The Giants could see some big jumps from top prospects next summer originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The shocking all-in push from the San Diego Padres on Monday provided a reminder that, while 99 percent of the attention is paid to what happens with the big league roster, the future of the Giants will be decided at other levels in 2021.
The Padres were able to acquire Blake Snell because they continue to churn out top 100 prospects, and they added Yu Darvish later in the day because they have built such depth that they could deal four more young players and still not really touch the top of their system. They were able to take on two veteran salaries in part because their lineup is built around a pre-arbitration superstar, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
This is what the Giants are moving towards, but their own ability to one day push all their chips to the center will be determined by how quickly they're able to get their own top prospects to the big leagues and turn them into contributors. In that respect, 2020 hit the Giants hard.
While Joey Bart made his debut and the organization saw strides from several top prospects who spent the summer at the alternate site in Sacramento, there's no question the Giants needed more out of the summer. Seth Corry, for example, didn't throw a competitive pitch all summer after dominating Low-A ball. Hunter Bishop missed out on what would have been his first full professional season. Heliot Ramos and Sean Hjelle were among the more advanced prospects who potentially missed an opportunity to get their feet wet in the big leagues.
You would think the Giants would be aggressive in 2021 to make up for lost time, and earlier this offseason Zaidi said they will, but that might not be seen right away.
"Our general approach with our prospects is going to be to be pretty conservative with placements starting the season, just because a lot of these guys will not have played competitive baseball in a pretty long period of time, but then to promote pretty aggressively once the season starts," Zaidi said in November. "We want to give the guys the opportunity to advance if their performance warrants it."
The biggest rises likely will not be seen from the upper levels. Bart is expected to start in Triple-A and make his way back to the big leagues early in the season. Ramos and Hjelle finished 2019 in Double-A anyway, so there's not a long way for them to go. Zaidi said the year off won't force the Giants to change their approach to evaluating in spring training. Even with Bart tearing up the Cactus League in March and looking like the best catcher in camp in July, the Giants kept him off the opening day roster, and that will be the case for the prospects right behind him.
"I don't think we'll be swayed by whatever happens in spring training," Zaidi said.
The bigger moves will happen at lower levels. The Giants lost their short-season affiliate in Salem-Keizer, and on a Zoom call with reporters a few days later, Zaidi noted that it will be a big jump for high school signees and international prospects who go straight from Arizona to Low-A San Jose. Players who were at those lower levels in 2019 should be the fastest movers in 2021.
Marco Luciano played nine games in Salem-Keizer in 2019 but spent the summer with big leaguers in Sacramento and then went to the instructional league, so he should be ready to zoom through several levels next summer. Bishop has no need for Low-A ball and the 2019 first-rounder should be a candidate to reach at least Double-A in his first full year. Patrick Bailey hasn't played an official minor league game yet but also should reach the upper levels of the minors next summer.
The most fascinating case may be Luis Matos. The outfielder is just 18 and hasn't played above rookie ball, but he has one of the more advanced swings in the system and was a standout in the instructional league. He finished 2019 six promotions from the big leagues, but now looks poised to take a new path.
The Giants have been patient in their rebuild, and that remains the case at the big league level. But the unexpected year off will lead to a wild 2021 for their minor leaguers.