SF Giants prospects: Midseason 2021 rankings
9. Sammy Long, LHP
Highest Level: MLB
Acquired: Free Agency (2020)
Future-Value Grade: 45
This was my most significant deviation between myself and the industry folks I spoke with. The early feel-good story of spring training, minor-league free agent signing Sammy Long came into SF Giants camp touching 97 mph with his fastball alongside above-average secondaries. While the sample size was undeniably small, I put a 45-grade on Long heading into the season.
Having pursued post-baseball careers in 2018 before returning to pro baseball in 2019, Long had only thrown 128.2 innings in affiliate ball from 2017-2020. Presumably with his arm health in mind, the Giants have been exceptionally cautious with the lefty, capping his pitch counts around 65 until late June. Still, that didn’t stop him from dominating his way through the Giants minor league affiliates, recording a 1.95 ERA across 32.1 innings with a 40.2% strikeout rate.
Long made his big-league debut in June and has been oscillating between the Giants rotation, bullpen, and Triple-A since. He’s completed 38.1 innings and racked up 38 strikeouts against 13 walks in the majors, but struggled to limit runs with a 5.63 ERA. Yet even though he has struggled, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.
Every respected ERA estimator (3.67 FIP, 3.83 xERA, 4.13 digsERA, 4.17 SIERA, and 4.67 xFIP) is far higher on Long’s MLB performance than his surface-level stats. Baseball Savant calculates similarity scores for all big-league pitchers based on their pitch velocity and movement. Long’s five closest comparisons (Austin Gomber, Kolby Allard, Tyler Anderson, John Means, and Tarik Skubal) have each eclipsed 100 innings pitched and combined to record a 4.16 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 this season.
His big 12-6 curveball remains his best pitch, inducing a .191 average and .291 slugging from big-league hitters, who are also whiffing against it on nearly 30% of their swings. Long’s fastball velocity has more comfortably sat between 90-94 mph since he’s been stretched out as a starter, and it’ll be a usable, but below-average pitch if he isn’t able to add velocity to it. However, while my colleague Wrenzie Regodon is quite low on Long’s relatively straight changeup, I believe it has the potential to be an above-average or plus offering.
While movement can obviously help any pitch, I’d argue the gap in velocity between a changeup and fastball and consistent arm action are more important to have an effective change. Long’s changeup doesn’t move much, but it has indecipherable arm action from his fastball and a greater than 12 mph gap in velocity. Long’s curveball is too good for opposing hitters to focus on his changeup, and thus far in his big-league career, opposing hitters are batting just .229 with a .302 slugging against the pitch. Most importantly, his changeup has the highest whiff rate in his arsenal.
After his dominant minor league performance, I bumped Long up to a 50-grade and actually had him as the highest-ranked pitcher in the system. If push came to shove, I still might choose Long over Harrison, but I make a point of integrating other evaluators’ opinions into my rankings. Regodon and Giants prospect writer Roger Munter both left Long outside of their midseason prospect rankings and that aligned with most of those within the industry I spoke to, who view Long as a potential multi-inning swingman or 7th-inning arm if his velocity kicks back up in a move to the bullpen (a 35+ or 40-grade prospect).
In my opinion, Long is already a 45-grade player with the potential to be a 55-grade starter if he finds a consistent fourth pitch (his slider has had some interesting flashes this year) or his fastball ticks up as he rebuilds his arm strength this offseason. Most likely, he ends up a solid four-starter, like Anderson. However, there is enough uncertainty around Long because of his limited track record that I opted to keep Long in the 45-grade tier.