There's only one certainty when you sit down and make bold predictions for a baseball season. You're guaranteed to be wrong.
None of us saw Mike Yastrzemski breaking out, or knew Donovan Solano was this good. The Alex Dickerson trade in 2019 barely even made headlines, but now he's a trusted slugger in the heart of the order.
Baseball has a way of surprising us, but it's still fun to predict the surprises. We did this last year, and I'm actually not embarrassed looking back on them, which is why I'm linking to 2020 and not previous years! I correctly predicted that Brandon Crawford would bounce back and that Mauricio Dubon would lead the Giants in center field innings.
(I also predicted that Tyler Rogers would lead NL relievers in Wins Above Replacement and he finished 20th. Look, they can't all be winners.)
Before this year's opener, I called in a couple of reinforcements: Giants Talk co-host Cole Kuiper and his father Duane, who joins us every Thursday (shameless plug: you can subscribe to the podcast here and have it on your phone every Monday and Thursday when you wake up!)
We made some bold predictions for 2021 that you can hear in their entirety on Thursday's podcast, which also has an interview with Gabe Kapler. Here's a rundown of what we see happening:
Alex: Austin Slater Hits More Homers Than in His First Four Seasons Combined
Slater has 14 career homers in 207 appearances across four seasons and his career-high is five, set each of the last two years. The bet here is that he triples that high. Slater had three homers in his first 38 at-bats last year, but then his elbow acted up, he went on the IL and returned as a DH. He was healthy this spring, hitting four homers in 25 at-bats while playing the outfield.
The Giants plan to use Slater in center field much more often and he could lead off against left-handed pitching. He also looks poised to see a lot more time against righties. Add all that up and you have a breakout season for a player who made a series of swing changes to get the ball in the air more often.
"I think he's going to hit 20," Duane said. "The only thing with Austin Slater -- and you know it, I know it, and Cole knows it, is he's got to stay on the field. If he stays on the field and he starts to play more against right-handers -- and if you hit the ball out of the park you're going to play more -- he's got a chance to hit more than 14."
Cole: Heliot Ramos Gets Promoted Before The All-Star Break
Duane: Ramos Approaches Double-Digit Homers
Ramos, the No. 3 prospect in the organization, was the story of the spring. The 21-year-old batted .410 in 21 appearances with three homers and three doubles, winning the Barney Nugent Award given to the best newcomer in camp.
The Giants want Ramos to get more experience in the upper minors, and they haven't yet said where he'll start. He's played just 25 games in Double-A and it's possible he's sent back there, at least for a few weeks, but that spring performance might have convinced the Giants he's ready for Triple-A. Regardless, the Kuipers are all-in, with Cole predicting he's here much sooner than the September call-ups and Duane predicting 7-10 homers once he arrives. That would certainly excite the fan base.
"I don't think the Giants want to waste his talent if he gets off to a great start," Duane said. "Now, if he struggles, obviously that's not going to happen. But the way he was swinging the bat in Arizona, it doesn't look like he's going to struggle anytime soon.
Alex: Giants Have Top Farm System in Baseball By End of Year
The Giants have come a long way in a short period of time, with Baseball America currently ranking them No. 15 in terms of farm systems and MLB Pipeline placing them 11th. Alright, being No. 1 after this season might be a bit much, but we're being bold here, and betting on a few things.
First, the Giants won't graduate many players off of prospect lists. Joey Bart should exceed his eligibility, but if Ramos doesn't come up early -- sorry, Cole! -- it's likely that nine of their top 10 prospects and just about their entire top 30 still count when lists are put together next offseason. Most of the teams ahead of them will have a lot of players graduate.
Unless they make a surprise run, the Giants also should have an opportunity to pad out their farm system with trades in July. Executives around the league are already picking them as the team that could be the most active before the deadline.
Finally, we're betting on some high-upside young players taking a leap. Specifically, I chose 2019 first-rounder Hunter Bishop to be a consensus top 50 prospect, 19-year-old Luis Matos to be top 75, and 19-year-old Kyle Harrison to sneak into top 100 lists.
Throw in the fact that Marco Luciano should be a top five prospect, and maybe No. 1, a year from now, and you have all the pieces in place for the Giants to have a monster farm system.
Cole: One of Opening Day Starters Gets Traded by End of Season
This seems likely to happen if the top two teams in the NL West run away from the division as most expect. If the Giants are out of the race, they'll have a lot of pieces to sell.
Four of their five initial starting pitchers are free agents at the end of the season, including opening day starter Kevin Gausman. The Giants hold 2022 options on Buster Posey and Wilmer Flores, and the Brandons will be free agents. Donovan Solano is a sneaky pick here; he has turned into a very valuable hitter, but he's a free agent after the year and the Giants gave Tommy La Stella a three-year contract.
There are limitations here, of course. Posey and Crawford have full no-trade clauses and Belt has a partial one. Plus, they're all franchise icons, and the Giants don't part with those easily. But there are other options, and a decent chance a familiar face gets moved to clear room for younger players.
Duane: Sean Hjelle Makes His Debut
Hjelle, one of the organization's best starting pitching prospects, was in big league camp for the first time but got just one Cactus League inning. He jumped two levels during the last minor league season, reaching Double-A and making five starts. With so many veterans -- including Scott Kazmir and Shun Yamaguchi -- still in the organization after camp broke, it's likely the Giants don't have room in their Triple-A organization at the start of the year, so Hjelle seems headed back to Richmond at first.
The bet here is that the Giants end up needing a ton of starters, as Farhan Zaidi has said since the offseason. Zaidi himself predicted at the start of camp that one of the organization's young starters "is going to get the opportunity." Hjelle and fellow right-hander Tristan Beck are closest to the big leagues at the moment.
"I want to see somebody that tall on the mound, throwing at Oracle Park," Duane said of the 6-foot-11 Hjelle. "He's got a chance, I think, for us to see him."