What if the SF Giants round out the starting rotation with an internal candidate?
3. Sean Hjelle
Sean Hjelle presents a unique challenge for opposing hitters that no one in the Giants organization can replicate. Given his 6-foot-11 pitching frame, Hjelle will become the tallest pitcher in Giants history once he debuts, surpassing the 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson.
The hope was that Hjelle's downward plane would be problematic for opposing hitters to adjust to, but that has not truly taken place in the upper minors. The right-handed hurler struggled in his first turn through Double-A, posting a 6.04 ERA in five starts at the end of the 2019 campaign.
He returned for a second tour of the Northeastern League in 2021 and he faired much better as he generated a 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, and a solid 3.63 SO/W ratio in 14 starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A.
Triple-A West proved to be a difficult challenge for the 24-year-old pitching prospect as he struggled to the tune of a 5.74 ERA in 10 starts. Despite his tall stature, Hjelle had proven to be unusually consistent with his mechanics which led him to control all four quadrants of the strikezone.
However, that was not the case in Triple-A West as he recorded 35 strikeouts against 29 walks in 53.1 frames with the Sacramento River Cats. The nosedive in his strikeout totals is certainly a cause for concern.
On the bright side, Hjelle has continued to induce weak contact as he has posted ground ball rates above 50 percent at every minor league stop. The only exception was in 2018 when he induced a ground ball in only 46.9 percent of batted balls events in a brief sample in Low-A.
He does a lot of things well on the mound including getting ground balls, repeating his delivery, and attacking the strike zone. However, he does not have a true above-average pitch, so his upside is limited to a back-end rotation arm.
Hopefully, he is able to find better success if he begins the 2022 season in Triple-A. That said, he is on the 40-man roster, so he should get an extended look if the Giants do not make another addition to the rotation. Given his profile and skill set, he has a chance to open some eyes in the Cactus League if he proves that his struggles last season are behind him.