Sean Hjelle

MLB Draft 2020: Giants prepared for huge opportunity on Day 2 of event

MLB Draft 2020: Giants prepared for huge opportunity on Day 2 of event

The Giants won't play a game this month, but years from now we may look back on June of 2020 as a pivotal stretch for the franchise's rise. Taking Patrick Bailey in the first round was a start, but the real heavy lifting will take place today as MLB holds the final four rounds of the shortened draft. 

This is a huge opportunity, with six picks total on the second day -- a league-high -- and three in the first 33 selections. They'll pick at No. 49 overall in the second round, then make compensation picks at No. 67 and No. 68 as a consolation prize for losing Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith -- both of whom were given qualifying offers -- in free agency last year. 

There's a lot of pressure to get this right. There's also a lot of excitement at Oracle Park.

"We were really excited about this draft class, the depth, the way it's spread out," scouting director Michael Holmes said on The Giants Insider Podcast after the first round. "We think there are good players at high school, collegiate, position players, pitchers. We're in a good position and we feel like with the picks it allows us to do a lot of different things. We're prepared and we're ready to go."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

There are no apples to apples comparison, but the Giants should be able to add multiple players today who can jump into their top 10 as an organization and continue to help the minor league system rise in the rankings. For example, Sean Hjelle -- now their sixth-best prospect per MLB Pipeline -- was taken in just about the same area (45th overall) as their first selection today. Their current No. 12 prospect, right-hander Jake Wong, was taken 80th overall in 2018 and the Giants will make two comp picks before today's third round and then select again at No. 85. 

Hjelle and Wong are two of the organization's four best pitching prospects, but overall the Giants are still lacking in that area. Position player talent was a clear need when Farhan Zaidi took over and hired Holmes, and the Giants picked hitters with nine of their first 10 selections last year. They went with a bat Wednesday night, too. 

[RELATED: Five things to know about Patrick Bailey]

Zaidi said he expects more balance today, but the Giants won't be too swayed by the fact that pitching is the perceived weakness of a much-improved system. 

"We obviously have multiple picks (Thursday) and I would expect us still to take a mix of pitchers and position players," Zaidi said. "At this point we're not going to focus on either side. I would imagine that we have a pretty balanced group of selections. That (adding another hitter) wasn't by design and there were some pitchers that we talked about (at No. 13) as well. It was just that we had the strongest consensus and overall evaluation on Bailey."

Giants could add top prospects on expanded roster when MLB returns

Giants could add top prospects on expanded roster when MLB returns

At first glance, it should be easier for Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris to put their roster together if MLB returns in July. Instead of having 26 spots, they should have about 30 at first. Instead of worrying about young players with options and veterans with opt-outs and overflowing position groups at Triple-A, they'll likely have a 20-man taxi squad that can hold just about everyone who was in a tight competition in Scottsdale in March. 

But there's a complicating factor, one the front office and coaching staff is discussing quite often. 

The likelihood is that even if the big league season returns, the minor league one will be canceled. It might make more sense, then, to have a top prospect like Joey Bart on the expanded roster or taxi squad rather than a veteran. It might even make sense to have guys like Hunter Bishop and Marco Luciano in camp so they can continue to get reps in 2020, even though neither has even played in A-ball yet. 

On Wednesday's episode of "Chalk Talk at Home," manager Gabe Kapler said the Giants are examining every possibility. 

"We have to operate as if there are not going to be any other developmental opportunities this year," Kapler said. "And for that reason I think we have to look at our prospects and say, even if we're not sure they're going to make an impact on our major league roster in 2020, if we think they might in '21 or '22, and we think that their development is critically important to the health of our minor league system and our organization, we have to find a way to at least consider them getting reps in a stay-hot style of camp."

The expectation is that a camp full of secondary players would include scrimmages to keep players in shape, and prospects would certainly benefit from those games, even if they're overmatched at first. In that sense, it's a no-brainer to have Bart involved either on an expanded roster or a taxi squad, and right-hander Sean Hjelle and outfielder Heliot Ramos both seem to be good fits, too.

Both were headed for late-season debuts in 2020 with the possibility of being a big part of the 2021 mix. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The more fascinating question comes further down the roster. Luciano is just 18, but he's a top-20 prospect in the minors and has a chance to turn into the best young player the Giants have produced in a decade. It might make sense to stash him in a taxi squad camp all summer and let him spend months working with older players and the quality coaches who end up there.

Bishop, 21, is more advanced after playing three years at Arizona State, and he also would benefit from the reps. 

The flip side, of course, is that there's a roster limit on how much the Giants can do here. Having Ramos and Bishop in a camp environment means you're sending home a more experienced player who could fill in when there are injuries to the big league roster. The Giants might have to choose between carving out that taxi squad spot for Hjelle, who was expected to spend most of the year in Double-A, or a veteran who could step into the bullpen right now if needed. 

Asked about the youngest players -- Luciano, Bishop, Alexander Canario, etc. -- Kapler said they absolutely will be under consideration for a 50-man roster. The front office, coaching staff and analytics staff regularly submit and vet names, and Kapler said that roster would be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Going super-young might not help in 2020, but the Giants weren't expected to be good anyway, and this could lead to big advantages down the line, pushing the Giants' best prospects ahead of those from organizations that filled their rosters and taxi squads with win-now choices. The Giants could have a huge advantage for 2021 and beyond if their top prospects don't miss the year and instead move quickly. 

[RELATED: Ranking five opponents Giants fans love to hate the most]

"Sometimes you get a minor league player like that that really flies through the system," Kapler said. "Somebody coming to mind for me is Juan Soto with the Nationals and how he just kind of dominated level by level and kind of flew through the minor league system. You never know who that is going to be.

"Do we have a Juan Soto in our system? We don't know, but the one thing we do know is we have to do everything we can to continue to get our minor league players reps if we can."

What MLB expanded rosters would mean for Joey Bart, Giants prospects

What MLB expanded rosters would mean for Joey Bart, Giants prospects

One of the biggest changes in Giants camp this spring was that Gabe Kapler made no secret of the fact he wanted every day viewed as a competition. The intensity in drills was ramped up, and even veterans who had been around for a decade talked of fighting for at-bats. That'll be one of many themes you won't see as much of if the Giants return to "spring training" next month.

If Major League Baseball figures out a way to return in July, it will do so with expanded rosters. The current thought is that teams could have about 30 active players with as many as 20 waiting on a taxi squad to account for pitchers who aren't fully built up, an increase in doubleheaders, and the possibility that players have to be quarantined at times. In theory, that could answer a lot of those March questions. 

Billy Hamilton vs. Steven Duggar, or Jaylin Davis vs. Darin Ruf? You could carry all with a 50-man roster. 

Yolmer Sanchez vs. Donovan Solano? Take 'em both, along with a healthy Pablo Sandoval. 

That wide-open bullpen competition? Bring them all to San Francisco. 

Some difficult decisions should become easier, but at the same time, the Giants will be faced with another set of interesting choices. It seems unlikely that there will be a minor league season, and that means president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris will have to figure out how to balance development against their big league needs. 

Before all of this, Joey Bart seemed a good bet to debut this summer, or at the very least in September. Sean Hjelle was on that fast track, too, and Heliot Ramos loomed as a potential September call-up. The other top prospects in a rapidly improving farm system are at the lower levels, but with Bart and Hjelle in particular, the Giants could develop a whole new playbook. 

Bart's bat looked ready for the big leagues this spring, but the Giants wanted him catching every day in Triple-A. He was never part of the backup catcher competition and was sent down shortly before COVID-19 ended the spring. With that minor league opportunity taken away, his best way to develop in 2020 might be to spend the summer in San Francisco, watching Buster Posey and working with the big league staff. And with a shortened season and expanded playoff pool, there's little doubt that Bart's power is a nice fit for a team that would have a much better chance than expected at being competitive. You would want three catchers with a more hectic schedule and the universal DH could open up at-bats.

A Bart promotion seems like a no-brainer, frankly. Ramos may have been too far away when camp broke to consider a similar move, but Hjelle would be in a fascinating position. He was supposed to start every five days in Double-A, but he also showed in Scottsdale that he's not bothered by the bullpen. Hjelle pitched the ninth in his first spring appearance and sat at 95 mph in a smooth inning. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

If the Giants know Hjlelle won't be able to pitch in the minors this year, could they treat him like a Rule 5 pick, putting him on the roster and giving him mop-up innings at first so he continues to develop? Given Hjelle's deception, there's a chance he could pretty quickly prove to be a nice bullpen weapon for Kapler this season, and you could slide him right back into a minor league rotation whenever minor league ball resumes. 

These are the questions Giants officials are asking themselves. There are ways to continue working with their top prospects even without a minor league season, and given the talent level of the big league roster, some of those players might be able to provide an unexpected 2020 boost. 

[RELATED: Why Giants are scouting the AL West]

During his weekly KNBR appearance, Kapler said he has told players to be ready for an early-June return to camp so they're not caught off guard. He'll leave the specifics about what his 30-man roster or taxi squad might look like to Zaidi and Harris. 

"Any time you're thinking about roster size, any time you're thinking about how to cover for when pitchers aren't necessarily built up the same way they would be in a regular spring training, you talk about who might be best to provide that depth," Kapler said. "I think those are the discussions that are taking place right now. One of the things I am most confident in is Farhan and Scott's ability to build a roster that accounts for all of those things."