The San Francisco Giants of recent history have mystified the baseball world. Three unexpected World Series championships in five seasons will have that effect on people. In the mid-2000s, Giants fans endured teams that were Barry Bonds or bust. When Pablo Sandoval was named an All-Star in 2011, he became the first homegrown Giants position player to be so honored since Matt Williams in 1996.
All that has changed. Call it what you wish: Devil Magic, Pixie Dust, or Just Plain Luck. Any way you slice it, the modern Giants have churned out above-average position players at an above-average rate. Sandoval, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, and Matt Duffy have all made their mark on the big leagues since 2009, and most have been unexpected contributors to unexpected title runs.
It’s not like the people in charge have changed. Brian Sabean was the team’s general manager from 1997-2014, and he was promoted to executive vice president of baseball operations in 2015. Bobby Evans, the senior vice president and general manager, and Jeremy Shelley, the vice president and assistant general manager, have been with the organization since 1994. Giants executives often cite their continuity as key to their success.
But something else is going on. How does an organization that simply could not produce an impact position player for more than twenty years suddenly have them all over the field? The purpose of this article is not to analyze why — it’s to draw your attention to the fact, and to introduce you to who could be next.
Christian Arroyo, like another recent Giants draftee, was not a consensus first round draft pick, but that didn’t stop the Giants from selecting him 25th overall in 2013. Scouts considered the pick a reach because Arroyo didn’t have a major tool. Scouts thought pretty much the exact same thing about Joe Panik when the Giants drafted him 29th overall in 2011, but Panik has slashed .280/.343/.403 with a 109 wRC+ and excellent defense in 300 games with San Francisco since 2014.
Arroyo has a similar profile to Panik, and he’s ready for the major leagues. Although he slashed just .274/.316/.373 with an 89 wRC+ in Double-A last season, FanGraphs’ own Eric Longenhagen said that Arroyo’s struggles were “largely a result of the poor hitting environment in Richmond” and that “Arroyo’s feel for contact remains superb and he still projects as a .300-plus hitter with supernatural feel for doubles-producing contact down both lines and to both gaps.”
Granted, this is one of the more optimistic reviews of Arroyo out there, but it isn’t surprising. Most analysts agree that Arroyo has a plus to plus-plus hit tool to go along with mediocre power and speed. Longenhagen adds that Arroyo “projects as a Martin Prado type of player at peak, someone who primarily lines up at third base but can kick around to other positions should the need arise and who also makes lots of hard, low-lying contact.”
Not only does Arroyo sound like the prototypical Giants hitter, he also sounds like a potentially valuable fantasy asset. In auction leagues, who among us wouldn’t have loved a cheap 2014 Joe Panik or 2015 Matt Duffy or Brandon Crawford? Those players almost invariably provided owners with enviable surplus value. Arroyo could be next, and he could do so this season.
The Giants’ third base situation is fluid, to say the least. Arroyo’s presence in the organization is one reason why the Giants felt comfortable trading Matt Duffy, the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up. Indeed, the day Duffy was traded, when asked about Arroyo and the long-term future of the position, General Manager Bobby Evans said, “We feel very good about [Arroyo’s] ability to handle [third base].”
Eduardo Nunez is expected to receive the bulk of the playing time at third in 2017, with Conor Gillaspie, Jae-gyun Hwang, and Gordon Beckham as backups. Nuñez performed well in 2016, but he’s far from a sure thing, and the same can be said about the reserves. If Nuñez and others struggle to get the job done at third base, the door could open for Arroyo.
Ignore him at your own risk. His promotion will likely go unnoticed, and the person who scoops him up off waivers could be rewarded. While Arroyo may not walk much or have great power or speed, he could be a valuable fantasy asset nonetheless. Joe Panik is fantasy relevant. Matt Duffy was certainly fantasy relevant in 2015. Even Brandon Crawford, long considered a glove-only shortstop, learned to hit at the big league level and is fantasy relevant.
Christian Arroyo is next in line. Belt and Posey aside, the recent crop of productive Giants position players wasn’t hyped. They quietly made their debuts, and they quietly performed. What Giants position player prospects lack in name recognition and prodigious projections, they make up for with unexpected production and perhaps a pinch of magic.