Depth Charts: Wrap Up!
We're 8 days away from Opening Day -- time to put the pieces together!
Photo Credit: Kim Contreras | @CU_As
Welcome to what will hopefully be the last week without minor league baseball for the next five months! The end to a painful year and half absence of obsessing over box scores, questionable video setups, and prospect development. I can’t wait for the new season to start! And guess what — we have a season opening surprise gift! The highlight video of Alexander Canario bashing a home run in camp suggested he was well ahead of his expected rehab calendar, and now we have confirmation from Kyle Haines (through Jim Callis) that Canario should be ready for Opening Day. Good times are on their way!
But before we get there, let’s wrap up our comprehensive look at the Giants minor league system, position by position. In case you missed any of that series, feel free to take a moment to peruse the enter box set:
Previously on “Depth Charts”
Now that you’ve binged the whole series, perhaps this is a good time to take a step back and take in the big picture, before the 2021 minor league season begins and we plunge back into the minutiae. So herewith, five major lessons we learned from the Depth Charts series:
1. There’s a Growing Balance in this Organization
Theoretically, this series was published in order of positional strength, starting with the weakest position in the organization and leading to, in my humble opinion, the strongest. There’s plenty of reason to argue at each step along the way, but what’s most notable to me is that you can easily argue that catcher should have been #1. You can legitimately organize those last four positions in any order you’d like and justify it. And included in those four positions are three of the four up the middle positions where traditionally teams want to be strong. That’s a good position to be in!
Having a quantity of quality (to steal Grant Brisbee’s line) at catcher, shortstop, and center field is a pretty excellent rock on which to build your stadium. Alternatively, having your thinner positions be 1b and 2b is, in its way, another good sign — those positions are fairly easily filled from the overflow of other positions where the Giants are strong: 3b, COF, SS. Honestly, the depth of organization from a position player POV lines up in an almost platonic ideal of how you’d like a system to look.
Now, the balance of hitters vs pitchers is still a major question, but, even there, we’re seeing some encouraging signs. I can’t in good faith say that left-handed starting pitchers have a claim to the #1 position in the system simply because there are so few of them around. But the guys who do exist (Corry, Harrison, Swiney) are VERY good and VERY exciting. How exciting?
Whew! Sorry to spring that on you without warning. Hope you were all sitting down and able to view that clip safely! And remember back on April 7, when I said this:
On the bright side, though, there really is the potential for a monster back-end of the bullpen looming in this system.
In the two weeks since then, we’ve seen two heads of that monster show up and thrill Giants fans everywhere.
Yep, yep, you’d better sit down kids. I should have warned you about that at the top.
2. But Let’s Not Oversell the Pitching
I’ve talked a lot on this topic over the last year, but you don’t need to listen to me! Instead, let’s listen to Farm Director Kyle Haines talking to Susan Slusser recently on the Chronicle’s Giants Splash podcast. Slusser asked Haines how his group interacts with Michael Holmes and the Giants drafting process:
I know the [system] depth and that’s where me and Michael Holmes connect a lot, as far as where can we get playing time for players. My big role is telling him “if you’re gonna pick this position, we don’t really have a lot of playing time for that.” … Usually I’m always rooting for more starting pitchers. So, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking “ooh a starting pitcher, that looks enticing right there.” You can just never feel like you have enough pitching so I always see myself getting excited when we pick someone with a starting pitching profile.
The old Rule of Thumb is that it takes five starting pitching prospects to get one quality big league starter successfully developed. Attrition comes to every position but the Prospect Grim Reaper strikes at young pitchers unfairly often. The Giants have some arms to be interested in, to be intrigued by, to be thrilled over. But let’s not pretend their cup runneth over. I bow to no one in my appreciation for Kai-Wei Teng, but I’m not exactly pre-punching my 2024 All Star ballots with his name on them. One of my outstanding questions in the RHP Depth Charts was whether or not the Giants might give Gregory Santos another shot at starting in the minors this year. I think his quick promotion to the majors and his outstanding debut showed the value he can have to the Giants right now (and in the future) in the back of a bullpen, and I now suspect that exigencies are going to keep him in that role going forward.
As I noted during spring training, if the Giants can successfully turn minor league FA Sam Long into a viable big league starting pitcher, it will go a long way to revealing the path forward to a roster that can compete against the division’s heavyweights.
3. Competition for A Ball Playing Time is Going to Be Fierce
It was a running theme throughout the Depth Charts: scratching to find names to fill out the Sacramento/Richmond rosters, but more names than could possibly fit on the Eugene/San Jose rosters. Basically, they all looked like some variation on this 2b chart:
It goes from “Better check the waiver wire for another body” to “whoa, how are we gonna get all these guys on the field?” real quick when you cross that Richmond/Eugene divide.
The fights should be particularly fierce in the two A ball infields, where you have legitimate prospects — like Tyler Fitzgerald or Jimmy Glowenke or Dilan Rosario — who could be pushed either down a level or out or regular playing time because of a glut of talented options. Lenn Sakata is likely going to be figuring out how to juggle an OF rotation that includes Luis Matos, Jairo Pomares, Alex Canario, and Grant McCray, with the org maybe wanting to see Garrett Frechette get some time there as well. He’ll have the DH to lean on, of course, but what if Connor Cannon is hanging around the roster as well?
In Eugene, Dennis Pelfrey may have an embarrassment of riches at his catcher position, leaving him with a choice of starting Patrick Bailey or Ricardo Genovés on any given night. Ultimately, I expect this is all worked out through load management — remember, none of these guys has played a full week of games in over a year and a half. Still, 20 games are getting cut out of the minor league schedule this year, and the Giants are going to want to see their best players on the field more often than not. Guys are going to have to earn their playing time, and some, of course, will be left on the outside looking in for a roster position.
4. Could We See More Aggressive Initial Assignments?
All of which leads to the question: could the Giants solve some of these roster crunches by being more aggressive with assignments than they’ve suggested? One way to clear the path for Ricardo Genovés to get more playing time is to start Patrick Bailey in Richmond. Tyler Fitzgerald and Jimmy Glowenke have an easier time getting onto the field if Will Wilson isn’t sharing the Eugene roster with them.
The Giants have been steadfast all winter that it behooves them to go slow with initial assignments because, for all the Alt Site work, they haven’t really seen “gametime” live pitching in 20 months. As I noted in the “way too early” roster previews, that suggests all the college kids waiting for their full-season debut start no higher than High-A, and the various teenagers, international signings, and high school draftees start out no higher than Low-A. That still seems most likely. But I can’t ignore how long a run Hunter Bishop and Will Wilson are getting at the Alternate Site (even while Patrick Bailey and Marco Luciano have reported back to minor league camp in Scottsdale).
And then there’s the case of Heliot Ramos, who seemed certain to be ticketed back to Richmond when spring started. My guess was that the Giants would send him back to Double-A and let him start up a little “Get Me the Hell Out of Richmond” tour to force a callup. Turns out, Ramos, got the tour started a couple of months early and he’s been setting the house ablaze every night for the last six weeks. If anybody’s hit their way into an advanced assignment, it has to be Heliot!
5. All Hail Joe Palermo and the Intl Development Staff
It’s nice to have Hunter Bishop and Patrick Bailey and Joey Bart boosting the upper end of the prospect envelope, but the true strength of this system right now is the sudden flood of talent that has been brought in through the Felipe Alou Academy in the Dominican Republic. And that is just a stunning turnaround for this organization.
The last All Star that the Giants have developed through their international program was Pablo Sandoval, who they signed way back in 2003. Since then, the very best homegrown international player has been Reyes Moronta. And after him…. who? Hector Sanchez? Ehire Adrianza? Waldis Joaquin? I mean, it’s not a long list and what’s on it isn’t particularly attractive. They basically took the decade off — not intentionally, but functionally — from developing major league talent out of their international program.
But today…. well we’ve all seen Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos (not a Giants signee, but work with me here!) provide a boost of adrenaline to the Giants and excitement to their fans. Of the twelve different depth charts I’ve created in this series, all but one (1b) featured at least one international signee in the ranked prospects. Four were topped by an international signee (SS, 3b, LF, RH relievers; three others had an international signee as close 2nd (CF, RF, LH reliever). The crunch for playing time referenced above is very much the result of the org turning on the international spigot, so that players coming up from the Dominican have developed to the point of fighting for starting positions at higher levels with the domestic draftees.
We’ve just seen the beginning of what should be a tide of newcomers who originally came out of Joe Salermo’s corner of the organization — a tide that should bring real star power to the Giants lineup! And we should take a moment here for a tip of the There R Giants cap to Joe and his shop for giving Kyle and his shop such good raw material to work with.
Maybe the biggest takeaway from these Depth Charts — there are no real weak links in the system this year. Every level should be a “must follow.” In some recent years, we’ve had one or two interesting rosters in the system and at least one or more that were pretty threadbare of prospects. That shouldn’t be the case this year, when every roster will feature enough talent to follow closely. Richmond might start out thinner than some other teams in the opening month, but, even still, they’ll likely have several starting pitchers being eagerly anticipated like Tristan Beck, Sean Hjelle, Jose Marte, perhaps even Kai-Wei Teng. And I would imagine in the second half of the season Richmond could well have top tier talent like Bishop and Wilson and Bailey joining them, if not sooner.
There shouldn’t be any roster deserts this year thanks to the growing system depth. And that’s a very good thing!