Photo Credit: Conner Penfold
Let me just say upfront: I don’t really like doing rankings. I love reading rankings, of course, but I don’t much like doing them myself. And for two very good reasons I think. Even in the best of times I don’t consider myself enough of an expert for my rankings to be meaningful — I’m not a scout; I don’t have a lot of in depth industry sources. Even in a normal year when I’m seeing a lot of these guys my thoughts are amateurish in both the good and bad sense. And this was very much not a normal year. My annual trip to Spring Training was planned for just days after the nation (and spring training) shut down and so I haven’t seen any of these players in person in over a year, and some of the most important ones not at all. The amount of information informing this exercise is necessarily paltry. Secondly, I’m not a particularly linear thinker and I couldn’t line these guys up the same way twice in a row if my life depended upon it. I’ll tinker with order even as I’m writing the posts that are to come over the next two weeks.
Still, the point of a ranking isn’t so much a specific order as it is the framework on which to hang one’s thoughts. So with my caveat out of the way, let’s dive in and play around with the future. I’m going to spend the next two weeks digging into the players I’m fascinated by and hopefully giving you a reasonable picture of the state of the organization. I’ll offer up my thoughts of potential future values, potential 2021 assignments, strengths and developmental needs as far as I’m able to ascertain for every one of my Top 50 players in the Giants’ system.
But before we start this journey, I wanted to write something about the guys who didn’t make my cut. So today we’ll focus on players who aren’t a part of my top 50 remembering that every prospect is important and every one has a chance to craft themselves a career. Always remember the Caleb Baragars and Kelby Tomlinsons and the meanings of their improbable climbs to glory.
The most important thing to say about the “just missed” group, right off the top, is that there are a lot of really good, really interesting players who I couldn’t manage to fit into a top 50. That’s amazing and wonderful. I can’t remember a time when the system contained enough depth to fill out this far with players who very legitimately can have big league aspirations. There are guys who fell off the edge of my list who have been Top 30 prospects in most rankings very recently. There are guys I expect to be Top 30 prospects in the future. There are high round draft picks and big dollar international signings! Players who could be a big part of the organization’s future. But still I couldn’t find room for them. That’s an unmitigated good! You want to have more good players than you know what to do with — because there will always be a use for talent.
So let’s have a look at a few of the players who didn’t make the cut. And because this isn’t a ranking-before-the-ranking, I’ll do these guys in alphabetical order:
This one probably hurts the most. And I’d say it’s the most surprising — perhaps the stupidest — omission. Arteaga is still listed among the Giants’ Top 30 prospects in most of the national rankings — MLB still has him at #21, in last year’s Prospect Handbook he took the #26 spot. And he’s barely 16 months removed from receiving a $1 million signing bonus from the Giants as the jewel of their 2019 J2 class. Scouting reports on Arteaga consistently praise his defensive abilities which have the makings of a big league defensive shortstop, and his ability to make hard contact. There’s athleticism, agility, great hand-eye coordination, all the building blocks you could want:
So why then don’t I have Arteaga high up on my list? The problem for me is that Arteaga appears to be in a group of players who have been most impacted by the global pandemic. As far as I can tell, he has been at home in Venezuela all year and at this point there is no telling when he will be able to leave his home country. Arteaga, who will turn 18 next March, has essentially been missing professional instruction since before he turned 17. Probably his last time getting hands on work with the Giants’ training staff came last year at this time during Dominican Instructional League, though he may have taken part in the Giants mini-camp in January. Regardless, he wasn’t (I don’t believe) at spring training this year, he wasn’t able to attend Instructional camp nor the upcoming Dominican Instructional camp. And it’s unclear whether he would be able to travel for 2021’s spring training or DSL season.
The youngster is losing valuable development time and until we have a better idea when that situation is going to change, I’m pushing him down my rankings. Arteaga is a great example of someone who could easily leap up 30 places or so once he gets back into the system. Anthony Rodriguez, another Venezuelan SS who the Giants signed for $800,000 last year seems to be in the same situation. And to a lesser degree, players like Nicaraguan Elian Rayo who have been trying to make do with sub-optimal training facilities on hand are also likely taking a development hit from the current situation.
I'm a long-time fan of Fabian, who was the Giants top signing ($500,000) in the 2014 J2 class and has been a Top 10 prospect in the system as recently as three years ago. But Fabian has suffered a series of worrisome factors that have trend lines pointing downwards. Pushed at a young age, Fabian’s over-aggressive approach led to back-to-back disappointing years in the Sally and Cal Leagues in 2017 and 2018. Part of 2018’s dismal showing may also have been health related as the Giants medical staff discovered a thyroid issue that was attacking his immune system and draining his strength. A medical procedure to try to correct that issue kept him off the field for most of 2019. However, when he did finally return to the field he made a positive impact on Cal League scouts and showed renewed strength and even a modicum of patience.
However, Fabian was somewhat mysteriously absent from the Giants’ Instructional League roster this fall — and this will be something of a theme with me that I’m using Instrux assignments as a trace indicator of the Giants’ internal valuations of players. There’s been no word as to why Fabian wasn’t included in camp — whether there’s been renewed health concerns or he’s simply falling behind on an increasingly crowded OF depth chart — but it doesn’t feel like a good sign to me that he was absent. At his best and healthiest, Fabian is a gap-to-gap hitter without premium tools whose skills tend to play up thanks to high baseball IQ and instincts. I’m hoping that he makes a return to my rankings next year, but Sandro will need some fortune to smile on him to make that happen.
Another highly ranked prospect in previous years, the son of D’backs’ legend Luis Gonzalez was the Giants’ controversial 2nd round pick in 2017, one round after they took Heliot Ramos. In rookie ball, Gonzalez showed patience and a feel for hitting, but in the two years since he’s struggled mightily in nearly every phase of his game in the Sally League. Though Gonzalez can show raw power in a batting cage, his game production has been buried under an avalanche of ground balls, and as a below average runner that’s not where Jacob wants to put the ball. Despite repeating the low level, he didn’t show any improvement in 2019 and over the two seasons produced just a .233/.304/.349 line in A ball.
At the same time, he’s struggled mightily on the defensive side of things as well, without the lateral quickness or agile hands needed at 3b. He’s very likely a 1b going forward and for that to work he’ll need to make quantum improvements in his ability to get the ball in the air and translate his strength into power. Gonzalez has been working hard at a Driveline facility this summer and this is the age of lab-based development miracles, but at this point he has a lot to prove to get back on track for a major league career.
(Parenthetically, I was at the above games too and the 2080 Baseball Scout must have been sitting right in front of me!)
Here’s another case where I’m a little out of step with other folks, I think. Hilson, the Giants’ 6th round pick in 2018, has some big fans in the prospect world thanks to a set of very loud tools. He’s close to double plus in terms of both speed and throwing arm and he has extremely impressive raw power. That’s a triad that will get a young player noticed by scouts. But, as much as it pains me to say it (devotee of the power-speed combo AND a lover of strong arms) these are also the tools that tend to tantalize the most and deliver the least on a baseball field if they don’t come attached that most essential tool — the ability to put bat on ball.
As much as the physical attributes can make you drool, Hilson has struck out in an astonishing 37% of his plate appearances in two seasons of rookie ball. I have actually tried to find some example of a player having that extreme an amount of difficulties at that low a level and then recovering to craft a big league career of any stripe — as of yet I haven’t found a precedent and I fear I never will. It’s really hard to be that bad at hitting low level pitching and turning things around at higher levels. It may be impossible. As with Fabian, the Giants failure to invite Hilson to Instructional camp figures into my thinking here as well.
There’s some thought that Hilson could have a fallback as a pitcher conversion (he threw in the low 90s as a pitcher in high school), but pitcher conversions are usually more successfully proposed than enacted, so I tend to adopt a “believe it when I see it” mentality on that score.
Caleb Kilian is a value to the organization! The 8th round pick out of Texas Tech has a lively fastball and a solid starter’s assortment of pitches. He was fantastic in his 2019 debut and one can easily imagine things coming together to make him a big league pitcher. He should be in my Top 50!
But he isn’t. And the reason is there’s a bunch of guys just like him that barely crowd him out of the picture. One of the toughest final decisions that I had (without giving too much away) was trying to determine an order between a group of about 4 or 5 reasonably like-typed pitchers who fall in the back of my rankings and Kilian drew the short straw. I like him, but I don’t like like him, apparently. But you know what, if Caleb Kilian is a big league pitcher one day, it wouldn’t be the most shocking pitcher development story. Heck, it might not even be the most shocking “Pitchers Named Caleb” development story I could think of.
At the risk of repeating myself, here’s a guy who should be in my list! And he isn’t! And that means good things for the Giants’ farm system. Franklin Labour is, basically, a one-tool player. But it’s a tool with sex appeal! The 21-year-old LF simply went off on the Northwest League last year, hammering 14 home runs in just 41 games — with nine of those long balls coming in a three week stretch at the beginning of July. His domination of the league was so complete that he led the league in HRs despite being promoted with a month left in the schedule. Indeed, he was the league’s only player to hit for double-digit HRs. There’s potential here for sure and Labour is probably a great example of the kind of slow-developing prospect who is likely to be most hurt by the disappearance of the short-season level of the minor leagues.
However, Labour gets dinged by a few factors. His performance in July of 2019 was a clear aberration compared to the rest of his career and he followed it with an abysmal performance over the final month in Augusta. He managed just a .282 OBP and .299 SLG in 117 PA in the Sally, taking some of the glow off of his breakout season. His two months in Salem-Keizer account for some 65% of all the home runs he’s hit in his four-year career, so he’ll need to show at higher levels that that wasn’t just an outlier achieved against an inferior level of pitching. But this kind of thing will get you chances to prove yourself:
I have carried a torch for the Giants’ 2015 3rd round pick for as long as I can remember. He’s athletic and strong. He has tremendous bat speed that can turn on any fastball. And he’s a thoughtful, hard-working young man who is tremendously easy to root for. He improved his peripherals in AA and the Giants showed their faith in him by inviting him to the Arizona Fall League at the end of the 2019 season. He should be on my list too!
But the problem with Jalen is he’s built a pretty long track record at this point that suggests he just isn’t going to be a major league hitter. That’s now 2,270 Plate Appearances for Miller over four seasons and four levels and he’s produced a career .235/.291/.352 line and that just doesn’t get it done. Miller has a history of fast starts, including his AA year at Richmond, and then long declines through the summer. He also has a history of hammering fastballs and waving through breaking balls, and there’s a connection between those two histories, I believe.
I would love to see Miller have success, and coming in a week in which the Giants have celebrated an extraordinarily improbable Silver Slugger Award for Donovan Solano, we are reminded that as long as players keep working at their dream the chance of success is still alive. But at some point, the results have got to come for Miller’s dream to keep breathing.
I’m not going to do a whole writeup for him, but most everything I just said about Miller applies to AAA OF Jacob Heyward, as well.
This one is sure to get me some angry comments, as Ruotolo has long been a fan-favorite of many Giants’ prospect followers. And he’s had nothing but success — big success — at every stop in his professional career. If he ended 2021 in the Giants’ bullpen it wouldn’t be that surprising. But he falls just outside the list for me because of two things — 1) he’s coming off a season mostly lost to surgery; and 2) he’s always been a results over stuff guy. I’ll admit a bias towards velocity that always distorts my view of pitching — a bias that has long kept me on the low side of evaluations of Tyler Rogers, for instance. And Ruotolo and Rogers could have something in common in that batters don’t seem to see either of them particularly well.
There are guys I’m going to have well above Ruotolo that don’t have anything like his history of professional success but bring a few ticks more velocity. If you think that represents a beam in my eye I won’t argue with you. But for now, Ruotolo doesn’t quite make the cut.
The Giants’ 5th rounder in this year’s draft might be following somewhat in Ruotolo’s footsteps as well. Though Ryan Murphy’s selection seemed to have more to do with his willingness to sign a bottom-of-the-barrel bonus, he’s been a sensation in Instructional League, missing a lot of bats despite stuff that doesn’t overwhelm. Perhaps the Giants will be able to turn the unassuming Murphy into a real surprise.
The flip side of Fabian and Hilson, Suarez surprised many by his inclusion to the Giants fall Instructional League camp. A rather unheralded member of the 2018 J2 class, Suarez was actually the opening day CF for the 2019 DSL Giants team — pushing his cousin Luis Matos over to the corner at the start of the year. And for two weeks he was Matos’ equal at the plate as well getting off to a torrid .308/.472/.487 start to his professional career. Sadly that was all we — or he — got from the 2019 season as a muscle strain in his leg kept him out of games the rest of the year. His friend and Venezuelan compatriot Matos took over in CF and exploded into a Super Nova while Suarez’ promise was forgotten.
The two worked out together in Scottsdale throughout the summer of 2020, though, and both got invites to Instrux. While Suarez is well behind his cousin, there’s reason to believe he could end up being one of the happiest surprises on next year’s AZL Giants (if such a thing exists). Suarez is another player who could skyrocket up this list if he shows up healthy and productive next year.
Here he is (on the right) with Matos.
Winn is another player who suffers from a specific comparison. In this case, it’s to Blake Rivera who like, Winn, was drafted by the Giants in back to back years, finally signing with them in 2018. Like Rivera, Winn is a Junior College product who is still developing into the pitcher he will become. But unlike Rivera, Winn’s stuff is solid, not buzz-worthy. He makes his living with a sinking two-seamer that is geared to collect groundballs, not strikeouts. Indeed, in his two professional stops (Salem-Keizer and Augusta) he’s produced just 7 strikeouts per 9 innings. But he pounds the strike zone and rarely walks hitters (also unlike Rivera). Winn fits comfortably in the same box as Caleb Kilian — solid, intriguing arm that could become something in time, but sits outside some other, more noteworthy arms at this point for me.
I could go on and on with this “didn’t make the list, list” to be honest. Intriguing arms like Julio Rodriguez and Jesus Ozoria won’t show up in the next couple of weeks. Solid SS prospect Tyler Fitzgerald isn’t here. A whole lot of young Catchers (Victor Coronil, Onil Perez) are missing from my rankings as are a host of interesting lefties like Juan Sanchez and Chris Wright and the ever-enigmatic Mac Marshall.
And I’ll just finishing by repeating my assertion that it’s a really good thing that all of these guys are missing. Because that tells you just how strong the guys who DID make the list are going to be.
The Giants’ organization is in a good place and getting better. And we’re gonna be counting up from 50 starting next week. See you then! Have a very very happy and relaxing weekend.