Joey Bart

Giants' top prospects should usher in bright new era in near future

Giants' top prospects should usher in bright new era in near future

When MLB announced there would be a 60-game season, the projections weren't great for the Giants. Caesar's Sportsbook gave San Francisco the fifth-lowest win total (24.5) in the league, and ZIPS' projection (25) was just slightly better than that.

Realistically, the Giants weren't going to compete. And if they did, it was going to be a major surprise.

That was before Buster Posey made the decision to opt out of the 2020 MLB season on Friday. If San Francisco was going to struggle with him, imagine what it could be like without him.

So, yes, it's understandable if Posey's decision removed what little realistic optimism Giants fans had for this abbreviated season. With everything currently going on in the world, it would be easy to focus on the bad.

San Francisco's present might not offer a ton of hope. But luckily for Giants fans, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the not-too-distant future.

One could argue the Giants' farm system is in as good of a spot as it has ever been. It was identified as one of the five most improved in all of baseball back in January, as president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has spearheaded a rapid turnaround. The system is loaded with high-quality prospects, and unlike previous times when pitching was the obvious strength, most of San Francisco's current top prospects are position players.

The Giants know how important pitching is as well as any team in the league. That's how they won three World Series titles in five years. Well, that plus some timely hitting. In the seasons since, though, they've struggled mightily on offense, which has resulted in multiple years of better draft position.

Nothing is guaranteed, but it sure seems like San Francisco has capitalized on the opportunity that was created out of that offensive deficiency and directly addressed it.

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As things currently stand, the Giants have five prospects ranked within MLB Pipeline's Top 100. That's more than they've ever had since MLB.com started ranking prospects.

Catcher Joey Bart leads the way at No. 14 overall, while 18-year-old shortstop Marco Luciano is one of the fastest climbing prospects in all of baseball, currently ranked No. 35. Outfielder Heliot Ramos, a 2017 first-round pick, lands at No. 65, and he's followed by 2019 first-round pick Hunter Bishop at No. 71. Finally, Seth Corry, one of only two pitchers currently ranked among San Francisco's top 10 prospects, comes in at No. 99.

All of those prospects are projected to reach the big leagues at some point during or prior to the 2022 season.

Then there's 20-year-old outfielder Alexander Canario, the Giants' sixth-ranked prospect, who likely just missed being included in the Top 100. It's probably only a matter of time until he is, and he might have the highest offensive ceiling of any prospect not named Luciano within San Francisco's system. 

Canario currently is projected to make his big league debut in 2023, as are 19-year-old third baseman Luis Toribio and 18-year-old outfielder Luis Matos -- the Giants' seventh and eighth-ranked prospects at the moment. Pipeline cites Toribio as possibly being "the best pure hitter" in the system, while Matos was singled out by Giants director of player development Kyle Haines as currently being underrated, but will be heard from down the line.

Filling out the remainder of San Francisco's top 10 prospects are ninth-ranked pitcher Sean Hjelle and 10th-ranked infielder Will Wilson. The 6-foot-11 Hjelle offers tantalizing potential, while getting Wilson -- the Los Angeles Angels' 2019 first-round pick -- at the Winter Meetings was a major steal.

Hjelle and Wilson are projected to make their big league debuts in 2021 and 2022, respectively, while San Francisco's current 11th and 12th-ranked prospects already have. If getting Wilson was a steal, acquiring 11th-ranked Mauricio Dubon was the equivalent of highway robbery. And 12th-ranked Logan Webb has been turning heads -- particularly Posey's -- in Summer Camp.

Many of those prospects, particularly the position players, likely would have been ranked much higher in previous years. But now, the Giants boast depth that most other teams envy.

And, that doesn't even include San Francisco's 2020 first-round pick, Patrick Bailey. As soon as he begins his professional career, the power-hitting catcher likely will fall somewhere between No. 5 and No. 7, inevitably nudging a great prospect out of the Giants' top 10.

So over the next one to three seasons, San Francisco is likely to experience a massive influx of highly-skilled, young talent, something that the franchise has been lacking since ... let's just say it's been a long time. That talent could form the backbone of a team that could contend, not just for one season, but possibly for the next decade. Or, it could be used to acquire a current star.

[RELATED: Posey's decision might make Giants revisit plans for Bart]

The Giants now are in a position where they can compete on a prospect level in any potential trade discussions for an already-established star. Of course, moving forward, they'll also be in far better financial position to compete for top free agents than they have been in recent years -- in which case they wouldn't have to sacrifice any prospects.

So, yes, the 2020 season likely wasn't going to be a very successful one to begin with, and Posey's absence should only exacerbate that. But the Giants' not-too-distant future could be very, very bright, and fans should focus on that whenever in need of some optimism.

What Buster Posey's decision means for Joey Bart, Giants' catchers

What Buster Posey's decision means for Joey Bart, Giants' catchers

Because the Giants were split into three workout groups and Buster Posey missed three days, the starting catcher had not had a lot of time to spend with top prospects Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey. 

The latter two worked out in the mornings, alternating reps as they worked toward a future in the big leagues. That day, when Bart and Bailey split time, is at least two years away, but now the Giants are tasked with deciding how soon they want to jump into the deep end with another young catcher.

A decade after he broke through, Buster Posey is opting out of the season to spend time with his family, which recently adopted twin girls who were born prematurely. The Giants were overwhelmingly supportive, but they also know they have to spend the weekend having tough conversations. 

First among them: is it time to turn the starting catching job over to Bart, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft just two years ago. Bart had a strong spring training, but has just 22 games of experience above A-ball. 

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Farhan Zaidi's initial lean seemed to be no. He talked of the veterans who are in camp and said the Giants could look outside the organization for immediate help. He mentioned that a guy having a good camp is "just not the same as being able to see those guys perform at other levels."

"This is a tough environment to evaluate young position players that you maybe went into the situation thinking they need more competitive reps at the upper levels -- Double-A, Triple-A," Zaidi said. "We're having these workouts, they're in live BP and a guy takes a good swing and hits a ball 430 feet, that's all well and good, but it's not really a substitute for getting the 100, 200, 300 at-bats that you might be getting in Double-A and Triple-A where you get a much better sense of whether a guy is capable of handling major league pitching on a day in, day out basis."

Before they found out Posey might opt out, the Giants had Bart ticketed for Sacramento as part of the expanded player pool. They had not ruled out the possibility that he would be used at the big league level this year, but he was not in the Opening Day conversation. Rob Brantly and Tyler Heineman have been competing to back up Posey, but combined they have just 105 big league starts. Chadwick Tromp has experience at the upper levels of the minors but not in the big leagues. 

"Obviously (Heineman) and Rob Brantly have been in the conversation to be backing up Buster and there's going to be more opportunity there," Zaidi said. "Whether we ultimately decide it's a timeshare or there's a starter and a backup, we just have to see. We just added Chadwick Tromp also to the camp and he has taken some nice swings since coming in. 

"At least in terms of those three guys who have played in Triple-A and some in the big leagues, you've got a left-handed bat (Brantly), a right-handed bat (Tromp), and a switch-hitter (Heineman), so it could mean different configurations. I think we still certainly are open to looking to someone outside the organization, perhaps with somebody with a little more experience, especially if we think it'll help us early on in the season."

Given that most teams have five or six catchers in camp already, it may be hard for Zaidi to find external options. Russell Martin, the longtime Dodger, is still a free agent and looms as an obvious first call to make. He played 83 games for the Dodgers last year, and while he didn't hit much, he could step in and lead a staff right away. Some Dodgers players have been clamoring publicly for the team to bring him back as a backup for Will Smith. The Giants also could attempt to trade for a veteran who is buried on the depth chart in another summer camp. 

Zaidi said the Giants would add a sixth catcher at some point just to help catch bullpens. They are now remarkably thin at the position, with two young prospects and two more players with little or no big league experience among their group. Ricardo Genoves was in camp and has been working out during the break, and he could be a possibility to help out, but that's just to catch bullpens and do work behind the scenes. 

[RELATED: Posey gets it right again with toughest decision of career]

The Giants will need a starting catcher at some point. There's no replacing a Buster Posey, but one day the Giants hoped Bart could try. Perhaps they'll decide in the next 13 days that the best option is to start that experiment now. 

"It's just going to open up opportunity for all of the catchers in camp," Zaidi said. "Buster was obviously slated to be our starting catcher. There are more reps, there's more opportunity, and that goes for all the guys in camp."

Marco Luciano, Joey Bart lead Giants' intriguing top prospects in camp

Marco Luciano, Joey Bart lead Giants' intriguing top prospects in camp

The simulated game at Oracle Park on Wednesday afternoon got the Giants a bit closer to being ready for their 2020 opener, and it also gave a huge glimpse of the future. 

Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey served as the two catchers for the early innings, Heliot Ramos was roaming the outfield and Will Wilson played at second base alongside Brandon Crawford. All four also got their turns at the plate.

The next wave is coming fast for the Giants, and they took advantage of the expansion of rosters to get most of their top prospects into camp last week (Hunter Bishop still could be on the way once he recovers from coronavirus). The players will spend the next two months in Sacramento, honing their craft every day and taking part in intrasquad games with plenty of former big leaguers. 

Here's a rundown of the top prospects who will be part of the player pool, and other minor leaguers who have been added to camp over recent days:

Marco Luciano

The most exciting young player in the system, Luciano is widely considered a top-20 prospect in the game and there are some evaluators who think he could be top-five by this time next year. Signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago, the shortstop made his professional debut last year, batting .302/.417/.564 in 47 games, with 10 homers and 13 doubles. 

Luciano doesn't turn 19 until September, but he's the type of prospect who could hit his way to the big leagues before he can legally enter a bar. He isn't close to big league-ready, but he'll benefit greatly from three months of reps he couldn't get elsewhere, and he should skip a level or two when the minor league season returns. 

Luciano already is turning heads, and he has been one of the most-talked about players in camp the first week because of swings like this one (turn your sound up): 

Joey Bart

Bart is the heir apparent to Buster Posey and impressed in his month in big league camp. He was 7-for-16 with two homers in Cactus League games before getting sent to minor league camp two days before spring training shut down. 

Two hand fractures slowed Bart's progress last year, but he reached Double-A, tore up the Fall League -- a 1.290 OPS and four homers in 10 games before an injury -- and was set to start April in Triple-A. The Giants had planned for Bart to spend a couple of months there at least, but even with no minor league season, he's not really in the mix for an Opening Day job this month. 

"Do I think that it's likely that his best path to his best career is starting with the major league club? I don't think that's his best path," manager Gabe Kapler said on a recent Giants Insider Podcast.

Bart is in a fascinating spot. With extra roster spots and a DH, the Giants very easily could carry him at some point this season. On the other hand, Posey likely will get a higher percentage of starts than normal given how much of a sprint this is, and the organization could opt to keep Bart from accruing service time in 2020.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Heliot Ramos

Outside of Bart, Ramos, a first-round MLB draft pick in 2017, is the most likely of the hitting prospects to see Oracle Park in 2020. He wasn't in big league camp, but team officials hoped he might go to Double-A or Triple-A and play his way into a September call-up. Those won't exist this season, and Ramos will need a lot of injuries in the big league outfield to get an opportunity. It's hard to see how the Giants would want to start his clock in a 60-game season. 

Still, this is a great opportunity for Ramos, who hit 16 homers across two levels last season and finished his year in Double-A. He's still just 20, but he'll now get a summer to work more closely with established big leaguers and more seasoned coaches. It's possible that Ramos will continue progressing to the point that next spring he heads to Scottsdale competing for a big league job. 

Patrick Bailey 

Taken with the 13th overall pick just a month ago, the catcher was thrown right into the fire. Kapler said there was a lot to like about the way Bailey caught veterans in Wednesday's simulated game.

"Patrick has a lot of energy in his body," Kapler said. "I really, really like his setup, his flexibility in his ankles and hips. I think what is most impressive is his body language and his poise. A lot of people noticed that. It wasn't just my perspective. People were commenting on how poised and natural he was behind the plate and not rattled at all from the first real intense competition."

As an advanced hitter and game-caller, Bailey could start his professional career in San Jose next year and quickly move to Double-A. It might not be long before he's pushing to join Bart in the big leagues:

Alexander Canario

The 20-year-old isn't as well known as some others, but should be. Canario is ranked fifth in the system by Baseball-America and sixth by MLB Pipeline. He has tremendous raw power and bat speed, leading to 16 homers last season in 59 games. 

Canario is raw, and he has struck out a lot in the minors, but that also makes him someone who could benefit more than anyone from three months with higher-quality instruction.

"He hasn't played at a high level yet, there's a lot of development yet to occur," Kapler said. "With Canario, it's much more about getting the experience and being around the instructors."

Luis Toribio

Ranked sixth in the organization by BA and seventh by Pipeline, Toribio is yet another teenage prospect with huge potential. A third baseman, Toribio has the "best approach in the system," according to Baseball-America. In 118 minor league games, the left-handed hitter has a .428 OBP and 98 walks to 121 strikeouts. 

"He has plus defensive actions with a chance to hit for power and average," farm director Kyle Haines said of Toribio, who won't turn 20 until the day after this season ends. 

Will Wilson

The Giants considered taking Wilson with the 10th overall pick in last year's draft, but they took Bishop and the shortstop from NC State ended up going 15th to the Angels. When the Angels later wanted to dump Zack Cozart's $12.6 million, the Giants were happy to take it on -- with Wilson being the cost of doing business. 

The 21-year-old had a .275/.328/.439 line in 46 games last summer and comes to camp hoping to join former Wolfpack teammates Bailey and Nick Swiney en route to the big leagues. 

"He is a well-rounded player with versatility," Haines said. "A chance to be a plus offensive contributor while playing the middle infield."

Camilo Doval

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Doval hasn't been considered a top prospect, but he appears to have had a breakthrough. The 23-year-old has a fastball that reaches triple digits and a good slider, and while he hasn't pitched above A-ball, he came to minor league camp this year and opened eyes with his bullpen sessions. 

"He was lightning in minor league camp," Kapler said.  

Giants officials have continued to gather around Doval over the past week. A right-handed reliever can zoom to the big leagues with two good pitches, and Doval might have that in him. Kapler compared him to Seranthony Dominguez, who was Philadelphia's closer for part of the 2018 season. 

"It's really a big arm," Kapler said of Doval. "Our minor league staff is especially excited about Camilo and we've all spent a lot of time watching video. It's a fastball-slider combination that, from a stuff perspective, is going to play at the major league level. He needs more experience in a camp like this and that experience is not limited to what he does on the mound, but also his ability to work with catchers, know our bunt plays and prepare to help us. 

"Whether that's the outset of the season or another time down the road, it's really good for us to get eyes on him. I don't anticipate anything more than what I just said, which is seeing what happens and what transpires through camp. But a lot of people on the minor league side are really excited about him."

Caleb Baragar 

A lefty reliever who was taken in the ninth round of the 2016 draft, Baragar is coming off a solid season with Richmond. He had a 3.57 ERA and about a strikeout per inning across three levels last year and pitched for Sacramento in the Triple-A postseason. Kapler said Baragar's fastball is what stands out.

"It's the ability to compete, it's the ability to get in the zone and stay in the zone," he said. "And it's adding another left-hander to our mix."

Sam Wolff 

You probably recognize Wolff's name, and not just because he was in big league camp the last two springs. The 29-year-old right-hander came to the Giants in the Matt Moore trade with the Rangers after the Winter Meetings in 2017.

Wolff had flexor tendon surgery that year and was still rehabbing when traded, and he missed some time last year, too. When on the field for Double-A Richmond, he had a 1.78 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine. As an advanced reliever who piles up strikeouts, Wolff is possibly more likely than anyone on this list but the next guy to debut in this weird season. Kapler said the Giants considered naming him to the initial player pool list that was released last week.

"He's older but is an established minor league pitcher with really good stuff," Kapler said. "One of the things that we thought about with our bullpen is that, because we don't have a lot of established veteran relievers with long track records of success, we wanted to open up the pool. That's why you're seeing Caleb and Wolff here. We want to see if we can catch somebody kind of hot with really, really good stuff and we want to create as much competition as possible."

[RELATED: Belt sidelined by heel pain as Giants' opener approaches]

Tyler Cyr

The 27-year-old Bay Area native has been in big league camp twice and made three Cactus League appearances this year before getting reassigned. He was back as part of the initial player pool and has jumped into the bullpen competition. 

Cyr looked like he would debut in 2018 but an elbow fracture cost him a season. He returned to Double-A last year and had a 2.05 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine before joining the Sacramento River Cats for their postseason run. 

Chadwick Tromp

One of six catchers in camp, Tromp, a native of Aruba, was a minor league free agent who signed after seven seasons in the Reds organization. The 25-year-old had shoulder surgery in 2018 but came back last year to post a .389 OBP and hit seven homers in 26 Triple-A games. He has shown improved plate discipline at the upper levels of the minors, and provides catching depth that's always needed.