The SF Giants had a lot of notable prospect developments in 2023. Few made a bigger impression than pitching prospect Hayden Birdsong, who finished his first full season as a pro in Double-A.
Who was the SF Giants breakout prospect of 2023?
Of course, outfield prospect Wade Meckler had one of the fastest ascents up the minor league ladder by a Giants prospect in recent memory. He did reach the majors this season, collecting 64 plate appearances in the process.
Given that he reached the majors and a lot has already been written about him, I wanted to shift the focus elsewhere. This leads us to Birdsong, who was selected just a couple of rounds before Meckler in the 2022 draft. That draft class made some noise this past season for the Giants with a handful of prospects reaching Double-A.
I usually use reaching Double-A is an eyebrow-raising barometer for a prospect in his first full season because you do not typically expect many of those players to finish the year at that level. The competitive jump going from college ball, or even high school ball in rare instances, to the upper minors in less than 12 months is pretty substantial and well-deserved for those who make it.
Birdsong was one of those prospects. The Giants drafted him in the sixth round of last year's draft out of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. In two college season, the right-handed pitcher tallied a 5.77 ERA, 11.7 K/9, and a 2.50 SO/W ratio in 73.1 innings.
He flashed a fastball that sat in the low 90's with a curveball, slider, and a changeup. The fastball has gets good ride-and-run action and plays up a bit because Birdsong gets extended with his release point. Both the slider and curveball are plus pitches with the changeup having some nice fade action, but behind his other three offerings. The curveball has good downward bite, whereas the slider gets quality horizontal and vertical movement.
Below-average control with a fastball that sits in the low 90's are not the traits that you typically associate with a fast-rising prospect. However, like many recent Giants pitching prospects, Birdsong experienced a spike in velocity almost as soon as he reached pro ball and that now sits in the mid-90's. The control might be a bit behind, but he showed flashes of average control in 2023.
The results followed as the 22-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 13.3 K/9, and a 3.39 SO/W rate in 28 outings this past season. This includes a 5.48 ERA in eight starts following a promotion to Richmond. As I mentioned above, the competition level going from college ball to Double-A in a span of about 12 months is significant, so some struggles are common.
That said, the Giants are encouraged by his first full season in pro ball. The experience in Double-A, in particular, should help influence his offseason workout plan. In just one season, Birdsong went from a sixth-round pick to potentially one of the Giants' best pitching prospects and arguably the most underrated prospect in the system. Could Giants fans see the righty pitcher in 2024? The front office thinks he could be part of the next wave of prospects.