Protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft is generally one of the minor parts of the offseason, but the choices the Giants made last year ended up being vital.
The big name last November was Alexander Canario, an outfielder who was added to the 40-man and then used as the centerpiece of the Kris Bryant trade over the summer, but another addition had a far greater impact. The Giants added three young right-handers, including Camilo Doval, who ended up being their closer in the postseason.
The others were Kervin Castro, who was on the postseason roster, and Gregory Santos, who might have been if not for a suspension following his first stint in the Majors.
Farhan Zaidi was bullish on that group from the start, saying repeatedly last offseason that the young pitchers could move quickly given how good their stuff was. This year's class also included a hard-throwing young right-hander, but he's probably going to be in a different situation.
On the surface, Randy Rodriguez looks like the next to follow the Doval/Castro/Santos path. The 22-year-old was added to the 40-man last month along with Sean Hjelle and Heliot Ramos, both of whom have a good shot to see the big leagues next season. Rodriguez had a 1.74 ERA in 32 relief appearances for Low-A San Jose with 101 strikeouts in 62 innings, a profile that's similar to what the Giants saw out of last year's standouts. But the Giants aren't going all-in on the bullpen path yet.
"He had a really nice season for us in San Jose, got better and better for us as the season went along," Zaidi said last month. "He was up to 97, 98 (mph) with good secondary stuff. I know there have been some parallels with the three young right-handers we added last year in Castro, Doval and Santos. I think Rodriguez actually has a chance to start, and I also think our bullpen is in a better position where we're not necessarily going to fast track him the way we did with the other guys."
Castro and Santos were both intriguing young starters in the low minors, but the Giants correctly decided that they could shoot to the big leagues in 2021 as relievers. Zaidi has mentioned a couple of times recently that Castro could return to that role, and Santos certainly could as well after missing most of 2021. The Giants would like to stretch out some of their younger arms now that they have a deep bullpen at the big league level, and Castro, Sammy Long and Caleb Baragar stand out as guys who have helped in the bullpen the last two years but now could return to starting.
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The greater need for the organization at this point is developing rotation options, as the Giants feel good about the depth they've accumulated in the big league bullpen. That will allow them to be flexible with Rodriguez, who started two games in rookie ball in 2018 but has since been used as a multi-inning reliever. He recorded at least six outs in half of his appearances last year and threw at least three relief innings four times over the final two months of the minor league season.
Rodriguez threw four hitless innings on August 21 and allowed one hit over 3 1/3 in his final relief appearance of the season. He struck out six batters both times, so it's easy to see why the Giants would like to see if that can translate to longer outings before they put the big arm in a bullpen full time.
"With Randy, I think we can kind of take our time and it won't be a matter of getting him to the big leagues quickly, even though he's on the 40-man," Zaidi said.