It has been 20 months since most minor leaguers looked at their name in a box score that counts, but that'll change next week. Minor League Baseball -- finally! -- is returning, with different leagues, fewer overall teams, and a new affiliate for the Giants.
There's one other big change for the organization. After years of having a poor farm system, the Giants might be more interesting at the minor league levels than any franchise in baseball. This has been building for a few years, but team officials and fans finally will get to see an extremely talented group in action.
The Giants are particularly stacked at the lower two levels, but they have some potential future stars in Sacramento and Richmond, too. With rosters announced, here are three things you need to know about how the Giants handled their top prospects.
On The Cusp
It was fascinating to see that Joey Bart will spend his weekend in San Diego with the taxi squad, not locking up a lease in Sacramento, but manager Gabe Kapler said there's a good reason for that.
"Joey is here to spend time with Posey and Casali, plain and simple," manager Gabe Kapler said Friday. "The main goal, and this is something that was important to (catching coach Craig Albernaz) and I respect that it was important to him, was to get Joey some exposure to the pregame work that Casali and Posey is doing."
This is one last crash course for Bart, who soaked up knowledge all spring in advance of at least a couple months spent in Triple-A. With Casali being such a contributor, the Giants don't at all need to rush Bart and can allow him to get needed at-bats to close some swing holes that were exposed last summer. Long term, Bart should benefit greatly from this, but short term, the Giants know he's always 90 minutes away if they need help.
A lot of fans wanted Heliot Ramos to join Bart in Sacramento. Actually, that's not true. Most fans wanted Ramos in the big leagues a month ago. But Ramos will start 2021 by repeating the end of 2019, returning to Double-A Richmond where he played 25 games two summers ago. This shouldn't surprise anyone.
For all the success Ramos has had over the last two months, he did have just a .742 OPS the last time he played games that count. The Giants want him to go back to Double-A and mash, and it's actually a really tough environment for hitters, one that might benefit him more than Sacramento.
The Triple-A roster right now is basically an expanded taxi squad -- both Steven Duggar and LaMonte Wade Jr. should spend a lot of time in center in Sacramento -- but at some point soon Ramos will be there.
Sending him back to Double-A doesn't change the timeline at all. If he hits as he did all spring, we'll see him in the big leagues this year.
Playing it Safe
Every team entered this spring in a weird spot with minor leaguers, none of whom played competitive games in 2020, but Farhan Zaidi has been consistent about how the Giants would handle the situation. He has said repeatedly that the preference would be to take a cautious approach with initial placements and then promote aggressively.
"I anticipate this being a year when guys will have the opportunity to work their way through multiple levels to sort of make up for lost time," he said this spring. "We won't put guys in overly challenging situations out of the gates because I think all these guys need to get their footing under them and get back into the rhythm of the season before we put those kinds of challenges on their plates."
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Eugune, the new High-A affiliate for the organization. Hunter Bishop, Patrick Bailey and Will Wilson all spent last summer as part of the expanded player pool and this spring in big league camp. Bishop and Wilson have been in Sacramento all month playing alternate site games against a lot of guys with big league experience, but all three will start in High-A.
Ramos played 77 games in High-A in 2019 and Bart got 57, and it's expected the more experienced players in Eugene will follow a similar path. Bishop and Wilson, in particular, could have been sent right to Double-A, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them there in a few weeks.
Time for Turkey Mike's
Giants fans in the Bay Area should have been going to San Jose in recent years for the BBQ alone, but this season the real star of the show will be the lineup that's put out there on a daily basis.
Marco Luciano, as expected, will start in Low-A. For all of the hype, he has just nine games of minor league experience above Rookie Ball. But Luciano is far from alone. This is the best San Jose team since 2009, when guys named Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner were among those who stopped by.
Luciano is the organization's best prospect since Posey, and he'll be joined in the lineup by Luis Matos, who should be on every top 100 list in a few months, and Alexander Canario, yet another super-talented outfielder who made a quick recovery from shoulder surgery. Matos is worth the price of admission for his bat flips alone:
Luciano and Matos are 19 and Canario is 20, but they won't feel young in the clubhouse. Kyle Harrison, a 19-year-old who has the most upside of any arm in the system, will pitch close to his East Bay home.
Recent draftees Jimmy Glowenke (21 years old) and Casey Schmitt (22) will be there, too, along with third baseman Luis Toribio, a 20-year-old on-base-percentage machine. And don't forget about underrated catcher Ricardo Genoves, who seemingly has been part of big league camp for half a decade but is only 21.
Nick Swiney (22) should lead the rotation with Harrison.
Seriously, this might be the best collection of high-upside prospect talent the Giants have ever had at one affiliate. Get to San Jose before some of these guys graduate up the coast.