giants development staff, currently watching them all get in bullpen work, is probably finding it difficult enough to keep them all straight. But no doubt, somebody unexpected is making an impression on an important member of the staff right……now! And a year from now this jumble will all look completely different. We’ll know the answers soon…