"Way Too Early" Roster Previews: Eugene Emeralds
With a little history lesson on the side
Photo Credit: North Carolina State Athletics Department
This is the second in a series of “way too early” roster previews for the Giants’ four full-season affiliates. So far, we’ve fake-GM’d up a roster for the 2021 Low A San Jose Giants.
You know what? I need a mulligan. I didn’t do this right. As is my want, I was so eager to start gushing about Marco Luciano’s potential that I just launched right into the nuts and bolts of roster construction for the Low A San Jose Giants (have we gotten used to that yet? Say it five times fast!).
What I should have done, instead, was start with a little history lesson — wait! don’t go! I have a point, I PROMISE! Have you ever wondered…why exactly are there two different A ball levels, anyway? Because if you have, that is a really terrific bit of wonderment, gentle reader!
The A/A+ Distinction
Relatively speaking, the notion of a High A level of development is fairly new. At the baseball Winter Meetings in December of 1989, Sal Artiaga, President of Minor League Baseball (then called the National Association) explained why he thought the new designation was needed. Let’s just quote here from the Dec. 18, 1989 edition of The Sporting News which covered the story:
[Artiaga] explained that because of the changing nature of the amateur draft, imbalances in the level of playing skills have occurred, especially in Class A. Rookies with four years of college experience are often competing with 17- and 18-year-olds out of high school or from Latin America. When the draft was first implemented in 1965, 54% of all selections were high school athletes. This year , by contrast, 74% were college athletes.
“My philosophy” Artiaga said, “is to have a place for all players of different experience levels to play. We need more places for younger players to play.”
Artiaga would push through his vision and thus the A+ designation was born, making its debut in April of 1990. The intent was always to create two separate tracks of A ball, based on experience level. Once players were ready to proceed on to AA the tracks would come back together again. This is dogmatic — of course, high school athletes and college athletes continued to, and still do, compete against each other in Low A and especially in High A. But separating them out for their entry into pro ball was the fundamental blueprint that Artiaga created — particularly for the cream of the crop, the upper round draftees.
How closely do teams tend to follow this basic blueprint? Since 1990, the Giants have drafted 28 players out of college in the 1st round or Supplemental 1st round. Not counting the two most recent (who have yet to be assigned to a full-season level), 23 of the 26 have been skipped over Low A and assigned directly to High A (at least initially, a couple of them did receive demotions later following rough starts). Health issues affected two of those assignments: Brad Hennessey missed a season and a half after signing due to two unexpected surgeries to remove tumors from his back; and Chris Stratton saw his short-season debut ended when he took a line drive to the head that was still affecting him the following spring. The third was the Giants fifth of six 1st round picks in 2007, the player who defined the term “light-hitting catcher,” Jackson Williams.
Conversely, the Giants have signed nineteen 1st rounders out of high school and one out of junior college. Fourteen of those 20 have started their first year of full-season ball in Low A. Interestingly, four of the five who moved straight to A+ were drafted between 1998-99. We’re talking Tony Torcato/Arturo McDowell era Giants here, and let me just say, that didn’t turn out to be a very successful experiment in development. Madison Bumgarner’s fellow 1st rounder, Tim Alderson, was the last high school draft pick skipped over Low A.
By and large, this is the drill, then. There are two different tracks of A ball development, based on previous experience. High-drafted college players go to High A; high-drafted high school players and international players working their way up from rookie ball go to Low A. And here’s my point — I promised I had one, after all — the Giants system is currently heavily divided between a large group of college players who have yet to debut and a large group of international signees and high school draftees who have yet to make their way out of rookie ball.
So, when constructing these rosters, I couldn’t just ask, for example, the question: where do I want to place Luis Toribio? Instead, I — and certainly Kyle Haines and his staff — have to ask: how do I best serve the development needs of both Luis Toribio and Casey Schmitt? Or Patrick Bailey and Ricardo Genoves, or Garrett Frechette and Logan Wyatt, or even Marco Luciano and Will Wilson? Up and down the lineup we find pairs of players who are still waiting to get into full-season ball and who both need the best environment for their development. If I push Toribio up to High A, then what happens to Schmitt? Push him straight to AA for a sink or swim debut? Drop a kid who’s competed in the Pac-12 down to Low A competition? Try to split time between the two using the DH and off days?
To me, the best way to get everyone to be their best version of themselves is to do what Artiaga wanted: group the high school and international kids (most of whom are in the 19-20 range) together in Low A, and the college kids (most of whom are in the 21-23 range) together up in High A. At least to start out.
And that’s why, as we make our way to I-5 and turn towards Oregon, we leave behind a collection of high upside teenagers and head for a cluster of college stars. Which, I suppose, is appropriate for a group that will be sharing its home with the Oregon Ducks.
What’s your preference? The 10th pick of the 2019 draft or the 14th pick of the 2020 draft? Or for you hipsters who make a habit of dissing the front runners, could I interest you in the 15th pick of the 2019 draft? Have at the flavor of your choice, because they’re all here!
Good health willing, the Eugene Emeralds debut as a full-season A+ affiliate should also feature the professional debut of Patrick Bailey, the organizational debut of Will Wilson, and the full-season debut of Hunter Bishop. That right there is what you call a red-letter day, and it’s honestly hard to think of anything in recent Giants’ history to compare it to. That’s three top 15 picks all taking fairly monumental first steps for the organization on the same day, on the same field — a field which is itself taking a monumental first step. That should be enough to generate some local buzz around the new tenants! If Hunter meets his one goal (“Hit the ball over the fence”) often enough, this should be a very happy new arrangement.
And with any luck, taking the mound in front of that monster lineup, we may see one of the few non-college players on the Emeralds, LHP Seth Corry, who finally gets to build on one of the most dominant stretches of pitching this organization has seen this century. Get your tickets now!
And if all of that isn’t enough star power for you Oregonians, don’t forget that you should expect to see Marco Luciano show up soon, perhaps even before Spring is gone.
The Rest of the Lineup
Get ready for a bunch more debuts! The Giants’ 2020 draft was heavy on the college players and I anticipate almost every one of them gets the push to Eugene to start the year. Manning the hot corner, we should see the dazzling glove of 2nd round pick Casey Schmitt (no doubt missing the gentle climes of San Diego St.). Middle infielder Jimmy Glowenke (another 2nd rounder) should work in some sort of rotation with 2019 4th rounder Tyler Fitzgerald, with DH offering Glowenke another slot in the lineup when he’s not playing defense. And the infield should be completed by Fitzgerald’s college teammate, 2019 2nd rounder Logan Wyatt at 1b.
The outfield surrounding Bishop is a little less star-laden than the extraordinary assemblage I put together in San Jose, but there’s still plenty to admire here. Armani Smith will face a tough challenge pushing straight to A+, but there’s just no room for him on the Low A roster and the UC Santa Barbara vet will be facing the appropriate level of competition in a college leaning league. Diego Rincones got a taste of High A at the tail end of 2019 after posting an excellent .295/.346/.415 line in Augusta. More than a year later there may be a chance for him to play his way to the AA roster with a strong spring training, but the hit over power OF probably needs to prove it out level by level.
The Eugene bench should be an assortment of A ball vets and recent college draftees. The Nicaraguan sparkplug Ismael Munguia should be on hand as a valuable 4th OF, and, along with Yalie Simon Whiteman, should provide a little speed off the bench. After two years of struggles in A+ I’ll give Jacob Gonzalez a chance to prove himself, but only in a reserve capacity — probably spelling Wyatt at 1b. This brings up a point that gives me no joy at all, but there are several players I’ve put on the bench of this roster who did not get invites to Instrux. Gonzalez, Carter Aldrete, Frankie Tostado, catcher Andres Angulo, and Munguia — all of their invites got lost in the mail. For Munguia and Angulo it’s conceivable that visa issues interfered, but for the Americans in that group, they have to know that they are on the cut line as the organization transitions to the new system with just four full-season affiliates and only 180 domestic players. The guys who don’t catch on to the final bench spots of some of these rosters may not stay in the organization past spring training. It’s the harsh truth of playing pro ball that the Iceman Cometh for everyone eventually.
Possibly the most intriguing reserve on the roster could be undrafted free agent Brett Auerbach. The University of Alabama veteran can back up Bailey at catcher while also relieving Schmitt at 3b, Glowenke at 2b, and Smith in the OF. It’ll be very interesting to watch how the Giants use Auerbach.
The Pitching Staff
Corry is the clear star here, but 2020 draftees Nick Swiney and RJ Dabovich should bring the staff plenty of stability and upside. Both of these pitchers out of NCAA powerhouse programs, were in the process of converting from reliever to starter when their junior years came to an abrupt stop. Their continued growth as starters while trying to hold up to a professional workload should be one of Eugene’s best stories to follow this summer. The pair should be joined in the rotation by 2019 draftee Caleb Kilian, the former Texas Tech ace and the two Junior College draftees from 2019, Blake Rivera and Keaton Winn.
Put all of that together and you have an extremely strong rotation that should keep the Emeralds in games every night and, frequently enough, shut down the opposition. In fact, despite most of the star wattage of this team coming from the lineup, on paper it looks like the pitching staff should be the key to its ability to compete in the new Northwest League (NWL) — much as Augusta was led by its staff in 2019.
And when teams battle their way into the Eugene bullpen? Well they should be prepared for plenty of heat, because the Emeralds are packing a lot of right-handed power. Cole Waits, Preston White, Tayler Rashi, Solomon Bates will all come out of the pen firing mid-to upper-90s fastball. And they’re all just the hors d’oeuvres for the surprise newest member of the Giants’ 40 man, because this is where I’m placing Kervin Castro. This was the assignment I had one of the toughest times with. Gabe Kapler spoke to Alex Pavlovic about Castro possibly helping the big club in 2021 which suggests he could start out as high as AA. But that feels like just a touch too big a leap from Salem-Keizer to me. We’ll see!
As with the San Jose squad, I’ve struggled to come up with many left-handers for the bullpen — left-handed pitching does appear to be notably thin in the organization right now once you get past the Corry-Harrison-Swiney triad. But Chris Wright, the lone lefty in the pen, is a fascinating case, a Caleb Baragar type who will feature a fastball with elite spin rates thrown at the top of the zone. This also gives the bullpen a tongue-twisting White-Waites-Wright configuration which should be fun for fans and journalists alike (it’s a complete sentence, you know!).
Though it’s not exactly sexy, overall, this is an experienced, college-heavy staff that features some crazy velocity and high spin rates throughout, and should make the Emeralds competitive for a post-season berth in the eight-team NWL.
The Opening Day Roster
So Eugene-ites, don’t despair if your Opening Day roster is Marco-less. There’s a lot here to dig into and root for. A roster full of 1st round talent and top prospects, and a club that should compete and provide plenty of exciting Wins. You could do a lot worse in coming back into the Giants’ system after a 60 year absence!
Next up, it’s the Richmond Flying Squirrels! Will they be as “top prospect” laden as the two A ball clubs? Come back Friday and find out!