Now that the 2021 minor league season is in the books, even in the Major League season isn’t quite done, it’s time to start looking back on the season that was: what did we learn from it? What is still unclear? And of course, what can the Giants expect in the future?
Here’s five lists of five reactions and impressions I had from the year.
5 Positive Impressions
- Kyle Harrison – Even if he wasn’t the first round pick in 2020, many felt Harrison was the star of the draft, with a high potential. In 2021, we got to see that potential in action, and it wasn’t a disappointment. Harrison had 157 strikeouts in 98.2 innings (14.32 K/9), and though he had early control problems, he improved over the season. He stepped up to cement his status as a top pitching prospect.
- Jairo Pomares – After a 2019 season where he had put up positive but not standout numbers in the short-season leagues, it was unclear where Pomares fit. After a little later start for Pomares, he firmly grabbed his spot as a top outfielder with a .334/.378/.629 batting line and 20 home runs in 77 games, after hitting just three home runs in 51 games in 2019.
- R.J. Dabovich – Dabovich only started the season with 28 strikeouts out of 38 outs he got in High-A Eugene in his professional debut, and only allowing two hits. His time in Double-A was shortened, but he struck out 34 more in 19.2 innings, giving him 62 in 32.1 innings. R.J. quickly positioned himself among the top relief prospects in a shallow part of the system.
- Luis Matos – Matos could quietly be one of the top prospects in the system, maybe even #2 overall, and he did nothing to dispell that in an excellent 2021. He hit .313/.358/.494 with 35 doubles and 15 home runs, and 21 steals in 26 attempts. Matos offers a well-rounded offensive game at a valuable position in center field.
- Marco Luciano – By the numbers, Luciano did not have the best season, especially in just over a month of a late promotion to Eugene. But that is all part of the plan, as Luciano is getting challenged in his first full season, and success was never going to be a guarantee. But Luciano has responded well to challenges all season, since his time in Spring Training with the big leaguers until the final day of the season.
5 Big Statement Years
- Ryan Murphy – I cannot lie, when Murphy was picked out of Le Moyne College in the 5th round in 2020, I figured he was a bit of a budget pick, to help the team sign the star of the draft, Kyle Harrison. But all this budget pick did was throw strikeouts, ending up with the third highest strikeout total in all of the minors, even with the lowest inning pitched of any of the top five. Not bad for a supposed budget pick.
- Ricardo Genovés – Overall, Genovés finished the season with a .275/.359/.453 batting line, but it was really punctuated by great stints in San Jose to start, and a brief, excellent callup to Sacramento at the end of the year. BUt what he did was place his name firmly in the list of catchers in a catching-rich system.
- Brett Auerbach – It would have been interesting to see where Brett Auerbach would’ve been drafted in 2020 in a normal draft, as the undrafted free agent had a spectacular season playing multiple positions from catcher to center field. He was a consistent offensive presence in San Jose and Eugene’s lineup. His versatility might be his biggest asset in a system run by Farhan Zaidi.
- Ismael Munguia – For a guy to have as great finishing numbers as him, Munguia didn’t draw a lot of attention in the first half of the season. Munguia finished strong with an absolutely ridiculous August and September to be the High-A West batting champ with a .336 average, 22 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, and 15 steals in 20 attempts. Munguia has a work-hard attitude and a great personality from a teammate.
- Kervin Castro – Castro made the improbably jump from Short-A to Triple-A, with the lost 2020 season in-between. Castro had a 6.00 ERA in his first month in Triple-A, but just a 0.82 ERA in his last months of August and September before joining the Majors and is now a big part the big league bullpen in the postseason. Castro won’t be a closer or a top starter, but he has Yusmeiro Petit written all over him.
5 Disappointing Seasons
- Seth Corry – He came into 2021 as one of the Giants’ top pitching prospects, but finished the season with a 5.99 ERA and 63 walks in 67.2 innings. He did miss a month in August, and came back with 8.1 shutout innings across four starts, so there’s an encouraging sign there. But Corry’s problems were definitely some of the most disappointing of the season.
- Gregory Santos – Santos, alongside Camilo Doval, got rushed up to the Majors from Single-A, and was immediately overmatched before moving to Triple-A when the minor league season began. However, the biggest disappointment for Santos was getting suspended in June over PEDs, as he lost most of his season after beginning to show a little improvement.
- Patrick Bailey – At least for half the season. Patrick Bailey was pushed to High-A to start his career, not unreasonable for a first round pick the year before, but Bailey hit just .185/290/.296 in Eugene over 33 games. The good news is that Bailey moved to the ACL to work on things, and then came back to San Jose for a month and a half, where he hit .322/.415/.531. So perhaps all is not bad for Bailey, but he did not respond nearly at the level one would hope for a first round pick.
- Tyler Beede – Coming off of Tommy John is going to be a tough task for anyone, but some Giants fans were hoping for Beede to possibly emerge as a starting candidate in the big leagues. Instead, Beede had a 6.66 ERA over 16 starts in his return, with just 50 strikeouts to 45 walks in 48.2 innings. Beede’s season ended with another 60-day IL stint, due to a back strain.
- Hunter Bishop – Maybe this one is a bit unfair, due to Bishop’s lost season being due to injury, but what started as a sore shoulder after just three games in Eugene ended up being an injury that kept him out until August, and eventually ended his season. But Bishop brings with him big time expectations as the #10 overall pick, so him missing most of 2021 after missing much of 2020 really is a big disappointment.
5 Random Thoughts
- The Giants were incredibly aggressive with promotions, but they rarely came through with results in the numbers. Numbers aren’t the most important thing, of course, but there’s a difference between constructive struggles and being demoralizingly dominated. It remains to be seen if this theory of promotion will work.
- Zaidi and his draft team know how to draft and develop pitchers, even if they don’t do it all that often. 2019 8th round pick Caleb Kilian arrived in 2021, leading to getting traded. And all the 2020 pitchers drafted: Nick Swiney, Kyle Harrison, R.J. Dabovich, and Ryan Murphy all had fantastic seasons, for as long or short as they were. That leads to a lot of hope for the pitching heavy 2021 class, as little as was seen of it.
- By comparison, Zaidi drafted hitters have struggled. Bishop was down with injury, but other top 2019 draftees like Logan Wyatt and Grant McCray struggled, and even the best guys like Tyler Fitzgerald had understated years. None of the three 2020 drafted hitters had notable seasons, including Bailey, Casey Schmitt, and Jimmy Glowenke.
- For having a new minor league run by MLB, the Giants’ affiliates have a lot of stadium issues. San Jose’s Excite Ballpark is old, cramped, and doesn’t compare in terms of amenities to most other parks, and building ballparks in the bay area is a difficult proposition. Eugene needs a new stadium in four more years, or they could be replaced, due to sharing a ballpark with the University of Oregon missing several team amenities. Richmond’s ballpark was partially why their last team left and they have been pursuing a new one for most of their existence.
- At the moment, the Giants won’t draft until the #31 pick, meaning that method of getting top-shelf talent won’t be easily available to them. Past Giants pick around that time had some decent returns (Joe Panik, #29, 2011), and some lesser names (Wendell Fairley, #29, 2007; Nick Noonan, #32, 2007; Emmanuel Burriss, #33, 2006). It’ll be curious to see what Zaidi does going forward, and how that affects the top shelf the Giants currently have.
5 Breakouts To Come
- Nick Swiney – The Giants’ other pitching pick in 2020, he also missed much of the season after suffering a concussion in the season’s first month. But he came back to have a 0.84 ERA in 12 starts, seven of them at Low-A. He won’t put up those numbers after a full season, but Swiney obviously has a lot of talent he has yet to really show off.
- Cole Waites – The 18th round pick from 2019 had a 6.23 ERA in nine games in 2019, and missed most of 2021, but come back as a reliever and had a combined 0.68 ERA in San Jose and the ACL, with 31 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. Relievers and relief prospects are notoriously streaky, but if any one will have a huge outbreak, he could be the one.
- Ghordy Santos – Between the ACL and San Jose, the shortstop hit .326 and tied previous career highs in triples (3) and home runs (3). Santos is already 22, but in his first full-season at 23, Santos’ strength could break out and make Santos the sleeper shortstop in the system.
- Alexander Suarez – Much of the talk coming out of the Arizona Complex League for the Giants is around shortstop Aeverson Arteaga, whose power stroke opened eyes. But Suarez had a .311/.379/503 batting line, 15 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs, with 16 steals in 20 attempts. Suarez will be 20 next season, but the Venezuelan should have an excellent chance to really open eyes in his full-season debut.
- Simon Whiteman – I know, he’s a favorite of mine. But he was one of the first players to earn a promotion despite an already aggressive placement to High-A. His .236 Double-A batting average wasn’t impressive, but he improved as the season went on, and still posted a .338 OBP. He also led the system with 34 steals in 38 attempts, adding a dimension the team hasn’t often had. He won’t be a starter as he is right now, but he could be a versatile piece for Zaidi, especially now that he’s playing some center field.