San Francisco Giants: Prospects show shift in philosophy
While the San Francisco Giants may be struggling offensively at the big league level, there has been a promising trend in one key area from some of the team’s top prospects.
As a top prospect, San Francisco Giants outfield Heliot Ramos is receiving a lot of attention for the improvements he has made with his approach at the plate.
The 19-year-old has shown significant improvement this season in both his plate discipline and his pitch recognition. That is always an important step in any player’s development, and especially one as young as Ramos.
However, he is not the only Giants prospect showing improvement in that area.
In recent years, the Giants have not been known as a team that effectively develops a prospect’s strike zone awareness and plate discipline. Oftentimes, the prospects who do demonstrate those traits were already doing so before joining the organization.
Buster Posey and Brandon Belt are recent examples that come to mind.
However, this is a trend that could be changing under Farhan Zaidi.
In a perfect world, a prospect’s walk rate would increase while he maintains his strikeout rate. However, an increase in strikeouts often corresponds to a rise in walk rate. Working deeper counts generally means a greater likelihood of the at-bat ending in either a walk or a strikeout.
Still, it is generally good news when a player begins to show a more advanced approach at the plate by way of drawing more walks.
Six months into Zaidi’s tenure as team president, some changes are becoming difficult to ignore. That should come as no surprise. After all, he did begin his front office career in Oakland with the team that invented “Moneyball.”
While Heliot Ramos has been the poster child for improved plate discipline in the farm system, he is far from the only one.
Jacob Gonzalez, Frankie Tostado, Ryan Howard, Jacob Heyward, Austin Slater, and Aramis Garcia have all made similar improvements.
Gonzalez (No. 19), Garcia (No. 21) and Howard (No. 27) all rank among the team’s top 30 prospects, according to MLB.com, while Tostado and Heyward could find their way onto that list before the end of the season.
While Slater is technically no longer considered a prospect after accruing 352 plate appearances in the majors the past two seasons, the 26-year-old is still trying to carve his niche with the team.
The table below shows each of those players walk and strikeouts rates in 2019 compared to 2018. These are minor league stats as of April 23:
Each prospect has seen their walk rate balloon in 2019. In most cases, the walk rate has more than doubled. These are not incremental improvements. These are substantial spikes in plate discipline.
Given Zaidi’s background, it’s fair to assume on-base ability is an aspect he is emphasizing in player development.
In the table above, Slater, Garcia, Heyward, and Tostado are seeing noticeable rises in their strikeout rate as well. Again, this could be due to working deeper counts.
If strikeout rates continue to increase for these players, it will become a concern.
This is especially true with Garcia, who has the power to be a three true outcomes player if he doesn’t continue to refine his approach.
On a positive side, Howard and Ramos have seen their strikeout rates remain constant. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has seen a sharp decrease in his strikeout rate in his second season with Single-A Augusta.
The fact that the improved plate discipline is taking place across multiple levels is a good sign this is a sign of a shift in organizational philosophy. At least with Ramos, there is a record of him spending time working on pitching recognition and plate discipline.
The Giants are very much a team in transition with Zaidi at the helm. Patience may be needed with him to guide a turnaround. However, it seems many Giants prospects are demonstrating better patience at the plate as well.