Giants

How Sean Hjelle impressed Farhan Zaidi in Giants spring training debut

Giants

It's easy to pick Giants prospect Sean Hjelle out of the crowd, but the 6-foot-11 pitcher stood out for other reasons over the weekend. 

Hjelle touched 96 mph on the radar gun in a perfect inning during San Francisco's first spring-training win Sunday, closing the Giants' victory over the split-squad A's. With three pitches, Hjelle caught Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi's attention.

"[He's] already an intimidating presence out there on the mound, [6-11] with a downhill plane," Zaidi said on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show" on Monday, "and I love that he just came in and threw strikes."

The 22-year-old finished the 2019 season in Double-A with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, posting a 6.04 ERA in 25 1/3 innings in five August appearances. He likely will spend a lot of time in Richmond in 2020, but Hjelle can make a strong case for an eventual call-up this spring. 

His first appearance went about as well as he could have asked for, but the Giants will monitor Hjelle -- and everyone else in camp -- in two key areas: Walks and strikeouts. Zaidi said strikeout-to-walk ratio "actually winds up being a little bit predictive" of regular-season performance, unlike most spring-training statistics. 

"If you're a pitcher and you've got a 6 or 7 ERA but you strike out 15 guys and walk one, it usually means that's a good springboard for you going into the season," Zaidi said. "And same on the hitting side: Guys that control the strike zone in spring training, that usually suggests that those guys are going to get off to a good start and have a good season."

 

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Hjelle will need more than just a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio in the spring to make -- and eventually stick with -- the Giants. 

But early in spring training, he has turned the right head by impressing Zaidi.