The minor league season has long settled, and there was much that happened this year. In lieu of team-by-team recaps, considering the amount of movement between teams, I just want to take some time to share what I liked, what I didn’t like…and what I kind of felt two ways about.
These are just my opinions, as many people will point out, that are worthless. But after a season of watching the games and results every day, here’s how I feel.
👎 – Marco Luciano’s Season
Sure, he made his big league debut. But this season was ruined by his back injury from the start, with Luciano missing the first month of the season, and struggled to get his feet under him once he got underway. All this comes after 2022 also being interrupted by back injury, and it getting reaggravated in winter ball. You can still see why people like Luciano, as the way the ball comes off his bat is elite. But the injuries, and how they have untracked him, outweigh how great it is to see him in the Majors finally.
🤷♂️ – Kyle Harrison’s Season
Harrison stayed healthy, and…well, he had a season. After he set the minors on fire in 2022, Harrison went into Triple-A and…sometimes he was doing great, sometimes he was struggling. But he was held back, throwing just 67.2 innings in 21 starts in the minors, aside from six starts (so far) in the Majors with a 4.85 ERA. In the minors, he had 105 strikeouts to 48 walks in 65.2 innings, showing his ongoing control issues, but he’s also been very hittable in the Majors, giving up eight home runs out of 29 total hits in 29.2 innings in the bigs. Throw in an…interestingly-timed hamstring 🤔 (and quick-healing 🤔) injury just before the All-Star Game, and illness sapping him now, late in the season, and you’ve got a season that had a highlight in his big league debut and one fantastic game, but otherwise it was a year of decidedly mixed results for the Giants top prospect.
👍 – Wade Meckler’s Arrival
By far, the best thing in the Giants farm system this season was the arrival of and work by 2022 8th round pick Wade Meckler. Across three minor league levels, he hit .371 with a .456 on-base percentage, and managed 17 doubles, four triples, and six home runs in 83 games. That potentially is the best batting average in the minors this season, depending on how MLB calculates the eligibility by percentage of team games played (he qualifies if judged by High-A or Double-A, but not for the Triple-A season’s length). Meckler is not a 5-tool player, but his hit tool is so good, it makes up for a lack of power. With defense and speed he could still develop (13 steals in 17 attempts), there’s a great bit of potential here, but…
👎 👎 👎 – Wade Meckler’s MLB Promotion
What in the heck was Farhan Zaidi thinking, other than complete desperation to kick-start the offense. At least Meckler played everyday, but struggled to a .232 batting average, with one double, and six walks to 25 strikeouts. He was overmatched and fading in his first full season of pro ball. The problem is, not only did this not work, it means Meckler is taking up a 40-man roster spot years before he needed to, which will lead to an unnecessary roster crunch in the lead up to this fall’s Rule 5 draft, when Zaidi is his wackiest, and potentially another weird trade to save a 40-man spot…like the tremendous Prelander Berroa trade. I’m not a pure Zaidi hater, but this move felt awful from the outset, and the rumbles I heard from others mirrored my own feelings.
🤷♂️ – Carson Whisenhunt’s Half-Season
It was good while it lasted. Whisenhunt went down with an elbow strain in late July, which was just about the only downside to an excellent debut season. One of Farhan Zaidi’s best draft picks in his tenure, the 2nd round pick’s changeup was as good as advertised as he had a 3.29 ERA in Low-A, and a 1.42 ERA in High-A, topping prospect notes at each level. He had a 3.20 ERA in six games at Double-A before going down, helped by a shutout four-inning appearance just before the injury helping. The injury is just a sprain, no surgery needed, so he’s on track for 2024’s spring training, and he’s likely one of the team’s Top five prospects going into next season. But it’ll be interesting if his fastball is strong enough in the higher levels to help that changeup to be effective.
👍 – Bryce Eldridge’s Debut
2023 1st round pick got into 31 games, 16 in Arizona and 15 in San Jose, hitting .294 with six home runs (mostly in AZ), with 20 walks to 34 strikeouts. I was really down on drafting Eldridge initially, but he came out strong, and I have to admit, the 6’7” 18-year old looked like a man among boys at Low-A, at least physically. I can see what the Giants like about him. We saw no pitching from Eldridge, which…is interesting, considering the Giants other 2-way player…
👍 – Reggie Crawford’s Pitching
The 6’4” Crawford wasn’t exactly tiny compared to his teammates either, and the 22-year old finally got to pitch, and he likely is the Giants’ top power pitcher in the farm right now. He had a 4.09 ERA in seven games at Low-A, but got better as he got more time under his belt, and then had a 1.13 ERA in six games at High-A. He combined for 32 strikeouts to 10 walks in 19.0 innings. He should only be seen as a relief pitching prospect, and it would’ve been nice to have seen more of him, but…
👎 – Reggie Crawford’s Hitting (and Health)
*sigh* This 2-Way player thing needs to be stopped being talked about with Crawford. While Crawford made seven pitching appearances in San Jose, he made just four hitting appearances there, going 4-for-16 (.250), making his last on June 14th, despite Crawford staying in San Jose through mid-July. After the promotion to High-A, Crawford only pitched, until he took a single at-bat on August 10th…and disappeared for the season. I’m worried about Crawford’s health in general, and the hitting does not help. I was hoping this would be the end of his 2-Way journey…but he’s been announced as a hitter (and only a hitter) in the Arizona Fall League, so…no.
🤷♂️ – Patrick Bailey
Few people have been as down on Patrick Bailey as I have since he was drafted, but you couldn’t argue with his results in the Majors…at first. His season was very unlikely. It started in Double-A, where he got off to the best start of his minor league career, and he got a quick promotion to Triple-A, where he struggled a lot. Then catching injuries and depth issues got him called up, where he succeeded, then struggled. The thing is, it’s hard to get a read on Bailey. In 2022 in the minors, he had an .851 OPS batting lefty, and a .460 OPS batting righty, to the point people thought he should give up switch-hitting. As a big leaguer, though, he had an .845 OPS as a right-hander, and a .559 OPS as a left-hander. He can (and does) make spectacular defensive plays, but he can miss on the pedestrian ones, a reputation he’s had throughout the minors. It’s possible he’s a player who personifies clutch: he comes up big in the big moment…after all, he had a .980 OPS in RISP situations, 1.208 with runners on second and third. The problem is, when the stakes aren’t as high, as the situations were with the Giants as the season petered out, so did his productivity. Of course, it could also be fatigue, or getting his bell rung, or any number of other things. The reality is that Bailey is very hard to predict when it comes to what’s next.
👍 – Mason Black
Honestly, Mason Black’s rise in the system has been steady and unspectacular, but the team can use some lack of excitement in the farm. Black had a 3.57 ERA in 16 Double-A starts, and then a 3.86 ERA in 13 Triple-A starts, which is quite a feat to keep his stats so close together, although his Triple-A peripherals showed a bit more luck than production. Black could have the best fastball among legitimate starting prospects in the system, and he’s got a plus slider too. He seems to have dropped the changeup from his repertoire, instead relying on his slow curve as a third pitch. But at the moment, Black might be that secondary piece in the Giants farm system, and up-and-coming starter that can join Logan Webb and Kyle Harrison in the rotation without having to squint too much to see it happen.
👎 – Giants Organizational Pitch Limits
Far be it from me to discuss development strategies of baseball teams, as I am no expert, but the Giants made a decision that stumped quite a few people, both inside and outside of the organization. Outside of a handful of starters, the Giants put very strict limits on pitchers all season long. Kyle Harrison reached 5.0 innings only once in the Minors…even though he crossed that threshold five times in seven MLB appearances. Mason Black when over 5.0 games just once in 29 starts…despite doing that eight times in his first full pro season. Carson Whisenhunt reached 5.0 innings three times, never crossing it, over 16 games in an injury-shortened season. It was a conscious choice…but one that was heavily criticized privately among observers. The stands at one team were filled with people joking when a team might get their first pitcher to reach six innings in one game…in August. It’s one thing to protect young arms, but it’s a big question as to whether being so restrictive truly helps players prepare for what the Majors will hold…and maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think it’s worth stretching those starters out.
👍 – Rayner Arias (but also 👎)
Ever since the 2018 international class that was headlined by Marco Luciano and Luis Matos, every year there seems to be comparisons to that monster class of top prospects, but not with the same results. In 2022, Ryan Reckley got those comparisons due to bonus size, and in 2023, it was Rayner Arias. Both suffered season-ending injuries early in their first pro seasons, but Arias was setting the DSL on fire when he did, as he hit .414/.539/.793 over 16 games, with 15 walks to 11 strikeouts. But…it was just 16 games. In the very rookie-level Dominican Summer League. It’s illogical to expect huge, superstar things based on just that. But damn…are the expectations raised none-the-less.
👍 – Diego Velasquez’s Season
Diego Velasquez was signed in January 2021’s delayed international period for a modest $900,000, and he had an inauspicious beginning to his pro career. However, his first full season of pro ball in San Jose as a 19-year old was an absolute success, as the switch-hitter hit .298/.387/.434 with 32 doubles, a triple, and eight home runs, and an excellent 56 walks to 82 strikeouts, plus 23 steals in 29 attempts. So the question is, in a season where the Giants were very aggressive in pushing successful players, why was Diego seemingly left behind? To be frank…he has not put in enough work in developing his body physically to withstand the rigors of baseball, and his slide in the last two months of the season was probably a symptom of that. Hopefully, his first full pro season will encourage him to put the work in, and if he does, Velasquez is a capable shortstop who won’t be a slugger, but takes great at-bats and steals bases.
👎 – Grant McCray and Aeverson Arteaga
Both of these guys spent the full season in Eugene, and the best thing that could be said is that they were both mostly healthy all season. Both talented young players had breakouts in 2022, but their 2023 seasons were not good follow-up performances. McCray ended up hitting .255/.360/.417 with 26 doubles, six triples, and 14 home runs, with 72 walks to 171 strikeouts, though he had a career-high 52 steals in 62 attempts. Arteaga’s season was rougher, with a .235/.299/.410 with 29 doubles, three triples, and 17 home runs, with 40 walks to 132 strikeouts. Now, both players could be carried by their defense, so even if they underperform offensively, they still will move. But the Giants have shown a preference for players who do not strike out often…and that is the antithesis of both of these players so far.
👍 – Aggressive Promotions Within The Farm
Diego Velasquez and Tyler Fitzgerald aside, the team made a serious change in how they handled successful prospects, with very aggressive promotions for players, particularly at the lower levels. Wade Meckler was one extreme example, but Carson Whisenhunt was on a similar path before his injury. The system did allow for hot prospects, even potential organizational soldiers, to show off what they can do and get a real chance while being younger, instead of languishing. Heck, probably 3/4s of the San Jose team that won the first half in the California League’s North Division were promoted out by the time that team was playing in the playoffs. It may have mixed results in how well it helps develop players, but it gave real rewards immediately rather than potential brass rings.
👎 – Major League Promotion Strategies
On the other hand…the jump from the minors to the big leagues is one of the biggest jumps any player can go through. They need to be ready physically, mentally, and developmentally. Failing or flailing in front of tens and thousands and a very attentive media is different than struggling in Triple-A. But the Giants pushed up many players who weren’t ready. Casey Schmitt had no home runs in April, and just one before being promoted in early May, when he got promoted to the bigs to play a different position due to a lack of depth. Patrick Bailey was hitting .216/.317/.353 in Triple-A when he got promoted. Meckler had played only ten games in Triple-A before his promotion, with eight of his ten hits only coming in the offense-friendly Las Vegas heat. While some players did force the issue (Luis Matos in particular), many of these players did not show that they were ready, but were called up more because of a big league roster with holes or desperate attempts to make anything happen as the team slumped, and those are not good reasons for big league promotions, and probably slowed down their development more than they helped.
👎 – Overall Health in the System
I debated about including this, but there was nothing bigger that influenced the Giants 2023 minor league system than player health. Nearly every major prospect dealt with a significant injury or health issue at some point this season. Two of the recent first round picks, Hunter Bishop and Will Bednar, did not even play at all this season. Another, Reggie Crawford, played very little. For the second straight season, the team’s top international signing got into only a handful of games before a season-ending injury. And of course, many of the pitchers missed a significant amount of time. With the Giants limiting pitches and innings severely, you’d think the pitchers would stay healthier…but they didn’t. Now, injuries happen, and it may be nobody’s fault…but when there’s such an inordinate amount, an eyebrow will get raised.
There’s a lot more thoughts I had, but these were just the ones off the top of my head. What did I miss? What do you disagree with? What’s your ups and downs?