A Minor Lines Season Wrap Up: Pitchers Edition!

MLB: SEP 02 Giants at Cardinals Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’ll be just as fun as yesterday, we promise!

Yesterday Kevin and I spent time musing on the hitters who inspired us. Now 2019 was much much more the Year of Prospect Dingers in Giantsland than the ...

What? NO, not HIM! Dingers, Dingers! You know, like….

Yeah, that’s the stuff. Oh but anyway we’re here to talk pitchers not dingers. So let me reassure you, there was a decent amount of this stuff, too..

Not to mention this stuff...

And apparently, even some of this stuff!

And now we know that Minor Lines will never be without content! So let’s talk about those underappreciated arms!

Who Surprised you the Most:

Kevin: Seth Corry, easily. Look, there was no doubt that Corry had talent, there was never that. But how many pitchers solve control issues to such a dramatic degree, at such a low level, for such an extended period, as Corry did in Augusta this season? I can’t remember one. I hoped Corry would do well this year. I could’ve never dreamed for him to have had the season he did.

Roger: Well, Kevin and I have a gentleman’s agreement to disagree with each other (strenuously?) in all cases so I will move along from Seth Corry’s year and look elsewhere for an answer to this question. Thinking it over, I think that the answer here is Melvin Adon. I really anticipated that the permanent move to the bullpen would allow Adon to blaze (see what I did there?) a trail through the high minors to the Giants bullpen, following a path quite similar to Ray Black’s 2018 journey. And instead, we saw a lot of development bumps. Now, in fairness, we saw adjustments and success and progress, too. We absolutely saw those (especially in AA). But Adon had to learn to make his premium stuff work at each level and still seems to be an adjustment or two away from the SF pen. As much as I pound the drum every year that development is hard, I really did think (hope/dream?) that Adon would have an easier time with AA and AAA hitters than he turned out having.

MLB: MAR 09 Spring Training - Cubs (ss) at Giants Photo by Will Powers/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who Changed Your Mind?

Roger: Jose Marte -- and, again, not in a good way (I fear I’m establishing a pattern). I really thought Marte was going to be one of the breakout players in the system this year with his combination of a fastball that reaches 97-98 and a knee-buckling breaking ball. But the stuff just hasn’t translated into success even at low levels and he struggled all year against Cal league opponents. And now I find myself thinking that like Melvin Adon before him, Marte has little chance of sticking as a starter and will eventually be funneled into a relief role. Possibly the most disappointing prospect performance of the year for me (non-injury division).

Kevin: I had just about given up on him as a starter, but Garrett Williams was back in Richmond’s rotation for much of the season, and he had a strong enough year as a starter that he might be an under-the-radar candidate to stay in that role going forward. He hasn’t really gotten his control problems under control, but he began getting the strikeouts he didn’t have last year, and dropped his batting average against from .294 to .219 at Double-A. I still think he’s an interesting bullpen option, but without a huge difference between facing lefties and righties, he doesn’t have a LOOGY profile, so a starter or even long reliever role might be his future.

San Francisco Giants Photo Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Who weren’t you thinking about that much in March that you can’t stop thinking about now?

Kevin: Other than jokes about the name and writers this site has discarded, Matt Frisbee really opened some eyes. I mean, ultimately, his year wasn’t anywhere near the barn-burner that Corry had, or other pitchers have had. But he took a nice year as a reliever in SK, and turned it into spending most of the year as a starter in San Jose and striking out 131 in 116.1 innings in a very offensive league. I still don’t know how to predict his eventual spot, or even if he’s a future regular major league pitcher, but he’s on the map now.

Roger: Oof, why did I come up with this category? I have to be perfectly honest -- there aren’t ANY pitchers in this system that I can’t stop thinking about, much less ones who were off my radar in March. But as I cast around for an answer one guy who I am suddenly fascinated about is the soon-to-be-newest Giant Enderson Franco. One of an assortment of low-interest minor league signings last winter, Franco spent nearly the entire year posting fairly mediocre numbers in the Sacramento rotation (a thankless task indeed, taking the ball every fifth day in the PCL this year). His K rate was low (7.81); his ERA was high (5.97) and his stuff was unremarkable (fronted by a low 90s fastball). But faced with massive bullpen callups throughout the second half of the year, Sacramento innovated a bit as a contingency move and put Franco in the bullpen for their post-season run and as closer he’s been a revelation, featuring a fastball much closer to 100 than to 90, and generally crisper, sharper overall portfolio. Did the Giants just fluke onto a legitimate bullpen piece for 2020 not through their ongoing trials at the major league level but by the exigencies forced upon those left behind? I’m curious!

San Francisco Giants Photo Day Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images
Looks like Enderson is curious too!

Who are you most worried about?

Roger: Gregory Santos pitched less than 7 innings this year before heading to the IL with a shoulder strain. He came back two months later, pitched five and a half solidish starts and then vanished into the ether for good on July 11. Teenagers, shoulder strains, and long disappearances are a combination that make me very very worried.

Kevin: Man, “Worry” is a very different category when it comes to pitchers, as Roger’s pick says. But I’m going to step away from the injury worries and go back to Melvin Adon. Adon is the type of pitcher who should be inspiring the type of fervor I was having for Ray Black at this time last season. His Triple-A ERA looks horrible off of one really bad game, but he just was nowhere near to the dominating type I think many of us wanted, and at this point, I’m concerned about his frequent bouts of wildness means he may not be consistent enough to even be useful.

Who Shouldn’t You be Overreacting to right now?

Kevin: I really think you shouldn’t worry about Jake Wong’s final numbers in San Jose. After a great start in Augusta, with a 1.99 ERA in 8 starts, he had 15 in San Jose to the tune of a 4.98 ERA. Aside from different run environments, the 3rd round pick from 2018 was still in just his first full pro season, and he was getting challenged. I hate to pull the small school argument, but he certainly didn’t face the same level of player at Grand Canyon University as Sean Hjelle did in the SEC. Seeing how he adjusts in what I expect will be a return engagement to San Jose (assuming he’s healthy) is what you should be reacting to.

Roger: Ok, I’m going to go ahead and “be that guy” and say, don’t over-react (positively) to Seth Corry’s amazing season. And let’s make no mistake, Corry’s year was extraordinary! He had the second lowest ERA in all of the minor leagues (it was the lowest prior to his final outing) and had the fourth most strikeouts. He was extraordinarily difficult for Sally league batters to hit. His changeup made a big move forward and, perhaps biggest of all, the walks shrunk significantly, from a 17.2% rate in 2018 down to 11.4% in 2019. But that might be the biggest reason he’s in this category for me. I would caution people against throwing so much weight on those A ball walk rates as to believe Corry is suddenly a little Cliff Lee (who also by the way fought control issues on his way up). The control/command still has steps forward to take despite the reduction of walks. He ran up high pitch counts even at his most dominant, frequently finding himself in repeated full counts and out of games after 5 innings. It is absolutely a point in his honor that he produced the out pitch that got him out of those deep counts over and over again, thanks in large part to a strong three-pitch mix and tremendous competitiveness on the mound. Corry looks like a future major league contributor and is in the conversation for best pitching prospect in the system. But his statistical dominance of Sally League hitters is the type of thing that might lead the overzealous among us to harangue prospect writers about why he isn’t being ranked in the top 50 or included in “future ace” conversations along with McKenzie Gore and that’s just not really where Corry’s prospect profile is at as of yet. [now I shall shrink away in disgrace and never be heard from again]

Who Shouldn’t You be Forgetting about right now?

Roger: [Psych! Here I am again!] I’m gonna go with Blake Rivera. The Augusta rotation at the beginning of the year was stacked -- easily the most prospect heavy pitching staff in the system. And many of the members of that rotation spent the year grabbing our attention in dramatic ways: Sean Hjelle and Jake Wong got promoted (twice in Hjelle’s case), Seth Corry caught fire, Gregory Santos got injured. But don’t you forget about Blake Rivera, the twice-drafted JC kid who showed a lot of promise in his first full season before he too disappeared to the IL in the second half. Rivera has a long way to go with his command, and his two-pitch heavy mix still suggests a bullpen outcome down the line, but he threw 73 pretty impressive innings in Augusta, striking out 87 with a 3.95 ERA and I’m very interested to see where his development goes next year. (If I could have a second pick, I also really like Kevin’s blurb above regarding Garrett Williams who I first thought of putting here.)

Kevin: It’s been hard enough trying not to forget the names that have come out of the metaphorical Clown Car that was Zaidi’s Waiver Wire. Trying to tell my father about every reliever who came into Tuesday night’s game in Boston was hard enough. But the pitcher you don’t want to forget about in the Giants system is Tyler Cyr. The 26-year old repeated Richmond this year and was just quietly effective. The Fremont native throws 95+ with movement, and has a mix of average breaking balls, but got 59 strikeouts against 23 walks in 50.1 innings this season. I think he didn’t get much chance in Sacramento this year more due to the Clown Car than his own talent. Next season, though, he should be in Triple-A and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the majors (barring health). (If I could have a second pick like Roger, keep an eye on Norwith Gudino next season. He came into this season with the highest strike percentage in the minors since 2017, and just pitched well, if sparingly, but was often old for his leagues.)

Who made you happiest this year?

Kevin: Tyler Freakin’ Rogers, man. No, really, look, I get he’s not heralded, and he’s been passed over (in the Rule 5 draft) more times than most NFL centers have been passed over (by...a QB). He probably isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the 2020 organization roster. But even as a 28-year old, he kept at it. And honestly, he was having a horrible year statistically in the PCL, but was it the new baseballs? But Zaidi gave him a chance, and although it’s been on a team in a low-pressure situation, he’s come in in some big environments and has a .128 average against and a 0.62 WHIP in 11.1 major league innings. Maybe with a better scouting report, hitters will catch up. But I love the idea of having a pitcher in the bullpen who is a sightlines changeup, that you just can’t be completely ready for. And my own biases aside, I love it when I guy sticks around and finally gets a shot that is well earned...and he performs well.

Roger: There have been a lot of pretty happy returns from injury for the Giants in recent years, and two that brought me particular joy this year were Sam Coonrod and Tyler Cyr. After many years of trying to make it as a starter, Coonrod was finally transitioned to the bullpen at the end of 2017 and almost immediately fell to injury, missing nearly the entire 2018 year. One could be forgiven for not giving much thought to his pedestrian performance in the PCL this year but he showed why he’s a potentially exciting arm for the future in his major league performances and I hope he’ll take that opportunity and run with it next year. Tyler Cyr is still a step away, but after returning from a fractured elbow that ended his 2018, Cyr was brilliant in the Richmond bullpen all year. The 10th rounder from Embry-Riddle University also gave outsiders one of the best perspectives on the world of minor league relievers in my favorite player tweet of the year.

Who made you saddest?

Roger: Without a doubt the saddest day of the year (pitching wise) was the day I read about Logan Webb’s 80 game suspension. In the end it obviously didn’t derail his development too much, and shouldn’t have long term repercussions -- once returned he vaulted all the way to a major league debut and has had an extended audition as a potential rotation piece at some point next year. Still, as a card carrying founder of the Logan Webb fan club, I can’t pretend it wasn’t a pretty big bummer when that story broke, and I really did miss the big guy through the first half of the season. (But he also made me really really happy when I watched him at Oracle Park -- so he’s sort of both my saddest and happiest answer)

Kevin: Um...Ray Black getting traded? No, that got the Giants Mauricio Dubon, so it hurts but was a good trade...Okay, I have to go with Jesus Tona. I mean, the minors are littered with relievers who dominate in the Single-A levels, but once they cross the line between High-A and Double-A (aka the Rodolfo line), they’re feasted upon by advanced hitters. Well, Tona didn’t even get there. He was dominant in the South Atlantic league, with a 1.50 ERA and BA’s survey calling him the best relief prospect, but in San Jose, he had a 5.71 ERA in 14 appearances, and gave up almost as many hits (16) as innings (17.1). I kept hoping he’d turn a corner, but he quite literally did not have two back-to-back appearances where he wasn’t scored upon in San Jose, so he never got on a good roll.

What team are you most excited about following next year?

Kevin: Um…*shrug*? Let’s be honest, the Giants do not have a deep pitching prospect staff. There just aren’t a lot of pitchers I expect to see all in the same place that I’m excited about. If I’m being forced to choose, it would be a San Jose team led by Seth Corry, with Jake Wong re-establishing himself, an enticing Kai-wei Teng, and a still mysterious Blake Rivera. Also to see if Jesus Tona can figure out how to face California League pitching. But points to a Richmond team, just because I really want to see Sean Hjelle and his development...mid-rotation starter though he may be.

Roger: Ok, the gentleman’s agreement might die here because *shrug* does seem to be the right answer. No, no, I mean San Jose does seem to be the right answer! Watching where Seth Corry goes from here and if Gregory Santos can come back healthy are probably the #1 and 2 top pitching storylines for 2020. Add to that Jake Wong’s probable return, and the collection of Blake Rivera, Keaton Winn, Kai-Wei Teng and potentially Caleb Kilian and San Jose would appear to be the pitching focus of the system for next year. But I will just add two other bits of pitching excitement we can anticipate next year: Trevor McDonald’s effective pro debut (will he jump to Augusta?) and a pitching-rich draft to look forward to in June.

And finally, some Minor Lines 2019 accolades:

Pitcher of the Year:

Roger: Seth Corry
Kevin: Seth Corry

#1 pitching prospect going to next year

Roger: Logan Webb
Kevin: Seth Corry

All Star Pitching Team

SP: Seth Corry
SP: Logan Webb
SP: Conner Menez
SP: Sean Hjelle
SP: Blake Rivera
RP: Melvin Adon
RP: Tyler Cyr
RP: Camilo Doval

SP: Seth Corry
SP: Sean Hjelle
SP: Keaton Winn
SP: Conner Menez
SP: Caleb Baragar
RP: Tyler Cyr
RP: Melvin Adon
RP: Jesus Tona

That’s a wrap on 2019 folks. Let’s all start staring out the window and hoping 2020 arrives soon!