SF Giants 2021 MiLB Year in Review: Sacramento River Cats

Joey Bart
Joey Bart / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

This is the finale of a series of six articles reviewing the minor-league season in the SF Giants system. We finish with the Sacramento River Cats, the Giants' Triple-A affiliate is what is now called the Triple-A West League . Previous reviews covered the Dominican Summer League, Arizona Complex League, San Jose Giants, Eugene Emeralds and Richmond Flying Squirrels.

For six seasons, the top level of the SF Giants farm system has been the Sacramento River Cats. Previously the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, the River Cats switched Bay Area MLB partners after the 2014 season, enticing the Giants away from their 17-year agreement with the Fresno Grizzlies.

As opposed to their success under the Athletics (11 playoff appearances and four Pacific Coast League titles with just one losing season in 15 years), Sacramento has typically been a second-division team since coming under the Orange and Black umbrella - the lone exception being 2019, when they were finished games above .500 to win their division, edged out the Las Vegas Aviators, three games to two, in the Pacific Conference title series, and swept the Round Rock Express for the PCL championship before winning the Triple-A championship over the International League's Columbus Clippers.

The 2021 Minor League season saw strange schedules all over the place, ostensibly to minimize travel and exposure to the coronavirus. In Triple-A the schedule was possibly even more unbalanced than most levels and leagues, with teams playing one or two opponents for nearly half of their schedule, and those season series not adding up to the same amount of home games for each side. In addition, instead of playoffs, all Triple-A teams kept playing until the end of the Major League regular season. They were originally going to finish about two weeks before MLB, but 10 games were added - called the "Final Stretch" - to make sure big league teams had fill-ins ready to go in case of late roster issues.

The Giants' success with the Major League roster didn't trickle down to the Triple-A standings

To be fair, many organizations use the highest MiLB level as a place for MLB depth. It's rare to have a lot of prospects in Triple-A, meaning a lot of squads are veteran-laden and have a lot of turnover with the Major League team moving players in and out every day.

Sacramento finished the 2021 regular season a deceptive 52-65, 19.5 games out of first place in the Triple-A West League's West Division. They actually scored 29 more runs than they gave up, which should have led to a 61-56 mark. The River Cats were outscored in the Final Stretch and finished that competition (the top team in all of Triple-A in the Final Stretch was promised a "prize" from Major League Baseball) at 4-6.

Fans at Raley Field in Sacramento got to enjoy a good look at the potential middle of the lineup for the Giants in the next few years, with top prospects Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos suiting up for the team. Ramos, an outfielder and MLBPipeline.com's #4 Giants prospect, batted .272 in 54 games in his first taste of Triple-A. He launched just four homers and stole eight bases. Bart, the 2018 #2 overall pick and the longtime heir apparent to Buster Posey behind the plate, slashed .294/.358/.472 with 15 doubles and 10 home runs in 67 games.

Other notable performances included Thairo Estrada hitting .333 with a .937 OPS in 50 games, Braden Bishop hammering 18 doubles, five triples and 12 round trippers with nine stolen bases over 288 at-bats, Jason Krizan's 26 two-baggers and 16 homers to earn team MVP honors, Arismendy Alcantara leading the squad with 17 jacks and Joe McCarthy and Jason Vosler tying for third with 15 apiece.

Bryce Johnson showed off his speed, swiping 30 bases against just four caught stealing in 100 games with decent power to boot, and Mauricio Dubon made the most of his time trying to earn his way back to the Giants roster as he hit .332/.410/.498.

On the inspiration side, the team featured outfielder Drew Robinson, who made a comeback after losing his right eye from an attempted suicide on April 16, 2020. Robinson hit three home runs in 38 games before retiring in July, but he remained with the organization as a mental health advocate.

The pitching staff was filled with the depth needed for a contending MLB team and frequent rehabilitation assignments for players coming off injuries.

Left-hander Sammy Long tossed 26 1/3 dominant innings (31 strikeouts, nine walks, 16 hits); fellow big-league contributors Dominic Leone (1.00) and Jay Jackson (1.29) turned in miniscule ERAs in a handful of appearances, and young relievers Kervin Castro, Camilo Doval and Gregory Santos prepared for their MLB success with up-and-down experiences.

Doval, who blew away practically every batter he faced with the Giants at the end of the season and in the playoffs, had numbers in Sacramento that belied his eventual breakout: 4.99 ERA with 28 hits and 24 walks in 30 2/3 innings. He did whiff 44 batters, however.

Another notable name was former first-round pick Tyler Beede, who was battered for a 6.66 ERA in 16 starts while working back from Tommy John surgery.