What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees

What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees

In 2012, the Giants put out a press release that highlighted the inclusion of top prospects Gary Brown and Joe Panik on their list of non-roster invitees. If you dug deep in that release, you found the names of two others who weren't at all known in the Bay Area but would play a key role in championship runs. 

Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias were non-roster invitees that year. Ryan Vogelsong, Andres Torres and Santiago Casilla count as other success stories from the championship years, and even this version of the Giants has found some non-roster gold. Dereck Rodriguez was an unknown in camp two years ago. Donovan Solano was a non-roster invitee last spring. 

You already know all about Joey Bart and probably Sean Hjelle, but the odds are good that at least a couple of the others announced Monday will become contributors for the 2020 Giants. At the very least, given the level of roster churn under Farhan Zaidi, you're likely to see quite a few of these guys get a shot of some sort this season. Here's what you need to know about the 18 guys invited to camp on Monday ... 

Joey Bart: He needs no introduction. Bart is the organization's top prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball, period, and the Giants are eager to get him to the big leagues after a strong 2019 and a brief demolition of the Arizona Fall League. Bart should be the story of camp, and given that Buster Posey usually sees just a couple dozen spring at-bats, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bart behind the plate every other game in the Cactus League. Bart should start the season in Triple-A but it won't be long before he's in San Francisco. 

Tyler Heineman: The 28-year-old actually scooped the Giants on Monday, announcing his signing on Twitter. 

Chad Tromp: A 24-year-old from Aruba, Chadwick Tromp had a .286/.389/.610 slash line in 26 Triple-A games last year with seven homers. He was slowed by shoulder surgery in 2018, but he's young for an available catcher and has flashed improved plate discipline as he has reached the upper levels of the minors. The Giants don't have any catching depth behind Buster Posey, Aramis Garcia and Bart, so there's a real opportunity for both Heineman and Tromp to compete with Garcia but also lock up a Triple-A job. 

Cristhian Adames: The versatile infielder played 10 games for the Giants late in the year, going 7-for-22. He was outrighted to Triple-A after the season and signed a minor league contract, just like ... 

Zach Green: The corner infielder was placed on the 60-day DL in early September with a hip injury, which cost him a shot at a call-up but also got him a month's worth of service time and big league pay. The Giants signed Green and Adames at the same time in November, providing some infield depth. The 25-year-old hit 25 homers in 297 plate appearances in Triple-A but went just 2-for-14 in the big leagues. Right now, he doesn't have much competition behind Evan Longoria. 

Drew Robinson: The Giants signed the 27-year-old back in October. Robinson has played every position but pitcher and catcher in the minors. 

Joey Rickard: The 28-year-old made 26 appearances for the Giants last season but was non-tendered in early December. The staff liked Rickard's defense last year and he could again have a path to outfield time given how left-handed the current outfield mix is. 

Jamie Westbrook: Taken by his hometown Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, Westbrook has a .280/.334/.431 slash line in seven minor league seasons. He's a right-handed hitter who had 16 homers and a .358 OBP across two levels last season. 

Matt Carasiti: The right-hander made his big league debut for the Rockies in 2016 but has bounced around, including a year with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Carasiti got back to the big leagues with the Mariners last year, starting five games as an opener and relieving in six others. He had a 4.66 ERA in the big leagues and a 3.53 ERA in the minors. 

Tyler Cyr: This completes a nice comeback for the Bay Area native. A right-hander who was in camp two years ago, Cyr was set back when he needed surgery to repair an elbow fracture. He missed most of the 2018 season but came back last year to post a 1.97 ERA in 38 appearances, with more than a strikeout per inning. Still just 26, Cyr looks to be back in the bullpen mix he was about to join before he got hurt. 

Rico Garcia: The Giants picked up the right-hander early in the offseason but then non-tendered him. The 25-year-old had a 4.24 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine as a minor league starter and made two late-season appearances for the Rockies. 

Sean Hjelle: Perhaps the biggest news out of Monday's non-roster announcement was Hjelle's inclusion. A second-round pick in 2018, Hjelle will draw a lot of attention. He's the organization's best pitching prospect and he also happens to be 6-foot-11. Hjelle repeats his delivery well and has a good feel for pitching, and he cruised through Low-A and High-A last season before getting knocked around a bit in six Double-A starts. Overall, Hjelle had a 3.32 ERA in his first big league season. He should start this year in Double-A, but the Giants want to be aggressive with their best prospects and Hjelle could reach the Majors this year. 

[RELATED: Why Sean Hjelle stood out to former Giant Ryan Vogelsong]

Trey McNutt: A 30-year-old right-hander who pitched in an independent league for two years, McNutt was with the A's organization last year. He's currently tearing up the Mexican Winter League, with 24 strikeouts and one run allowed in 15 2/3 relief innings. McNutt has a fan in Matt Daniels, the organization's coordinator of pitching sciences: 

Sam Moll: The only left-hander on the list, Moll had a 2.39 ERA as a reliever for Richmond and Sacramento last season. Moll was taken in the third round by the Rockies in 2013 and made 11 appearances for the A's in 2017. 

Carlos Navas: The 27-year-old made 15 appearances for Sacramento last season, posting a 5.08 ERA as a swingman. 

Andrew Triggs: The 30-year-old has started games each of the past three seasons for the A's, and he has a 4.53 ERA in 45 big league appearances. The Giants have plenty of pitchers already in the mix for rotation spots, but they're thin at the Triple-A level. 

Raffi Vizcaino: Signed out of the Dominican Republic, the 24-year-old has been in the organization for seven years. Vizcaino pitched well out of the bullpen for San Jose and Richmond last season, although walks have always been an issue. 

Sam Wolff: The right-hander had flexor tendon surgery while in the minors with the Rangers in 2017 and was included in the Matt Moore trade while rehabbing. Wolff missed time last year, too, but he had a 1.78 ERA in 25 relief appearances. Wolff has averaged double-digit strikeouts per nine at every stop he has made in the last three seasons. 

Farhan Zaidi explains worst-case scenario of calling Joey Bart up early

Farhan Zaidi explains worst-case scenario of calling Joey Bart up early

Farhan Zaidi hears your rallying cries begging for the Giants call up Joey Bart.

What's there to lose, right? Well, the Giants' president of baseball operations believes there's a lot to lose, and is doing everything in his power to make sure Bart's transition to the big leagues is as smooth as possible

"What we have to lose is putting Joey Bart on a career path that doesn't allow him to get the most out of his ability," Zaidi recently said to the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea on the "Giants Splash" podcast. "What we have to lose is calling him up, maybe a little too early, having him struggle, having that impact his confidence and that's the last thing we want to do.

"Frankly, we'd rather be a little late on calling him up than a little early on calling him up." 

Bart, 23, is considered the second-best catching prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft hit .278 with 16 home runs last season between Single-A San Jose and Double-A Richmond. He also missed multiple weeks after fracturing his left hand and then fractured his right thumb early on in the Arizona Fall League.

When Zaidi was the Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager, he faced similar decisions with calling up top prospects like Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. Bellinger was just 21 years old when he made his MLB debut against the Giants in April 2017. Seager also was just 21 when he debuted in September 2015. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

But Bellinger had 399 at-bats in Double-A and 78 more in Triple-A before he reached the big leagues. Seager had 228 in Double-A and 421 in Triple-A. Bart hasn't played a single game in Triple-A and only has 79 at-bats in Double-A. 

The goal is to make sure Bart follows a similar path as Bellinger and Seager. Bellinger won the NL MVP in just his third big league season. Seager won NL Rookie of the Year and already has been named to two All-Star Games. Those kind of accolades certainly are what Zaidi and Co. envision for Bart. 

With no minor league season this year, Bart is training at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento. There, he's learning how to play first base and working on very specific aspects of his overall game. He isn't able to play in full games right now, but Zaidi believes he still is able to grow as a player. 

[RELATED: Zaidi, Giants reach key milestone with latest prospect trade]

"I still view him as getting important reps, because he's facing good pitching in Sacramento," Zaidi said. "We've got guys like Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez -- those guys are with the taxi squad right now -- but he had the opportunity to face those guys, as well as other guys who are Triple-A, big league pitchers.

"I think those are valuable reps." 

The Giants don't view Bart as someone who will just help them one day. They know he has superstar potential. And sometimes, that comes with a frustrating amount of patience.

How Giants' Austin Slater made adjustment to show early signs of breakout

How Giants' Austin Slater made adjustment to show early signs of breakout

For seven innings Monday night, the Giants were playing their worst game of the season. There was very little to be positive about, but in those final two frames, Austin Slater took a couple of swings that at least guaranteed the coaching staff would sleep a bit easier. 

Slater homered in the eighth and then kept the rally going with a single in the ninth. Both hits came off right-handed pitchers. Both went to right field. They had launch angles of 28 and 29 degrees, respectively. 

Slater has worked hard since debuting in 2017 to get the ball in the air more and take advantage of his natural strength, and he might finally be seeing consistent results. At the end of his Zoom press conference after a 6-4 loss, manager Gabe Kapler took some time to credit Slater for his pre-game work.

"When a player trains for the outcome that he had tonight, which is a home run to right-center field off a righty, I think it's worth noting," Kapler said. "Today in his batting practice session out on the field, we had the machine set up from an arm angle on the right side of a pitcher firing him fastballs. We were watching him in BP training for that moment, driving balls into the opposite field. 

"So when that practice session shows up into the game and rewards a player for that kind of high-level training and effort, I think it's worth noting. It's a good example for all of us to train at that speed and in a way that's pretty uncomfortable, and we can see the results translating."

Slater has three homers in the past three games, including two off Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant to homer off Kershaw twice in a game, but the shot off Josh James on Monday might have been more important to his development. 

The Giants know Slater sees lefties well. He's their leadoff hitter against them. But to avoid being a strict platoon piece, he'll have to do much better than his .238 average and .303 slugging percentage against righties last year. It's a very small sample, but Slater has five hits -- including that homer and a triple -- in 18 at-bats against right-handed pitching this season. He is doing damage against both, and doing it by driving the ball more. 

Slater's launch angle his first three seasons ranged from 1.6 percent to 3.4, with many of his hits coming on hard grounders through holes on the right side. He still doesn't pull the ball much, but this season that launch angle is 8.7 percent. He ranks 23rd in the big leagues and leads the Giants in percentage of batted balls that are barreled. 

The tools have always been there for Slater to be a good big league outfielder. He can play all three spots, has a strong arm, is a plus runner (he has four stolen bases already this year), and has a good approach at the plate. The biggest adjustment was driving the ball in the air, and early on, the signs are positive. 

[RELATED: Zaidi targeted Solano since Dodger days]

After taking Kershaw to dead-center twice on Saturday, Slater said it's been nice to see results. But he knew the work wasn't anywhere close to done. 

"That's still going to be an intention of mine, trying to get the ball in the air as much as possible," he said. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]