The minor league season is almost here!  And research tells me that people on the internet love lists.  So…here we are.

Below, you’ll find five lists with five items each about what, and who, you should be looking for in the 2022 minor league season!

5 Players who need to answer some big questions

1. Can Marco Luciano and Luis Matos stick at their respective premium positions?

This might be the most pressing question in the Giants system right now.  Scouts remain split on Luciano and whether or not he can make it to the big leagues as a shortstop, or if a move to third base is imminent.  There’s no questioning his work ethic and his improvement at shortstop, but will it be enough?  As for Matos, he’s a good center fielder, but not a great one…and that could be a serious issue in a park like Oracle.  His offensive output is pretty ideal for a good center fielder, but might be a little less impressive without the thump some want from a corner outfielder.

2. What kind of a prospect is Hunter Bishop?

Since being drafted in the first round of 2019, Bishop has played 48 games in the regular season, 32 of which came back in 2019.  Obviously, you can’t blame Bishop for the 2020 pandemic, and whatever shoulder injury kept him off the field most of 2021.  But as the #10 overall pick, Bishop was the second-highest overall pick the Giants have made in the last 13 years, and no one is really sure what kind of prospect he is.  Could he be a 20-20 gold glove corner outfielder, as some predicted when he was drafted?  Or can he even just stay healthy?  It’s a big question.

3. Can Seth Corry get his stuff under control and keep it that way?

There’s no doubt that Corry has some excellent pitches.  Even when he’s struggling, he still can punch out batters with regularity.  But 2021 was a huge step back for him, after he had teased the kind of pitcher he could be with solid control in Augusta in 2019.  There were encouraging signs from his performance at the end of the year, in extremely short stints.  Will he carry it over into 2022?  Will he stay a starter, or was the key the shorter stints, with a bullpen move coming?

4. Will Luis Toribio convert his batting approach into production in games?

Going back a couple of years, Toribio was regularly listed as a Top 10 prospect in the Giants system, with what was advertised as one of the best approaches to hitting among young prospects, and the possibility of some power.  But then he had major struggles in games at Low-A in 2021, on top of questions about where he should play on the field.  Can he get that production to happen in games with regularity?  Or is he another guy with raw tools that couldn’t get refined enough to produce when it counts?

5. Is Ismael Munguia a flash in the pan, or your next fun favorite Giant to watch?

Munguia was one of the team leaders down the stretch of the Eugene Emeralds as they won their league title, with a particularly unbelievable hot streak at the end of the year where he spent the better part of the last two months hitting nearly .500, even after missing some games with an injury.  There’s no doubt that Munguia is an energetic and fun-loving player.  But was his breakout in 2021 a flash in the High-A pan that we’ve seen from many players in the past, or could he become a new fan favorite with fun, engaging energy as well as production on the field?

5 Prospects who I think could have break out performances

These are five players who have mostly been very limited and overlooked, or who have become overlooked, that I think could have some big seasons in 2022.

1. Hunter Bishop

It’s not often you see a former first round pick needing to come out and have a “break out” performance, but after two essentially lost seasons and the downgrades that many have given him, that’s what I think Hunter will have.  Hunter has the raw tools to be a power and speed guy, and is one of the best outfield defenders in the system.  But this is the year it’ll actually happen on the field.

2. Nick Swiney

Another player who missed most of his 2021 season, Swiney came back at the end of the season and really showed some good stuff in very limited time.  No, I’m not expecting a 0.74 ERA to continue (which was his line in seven starts in Low-A), but Swiney should really step up and show himself to be part of an invigorated pitching crew in the Giants farm system.

3. Casey Schmitt

When Schmitt was drafted, the main line on him was that he needed to develop more power to really excel at third.  Well, I think he’s one of the few Giants to have really responded negatively to adjustments that were made, because his entire offensive profile dropped in his first pro season.  I expect that we’ll see him be allowed to be more of himself, geared more toward contact, because the defense is worth building around.

4. Grant McCray

McCray missed the first month or so of the 2021 season with an undisclosed injury, though it’s not very clear he would’ve cracked San Jose’s crowded roster last year anyway.  He spent most of the year in Scottsdale, finally reaching San Jose in late July, and he had a rough time of it generally, batting .250/.299/.400 over 24 games, although he had good numbers in the ACL.  McCray’s seemingly been on the verge of a breakout for three years, derailed by pandemics and injuries, but I’m going to jump on the breakout bandwagon now for McCray, as I expect he’ll get to go back to San Jose and he’ll hit the way the Giants have been hoping for a long time.

5. Blake Rivera

Did you forget about Blake?  Rivera and his hammer curve missed almost all of 2021, only getting into 10 games at the end of the year.  There’s still questions about whether Rivera is a long-term reliever or can stick as a starter.  His raw stuff is still impressive in either role, however, and seeing what he can do with a healthy season will be very interesting.

5 Prospects with which to temper your expectations on in 2022

Back in 2018, I was telling whoever would listen to not put too many expectations on Heliot Ramos.  It was his first full season as a pro, and I was guessing he’d struggle as he learned and adapted, but that he would bounce back in seasons beyond.  That’s pretty much what happened.  So here’s five young players I would again warn about having too high expectations on, who might struggle as they learn, but come out stronger on the other end.

1. Aeverson Arteaga

Arteaga blew away expectations in his first pro season as he hit .294/.367/.503 in the ACL despite having a reputation of being a better defender than hitter.  Arteaga is almost certainly going to start the year in San Jose.  That is going to be a huge jump in talent he’ll be facing.  So I truly expect him to face some struggles this season…but I expect beyond that, he’ll bounce back with what he’s learned and be a top guy for a while.

2. Manuel Mercedes

Another player making the jump from short-season to full-season, although Mercedes didn’t have the overwhelmingly strong performance that Arteaga had.  Mercedes gets a lot of excitement for his velocity, and will continue to do so.  But I expect him to have problems with more advanced hitters as Mercedes focuses on his mechanics and control.  I also think we’ll see Mercedes make that transition to a reliever this year, or after this year, in response.

3. Ryan Murphy

Murphy will likely be making the other big jump in levels where you often see struggles occur: going from Single-A to Double-A.  Murphy had a dominant year that has boosted his profile to be a Top 10 guy.  But Murphy is more of a pitchability guy than a raw stuff guy, with a fastball that runs 92-95.  Many pitchers have found troubles making that work against Double-A, where the hitters are more experienced and many might be minor league vets filling in rosters, who are patient for mistakes.  Murphy’s going to work through it, but I expect him to face his biggest challenges so far this season.

4. Jairo Pomares

Pomares had the kind of 2021 season that cause a lot of hype, and for good reason.  After a late start, he went into San Jose and just pounded the ball, hitting an amazing .372 over 51 games with 14 home runs.  But his midseason bump to High-A is noteworthy, where he had just a .262/.269/.505 line, with six home runs, but also 33 strikeouts to just 1 walk in those 26 games.  That a red flag set of numbers.  Pomares is going to have to make some changes to his aggressive approach to really succeed, and I think that, at least for a while, it might get a little messy for him.

5. Matt Mikulski

The Giants 2nd round draft pick famously took not getting drafted in 2020 in the short draft personally, and made adjustments that led to an overwhelming senior season.  He should be a good pitcher, but he’s been ranked very highly by various prospect hounds, even in the Top 10 for the Giants.  That may be inflating expectations some will have for him in his first pro season, as the Giants still may explore whether he’ll be a starter or reliever.

5 Prospects who are quite underrated in the system

There are a lot of people who follow Giants prospects, and we all have wildly different opinions on everyone.  But sometimes, there are some guys that fall through the cracks.  Here are five guys that show up on the back of people’s prospect lists, and one didn’t appear on anyone’s at all, who deserve more respect.  Even from me.

1. Alexander Suarez

First of all, just ignore who he’s related to in the Giants system (Luis Matos).  Suarez is a very athletic young player who looks good in center field, who notched 16 steals in 20 attempts in the ACL last season and one of the team’s best all-around batting lines at .311/.379/.503.  Yet, if he’s on prospect lists, he’s generally way, way down in the 30’s.  Most of this comes from needing to prove himself at a full season level, along with getting lost in the depth of the system.  He will likely face some challenges in his first full season, but Suarez could be the biggest jump up the ranks in the 2022 season.

2. Sean Hjelle

He faced some trouble at Triple-A in a late-season promotion, but so did pretty much every pitcher who got such a promotion.  He’s still a nearly MLB-ready, well-rounded pitcher who everyone agrees will be a rotation pitcher, but is cursed by claims of a low ceiling have dogged him.  That’s led to him being ranked anywhere by many prognosticators in the 20’s, and in the McCovey Chronicles community poll, he ended up 30!  That’s too low for a guy who should be a good, effective fixture in a rotation for years, even if it’s only the middle or back of the rotation.

3. Brett Auerbach

There were just about no expectations for the undersized undrafted free agent in his first pro season, but he blew that away by not just hitting, but also his fielding prowess all over the diamond, and getting even better offensively in Eugene.  Still, he’s been ranked at the back of of the Top 30 by most, and beyond 30 in some cases.  I don’t think we’ll see him continue to show such power as he climbs the ladder, but Auerbach isn’t just better than what some see of him, he’s also perfect for the Giants system.  It’ll be interesting if he gets into the teens with another good season.

4. Esmerlin Vinicio

A bit overshadowed by Manuel Mercedes in his signing class, Vinicio quietly had the best season for Giants pitchers in the ACL, with a 2.64 ERA and 80 strikeouts to 29 walks in 58.0 innings.  He could be the rare international pitcher signing who could stick as a starter as he goes up the system.  Still, he doesn’t show up in the majority of Giants top prospect lists.  A good year at San Jose should get him noticed. 

5. Patrick Ruotolo

Across the major Giants prospects lists (including GiantFutures), there are 60 different Giants prospects named.  You know who wasn’t on any of them?  Ruotolo.  Not even once, on the lists that go to 50 prospects, does anyone list the reliever with a career 1.82 ERA over five seasons, and 247 strikeouts to 57 walks in 172.2 innings.  Ruotolo did the job in Double-A, although his ERA was 2.68, his highest number in his career.  Ruotolo’s not going to be a big league closer, and his stuff does not overwhelm, but he’s done the job at every level he’s been at, and deserves more respect than we’ve given him.

5 Guys I irrationally love and think will be great Giants eventually

Look, we all have favorites.  Guys we just love to root for, even if writers like me should be unbiased.  Maybe I might pay a bit too much attention to these guys…but, well, hopefully my opinion is the reason you read these!  I’m not saying that these guys will be the next Tyler Rogers…but maybe they will be.

1. Simon Whiteman

I was talking a lot about Whiteman last season, and I’m still there on him as he was aggressively pushed up to Double-A.  I love the speed, I love the versatility, and I just see Whiteman as the kind of versatile weapon some managers love, even if his hitting will not catch up to his other skills.

2. Brett Auerbach

How can anyone not love the ultra-versatile catcher/center fielder/everything else that had a breakout season in 2021?  I want to see him at least get one game in at first base, just so he can say he’s played every defensive position (outside of pitcher).  But Auerbach isn’t just that gimmick, he really hit well in 2021 and hopefully he can keep that up.

3. Ismael Munguia

Some players you just don’t get by looking at the box scores.  Seeing Munguia in person at Eugene last season, you could see him just radiate positive energy and hard work.  And I didn’t even see him at his hottest.  There’s so much in Munguia that we saw for years with Sergio Romo that there’s no way not to love watching him play.

4. Sean Hjelle

I think some of this is my reverse-popular-opinion tendencies.  The popular opinion on Hjelle isn’t that he won’t become a major leaguer, it’s that he just won’t be that great of one.  He has a low ceiling, etc. etc.  Enter “back of the rotation” guy.  And I think he’s been severely underrated because of that.  But Hjelle is going to be a major leaguer, which is pretty damn good compared to a lot of prospects who never make it, and he’s going to be such a unique one at that!  I guess I just value a middle or back of the rotation guy more than most…except GMs, who will pay anywhere from $10 million to $20 million per season for them, since they are hard to find.

5. Patrick Ruotolo

Will anyone ever take Patrick Ruotolo seriously?  He has a career 1.82 ERA over five minor league seasons, including a 2.68 ERA in Double-A in 2021.  His career average allowed is .175, with a career WHIP of 0.94…and in Double-A in 2021, those numbers respectively .155 and 0.68!  And how many prospect lists did he show up on?  None, other than Number 11 on my relief pitcher list (but not in my Top 35 overall).  He’s undersized, and his stuff doesn’t wow anyone, but the 27th round just keeps getting outs.  I’ll be the first to give a mea culpa if he just keeps doing this in Triple-A (and maybe beyond), but Ruotolo deserves more positive hype.