SF Giants rookie reliever might hold cool distinction in baseball history

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

It has been a successful rookie campaign for SF Giants reliever Ryan Walker. Due in part to his draft capital, he faced steep odds in reaching the majors. As a 31st-round pick, Walker might eventually become the last player from that round to reach the majors.

SF Giants rookie reliever might hold cool distinction in baseball history

For the past several years, baseball has been working to consolidate the minor league system. Fewer teams means few opportunities for players. This also means that the channels that feed the minors, the draft and international free agency, have been reduced as well.

The draft, in particular, has been targeted for consolidation in recent years. At one point, there used to be 50 rounds but that was reduced to 40 rounds starting in 2012. More recently, baseball went from 40 rounds to 20 rounds.

Of course, in the unique draft year of 2020, baseball was limited to just five rounds, but it has since returned to 20 rounds. The recent reduction in the numbers of rounds puts someone like Ryan Walker in a unqiue position.

The Giants selected him in the 31st round of the 2018 draft out of Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. The 31st round is not often a position where players get a ton of opportunity to work up the minor league ladder.

Oftentimes, a player drafted in that round is out of high school or junior college and the chances of them signing with the team that drafted them are slim. So, there are cases of players such as Andrew Benintendi, who was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round of the 2013 draft, but did not sign. He was later drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2015 draft.

It is unlikely that a 31st-round pick reaches the majors and it is even less likely that a player from that round makes an impact. Kevin Kiermaier is one of the rare exceptions. He was a 31st-round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 and he has put together a really nice career, including three Gold Glove awards in the outfield.

So far, Walker is the only player from the 31st round since 2017 to reach the majors. And, similar to
Kiermaier, he is quickly making an impact. The right-handed hurler has posted a 2.06 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, and a 3.56 SO/W ratio in 52.1 innings with the Giants.

When John Brebbia was on the injured list, Walker was often tabbed as the opener when the Giants planned to go with a bulk innings reliever for that game. The 27-year-old pitched has a 2.33 ERA in 12 starts this year and has been able to cover multiple innings as well.

Perhaps, workload will be one thing that the Giants monitor with Walker down the stretch. He has completed 72.2 innings between the minors and majors in 2023. His previous career high in innings pitched was 66.2 innings back in 2017 when he was still pitching for Washington State University.

Walker has quickly solidified himself as a key cog in the Giants bullpen going forward. He has earned to chance to pitch in higher-leverage spots. Until then, it has been an unlikely path for Walker, but his hard and performance has not gone unnoticed.