Patrick Bailey on team photo day in spring training. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Aloha from West Maui, where MrLefty and I have been since Monday afternoon. Since I’m on sabbatical this quarter, we booked two weeks at our timeshare property on Ka’anapali Beach. The Mr is on the clock on weekdays, but since California is three hours later, we can go do what we want after 2 p.m, plus the two weekends. As for me, I’m spending a couple hours in the morning walking on the beach and going to the gym (they have Peloton bikes!) and then putting in a couple of light hours on my sabbatical research project. Life is tough.
Big news, though: For the first time in well, ever, I am set up to actually watch Giants games on our TV in Hawaii. MLB.TV is still blacked out, but I can get the games on the NBC Sports app. (I link to my cable provider back home to have access to NBCS-BA.) I brought a Roku stick for the TV in our unit, and Roku has an NBC Sports channel/app. So voila, I can actually watch the games live if I want to. In past trips, I could only watch games that were nationally televised or watch the MyTeams app on my phone. This is better.
Last night on a sunset cruise, we met a young couple from North Carolina who were on their honeymoon. They grew up in Madison Bumgarner’s part of the state, so we talked about him for awhile. The guy also was very knowledgeable about NC State baseball and already knew that Patrick Bailey had been called up that day.
So far, the Giants are undefeated (4-0) since we got to Maui, so we may never be coming home.
This Week in Giants Baseball
After an especially desultory weekend of losing 3 of 4 in Arizona, the Giants bounced back with an impressive home sweep against the Phillies, who in case you’ve forgotten are the defending NL champions and added Trea Turner in the offseason, and last night’s 4-3 win over the Marlins and defending NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. I agree with Alex Pavlovic’s comment on the latest Giants Talk that the Phils looked “flat,” but–they’re still a quality team, and it was a surprisingly good series for the Giants. In particular, they won the last four games without hitting a single homer. They also won the four games without a single starter finishing the sixth inning, so the bullpen was heavily used–and stood up to the challenge, covering 19.1 innings and giving up four earned runs, which is an ERA of under 2 in that stretch. Speaking of the bullpen, was last night the first time that one Rogers brother came in and cleaned up after the other? Anyway, nice job with the save, Tyler.
Most notable were the three straight saves against the Phillies by Camilo Doval, the first time since Sergio Romo did it in 2013 that a Giants closer saved all three games in a sweep. If you haven’t checked stats lately, Doval leads the NL with 11 saves in 12 opportunities–not bad for a guy whose team still has a losing record, so fewer opportunities. Doval is an elite closer now. Also from the same Giants Talk, Alex wants you to stop comparing Doval to Brian Wilson on the relatively infrequent occasions he struggles to get through a ninth inning. If you think Doval is bringing “torture,” you’ve forgotten what Wilson’s ninth innings could be like.
Meanwhile, the Casey Schmitt Show just keeps being a crowd-pleaser. Alex said he saw people wearing Schmitt jerseys at the ballpark during the Phillies series, and no, I don’t think they were all related to Casey. Casey is still hitting .400 and is still looking for his first big league walk, but we’ll forgive him because he’s had 16 hits and only 7 strikeouts in 40 ABs/PAs. He’s also played three different positions in his nine-game big league career and looked good at all of them. At 3B, he looks elite, as evidenced by three throws to first in Wednesday’s game that were 91 MPH or higher, including the one that broke his own previous record for the hardest throw by an infielder in MLB this season. He already has two defensive runs saved at 3B in just six games there.
Casey Schmitt 94.1-mph dart 😲 pic.twitter.com/GNlaOKl4Po
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) May 17, 2023
Future, Meet Present
So we’re all excited about Casey’s debut, of course. It reminds me a lot of Buster Posey taking the baseball world by storm in May 2010 and beyond. I’m not saying Schmitt will have a career like Posey’s–that’s an unfair expectation to put on anyone–but I can’t remember another rookie being this dynamic, this quickly.
But there’s more. On Friday it was announced that Casey’s 2020 draft class buddy, catcher Patrick Bailey, has been promoted to the big leagues because Joey Bart has returned to the IL with the groin strain that’s been bothering him all season. Once Bailey was promoted to Sacramento, we all knew it was a matter of time before he joined the Giants. Bailey instantly becomes the best defensive catcher on the team. That’s no knock on Bart, who’s done a fine job, but Bailey won a minor league Gold Glove last year, and the Giants’ coaching staff in spring training felt that Bailey’s glove was already major league ready (like Schmitt’s was, as well). As Andrew Baggarly pointed out in his story yesterday in The Athletic, Bailey has only played a total of 28 games in AA and AAA, and that’s a really fast track. It shows how highly they regard his defensive ability and how badly they want to stabilize the catching position in the post-Buster era.
A few months ago, we all probably assumed that top lefty prospect Kyle Harrison would be the first 2020 draftee to crack the majors, but now both Schmitt and Bailey have beaten him to the punch. This isn’t necessarily surprising given that Schmitt and Bailey played college ball while Harrison was a high school draftee. Two other 2020 draftees, Nick Swiney and R.J. Dabovich, are also in AAA. The 2020 draft class could provide the redemptive arc that the flailing Zaidi regime so desperately needs.
A much lesser-known prospect, righty reliever Ryan Walker, was also promoted Friday, as Ross Stripling went on the IL with the back strain that knocked him out of Wednesday’s start. Walker is a 2018 draft pick (31st round!) who’s already 27 years old. He’s had a solid minor league career until now, but this year, he’s been terrific in Sacramento, with an ERA and WHIP both under 1 and 23 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. The Giants can certainly use some infusions of talent in their bullpen from AAA, so welcome and congrats to Ryan Walker. It’s nice to see an underdog (and a 31st rounder who’s 27 is an underdog, for sure) beating the odds.
Ryan Walker in AAA this year: 20 1/3 innings, 2 earned runs, 23 strikeouts. The 27-year-old showed enough this spring that Giants brought him to Bay Bridge Series (also lol at Casey Schmitt casually throwing 93 mph on this play): pic.twitter.com/jjbkjMS76l
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) May 19, 2023
Future Coming Closer
In addition to these high-profile major league debuts, there have been other notable promotions this week. Outfielder Luis Matos was promoted from AA Richmond to AAA Sacramento, and this is significant because Matos is already on the 40-man. Matos lost his top prospect status after a poor 2022 season, but he had a strong spring and good first month in AA, and he’s back on the map. Matos is still just 21 years old, and like his AAA buddies Bailey and Schmitt, is an elite defensive player at his position–center field. And with all of these old outfielders with their soft tissue injuries and opt-outs, could the Giants use a young, athletic, homegrown outfielder to hold down CF for years to come? Yes, please.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, we keep our eye on top prospect Marco Luciano (also on the 40), on outfielder Vaun Brown, who just returned to Richmond after a rehab assignment, and on this year’s “Vaun Brown,” also known as Wade Meckler, who just hasn’t stopped hitting since the day he turned pro…which was less than a year ago, yet he’s already in AA. Brown and Meckler were the only two position players* drafted by the Giants in the top 10 rounds in 2021 and 2022–the Giants went very heavy on pitching both years–so I’d say those picks are paying off, at least so far. Oh, and don’t forgot about another top prospect outfielder, Grant McCray, currently in Eugene. McCray got off to an awful start, but he’s hitting .273 with an .881 OPS and 5 homers in May. McCray also has 15 stolen bases already this season. He was drafted out of high school in the third round in 2019, so he’s still just 22 years old. Meanwhile, another Brown/Meckler type, outfielder Matt Higgins, is raking for San Jose. Higgins played five-ish (-ish because of COVID) years for Bellarmine and was an undrafted free agent signed by the Giants last year.
*I’m not counting Reggie Crawford as a position player here because the Giants appear to be focusing on him as a pitcher.
OK, except for Harrison and Walker, we’ve only talked about hitters. How is that big crop of pitchers the Giants have drafted lately coming along? Well, thanks for asking.
This mostly focuses on #SFGiants prospects on the cusp of the majors, but a positive note a little further away:
7 of their 8 pitchers from first 10 rds of 2022 draft have thrown for San Jose (A). Their combined numbers: 121 IP, 3.26 ERA, 166 K, 52 BB.https://t.co/UMucqAmmjP
— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) May 19, 2023
The Future is Bright?
It’s too early to draw conclusions about the top prospects this year, but things certainly are looking better than they did in 2022. Last year we had breakout seasons from guys like Schmitt and Brown and a future star emerging in Harrison, but a lot of other disappointments. Now top prospects like Matos and Bailey are top-prospecting again. And overall, the affiliates are winning games and doing well. My way-too-soon guess is that the midseason rankings of minor league systems will see the Giants back on the rise. Is this because the Giants hired a new GM with a strong player development background (Pete Putila)? Maybe–hard to say, but it couldn’t hurt, right?
So here on May 20, we’ve already seen (or are about to) major league debuts for Schmitt, Bailey, Walker, and Tristan Beck, plus imports Blake Sabol, Brett Wisely and some other guy who’s gone already (sorry, Cal). It is not at all unrealistic to think we could also see Harrison, maybe even Matos, and possibly another couple of relievers up from AAA at some point this season. Also, Tyler Fitzgerald, a middle infielder who was the Giants’ fourth-round pick in 2019, was having a great year and named AAA Player of the Week last week but went down with an injury a couple days ago. The Giants seem pretty well stocked in the infield for the moment, even to the point where they sent David Villar back to AAA, but–you never know, especially when your #1 shortstop is 36 years old with bad knees.
I’m still not sure I believe in the 2023 Giants, who just seem to have too many old and easily injured guys to be sustainable this season. I resonated with Grant Brisbee’s lede in his latest Athletic article:
The 2023 Giants are a maddening and confusing baseball team. They’re fun until they aren’t, and they’re a drag until they’re fun. They’ll string together games that give you hope, and they’ll string together games that give you ulcers. Anyone who tells you they know how this season will progress is lying.
That said, I’m extremely pleased with the turn this season has taken over the last week or two, and not just because the Giants have won a few games. But as others have also noted, if this isn’t going to be a great year for the Giants, I’d sure rather see some young guys get major league experience and others be moved to the upper minors so that there’s hope for a homegrown future that is more appealing than what we’ve been watching the last year or so. Frank Novak did a nice job of addressing this in his guest post yesterday, and in an interview this week with Farhan Zaidi, Baggarly also confirmed the impression that the Giants are being less conservative/more aggressive with prospect promotions this year. Finally.
That said…there’s so much parity (or, uh, mediocrity) in the NL this year, that the Giants are far from out of things, despite still having a losing record and a negative run differential. Going into today’s play, they are only 1.5 games behind the final NL wild card spot…and playing the team that is currently in that spot.
Marlins at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Braxton Garrett vs. Logan Webb
The Crawfords’ older son is named Braxton, and I’d never heard that name until he came along, but I guess he’s not the only one. Speaking of the ever-growing Crawford clan, they did their gender reveal this week, and it’s a girl (they already had two of each, so girls win 3-2). Meanwhile, Jalynne’s twin sister, Janelle, just gave birth to twin boys, so she and her husband also have five children. Yowza!
I’ll leave you with a nice zen photo of a Maui sunset, taken by MrLefty at the restaurant where we had his birthday dinner on Wednesday. Think happy thoughts about a bright, bright Giants future. Lefty out.