With manager Lenn Sakata returning to the San Jose Giants for the first time in 14 years, and immediately won another championship to notch on his belt. Perhaps more importantly, he was given charge of some of the system’s top young prospects and the opportunity to shape the organization’s future. It’s fair to say that he did quite well.
Ohhh boy, there’s a lot to talk about here.
Obviously, one has to start with top prospect Marco Luciano, the headliner of the team most of the season. Predictably, the 19-year old’s season had its troubles, but he showed how balls can leap off his bat, with 18 home runs, 14 doubles, and three triples in 70 games at Low-A. He earned an early August promotion, though he showed more struggles at High-A.
Perhaps more notable was 19-year old Luis Matos, who cemented himself into the top few prospects in the Giants system. He may find himself ranked as high as #2 overall behind Luciano after spending the full season in San Jose. In 109 games, he hit .313/.358/.494 with 35 doubles, a triple, and 15 home runs with 21 steals in 26 attempts. Along with playing a strong center field, Matos brings a 5-tool package that Giants fans will love.
If there was any other highly-anticipated prospect, it was pitcher Kyle Harrison, another 19-year old, but he was making his pro debut after being a 3rd round pick in 2020. The Bay Area native did not disappoint. The young man had his pitching outings limited, especially early on, but he dominated, with a 3.19 ERA in 23 starts and 157 strikeouts in just 98.2 innings, enough to lead the league.
An unusual top prospect appearance was catcher Patrick Bailey, who arrived midseason after a demotion from High-A (and a spell in the Arizona Complex League to regroup). Bailey struggled mightily in Eugene, batting .185/.290/.296, but in 47 games at San Jose, he showed off what made him a first round pick, with a .322/.415/.531 batting line, and seven home runs with 16 doubles.
Finally, it’s worth noting that another Top 10 prospect, Alexander Canario, spent most of his season in San Jose. He had his ups and downs, hitting .235/.325/.433 with nine home runs, three triples, and 14 doubles in 65 games. However, he ended up as trade bait, going to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline in the Kris Bryant trade.
Two prospects in particular emerged as top young players. The first was Ryan Murphy on the mound. The 5th round pick in 2020 was viewed as a cost-saving pick out of a small college, but Murphy’s 2.96 ERA in 15 games was the lowest among the team’s regular starters, with 116 strikeouts to 18 walks in 76.0 innings before being promoted to Eugene. The 21-year old has a low-90’s fastball, but the high spin rate along with a 4-pitch repertoire gives him a good chance to repeat this performance at higher levels.
At the plate, in a relatively short time, no prospect opened eyes more than Jairo Pomares. The 21-year-old was aggressive at the plate, and it worked in San Jose, where he hit 14 home runs and 22 doubles in 51 games, to the tune of a .372/.429/.693 batting line. Pomares started the season late in mid-June, and was promoted out of San Jose in mid-August. His aggressive approach was more of a struggle in Eugene, but there was no denying his swing skills nor his power, solidifying himself as a legitimate corner outfield prospect.
Behind the plate, Ricardo Genovés had taken four seasons to start a season in Low-A (he’d played 19 games there in 2019), but the big-bodied catcher showed off some real offensive skills, batting .338/.441/.551 with 29 strikeouts to 22 walks, and had 11 doubles to six home runs. He earned a late-June promotion to Eugene after 38 games, which was a much bigger challenge, and it’ll be interesting to see which Genovés was the real one.
The entire Giants pitching staff were strikeout machines. While it was led by Harrison, Prelander Berroa had a breakout season. Over 24 starts, and throwing just 98.2 innings, Berroa struck out 135 while walking 53, and his fastball that inconsistently hit 100 was the best San Jose saw. While Berroa did fade late in the season, it was only the 21-year old’s first full season. Some might like him as a reliever, but he’ll have every chance to make himself a starter.
In the bullpen, Randy Rodriguez had a huge season. The 21-year old missed much of his 2018 and 2019 seasons due to Tommy John, so 2021 was his first truly healthy season. He had a 1.74 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 62.0 innings, and was named the Low-A West’s Reliever of the Year. Relievers are har to project in Low-A, but he had a high 90’s fastball and an excellent slider, and that usually will work well at most levels.
Maybe the most surprising player to emerge as a prospect was undrafted Brett Auerbach, whose role as a utility player helped him stand out. In 34 games at San Jose, he caught in 14, played 13 at second, three at third, and three in left field. He added center field to his resume after a promotion to High-A. He hit .342/.448/.521 in his time at San Jose, and looks like he could be an interesting guy for a Zaidi-style team of matchups.
Starting the season at 22-year old, Armani Smith was a bit older, but was making his Low-A debut. He only stayed for 15 games, hitting .339/.365/.627 before he was moved to Eugene. In his short time, though, he showed the power that his bat has.
Late Season Performances
The Giants #1 pick in 2021, Will Bednar, was the most anticipated late season addition, but he only made two appearances after making two warmups in the ACL. It’s hard to make out much from five innings, but he had a 1.80 ERA with three strikeouts and no walks. His mid-90’s fastball and two breaking pitches make him a top starter prospect.
After Marco Luciano was promoted, there was a lot of playing time available at shortstop. Ghordy Santos stepped up to fill the time, batting .317/.378/.416 in 24 games, with five doubles, a triple, and a home run. Previously, Santos had been a bit unheralded, but had put up good numbers in 21 games at the AZL in 2019, and had been strong starting 2021 in the ACL.
At third base, Yorlis Rodriguez provided some hope after earlier performances at third disappointed. The 22-year old Rodriguez had hit .316/.375/.468 in 25 games in the ACL before his promotion, but was limited to a .250/.311/.420 batting line against more experienced competition.
Nick Swiney started the season with San Jose, but was lost after one start to a concussion. He returned late in the season, and the lefty’s numbers were enticing. He finished with a 0.74 ERA across 7 starts, with 42 strikeouts to 12 walks in 24.1 innings.
The uber-athletic Grant McCray got a late-August callup to San Jose, hitting a home run in his first game with the team. But the center fielder struggled to get on base consistently, batting .250/.299/.400 in 24 games at the level, with two doubles, two triples, and two home runs.
Underperformers Who Might Return
Luis Toribio would appear in the Giants Top 15 prospects regularly in 2020 as a potential third base candidate. However, after his first full-season, he hit just .229/.351/.356 and the Giants appeared to shift his future to one limited at first base. Although Toribio still took a lot of walks, he struck out 113 times in 94 games, counter to some expectations. He might repeat the league at 21 and bounce back, but it was a tough season.
As the 2nd round pick in the 2020 draft, Casey Schmitt was viewed as a defensive gem at third with some offensive upside. He definitely showed off that defense in his debut season, but his offense left something to be desired, with a .247/.318/.406 batting line, with eight home runs, a triple, and 14 doubles. There is still a lot of upside to Schmitt, and he may continue to get pushed, but the Giants will need something more from him to be the future at third.
When he was drafted in the 5th round of 2019, first baseman Garrett Frechette was lauded for his sweet swing. As a 20-year old making his Single-A debut, Frechette struggled, hitting just .219 with a .268 on-base percentage over 31 games in San Jose. Frechette eventually found his was to the ACL, his second season in San Jose, where he excelled. He’s likely to get a second chance at Low-A in 2022.