Pitching is certainly a weakness in the San Francisco Giants prospect system, but there’s more than a few interesting names that could be starters.
Of course, it’s hard to truly predict which pitching prospects will end up as starters versus bullpen pitchers, as so many things can happen during development. Even so, looking through the system, I’ve got a list of nine pitchers that have an interesting chance to perhaps be starters. That said, three pitchers on this list haven’t even thrown a pitch as a pro yet.
Yeah, so if in three years, a few people on this list are in the bullpen….my bad.
The Giants should, however, get at least a couple of these pitchers to help fill out a rotation. There is no ace in this list, and the Giants still have not developed one since Madison Bumgarner, but there are a few guys who have legitimate shots to be in the middle of a rotation. With the prices going for free agent starting pitchers, every role that can be filled from the farm is very positive.
So here’s to the future of the Giants rotation.
#1 – Kyle Harrison
The top spot in this list was a very tight decision, and it’s unusual for me personally to choose the guy who hasn’t thrown a pro pitch yet. I usually weight experience a bit higher than most. But reports showed that Harrison had taken steps forward with both his fastball velocity and his curveball, and that was enough to nudge the young Bay Area native to the front for me.
Harrison was of course the big money signing in the small 2020 draft, and the Giants obviously love his projection in spending the money to get him out of his UCLA commitment. His low 3/4s slot is pretty reminiscent of times of pitchers like Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, but with better control yet less movement. Now that he’s throwing mid-90’s fastball and improving his curve, the Giants see him as potential mid-rotation guy.
#2 – Seth Corry
Corry really broke out in the second half of 2019, and showed off his potential for strikeouts as his control improved enough to let his pitches play up, and any starter with that strikeout stuff, even at a low level, is exciting. Corry’s fastball can sit in the mid-90’s, and his curveball is still improving, but the control had always been his missing tool.
2020 was supposed to be Corry’s chance to prove that 2019 was not a mirage. If it wasn’t, Corry’s got the look of an interesting guy in the middle of a rotation, and gives the Giants two nice left-handed starters, which looks especially nice with the lack of southpaws they’ve had recently.
#3 – Sean Hjelle
If 2020 had happened, Hjelle would’ve been on the doorstep to the Majors in 2021. He’s still going to be pretty close, but he needs to prove himself at Double-A Richmond first. Hjelle’s fastball at last look is low-90’s, but pairing that with control, a vertical curve, and of course the absolutely unique high angle coming to the plate, that should be enough for Hjelle to be an effective pitcher.
In a lot of ways, Hjelle gets overlooked because most people feel very safe about his projection. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but he’ll get a lot of ground balls and should be an interesting counter to an age of batters looking for launch angle. It’s realistic to see him in the middle of the rotation, and to be the next young starter the Giants graduate to the big leagues, probably in 2022.
#4 – Tristan Beck
Some saw Beck as a bit of a steal for the Braves to get in the fourth round of the 2018 draft as he was dealing with injury concerns. The Giants now might look at getting him as a bit of a steal while getting the Braves to take a lot of salary (albeit for a productive pitcher) in the Mark Melancon trade.
Beck is a solid all-around pitcher, with no one standout pitch, but four good ones with good command. He needs a better pitch to get batters out with to really be successful at higher levels, but even so, he has the potential to be a dependable starter and innings eater without a high ceiling. If he stays healthy.
#5 – Kai-Wei Teng
Speaking of strikeout potential, Teng came over to the Giants in a trade in mid-2019, and found his strikeout stuff, racking up a bunch of strikeouts as the season came to a close. Teng has used his slider and changeup the majority of the time, but his fastball could get better integrated into his mix to give him three pitches to work with, and he’s a smart pitcher so he uses them well.
Teng is already a fairly hefty pitcher, and his biggest challenge may be to keep his body in a good condition to handle the rigors of full seasons. It will be very interesting to see how he looks coming out of the 2020 non-season. Teng’s ceiling is probably the back of the rotation unless he continues to be a strikeout machine as he moves up the ladder.
#6 – Nick Swiney
The other top pitcher the Giants took in the 2020 draft, Swiney moved into the rotation at North Carolina State for 2020, and obviously only got a few starts in, but the Giants see him as a starter moving forward. He has a low-90’s fastball with movement, and an inconsistent curveball, but his improved changeup powered his move into the rotation, so he might be able to make the move stick long-term.
If Swiney can get his curveball to consistently be a great pitch, and continue to develop his changeup, he could end up in a mid-rotation role in the bigs. But Swiney carries significant reliever risk, and the Giants will be keeping tabs on him to choose which role is better for him.
#7 – Trevor McDonald
McDonald made big steps forward in 2019 as a high schooler, and that earned him a bigger bonus in the 11th round than had been seen in three years. His other pitches are still developing, but McDonald pairs his mid-90’s fastball with a curveball that fits the tunneling methodology that the Giants are pursuing.
Like Swiney, McDonald holds quite a bit of reliever risk, but there’s still enough ambiguity that I’m slotting him with the starters. He’ll need to develop his changeup further, but if his fastball continues to develop, he could have the makings of a starter with a higher ceiling than most.
#8 – Carson Ragsdale
In a 2021 trade to clear out a roster spot by moving Sam Coonrod, the Giants got a bit of a lottery ticket that demanded placement on this list. Ragsdale’s stuff isn’t the most impressive, with a low-90’s fastball, and a curveball that could continue to grow. But in college, his 2020 season (however abbreviated) was a strikeout machine, including a game against the top team in Division-I. And with a 6’8” frame, there’s still some chance that he could add some velocity to his fastball.
There’s still a lot of mystery in Ragsdale’s long-term future, and he also holds significant reliever risk. But the Giants are at least initially going to work with him as a starter. Still, the Giants essentially got an extra 4th round pick from the 2020 draft, which is nice to help build depth.
#9 – Esmerlin Vinicio
The Giants’ top international signing of 2020, Vinicio was a wiry pitcher with a velocity already in the lower 90’s, and the Giants are hoping that he’ll continue to develop as he adds more strength to his frame.
There’s not much more to say as Vinicio hasn’t had much exposure since signing in 2019. He’ll probably make his debut mid-season in the Arizona League if 2021 continues as expected. We’ll know much more about his future after seeing him throw this year.
Other Names to Know
When it comes to this list, half of the guys in the starting pitcher list might really end up as relievers. And it’s possible a couple of the relievers will show up in the starters list, so that’s definitely a list to look at.
The closest starter who didn’t make this list was Jake Wong, who had a nice debut in Augusta but got hit around in San Jose after a promotion. He needs to build up more velocity to really stick around, and he showed it in relief in college, so tag Wong with reliever risk. He had surgery in October 2020, without any specifics as to what, so his status for the upcoming season is unknown.
Caleb Kilian was a candidate to make one of the lists, but I left him off because we just haven’t seen enough of the 9th rounder to know much about what his future will be. That said, he would not be a surprise to be in either list next year.
Boy, I wish this guy had a huge, slow curveball, but his name is still great. Matt Frisbee was one of the few pitchers to spend all of 2019 in San Jose, and he looked very good doing it, with multiple 10+ strikeout games. But his stuff just doesn’t stand out. If he repeats this performance in Richmond, he’ll be on this list.
In his first full season, Keaton Winn spent most of his year in the rotation, and put up some solid numbers, especially showing off some plus control. But he’ll need to be more overpowering to hitters to really look like he’ll have an impact higher up.