Zaidi details Harrison, Schmitt's 'last piece' of development originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO -- For all of the statistical advances that have been made over the last decade, it can still be difficult to get a true read on a minor leaguer by just looking at his box scores. Defenses are shaky, scorekeepers are shakier, and players are often focused on fixing specific parts of their game rather than piling up numbers.
But sometimes the box score does tell most of the story, and that was the case in Kyle Harrison's fifth start in Triple-A. The best Giants pitching prospect in a decade struck out eight of the 15 hitters he faced on Tuesday. He also walked four of them and needed 66 pitches to get through three innings.
Harrison's season thus far has been about what the Giants expected. The stuff is electric -- he was up to 96 mph Tuesday and continues to wipe hitters away with a plus slider -- but he also has work to do on his command and efficiency.
The 21-year-old has been joined in Triple-A by Casey Schmitt, a spring standout who is batting .330 through 22 games. But Schmitt also had 23 strikeouts to just three walks.
The Giants are seeing a lot of what they love about both prospects while also continuing to be patient with their development. On Thursday's Giants Talk Podcast, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi broke down the first month for two players he hopes to see in the big leagues at some point in 2023.
"They're both doing great. Really, the last piece of development for both guys is really mastering the strike zone," Zaidi said. "For Kyle Harrison, it's really been about throwing strikes and limiting the walks. He's kind of continuing to do a better job of that. For Casey Schmitt, he's hitting over .300 and has made a lot of nice defensive plays and played a lot of shortstop and done a nice job there, but we're watching the walks and strikeouts and want to make sure that he has the right strike zone discipline to come up here and hit the ground running.
"We'll be continuing to look for that, but both of those guys are off to nice starts."
The Giants have not gotten off to a particularly strong start at the big league level, but they've had no reason to rush either prospect. J.D. Davis has been a revelation at third base and even with left-hander Alex Wood on the IL, they have five experienced starters in their rotation, plus Jakob Junis, Sean Hjelle and Tristan Beck as depth options in their bullpen.
The hope is that Harrison at some point this summer starts showing there's nothing left to learn in Triple-A. The path might be different for Schmitt.
The 24-year-old batted .293 last season and .333 this spring, and he continues to show that he can consistently barrel balls and find the outfield grass. But in talking about the two prospects, Zaidi made multiple mentions of "commanding the strike zone," which is the overriding factor in every promotion the Giants make in the minors.
"You can have the tools and you can have some production, but if you're a pitcher and you're walking guys, you come up here and hitters are more disciplined and you're under more of a microscope, and that can snowball on you," Zaidi said. "It's the same thing for hitters. If you're hitting .300 in Triple-A but you're striking out a lot, that's just going to be magnified when you come up here."
The Giants want to see more plate discipline -- and power, as Schmitt has yet to homer in Triple-A -- but there is another way for him to debut this summer. Schmitt is an elite defender at third base, but 13 of his starts this year have come at shortstop, with the Giants trying to get close to a 50-50 split between the two spots as he prepares for the Majors.
If they were to need a short-term replacement for Brandon Crawford at some point, there are members of the staff who believe Schmitt would be the best choice simply because of his glove.
There already has been an injury in the rotation and it was filled from the big league staff, allowing Harrison more time to work on his command. While he has 20 strikeouts in 12 innings, he also has walked 17, although big leaguers who have spent time in Sacramento this month say Harrison has been more impacted by the robot umpires than most.
He succeeds by living at the top of the zone with a fastball that has late life, but there's not much leeway there with the strike zone that's being used in Triple-A, and his catchers have been unable to steal strikes with their framing. Zaidi said some pitchers have told him it's actually easier to pitch in the big leagues right now because the Triple-A strike zone feels so small.
The squeeze has led to some long frames for Harrison, who has thrown just 12 innings through five starts. Some of that is by design, as the front office is trying to limit minor league starters to 3-4 innings or 50-65 pitches early on. That's in part an effect of all the developmental time that was missed because of the pandemic.
"Pitchers in particular seem to really fall off in terms of their stuff if they get ramped up too quickly in April. We're being slower with those guys," Zaidi said. "It's a little bit of a different story for a guy like Kyle Harrison or Keaton Winn -- guys who could be pitching for us in the big leagues imminently.
"There's at least some urgency to get them stretched out where they could pitch a full Major League start, but we're still trying to be a little bit deliberate and not get those guys built up too quickly."