In the first year after the major minor league reshuffling, the Arizona League went through some big changes, starting right with the name: it became the Arizona Complex League (ACL) instead of the Arizona League or Arizona Summer League (AZL). But for the Giants, it was the same desert circuit for some of the team’s youngest players.
As in the past few minor league seasons, the Giants fielded two teams in the circuit, known as Orange and Black. For the most part, players stuck with one team or the other. Of the 15 MLB teams who participated in the ACL, the Giants were one of three teams to field two squads.
However, the ACL featured a streaming selection of players from the Giants organization. Looking at the roster, the team featured many of the team’s young international prospects, including some of the top ones from the 2019 and 2020 signing classes making their debuts, and also a number of the team’s younger prospects from past drafts. Several players who started the season on full-season teams but struggled came back to play in the ACL, be it for a short time like Patrick Bailey, or for the full ACL season like Garrett Frechette. And the team also featured more than a few of the team’s 2021 draftees making their debut, such as first round pick Will Bednar.
Today, we’ll take a look at 10 prospects worth taking a look at after impressive seasons in the ACL. We’ll avoid some of the obvious names, like the top 2021 draft picks, and players who spent relatively little time in the desert. Success in the desert isn’t a guarantee of future success, and failure of those who did not make this list is not a guarantee of future struggles.
Aeverson Arteaga, SS
Arteaga came into the ACL as perhaps the most anticipated prospect in the level, and he did not disappoint. He was the team’s top-paid international signing in the 2019 class, getting paid $1.2 million. Arteaga hit .290/.362/.495 with 12 doubles and a Giants-leading nine home runs, along with eight steals in eight attempts. Arteaga had 69 strikeouts in 197 at-bats, but also had a solid walk rate with 23. He was also one of the ACL’s most consistent players, playing in a squad high 56 games. Arteaga came into the Giants system with a reputation for being a defense-first player, but adding in a good offensive side gives the Giants an excellent shortstop prospect behind Marco Luciano.
Alexander Suarez, CF
The Giants signed Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and Jairo Pomares all in the 2018 signing class, which would already be one of the all-time great signing classes. Add in Matos’ cousin, Suarez, a center fielder with all-around skills and one of the best offensive seasons for a Giants prospect in this year’s ACL. Suarez only played 12 games in the DSL before losing the season to a muscle strain. He hit .311/.379/.503 on the season, with a Giants-leading 15 doubles, and 3rd-best six home runs, and easily leading the Giants prospects with 16 steals out of 20 attempts. Suarez will come into 2022 as one of the most intriguing players to watch at the low end of the system, though he’ll have to prove his 72 strikeouts in 193 at-bats can be improved upon.
Vaun Brown, CF
Brown was the Giants 10th round pick in 2021, and the highest-drafted hitter in the draft by the team, out of Florida Southern College. He also ended up with the team’s smallest draft bonus, at just $7,500. He came into the ACL late, only playing 25 games, but definitely outperformed expectations. Brown hit .354/.480/.620 with eight steals in nine attempts, seven doubles, four triples, and two home runs. It’s been a year for players with low expectations and bonuses in the draft to excel (see Ryan Murphy). The concern with Brown is a small sample size, and being a bit old for the league, but also striking out 29 times in 79 at-bats. Strikeouts in a debut season aren’t unexpected, but that’s a huge amount. Brown will get plenty of time to keep the momentum going in 2021.
Kwan Adkins, RF
If Brown was old for the league, Adkins was a true vet. A 30th round pick in 2018, Adkins first played in the AZL in 2018, and in Salem-Keizer in 2019, before the 2020 lost season. Back to the ACL, Adkins put together his best season, batting .299/.407/.582 with five home runs to just two doubles and a triple in 26 games. Adkins’ success earned him a quick promotion up to High-A against more age-appropriate competition, where he hit .244/.354/.390. Adkins has always been an athletic and intelligent player, and 2021 might have been the year he put his potential together. He’s running late on the prospect clock, but has all the indications of a late bloomer putting everything together.
Adrian Sugastey, C
Yet another interesting catching prospect in the Giants system, Sugastey was one of the top prospects out of Panama signed in 2019, and finally got to make his debut in 2021. He put together a solid season across 43 games, with a .358/.405/.439 batting line, though with just six doubles and two home runs. The young catcher also acquitted himself behind the plate, catching 19 of 64 base stealers (29.7%). Perhaps the most promising stat is that Sugastey showed excellent patience, with just 26 strikeouts in 43 games (148 at-bats). With Joey Bart about to actually graduate out of the system, Sugastey should go right onto the list of the Giants’ top catching prospects.
Manuel Mercedes, RHP
The most exciting pitcher on the 2021 ACL class before the draftees made the squads, Mercedes is a traditional big pitcher with velocity in the high-90’s. Mercedes had an up-and-down season in the ACL, with some excellent starts and some very bad ones. He finished the season with 62 strikeouts to 25 walks in 56.1 innings, but also a .277 average allowed with 61 hits in 56.1 innings. Still, many pitchers with high velocities struggle early on and pull it together as time goes on. And you can not teach velocity like Mercedes has.
Esmerlin Vinicio, LHP
Vinicio was one of the better ranked players the Giants signed in the 2019 signing class, as a lefty pitcher without a ton of velocity. Vinicio ended up as one of the Giants’ most consistent starters in the ACL, with the lowest ERA among regular starters at 2.64. All of his peripherals look good as well, with 70 strikeouts to 29 walks in 58.0 innings, a .240 average allowed and a 1.34 WHIP. Without the velocity, Vinicio won’t be the most exciting pitcher in the system, but he’ll be one of the better pitchers in the second tier of starters as the Giants move into 2022.
Jose Cruz, RHP
Cruz was one of the squads’ most experienced relief pitchers on the season, in his second year at the level, previously pitching in the AZL in 2019 (with a 4.50 ERA) and the DSL in 2018. Although he had an unimpressive 4.44 ERA across 19 games, Cruz had the best peripherals on the squads with 42 strikeouts to nine walks in 24.1 innings. As an older player, Cruz will likely get a chance to move very quickly in 2022.
Trevor McDonald, RHP
In 2019, McDonald slipped past the Day 2 picks of the draft, but the Giants negotiated the high schooler to pick him with the highest 11th round bonus given by any team in three years. He debuted with just three games in the AZL in 2019, pitching just four innings. With a full ACL season, he had a 3.86 ERA in 15 games, 13 of which were starts. McDonald had a mixed bag of a season, with 69 strikeouts to 31 walks in 67.2 innings in the desert, and got lit up in the final game of the season at San Jose. McDonald has a lot of potential to live up to, with a fastball that has grown to the mid-90’s and a good curve. The Giants liked him enough to pay him in the 2019 draft, and 2022 will be a big year for him.
Brett Standlee, RHP
Standlee got just a bit of a cameo in his post-2021 draft, with nine relief appearances, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities. The numbers are a bit hard to judge out with the smaller sample size, and Standlee was far older than much of his competition, as a senior draftee out of Oklahoma State. Standlee doesn’t have overpowering stuff from a pure scouting profile, but he tends to get stuff done, and he’ll be worth watching out of the bullpens of the Giants system going forward.