Three reasons why Giants fans should follow 2019 Arizona Fall League

Three reasons why Giants fans should follow 2019 Arizona Fall League

The 2019 Minor League Baseball season ended with a bang for the Giants as the Sacramento River Cats won the Triple-A National Championship on Tuesday night.

One day later, a new season begins for some of the best prospects in baseball. The 2019 Arizona Fall League begins Wednesday night with seven Giants minor leaguers -- pitchers Tristan Beck, Tyler Schimpf and Bryce Tucker, catcher Joey Bart, second baseman Jalen Miller and outfielders Jacob Heyward and Heliot Ramos -- playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions. 

With the Giants' season dwindling down, fans should lock in on baseball in the desert. Here are three reasons why you should follow the AFL this season:

Will Joey Bart learn a new position? 

Bart, the Giants' top prospect, is considered the second-best catching prospect in baseball after Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. But Bart obviously is blocked in the bigs by Buster Posey, no matter how down Posey is with the bat. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has expressed in the past that he wants Bart to learn another position outside of catcher. Zaidi prefers versatility across the diamond and doesn't want one set player starting behind the dish. The AFL is the perfect time for the Giants to experiment with Bart, too. 

Bart, 22, exclusively has played catcher throughout his minor league career since the Giants took him No. 2 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. The same can be said for his college career at Georgia Tech. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Bart is an exceptional athlete. But where would he fit outside of catcher?

The natural transition would be first base, but Posey is sure to get time there and Brandon Belt is signed through 2021. Bart has a strong arm and possibly could try third base, though Evan Longoria isn't a free agent until after the 2022 season. That leaves us with a corner outfield spot. 

Mike Yastrzemski seems to be the only Giants outfielder you can pencil in as a starter for Opening Day next season. Bart runs well for his size, and perhaps he could take some fly balls in left or right field in the AFL. 

To preserve his legs and speed up his ETA to the majors, the Giants need Bart to add a new position to his repertoire. Where that will be is a mystery, but there's not a better time to try it than right now.

Will Heliot Ramos stand out? 

Ramos played the entire season at only 19 years old and still was the Giants' most impressive prospect this year.

San Francisco's top pick from the 2017 draft dominated in High A San Jose where he hit .306 with 13 homers, 18 doubles and an .885 OPS before being promoted to Double-A Richmond. Can he post those same kind of stats against elite prospects in the Fall League?

The AFL will showcase 18 top 100 prospects, including Ramos. Outside of he and Bart, there are two other top 100 prospects on his team alone. Ramos is one best rising prospects in the game, and this is a great chance to showcase his skills. 

When the Giants drafted Ramos, he burst onto the scene in the Arizona Rookie League. Now, he can do the same in the AFL and show he belongs in the conversation with the top young talent in baseball.

Tristan Beck's progress

The Giants might have found a hidden gem at the MLB trade deadline when they traded reliever Mark Melancon to the Braves.

Tristan Beck had a 5.65 ERA in eight starts for the Florida Fire Frogs when the Giants acquired him. Everything changed when Beck joined the San Jose Giants. The skinny 6-foot-4 right-hander went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA over since six starts for San Jose. He also lowered his WHIP from 1.61 to 1.29.

[RELATED: Why Giants Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos exceeded expectations]

Beck always has been talented, but had a tough go at the start of his minor league career. He became the first freshman to start on the hill on Opening Day at Stanford since Mike Mussina in 1988. The Giants seem to be finding Beck's old form since bringing him over from the Braves, too.

The Giants have a luxury with Beck this year in the AFL as well. River Cats pitching coach Steve Kline will be Scottsdale's pitching coach and will work closely with Beck. The 23-year-old could be a quick riser if he keeps progressing, and the team's Triple-A pitching coach will be watching his every step.

Giants add Alyssa Nakken to Gabe Kapler's 13-person coaching staff

Giants add Alyssa Nakken to Gabe Kapler's 13-person coaching staff

Gabe Kapler spent most of his first month with the Giants interviewing candidates for his ideal coaching staff.

When the final pieces were put into place Thursday afternoon, it became even more clear that the Giants are going with a group that's unlike anything the game has seen before. 

The organization announced that Mark Hallberg and Alyssa Nakken are joining Kapler's staff as Major League Assistant Coaches, giving the Giants 13 coaches in all, including Nakken, who is the first woman to hold a coaching position on a big-league staff. In a statement, Kapler said Hallberg and Nakken will "focus their talents on helping to build a winning culture in the clubhouse."

"In every organization, environment affects performance, and baseball clubhouses are no different," Kapler said. "That's why in addition to assisting the rest of the coaching staff on the field, Mark and Alyssa will focus on fostering a clubhouse culture that promotes high performance through, among other attributes, a deep sense of collaboration and team."

Long before Kapler arrived, Giants officials had grown concerned about the energy in a clubhouse that has suffered through three straight losing seasons. The Giants plan to make that a focus in spring training, and they're using their resources toward that end. You are only allowed to have seven uniformed coaches in the dugout, but there is no limit on how many you can pay in general, or how many can work with players between games.

The two new hires give the Giants 12 big league coaches who were not on Bruce Bochy's staff. The lone holdover is Ron Wotus, who will remain as third-base coach. 

Nakken played softball at Sacramento State, worked at USF, and got degrees from both schools. She joined the Giants as an intern in 2014 and has done work related to the amateur draft and player development. 

[RELATED: Richardson, Ortiz join Gabe Kapler's staff]

Hallberg was the manager in Salem-Keizer in 2019 and was their fundamentals coach in 2018. He played his college ball at Florida State with Buster Posey and was a ninth-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2007. The 34-year-old played in the minors for five seasons before becoming a coach in the Cape Cod League. 

Giants sign pitcher Drew Smyly to one-year contract, add rotation depth

Giants sign pitcher Drew Smyly to one-year contract, add rotation depth

Last January, the Giants signed lefties Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz to one-year contracts, with mixed results. This year, Drew Smyly is the lefty joining the rotation mix. 

The Giants announced Thursday that they've signed Smyly to a one-year, $4 million big league contract. Right-hander Trevor Oaks, claimed from the Kansas City Royals earlier this offseason, was DFA'd to clear a 40-man roster spot. Smyly can make an additional $3 million on bonuses tied to starting pitching and $1 million in reliever bonuses. He'll get a $250,000 bonus if he's on the opening day roster.

Smyly, 30, spent last season with Gabe Kapler's Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 4.45 ERA in 12 starts but averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He'll immediately join a crowded race to be in the Opening Day starting rotation, and he has a leg up simply because of the arm he throws with. The Giants are extremely right-handed on the roster, and Smyly joins Tyler Anderson as lefties who could help break up Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman, Tyler Beede, Logan Webb and others. Anderson currently is rehabbing from a knee injury. 

Smyly has bounced around the American League for most of his career, and he put up good numbers before Tommy John surgery derailed him in 2017. Smyly had a 3.53 ERA in three years in Detroit and a 3.93 ERA in three seasons with the Rays. He was a good enough young pitcher that at one point he was included in a deal for David Price, but Smyly has struggled to stay in a rotation since having elbow surgery. 

[RELATED: Joey Bart named second-best catching prospect in baseball]

Smyly didn't pitch in the big leagues in 2017 or 2018 and had 13 rocky appearances for the Texas Rangers in 2019. He was released by the Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers before catching on in Philadelphia, where he was a solid rotation piece down the stretch and posted a 3.65 ERA in five September starts.

The Giants had been looking for left-handed help, and Smyly should find himself with the same opportunity Pomeranz and Holland were given last year. Both started the season in the rotation and eventually ended up in the bullpen. Pomeranz turned into a nice trade chip, bringing Mauricio Dubon to San Francisco at the deadline.