Giants prospects Arenado, Heyward looking for own path to big leagues

Giants prospects Arenado, Heyward looking for own path to big leagues

SAN FRANCISCO -- There were a lot of familiar names on the Richmond Flying Squirrels roster, the Giants' Double-A affiliate, at the start of the season. 

Chris Shaw was back in Double-A after two years at higher levels. Brock Stassi, Brandon Beachy and Fernando Abad have all played in the big leagues. Melvin Adon and Logan Webb opened eyes during spring training. 

But when fans scanned the roster, two names likely stood out for other reasons. Jonah Arenado is the younger brother of Nolan, Jacob Heyward is the younger brother of Jason, and the two young hitters have been two of Richmond's best players this season. 

"You feel bad for them because they always get compared to their brothers and they're both their own players and should develop at their own pace," Giants director of player development Kyle Haines said. "They're very good players in their own rights."

Arenado, 24, has a .290/.347/.400 slash line while playing third base and shortstop. Heyward, a 23-year-old outfielder, is at .251/.383/.433 in his first Double-A season. The two are playing together for the first time but said their shared background does not come up often.

"For me and him, it's more normal than for everyone else," Arenado said. "I think everyone is like, 'Oh man, that's crazy,' which it is crazy, but I feel like it's something where we're both fortunate. People might look at it as you have to deal with the shadow and living in your brother's shadow, and I don't believe that. I think more people would rather be in the position that we're in and have the knowledge of major leaguers to help us out when things get tough, because baseball is so hard."

Heyward said he's "just used to" life as Jason's younger brother. 

"It's just normal to us," he said. "It's our brother out there doing his thing. He's done so much for my family, but parts of it is just normal to me. I talk to him a lot, and I think we've always been close but we've gotten closer (as professionals). We talk whenever we feel uncomfortable or whenever we feel we're getting out of our space on the field."

That can happen often for a young player, and both Arenado and Heyward have dealt with their share of ups and downs. The Giants can also point to stretches in both prospect's careers that are promising. 

Arenado seemed to be breaking through in the second half two years ago in San Jose, hitting five homers and 15 doubles in August with an OPS over 1.000. It was a tantalizing stretch, one that caught even the attention of the big league staff, but he has struggled to come close to that production in the much tougher Eastern League. 

"There have been a lot of adjustments in my swing," Arenado said. "There was a lot of movement last year that we had to clean up."

Haines said coaches have seen improvement there.

"He's shown glimpses of being the guy he's capable of being," he said. "The consistency wasn't there and I think this year he's been able to string together more consistently good at-bats. He's still young. He's been with us a while, but sometimes you forget how young he still is."

Arenado signed out of high school in 2013, but Heyward knew all along that he was going to college. The Braves, Jason's team at the time, took Jacob in the 38th round in 2013 but he went to Miami and joined the Giants as an 18th-round pick three years later. 

A right-handed hitter, unlike his older brother, Heyward broke through in the second half last season, posting a .846 OPS for San Jose with eight homers after the High-A All-Star break. He started wearing glasses last year and said that helped him see the spin on the ball, and he also credits a minor league staff that has seen a lot of turnover in the last couple of years. 

"They're letting me be myself," Heyward said. "I feel like I came into the organization being myself and I think I got to a little point there where it was a struggle between certain people and I wasn't feeling comfortable. The new guys came in this past year and they made me feel comfortable, they let me fail my way and also were able to talk to me at the same time. They let me be myself and play the game that I know."

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Haines, who took over for the departed David Bell, has drawn rave reviews at every stop of his minor league career, and the Giants feel they have put strong minor league coaching staffs in place. Their rebuild would be helped quite a bit by a surprise or two, and perhaps they'll eventually strike gold with one of their prospects who possess a strong pedigree and just need to put it all together. 

"When you talk about these two, I think the first thing you talk about with them is they're strong, athletic kids, they're guys that came into us a little raw," Haines said. "But they both are full of a lot of skills."

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

The Giants coaching staff spent weeks preparing for the opening series against the Dodgers, and while some of the pitching decisions looked strange at the time, there's no doubt that overall they worked. The Giants came out with a split, a great result for any team that visits Dodger Stadium these days. 

The second time through called for a bit more spontaneity, coming in the middle of a tough three-city trip. For the second straight night, a decision made when a starting pitcher was nearing the end of his leash backfired. This time it cost the Giants the game and a chance at a series win. 

On Saturday night, Johnny Cueto was allowed to extend to 93 pitches, but a three-run homer on his last one nearly proved costly. A day later, Kevin Gausman was pulled after just 80 pitches, and he watched from the dugout as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer, blowing the lead in a game the Giants would go on to lose 6-2. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Gausman had an outstanding fastball going on an 82-degree afternoon, averaging 97 mph for the first time in four years and hitting 99 mph several times. His final pitch was his hardest of the day, a 99.3 mph heater that Cody Bellinger redirected into center field for a one-out single. Kapler came out and held up his right hand as he got to the mound. 

"I think it was just a hot day, seventh time up, third time through the toughest part of the order," Kapler said of the decision. "He had done a tremendous job. He had carried his stuff into that inning, he had carried his location into that inning, and it just felt like the right time to keep him healthy and strong and safe all the way through the season based on getting into the seventh for the first time. 

"At the same time we had a reliever ready who we felt confident could get us a groundball with a runner on first base and get us out of that inning."

Rogers gave up a single to Justin Turner and then struck out Max Muncy. He was on the verge of getting out of the inning, but he grooved a 3-2 curveball to A.J. Pollock and it sailed into the empty bleachers in left. 

Rogers had pitched two strong innings the night before, and the Giants feel he's someone who can bounce back. But the Dodgers were seeing Rogers for the fifth time in 17 days. Pollock had faced him a night earlier and flown out on a curveball. 

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Kapler disagreed with the notion that the novelty had worn off when it came to the submariner. 

"I think it's not just novelty with Rog, it's the ability to throw strikes with two pitches that are unusual. It's an unusual look. He can attack the strike zone with those two pitches and they're actually just flat-out good pitches," Kapler said. "Pollock made a nice adjustment, got to two strikes and two outs, and he was able to elevate the ball."

The blast cost Gausman a win on a day when he became the first Giants starter to record a quality start this season. Gausman gave up just three hits in 6 1/3 innings and struck out six. He made a sour face as he came off the field and threw his gum, and said later that he would have liked an opportunity to finish the seventh. 

"I definitely felt like I had more in the tank. My limit is not 80 pitches, but Kap's job is to make those decisions. That's his job description," Gausman said. "I'm not the one that's calling down to the bullpen and getting guys loose, that type of thing. Obviously I thought I pitched well enough to warrant getting a couple more guys out, but we're trying to win the series and it's a hot day. Maybe those were factors in his decision."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers


Kevin Gausman had the best start of the year by a Giant, and one of the most dominant we've seen from any starter early on this season. But it wasn't enough for the Giants, who dropped a heartbreaker in the late innings and lost a series at Dodger Stadium.

Gausman was sitting in the upper 90s all afternoon but was pulled after just 80 pitches. He watched as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer to A.J. Pollock and the Los Angeles Dodgers got another blast later from Mookie Betts, walking away with a 6-2 win. 

The Giants fell to 2-5 on this road trip with three games coming up against the Astros. Here are three things to know from one that truly hurt ... 

Made of quality

The bar to clear for a quality start -- six innings, three earned runs -- is not a high one, but the Giants had not had one through 16 games, which is pretty remarkable. Gausman sailed past that mark in his fourth appearance as a Giant, but took a brutal no-decision. The right-hander left with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first in the seventh. A few minutes later, the Giants trailed. 

What was so notable about Gausman is how he did it. He was throwing gas, hitting 99 mph three times -- including 99.3 on his final pitch -- and averaging 97 with his four-seamer. That was his best average fastball since 2016. The final pitch was his hardest since June 9, 2018.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Maybe pump the brakes a little?

Rogers had a huge spring and was just as sharp in the second camp, but manager Gabe Kapler might be playing that card a bit too often. To be fair, Kapler doesn't have a lot of great bullpen options, but Rogers' appearance Sunday was his fifth against the Dodgers in 17 days, and even pitching two innings in Saturday's win.

At some point, that submarine delivery isn't as much of a surprise, and Pollock swung the score with a three-run shot on a hanging curveball. One pitch earlier, Pollock had walked a few steps toward first, thinking he had walked on an inside pitch. 

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Not slowing down

Mike Yastrzemski provided the offense, driving a two-run single into center off former Vanderbilt teammate Walker Buehler. Yastrzemski is eighth in the NL with 12 RBI, and one of the players he trails is a teammate, Donovan Solano (14).

Solano extended his hitting streak with a two-out single in the eighth inning. This was not a barrel for Donnie Barrels. He hit a slow roller to third with a launch angle of negative 46 degrees, exit velocity of 55 mph and hit probability of 17 percent, but it died on the grass and Solano easily beat Justin Turner's throw to first. 

The 14-game hitting streak is the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. 

Those were the only two hits of the day for the Giants.