Yes, the SF Giants have yet another breakout prospect in their farm system from the pitching side. This time, it is Keaton Winn, who is a former fifth-round pick and appears to be having a strong season in his return from injury.
SF Giants fans should pay attention to pitching prospect Keaton Winn
There was little to no fanfare from Winn entering the 2022 season. He has not pitched all throughout last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was a victim of the pandemic along with fellow 2018 draftmates Jake Wong and Ben Madison. The two-time Giants draftee (first in the 2017 MLB Draft in the 20th round and in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft from Iowa Western Community College) was conservatively assigned to the Low-A San Jose squad entering the 2022 season and was the Opening Day starter for the team. It was apparent from the get-go that this is a different Keaton Winn that we are seeing in 2022 compared to the Keaton Winn of 2019.
Winn was getting eased on his first time back on a pro mound after two years, pitching in two-inning stints between starting and in relief. When the calendar flipped to May, the leash is off and he pitched as a starter ever since. There are still some rough patches along the way (4.54 ERA) but there are moments where he is absolutely nasty. A keynote performance came on May 19th against the Inland Empire 66ers where he struck out eight batters and allowed just two hits, one earned run, and no walks allowed over four innings of work. In that game, Winn induced an astounding 21 swinging strikes against 66ers hitting.
After a solid stint with San Jose, Winn looked ready for the next level as he got promoted to Eugene before the month of June ends. His numbers from May onwards do not look particularly amazing (again, that 4.54 ERA) but there are a lot of things that he's done well (above-average 65% strike rate, 7% walk rate, 31% strikeout rate, 16% swinging strike rate, .369 BABIP indicates the numbers against him are over-inflated, a 1:1 groundball-flyball ratio). Once he got to Eugene though, that's when he kicked things to another gear. He's still posting similar numbers under the hood (66% strike rate, 6% walk rate, 29% strikeout rate, 16% swinging strike rate, 1.6: groundball-flyball ratio) but this time though, Winn has a 2.81 ERA and his .377 BABIP against High-A hitting suggests that his numbers could improve if he had better luck. He posted a 40% whiff (swinging strikes/swing) rate over his past four starts and has a 31:4 strikeout-walk ratio with a 2.25 ERA over that span.
The Keaton Winn of 2022 is a far cry from the 2019 version. So what made things click for Winn? It is a combination of two factors. The first one is obviously the velocity gain. When he pitched for the still-Giants affiliate Augusta GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League, Winn was a guy who weighed at around 205 pounds and can touch 95 MPH with his fastball but will sit in the low-90s in his starts. Fast forward to 2022 and he's now weighing 238 pounds with a fastball that is capable of touching 100 MPH and sits in the mid-90s. Winn mentioned in his pre-game interview with the voice of the San Jose Giants (and hopefully, the San Francisco Giants in the near future) Joe Ritzo in late April that Winn picked up the velocity when he put on the weight during the 2020 shutdown but his UCL could not keep up with the gains. It truly is a blessing that Winn did not lose, in fact, potentially gained a tick, any velocity after undergoing Tommy John surgery it is a credit to the rehab staff of the Giants, Winn's personal coaches, and Winn himself.
The second part that transformed Winn is his out pitches. Before the pandemic, Winn was considered as a strike zone-filling machine with advanced control of his pitches but none of his secondary pitches are average at best, with his slider grading out as a fringe-average offering, and the results speak for themselves (5% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate for Augusta). Now, Winn has developed an out pitch to pair with his improved velocity. It is a split-finger and this pitch is the best pitch that is not in the four most commonly thrown pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup). It is a high-80s pitch that absolutely falls off the table and it is highly devastating when thrown down and out of the zone but it is still highly effective when thrown in the middle third of the zone just because of its movement. There is still the slider as his third pitch to give hitters an east-west look from him north-south approach with his fastball-split but it is still fringy to average at best.
It is very fascinating what lies ahead for Keaton Winn. He has three of the most important things that a pitcher must have to make it to the Majors: high-octane velocity, nasty secondary pitch, and the ability to fill up the strike zone with ease. Winn could get drafted by another team in the Rule 5 draft since he is eligible if left unprotected off the 40-man roster. You could make the case against protecting Winn that he's 24 years old doing these things against low-Minors hitting but I can bet you that his stuff will also play well against high-Minors hitting and he has more ability than most of the current pitchers in the system right now.
In case he is protected (God, I sure hope they will), whether he will be a starter or a reliever long-term is the biggest question. We have seen pitchers with a fastball-splitter combination do great work in the big leagues and it might very well be the case for Winn. I am still on the side of having Winn do rotation work until he proves he can't but if the Giants see him as a potent relief threat in mid-2023 and have him stretch out as a starter in 2024, that would be a realistic scenario. At the end of the day, Winn has made himself back into the prospect radar and has earned a worthy inclusion into my post-trade deadline top 30 prospects ranking because he finally has the stuff to match his track record of strike-throwing. You all should pay attention to Keaton Winn.