At first glance, this list might look a bit shallow, but that’s a bit by design.
A lot of relief pitchers were once starting pitchers in the minors. Some have moves to relief that were predicted as early as they were drafted or signed. Some switch in the low minor after struggling. Some end up becoming relievers as they make that last step up from the minors to the majors.
This list has several former starting pitchers. It contains a few pitchers whose moves to relief haven’t happened yet, and are my own predictions. It contains one name who was 50/50 about which side of the pitching roster I wanted to put him in.
But regardless of my predictions, it’s likely there will be some pitchers named in the Starting Pitcher rankings that will end up in the bullpen, and it’s possible that there will be pitchers on this rank that stay as starters.
Still…this list does feel a tad weaker than the hard throwing relief corps of the mid 2010’s that the Giants were developing. 2015-16 comes to mind. The team had several pitchers who threw in the high 90’s or 100’s, from Rodolfo Martinez to Dan Slania to Jake Smith to Ian Gardeck to Ray Black to Sam Coonrod and probably others I’m forgetting.
The group from that era just did not end up creating a lot of Major League impact, however. The biggest impact ended up coming from a guy who was a lot lower on the velocity charts and a bit more ignored in the prospect charts: Reyes Moronta. Since making his Major League debut in late 2017, however, he put together two-plus good seasons of pitching in the Majors, missing 2020 with injury, and ultimately that’s what matters, not whether you can put three digits up on a speed gun. Just ask Tyler Rogers.
For today, however, this list resembles the starting pitcher rankings. There’s some guys who do look like potential MLB pieces, and maybe even part of the late-inning group, but there seems like there’s no obvious closers here, just like there’s no obvious ace among the starters.
#1 – Blake Rivera
And we kick things off right away with one of those pitchers who hasn’t yet moved to the bullpen. Rivera spent 2019 as a starter in Augusta, but at the last look, he doesn’t have that third pitch that would get him over the hump as a starter, and holds his top-end velocity longer in shorter stints.
Rivera has one of the better two-pitch pairings for the modern Giants, with a fastball and a 12-6 hammer curve that should work well together as pitching coaches teach tunneling. Baseball America says the fastball could be as high as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and the curve is plus as well. That gives Rivera some chance to be a closer, but definitely aims his future as a late-inning reliever. As with most relievers, Rivera has concerns about his control, but that could be said of the almost any top-flight relief prospect.
#2 – Camilo Doval
Doval was one of three pitchers who the Giants added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, and he has quite the ceiling thanks to a fastball that he can both cut and add sink to thanks to a low right-handed pitching slot. It’s a very unusual slot for power pitchers, which gives him an advantage against the batters he faces.
Doval pairs his fastball with a hard slider, which has become a great out pitch for him against right-handed batters, but Doval’s biggest weakness is his platoon split, where left-handed batters fare significantly better against him. He needs to develop a third pitch to equalize things against lefties to really hit the top tier of relievers, especially if the 3-batter minimum rule stays in effect at the MLB level.
#3 – Gregory Santos
Santos was traded to the Giants in 2017 as a starter, and has stayed in the rotation so far up until 2019, when his season was cut short by soft-tissue injuries. He is another high 90’s fastball pitcher with a hard slider that he uses, but unlike Doval, he does have a third pitch in a changeup, although it is not as mature as it needs to be.
This was the first real case of relief projection I made on a starter, although I’m not the only one to do so with Santos. He has the ceiling of a starter at the back of a rotation, but between those injury issues and being placed on the 40-man roster this offseason, a move to the bullpen makes sense to help him move a little faster to establish himself, and he has a good ceiling in relief in the back of the bullpen.
#4 – Tyler Cyr
To be honest, I was surprised that we heard so little about Cyr in the 2020 season as he was in the Alternate Training Site, much less not making his debut in the Majors. He remains on the verge to start 2021, possibly in the mix for starting the season in the Majors but at least being in Sacramento. Cyr doesn’t have the hardest fastball, and although he hit 99 in 2019, he’s more effective with it in the low-90’s with cut rather than velocity.
Cyr does bring a more balanced approach, as he improved his slurvy breaking pitch so well that it even out his platoon splits in 2019, which could be of an even bigger appeal with a 3-batter minimum still in place. Cyr doesn’t have any real closer potential, but does have the ceiling of being a regular setup pitcher at the back of the bullpen.
#5 – Kervin Castro
Castro is the third pitcher on this list that was added to the 40-man roster, and was honestly the biggest surprise of the bunch. He reportedly really impressed in the instructional league in fall of 2020, but his last level was at Salem-Keizer in 2019, and had a long injury history behind him. But the Giants though he was a risk to get plucked away and kept in the Majors by another team, so he’s on the 40-man roster. Castro might have been on the starting pitcher list, but with the need for him to make the Majors by 2024 or risk being exposed to waivers, I’m predicting he’ll be shifted to the bullpen to help move up the system quickly.
Castro’s reported improvement in his fastball put him in the mid-to-upper 90’s, although he’s had a lot of variance in that velocity in the past. His offspeed pitches, a change and a curve, are both about average right now. It will be very interesting to see him on the diamond in 2021 to see where he’s at and how he’ll respond to what will need to be an aggressive movement in the system.
#6 – Melvin Adon
Adon has been a mainstay on Giants prospect lists for years, but after years of being unable to capitalize on his potential, he’s fallen off of most. That should probably be a statement about his placement here, what that means for the depth of this list, and the guys below him. But Adon has a top-tier fastball that can not be taught, and that remains tantalizing.
Adon was actually a free agent this year, and returned to the Giants as a free agent. He gets to be this high because, if he’s healthy, he’s on the verge of the Majors if he can show any improvement. That “if” is a big question, because he suffered an apparent injury in a winter league game. I doubt any team will trust Adon in high-leverage situations, but he still could end up as a tantalizing piece.
#7 – Dedniel Núñez
Núñez comes to the Giants via the Rule 5 draft, which puts his status as very questionable, as the Giants haven’t kept a Rule 5 pick for a full season in a long time, and in the Zaidi era, they haven’t lasted even two full months. So how long will Núñez work out?
Núñez does have a mid-90’s fastball when healthy, with better control than most pitchers with that kind of velocity. He doesn’t have a great out pitch, and has some mechanical stuff to work with. He’s a former starter, but will certainly be in the bullpen with the Giants. Will he stay with the Giants all season and become a full-time Giant? We shall see.
#8 – R.J. Dabovich
Dabovich turned to the bullpen in his brief 2020 season at Arizona State, and so he lands on this relief pitcher list. He could be moved back to a starter role, however. He’ll need quite a bit of refinement, in whichever role he goes to.
His fastball is in the high 90’s and he gets good spin, but he has some serious control issues. He has three offspeed pitches, but none of them are really good yet, and the Giants have have him work on refining just one or two if he moves to relief. Dabovich could profile in the back end of the bullpen with time.
#9 – Manuel Mercedes
This might be the most controversial placement I make. Mercedes was an international signing in 2019, and has yet to make his pro debut, so there’s little to know about him right now. He could go into either role, but I admit that I’m doing a little projection based on similar pitchers to him.
Mercedes comes with a fastball-slider combo, with a fastball that could get up to 100 mph and a hard slider. He also comes with control problems. Where have we seen that before? I expect the Giants will initially push Mercedes as a starter, and they should to see what he can do. But this is a common profile so I’m putting the odds here on his future. But it might change by next year.
#10 – Jose Marte
I admit, pushing the list to 10 here was a bit of a stretch. But Jose Marte is a bit of a lottery ticket. Up until now, the Giants have kept him as a starter, and he has the body to handle the stress of the role, but he’s struggled up through 2019. However, there was an improvement in one way, giving up less hits, that gives some hope.
If Marte gets converted to reliever, it could give him a little boost. He might be effective in short bursts to stop his control problems from overwhelming him. There’s a lot of risk and a huge chance that the conversion won’t change his future, but there’s just enough of a chance to have him round out the list.
Other Names To Know
Oh my, there are a lot of relievers in the system, so I could go on forever. But there are a couple of guys worth throwing out there.
I really wanted to get Patrick Ruotolo on this list, but…there’s just too many questions about his stuff (partially, because of 2020) as he missed much of 2019 with injuries. Ruotolo has succeeded almost everywhere he’s gone, but he doesn’t have the kind of pitching stuff that projects. He does have great deception, and maybe that’s enough. If he proves himself at a higher level, he’ll make this list, so we’ll see what 2021 holds.
A 2019 draft pick worth keeping an eye on is 18th rounder Cole Waites. He has a live fastball, and of course that will get you noticed in anyone looking for relievers. There are a lot of questions, including control, but also that hitters can hit him the way that’s plagued Adon most of his career, but he has a lot of time to develop.
There are many others. Frank Rubio had a fantastic 2019, and so did Jesus Tona. Sam Wolff is still on the verge. And Raffi Vizcaino is still teasing his talent. Not to mention, all the starters who could covert. Just keep your eyes open!