The Hot Corner is Pure Fire

Coming into this season, the Giants system had significant holes showing in their system at the corner infield spots.  There was room for improvement but the 2021 performances had been very lackluster.

That’s not the case in 2022.

The first couple of weeks of the season have seen some huge performances from the Giants’ prospects playing third base, up and down the system.  It’s only a couple of weeks, but it’s nothing but encouraging from the hot corner.  Here’s what’s going on.

AAA: David Villar – .278/.409/.694, 10-for-36, 5 HR, 8 BB, 14 SO

Villar has been serially underrated throughout his career, but he hit 20 home runs in 2021 to break the Richmond franchise record for home runs in a season.  He’s started off the year showing off the power that he’s always had, with five home runs in ten games.  Villar hasn’t ever had a great record for batting average, but his power might be a carrying tool.  His defense is adequate at third.

AA: Sean Roby – .357/.486/.1.000, 10-for-28, 6 HR, 6 BB, 12 SO

Roby will be getting another callout later in this Round-Up after a big week, but so far it’s looked like the long expected breakout for Roby.  In 2019, Roby won the NWL home run derby, but had just five home runs in 56 games.  He hit 19 in Eugene in 2021, but hit just .241.  Now in Double-A, Roby’s power is still showing up, but so far, he’s getting the hits.  Strikeouts will always be a concern, but for a power hitter, that’s expected.

High-A: Casey Schmitt – .364/.440/.545, 8-for-22, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 2 SO

After being drafted, Schmitt was seen as a good hitter and an excellent defender but without the power that’s ideal at the hot corner.  The adjustments the Giants gave him didn’t seem to take well in 2021, as he hit sub-.250 with just eight home runs in 64 games.  He’s looking like a different player in 2022, and while the power isn’t showing up, the hitting and plate discipline skills are.  With the defense, maybe that’s a kind of player that could make it without the power.

Low-A: Yorlis Rodriguez – .276/.300/.379, 8-for-29, 3 2B, 0 BB, 10 SO

Down in Low-A, Rodriguez hasn’t been the hottest to start a season, but he’s looking solid so far.  Rodriguez is 22, but he still might have power to unlock.  He’ll also need to bring up the plate discipline to make it, but there’s a lot of hope surrounding him.

Breakdown of a Brawl

On Saturday, we got something that you don’t see very often in minor league baseball: a brawl between the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Altoona Curve.

“Brawl” might be a strong word for it.  It was more of a shove fight, I didn’t see any punches actually thrown, but it was still about as much animosity as I can remember seeing in a minor league donnybrook in some time.  You just don’t get it that often in the minors.  Maybe it’s because the players are all focused on advancing up the system, maybe it’s because with so much player movement, it’s hard for grudges to develop over time.

So what happened on Saturday, and how did we get here?  Let’s take a look at how the brawl developed, over three incidents.

It started in the bottom of the 6th.  Altoona is up 4-2 after Sean Roby has just hit his second home run of the game, and fifth in the last three games.  Tyler Fitzgerald comes up to the plate, and…

The big question is, was there intent here?  On one hand, you had Roby just dominating.  But Roby hit all five home runs off of five different pitchers.  He didn’t seems to pimp or break any unwritten rules by staring too long…besides, if that were it, one would expect Roby to get hit himself, not the guy after him.

This doesn’t look too much like intent.  The first pitch from Altoona pitcher Noe Toribio that Fitzgerald got hit him, but that seemed to be because it was up and in, and Fitzgerald turned to bunt.  It appears the first base ump said he offered at it, leading to him coming back to the plate.  The second pitch was also up and in, but not egregiously so.  Fitzgerald is obviously upset at getting hit twice in two pitches, but was it at Toribio.  It’s worth noting that Toribio threw a wild pitch later in the inning too.

From there, let’s move to the top of the 8th.  It’s now a 6-4 Richmond after a big rally in the 7th.  Altoona’s right fielder Connor Scott is at the plate, with Richmond pitcher Chris Wright on the mound.  There’s one out, and Wright has just walked a batter on five pitches.

The question again, is there intent?  It doesn’t seem logical.  Scott, the #7 hitter, two innings later, doesn’t seem like the guy you hit in response for Fitzgerald getting hit.  The situation also seems like a bad one, after just walking a batter.  It wouldn’t make sense to put the game-tying run on base, especially doing it with just one out.  It seems like an odd time to do it.

And yet…these pitches look bad.  Wright only had 21 walks in 45.0 innings last season, and one hit batter.  Sure, maybe he lost his release point, but with a fastball you don’t see a missed release point turn into two pitches that bad very often.  Where Fitzgerald got his shoulder brushed, Scott took a fastball to the kidneys.  It’s not a place where you would expect to see a miss.  So, it’s hard to tell.  I personally don’t have a set opinion on which one.

It’s worth noting the umpires having a talk between the two pitches.  That doesn’t happen after just a missed pitch.  The umps seem to have thought there was a chance of intent.  And maybe the fact they didn’t issue a warning, but did after Altoona’s guy got hit was a big reason Altoona got very hot, from manager Kieran Mattison on down.

And that brings us to the actual fight.  Bottom of the 8th, Richmond’s still up 6-4, and the first hitter of the inning is Jacob Heyward, with Altoona pitcher Oliver Garcia on the mound.  Check the conversation that happens between Heyward and Altoona catcher Blake Sabol before the pitch.

There’s zero question about intent here.  And it’s not just a pitch at a guy, it’s a 90’s fastball behind Heyward’s head.

It’s easy to infer Garcia did this as retribution for his teammate getting hit.  Garcia also took the blown save in the 7th, as he came in with the bases loaded, nobody out, and a tiny 4-3 lead.  (Garcia gave up two RBI singles that gave Richmond the lead.)  Garcia was the hottest guy during the brawl, having to be held back forcefully from the pile by a teammate.

It’s worth noting that Heyward gave a glare to the pitcher, but turned away from charging the mound once the umpire immediately made an ejection.  Garcia clearly elevated the situation by approaching the plate, though.

And that’s the fight.  There were four ejections, including Altoona’s Garcia, Sabol, and manager Mattison.  Richmond’s Heyward was also tossed out.

If anything, there was good news that the emotions seemed to have simmered away by Sunday’s game.  There were two hit batters, but there didn’t seem to be intent.  Roby did get hit in the dome, but it was a slow curve, and it only hit Roby in the head because Roby ducked so low.  Roby didn’t do much more than flinch, so it didn’t hurt much.  He did have a talk with the pitcher while walking to first, but it seemed apologetic from the start.  The only ejection Sunday was an Altoona player who was made about the strike zone, no fights.

But still…we got a fight.  And it’s hard to lie…fans do love the fights, whether we should or not. 

So we got something to talk about.  And in a 12-team league, we’ll have to see what happens the next time these two division rivals meet up.

What do you think? Were all the HBPs intentional? Were some of them just control problems? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Key Transactions

There wasn’t really any big player movement this week.  Heliot Ramos and Yunior Marte both returned to Sacramento after brief callups to San Francisco, but there were no really big promotions or demotions.

We did get one reported minor league free agent signing:

Tillo’s official page does not yet confirm this transaction, so we’ll see.  In 2021, he worked mostly in Double-A of the Royals organization, with a 4.63 ERA working mostly out of the bullpen there.  If he does sign and is ready, Tillo could end up either in Sacramento or in Richmond, but I’d think he’s more likely going to show up in Richmond, where he’ll give the Squirrel bullpen a much-needed lefty (they only have one lefty in the bullpen – Chris Wright).

Eastern League Player of the Week – Richmond’s Sean Roby

Come on, like this is a surprise if you’ve been paying attention.  His five home runs in three games is going to be one of the highlights of his career for a while.

So far this season, Roby leads the Eastern League in home runs with six, in OPS with 1.486, and total bases with 28.  He’s also 9th in batting average (.357), 4th in on-base percentage (.486), tied for second in RBI (11), and tied for first in slugging percentage (1.000).  The six home runs is tied for second overall in the minors.

Barely Avoiding Injury

As someone who has been following the Giants long enough to see Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, and Joey Bart (twice!) among many others get sidelined by getting hit by a pitch on their hand, seeing what happened to Dilan Rosario on Thursday was scary.

In the 8th inning of that game, Rosario was hit by a pitch and was doubled over in pain holding his hand and clearly still in agony as the trainer began checking the various bones in the hand by the plate.  It looked like some level of a fracture.

Thankfully, x-rays came back negative, and Rosario would end up missing just one game.  Rosario was back on Sunday, and had a 2-hit game, including his first extra-base hit of the season.  After watching many players lose time to unfortunate injuries, it was a great relief to see Rosario back quickly, and without ill effects.

And also, if there’s any moment that speaks to the kind of player that Roasario is.  After the decision to take him out had been made, and even though his pinch-runner was already over standing on first, Rosario made the jog down the line to step on first before leaving the field.

Highlights of the Week

This week was definitely the week of home runs.  There were big home runs up and down the system.  Richmond set records for home runs in an inning (4) and in a game (5).  Four different times there were players who had two home runs in a game, twice by the same player…you might have seen him a few times in this report already.

So, how about some home runs?

Let’s start by David Villar, who had two home runs in a game, and is off and running in Sacramento with five home runs.

Also with two home runs, on the same day and same game as Villar, was Luis González hitting his first two home runs of the year.

How about some walk-off home runs?  Here’s Ghordy Santos ending what was a scoreless tie with his first home run of the year.  Santos is a bit overshadowed on a stacked Eugene team, but he has been off to a great start.

What, a walkoff isn’t enough?  How about an extra-innings walkoff?  Or maybe a extra-innings walkoff 4-run homer?  What do they call those?  Oh yeah…a GRAND SLAM.

Jimmy Glowenke christened PK Park for 2022 with this home run, opening up what should be a lot of Emeralds home runs.

With Tuesday’s doubleheader coming up, and that extra player being recalled, check out Jason Vosler’s first home run of the year.

Hunter Bishop got his first home run of the season.  Expect to see a few more of these as the year goes on.

If you’re looking for a player who is still under the radar but is looking like a break out, keep an eye on Adrian Sugastey down in San Jose.

Another always-underrated guy, keep an eye on Armani Smith to continue to be that guy that not enough people are talking about.

I admit, I love watching Brett Auerbach play.  And he is still hitting bombs at Double-A.

Let’s get some pitching in here.  Here’s some of Eric Silva’s first start.  One of the Giants’ youngest picks from the 2021 draft, and one of the more promising pitchers.

And here’s a reliever who you might hear a bit more about as the season goes on: Joey Marciano, who’s been showing off his arm in Sacramento early this season.

Now…about about some defense!  Franklin Labour opened up eyes in Salem-Keizer in 2019 with his power.  But he’s got some power in his arm as well.

And let’s wrap things up with a little fun.  A little pitching from someone who doesn’t usually, with catcher Rayner Santana coming in and showing that mid-60’s heat!

The Reading/Listening List

Well, the theme of this week is Roby, so definitely check out this podcast interview by the incomparable Roger Munter with Roby from before the season started.

Hitter of the Week: Sean Roby – 5 G, 7-for-15 (.466), 5 HR, 9 RBI, 5 BB, 5 SO, 1 HBP

How could it not be Roby this week?  Two 2-home run games, and five home runs in the span of three games as part of Richmond’s power run against Altoona in the past week?  Roby’s already shown up a couple of times in this PRU, so I won’t keep going on, but it’s definitely worth hoping that this season will be the breakout for him that had been hoped for since he was exciting fans in that 2020 Spring Training that ended far too early.

So here are Roby’s five home runs this week for your viewing pleasure!

Pitcher of the Week: Kyle Harrison – 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 SO

The top pitching prospect of the system is definitely showing his stuff early this season.  The nine strikeouts this week gives him a total of 16 over 9.0 innings he’s thrown so far this season.  But what’s more impressive is that he has given out just one free pass in that span, and has just four hits allowed.  Plus, of course, no runs allowed.  It’s unlikely to see a pace like this continue, but it’s great to see the top guy reaffirming his status like this.

Top Prospect Watch

Marco Luciano – .320/.357/.501 – 8-25, 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 SO, 0-0 SB

Luciano hasn’t had huge breakout numbers to start, but he’s been consistent.  He’s only had one game out of seven without a hit, and peaked with a 2-double game.  The only downside is that he’s also had just one game without a strikeout.

Luis Matos – .179/.207/.179 – 5-28, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1-1 SB

It’s been a cold start for Luis Matos in Oregon, now that he’s completely got the spotlight on him.  He struck out four times in his first three games, but just one in the four games since.  He did draw his first walk on Sunday, too.

Kyle Harrison – 0.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, .133 Avg – 9.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 16 SO

Lots of Giants pitchers had a great first start, but Harrison was able to follow up his first start with a great second start.  It’s gone about as well as could be expected, as Harrison has shown great stuff and great control.

Heliot Ramos – .214/.313/.357 – 6-28, 1 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 4 BB, 8 SO, 0-0 SB

Of course, Ramos’ first couple of weeks in the minors was interrupted with a couple of games in the big leagues.  For the record, these numbers are his Triple-A numbers.  The best note for Ramos is that he has four walks to eight strikeouts so far this season.

Will Bednar – 2.35 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, .120 Avg – 7.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO

Bednar’s first start was marred by some control issues that led to a shocking five hit batters, but he had it cleaned up for his second start, where he had no hit batters and just one walk.  

The Wrap-Up:

For the second week in a row, I want to talk about City Connect.  And positively for once.

Here’s the leaked Kansas City City Connect cap.

At first glance, this looks interesting, and generally positive.  I’m not so sure about the navy blue color for the Royals, but the logo leaves a good impression.

But when you realize that the logo is a a direct reference to the logo on the Kansas City flag, this becomes an excellent design that City Connect uniforms are all about.  Hopefully this could be the best City Connect design to come out yet.