The Giants' 2020 minor league season essentially begins Tuesday. Not for all of the organization's minor leaguers, not even close, but for more than any other team in baseball.
While many of the Giants' top prospects competed against each other at the team's alternate site in Sacramento this year as the minor league season was canceled, a much larger group reported Wednesday to Scottsdale, Ariz. for the fall Instructional League. The Giants will have 66 prospects playing in the Instructional League, which is much more than anybody else. They're the only franchise that will carry two teams in Arizona.
"We have a lot of guys who really need playing time and if you had a roster of 40 guys and are only able to play one game a day, the at-bats and the innings are gonna get cut short," Kyle Haines, the Giants' director of player development, said Wednesday in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. "That’s the hope, that it is an advantage.
"Obviously we get to play double the amount of games, which is double the amount of at-bats, it’s double the amount of innings. And more players are going to get the repetitions that they missed out on."
The Giants first tried for just one team, but their list of hopeful players was far too big for one squad. So San Francisco submitted a request for two teams, and it really worked out for all parties. Due to health and safety concerns, teams won't be crossing over between the East and West side of spring training facilities. To give the East an even number of teams (eight), the Giants assembled two teams that will play against six other organizations in the Phoenix area.
Haines applauded the other organizations on the East side for allowing the Giants to have such a large group in Arizona and understanding this will be beneficial for both sides.
"I really can’t thank the East Valley teams enough," Haines said. "They were good with it and then when we ended up with an odd number of teams, it worked out perfect.
"... I think we should come out with the biggest advantage, but the other teams that we’re playing now have more competition and have more games on their end as well. So, I think it’s a win-win for everyone."
More than anything, though, Haines made it clear how much the Giants' front office has emphasized the importance of the Instructional League this year. Almost every Giants top prospect is in Arizona right now, outside of Joey Bart. Marco Luciano is there, so is Heliot Ramos, Hunter Bishop, Patrick Bailey, Alexander Canario and many more.
"Our ownership knew this is the future of our franchise to some degree," Haines said. "Farhan and the ownership did an amazing job in supporting us through needing these extra games."
All those players mentioned above were a part of the Giants' alternate site. What could be even more important is seeing those who had to work on their own away from Giants coaches in Sacramento.
Rising 18-year-old Luis Matos has been tweeting videos of him hitting on his own throughout the year, and now can show coaches where he is in his development. The same goes for Seth Corry -- the Giants' top pitching prospect -- and much of San Francisco's 2020 draft class like Bailey, Casey Schmitt, Nick Swiney, Jimmy Glowenke, Kyle Harrison, R.J. Dabovich and Ryan Murphy.
Haines, who is overseeing the operations in Arizona, said there will be, in a sense, a little more focus on those who weren't at the alternate site.
"I just think us learning them and them learning us," Haines said. "There’s a huge advantage there. They’re able to now come in and connect with us in person instead of Zoom calls or phone calls.
"I think in a way we’re evaluating them and they’re evaluating us."
What Haines, the players, and everybody else can't wait to finally see are these prospects play against other teams in real games. There was only so much the Giants could do with simulated innings at the alternate site, and many prospects had to play second fiddle to more experienced players the team was getting ready for the major leagues.
Add in the fact that a large group of these players were away from game-like situations for months, it has to feel great for the real deal to finally begin on Tuesday with a season that runs through Nov. 7.
"I mean, the game is the best feedback model we have," Haines said. "We love the new stuff as much as anyone but the game gives us the feedback on where someone really needs to get better and to be a productive player.
"We just get so much from the game that we don’t get from side sessions in the cages or in the bullpen."
Versatility will continue to be a buzz word for the Giants during the Instructional League, in and out of games. Young players will move around the diamond, just as those like Mauricio Dubon and even Mike Yastrzemski did for the big league team this year. Bailey, a catcher that the Giants took in the first round of the 2020 draft, likely will see his first game action at first base.
The biggest Giants name in Arizona, however, will stick to one position. Marco Luciano is a shortstop, nothing else right now. The 6-foot-2 19-year-old is known for his power, but the Giants continue to be impressed by his defense and don't want to mess with it.
"Right now, just progress at short," Haines said. "We don’t have any plans to make him play anywhere else as of right now. We see him as a shortstop, and he’s doing really good work there.
"So he’ll stay there for the time being."
Pitching wise, Corry is the biggest name the Giants brought to Arizona and one all fans should be well aware of. Corry, 21, was left off the Giants' alternate site roster but the front office has stayed in close contact with the young lefty. He went 9-3 with a 1.76 for the August GreenJackets in Low-A last year and struck out 172 batters in 122 2/3 innings.
Corry was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year in 2019. The Giants have big plans for Corry, and can't wait to see him on the hill in Arizona.
"Seth is just an absolute dream to work with," Haines said. "Special kid, special work ethic, amazing growth mindset. He’s been working hard at home all year. He looks great, he’s in the best shape of his life. He's one of those kids that, yeah you want to work with him but even if you let him go home by himself and give him no instructions, he’s gonna find a way to outwork everybody.
"Seth’s been great, he’s gonna look great in this Instructional League."
Giants prospects are about to get needed at-bats and innings pitched, and this will be the first time players will be paid during the Instructional Leagues. This is a win-win both financially and baseball-wise.
As the Giants fell just short of the playoffs but with their focus still on the future, they're about to have a big advantage over other teams in Arizona and will look to maximize every minute on the field for the next month.