"Way Too Early" Roster Previews: Richmond Flying Squirrels

Release the Meh-ken!

Photo Credit: Tim Cattera|MiLB.com

This is the third 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:

There’s a graphic I’d like to show you. This is taken from Baseball-Reference’s 2019 San Jose Giants’ page; it’s a partial list of all the players who appeared at various positions for the Little Giants that year. I’ve crossed out all of the players who are no longer in the organization. The specific names don’t matter so much as the overall impression:

That’s a lot of cross-outs! Let’s add up the holdovers: we have three total infielders and four outfielders still around (for now) who might be ready to move up. One of those guys I projected in Eugene’s starting outfield.

Eye opening, huh? But wait, there’s more! Here’s a similar exercise from the 2019 Richmond Flying Squirrels’ page:

Check out the Grim Reaper scythe sweeping through that 1b depth chart! “You’re all dead to me!” Goodness!

My point? In the lower levels I was often dealing with an embarrassment of riches. By my lights, the San Jose staff is going to have to figure out how to get regular action for Alex Canario, Luis Matos, Jairo Pomares, Grant McCray, and Franklin Labour in their OF, or juggle Marco Luciano, Dilan Rosario, and Ghordy Santos between SS and 2b. It’s a first world problem.

By the time we get to the upper minors though, the opposite issue comes to the fore. These cupboards are pretty bare. Farhan Zaidi made no secret of his dim opinion of the organizational talent level upon arriving in San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, in the two years since, this organization has severely hollowed out the inventory in the upper levels, leaving us with a tremendous challenge — I literally can’t come up with 25 players for Richmond and Sacramento with the inventory on hand. At this point in our journey, we have reached the “Here Be Minor League Free Agents” section of the map. A reasonably significant portion of the Richmond and Sacramento rosters probably haven’t been signed yet by the Giants.

So, for these last two way too early previews, I’ll continue to make my guesstimates where I can. And where I can’t, I’ll indicate that there’s a hole that needs filling. Perhaps I should have titled this one: There Will Be Holes! and composed an artsy soundtrack to accompany it.

The Stars

Uh…..well….huh. About that! I’m not sure there are any. I mean I do have Gregory Santos on this roster and, what with Eric Longenhagen’s pronounced intention to add the strong-armed youngster onto his Top 100, perhaps he tops the list? But honestly, this isn’t the place to look for a star-laden roster in the system.

Unless…..what’s maybe most interesting about constructing the Richmond roster is the absent star, the guy I don’t have here — this dude:

Heliot Ramos is really the stickiest wicket for me in this entire exercise. The then 19-year-old got just 25 games in AA in 2019 and mostly looked overmatched. The same could be said for his 17 games in the Arizona Fall League — where he mostly looked tired from the long year. He missed time in spring and at Summer Camp and got just 6 plate appearances in Instructional League this Fall. By rights, he probably needs to get back to AA and complete the course before heading on.

But I keeping coming back to the notion that in another weird, amended year, separating AAA from the rest of the minors and tying it instead to the major league schedule intuitively feels right. When the major league season kicks off, they’ll once again need some sort of depth pool, and AAA is the level of the minors that is best set up to adjust to partial audiences and try to survive.

Predicting anything sports-related in these pandemic times is a 60-foot clown dive into the ice bucket of the unknown, so what I really should do is just put Ramos where I think he belongs and be done with it. But I feel in my gut that exigencies may force the Giants to push Ramos to AAA to start with.

Oh wait…hang on here … John Cusack says he has a word of advice for me:

Yeah, well there’s that, too. So, the bottom line is: I’m not putting Ramos on this roster. But I’m probably wrong.

The Rest of the Lineup

In previewing the Eugene roster, I talked about how we needed to balance out assignments in such way as to put both Luis Toribio and Casey Schmitt into the best positions to succeed. The one guy left out of those calculations was Sean Roby, and the result of that is — in my little fantasy world at least — he’s the guy who gets most pushed in his Opening Day assignment in 2021. Remember, Roby has essentially the same level of experience as Logan Wyatt — pretty much the same as Ricardo Genoves, whom I left all the way back at the Low A level. He was an NWL All Star in 2019 and ended the year with 19 pretty unimpressive games in the Sally League. Jumping him all the way to AA after a lost year may not be a very responsible development decision or an effective roster decision. He was impressive in a few isolated spring training at bats and Kyle Haines did call him out as one of the most impressive hitters in Instrux this fall. Still, I have to out and out admit that this feels like a stretch. But I’m partly being driven by logistics. I want Toribio to have a level to himself. I want Schmitt to have a level to himself. And I honestly just couldn’t find the playing time in Eugene for Roby, what with Schmitt, Wyatt, Glowenke, Fitzgerald, and Wilson all clearly belonging on that roster. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to put names to positions in Richmond. So, it’s a stretch assignment for Sean. If he survives the leap though, he starts to put himself on a big league trajectory.

On the opposite corner from Roby, I’ve placed the system’s real forgotten man, David Villar, at 1b. The 2018 11th round pick out of the University of South Florida has a lot of fans in the organization and showed some intriguing power in San Jose in 2019. His peripherals were badly out of whack for a college player though (144 Ks to 40 walks), and he’ll need to stick at 3b to avoid the dreaded “Right-Right” profile at 1b (Right-handed hitter, right-handed thrower). My placing him as the Richmond 1b is tantamount to making an organizational guy out of him. Perhaps he and Roby can rotate between the two corners to give them equal shots at ascending.

In the middle infield, I’m bringing 2016 5th round pick Ryan Howard back to Richmond for a third season and pairing him with 27-year-old Peter Maris, whom the Giants claimed in the minor league portion of the 2018 Rule 5 draft. And similarly, in the outfield, I’m returning Richmond vets Heath Quinn, Bryce Johnson, and Jacob Heyward to the Diamond, none of whom were frankly all that successful in their previous stints as Flying Squirrels. So, for the Richmond faithful who follow me, prepare yourself for a lot of familiarity. Quinn, the Giants second pick (3rd round) of the 2016 draft was once of the system’s best hitting prospects, but he’s had tremendous trouble staying healthy and has under-performed when he’s been on the field. Heyward got some time in Sacramento at the end of 2019 and an assignment in the Arizona Fall League. But the Three True Outcomes hitter has shown far too much proclivity for one of those outcomes (149 strikeouts in 2019) and far too little of another (34 HRs combined over four seasons).

Second verse, same as the first! In addition to the three holdovers in the OF, I’m adding in one time Top 10 prospect Sandro Fabian. Fabian missed much of 2019 after having surgery to fix a thyroid issue. But he returned for the final six weeks of the season and showed much improved plate discipline and power at San Jose. Still just 22 years old (he’ll be 23 in March), Fabian’s a sneaky follow in the system, as he could re-polish his prospect shine with a strong AA campaign. He’s a good hitter and a smart all-around player who’s always been a “whole is more than the sum of his parts” kind of prospect.

And with that, I’ve almost managed to string together a starting lineup! To complete it, I need to lean on Fabian Peña as my starting catcher — an unlikely choice. The 25th round pick in 2018 out of Manhattan College, Peña has played just 40 games above rookie ball in his career. They came in San Jose in 2019 and he didn’t do too much hitting in that stretch, posting a .222/.269/.396 line for the Giants. Still, he’s literally the only catcher we have to place on the team, so it’s either Peña or a minor league FA; probably it’s both with the FA taking the bulk of the starts.

As for the team’s bench? There isn’t one. I mean, not really. Shane Matheny is still around, I think. And he has played 1b, 2b, SS, 3b, LF, and even C once as a minor leaguer. The career .226 batting average in A ball is entirely encouraging, though. After him? Not a single player is on hand and available to fill out the back end of the roster. Sign those FA, Giants!

The Pitching Staff

So, are you still here? Or did I lose you with all that “here’s a bunch of spare parts who you’ve seen be not so good in AA before” segment of this preview? I hope you’re still here. Because, guess what? The pitching staff actually has a lot of interesting arms! First of all, I’m putting the aforementioned Santos in the starting rotation, which is pretty exciting. I know Farhan Zaidi has mentioned that Santos could move quickly in a bullpen role and that’s likely where he ends up. But he also missed a lot of reps in 2019 with various IL stints, so getting him innings seems like a good idea. The Giants might just want to start putting him on the “monster reliever” path and stick him straight into the closer spot. Either way, I think his electric arm is in Richmond to start off. Behind Santos, I’ve got the quixotic and incredibly powerful arm of Jose Marté. In my podcast with GPT, we both spoke about Marté as being the most likely player in the system for the Giants to lose. With that danger behind us, it’s time for the Giants to see if they can develop this extremely enticing arm. Like Santos, he too is likely a reliever in the end, but let’s not give up hope so quickly.

One guy who is much more likely to show up in San Francisco as a starter — perhaps in 2021 — is former Stanford star Tristan Beck. Beck, who really falls in with Sean Hjelle as the closest to ready starter in the system, might get pushed all the way to Sacramento to start the year. Getting his feet wet in AA is a more conservative rout, and, if he does start in Richmond, he has every chance to pitch his way out of town quickly with a strong start. The rotation should also include 2019 San Jose’s “Pitcher of the Year” Matt Frisbee. The unheralded 15th round pick is exactly the kind of player who the lost season of 2020 really hurts because he had no platform on which to display his ability to overachieve expectations. Hopefully he’ll be able to get out in 2021 and show that 2019 was no fluke. Rounding out the rotation I’m going to place two more members of the 2019 San Jose squad, St. Bonaventure star Aaron Phillips and the formerly retired but now throwing 99 every day on twitter LHP Joey Marciano. Marciano is a guy I’m really interested in seeing back on a mound. And, of course, as the very first special guest that we ever had here at There R Giants, I’m really rooting for him as well.

As discussed in the Eugene preview, the bullpen could well be anchored by 40-man member Kervin Castro. But I’ve assigned him to A+ for good or for ill. Consequently, I’m lacking real Marquee Name appeal in the pen. If healthy, Mac Marshall could be the best arm of the group — though that “if healthy” bit has been an insurmountable challenge thus far in his career. Another intriguing left-handed option should be Luis Amaya, who GPT and I also talked about a good deal on our Rule 5 preview. The 22-year-old is having a nice winter league in Venezuela and may be finally ready to come into his own. The bullpen should also be full of some of the many minor league free agents the Giants have started signing. This is something of a “throwing darts at the board” exercise but I’ve chosen Gerson Garabito, Sam Long, and Rule 5 pick Ronnie Williams for this staff, paired with re-signed free agent Raffi Vizcaino. Most of these guys already have AA experience, but the Sacramento bullpen is going to prove a very difficult staff to break into.

The Opening Day Roster

Well, shoot. There is absolutely no doubt that I have just cobbled together what will definitely be the least exciting of all of the four full-season rosters. There are probably only five Top 30 players here and none of them are really jostling for the Top 10. But, remember the Giants philosophy of this year is likely to be aggressive promotions where players show success. So, there’s reason to hope that by mid-year some of the shine from San Jose will have made its way eastward to the Old Dominion.

We’ll be back on Monday to finish up with our “way too early” preview of the Sacramento RiverCats, and then should have our final There R Giants podcast of the year drop on Tuesday after technical difficulties prevented me from getting it to you this week (read: Rog screwing up).

After that we’ll break for Christmas and New Year and be back in early January. Cheers everyone!