The next couple of weeks, we’re going to see the Zaidi/Harris regime of the Giants face their first real test of prospect development.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Giants have promoted two of their previously low-level but high-ceiling prospects to the big league roster: Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos. How will they respond? What will happen to them? These are all important questions for the Giants going forward.
Zaidi and Harris have moved up prospects before, of course. Joey Bart is the most notable, but, it’s an exception. Bart was called up long before he was ready (which was agreed upon even by the front office) in a pandemic season where Buster Posey wasn’t playing, and there were no minor leagues. The Giants gave Bart a chance…and he struggled, mightily. Bart will certainly get another chance, but he is of a breed of prospect that normally will get every chance, due to his talent, maturity, and expectations.
Doval and Santos aren’t of that breed. Both are pitchers with amazing stuff, but neither are sure things. Any pitcher has risk, and both Doval and Santos have shown both their upsides and downsides in their minor league careers. Fangraphs notably made a comment about Santos that with his stuff, he’d be the “early-season favorite to go first in the draft.” That seems a bit wild, but there’s never been doubt about Santos’ stuff, nor Doval’s.
The question isn’t that. It’s “Are they ready for the big leagues?” and “Will a promotion like this help or hurt them?” Doval last pitched in High-A, posting a 3.83 ERA, striking out 12.78 per 9 innings, but also walking 5.43 per 9. Santos last pitched in Low-A, with a 2.86 ERA in eight starts, but just 6.75 K/9 with a respectable 2.34 BB/9, but also getting hit to the tune of .256.
Of course, for both of them, those numbers are from 2019. There’s a year of ambiguity, where fans and scouts have seen very little other than highlights and reports. That makes all this murky.
The thing is, Doval and Santos are these mid-level prospects that are important to team-building. Stars like Bart or Marco Luciano are important, but the Giants would’ve had a hard time building their World Series legacy without properly developing guys like Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, or Sergio Romo, among many others. They were all riskier prospects, whose development could go a different way. The Giants hit on them. And Bart and Luciano will need others to support them.
So far, the Zaidi/Harris regime has been tough on players looking to get their shot. Many of the players they’ve picked up have gotten a dozen games or so, and have been kicked back to the minors or, in the case of three rule 5 picks, returned to their teams. You could mention Connor Joe, who went on to hit .300/.426/.503 in Triple-A after the Giants returned him to the Dodgers, and hit .368/.489/.711 for the Rockies this Spring, or Jaylin Davis, who was getting a lot of talk before the 2020 season, struggled for a week, and almost literally disappeared back to the alternate site and had pretty much zero stories written about him the rest of the season (where the Giants controlled the outflow of information). Mike Yastrzemski was about to get kicked back to the minors before an injury to a Giant outfielder let him stay, at which point he adjusted, and became a future Giants All-Star.
The reality is that the big league game is different, even jumping from Triple-A. It’s faster. It’s harder. It requires patience and adjustment. Yeah, some players just make it happen right away. But for many players, their first exposure is rough. And then they need time to adjust.
Both Doval and Santos have been shown the Majors are hard. Doval struck out two in his debut. Four days later, in his third game, he struck out two, but was rocked for a home run. He has not made an appearance in four games since. Santos mowed through the Marlins in his debut, striking out two. His next appearance two days later, he couldn’t get an out, gave up a home run and a walk, and three runners scored on his record.
There are some people who say that any experience is good experience. That push away any thought that players could be overwhelmed and demoralized and have to make it happen right away.
I disagree. For some players, they might take failures at the top level when they haven’t had normal development, and use it as motivation to get better. But others could take it hard and let it affect their development.
And there’s the worry that Zaidi and Harris will see these struggles and give up a little on these players, like they have with others, and their pushes will only result in the brass having doubts. Or concerns that jimmy-jacking of these kids in and out of levels and roles when they aren’t ready will affect their development, much like former top prospect Merkin Valdez in the past.
Also, there’s a specific concern about Santos’ development as well. In 2019, he was a starter, and was looking good at the low levels. Are the Giants just going to shift him to reliever for the future (especially since he was added to the 40-man roster this fall, starting the clock for him to make the majors)? The Giants are short in high-ceiling starting pitcher prospects, and without a doubt, he would be more valuable as a starter than a reliever…but he’ll take a longer time to develop.
The reality is, there’s no games going on in the minors until May 4th (hopefully games will happen then, pandemic-willing). So Doval and Santos otherwise would’ve just been scrimmaging. So there’s still ambiguity here.
The team does know far more than we do about the players and their ability to handle this. And as it often does, these questions I’m raising fall under the “Trust the guys in charge” debate. Do I? Or do I not?
That’s the point. This is the test, the way these guys develop. And it’s based off of this where trust from the fans will come.