Top 50: Wrap UP

A couple of closing thoughts

Congratulations to the newest official San Francisco Giants: Alexander Canario, Camilo Doval, Gregory Santos, and — the big surprise — Kervin Castro! You can find each of the new 40-man additions in my Top 50, respectively at positions #7, 15, 20, and 43. If you missed any of the Top 50 posts, they’re linked below.

All rankings are a snapshot in time, and had I waited a month I’d surely have moved both Castro and Santos up as their additions to the 40-man obviously indicate strong performances at Instrux and high organizational evaluation. We had already heard an extremely enthusiastic response from Eric Longenhagen on Santos after one view of the pitcher in November and a recent Baseball America article on players who impressed at Instrux, noted that Santos was one of the most eye-opening pitchers of the Fall, pitching out of relief and hitting as high as 100 with his fastball. Castro, who Kyle Haines had praised for coming to Instrux in great shape, has been seen as high as 98 in camp in 2019, and shows exceptional control for someone who is still relatively new to pitching. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Castro and Santos get a push assignment straight to High A this spring (whenever and wherever High A actually begins).

Again, congratulations to all. Addition to the 40-man is a real turning point in a minor leaguer’s life. Among other benefits of the move are:

  • Automatic invitation to big league camp

  • Daily interaction in spring with big league coaching and training staff

  • Big League per diem while in camp

  • Much higher (and more livable) salary for minor league service than non-40 man players

As well as the obvious benefit — it’s much easier to get a big league call up from a 40-man position since no space needs to be created to add a player to the active roster. Hopefully, we’ll see all four of these guys at Oracle Park in the not too distant future.

But, of course, since 40-man spots truly are a zero-sum game, we can’t welcome new additions without bidding a sad farewell to some long-time friends (and a not so long time acquaintance). Chris Shaw, Aramis Garcia and Jordan Humphreys were all DFA’d to make room for the newbies. This wasn’t terribly unexpected — I had guessed Garcia and Shaw were likely at the top of the cut list when I did my Rule 5 preview and likewise noted Humphreys’ tenuous hold on a roster spot when I covered him in the Top 50. Still, it’s sad to see them go. Their professional journeys will continue and I wish them all great luck and opportunity wherever the next stop comes. And, indeed, perhaps one or more of the group will sign back with the Giants on a minor league deal (I’d say Humphreys would be the most likely of the three to do so).

Before bidding farewell to my Top 50 (and already moving!) rankings, I wanted to just quickly use a fascinating article from Prospects Live as a lens through which to view the system. It’s available to all and I highly recommend reading this entire piece which focuses on what is really a traditional scouting axiom: focus on what a player can do, not on what he can’t.

So, reading through this excellent piece, author Justin Dunbar looks at several of the types of “flaws” that cause potentially=valuable players to be discounted — one can imagine that in the Giants’ front office Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have a similar type of list. When scouring the waiver wires they might be asking: who is being overlooked because they have some major flaw while they’re strengths are being dismissed?

And for each of these categories, it’s pretty easy to see Giants’ prospects who fit in that category. I’m not going to repeat any of the many words already spilled, but perhaps putting players in these buckets will allow all of us to think of them in new ways — not just as their flaws, but as players whose overall strengths and weaknesses are something greater.

Strikes Out Too Much

Armani Smith

Alexander Canario

Hunter Bishop

Joey Bart

Jaylin Davis

The Giants’ coaching staff preached to players that taking third strikes wasn’t necessarily a bad thing if it set you up to have impact at bats elsewhere. So the question of “strikes out too much” can revolve around the effect those strikeouts have on the rest of the offensive game. Are they getting themselves out too regularly? Are they so incapable of defending some part of the strike zone that higher level pitchers can attack those weaknesses with impugnity and not worry about having to mix things up? Or are the strikeouts just a sliver of an overall attack that also includes impact and damage?

Issues with Pitch Mix (No Third Pitch)

Blake Rivera

Tristan Beck

We saw when looking at Dinelson Lamet’s development that views on pitch mix are evolving with the industry’s growing understanding of how to successfully attack different parts of the strike zone. As we’ve seen with Caleb Baragar’s success in 2020, the quality of the individual offering a pitcher does have — and how successfully they use them — is what matters most.

Doesn’t Look the Part

Sean Roby

Heliot Ramos

Kervin Castro

The first time I saw Heliot Ramos play, another observer (whose baseball knowledge I have a great deal of respect for) mentioned being somewhat underwhelmed seeing Ramos in person because of his body — “I though he’d look different” he confessed to me. Even at 18, Ramos was already a barrel-chested, thickly built young man. Perusing the stat sheet the year before and seeing power and stolen bases aplenty, it was easy to imagine a tall, lanky, strapping frame oozing with basketball-like athleticism. Was this fireplug-built kid the same guy? But, remember, the build doesn’t always make the man and athleticism comes in lots of different packages. While the demands of the major league game certainly mean players have to be at their peak physical condition to be ready to compete, ignoring a young player because they look “soft” can be a great way to miss something special — like Roby’s ability to hit or Castro’s electric arm.

Poor Defense

Luis Toribio

Connor Cannon

There’s an obvious connection here to the group above. Poor defensive play often leaves the impression of a lack of athleticism — you can’t grow up to be a major leaguer without athleticism, can you? Sure you can, if you can hit! Toribio and Cannon are not likely to turn into players who can contribute a lot of value with their gloves or speed, but they have a chance to make up for that and more with their bats. As the old saying goes: if the bat will play, they’ll find a way. And with the DH likely coming to the NL for good sometime in the next couple of years, that’s truer now than ever before.

Hitting the Ball on the Ground Too Much

Will Wilson

Jaylin Davis

Wilson mentioned to Marc Dulucchi earlier this year that one of the things the Giants’ development staff worked most with him was getting the ball off the ground.

“I never thought about [lift] until I got to pro ball and then I found out that my groundball percentage was insanely high. I had no idea.”

This issue is a fairly straightforward one — it’s a flaw that can be identified and fixed. While the “launch angle” revolution wallpapers a one-size fits all slogan over a complex network of development requirements, one thing we’ve certainly seen over the last decade is that dramatic improvements in players’ fly ball rates can be achieved by focussing on the elements that lead to that outcome — identifying the pitches that one can hit hard in the air and hunting them, looking for small changes in hitting mechanics that can get the bat in position to achieve lift, etc etc. This has been responsible for some of the greatest career developments in recent history, and we started to see an extreme example of it in 2020 with Austin Slater. This does not have to be the inhibitor it has traditionally been.

Doesn’t Throw Hard Enough

Nick Swiney

Kai-Wei Teng

Keaton Winn

This is another area where we seem to be living in the age of miracles. As private laboratories like Driveline have preached velocity gain as a primary focus of training, pitchers all over the game have seen significant improvements in their fastballs. Pitcher usage is obviously part of this story too — as shorter outings are expected of pitchers they can focus more on max effort for every pitch (sadly this also has an effect on the amount of dead time in games as those same pitchers need more recovery time between pitches). No longer are pitchers’ ceilings defined by their fastball velocity — they can raise both together. And if the pitcher skills beneath those radar readings is strong, he can raise himself right up to the highest heights, including a Cy Young Award as Shane Bieber proved this year.

Lack of Power

Logan Wyatt

Jimmy Glowenke

Ryan Howard

Tyler Fitzgerald

Sandro Fabian

I’ve harped on enough about this in several of these players’ write ups. While certainly some players have natural advantages in their power games — exceptional bat speed, natural leverage, hand strength or simply overall strength — good hitters can “think” their way to greater power by understanding their swings, the way pitchers attack them, and focussing on maximizing damage with their swings. As a 24-year-old in AA, Mike Yastrzemski hit 6 HRs in 128 games. ‘Nough said.

The key is to look at the strengths of the whole player and imagine where those strengths could lead. Which reminds me of a scout who once told me that scouting wasn’t a science, “it’s an act of imagination.” A solid object lesson for all of us: don’t be too quick to dismiss others; look at what might be achieved instead.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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