Casey Schmitt slammed a home run for the Sacramento River Cats in the final game of the season for the SF Giants affiliate on Sunday. The 2023 campaign has been a mixed bag for the 24-year-old, but did the Giants make the right call in terms of timing when they promoted him in May?
Did the SF Giants rush Casey Schmitt up too soon earlier this year?
Anyone who watched the third baseman hit and field in spring training knew that he would appear with the club at some point in 2023. The defense was expected to be a strength as he earned consecutive minor league Gold Glove awards at third base in 2021 and 2022.
That said, the right-handed bat had minimal experience at Triple-A prior to 2023, so he needed to show that he could handle that league before moving on to the majors. However, the Giants' circumstances had a different plan in mind as Brandon Crawford struggled right out of the gate this year and shortstop quickly became a position that they needed to upgrade.
Schmitt was seeing more time at shortstop and even a bit of time at second base with Sacramento before he inevitably received a promotion to the Giants on May 9. It is really a tough balancing act between not rushing a top prospect up too soon and relying on internal options to address an obvious need.
Though, Schmitt was not on the 40-man roster, so they were not in a position where they absolutely needed to leverage that option. At times, prospects who are on the 40-man are rushed up to the majors when the need arises. This was not the case for Schmitt prior to his promotion as he was not on the 40-man roster. And, it is hard to ignore that shortstop depth was a clear need this winter that was not effectively addressed.
They went into the season without a serviceable backup, so Schmitt was thrust into action against major league pitching. The defense was always going to help him get to the majors quickly, but that was the case at third base. Shortstop and second base were a bit of an unknown.
Besides this, his bat had demonstrated some concerning trends that made his overall struggles in the majors not that surprising. At the time of his promotion, the righty bat slashed .313/.352/.410 (86 wRC+) with one home run, 22 RBI, and 19 runs in 145 plate appearances. This included a 5.5 percent walk rate, 19.3 percent strikeout rate, and .097 ISO. He also tallied an 86.8 MPH average exit velocity in Triple-A this year.
To translate, his overall numbers were solid, but still far below average given how hitter-friendly the Pacific Coast League is. He demonstrated good contact skills but was often sacrificing quality contact by expanding the strike zone too often while not working enough walks. Plus, he was not hitting for any power as his sub-.100 ISO suggests.
Schmitt's offense was very batting-average dependent in Triple-A prior to the promotion, which is just not a sustainable way to generate offensive value. Nevertheless, the Giants added him to the 40-man roster and called him up.
Not surprisingly, the rookie bat struggled to the tune of a .553 OPS with only three home runs in 271 plate appearances for the Giants while being shuttled back and forth between Sacramento and San Francisco. Many of the trends he had established with Sacramento, for better or worse, rose to the surface with the Giants.
Now, Schmitt finished the season with Triple-A and his overall numbers were not much different than the ones he posted prior to his initial promotion. Unfortunately, there is as much uncertainty with him now as there was prior to this season with respect to his role with the club in the near future.
The Giants still see him as an everyday third baseman, but this year's performance will not inspire a ton of confidence that he will turn the corner when next season begins. It could very well happen that way, but the recent data does not support it.
In some sense, it feels like the Giants rushed him out of need. And, asked him to play positions outside of his strength to which he did a commendable job. However, were these the right decisions?
I have my doubts and Schmitt just did not have a chance to find a ton of consistency as he was moved up and down, which is not what you want to do with a top prospect. Ideally, you call him up and he sticks. Plus, at one point, he was relegated to a bench role with the Giants. That time could have been better spent in Sacramento.
So, I am sure Schmitt developed as a player this year but it is hard to pinpoint exactly where. His plate discipline certainly improved as the season progressed as pitchers intentionally exploited his aggressiveness early on. That was an encouraging development. Other than that, there just is not a lot to point to in terms of his performance that suggests he definitively improved and that is a shame. One way or the other, he will enter spring training with the expectations of a major role in 2024, and hopefully, he is ready for the opportunity this time.