Down on the Farm: Do Giants have their next Matt Duffy in the minors?

Tim Cattera/

Down on the Farm: Do Giants have their next Matt Duffy in the minors?

San Jose Giants play-by-play broadcaster Joe Ritzo knows San Francisco's Advanced Single-A affiliate as well as anyone. This season, he's taking in the play of a talented outfield with top organizational prospects such as the Giants' first pick in 2016, Bryan Reynolds, and the powerful Heath Quinn. 

While he of course has his eyes on the big names, there's an under-the-radar prospect in San Jose that Ritzo has become quite fond of. 

"I really like the young shortstop here, Ryan Howard," Ritzo told Alex Pavlovic on The Giants Insider Podcast. "He flies under the radar here because of Reynolds and Quinn and the outfielders, but all he does is hit." 

That last statement has been particluarly true with Howard this season. Fans witnessed Madison Bumgarner get surprisingly rocked to nine runs in four innings during his rehab start on Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium. As that was far from predictable, Howard's line for the night was. He went 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI. 

Howard's approach to the game brings back memories to Ritzo of two names that should certainly catch the attention of Giants fans. 

"It reminds me of a Christian Arroyo or a Matt Duffy where he's not hitting a bunch of home runs, but he's finding ways to put balls in play," Ritzo says. "He's really hard to strikeout this year and he's just a good, hard-nosed player who does everything the right way."

After a 3-for-3 night on Thursday, Howard has now racked up 102 hits in 74 games, which ranks second in the California League. He owns a .328 batting average (also second in the California League), .360 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. As Ritzo says, Howard is far from a power hitter, but he has knocked six balls over the fence to go along with nine doubles this season. 

On defense, Howard is seen as an average shortstop. After only playing one position last season, Howard has also found time at third base this year in 23 games, but has seven errors at the hot corner to only two in 50 games at shortstop. 

For his pure hit ability and his long-term position not completely locked in, there's another player he reminds Ritzo of that forced his way up to the Giants this year. 

"Maybe he's someone like an Austin Slater where if you keep hitting .300 every year, eventually you're going to get a shot," said Ritzo.

The Giants liked Howard so much, they drafted him twice. As a sophomore-eligible player the Giants tried to grab him in the 31st round of the 2015 draft, but he played with the collegiate national team instead and returned to Missouri. That was clearly the right call and the Giants stayed on their guy, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. 

"It's the kind of player the Giants have had a lot of success drafting," says Ritzo, an understatement to say the least with the organization's recent history of drafting middle infielders.

Duffy was never close to a name on a prospect list. Joe Panik didn't garner a bunch of talk either. Ranking systems have been friendlier to Arroyo, yet even he hasn't been seen as a prized prospect despite making the bigs this year at 21 years old. 

If you look at Baseball America, Howard is nowhere among the Giants' top 30 prospects. For MLB Pipeline, he's No. 30. Like Duffy and other Giants infielders have proven in the past, none of this matters. If you hit, that's all that counts. Luckily for Howard, that's all he's been doing for San Jose. 

Around The Horn 

-- ICYMI: Here are the top Giants minor leaguers from June. Yes, 35-year-old Justin Ruggiano made the list.

-- Melvin Upton Jr. joined for the Sacramento River Cats for the first time on July 1. He went 0-for-3 and is apparently dealing with yet another injury after just one game. 

-- Jarrett Parker is struggling in his rehab with the River Cats. The outfielder is now only hitting .208 in 14 games with Sacramento. 

Offseason can be tense on other side of Giancarlo Stanton rumors


Offseason can be tense on other side of Giancarlo Stanton rumors

SAN FRANCISCO — Just around dinner time on Monday, Tyler Beede got a call he had been waiting for. General manager Bobby Evans informed Beede, the Giants’ top pitching prospect, that he was being added to the 40-man roster, a significant step toward making his big league debut. Earlier that day, however, Beede’s phone brought him some unwanted news. 

Like most Giants fans, Beede woke up to a report out of South Florida that he was one of several names the Giants and Marlins had discussed in Giancarlo Stanton trade talks. For fans or team employees, it would be painful to give up a Beede or a Chris Shaw or a Joe Panik, but images of Stanton taking aim at the Coke bottle at AT&T Park would soon wash away most concerns. 

For players, the reality this time of year is much different. The Giants are the only organization that all of the rumored pieces have ever known. Panik is a New Yorker, but he and his wife have grown to love San Francisco. Beede and Shaw have spent years dreaming of debuting at AT&T Park and playing in front of sellout crowds. That makes the Hot Stove Season a particularly tense time of year. 

“I try to be a guy who doesn’t look those kinds of things up too frequently, but obviously I’m a normal guy, so I tend to dig into it a little bit more and see what’s going on and see what people are saying,” Beede said on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast. “It’s funny. I don't really know how to handle it. It’s my third year going through the trade deadline and trade talk. I’ve just go to keep telling myself it’s a realistic possibility and not to be shocked if anything were to come out or a trade were to be made.”

The rumor mill is nothing new for these players. Panik acknowledged several times during the season that he could be the odd man out. Shaw actually already once thought he got traded to Florida. For a few minutes at the 2016 deadline, Twitter had him as a key piece in the Matt Moore deal. The outfielder came out of a hotel bathroom right after the deadline to see two teammates staring at him in disbelief as Twitter rumors flew. 

Five minutes later, he got a call from Bobby Evans. “You’re still a Giant,” Evans told him. “Don’t take your jersey off.”

“It’s a little tense for sure,” Shaw said earlier this year. “It’s not something you can try to predict. You can have a feeling but that means nothing.”

Evans has always communicated to players and their agents that they can reach out any time they have a question or concern about what they might be hearing, but when it comes to getting on the phone himself, he treats the trade deadline and offseason differently. There’s more urgency to clear the air in July when players might have to take at-bats or throw pitches with rumors weighing on their minds. In the offseason, Evans will wait to reach out until deals are closer to being agreed upon. He tries not to worry as much about “hot stove banter,” he said. 

“In the offseason I think it’s a little less of an issue because a lot of things get thrown out there that don’t have validity,” he said. “We certainly don’t try to respond to every single rumor with an update because there are new rumors every hour, so it’s hard to keep up. A lot more names are mentioned this time of year.”

Players try to find different ways to get away from it all. Every year, several Giants prospects talk of playing golf during the trade deadline to stay away from MLB Network and their phones. For veterans, it’s often easiest to just take offseason vacations, and Panik planned to visit Europe with his wife. 

Beede has a somewhat unique distraction as rumors trickle out. He’s getting married on Saturday, which along with the holiday, has kept him busy all week. Still, he knows the rumors will be out there. 

“After a couple of days I start to just understand that (my) name is going to be in rumors or there may be things that people say or speculate,” he said. “(If) Bobby tells me something, or my agent says something, then I can start to maybe engage in it a little bit more. But as of right now, I’m just trying to go about my preparation and I’ll continue to enjoy being a San Francisco Giant.”

Projection system loves Giancarlo Stanton at AT&T Park


Projection system loves Giancarlo Stanton at AT&T Park

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have made a habit in recent winters of “kicking the tires,” so to speak, on as many free agents as possible. General manager Bobby Evans is committed to being thorough, but at times there is probably no need. 

Hitters have made no secret of the fact that they prefer friendlier confines, and if you’re a power hitter, you’re going to ask Evans for a significantly larger check to play 81 of your games at the harshest power park in the majors. That’s what makes Giancarlo Stanton, readily available via trade, so intriguing. But would Stanton be fully immune to the realities of AT&T Park?

The numbers, at least in a small sample, suggest he would. Stanton has played 27 games in San Francisco and taken 108 at-bats. He has nine homers, 11 doubles and a triple. His .676 slugging percentage at AT&T Park isn’t far off his mark at Coors Field (.714), and his 1.048 OPS is higher than his OPS during the 2017 season, when he hit 59 homers. 

The damage has been done in limited time, but the Giants clearly believe it’s fully sustainable, and a recent study done by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski backs that up. Szymborski ran his ZiPS projection system to estimate Stanton’s stats over the next 10 years for a variety of suitors. The numbers in orange and black are overwhelming. 

The projections have Stanton at 46.2 WAR over the next 10 seasons, including 7.1 in 2018 and 6.8 in 2019, the two seasons the organization should be focused on given Madison Bumgarner’s contract situation. ZiPS projects Stanton at 46 homers next season if he plays for the Giants, followed by 43, 42, 39, 35 over the following four years. For comparison’s sake, Brandon Belt led the Giants in homers each of the last two seasons and he has 35 total during that span. 

Any sort of projection system needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, especially with a player who has had injury issues in the past. But ZiPS believes Stanton -- who plays in a huge park already -- is a rarity, the kind of power hitter who can keep crushing well into his 30’s and put up huge numbers even if he is limited by the realities of getting older and getting hurt. Szymborski’s projections have Stanton playing just 102 games in 2025, but he’s still projected to hit 23 homers, 20 doubles and post an OPS+ of 121. Even in the 10th year of the projections, ZiPS has Stanton down for 16 homers. 

There are no sure things in this game, but as Evans continues to chase a blockbuster deal, he can be confident that Stanton is one player who should be able to provide power for years to come, no matter what AT&T Park does to hold hitters down.