For the better part of a decade, I’ve made jokes about left field being the Giants own “Defense Against The Dark Arts” position.
Mostly, it’s because I’m a big nerd. But it’s also pretty damn true. Just like in the Harry Potter stories, every year, there’s a different left fielder getting the majority of the at-bats every year. Sometimes it’s good guys going away. Sometimes it’s villains (hiya, Melky!). Sometimes it’s just old players who aren’t sticking around for long. And I’m sure fans of other teams would love it if there was somehow a Barry Bonds-related curse. (Though with three World Series titles since then, it’s a pretty weak curse.)
What’s more, it’s a sign of the Giants being unable to develop outfielders of their own. And it’s been an ongoing program for the last two decades. The Giants have had outfielders that have come up and teased some talents, like Nate Schierholtz. There have been some promises, like Fred Lewis. But no home grown outfielders have been able to stick around long-term.
That’s a tough thing for the Giants, especially with the size of the outfields not just at Oracle Park, but all over the NL West. They can’t just stick anyone out there and survive, they need players that can be effective both offensively and defensively.
(Then again, they won a World Series championship with Travis Ishikawa and Juan Perez in left field, so….maybe they could?)
The good news, however, is that the Giants may have a change in the air. The list of talent they have among corner outfielders is not only deeper than ever, it’s also topped by two prospects who were Top 100 to start 2020. Not Top 100 among the Giants system, but in all of baseball. And it runs so deep, this ranking list goes deeper than other positions would, with seven players to list.
Top 100 potential alone does not guarantee success. There are always potential injuries, or disappointments, or production drops. But it’s fair to say that by 2023, the curse of the Defense Against The Dark Arts position might be over. And that might even happen after right field has been filled too.
#1 – Heliot Ramos
Ever since the Giants took him with their first round pick, Ramos has been a very different sort of prospect for the Giants. It was rare that the Giants would take a high-tools sort of prospect in the mid-10’s with their first round pick. And though Ramos had a somewhat predictable hiccup in his first full season of pro ball, Ramos has looked every bit like the kind of pick other teams will kick themselves for passing up on.
Ramos plays center right now, but anyone who sees him can project his body being better for a corner. He’s a bit thick, but he still has good quickness and a plus arm that could profile well in right. Meanwhile, he’s a good all-around hitter with line-drive power, and while he could improve his patience, he will have some fun hitting home runs and doubles and triples into outfield corners. And he plays the game like he’s having fun, which should inject the right energy into the team. If there’s any worry, he keeps dealing with injuries, from normal stuff like sprained knees, to nearly-Jeremy Affeldt levels like nonspecific leg infections. But none of that is going to downgrade him too far.
#2 – Hunter Bishop
And then you have the Giants’ 2019 first round draft pick, another well-rounded player who seemed to fall right into their laps. Bishop’s a pure athlete, a former wide receiver with the obvious wheels out there in the outfield. Baseball America rated him as the team’s best defensive outfielder, but many seem to think that his average arm will push him to a corner, probably left.
Bishop still has some questions, being a late bloomer in college offensively, and he hasn’t shown yet in the pros that his power will stick around as a pro, although a big part of that is a lack of chances to prove himself. But since he did it in college with a better approach, working counts, and a better approach in general, Bishop is expected to still be a plus hitter, and who can draw the walks to let him use his speed on the basepaths.
#3 – Alexander Canario
And now, we get to the guy that had a lot of people talking in 2019. Canario was raising eyebrows in practice in 2018, showing off some pure, raw power. And then in 2019, he started the season in the Arizona League, his second year there, and he hit seven home runs in 10 games, and then got pushed up to Short-A in a very fast promotion, where he continued to do well…despite striking out at a prodigious rate.
Canario’s bat speed gives him real power that he’s obviously able to get into in games now, and he is average to above-average with most of his other tools, though his arm is strong enough to profile in right field. But the question is how good of a hitter he’ll be as he faces more advanced pitching, as those strikeouts are a warning sign. 2020 hurt his chance to back up his breakout season, and 2021 won’t be ideal, as he tore his labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in November of 2020 and will miss at least the start of the season.
#4 – Jairo Pomares
Pomares was part of the big 2018 international class alongside Marco Luciano and Luis Matos, and he’ should round out what could be one of the best international classes the Giants have ever signed. Pomares stands out for being a plus contact hitter as a left-handed batter, and he showed that off as one of the top hitters for average in the Arizona League in 2019.
Unfortunately, Pomares falls into a tweener type of outfielder. He doesn’t have the defense to play in center field, but he doesn’t have the power that’s ideal for a corner. That doesn’t mean he can’t stick as a starter, but the road will be much harder for him. But a good contact-oriented bat with an excellent approach will help carry Pomares most of the way.
#5 – Jaylin Davis
As the Giants went into July, there was a lot of buzz about the power hitting of Jaylin Davis, who had gone on a tear in Triple-A after the Giants traded for him. He opened the delayed season on the Giants roster…and four games later, he was sent to the alternate training site and didn’t return. That’s raised a lot of questions among Giants fans, who are wondering why Davis didn’t get other chances, and why there was so little reported on him the rest of the season, since the Giants pretty much controlled the information coming out of Sacramento.
Davis still has the opportunity to make an impact with the Giants, who still have a somewhat unsettled outfield situation going into 2021. Davis is a slugger, but has both above-average speed and arm, and he could play in either corner. The biggest thing for him will be proving that he can cut down on strikeouts and make enough contact to let his power make an impact, and that he can get the ball in the air enough to get it over the fence.
#6 – Armani Smith
Click here for the full prospect report
As indicated, the Giants have a deep list of outfielders to play with, but Smith shines with his potential of raw power that could be the best of any of the players on this list. Smith came out of a relatively unheralded baseball program at UC Santa Barbara, but he wowed scouts by being a power hitter there without a huge strikeout rate. At least initially, that didn’t convert to the pros, as he struck out 55 times in 163 at-bats, but it will be interesting to see what he can do with more experience under his belt.
If Smith develops, he is probably more of a left fielder than a right fielder, but his power definitely profiles as a middle-of-the-order kind of slugger that is hard to find.
Adding this last spot onto the list was a bit of a tossup to me, but considering Basabe’s proximity to the majors, it was worth adding him to the list. Basabe has always had a very impressive set of tools, and a switch-hitting outfielder who can field always has potential to find a place to stick.
Basabe was borderline between finding a spot here or on the center field list, but I nudged him to the corner as his opportunities in center have dropped over the past couple of seasons, although he could probably still back up the position. His roster spot remains tenuous, however, since the Giants got him in trade after the White Sox designated him for assignment, and Zaidi’s known for his roster churn, Basabe’s spot could be one considered expendable for the latest waiver or DFA pickup that Zaidi sees.
Other Names To Know
One player who was put on a different list was Victor Bericoto. He has a very impressive first pro season, and earned a rare promotion midseason from the Dominican Summer League to the Arizona League alongside Luis Matos. I put Bericoto on the first base list, where he played more, but Bericoto’s future may lie in the outfield, and the Giants listing him as an outfielder in the instructional league may be a hint of that.
The guy who was closest to this list but didn’t make it was Sandro Fabian. Fabian, a 2014 signing, will still turn just 23 this season, and he seemed to have a bit of a breakout, albeit in limited time, at San Jose in 2019. There might be a little potential still left there, but in my opinion, it’ll take a serious reversal of fortune for that to happen at this point.
One of the hottest short-season performances from 2019 was Franklin Labour, who had 14 home runs in 41 games at Salem-Keizer, and it looked every bit like a career-turning performance for the then-21-year old. Labour did not fair as well when he got a well-earned push to Augusta, though, and he missed the 2020 opportunity to prove it wasn’t just a one-off, unfortunately, so I left him off the list. He’s got a chance to fight his way on, however, with a good 2021.
Diego Rincones has been a solid performer at the low end of the Giants system for a few years now, and in 2019, he had a pretty decent first full season at Low-A Augusta. In past years, he’d be higher on the outfield depth chart, but in this list, he just doesn’t have the loud tools to compete with the guys who are.
And I’ll throw out a guy I’ve mentioned in a couple of other lists, Jacob Gonzalez. Although the Giants were moving Gonzalez to first base for 2020 it seemed, I think his athleticism and slower reaction times defensively would make him a better fit in the outfield long-term, as he played 8 games in left in 2019. But doing that will make getting him playing time a lot harder among all the other names on this list.