by DrLefty

This was not the plan. Luis Matos was not meant to be the everyday centerfielder for most of the 2024 season. The catchers were not meant to be Blake Sabol and Curt Casali. Mason Black was not meant to be in the rotation. Marco Luciano was not meant to be…well, I guess he was, and then he wasn’t, and now he (kind of) is again. And Heliot Ramos? He was one of the first 40-man players optioned to minor league camp this spring. That’s how not in the plan he was.

And yet here we are.

In a dizzying series of events, the Giants have lost both of their original catchers, three outfielders, the Opening Day shortstop, and two of the five starters they had penciled in for the early season rotation. Now, as we’ll break down, some of these situations are more temporary than others. But I can’t recall ever seeing one team get so decimated by injuries in such a short period of time.

 

The Really Bad News

As we feared, Jung Hoo Lee‘s rookie season is over not long after it started. The Giants announced yesterday afternoon that he would undergo labium surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. That procedure has a six-month recovery, but he is expected to be fully ready for spring training.

There are so many ways this is a bummer. The Giants finally had their centerfielder. They had a charismatic presence whom the fans were quickly falling in love with. And you have to feel for this young man who moved here from Korea and played major league baseball with so much evident joy.

We’ll miss you Jung Hoo. Get well and see you in Scottsdale.

 

The Bad News

The catching situation is a mess. Tom Murphy‘s knee injury is serious enough that he’s now on the 60-day IL. Patrick Bailey came off the concussion IL for one day and went right back on it. The Giants were concerned enough that they sent Bailey to Pittsburgh to see the concussion specialist who treated Brandon Belt years ago. Meanwhile, the Giants were reminded that Sabol really can’t catch, and the other AAA catcher they brought up, Jakson Reetz, took mostly uncompetitive at-bats.

The better news is that the Pittsburgh doctor was pleased with how Bailey is doing and cleared him to resume baseball activities. And that Zaidi went out and got old friend Casali back into the organization and immediately into the lineup, where he helped Logan Webb finally beat the Dodgers on Wednesday night.

Still, the fact that the Giants have already used six different catchers this season–the five named in the previous paragraph and Joey Bart–shows how precarious their situation is. They lost Bailey and Murphy within a 24-hour period and had to rush Sabol and Reetz to Philadelphia on red-eye flights. And while the reacquisition of Casali was a decent pivot under the circumstances, it goes to show how shortsighted it was to get into the position where Bart had to be DFA’d.

 

Eh, Whatever

I’m not all that worried about the injuries to Nick Ahmed, Austin Slater, or Keaton Winn. Ahmed was a nice stopgap who was playing good defense, but he is really a glove-first (or glove-ony?) guy. In a healthier situation, he’s a nice backup option to the real shortstop, not the guy. Slater was off to a dreadful start at the plate. From Andrew Baggarly’s article yesterday, it sounds like he’s not near a return, either. Depending how Matos and Ramos continue to progress, there may not be room for him even when he’s healthy again. As for Winn, he’d had three rough starts in a row and was likely going to be on an innings restriction this year, anyway. Maybe it’s OK if he moves to the bullpen when he’s ready to return.

Other than Lee, and of course Bailey, Michael Conforto was the biggest loss of the whole list, since he has actually been one of the better hitters this season and was getting back on a roll when he pulled his hamstring. And Jorge Soler is already back (leading off?), so the lineup is getting back to some semblance of normal.

 

So…The Kids

Luis Matos, it’s your time. Matos got a decent run in the majors last year, where he was an OK hitter and a shaky outfielder. The Giants asked him to add some weight and muscle over the offseason, which he did, and he had a great spring, in fact leading the team in homers. But with veterans Conforto, Slater, Lee, and Mike Yastrzemski ensconced in the outfield, there was no room for Matos, and off to AAA he went. When the first of those (Conforto) went down, it was Ramos, who’d been hitting better in AAA than Matos had, who got the first call-up. But now with Lee out for the year, the Giants have said that CF is Matos’s job for now.

His first couple of games out there were rough and reminded us of how not ready for CF he looked last year. But then bench coach Ryan Christiansen changed his positioning, and on Wednesday, Matos leapt over the wall and robbed a homer from the Dodgers’ Teoscar Hernandez.

 

The Giants believe that Matos can handle CF with time, coaching, and experience. It’s worth remembering that in 2022, he won an award for best defender in the Arizona Fall League, and as recently as the 2023 preseason, he was being described as an “elite defender” whom the Giants had added to the 40-man roster despite a poor 2022 season at the plate because they believed in his value and didn’t want to lose him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Oh, and then there’s the hitting. Since coming up last weekend, Matos has gone 7 for 21 with 11 RBIs, including five last night. That game put Matos in some pretty select company in Giants history.

 

There’s a long way to go in this season, and we’ll see where Matos ends up. But he’s been a top prospect for a few years and is still just 22 years old. If we sadly don’t get to watch Lee this year, seeing what Matos can do is some consolation.

What if Matos can’t hack it in CF? Well, Yaz can slide over there if needed, though manager Bob Melvin understandably prefers Yaz in RF, where he’s terrific. But another intriguing development this week is that 2019 first-rounder Hunter Bishop was promoted to AAA–and he’s raking there so far (7 for 16 with two homers and an OPS of 1.313). Bishop was not promoted because he was setting the world on fire in AA. He was promoted because the Sacramento River Cats were running out of outfielders after they all got called up to the Giants. But if he puts things together at the plate, it’s worth remembering that he’s a CF and supposedly a pretty good one.

Not that we want Matos to fail. We don’t, not at all. But it would be quite a redemption story for Bishop and for Farhan Zaidi if he somehow broke through and made his MLB debut.

We should also talk about Ramos. As I said, he was playing well enough in Sacramento that he got called up before Matos did. And so far he’s been impressive, playing some stellar defense in the corners (two outfield assists in RF and a diving catch in LF in the same game). At the moment, Ramos is hitting .281 with a .344 on-base percentage. He’s struck out 12 times in 35 plate appearances, so that’s something to watch, but overall his approach at the plate looks better than it has in his previous brief call-ups to the majors.

Talk about a redemption story if he keeps it up. Like Bishop, Ramos had dropped off of the Giants’ top-30 prospect list…and unlike Bishop, Ramos wasn’t drafted by the Zaidi regime, so he probably wasn’t going to get as much consideration (see Bart, Joey). But Ramos is still only 24 years old, even if it seems like he’s been around forever (the Giants drafted him out of high school in 2017).

Other “kids” who are making an impression this week: Randy Rodriguez and Sean Hjelle. Rodriguez, also 24, was an international signee in 2017. In the minors, he’s had tons of strikeouts but also too many walks and not great command. Since being called up to the Giants, he’s pitched 8.2 innings and struck out 12. He’s got filthy-looking stuff that touches triple digits. Hjelle, like Ramos and Bishop, is another guy who appeared to be completely off the radar, and justifiably so. He just wasn’t very good. But he finished last season strongly and made a good impression on Melvin, who’d watched him from the opposing dugout. In ten games this season, he has a 2.71 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings. He’s looking like a very solid middle relief option. Erik Miller continues to impress, as well.

Finally, Luciano was called up this week after injuries had gotten the team to the point where they only had two 40-man position players left in Sacramento (Luciano and David Villar). He sat on the bench for a couple days, and then yesterday, the Giants demoted Casey Schmitt, who’d been playing a slick shortstop but not hitting at all (his Mother’s Day walk-off hit being a nice exception, though). Looks like Luciano is now getting a shot at SS, at least until Ahmed returns…but if Luciano hits and plays SS OK, we’ll see. He went 1 for 4 with an RBI single last night.

 

What’s Next?

Other than Lee, these injured players will return before too long. Blake Snell had two stellar rehab outings this week, including five no-hit/ten K innings in Sacramento last night, so you figure he’ll be back in the Giants’ rotation for his next turn. Conforto and Bailey don’t sound like they’re too far off. So we’ll have an interesting couple of weeks where we see how the young outfielders, Luciano, Black, and the younger bullpen guys are doing.

It’s too soon to talk about DFA’ing or trading veterans, but depending on (a) how the youngsters look and (b) where the team is overall, there could be an argument in July for offloading some veterans and giving young players a longer run. Beyond the obvious (maybe cut ties with Slater and move Ahmed to a backup role), what if there’s interest in Conforto at the trade deadline? Or veteran relievers Luke Jackson and Taylor Rogers? Both of those guys have been weak links, relatively speaking, but they’re veterans with a track record, and there may be teams desperate for relief help who would like to have one of them. I’d rather see some of the Giants’ younger arms in those roles, looking toward the future. Anyway, plenty of time to consider those questions.

 

Today’s Game

Rockies at Giants, Oracle Park, 1:05 p.m.

#ForeverGiant Ty Blach vs. Kyle Harrison

The Giants will try once again for their elusive third straight win. MrLefty and I, having come to town yesterday for his birthday, will be at the ballpark to try to help them do it. I’m excited to see Harrison in person for the first time. As for Blach, thanks for the memories (I still have an autographed scorecard from a great start he had with the River Cats), but you’d hope the Giants’ energized lineup (double digit runs last night, baby!) could get to him. Beyond the “kids,” it was nice to see Thairo Estrada, Matt Chapman, and Yaz have big games at the plate last night after slow starts for all three. (Thairo is now tied for the team lead in homers, just like we all predicted back in February!)

Have a nice Saturday, all. Lefty out.