The Hitting Leaders in Eugene, and the Northwest League

It’s been a difficult week for the San Francisco Giants and their fans, and truthfully, there’s been a lot of disappointment in the system from some of the system’s top prospects.  But there have been some unqualified successes, and two of the hitting successes have been in Eugene of the Northwest League.

Top Giants prospect Marco Luciano is the obvious name to take note of.  Luciano had a modest 2021 in his first full season between San Jose and Eugene.  His .301/.365/.549 batting line is a standout in the 6-team league, as he’s one of just four batters to be batting over .300, and has the second-highest OPS at .914.  His seven home runs is part of a 3-way tie for the rain-limited league lead.  But he’s not the best hitter even on his team.

Third baseman Casey Schmitt is having a breakout season of his own.  He leads the league in batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.397), slugging percentage (.578), and of course, is the only hitter ahead of Luciano in OPS at .975.  He also has a share of the league home run lead with seven.  And he’s pairing that with a reputation of strong defense.  He has three errors in 27 games at third, for an unexpectedly low .936 fielding percentage early in the season, but few doubt he’ll end up impressive on the defensive side.

These two have been among the few standouts on the offensive side in the first six weeks of the season.  But the question is…when will these two get a promotion?

For Luciano, that push is likely very, very soon.

As of this past weekend, Luciano has played 67 games at High-A, between 2021 and 2022.  That’s just short of the 70 games he had in Low-A before his promotion to High-A.  While the overall numbers at High-A are more modest when combined with last season, his performance this season is enough to prompt a promotion.  But another number is key to earning this promotion.

Luciano has a 21.4% strikeout rate in 2022, with 27 strikeouts in 113 at-bats.  That’s a significant improvement from his time in Eugene last season (37.2%) and overall numbers including San Jose (30.9%).  While his walk percentage has slipped slightly (7.9% in 2022 compared to 10.6% overall in 2021), the strikeouts are a bigger concern for a young slugger.  More than any other number, this is the marker for Luciano’s advancement, and he should be getting to Double-A Richmond sooner rather than later.

Schmitt’s future promotion is less clear.

While Schmitt has the better overall numbers, he’s also bouncing back from an underwhelming 2021, when he hit just .247/.318/.406 in San Jose.  Schmitt’s goal remains proving that this season is a better indicator of his talent.  He’s played 32 games so far this season, already halfway to the 64 he played in an injury-plagued 2021.  Yet, he’s already almost matched the eight home runs he hit in 2021.

There’s no one benchmark for Schmitt to reach.  Indeed, his strikeout rate is higher this year (23.5%) compared to last (17.5%).  But that’s acceptable as he is just making more successful contact by a long shot, and his home run power has increased.  For the second round pick, the goals are just more general improvement, and clearly he’s done that.  But with just 32 games under his belt, thanks to a rain-interrupted Pacific Northwest, the Giants may want to see him keep it up for longer.  A promotion too early to a more challenging level might even derail his momentum…and momentum is something that is missing just a bit up and down the system.

Schmitt’s chance at Triple-A is coming.  It’s just a little further away.

Luis Matos – Why He’s Out, and The Road Back (Soon)

This week, we finally got some confirmation, and some good news, about one of the Giants’ top prospects: Luis Matos.

Matos has not played since May 4th, nearly three weeks ago, and to be honest it has been a very disappointing season before that, as he has hit just .152 and does not have a single extra-base hit in 18 games.  Now, Evan Webeck of the Mercury News reported that Matos suffered a left quad sprain and that’s been why he has been out.

The good news is that Matos is on the verge of returning.  Webeck reports that he began his progression back to game action, and thus he should be seeing game action in extended spring training sometime this week.  That means he could see his return Eugene maybe as soon as this weekend going into next week, if the rehab time goes well.

Matos really emerged as a Giants top prospect in 2021, and received national recognition.  Hopefully once he’s healthy, he can come back and prove that potential again.

Vaun Brown’s Scary Moment

On Friday night, Vaun Brown nearly suffered a scary stop to his breakout season.

In his second plate appearance, Brown got a pitch that came up and in.  It caught him in the flap of his helmet, appearing to catch all plastic but very nearly cracking him in the jaw and mouth.  Brown staggered back, looking very woozy, but he never went down.  Eventually he walked off the field with the trainer, but without any help.

Any time a player gets hit in the head, it’s just intrinsically scary.  Brown has been absolutely on fire in San Jose, even more so in May.  You never want to see any player’s season cut short, but especially not when they are breaking out.  So the relief was serious when Brown was back in the lineup on Sunday, after a day off.  Brown was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and a steal in his first game back.

Brown, 23, is a bit old for Low-A since he was drafted as a college senior, so many of us following the Giants system are expecting that he could get promoted to Eugene very soon, perhaps even after this break.  But wherever he’s playing, Brown is one of the must-check players in the Daily Minors Quick-Notes.

Highlights of the Week

The highlight of the week has to be the one that made SportsCenter Top 10 plays, and of course, it’s Simon Whiteman’s dive and Shane Matheny turning a fantastic double play this week!

Shane Matheny is having quite the season as he has really been a big part of Double-A, and even played in center field the first time this year.  So here’s him turning on every last bit of his speed tool for a triple.

At the end of last week, we got one big promotion, as Armani Smith got pushed up to Double-A.  So of course, we need to celebrate his first hit and RBI at the level.

Of course, we can’t completely ignore the home runs today, so let’s get a look at the slugging David Villar, with an excellent look at that home run swing.

The Reading/Listening List

For the second straight year, the baseballs are the talk of baseball, both in the Majors and also the minors, though less so.  Last year, Triple-A was using a different baseball (mostly) than the rest of the minors, and may pitchers who attempted to make the jump from Double-A suffered (including Matt Frisbee and Sean Hjelle) that one can assume the baseballs made a difference.  This year, offense is down in the Majors, and generally in the minors, a lot of hitting prospects have struggled, and pitchers such as Logan Webb have demonstrably had problems.  Is it the baseballs?  Does this have something to do with Will Bednar’s incredible first game difficulties?  It’ll be impossible to say for sure, but this article is worth reading to consider.

Meanwhile, one of the system’s other great breakouts has been David Villar, who has taken to Triple-A like a fish to water.  Here’s a recent interview he did.

Hitter of the Week: Marco Luciano – 8-for-28 (.285), 2 2B, 3 HR, 1 BB, 6 SO

For Luciano, this past week has been less about the number of hits and more about the power behind them, with five extra-base hits out of eight total hits.  Luciano’s slugging percentage at the start of the week was .506 and ended at .549 after three straight days with home runs and a pair of double on one day.  Previously in May, Luciano had just one extra-base hit, but he’s truly asserting himself by this point.

Pitcher of the Week: Enmanuel De Jesus – 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 SO

There were several nice pitching performances this week, but I’m going with a guy who might be off most of the radars: offseason signee Enmanuel De Jesus.  De Jesus was one of several pitcher who had scoreless outings, but topped the week with nine strikeouts, and did it in less innings than some of the others, with just 4.1 innings.  It was just his second scoreless start, and it lowered his PCL ERA to 4.85 with this game, and now has 39 strikeouts in 29.2 innings, with 15 walks.  De Jesus doesn’t top these reports often, but this week, he earned this honor.

Top Prospect Watch

Marco Luciano – .301/.365/.549 – 34-113, 7 2B, 0 3B, 7 HR, 10 BB, 27 SO, 0-0 SB-SBA

We’ve had two sections discussion him already, do you want to read more?

Luis Matos – .152/.253/.152 – 10-66, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 8 BB, 13 SO, 1-1 SB-SBA

As noted above, Luis Matos is still out with injury with a sprained left quad.  Hopefully, he should be back sometime this week or early next.

Kyle Harrison – 1.55 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .179 Avg – 29.0 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 10 BB, 59 SO

Harrison gave up four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in 5.0 innings in his start this week…and that was the weakest start he’s had in May.  Harrison’s only rough start came while he was under the weather, otherwise he’s just been dominating this year.

Heliot Ramos – .191/.298/.282 – 25-131, 3 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 17 BB, 39 SO, 2-3 SB-SBA

Ramos had another rough week, a bit better than recently, but not overwhelmingly so.   He went 4-for-22 (.182) with a pair of doubles, but no walks and eight strikeouts.  Ramos had 12 walks in April, but has just 5 in May, and is just one symptom of his recent slump.

Will Bednar – 3.58 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .132 Avg – 27.2 IP, 12 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 15 BB, 33 SO

Believe it or not, Will Bednar has a better WHIP and batting average allowed than Kyle Harrison.  This week, he didn’t allow a hit in 3.1 innings, though he gave up an unearned run.  Clearly, though, Bednar’s control has been his achilles heel, with 9 HBP this season, and the strikeouts having’e been up to snuff.  He has walked 10 to 14 strikeouts in 11.0 innings in May.