Who Might Be on the Next Good Giants Team?
Is the future getting clearer?
Last week, in honor of Opening Day, I let loose with a flourish of hopeful optimism — as one should! — with my wish list for the season. But it seems as if early season “optimism time” may have [checks notes]…
Ken Rosenthal @Ken_RosenthalPhillies under this plan would return to play Friday against the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park - as the visiting team (under a previous plan due to Jays’ inability to play in Canada). Team would be isolated until then, not technically quarantined. https://t.co/Np6OcS3o6h
ah yes, here it is… run out! So today I’m going to oscillate wildly back towards… well I won’t say pessimism, but an attempt at a realistic longview.
On a recent Baseball America 2020 Season preview podcast, Matt Eddy and Kyle Glazer posed the question (in their oh so brief discussion of the Giants): is anybody on the current roster going to be on the next “good” Giants’ team. (Matt said probably nobody; Kyle offered up Reyes Moronta). The question resonated with me. As we watch this 2020 club, are we seeing the birth of any building blocks that will help erect a structure before our eyes? So for today, I’m placing odds* on the players most likely to be on the Giants (fabled) “next good team.” And to give us some guard-rails for this exercise, I’ll assume that that’s going to be about 2023 (by which time hopefully all of Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and Marco Luciano will be part of the lineup as well as possibly Hunter Bishop and others). And unlike Kyle Glazer, I’m going to restrict my options to ONLY players on either the current 30-man active roster or the 10-day IL.**
*Odds generated by my nether regions™ not for betting purposes.
**Have I artificially created an exercise that can’t include Joey Bart? I’ll never tell — but please don’t call Bart up in the next few hours and ruin my post, Giants!
Before launching into this, I want to state clearly that the following is NOT the same as a list of “who should I be paying attention to this year?” or “who should I enjoy on the team this year?” (presuming this year continues to exist). Absolutely not! Johnny Cueto will not be on this list. Johnny Cueto is an absolute joy to behold on — and off — a baseball field. Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval will not be on this list. But I can tell you I will hold each Hunter and Pablo at bat this year between my hands as carefully as a fresh bowl of milk. (I know that simile was wonky, but look, you can only jam Ingmar Bergman references into a baseball blog with so much grace, and I have to entertain myself here somehow!)
So, No. This is not a list of which Giants you — you, happy reader — should pay attention to this year. It’s your life. Pay attention to any damn thing you want. If you get your jollies watching Tyler Heineman laying down bunts against a shift then dig in and enjoy, my good friend! Take cheer wherever you can in this world.
But this is my look into a possible future. So herein — my Top 10 Players who might play important roles in 2023:
Austin Slater: 100-1
Two guys I really wrestled with on this list were Slater and Mike Yasztremski. I’ll go ahead and SPOILER ALERT here and tell you that Yaz is NOT on my list (and I realize that sentence is quite possibly the biggest fail in this post). Slater is on the list, but barely so. This isn’t because I don’t believe Slater has a future as a productive big leaguer — I do, as I discussed just last week! But rather, it has to do with where he might be in his career come 2023. At that point, Austin Slater will have just turned 30. He’ll likely have just hit arbitration for the first time. And in my view of his likely ceiling, he’ll have established himself as handy role player who can form the lesser part of a solid LF/DH/1b platoon mashing lefties.
In other words, he’ll be more or less the exact kind of player that contending teams of 2022 might like to pick up as they strengthen for the stretch run, or would be contenders of 2023 might want to grab as they try to build a deep and stable roster. Could Farhan be the contending wannabe of 2023 and see Slater as his own club’s deep and stable roster-maker? Yes, surely he could. So Slater makes the list. But on the whole, he seems like a player who might be more of an asset to a rebuilding Giants team through trade than on the field. The target of an under the radar deal that nabs a team an anonymous Kyle Hendricks-type, as for instance.
That same logic, if you couldn’t guess, is behind Yaz’ omission here. Mike turns 30 in less than a month. While still pre-arb he’ll be a “heading-towards-33”-year-old in 2023 and he absolutely strikes me as a player that the Front Office might look to flip for “Future Value” — perhaps sooner than later. Is there a chance that Yaz fills the roll of “steady old veteran presence” on a team of young stars-in-the-making — their Nick Markakis to Marco Luciano’s Ronald Acuña? I suppose. But if Yaz’ reproduces his rookie level performance in 2020 or 2021 (and not just the HRs but the “behind the curtain” data like his hard hit rate) then I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants looked to maximize his value on the trade market immediately and package that cheap, controllable service time along with the impressive statline. Maybe he’s the Giants version of an Adam Eaton deal as a player with years of controllability who will likely never be expensive.
Rico Garcia: 75-1
We are about to get stuck in a thicket of relievers, so I’ll just state up front my belief that predicting any relief pitcher is still on the team in three years is something of a sucker’s bet. In the 62 year history of the Giants, exactly 20 relievers have appeared in as many as 20 games for four years in a row. It’s an interesting list:
Jeremy Affeldt (7), Rod Beck (7), Jeff Brantley (4), Santiago Casilla (7), Jim Duffalo (4), Scott Eyre (4), George Kontos (6), Gary Lavelle (10), Frank Linzy (6), Javier Lopez (7), Don McMahon (4), Greg Minton (8), Randy Moffitt (8), Robb Nen (5), Felix Rodriguez (6), Sergio Romo (9), Hunter Strickland (4), Jack Taschner (4), Charlie Williams (5), Brian Wilson (6)
Shout out to old man Don McMahon for managing the trick in his age 40-43 seasons — including two years when he was the team’s Pitching Coach! If you want to take the pre-Free Agent era pitchers out of the equation, it drops down to about 16 relievers over the last 45 years who have managed that relatively low bar of longevity.
That means that no matter how enticing somebody’s stuff is today, the odds of them still holding down a pen role in 2023 are pretty low. To lower expecatations even more, with a rebuilding team a reliever has to thread a tricky needle to stick around — performance isn’t good enough and you quickly become fungible; performance is too good and you’re instantly trade bait (looking your way, Reyes Moronta!).
And further, that list above leans pretty heavily on closers and lefties, with major 8th inning setup dudes filling in here and there. Yes, Everyday George Kontos makes a surprise appearance, as does Hunter Strickland, but that was the High Comfort era of a front office that prized stability, not the hyper-frenetic group now running the show. Middle relief types probably shouldn’t be doing a lot of New-Home shopping in their big league city as a general rule. This seems like bad news for Rico Garcia’s long term future with the Giants. He’s always been a nice enough prospect struggling with brutal pitching environments in the Rockies’ system and he’s looked good so far this year. But 95 ain’t 99, and Garcia’s scouting reports have always hovered in that “interesting but fringy” range. Rico probably trends towards the fungible side over time. Remember how Jean Machi led the 2014 Giants in appearances — and Johnny Gutierrez was 5th? Yeah, like that.
Jaylin Davis: 70-1
This is where things really get hard for me. The Giants have spoken loudly and often about their great expectations for Jaylin. I’ve talked about how much I like his package of tools and his chances for breaking through. But this is “The Realism Post,” not “The Sentimentality Post.” So to try to maintain some level of objectivity, I thought I should just check out what some of the projection systems say about Davis’ future…
G’ahhhhhh! Close that thing! Put it away! Oh my eyes! Yup, both ZiPS and PECOTA see Davis being buried under an avalanche of strikeouts and poor contact. PECOTA’s view of Davis as he ages is truly dreadful, with OBP in the .260s and some unplayable below-replacement-level value. Fangraphs’ three-year model does have him clubbing 18 HRs in 2021 and 2022, but with OBP around the .290 mark, batting averages in the .220s and a strikeout in every third PA. All told, ZiPS sees him hovering at just about replacement level.
So in one view, Davis is the perfect case-study on how well the Giants’ are Dodgering up that aspirational scale to their New Model™. “Chalk” says Davis develops into something around the level of a 1st division up/down player or 2nd division bench guy. The Giants believe his future is bigger than that. If the Giants get the version of Davis they believe in, it will be a sign of very very good things to come for this organization — both in the specific case of Jaylin’s production and in the larger matter of their ability to spin used straw into gold. For this exercise we’ll go with the chalk. Although…were those projections really that bad? Maybe a second peak…
Conner Menez 60-1
One thing about that list of relievers above — it did like a good lefty. And really, not even that good! I mean Jack Taschner was represented for Pete’s Sake! So while all the relievers get a penalty from me, the lefties get a “reduced rate” penalty because as the saying goes, if you’re left-handed and breathing… And with the 3-batter minimum rule a premium will be placed on LHP with a starter’s mix of pitches — which would seem to play to Menez’ advantage.
That said, Conner still has a ways to go to show he has the weapons that can attack major league hitters successfully. None of his pitches have even league average horizontal or vertical movement or velocity according to Statcast. More alarming, he’s been an extreme fly ball pitcher in his short stints in the majors and has given up “barrels” in 13% of his balls in play — nearly twice the league average. Barreled up flyballs is a dicey combination to get away with, so Menez is walking a thin line. The Beard Game is strong though and he looked great last night. I’m rooting for him!
Dany Jiménez: 55-1
Jimenez, in this scenario, will be playing the role of a young Santiago Casilla or Felix Rodriguez. A guy picked up out of nowhere who comes in pumping lively (if not particularly well-aimed) fastballs…aaaaand then just sticks around for a half decade or so. Jiménez moves up above Menez because the minor league strikeout totals suggest there is some late inning potential here. But, funny thing, so far we really haven’t seen serious high-octane out of the right-hander. So far this week, we’ve seen Jiménez throwing his 4-seamer 93-94, which is exactly in line with where Brooks Baseball recorded him in spring training (max. of 94). That would put him back in the Rico Zone for me — and perhaps that’s where I should have left him. The curveball is gorgeous, really. But is it Sergio-level gorgeous? Still, I’m keeping an open mind that he’s still just getting his feet wet after the big jump from AA and that there’s more in there. Especially given that the Giants seem to be doing a pretty good job of getting extra velocity out of their pitchers this year:
Sam Coonrod: 50-1
Ok, now here’s some closer velocity! Sam Coonrod came out blowing 99 with a 97 mph sinker on Sunday night and was living in the same Zip code last night. I don’t want to go overboard on Recency Bias but THAT’LL DO! Coonrod’s always had big league velocity and once they moved him to the pen that velocity definitely started playing up.
However, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Come 2023, Coonrod will be a 30-year-old relief pitcher with one TJ on his arm already. And, it’s worth keeping in mind that even with his outing Sunday night, his most notable moment of the year so far was going his own way in a moment of potential team unity. I’m not necessarily saying that this was a Mark Dewey moment …. but I’m not NOT saying that either. Of course, Hunter Strickland was on that list above, too, so we’ll see where 2020 takes the old Salukie before judging. Regardless he’s showing electric stuff right now.
Caleb Baragar: 40-1
Did I say I was trying to avoid Recency Bias? Screw that! Give me more Caleb! The man who jumped from “hoping for a minor league assignment out of spring training” to major league debut in just one year’s time….the man who wasn’t even in the initial 60-man pool for Summer Camp 2.0…the man who took to the hill for the very first time in the Show and went through Max Muncy, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, and Corey Seager (albeit with some hard contact, it’s true)… yeah, give me more of that.
Everything said about Conner Menez above applies to Baragar here as well. A lefty who can get righties out will be an even more valuable asset in team’s pens with the 3-batter rule and Baragar right now may be in the perfect position to grab that role in the Giants’ pen. He’s also a beneficiary of the team’s new approach to using data — his spin rate (which is elite) and vertical movement on his 4-seamer both work better up at the top of the zone and once Director of Pitching Science Matt Daniels suggested Baragar work up there, rather than trying to get his fastball down (in the traditional method) his career took off. You want a Scott Eyre? I got you a Scott Eyre! Right here — here is the line where I’m feeling the worm starting to turn in favor of a player actually surviving until 2023! Still not likely, but I’m feeling warmer.
Logan Webb: 25 to 1
By all odds, Webb should be penciled in as a member of the 2023 Giants’ staff. He has the stuff. He has the backing of the organization. It’s notable that he matched Johnny Cueto for the longest start of the year in the first turn through the “rotation.” And in that turn he even showed off some new toys — an interesting cutter I hadn’t seen before. And he unleashed a dandy changeup that got multiple swing throughs. Why the kid even has his own Pitching Ninja highlights already:
All Webb needs to do to be a part of that next good Giants team is….survive in the majors. Yeah. That thing. That thing that crushes the hopes of so many cocky young arms with stuff. Despite all the good things to be said of his season debut on Saturday (among which: GIANTS WIN!) he did get hit pretty hard. Statcast had his expected batting average (XBA) at .410, in the bottom 91% percentile of the league for MLB’s opening weekend. And, in fact, the underlying hard contact and pitch value metrics on Statcast rated his performance pretty low on most of their scales:
Giving up a lot of loud contact and not missing a ton of bats isn’t a path towards longterm sustainability for a starting pitcher. I think the #1 thing that will need to improve for Webb to have a lengthy career is the fastball command. He’s still got that combination of too many non-competitive misses out of the zone and too many misses that drift into the sweet spot within the zone. Good news: at 23, and with still fairly limited experience (he was a two sport star in high school and has missed a significant amount of time in his minor league career due to injury and suspension) there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about his ability to make that adjustment.
And, of course, Webb has one advantage that the pitchers above him (many of them former starters who have already transitioned to the pen) don’t have — a fallback option as a reliever if starting doesn’t work out long term. We know from his post-TJ work in Salem-Keizer and San Jose that Webb in short stints can live in the upper 90s with his 4-seamer.
Mauricio Dubon: 15-1
I’ve written plenty about Mauricio lately, so I don’t need to go on at length here. But one thing I didn’t get into in last week’s post was some of Dubon’s comparables. Here, for interest, was PECOTA’s list of Most Comparable players for Dubon:
Marwin Gonzalez, Yairo Muñoz, Abiatal Avelino, Didi Gregorius, Luis Sardiñas, Robert Andino, Larry Brown, Daniel Castro, Hernán Pérez, Dawel Lugo
Or on Savant, his comparable hitter profiles (based on quality of contact):
Love the Posey drop (but remember that’s a Statcast era-only Posey, so just the last few years. Soft contact Buster). Both lists have some exciting high ceiling development successes. One Marwin Gonzalez or Didi Gregorius? Yes, please! But there’s also enough waiver-wire fodder here to give you a picture of other paths that Dubon’s career might travel. Is Dubon the old hand who shows Luciano the ropes and helps transition young Latino prospects to the life of a big leaguer? Is he Elias Diaz, hanging onto the edge of the Pirates’ roster throughout his controllable years? I’m giving him a 15-1 chance and my fondest wishes.
Shaun Anderson: 10-1
The caveat above about threading the needle clearly applies to Anderson. This is a talent that could get too far out front of the Giants’ rebuild to keep around. But Anderson does seem like an arm that is just too good to let go for awhile. The one-time closer of a stacked University of Florida team, Anderson really does seem to fit better in the bullpen and seems like he’ll inevitably start working his way towards the highest leverage situations as long as he’s flashing stuff like this:
Anderson also has a real edge about him (Webb shows this too). Just a little undercut of nastiness on the mound that feels like it plays well in pressure situations. A little strut after the big out. None of those things will be part of the Front Office’ decision-making regarding Anderson, of course, but it makes him just a smidge more fun to watch! Anderson still carries the Reliever Four-Year caveat but he’s my favorite to survive the Pen Wars through the rebuild.
Final Thoughts: So what to make of this list, exactly? First and foremost, is got waaaaaay too many relievers on it. Relief pitching is not exactly the backbone of your classic rebuild. One can argue that Milwaukee accelerated their rise to contention by pairing a couple of star acquisitions with a deep and talented pen of arms, anchored around possibly the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball in Josh Hader. But in general, the thing to remember about throwing stuff and the wall to see what sticks is — there’s a mess on the counter that you have to clean up at the end of the process.
Still, I think the preference would be the position players being a little less prevalent. If at the end of 2020 the Giants haven’t developed some potential long-term every day options (and again, I have 15 minutes to publish — let’s not ruin things by calling up Joey Bart this morning!) then 2020 will not have advanced the org’s cause as much as I think we all hope it does. There’s only so long one can tread water and pretend that they’re dancing, after all.
And I think I also need to explain my thinking on some high profile omissions. I already covered Yaz and, obliquely, Moronta. Trevor Gott turns 28 in a few weeks and will be arb eligible for the first time this winter. He’s on his third big league club and here’s betting his fourth comes before he gets to free agency. Most everybody else is too old, or their contract runs out before then.
But I can’t leave without addressing the elephant in the room — my incarnate insult to good friend Kevin Cunningham in leaving Tyler Rogers off the list. There is absolutely no one who is more fun to watch, that’s for sure — Rogers brings the funk. And in today’s landscape of cookie cutter pitching mechanics that is sure fun to root for. But I’ll admit it: I’m just not a big believer in Tyler’s long-term success. Despite his bizarre release angle and upside-down-world spin and break, Rogers has never been a big strikeout guy in the minor leagues and “praying to the BABIP gods” is an approach I don’t have a lot of faith in in today’s MLB. Can he really survive for four years as an extreme ground ball pitcher? Color me skeptical. Go ahead and book mark this post, however, and use it to mock me if Rogers is coming out of the pen to get crucial outs in 2023. It would be a bet I’d be very happy to come up on the losing side of.
So what else did I get wrong? Let me know if the “Comments” section! It’s been lonely down there lately.
This Date in History
2008: Good MadBum! Madison Bumgarner reached the 10-Win plateau with seven shutout innings, leading Augusta to a 2-0 win over the Rome Braves. Bumgarner struck out 6 and walked no one and lowered his season ERA to 1.81. It would continue to drop as he would allow just 1 earned run over his final 7 starts of the year (including two playoff appearances). He would end the year with 180 strikeouts to just 23 walks.
2009: Bad MadBum! A wild game in Bowie, MD kicked off a fright over Bumgarner’s low velocity readings. I was actually in attendance and reported on Bumgarner throwing in the high 80s which contributed to the subsequent internet frenzy. The teenager also lived up to his nickname, as he was thrown out in the 2nd inning after throwing a beanball following a HR, leading to quite a brawl. Connecticut came back from a 7-2 deficit to take a lead which slipped away in the bottom of the 9th. The Defenders then took 2-run leads in BOTH the 10th and 11th innings, finally holding on to a crazy 13-12 win in 11. The two clubs accounted for 42 hits and Bowie made a stunning 6 errors in the game. Eddy Martinez-Esteve’s 11th inning home run was ultimately the game winner.
2014: The Giants 4th round draft pick made his pro debut as Logan Webb finally took the mound for the AZL Giants. Webb (relieving the 5th round pick, Sam Coonrod) threw a single scoreless inning in the Giants 3-2 victory over the Athletics. The Giants would ease the high school football star into pro ball, letting him appear in just three games and four innings of work. Because Webb would head to short-season ball the following year and then tear his UCL early in 2016, he would throw a total of just 134 innings over his first four seasons combined.
Baseball America dropped their mid-season re-rankings of all the systems yesterday. And as there’s been precious little new information on most players there was minimal movement — just adding in some of the 2020 draft class.
Patrick Bailey slotted in at #6 just after Alex Canario, while LHP Kyle Harrison had the other big placement at #15. LHP Nick Swiney as placed at #22 and 3 Casey Schmitt at #25. SS Aeverson Arteaga, LHP Esmerlin Vinicio, SS Tyler Fitzgerald, and OF Sandro Fabian fell off the back end of the list. RHP Camilo Doval, who is in Sacramento in the Alternate Camp jumped back onto the list at #30 as well.
And speaking of the Alt Camp, the Sacramento River Cats Facebook page is posting some pretty nice pictures of action there, as well as a bird’s eye video camera now and again. Check it out!
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