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."
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."