Week 1 in Review: Hot Starts Abound

A lot of beating up on Rockies affiliates took place!

Buckle up, folks! We’ve got our very first Week in Review today, and there’s a lot to get to!

This year three of the levels will take regular breaks on Mondays as they travel to their next six-day series. That’s the normal schedule anyway, though Eugene is messing it up with a double-header today! Still, with most of the system taking a pause on Mondays, it makes Tuesday the perfect day to step back and take in the overview of what the heck just happened! For those of you who’ve followed along all week — some of this will be familiar, for those of you joining in just on Tuesdays, it’ll be all new.

So welcome to the very first “Week in Review” for 2021! These Tuesday posts will be free to all, so if you like what you see, why not subscribe to get my daily posts! All There R Giants posts are ad-free and there’s no advertisement copy reads in my podcasts either — no “manscaping” or diamond rings! We’re all subscriber-based here at There R Giants and I’d love to have you reading all of my stuff.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not?

In my “5 Questions for Hitters” preview post, my first question was whether hitters would be able to shake off the rust from the missing 2020 and get off to hot starts. The Giants have said they’ll be “open minded” about quick promotions, but obviously that’s reliant on the hitters proving they can push the point with their production on the field.

So who got off to a hot start and whose bats are icy cold in the spring chill? Man, who isn’t hot is a better question! Richmond has a team OPS of .833 and Eugene one ups that with an astounding .963 team OPS! It’s no wonder those two clubs went a combined 10-2 on the week! These guys are playing Bugs Bunny baseball!

Hitter of the Week: Heliot Ramos

Nobody’s been hotter than #3 prospect Heliot Ramos over the first week. After striking out in four of his first five plate appearances to start the year, Ramos has settled down and started raking. Beginning with a hot shot off the 3b glove in the second plate appearance of Game 2, Ramos reached base safely in 12 of his next 17 trips to the plate! That torrid stretch included 2 HRs, 3 doubles, and four walks. He’s now got nearly a 1 to 1 ratio of walks (4) to K (6) and he’s slugging .857 (6th in the league). Ramos’ 1.377 OPS is the league’s third highest. You want players to press the issue? I give you: Heliot Ramos!

ESPN’s Buster Olney came up with a way of quantifying the amount of damage batters do per swing this winter which he called “Crush Quotient” — it’s not exactly cutting edge sabrmetrics (Buster Olney not being exactly a quantum physicist) but it does focus on something essential about hitting. Simply put, it’s the amount of total bases that a hitter accumulates per swing, expressed in total bases per 100 swings. Since 1988, the leader in “Crush Quotient” is Albert Pujols, who averaged over 30 bases per every 100 swings, and he’s followed by the greatest of the great (Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Alex Rodriguez). In last year’s 60 game major league schedule, Juan Soto led the majors with just over 35 total bases per 100 swings. So far this year in Double-A, Heliot Ramos has accumulated 19 total bases with his first 50 swings, for a “Crush Quotient” of 36. Small sample size applies, still that’s not too shabby!

If you prefer to look at batted ball data, we’re somewhat limited by publicly available data. But by the Trackman data the Giants have made available, we can see Ramos has already had at least five hits of 99+ mph exit velocity. Another couple weeks of this kind of production and he might be grilling Memorial Day burgers in Sutter Field. I’ve been circling June 1 as a likely call-up range, but if Heliot just keeps raking, he’ll hit his way out of this league sooner than later. Dude is putting some swings on the ball!

Emeralds are White Hot!

Heliot’s not the only hitter lighting up the charts, however. The first week has seen a full-boat of red hot beginnings — and a whole lot of them are coming from the Eugene Emeralds insane beat-down of the Spokane Indians pitching staff. The question in Eugene is more like “who isn’t scalding hot?” The Emeralds lineup begins with three straight 1st round draft choices, but it’s sweet-swinging Diego Rincones who has actually led the way, posting a Bugs Bunny-esque .455/.520/1.000 line over the first week. Rincones leads the loaded Eugene lineup with 3 HRs and 6 extra-base hits. The only player in the High A West league with more home runs is Spokane’s Michael Toglia, who did much of the Indians’ damage against Eugene’s pitching this week. Rincones leads the league in slugging and OPS.

But, oh my goodness you can’t throw a dart at Eugene’s roster without hitting a hitter who had a great week. Will Wilson went 9 for 22 with two doubles, a triple and a HR. Patrick Bailey went 8 for 25 with a double and HR. Even the supplemental players are hot as middle infielder Simon Whiteman hit .500 for the week and Ismael Munguia hit .389 with a home run and a team leading 7 RBI (it’s good to hit near the bottom of the order in this lineup!). Sean Roby and Franklin Labour each picked up two home runs in the opening week.

Outfielders Lead the Way

Elsewhere in the system, outfielders are leading the charge at nearly all levels. Bryce Johnson celebrated his feasted in his first week of Triple-A, going 8 for his first 14 with a shocking amount of power. The speed-and-defense player picked up extra bases with five of his first eight hits on the year, including home runs in back-to-back games. In San Jose’s loaded lineup, it’s been Alex Canario and Armani Smith who have made the most noise in the opening week. Canario went 5 for 16 with two doubles and a triple and, most surprisingly, drew five walks in the opening week. He did also continue to whiff at a concerning rate though, striking out six times. Smith went 7 for 19 in the opening week with three extra-base hits including the team’s first home run of the season. And in addition to their powerful bats, both players have shined on defense as well:

It’s truly hard to shine a light on everybody in the system who’s gotten off to a great start because there’s just SO many hot hitters. Newcomer Thairo Estrada made sure his new teammates welcomes him with six hits and eight RBI in his first two games — including two home runs and a Grand Slam! In Richmond, David Villar has produced a lot of hard contact with two doubles and two home runs, though his overall line of .227 with 7 K suggests he’s been an all-or-nothing type of hitter this year.

Lastly, let’s remember that not every hit needs to go 100 mph to have a big impact, as Drew Robinson ably proved this weekend.

The Ice Brigade

Still, for all the hot starts in the opening week, there have been a few notable dissenters. Top prospect Marco Luciano has taken his spring training woes into the season with him in the early going. The spectacularly talented youngster has gone just 3 for 22 with 7 K in the opening week. Remember, he’s still just 19 folks! His fellow youngsters in San Jose aren’t fairing a whole lot better. Luis Toribio is hitting just .083 after a 1 for 12 week and Garrett Frechette started the year just 2 for 12, producing a dreadful but highly symmetrical .125/.125/.125 line. Luis Matos started out by going 1 for his first 13 with 5 K. He pulled out of the early funk with five hits in his next two games. His Swing%, however, is a more than robust 65%! So, maybe something to work on, Luis.

It hasn’t been all tough news for Luciano, however, as he did get to show off the easy power in his swing once this week:

The Giants 2nd round pick last year, Casey Schmitt is another San Jose hitter left behind in the gates to start the year. Schmitt started the year on an 0 for 12 stretch before picking up the first hit of his career. He did hit his first professional home run on Sunday, however, ending the week on something of an up note despite the 2 for 17 week.

The one hitter seemingly immune to Eugene’s frollicksome ways was 2019 1st round pick Hunter Bishop, who had just two hits in the opening week. More worrisome, he was a late scratch before Friday night’s game and hasn’t appeared in action since. He was slowed in the spring by a sore ankle, so perhaps that is still an issue — or there’s a new one that’s keeping him off the field.

Controlling the Zone

Another of my 5 Questions for Hitters was will the Giants’ prospects continue to show improvements in their K/BB ratios — which was one of the more notable aspects of the 2019 minor league campaign. One week in and things are looking pretty good!

Checking the top performers in the system we can see the top performers are all maintaining very healthy strike zone discipline. Will Wilson has been all over the stat line in Eugene’s games with doubles, triples, and singles aplenty so far on the year. But he’s also shown a discerning eye. Until Sunday night’s four-hit outburst, he had supplemented his hits with a walk in each of his first four games. Sean Roby had 70 K in 2019 to just 28 BB, while teammate Franklin Labour’s 2019 line was 83 K/26 BB. Obviously things are still early, but both look like they’re putting the work in to improve those lines in 2021.

Canario and Ramos were both free swingers in earlier years. And while both still have plenty of swing and miss in their game, they’re both showing growth in their swing decisions — at least from what I’ve viewed of their at bats. They’re attacking pitches in the zone and mostly going after fastballs or hanging breaking balls — the kind of pitches batters should be hunting for. Ramos looked a little jumpy on Opening Night — as if he wanted to hit his way to Sacramento in a single evening. But a couple of solid swings in Game 2 seemed to settle him down, and since the second game of the year (which, yeah I know, is a micro-split combined with a convenient starting point, so not the most exacting statistical analysis of all time), he’s had four walks to just three whiffs.

Of course, NOBODY is controlling the zone better than the Lousiville Slug—-uh Louisville Walker himself: Logan Wyatt. The 2019 2nd rounder reached base an astounding 15 times in his first 21 plate appearances! You won’t find an extra base hit anywhere in that stretch — though he did line a long single just inches below the home run line on Spokane’s short right field wall — but 8 walks to 2 K is a line that is going to get Farhan Zaidi’s eyes pretty misty! Over at minorleaguesplits.com they have some advanced data including swing rates and contact rates for hitters and Wyatt’s are extraordinary: he’s swing at less that 25% of pitches seen, but he’s making contact on almost 90% of his swings! You’ll not be surprised to learn that Swing% is lowest in the system, and the only other player with a swing rate under 30% is Sacramento’s leader in walks, Justin Bour. As my baseball mentor Pete Beiden used to say, you win baseball by taking outs quicker than you make outs, and Logan Wyatt is making outs like a glacier makes tracks —- slllllllooooowwwlllly!

Weirdly, one guy who didn’t show off particularly good control of the strike zone was 2020 1st round pick Patrick Bailey. While his overall numbers were good (8 for 25 with a 2b and HR), Bailey struck out 8 times in his opening week while walking just once. Strong plate zone discipline is a reported strength on Bailey’s scouting card so we’ll assume it was just a weird week for the big guy.

The Arms Race

Oh, hey, look! They’ve got pitchers in this organization, too! I almost forgot those guys! Those guys are off to some worthy starts, too!

Ah, but seriously. One thing we’ve seen around the organization in the first week is pitchers who are still working to refine their fastball command. The Giants have been going easy, keeping guys limited to some 40-60 pitches and very few of the Giants starters have gone past the 4th inning. But while everybody is working their way into mid-season form following a shorter than normal minor league camp, some guys really have stepped forward!

Pitchder of the Week: Caleb Kilian

Kilian gets the benefit of being one of the two-start pitchers this week, but wow was he fantastic in both! Kilian went 9 innings over his two starts, allowing just 4 baserunners overall. All of those guys earned their way on, as Kilian has yet to issue a free pass this season — indeed, he’s issued just 2 walks in his 25 professional innings of work against 31 Ks! This year those numbers are 14 K against 0-ZERO-ZIP-NADA-NULL walks. Let’s do an artist’s rendition of that K/BB ratio, shall we?

Yep, that one rates an official Daffy Duck “WOO-HOO!” Kilian’s dominance is coming more from a mastery of the zone than ridiculous stuff. He’s living on the edges, picking up 15 called strikes in his opening night start, including five consecutive called strike threes. But the low-to-mid 90s fastball that he threw at Texas Tech has picked up a tick — the Giants reported he touched 97 in his first start — so if he wants to go all Shane Bieber on us I think we’d all support him in that decision.

Kyle Harrison also showed nearly unhittable stuff in his first outing — seriously, only two balls were put in play against him and one of those came via a sacrifice bunt. He was a little wild and unruly to begin his outing (3 walks and 2 HB among the first eight batters) but he battled his way through the adversity, escaped two straight bases loaded jams, and showed serious strikeout stuff. He’s still my #1 pitching prospect.

Harrison was the third consecutive San Jose starting pitcher making his professional debut — following Carson Ragsdale and Nick Swiney — and all were terrific. Ragsdale and Swiney produced nearly identical stat lines — 7 K, 1 Hit in 5 scoreless innings for Ragsdale and 6 K, 1 Hit in 4 scoreless innings for Swiney — and both showed off terrific breaking balls. But Ragsdale went fastball first, establishing a hard, 93-96 fastball and then putting batters away with a sharp breaking ball that dove down and away to the glove side. Swiney pitched backwards, relying on his big breaking ball and plus changeup to get strikes, and only rarely showing batters his 88 mph fastball — and keeping it away from them when he did.

Elsewhere, the season debuts fell in the range of middling to mulligan. Seth Corry was really battling command issues in his first start and ultimately allowed more runs in 2.1 innings of work Wednesday night than he did in all of either July OR August, 2019. Tristan Beck and Sam Long did a better job of staying around the strike zone, but neither showed really sharp fastball command and both ran up elevated pitch counts in their first outings. Sean Hjelle looked dominant for two innings, but ran out of steam in later innings after a couple of extended cool downs while his teammates were batting around (see artist’s rendition of Richmond’s offense above). You can add Kai-Wei Teng to the list of pitchers seeking their normal sharpness as he had a career high 4 walks in last night’s start — for comparison he walked 7 batters combined in his five starts in Augusta.

The best pitcher in Richmond’s strong-on-paper rotation the first time through was Matt Frisbee who, like Ragsdale, established his fastball on the edges of zones first and then picked hitters off with his secondaries. Frisbee’s combination of Swinging and Called Strike — in other words, strikes which weren’t put in play or fouled off — was a fantastic 40% — only Kilian and Swiney did better among the starters. Frisbee walked no one and struck out 5 over 5 scoreless innings and the key for him — as for others — was showing up with his fastball command.

Quick Round the Horn

Standings:

Sacramento, 2 - 3, 2 gms back in Triple-A West League, Western Division
Richmond, 5 - 1, 0.5 gms back in Double-A Northeast League, Southwest Division*
Eugene, 5 - 3, Tied for 1st place in High-A West League
San Jose, 3-3, 1.0 gms back in Low-A West League, Northern Division

*These names are making me dizzy! Which direction am I heading here?

Transactions:
Peter Maris from Richmond -> Sacramento
Sam Wolff from Arizona Complex -> Sacramento
Ronnie Freeman signed as FA and assigned -> Richmond

Monday Night’s Action

Sacramento lost @ Las Vegas Aviators (A’s), 9-6

Tyler Beede made his second rehab start stretching out to 32 pitches, 19 of which were strikes. Beede walked his first batter of the night on four straight pitches but settled in nicely after that. He regularly threw his fastball at 96, but used his off-speed pitches more and more as the outing went along. All four of his strikeouts came on his secondaries (maybe making them his primaries), including getting Skye Bolt to swing at back-to-back changeups for his final out of the night.

The second run charged against Beede came on a fairly iffy two-out balk call, but he’d also been helped out by an excellent running catch in RF by LaMonte Wade, Jr. so we’ll call it even! On the whole, it was another promising effort from the strapping right-hander who should be up to help the Giants staff in some role in the not-too-distant future.

CF Bryce Johnson continued to bedevil the Aviators pitching staff. Johnson went 5 for 5 with two more doubles to spur the River Cats offense. Johnson is really taking advantage of his opportunities this spring and making an early impression. Bryce scored half of Sacramento’s runs, including getting to trot home on Joey Bart’s second HR of the year. When Joey gets his arms extended — watch out world!

Eugene Dropped a Double-Header vs. Hillsboro Hops, 6-2 and 2-0

Eugene’s hot start encountered a momentary bucket of ice in Hillsboro where the Hops swept them on the final day of their 7-game road trip (though they were nominally the home team here — it’s confusing!). Hillsboro themselves were finishing a week in which the Everett AquaSox had completely dominated them, winning their series 4-2. But Hillsboro pitching quieted the heretofore loud Emerald bats and got enough timely hitting to deliver the knockout.

As noted above, Teng wasn’t at all his normal sharp self in this outing, walking four and just not seeing enough of the zone. He was, however, getting a tremendous amount of movement on his pitches, particularly his two-seam fastball which he was throwing consistently in the 92-94 range with exceptional lateral run towards his armside. Teng has also added a split-finger to his already large repertoire. But after dancing through danger for three innings he couldn’t avoid it in the 4th. The Hops strung together four hits and a walk and put up 5 runs which the Emeralds couldn’t answer.

Eugene’s offense was led by the little Nicaraguan Ismael Munguia who picked up three hits in the twin-set including a double and a triple. He would have had two triples were it not for the bouncy-house turf in Hillsboro kicking one of them over the fence for a ground rule double. Munguia scored the Emeralds final run on a perfect 1st and 3rd double steal executed with Simon Whiteman. Like Bryce Johnson, Munguia isn’t big and doesn’t wow you with his tools, but he’s always in the middle of action, does a lot of things to help a team win, and brings a ton of energy that is a joy to watch. Don’t sleep on dudes like this! He brings the fun.

Patrick Bailey went 1 for 4 with a double and also two more strikeouts (he’s been a little K-rific the first week). His “Wow” moment of the game, however, came in the 1st inning when he unloaded a perfect throw to cut down the D’backs best prospect — and one of the fastest players in the game — Corbin Carroll (probably worth noting that the dynamic Carroll dominated the double header, going 4 for 5 with 2b, HR, 2 BB, and 2 Runs scored).

Energy levels were undoubtedly low for both teams by the second game — their eighth game in seven days. But I need to give some love to Jose Marte’s dominant appearance. Marte struck out 5 of the 7 hitters he faced — with the only batter who reached doing so on a strikeout. Marte was featuring a fastball that ramped up to 98 and then broke off cartoonish breaking balls that made hitters look silly. Like Gregory Santos and Camilo Doval, Marte’s power stuff will work in the majors if he figures out how to harness it regularly.

The two teams now get two days to rest before resuming this odd series back in Eugene on Thursday night.


What’s On Tap?

Sacramento (Anthony Banda) @ Las Vegas (James Kaprilian), 7:05 pm, Video Link*
Richmond (Sam Long) @ Harrisburg (Mario Sanchez), 3:30 pm, Video Link
Eugene: OFF
San Jose (Ryan Murphy) @ Stockton (TBD), 7:05 pm, No Video

I’m trying an experiment today based on a reader suggestion — the links above are “Game Previews” right now and I’m not sure if they transition over to the live video feed. If they don’t work, those of you with MiLBtv subscriptions (which I highly recommend) can find all of tonight’s games here.

The River Cats finish up their six-game series in Las Vegas tonight. They’ll continue on the road for another week, heading to Oklahoma City next. Richmond and San Jose, meanwhile, each get their first taste of the road in 2021. San Jose makes the short drive over 205 to Banner Island to face the A’s Low-A affiliate, while Richmond crosses the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania to take on the Washington Nationals Double-A team and see if they can keep the good times rolling! Eugene’s week of weirdness continues with two off-nights before resuming their “home” series against Hillsboro, now featuring their actual home park!

Whatever happens, we’ll be sure to cover it in tomorrow’s edition! Hopefully there’ll be some loud booms to share.