This is the second in a series of six articles reviewing the minor-league season in the SF Giants system. Today we continue with the stateside portion of the lowest level - the Arizona Complex League, part of what is known as the "Rookie" level of professional baseball. You can read the first article, on the Dominican Summer League, here.
SF Giants 2021 MiLB Year in Review: Arizona Complex League
Formerly known as simply the "Arizona League", and not to be confused with the Arizona Fall League (where top prospects for each team are clumped together on six total teams to play additional games after the minor-league season ends), the Arizona Complex League is a Rookie-level league where games are played on the back fields of the facilities of each organization that trains in Arizona. The counterpart for teams with Spring Training bases in Florida is the Florida Complex League - known as the Gulf Coast League until MLB's takeover of the minors.
A total of 18 teams played in the ACL in 2021 - a decrease of three since 2019, which was the last time the league saw competition - even though one more organization participated. The Colorado Rockies had not fielded an AZL team since 2000 - instead running short-season affiliated teams in both the Northwest League and Pioneer League in recent years - but added an ACL squad with the elimination of non-complex short-season ball.
In 2021 the Giants were one of just three franchises to run out two teams in the ACL (after seven organizations did so in 2019), alongside the Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals. It was the third straight season that the Giants had two teams in the circuit
Though the ACL and Dominican Summer League share the Rookie-level designation, their rosters are often quite different. DSL teams mostly feature new professionals as young as 16 or 17 years old from outside the United States, while ACL squads are made up of advanced Latin players, recent high school and college draftees with the occasional rehabilitating Minor or Major-League player swinging through (for instance, Madison Bumgarner made a rehab start for the AZL Giants in 2017).
Without further ado, let's see how the ACL Giants' seasons went:
ACL Giants Orange
The "Orange" Giants entry had the better season of the two, finishing 35-24 (and with a +90 run differential over their 59 games, they should have been 17 games over .500 instead of 11 by looking at the Pythagorean win-loss record). Despite winning nearly 60% of their games, they still finished nine games out of first place in the Arizona Complex League East division, as the ACL Rockies went 44-15.
On offense, Aeverson Arteaga showed signs of living up to his lofty billing after earning the Giants' largest bonus in the 2019 international signing class at $1 million. The 18-year-old Venezuelan mashed to the tune of .294/.367/.503 with 12 doubles and nine home runs. He also stole eight bases without being caught. The power surprised many, adding another tool to a player already projected to stay at shortstop on defense, show above-average speed and make solid contact.
Other offensive notables included a .331 average and 13-double campaign from 2019 5th-round high school pick Garrett Frechette, though he was repeating the level after struggling to start 2021 at Low-A San Jose, and 2021 10th-rounder Vaun Brown, who tied Arteaga and Edison Mora for the team lead in steals with eight, legged out four triples and notched a 1.100 OPS in just 25 games. Also, Grant McCray, son of former Major Leaguer Rodney and the Giants' #26 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, slashed .309/.400/.455 in a 21-game repeat of the level to prove he was ready for a promotion to San Jose.
The arms of the ACL Giants Orange included a variety of high draft picks and international signings. Notably, 2021 1st-round selection Will Bednar out of Mississippi State made his pro debut for them with a scoreless innings against the vaunted Rockies team on August 30 and then repeated the feat versus the Giants Black on September 4 before being promoted to San Jose.
The most-consistent full-time starting pitcher was Trevor McDonald, a 2019 11th-round high schooler whom the Giants signed for a large bonus after he shot up draft boards as a senior, who went 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) with 69 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings pitched. Additional Giants top-30 prospects according to MLBPipeline.com who pitched for Orange were Manuel Mercedes (#19), a Dominican who skipped the DSL and finished with a 5.11 ERA in 56 1/3 innings with 62 strikeouts, and Eric Silva (#22), a 2021 4th-round selection who allowed four earned runs in one total inning over two relief appearances in his pro debut.
ACL Giants Black
The second Giants entry in the league finished 28-32, good for 16 games out of first place in the ACL East.
Under the direction of hitting coach Travis Ishikawa, the bats saw some solid production while experiencing more turnover than the Orange team, with multiple rehabbing minor leaguers coming in for short stints. The Giants' 2019 and 2020 1st-round picks, Hunter Bishop and Patrick Bailey, respectively, saw time with the team and Luis Alexander Basabe, who made his MLB Debut with the 2020 SF Giants, played in 11 games.
Team regulars were led by 19-year-old Venezuelan Alexander Suarez, who hit .311 with 15 doubles and six home runs while stealing 16 bases. Jacob Gonzalez batted .301 with an .856 OPS and a team-leading seven homers in his fourth professional season and was taken by Pittsburgh in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 draft in December.
The ACL Giants Black featured the ACL ERA leader, as Esmerlin Vinicio shut down opponents with a 2.64 mark and 70 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. MLBPipeline.com's #16 Giants prospect, Nick Swiney, made five rehab starts, striking out 16 batters in eight innings, and #10 prospect Matt Mikulski, the team's 2nd-round pick out of Fordham, made his professional debut with five innings over four starts. In addition, #29 prospect Tristan Beck struck out 17 batters in 11 2/3 innings over six rehab starts, but he also allowed 17 hits and 10 earned runs.
With known commodities and breakout performances dotting the two ACL Giants rosters, the 2021 season was an intriguing one in stateside complex ball and there are plenty of players to keep an eye on going forward.