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Giants minor league review: It's Hjelle time in Sacramento

/ by Dalton Johnson
Presented By Cadillac
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Sean Hjelle

Old, young and everything in between. It doesn't matter. All seems to be going right for the Giants right now. 

Following an impressive bounce-back win against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, the Giants enter Monday with the most wins (76) in the majors, and are four games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The good news continued Monday morning, too. Baseball America named the Giants the fifth-best farm system in their midseason rankings. 

The Giants have five players in Baseball America's Top 100, and have others knocking on the door. One of which we'll be talking about later in this article. But first, let's look at a prospect who could help in the not-so-distant future. 

Here are three things to know in our latest Giants minor league review. 

Hjelle Time 

The Giants' farm system certainly leans more towards their hitters than pitchers. Kyle Harrison is the Giants' top-ranked pitcher, but he's only 20 years old. Their next-best pitching prospects might be Will Bednar and Matt Mikulski, both of whom were drafted this year. And then there's Sean Hjelle. 

Hjelle is the closest to major-league ready among the Giants' pitching prospects. That is, their starting pitching prospects. He recently took a big step forward with his promotion from Double-A Richmond to Triple-A Sacramento. 

Hjelle, 24, had a 3.15 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings and a 1.20 WHIP for the Flying Squirrels. Through his first two starts with the River Cats, Hjelle has allowed seven earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. He has only struck out three and has walked six. As usual, there's more to the story. 

 

First and foremost, Richmond compared to Sacramento is two different worlds for a pitcher. Hjelle has gone from a pitcher's dream to a nightmare. Hjelle has gone at least six innings in both his first two Triple-A starts, and walking four in his Sacramento debut feels like more of an outlier than anything else. Hjelle usually pounds the zone and induces groundballs. 

Though he stands every bit of 6-foot-11, Hjelle isn't an overpowering giant. He uses his reach to his advantage and lets his defense -- mostly the infield -- do work for him. In Double-A, Hjelle had a 54.6 groundball rate. While it's a much smaller sample size, he has a 64.4 groundball rate in Triple-A. 

The former second-round pick is not on the 40-man roster. It'll be hard for him to make an impact this season as a possible September call-up. But this is a great challenge that deserves monitoring as someone who could compete for a rotation spot next season. 

Luciano's Slow Start

Speaking of challenges, the Giants did just that with their top prospect, Marco Luciano, when they promoted the 19-year-old shortstop from Low-A San Jose to High-A. So far, not so good. Here's your one and only reminder: Relax. 

Through 10 games, Luciano is batting .143 with one home run. He has 21 strikeouts and has walked just twice. Half of his at-bats have resulted in a strikeout.

He also is the youngest player in the league and just went 2-for-4 to snap a three-game hitless streak.

“He had a couple of weeks’ adjustment period even at the San Jose level, as well,” Kyle Haines recently said to The Athletic's Melissa Lockard. “We’ve seen him go through this where he’s had to make adjustments at each level.

“The level will force him to grow and adjust, and I think he’ll be just fine in the long run.”

Luciano had streaky runs in San Jose and he will in Eugene. He earned his promotion, and sometimes it's good for young stars like himself to hit a rough patch. 

RELATED: Unselfish Giants already exceed preseason win projections

 

San Jose's Dynamic Duo

OK, now we're really talking about challenges. In this sense, two more prospects who probably need a promotion in the very near future.

What more do Luis Matos and Jairo Pomares need to do? Matos hit safely in all six games last week, going 11-for-27 (.407) with two home runs, four doubles and a 1.226 OPS. Pomares did have one hitless game sprinkled in, yet he was even better than Matos. He went 10-for-23 (.435) with two homers, three doubles, eight RBI and a 1.271 OPS. 

These two have lit Low-A up in San Jose. They have done everything the Giants could have hoped and more. Soon, we should see them back with Luciano -- but this time in Eugene.

 

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