2021 could’ve easily been considered the year of the relief pitcher emergence. At no position in the system did the Giants see so many players emerge, though of course there’s more relievers on any team than other positions. Still, the Giants ended up seeing a number of pitchers across the system emerge as guys to watch.
One major group came from three pitchers who were added to the 40-man roster before the 2021 season to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. They all got pushed up to Triple-A, with two having dubious major league debuts, but the season ended with two having impacts on a playoff team.
Though that anchors the top of the list, the pitchers on this list come from everywhere. We’ve got one international signing debut, a 2020 draftee getting his first action, a minor league free agent, a longtime minor leaguer, and more. Lots of players to get into here, so let’s just dive in!
#1 – Camilo Doval
With a funky delivery from the right side and a fastball with movement, and through no small part with a big promotion after getting added to the 40-man roster, Camilo Doval was on the minds of many a Giant fan, especially after a late season promotion. Doval took over the closer role late, and many fans think he is in line to return to that role. It was quite the jump from last pitching in San Jose.
#2 – R.J. Dabovich
The 4th round pick for the Giants in 2020 had to wait to make his pro debut. Starting in High-A, what a debut it was! Dabovich dominated his way through Eugene, and quickly forced his way into Double-A Richmond. With a strikeout touch that stuck around through Double-A, Dabovich has the type of domination one expects from a late-inning reliever, and he will be on the verge of the majors coming into the 2022 season.
#3 – Kervin Castro
It’s not often you see a pitcher make the jump from short-season ball straight to Triple-A. Even with the caveat of not having a 2020 season that helped facilitate the jump, its rare to see success. To see it turn into a successful end-of-season debut with not just a good MLB team, but a league-best one, is even rarer. Castro doesn’t have closer potential, but he pitches like a bulldog with the potential to go multiple innings. Castro’s not a prototypical top relief prospect, but these aren’t prototypical times.
#4 – Gregory Santos
Part of the 2021 Rule 5 Protectee triumvirate, Santos had the most understated season, though there were still some positives. None of the three have the pure heat that Santos can bring, but his season came to an early end thanks to a PED suspension. He can bring the heat, and now if he can get a full season to show it off, he could join Doval and Castro in the big leagues.
#5 – Chris Wright
After a fantastic breakout, Chris Wright brings a hard curveball that dominated two different levels of Single-A baseball. Wright struck out 79 batters in 45 innings on the season. The lefty was equally effective against right-handed batters and left-handers, which is an important and rare piece for any bullpen. If he can repeat it against advanced hitters this year, the Giants could have a huge future bullpen piece on their hands.
#6 – Manuel Mercedes
Usually, I’d have a few current starters I’d project as a reliever, but this year, it’s just this one. One of the top signees of the 2019 international class, Mercedes can throw serious heat, and he got to show that off in Arizona after a pandemic-delayed debut. While the final stats didn’t look very successful, Mercedes showed a ton of promise. He shows the profile of a hard throwing, control-lacking starter who moves to relief in the future, and his ceiling could be high.
#7 – Sammy Long
Sammy Long was a minor league free agent through the strangest circumstance, which included him leaving baseball entirely and coming back. Long was one of the talks of 2021 spring training, and he did make it to the majors, as a starter at first, and then converting to relief. Long projects as a long reliever who has a 4-pitch mix to work with rather than one overwhelming pitch, and still has a ceiling to grow into.
#8 – Randy Rodriguez
Most of the names above in this list break down into two categories, getting huge promotions and succeeding, or making their debuts successfully. Randy Rodriguez had two pedestrian seasons after being signed in 2017, both short-season years, before 2020 skipped everyone. Rodriguez spent his year in Low-A San Jose and had a huge breakout, making use of the high spin his pitches have and dominating. Rodriguez has a little bit more experience behind him, so he’ll have some helium as he tries to prove this wasn’t a flash in the pan.
#9 – Cole Waites
Not wanting to miss out on a year of reliever breakouts, Cole Waites missed most of the year with a torn meniscus and didn’t appear until early August. Although he only had 13.1 innings on the season, the work Waites put in was spectacular in Low-A, and he got in some extra work in the Arizona Fall League after the season. Now he needs to prove he can do it again for a full season.
#10 – Austin Reich
Joining the train that ran from San Jose to Eugene out of the pitching staff, Austin Reich had a true breakout, after he had a 9.24 ERA in 2019 in Arizona to a 1.63 ERA across both Single-A levels in 2021. A bit older, after being a 2019 undrafted free agent, and missing 2020, Reich was able to dominate. The next step will be delayed thanks to a PED suspension, however.
#11 – Patrick Ruotolo
Patrick Ruotolo never has the biggest raves, but his performance just keeps going. He’s a 5’10” 27-year old in Double-A, he’s not getting protected from Rule 5 drafts…but he keeps putting up numbers. Granted, he’s another player whose age looks worse thanks to losing 2020, but after five pro seasons, Ruotolo has never not performed. Will he continue to not never perform in Triple-A and get that underdog shot at the Majors?