The Best of April
The first month of the season is in the books, and it’s been quite a first month for the farm system. So let’s take a minute to look at who’s had the best of it at each level in the system.
David Villar – .288/.380/.588, 1 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR
It was a heck of a month for the often underrated slugger. Villar had his best power year in 2021 at Double-A, where he hit a career-high 20 home runs, and yet it took him a month to get more than a third of the way to matching that. Villar is also hitting for average and getting on base at higher rates than previously in his career.
Bryce Johnson – .355/.369/.484, 4 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 8 SB
Sacramento’s reigning defensive player of the year is having a great season at the plate too. While he hasn’t managed a home run yet, Johnson has been collecting the hits and using his speed to get extra bases, either on hits or with steals. While he didn’t get the call during San Francisco’s recent week of uncertainty (see below), Johnson should get a chance at the bigs soon.
Ka’ai Tom – .327/.387/.509, 4 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 1 SB
One of the under-the-radar minor league free agent pick ups the Giants made, Tom has been quietly consistent in Sacramento. He got called up for one game at the end of the month, but got only one at-bat in the big leagues before being sent back down. Tom had an injury-limited 2021 but may have put it together this year.
Raynel Espinal – 2.30 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 15.2 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 23 SO
Signed as a minor league free agent, Espinal has put together a great first month of the season with the Giants, and has been the best starting pitcher in Triple-A. While other pitchers got recent callups, Espinal should be a name to keep in mind down the line.
Sean Roby – .246/.356/.656, 1 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR
The April home run leader for the Giants farm system, Roby had a big-time breakout for power in the most power-unfriendly park in the farm system. With eight home runs, he’s already nearly halfway to breaking the Richmond season record. While his batting average hasn’t been there yet, you have to love the power.
Frankie Tostado – .338/.368/.446, 4 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI
In his second season at Richmond, Tostado has been a fan favorite as he’s been one of the Squirrels’ most consistent hitters. There’s a lot of corner infielders suddenly above him in the system, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tostado get a chance at Triple-A if he keeps this up.
Jake Dahlberg – 2.21 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 20.1 IP, 16 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 24 SO
The lefty spent most of 2021 in High-A with a 6.60 ERA, which wouldn’t normally promise big things for the future, but he’s come out strong to start the 2022 season. Dahlberg has already kept things up with another strong start on May 1st, so hopefully the 28-year old can keep the momentum going.
Marco Luciano – .322/.369/.593, 4 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 5 BB, 15 SO
The Giants’ top prospect had the April he missed in 2021, and has been Eugene’s most consistent hitter. Oregon fans should enjoy him while they can, because the Giants will likely be quick to keep challenging him with higher levels.
Armani Smith – .255/.386/.532, 1 2B, 4 HR, 9 BB, 17 SO, 1 SB
In April of 2021, Smith surprised in an uber-talented San Jose squad, and was one of the first promotions up to High-A. This year, although his batting average has dipped at the end of April, power and plate discipline has been leading Smith to the top of Eugene’s statsheet.
Kyle Harrison – 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 15.0 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 32 SO
Weather and sickness have been two of the big things that Harrison has fought through in the early part of the season, but despite allowing some runs, Harrison is putting up some spectacular strikeout numbers to show off what he can do, even not at his best.
Will Bednar – 1.62 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 16.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 19 SO
Despite an uncharacteristic lack of control in his first start that led to five hit batters in one game, the first round pick has been showing off the talent that got him that draft pick.
Nick Sinacola – 2.84 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 12.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 16 SO
While many of San Jose’s pitchers have looked good early in the season, Sinacola, the team’s 7th round pick in 2021, has really shown some bigtime strikeout potential, with a 9-strikeout game highlighting his four April appearances. He’s already had another strong one to start May, setting him apart.
San Jose’s Hitting Woes
You may have noticed that there were no San Jose hitters in the list of the Best of April. Well, while there are many great pitchers in Low-A, the hitting crop simply has not done well adjusting for the first month of the season.
San Jose is at the bottom of the California League’s offensive numbers in many ways. Their team batting average (.206), on-base percentage (.312), and OPS (.635) are all league-worst numbers, and they are second-worst in slugging at .323, just .002 ahead of the bottom mark. With 15 home runs, San Jose avoids the worst total there, with two teams tied at 11 at the bottom.
Only four players are hitting above .250 by now. Vaun Brown is batting .269 to lead the team, followed by Najee Gaskins (.255), Aeverson Arteaga (.254), and Yorlis Rodriguez (.250). Arteaga, the team’s highest-ranked hitting prospect, leads the team with three home runs.
Meanwhile, several regular hitters are underperforming significantly. Grant McCray and Abdiel Layer got their first tastes of Low-A last season, but both are hitting under the mendoza line. Victor Bericoto is batting just .145 in his first go at San Jose, and Alexander Suarez is batting just .133 with a .435 OPS through 14 games Both Bericoto and Suarez, 20, may need more time in the Arizona Complex League when that season starts.
These hitting woes may be the other side of why the pitching staff is so deep. The team drafted many pitchers, but only one hitter was drafted in the Top 10 round in 2021: Vaun Brown, who is 23. There’s only one other hitter from the 2021 class, the undrafted Max Wright, one of the team’s catchers. While the team, as other Low-A teams would be, have several young international signings, such as Arteaga, Bericoto, Adrian Sugastey and Rayner Santana, and past high school draft picks who have taken time to get to Low-A and are repeating the level, such as McCray and Garrett Frechette.
Perhaps the team’s hitters will make adjustments as the season continues. But for now, this group will be much better known for its pitching.
A Scramble for Players, and the Scramble to Come
A lot has been made of the roster churn that has happened at times with Farhan Zaidi’s Giants. He seems to troll the waiver wires for recently DFA’d players more than any other PBO or GM. But the last week-plus was a like nothing else, especially with a Giants team stricken with COVID cases and a need for bodies.
Dating back to April 21st, the Giants have traded for or claimed five new players, almost all for cash considerations, all of them recently designated for assignment, with the trade allowing the Giants to jump the waiver line.
4/21 – Traded for RHP Cory Abbott from the Chicago Cubs for cash considerations
4/26 – Traded for IF Kevin Padlo from the Seattle Mariners for cash
4/27 – Claimed LHP Darien Núñez off release waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
4/30 – Traded for SS Isan Diaz from the Miami Marlins for cash or a PTBNL
4/30 – Traded for 1B Mike Ford from the Seattle Mariners for cash
Most of these moves were made possible by players going on the COVID-19 Injured List. Unlike most 10-day IL stints, a player going on the list for COVID, this opens up spots on the team’s 40-man roster. And that wasn’t all. The Giants also added Mauricio Llovera, Ka’ai Tom, and Jason Krizan to the 40 from Sacramento.
Mike Yastrzemski, Zack Littell, Brandon Belt, and Dominic Leone all were put on the COVID list. In addition, the Giants moved Steven Duggar to the 60-Day IL for his oblique strain, they DFA’d Jaylin Davis, who was claimed by the Boston Red Sox, and they also released Darien Núñez just two days after signing him. And that’s on top of a ton of moves to and from Sacramento over the last week that would be a few paragraphs.
This all led up to a May 2nd roster move that resulted in teams having to cut their active roster from 28 to the normal 26 players (Jason Krizan and Yunior Marte). But as Yaz, Littell, Belt, and Leone need to return from the Covid IL, their 40-man spots will need to be cleared again. When those four spots will be needed again isn’t clear, but it will lead to some potentially difficult decisions for either these newly acquired guys…or players who have been on the edge of the roster. That’s a lot of May moves.
Will Bednar – California League Pitcher of the Week
The Giants’ first round pick in 2021 had a rough start to the season, but he had his best start of the week. That earned Will Bednar the official Pitcher of the Week honors for the California League after he went 5.0 hitless innings with five strikeouts, only allowing two walks and a hit batter.
It was Bednar’s first start without allowing a run, much less not allowing a hit. He has a 1.62 ERA on the season and a spectacular 0.60 WHIP, with 19 strikeouts to five walks.
Highlights of the Week
There were a lot of home runs this week (Thanks, ABQ!), but let’s lead off with the three home runs in one game by newcomer Kevin Padlo!
As if three home runs weren’t enough, but how about four runs in one grand slam?
Let’s interrupt the dingers with some pitching, as here is Will Bednar’s strikeouts from his hitless outing this past week.
From last Tuesday, the River Cats might have been a bit optimistic with this tweet, but Tom is still having quite the April.
Shane Matheny at Richmond also had a 2-home run day this week, and here’s the first one. He did it while playing center field for the first time in his pro career. The Squirrels might want to put him out there again.
Of course, you can’t not include a diner from the farm’s home run leader, Sean Roby!
This season David Villar is one of the system’s biggest power hitters, and in Albuquerque, he took advantage of it to hit a monster home run.
This isn’t exactly a highlight, but Richmond remains one of the most popular cities in the Eastern League. There’s a reason that the Washington Nationals were strongly considering making Richmond their new Triple-A home, and why the Giants made clear their desire to remain affiliated, despite it being the further affiliation between a big league team and a minor league affiliate.
Finally, Jason Krizan made his big league debut finally, and I just love this photomosaic about his journey to finally reach that goal.
The Reading/Listening List
For those with a subscription, Melissa Lockard’s recent article in The Athletic is an interesting read about how the Giants were able to sign Brett Auerbach.
Top Prospect rankings are hard to do, but @giantprospectiv is going to update his every month. If you need more rankings, here’s your updated from him at Around the Foghorn!
Pace of Play has been a hot topic again in the minors with the pitch clock being strictly enforced. But it is controversial, with players being generally against it. Here’s a great tweet thread from a Braves farmhand which is worth reading.
Hitter of the Week: Kevin Padlo – 4 G, 7-for-17 (.412), 4 HR, 9 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SO, 1 SB
It’s hard to make a nicer impression right after a trade than what Kevin Padlo did after his trade to the Giants organization. Coming in to play while Sacramento was in Albuquerque, Padlo took advantage of the altitude and hit four home runs, including a 3-home run game on Sunday. Padlo had two home runs in 15 games while with Tacoma before the trade…and both of those also came while in Albuquerque. Will Padlo keep it up after the team leaves New Mexico? We shall see, but you can’t argue with the start.
Pitcher of the Week: Nick Swiney – 5.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 SO
After leading the Eugene Emeralds to their first no-hitter with the Giants organization, it’s an easy pick to make Nick Swiney to be the pitcher of the week! Swiney had been off to a rough start, allowing seven runs (five earned) over his first two starts, but he looked like the guy that dominated in brief stints in San Jose last season. On the year, Swiney has a 3.29 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, with 14 strikeouts to seven walks in 13.2 innings.
Top Prospect Watch
Marco Luciano – .328/.380/.578 – 21-64, 4 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 6 BB, 16 SO, 0-0 SB
Just more consistency from Lucaino, who had three multi-hit games this week as he pushed his batting line up slightly. He only had one extra-base hit, a home run, but he’s consistently hitting. Also, he drew two walks to four strikeouts, which is fair over the week.
Luis Matos – .161/.268/.161 – 10-62, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 8 BB, 13 SO, 1-1 SB
After an encouraging finish last weekend, Matos couldn’t keep the momentum going, with three more hitless games, and his batting average has sunk from .178 to .161. He did collect three more walks, keeping his OBP somewhat steady (.268, down from .275). But the hits need to start coming for him.
Kyle Harrison – 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .193 Avg – 15.0 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 32 SO
Harrison reportedly has struggled with a little illness the last week plus, which led to him being a little human. But while he gave up a run this week, he did strike out 11, falling just one short of his career high. That gives Harrison a spectacular 32 strikeouts in 15.0 innings, to still just five walks, four of them coming over his last two starts.
Heliot Ramos – .211/.349/.310 – 15-for-71, 1 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 13 BB, 18 SO, 1-1 SB
While other hitters really had big weeks on this week’s series, Ramos couldn’t get things going in Albuquerque, going just 3-for-26 (.115) with no extra base hits, and four walks to eight strikeouts. Hopefully Ramos can get it going again as the team returns to Sacramento to face Las Vegas.
Will Bednar – 1.62 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, .094 Avg – 16.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 19 SO
Obviously, this week’s California League Pitcher of the Week had a great week, with his best start of the year. Bednar had allowed a run in each of his first three starts of the season. Hopefully the best of Bednar will come.
To wrap things up this week, here’s something a little different. This story happened not to a Giants prospect, but at a game this week, and I just wanted to share.
Imagine you’re a catcher.
It’s the 8th inning. Your team is up, 3-2. The leadoff batter is up. The 0-1 pitch is a foul tip, and it goes into THE ONE SPOT you do not want that pitch to go into.
You hit the ground as the batter turns around, and the umpire goes out to ask the pitcher about what a nice wedding gift would be for someone, because no one wants to even try to talk to you. Hell, even your own damn trainer waits a minute before joining you at the plate (probably due to some Pierzynski self-defense courses all athletic trainers go through now).
After three minutes of gasping on the ground, you put on a brave face and a smile as you tell the trainer you want to stay in. As the trainer gives you the ol’ butt patt “attaboy”, you wince as you go to the crouch to await the 0-2 pitch. The pitcher throws a curve, the batter swings and misses…but as the ball hits the dirt, you for some reason can’t move to the side fast enough, and the ball goes to the backstop!
You will yourself to stand and chase it…but it’s no use. The runner is on after striking out, despite you trying to throw to first with a throw with no mustard on it because your lower half refuses to take part.
The next batter comes up, the tying run on first. And what does this guy do? BUNTS.
You have to get up again, but the ball goes foul. But that’s not going to stop this batter. He bunts again, and as you have to lunge to your feet again, the pitcher mercifully comes in to field it. But he drops it. And then he picks it up…and drops it again. Runners on first and second.
The next batter? Of course…he BUNTS too. You can only watch as your third baseman charges right past the ball and does an impression of a matador, waving his glove at the ball as he effectively side steps the ball. Bases loaded. Nobody out.
The very first pitch is a fastball that hits the batter’s knee…and ricochets. RIGHT INTO YOUR INNER THIGH.
The tying run comes in as you catch your breath and wince more behind your mask.
Bases are still loaded. Your pitcher finally starts to get his stuff together, getting to a 1-2 count. You call for a low outside fastball. The pitch IS low…and way inside, as it skips right by you.
You have to get up and chase another ball, as the lead run easily scores.
That’s all you have to worry about, right? The next batter lines out to shortstop, and the next batter again falls behind 1-2. And the pitcher throws a fastball for a swinging strike three!–except it’s in the dirt in your 5-hole, and tries to ricochet up and hit you with the Shoryuken to knock you out! Luckily, your glove FINALLY blocks the ball, and it fails in its attempt to get you. Despite the runner heading to first, you breath a sigh of relief, somehow stand up, find the ball underneath you and throw to first for the out.
Except it’s just the second out.
The runner from third is already coming home to score.
I have to say…I have never felt more for a catcher in an inning in that one. But that happened tonight. So my best wishes to Freuddy Batista, the Single-A catcher for the Modesto…Nuts.