SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kyle Haines is entering his second year as the Giants’ farm director after serving as a manager in the system, and then as the assistant director of player development. In his time working with Giants Minor Leaguers, he’s seen the system improve by leaps and bounds.
It wasn’t that long ago that things were depleted after the Giants won three World Series in five years from 2010-2014 and made the postseason again in 2016. Graduations and trades, not to mention a focus on college players in the Draft who could help more quickly, had taken their toll, so a lot of work had to be done to replenish.
“[Former farm director] David Bell deserves a ton of credit,” Haines said. “He really came in at the right time for us. The previous regime did a really nice job developing talent, but the evolution kind of started when we really said, ‘Why don’t we do better internationally and developing those kids?’”
That started with a financial investment from ownership for a new facility in the Dominican Republic. Then the Giants brought in a lot of new talent. In this last international signing period, starting last July 2, the organization handed out 10 six-figure-or-more bonuses, starting with shortstop Aeverson Arteaga, who got $1 million and is currently No. 19 on the club’s Top 30 prospects list. The previous year’s efforts netted them their No. 2 prospect, Marco Luciano, as well as No. 8 Luis Matos and No. 14 Jairo Pomares as the Giants were able to spend more freely following two years of not being able to spend more than $300,000 on any international prospect.
“We revamped our entire international development and just said, ‘Let’s just start from scratch,’” Haines said. “We started all over and really grew that. I think we’re now starting to see the fruits of that labor over the last 12-16 months. We’ve seen some surprises out of that international group and they’re still young, so you never know. Some of these guys are really far from the Major Leagues, but we’re intrigued and we’re happy about how much we’ve grown over the last 12 months or so.”
The acquisition of talent in 2018 might be a flashpoint for the organization, a time when they feel they really added some cornerstones to future success. Not only did they sign Luciano that July, but they also got Joey Bart with the No. 2 overall pick in that year’s Draft. Adding them to 2017 first-rounder Heliot Ramos and then getting 2019 first-round pick Hunter Bishop, there’s a core of potential impact talent on the way, giving this camp a much different feel.
“I think that’s all of our hope,” Haines said. “Hopefully there are even more pieces to that puzzle that come out of nowhere. I feel bad for Joey and Marco, and Heliot Ramos to an extent, because I feel they’re shouldering so much hope on their shoulders at such a young age. I think it’s a shared pressure there and we want to take that off them a little bit, but at the same time, it’s not difficult to get excited about their potential. That 2018 and 2019 class of players we’ve got are really exciting.”
Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2021
One of the exciting aspects of bringing new, young international talent on the player development side is getting to really see them for the first time. That crop from the 2019-20 international signing period, for example, haven’t even gotten out to play yet, so Haines and his staff aren’t that familiar with them. But what he has seen and been told about lefty Esmerlin Vinicio, who signed for $750,000 last July, has him thinking the southpaw’s name is going to start landing on radars soon.
“He’s a really slender lefty with plus stuff,” said Haines, describing Vinicio’s low-90s fastball, plus curveball and projectable 6-foot-2 frame. “As he fills out and gets stronger, he’s intriguing. He’ll play in the Dominican Summer League in 2020, and he’ll play stateside at some level in 2021. I think in 2021, people will be talking about him in the same breath as some of our pitching.”
Don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name Ghordy Santos. Signed back in 2016 for $300,000, he’s not on the team’s Top 30 list and he just made his United States debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019 after two fairly unspectacular summers in the DSL. But after slashing .219/.384/.331 there, things clicked in the AZL, and the infielder hit .314/.398/.430.
“He’s come to camp, we sent him over to some Major League games,” Haines said about Santos, who likely will move up to short-season Salem-Keizer this season and has gone 1-for-3 in that Cactus League action. “He’d never played before in a stadium in his whole life. He was excited about the opportunity. He’s come to camp and opened some eyes.
“He’s had tools since we signed him, but never quite put them together in a couple of summers in the DSL. This last year, he really started to put them together on the field and it’s translating to better performance and the improvement has been evident here as well.”
Something to prove
Gregory Santos lands at No. 16 on the Giants’ Top 30, but that placement is more about his raw stuff than any performance since he joined the organization via the Eduardo Núñez trade with the Red Sox in July 2017. He was pushed to Salem-Keizer in 2018 and finished with a 4.53 ERA and a .311 batting average against in 12 starts. Then he only was able to make eight starts in the South Atlantic League last year because of shoulder issues. While he’s only 20, the Giants would really like the right-hander to stay on the mound so he can make strides in his development.
“He had just enough nagging stuff to keep him off the field,” Haines said. “A young guy who has Tommy John or something, it’s easier, ‘OK, you’re out for a year.’ But he battled little nagging things that kept him in the rehab group and throwing simulated games and bullpens for the most part. As soon as he started cranking it up, something weird would happen. The body and the stuff are there. But he’s got a lot to prove.”