Second Half Hopes for the Top 50
What kinds of steps forward do we want to see?
With the minor league season reaching its official halfway point — or more accurately, several different halfway points for the different levels and leagues — I’m currently working on a mid-season re-ranking of the Giants’ prospects. I’ll have a new Top 30 for you next week, but in the meantime, that process has led me to thinking about what I hope to see from players with the remainder of this year. Second halves can make a big difference!
Heck, at this same point last year, David Villar was hitting just .223 with a .717 OPS, and was just beginning the turnaround that would lead to his ascension on There R Giants’ rankings this past winter. Patrick Bailey was just being notified that he would be reassigned to the complex league, and Randy Rodriguez had an ERA over 3.00 that was about to get whittled down significantly. Yes, a second half can do so very much to alter our perceptions of a player’s year.
With that in mind, herewith, I give you my hopes for the next three months for each and every member of There R Giants’ Top 50.
50. Diego Velasquez Extra-Base Hits The skinny, 18-year-old switch-hitting shortstop held his own against older competition in 2021, so far as contact was concerned, but he sure didn’t impact the ball any. With just one double over his first 11 games, that hasn’t changed any, as of yet, in his second season.
49. Trevor McDonald Some Starts The Giants’ top high school pitching selection of the 2019 draft, McDonald has shown a starter’s repertoire, command, and stuff, while working in long relief for San Jose. It’s time to let him show his starter’s ability with some actual, honest to goodness, you know, starts.
48. Cole Waites. Innings. The powerful right-hander was drafted all the way back in 2019, but he’s thrown just 47 innings as a pro. He just needs more game reps. Big stuff like his can move fast, but he still needs innings to refine his basic level of control. If he can stay healthy (knock on wood), it’s just a matter of time.
47. Simon Whiteman Some Success A personal favorite of mine, Whiteman has just never gotten on track this year, after a late spring injury delayed his start. Whether it’s in Eugene or Richmond, he needs to string together some successful at bats before this year begins to snowball on him.
46. Tristan Beck Tighten up that command Seeing Beck healthy and throwing quality stuff is a tremendously encouraging sign. But to survive the PCL, he’ll need to refine that fastball command. It’s good stuff and a good repertoire, but the hitters only get better from here on out. Quality strikes are crucial!
45. Ghordy Santos Reps Santos signed his first pro deal back in 2016, but he’s played just 79 games in a full-season setting due to a series of injuries. Given the lack of experience, his performance in Eugene has been tremendously encouraging, even with some ups and downs. He just needs to stay on the field awhile and continue to get reps. Adding a dynamic outfield defense to his rèsumé has been a pure positive. He’s a real talent!
44. Esmerlin Vinicio Innings I’m tempted to say a better fastball, or a little more muscle on his frame, but neither of those seem likely to manifest themselves over the next three months. Without a fastball that can at least bump up into the 90s, I’m not sure how projectible Vinicio really is, but for now, just continuing to pile up innings and getting experience is valuable.
43. Anthony Rodriguez Keep on going Rodriguez didn’t have the outsized success of his fellow countryman and top signee, Aeverson Arteaga, in rookie ball last year, but he showed some positive signs: a solid approach, good plate discipline, some power, and an excellent glove. He needed to come back and dominate the complex league, and so far he’s doing a good job of it! Hitting well enough to earn a promotion to the Cal League before the year is out would be a big step in the right direction.
42. Jimmy Glowenke Get back to a hit first approach. Glowenke is the latest Eugene player to go on an extended absence without being removed from the active roster. Whether he’s hurt or just working on things, he hasn’t played in a game since June 5. When he did play, he was really selling out for power, leading to some big whiffery and majorly depressed numbers. He needs to get back to just putting a good line drive swing on the ball and stop swinging for the fences.
41. Alexander Suarez. More contact Suarez has flashed his raw power this year, but that 47 K to 7 BB ratio is ugly stuff. He needs to command the zone better with more solid swing decisions to allow his tools to play in games. Some overhaul in the swing mechanics is probably due as well, as he has some zone coverage issues.
40. Eric Silva Hold the stuff longer The 19-year-old righty can be electric, but as an undersized pitcher, the concern is always going to be how well he can hold his stuff throughout outings. He’s looked great for stretches this year, but has often run into some hard contact in the later innings of starts. More scoreless or low-run games where the slider is just as crisp and the fastball just as explosive at the end as at the beginning would be an excellent step forward.
39. Kai-Wei Teng. Keep improving fastball command. The big right-hander is still having troubles with fastball command, but his misses are generally more competitive this year than they were in Eugene. Of course, the hitters are more discriminating, too. Being able to get ahead with the fastball would really help set up his off-speed stuff.
38. Luis Toribio A little average to go with the bombs The one time “hit over power” corner bat has suddenly gone on a power tear. Toribio has big raw power, but until the last couple of weeks, he’s always seemed reluctant to tap into it. He’s tapped the keg for sure, with six home runs in his last 14 games. Now, how’s about we get the average over .200 to go with it?
37. Armani Smith Some bombs to go with the average Smith has had some of the most consistent production of his young career since being promoted to Richmond, with six multi-hit games in his first 20 efforts. His power in Double A has been mostly limited to doubles, however. It would be good to see some tanks as he starts to get his sea legs in the new level.
36. Sean Roby More contact Roby has been almost nothing but tanks, and nobody on this team (and few in this league) hit the ball harder than he does. That strength and hard contact will play. But nobody can survive with a 43% strikeout rate. That’s more than a red flag, it’s a red shroud. Gotta cut those down in order for the game to play at higher levels.
35. Tyler Fitzgerald He’ll have what Sean’s having. The multi-positional infielder has brought his K rate down out of the 40% range, but 36% is still undermining his overall offensive ability and dragging the numbers down (.184 avg, eeks!). More contact. Better contact.
34. Carson Ragsdale Successful rehab. No way to monitor Ragsdale’s progress following his thoracic outlet surgery this spring. But here’s hoping things are proceeding well behind the scenes, and we’ll see Carson back and throwing freely soon!
33. Gregory Santos A little more big league time Santos has been hitting triple digits with his fastball and putting up huge whiff numbers with his slider. After a minor health issue caused a quick trip to Scottsdale, he’s back in Sacramento and throwing well. It’s time to see what he can do with more extended play in the big leagues.
32. Brett Auerbach He’ll have what Tyler and Sean are having. Auerbach is another member of the Richmond squad whose season is being dragged down by a storm of strikeouts. All the versatility in the world won’t help when you have a 30% strikeout rate, a .205 batting average, and a slash line that is 10% below league average. More contact. Better contact. That’s the path to a successful second half for all of these guys.
31. Grant McCray Watch those strikeouts, keep everything else going McCray was the preeminent breakout candidate in the system coming into the season, and he’s done exactly that, with one of the biggest up arrow seasons on the farm. All of his tools are playing in impactful ways. He does have a slight tendency to get wild in his plate approach in search of power though, which can lead to some big strikeout nights. Play within yourself, Grant. All the talent in the world is within.
30. Adrian Sugastey Health The 19-year-old catcher wasn’t off to a great statistical start, but he was handling the load of catching a 17-man pitching staff with huge stuff and mostly college experience. Guiding that staff to one of the best performances in the league was a huge credit to the young Panamanian. His swing still has all the makings of an above average, hit over power performer. We just need to see him back on the field so he can continue to make strides.
29. Prelander Berroa. Enjoy Washington, my friend! Sounds like the stuff is trending up in his new home. I wish him all the success in the world! Good Giant.
28. Seth Corry Successful rehab Like Ragsdale, there’s no knowing how Corry’s rehab from shoulder surgery is progressing, or what the timeline is for getting back on the hill. Here’s a wish that everything is going smoothly behind the scenes for a good kid who could really use some positive news.
27. Chris Wright More strikes Wright’s fastball shape causes the pitch to play up above its 91-93 velocity, but he needs to throw it for strikes more often. He’ll need to show more command of the pitch than he has so far in Double A before he can succeed at a higher level.
26. Kervin Castro Bring back the Kervin we used to know! Maybe the most concerning guy on the board, Castro simply hasn’t looked anything like himself this year, and it’s very hard to avoid the suspicion that something’s wrong with him physically. Step 1 is get the velocity back where it was last year; Step 2 is find some strikes. Step 3 is return our Kervin, you evil body snatcher! (or maybe that should have been Step 1).
25. Will Wilson Keep the approach that’s working Wilson learned some tough lessons in his quick promotion to Double A in 2021, but he returned in 2022 with a better plan, stronger plate discipline, and an all-fields hitting approached that has really served him well. Now in Triple A, he just needs to stick to the plan and hope the good results follow. He’s been terrific this year!
24. Ismael Munguia Successful rehab and a minor league free agent contract Ugh. This one was really depressing. A wrist/hand injury of some sort has wiped out Munguia’s full year, right when he seemed to be on the precipice of turning himself into a legit prospect. With minor league free agency looming, we can only hope to see Munguia in a Giants’ affiliate uniform again in 2022. The world’s a better place when Ismael is bouncing around on the field.
23. Sean Hjelle A few more missed bats and a major league start Hjelle has been putting up terrific numbers in the PCL this year, despite an incredible paucity of swinging strikes. It’s always a little hard to believe that someone can survive with a “pitch to contact” game in this day and age, but maybe Hjelle is the guy to do it. I’d love to see him get a major league start at some point, rather than just an inning or two here or there.
22. R.J. Dabovich More whiffs on the fastball Last year, Dabovich’s fastball was one of the most devastating pitches in the minor leagues, generating whiff rates over 40% and setting up his killer knuckle curve. The curve has still been an effective putaway pitch this year, but his fastball isn’t missing as many bats, with a reduced spin rate and less carry through the zone. He’s still whipping it up there at 96, though, and has plenty of stuff to succeed, but more swing and miss on the fastball in the second half will placate my concerns that something is a little off this season.
21. Sam Long Keep on keeping on I know some have been frustrated with the Giants’ use for Long, but to my eyes, his stuff has consistently been sharper and snappier in shorter stints, from the time he first opened eyes in spring training, 2021. I’m not sure he’s got a starting career in front of him, but with José Álvarez a potential free agent this winter, he may well turn into a high leverage lefty out of the pen in the near future.
20. Randy Rodriguez More velo Rodriguez’ starter conversion has had its moments, and the arm still looks incredibly loose and lively, but so far, we’re not seeing the same sort of high 90s domination from him as a starter that he showed in even long relief outings in 2021. His stuff warmed up with the summer last year; it would be nice to see the same thing happen this season — or more doubts will start to creep is as to whether starting is really in his future.
19. Manuel Mercedes More strikes Mercedes began the year seemingly incapable of keeping his pitches within the playing field. He’s gotten better, but the odd errant pitch winged to the backstop is still a feature of nearly every at bat. Mercedes is probably never going to be a “pitch to the edges” guy — just stick the mitt in the middle of the zone and pray the movement doesn’t stray too far. He just needs to throw competitive pitches consistently — with his raw stuff, that’s enough for now.
18. Hunter Bishop Fewer strikeouts As he gets more and more reps, Bishop is looking more comfortable in the box, and the results are starting to come. Strikeouts are always going to be a part of his game, and low averages likely will too, but as we saw with Joey Bart this year, there’s a difference between strikeouts being “part of the game” and “the game.” Even with improvements, Bishop’s still striking out 34% of the time and swinging and missing at 17% of all pitches. Hopefully, both of those numbers keep going down over the next three months.
17. Ricardo Genovés A re-set Sending Genovés to Triple A was something of a desperation gambit from the start for a club that really didn’t do enough to shore up its upper minors catching depth this winter (and paid for that). Now assigned where he probably belonged all along, it would be great to see Genovés have a little of the offensive success he showed in San Jose last year.
16. David Villar A big league debut The cartoonish road numbers are still boosting the overall line, but Villar has improved his defensive consistency, his chase rate, his walk rate, and his power numbers to the point where he’s dominating the PCL. The Giants pride themselves on rewarding guys who deserve a chance. Villar has gotten to the point where he deserves a chance. Let’s give it to him.
15. Nick Swiney Fastball command — and another tick wouldn’t hurt any When Swiney is getting his fastball precisely where he wants it, he’s been a highly effective pitcher. When it wavers just a wee bit, High A hitters have swung away with abandon and created some pretty loud contact. He’s got plus secondaries, but a fastball that plays at 88-91 is going to need Cliff Lee levels of command to succeed at higher levels. It would be great to see either the command or the velo take a step forward.
14. Diego Rincones Keep the momentum going The first half was a complete washout for Rincones, a long litany of bloops, dinks, doinks, and — most common of all — weak ground outs. Suddenly over the last two weeks, the bat was flamed to life. He needs to keep that going, because Rincones has really turned into a one-tool player, and if that tool isn’t working, he doesn’t have much else to fall back on. (For the off-season, I’ll make an early wish that he gets religion on conditioning and defensive work as well).
13. Casey Schmitt Some time in Double A The sluggish start at Low A is long forgotten now, as Schmitt is looking like one of the very best athletes in the system. He’s probably the best defensive player in the organization — he’s even looked impressive at shortstop so far — and he’s been mashing everything all spring despite difficult circumstances. Boxes are checked. The next challenge awaits.
12. Patrick Bailey Another second half tear Bailey returned to High A knowing that he was facing a level that had defeated him the last time around. Sadly, things haven’t gotten better with a second chance — and it’s frankly a big concern. For the second consecutive year since being chosen with the Giants’ 1st round pick in 2021, he needs a whopper of a second half to save a “lost season.” That’s not a well that you want a player to have to go to very often.
11. Camilo Doval You’re doing fine! There have been bumps along the way, but let’s remember — big league hitters are the greatest in the world! And, unlike the minors, they’re not getting promoted anywhere when they succeed. They just keep hanging around being great and challenging you day in, day out. Doval’s having an excellent rookie campaign and figures to be an important part of the Giants’ bullpen for years to come. I’m happy I ranked him as highly as I did.
10. Aeverson Arteaga Keep the improvements going “April Arteaga” was a bit of a scary mess, but he’s gotten his game under much greater control in May and June. He has a truly surprisingly powerful swing for a smaller player — with thick wrists and forearms and a short stroke that impacts the ball with authority. That’s played when he’s made contact — and he’s making more of it. Keep it up, Aeverson! You’re doing great!
9. Matt Mikulski Return of the fastball We all know the story of how Mikulski reinvented his mechanics and saw a dramatic rise in his overall stuff, leading him to a 2nd round selection in the 2021 draft. Somewhere between there and here, that improved stuff has gone missing. His fastball has been playing back in the 90-92 range, and, without overwhelming command, it’s been getting hit. As a senior sign, Mikulski’s a little old for this level. If the stuff doesn’t start playing up in the second half, a transition to the bullpen may be in the near future.
8. Ryan Murphy Summer in Richmond Murphy was the breakout star of 2021, making a stunning leap into Giants’ top 10 lists everywhere. He was ticketed for Richmond before back spasms in spring delayed his start. His stuff isn’t eye-popping, but like Caleb Kilian, he makes it work with plus command and a strong idea of what to do with it. Now six starts into a “rehab” stint in Eugene, it’s time to see what he can do in Double A.
7. Will Bednar Look like “The Guy.” I don’t really know how else to put this — many of Bednar’s numbers actually look terrific. Still, there’s no denying that Bednar has underwhelmed in his full season debut. A recent Baseball America piece, looking at prospects in need of a better second half, noted that scouts who have been in to see him “tab his stuff as vanilla” — and that’s really the word for it. Only his slider has gotten above averages grades. The fastball has been a poor performer in terms of both stuff and command, and the changeup has been MIA. Like Mikulski, he looks more like a future reliever than you’d want to see from a 1st round college pick after just half a year. He needs to go out and show that he’s still a Dude.
6. Heliot Ramos Pull side power I’ve already written on this extensively, Ramos needs to improve his ability to get to his pull side power and bring the overall numbers up. That’s the missing ingredient for him to get to the majors to stay. The Giants want him to knock the door down, that starts with getting his hard contact into the air to left field.
5. Joey Bart A fresh start Bart won’t be on the mid-season re-ranking, as he’s now exhausted his rookie eligibility, and thus his prospect status. But, as we all know, the finished product is still a long way off. Let’s hope that the demotion helps him clear his head and start to work on a swing that can be more competitive at the top level. There’s nothing he can really do statistically at Sacramento that will prove “he’s ready.” At some point, he’ll just need to solve it at the major league level, but getting a chance to catch his breath isn’t a terrible idea right now.
4. Jairo Pomares Better swing decisions Maybe the guy I was most overly aggressive on in my winter rankings, Pomares has gone out and proven detractors right, by swinging at nearly everything and posting subpar numbers. Like Bishop, when he hits it, the ball stays hit. Like Bishop, he swings incredibly hard at everything. And, like Bishop, he misses a little too much of what he swings at. More discrimination at the plate is needed to unlock his true potential.
3. Kyle Harrison Fewer armside misses It’s hard to find many nits to pick with a 20-year-old who is posting a near 50% strikeout rate and is already competing impressively at the Double A level. The stuff is there, the competitiveness is there, the ability to absorb innings is there. The next step is pretty obvious: Harrison needs to reduce the non-competitive armside misses. Strike one is still the best pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal, and he needs to find that pitch a little more often. Still, let’s not miss the obvious: the future is VERY bright here.
2. Luis Matos Get the swagger back Matos’ ability to make contact with nearly anything was always a curse dressed up as a blessing — unless it was a blessing dressed up as a curse? I get those mixed up. Regardless, those hitters whose bat-to-ball skills are so extraordinary that they feel they can hit every pitch are always one level away from a fall, and Matos seems to have found his splat with the move up to High A. I don’t know that Matos is ever going to be a particularly patient hitter, but he’s smart and hard working, and will figure out what he can hit hard. As he’s gone through the longest slump of his career, some frustration has been visible in his body language. Hopefully, a little success will get that Matos swagger back — because we all want to watch that.
1. Marco Luciano A healthy back and some time in Richmond Luciano has returned to High A, sight of his late season slump last year, and fought through awful playing conditions to post arguably superior numbers to his dominance in San Jose. He appeared to be on the verge of a promotion to Double A when some lower back issues sidelined him — apparently for a reasonably significant period of time. Hopefully, we’ll see him back on a field in early July, and before that month is out, he’ll be in Richmond. Some Double A success before the summer is out would put the 20-year-old on track for a big league debut in 2023.
Those are my wishes for the second half of the year, how about yours?
Next week, I’ll give you my updated Top 30 rankings based on what we’ve seen so far. There have been some big performances this spring from guys who didn’t make my list at all last winter — Mason Black, Carter Aldrete, Vaun Brown, Landen Roupp and more. Who makes the list this time? Who takes a big leap up the rankings?
Next week at this time, you’ll know my answers!