So the 2023 trade deadline came and went, and the Giants basically passed. Why? Well, there are two distinct but related reasons. First, the players available for trade weren’t all that appealing. There was no Juan Soto sweepstakes this year. Second, Giants’ head honcho Farhan Zaidi likes his rookies and near-rookies (i.e., prospects), and he didn’t want to give any of them up for someone who wasn’t going to move the needle much. If you haven’t heard it, NBCS-BA’s (Laura Britt & Alex Pavlovic) interview with Zaidi a couple of days ago is worth a listen/watch.
You can buy into that argument if you want to. You can also point out that there’s a difference between “burning your top prospects for a rental schmoe” and “doing nothing.” Not doing the first doesn’t necessitate the second. But here we are, that’s what happened, and now we’ll see what the next couple of months hold for the 2023 Giants. In the meantime, let’s talk about all those rookies and prospects whom the front office did not want to lose.
So. Many. Rookies!
I picked a photo of Blake Sabol for the featured image because once upon a time, he was the only Giants’ rookie on the roster–and that only because the Giants could not send him down since he was a Rule 5 draft acquisition. Technically, that’s not exactly right–Brett Wisely was on the Opening Day roster, and then Bryce Johnson replaced him a day or two later, but I’m not really counting either of them because they didn’t stick long and are both in AAA now. Sabol is the only Giants rookie who’s been on the roster this whole season.
But he’s had lots of company: Pitchers Tristan Beck, Keaton Winn, and Ryan Walker all made their MLB debuts this season. On the position player side, there’s been Casey Schmitt, Patrick Bailey, Luis Matos, and a brief cameo by Marco Luciano. With the exceptions of Winn, who’s injured but was in AAA, and Luciano, who went back to AAA this week, all of the others are currently part of the MLB roster. Let’s check in on how they’re doing, and I’ll leave Luciano for the next section, since four MLB games isn’t much of a sample size.
In order of current Fangraphs WAR (in parentheses):
- Patrick Bailey (2.0): Despite having cooled off substantially at the plate in July (current WRC+ is 86), Bailey’s defense is so stellar that he’s one of the most valuable position players on the team, tied for second with LaMonte Wade Jr. and behind only Thairo Estrada (2.5).
- Blake Sabol (0.8): Sabol has a league average wRC+ of 100 and has hit 11 homers. Though he’s a huge drop-off defensively from Bailey behind the plate, everyone keeps saying he’s improving. This is turning out to be an outstanding Rule 5 acquisition, beyond just the fact that he played for USC and seems like a delightful young man.
- Ryan Walker (0.5): Walker came seemingly out of nowhere this season. He was drafted in the 31st round in 2018 and is already well past 27 years old. But ever since he showed up on May 21, he’s just been quietly effective in different roles, including opener (he’s started seven games) and multiple-inning relief (he’s gone 2.2-3 innings in four appearances).
- Tristan Beck (0.2): Beck is also 27 and was acquired in 2019 in a trade that sent Mark Melancon to the Braves. He’s been back and forth between AAA and MLB four times, and that’s becoming a math problem. They can option him just one more time this year before they’d have to put him on waivers. Beck is 3-0 with two saves and a 2.73 ERA. When you consider that they’ve not only yo-yoed Beck between Sacramento and San Francisco but also have used him in roles he wasn’t used to (Beck had always been a starter in his pro career and has yet to start a game for the Giants), he’s done GREAT.
- Luis Matos (-0.3): Matos has a 82 wRC+. Fangraphs doesn’t love him defensively, but those metrics can be screwy sometimes. Last year, the metrics hated Estrada at 2B and this year, they love him. Thairo looked fine to me last year, and Matos looks better than fine to me in CF–he looks like a guy who could win multiple Gold Gloves.
- Casey Schmitt (-0.8): Poor ol’ Casey. He’s had a rough go of it at the plate (wRC+ 51), and were it not for the injury to Estrada plus a couple of shorter IL stays for Brandon Crawford, Schmitt would likely have been back in AAA a month ago. But defense doesn’t slump, and Schmitt has been valuable and above average at three different infield positions.
In addition to the six rookies who are currently on the MLB roster, as mentioned, others who have debuted this year include Wisely, Winn, and Luciano. Bryce Johnson also began the year still with rookie status. The Giants also have other prospects now at AAA who could join the big club this season or certainly by 2024:
- Marco Luciano: Luciano is the big name, and a lot of fans were excited when he was suddenly called up after just six games at AAA–and then bummed when he was optioned after the trade deadline acquisition of A.J. Pollock. He’s had an odd year: missed time in AA due to a back injury, was suddenly promoted to AAA despite numbers that didn’t jump out at you, and then before you knew it, there he was in Oracle Park making his major league debut. The key facts to keep in mind are (a) the Giants really, really believe in his future; and (b) if the Giants are right about him, he’s the big middle-of-the-order power bat that the Giants have been trying and failing to either home grow or sign as a free agent. He’s one to dream on, for sure.
- Kyle Harrison: Luciano’s “one to dream on” pitching counterpart is Harrison, who’s been in AAA all season. Like Matos and Luciano, Harrison is very young (21 for a few more days). He’s been out of action for a few weeks with a hamstring injury, but he’s rejoining the River Cats this week, and Zaidi said in his interview that it will be a “start to start” decision when Harrison is called up. With both Luciano and Harrison, it seems important to look beyond the obvious stats. With Luciano, his manager at AA was raving about him–the quality of his plate appearances, his defense, his power. With Harrison, it’s his elite stuff that misses bats. Also, as to Harrison, one might predict that he’d actually walk fewer hitters in MLB because he won’t be dealing with the ABS system that’s used in AAA and because he’ll be reunited with Bailey, who will steal strikes for him.
- Mason Black: Black isn’t as big of a name, but he’s the current #8 Giants prospect on MLB.com. The Giants took all pitchers in the first nine rounds of the 2021 draft, and Black, the third-rounder, has emerged as the best of them so far. Black began this season in AA, had a slow start, and then was excellent in June, earning a promotion to AAA in July. Including four innings last night, he has a 4.91 ERA in AAA with 27 strikeouts in 22 innings. He is a definite possibility for next year’s rotation and even for this year if he gets rolling. (As with Harrison, don’t get too hung up on AAA numbers. It’s a weird league for pitchers. You have to have eyes on them. I watched Black’s first AAA start and thought he looked poised and nasty.)
- Wade Meckler: Meckler may be the most intriguing name on this list. Drafted just last year in the eighth round, he’s already in AAA and has moved quickly this year after starting in Eugene. Meckler is a hit-for-average/speed/defense outfielder. He has 56 walks and 55 strikeouts in his pro career so far. He’s undersized and may never hit for much power, but they said that about Mike Yastrzemski, too. Meckler could be a top-of-the-order fixture in the Giants’ lineup by sometime next year.
- Carson Whisenhunt (honorable mention): Whisenhunt, like Meckler, was a 2022 draftee (second round) who has pitched at three levels this year. I’m cheating a bit because The Whiz is not yet in AAA, but Zaidi said this week that he probably would have gotten there this year if he hadn’t been injured (he has a sprained left elbow and may be shut down for the season). It is worth remembering that Whisenhunt did not pitch much last year, having lost his final college season to a PEDs suspension, so his workload may have caught up to him. With the graduations of Matos and Schmitt from the top prospect list, Whisenhunt is now the Giants’ #3 prospect. Assuming he is not seriously injured, he will likely start 2024 in AAA and may even compete for a rotation spot (if “rotation” is even a thing for the Giants anymore).
- In AAA but on the fringes: Tyler Fitzgerald, a 2019 draftee who is mainly a middle infielder but has also started playing some outfield this year. Fitzgerald is not even in the Giants’ top 30 but is having a breakout season, with an .850 OPS, 15 homers, and 22 stolen bases between AA and AAA. The Giants did not protect him from the Rule 5 Draft last year but might have to consider doing so this year. Also Heliot Ramos, still just 23 and the Giants’ #17 prospect, who is having a solid year in AAA after missing two months with an oblique strain (.309 BA/.938 OPS, 11 HRs in 175 ABs).
- Further away but still intriguing: For the first time I can remember since I started seriously following the minor leagues, the River Cats are the most interesting team to keep track of. But there are plenty of names to tuck away for future reference, including Vaun Brown (AA), Landon Roupp (AA), Grant McCray (A+), Hayden Birdsong (AA), Diego Velasquez (A), and Rayner Arias (DSL-Giants Black). Arias is the highest ranked international signing since Luciano in 2018 and is off to an excellent start in his pro career. And, of course, there are recent draftees Reggie Crawford (who is still being brought along slooooooowly as a pitcher but was promoted to Eugene recently), Bryce Eldridge (another two-way player who unlike Crawford profiles more as a lefty power hitter than a pitcher), and Walker Martin (second-round pick, high school shortstop).
I could list more, but you get the idea. The Giants, sort of suddenly, have a loaded farm system. They are promoting prospects more quickly and aggressively than I can ever remember. And the new GM, Pete Putila, was the head of player development for the Astros, who are the gold standard in homegrown talent. And, after the trade deadline that really wasn’t, we still have all of them. The implications for the 40-man roster/Rule 5 Draft this fall are a topic for another day.
This Week in Giants Baseball
The Giants won five of six games this week and finished their home stand at 7-2. They are still not hitting. In the four games this week against the Diamondbacks, they scored twelve runs and somehow won the last game despite getting only two hits. The team ERA during the nine games was under 2, and that will win you some games. Maybe the bats can get it going against the A’s this weekend.
The Giants helped themselves by beating a direct divisional/wild card opponent in 3 of 4, and they were also helped by other teams losing. As a result, they sit at the top of the wild card standings and still 3 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. So despite their persistent offensive struggles and not doing much at the trade deadline, they’re in good shape. This week they have a brief road trip–two games in Oakland, three in Anaheim–before coming home to start the toughest part of their schedule. The rest of August goes Rangers, Rays, Braves, Phillies, Braves again, Reds, and then a series in San Diego starting the last day of the month.
Giants at A’s, 4:07 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum
Ross Stripling (!!!) vs. TBD
Hey look! A starter!
It’s possible that Harrison will start for the River Cats tonight, and for a brief second, we thought of heading out to the park to see him and Luciano (who hadn’t gotten to AAA yet the last time we were there). But then we looked at the weather forecast and decided that watching the game on TV sounds just great. Stay cool out there, y’all. Lefty out.