18 games into the season, and hot starts have cooled, while cold starts have changed for the better.  But one thing has persisted:

Caleb Kilian’s amazing stats just keeping coming on.

With Kilian’s 1-hit performance over seven innings, striking out ten, he seems to be still on the upswing.  And he does that with a toolset that doesn’t stand out like other prospects.  Kilian wasn’t ranked by Baseball America before the season started, and was #30 on MLB Pipeline’s list.  And to be honest, neither did I here on Giant Futures.

On the season, Kilian’s got 32 strikeouts to just one walk in 21.2 innings, and has given up three runs on nine hits.  The stats are simply spectacular.  But the 8th round pick from Texas Tech was called a “sum-of-the-parts” pitcher in his pre-draft scouting report, commenting on him having four average pitches with good control.

So, what’s changed?

The biggest change for him in terms of stuff came for his fastball.  He added the strength to turn a low-90’s fastball up by a few ticks, topping out at 98 in instructional league, sitting mid-90’s so far this spring.  He’s also begun to use a cutter more than his slider.  And he’s thrown that with excellent control.

The result is the biggest revelation of the Giants system so far this season.

Is this sustainable?  Baseball is littered by High-A superstars who could not keep up their success.  Killian’s shown his stuff is no longer just average, and at least against Single-A pitchers, they are more than enough to put away hitters.  The Giants may push him to Double-A soon to see if he can do that against more advanced hitters.  If he can prove he can handle that challenge, Kilian’s hot start won’t be just a start, but a precursor to a heck of a career.

Trivia Question: Reliever Similarities

Patrick Ruotolo has been one of the more underrated by effective relievers in the Giants system since being drafted in the 27th round of 2016.  R.J. Dabovich was a 4th round pick in 2020, with the reputation of being an effective reliever, and started the season a bit rough but has gotten stronger as the season has gone on.

But in early 2021, they have been connected by one random statistical fact.  What is it?

(Answer later in the column)

Another Pitcher of the Week: Shun Yamaguchi!

33-year old Shun Yamaguchi made the leap from Japan to the Major Leagues in 2020, playing for Toronto, converting from starting to relieving.  He struggled there, with a 8.06 ERA in 17 games played.  The Giants gave him a chance to get back to starting, down in Triple-A, but he’d struggled a bit in his first two games.

That made his game on Saturday much more fulfilling, giving up just one hit and two runs, and giving up two unearned runs while striking out nine.

Yamaguchi still has a 5.65 ERA on the season over his first three appearances.  But if he can continue to keep this up, he could continue to give the Giants depth in the rotation as the season goes on.

Closer Material Callup

Jose Marte has been moved from starting to the bullpen, and the difference has been hugely impressive, albeit in just five appearances so far.  In 2017, Marte had a 5.24 ERA mostly in the Northwest League with 44 strikeouts to 34 walks in 55 innings.  In 2018, he had a 4.70 ERA with 112 strikeouts to 50 walks in 118.2 innings at Low-A Augusta.  In 2019, it was a 5.59 ERA with 80 strikeouts to 44 walks in 74.0 innings at High-A San Jose.

He’s had 14 strikeouts to no walks in 6.1 innings so far in High-A this season.  Now, he’ll take those talents to Double-A.

It’s a quick push for Marte, who has only had a few outings so far in 2021 to prove himself, even as impressive as things have been so far for him this season.  But the Giants have stated that this year’s minor league placements would be conservative to start the year but with potentially quick promotions.  Marte is evidence that they will be following through with that.

The question is, who will be next.

Abdiel Layer: Surprising Home Run Hitter

When someone mentions the name Abdiel Layer, how much do you know about the prospect?  You might be forgiven if all you remember him as is as the younger brother of fellow Giants prospect Jose Layer.  But after missing 2020, Abdiel is making a name for himself.

Having played just nine games this season, Layer has hit five home runs.  That doesn’t just lead the prospect-laden San Jose Giants (Marco Luciano and Casey Schmitt are tied for second, each with three home runs).  Abdiel Layer leads the entire California Low-A West League!

It’s even more noticeable that Layer’s 9 games played is far lower than nearly the entire rest of the leaderboard.  Among all the players who have at least three home runs, they have all played 14-17 games except one: Aldrich De Jongh of Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers), who has three home runs in just seven games.

Abdiel, 22, played most of 2019 in the Arizona League batting .292/.339/.506, in which he hit five home runs in 40 games, so he’s already matched the total.  His brother, Jose, has not begun play yet.  He hit .212/.253/.285 over 94 games between Low-A Augusta and a pair of games in Richmond.

In fact, the entire San Jose Giants team is leading the 8-team Low-A West league with 22 home runs over 18 games, even more crazy because it took them six games to hit even one.  Visalia is second, with 18 home runs.  The league formerly known as California had been known as one of the most offensive-oriented leagues, but it’s possible that with Bakersfield, High Desert, and Lancaster now all out of the league, that  reputation could change.

Injury Updates

One of the biggest prospects in the Giants system is continuing to miss time, with no new updates.  Hunter Bishop is still rehabbing a sore shoulder, taking long enough for his brother Braden to be claimed, then waived, by the Giants.  There’s no updates yet on his return.

In Sacramento, Joey Bart was removed from their home opener on Thursday mid-game with what was later reported as groin tightness. As of yet, he has not gotten back into a game, and there’s no report of a timetable for his return.

There is, however, an update on another prospect.

Concussions are tough to come back from, but throwing off a mound is a good sign.  Hopefully we’ll see Swiney back on the mound in games in San Jose soon.

James Sherfy to represent Team USA in the Olympic Qualifiers

As the Giants’ bullpen continues to struggle and needs help, one of their top performing relievers got called up…but not to the Giants.

Deeper on that list is 29-year old James Sherfy, who has been off to a strong start in Triple-A Sacramento, with 11 strikeouts in 7.2 innings, with three hits and a walk.    Sherfy came to the Giants as a free agent from Arizona, where he played in parts of three seasons, though he didn’t play in 2020, partially from dealing with elbow problems.

The tournament will take place in Florida from May 31 through June 5th, with teams from the U.S. facing teams from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua.  The winner goes to the Olympics, and the second and third place teams will go to another tournament to battle with Australia, Taiwan, and the Netherlands for the final spot, taking place from June 16-20 in Taiwan.

Reading/Listening List

Andres Angulo was a bit of a surprise to see in the Giants’ alternate site this spring before the minor league season began.  But even though he hasn’t had the best stats before this year, he’s emerged one of the better hitters in Richmond this season.

Short but sweet, you can’t not love the enthusiasm of Todd Parnell, COO of the Flying Squirrels for getting back.

Does a 5th (final) round pick in 2020 equate to a 40th (final) round pick in previous drafts?  Okay, probably not.  But we got a nice interview from one of the lesser known recent picks, Ryan Murphy.

The Bishop brothers have had an incredible story.  We’ll know by next week if Braden will stay in the system and maybe play with his brother.

Sunday’s Lines

AAA: Sacramento 14, Reno 9

Top Lines

SS Thairo Estrada: 3-5, 4 R, 3 RBI, 1 2B (6), 1 HR (5), 1 SB (4), 1 HBP
3B Jason Vosler: 1-3, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 HR (2), 1 BB, 1 SO
2B Jason Krizan: 3-3, 3 RBI, 1 2B (7), 1 3B (1)
LF Drew Robinson: 2-4, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 HR (2), 1 BB, 2 SO
CF Bryce Johnson: 2-5, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SO, 2 SB (7)

SP Conner Menez: 3.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1 HR
RP Daniel Álvarez: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO, 1 WP
RP Tyler Cyr: 2.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO
RP Gregory Santos: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 1 WP
RP Camilo Doval: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
RP Dominic Leone: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO

The River Cats exploded early in this game and ultimately dominated the Aces.  Jason Krizan opened the scoring with a 2-run triple in the first inning, but that was just the start.  In the second inning, the big hit was Thairo Estrada’s 3-run home run.  In the third, Bryce Johnson had a 2-run single followed by a Jason Vosler home run.  Up 10-3, in the 4th inning, Drew Robinson led things off with a solo home run, Vosler had a sacrifice fly, Krizan had an RBI double, and a passed ball gave the River Cats four more runs.

The Cats seemed to take mercy at that point, and didn’t score in the final five innings. 

Other Notes:

  • Thairo Estrada had a huge day at the plate, collecting a double and a home run, and a stolen base, showing off his versatility.  Estrada is batting .373/.440/.687 on the season so far.
  • Jason Krizan had a perfect day at the plate, despite being pinch-hit for later in the game.  He fell a home run short of the cycle, and is batting .283/.375/.566, with nine walks against just six strikeouts in 15 games this season.
  • Drew Robinson got his first home run at home of the season, and also picked up a bunt single in the first.
  • Connor Menez returned to a starting role, allowing three runs and a season-high five strikeouts, also reaching a season-high three innings.
  • Gregory Santos allowed a hit and a walk in a scoreless inning.  The walk was the first one he had issued in Sacramento since his Triple-A debut on May 6th, a span of 6.1 innings.
  • Camillo Doval gave up a home run in his inning of work, after giving up four in SF.  He had only allowed two home runs in a single season before this one.

Trivia Answer: What is similar between Patrick Ruotolo and R.J. Dabovich this season?

So how are these two relievers similar?

Patrick Ruotolo has thrown eight innings over seven appearances in Double-A.  R.J. Dabovich has thrown six innings in six appearances.  But they both have given up only two hits so far this season…and both of those hits for each of those pitchers have been home runs.

Hopefully they’ll start giving up a few more singles as the season goes on.

The Wrap-Up:

If you’ve read my stuff over the years, you know I love uniforms.  But it’s easy to get disillusioned with the whole thing.  Sometimes, you can easily start to think that “Special” jerseys may just be excuses to get people to spend more money.  But there’s just so many jerseys to love.  Whether it’s special gold-trimmed championship jerseys from Sacramento’s 2019 Triple-A Championship celebration…

Zack Littell in the Sacramento River Cats home opener on May 20, 2021 at Sutter Health Field.

…or the Copa de la Diversion jerseys across the system…

…or the Flying Squirrels with their…um…colorful Funnville Jerseys.

…whether you see them as fun, or money grabs, sometimes it gets to be too much.

But sometimes it’s not just the jerseys that can make something special…it’s also who you see inside those jerseys that matter.  And sometimes, it’s not the prospects we’ve been following.

On Sunday, the Sacramento River Cats host a game to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Negro League Baseball, with uniforms of the famous Kansas City Monarchs and the Atlanta Black Crackers.  And perhaps more importantly, the game featured Black and Latino high school and collegiate players from the area.

All the proceeds of this exhibition went to Negro League Baseball Museum, and local Black-owned businesses in the Sacramento area.  So while it’s nice to see the uniforms…sometimes it’s better to just see who’s on the field, and what it means.  And hopefully, some of the young players in the exhibition will be playing at Sutter Health Field in the future.