SAN FRANCISCO — Although it is no longer the free-for-all it once was when roster expanded to 40 players on at the start of September, the two extra spots major-league teams get now can serve a variety of purposes.
Those making a postseason push will shore up their benches and bullpens for the stretch run; for others whose hopes have been dashed, it offers an opportunity to reward their top prospects and get a peek at how they handle the highest level.
Unfortunately for these 2022 Giants, who finished August with their seventh straight loss and fell to 61-68 on Wednesday, it has become increasingly clear which camp they fall into.
The Giants will add a pair of players before Friday’s series opener with Philadelphia, but knowing the never-ending roster machinations of Farhan Zaidi, it seems likely more than two fresh faces will cycle through the clubhouse over last month of the season.
David Villar, IF: Asked recently about possible September additions, manager Gabe Kapler mentioned the 26-year-old third baseman’s name first. “Villar’s had an incredible year in Triple-A, so I think he’s a great option,” Kapler said. The numbers speak for themselves: 27 home runs in 298 at-bats (with a .404 on-base percentage), though the power didn’t initially translate to the big leagues in his cup of coffee earlier this season. It would also be one of the easiest transactions of the year: Villar has been with the club the entire home stand on the taxi squad.
Yunior Marte, RHP: Marte’s name was the other that escaped the manager’s mouth. “I think (he) presents an interesting leverage option at some point in our bullpen and a guy that has the stuff to be great going forward,” Kapler said. Control problems have prevented Marte, 27, from harnessing the full potential of his upper-90s fastball-slider combo in his first big-league opportunities this year (a 6.13 ERA in 33⅔ innings), but he has struck out Triple-A hitters at a rate of 12.77 per nine innings.
Bryce Johnson, OF: Johnson, 26, earned a brief call-up earlier this year but is still searching for his first major-league hit. Maybe that can come this month. Adding him to the roster only makes more sense if Austin Slater (dislocated pinky finger) is forced to the injured list, which would leave Mike Yastrzemski as their only capable center fielder. The speedy switch hitter also gives the Giants something they don’t possess anywhere else — elite athleticism.
Heliot Ramos, OF: Unlike Villar, a once unheralded prospect enjoying a breakout season, adding Ramos for September wouldn’t be a reward as much as an incentive. Once seen as a possible power-hitting outfield solution for the big-league club this season, the 22-year-old Ramos has instead been stuck in a season-long slump at Triple-A. However, the Giants remain high on his future and want him around major-league coaches, evidenced by his cameo on the taxi squad during their series in Colorado. He would also bring an infusion of energy to the dugout and, like Johnson, would immediately become one of the club’s most athletic players.
Cole Waites, RHP: Moving away from players already on the 40-man roster, we enter longer-shot territory. Waites, an 18th-round pick in 2019 with a heater that touches triple-digits, started the year at High-A but has shot through the system, recently promoted to Triple-A (where he has struck out five of the 11 batters he’s faced and hasn’t allowed a run). Rule V eligible this offseason, so the Giants risk losing him if they don’t add him to the 40. Low-stakes September baseball gives them a chance to see if they’ve found another power arm for their bullpen. If not Waites, then maybe R.J. Dabovich, a fourth-round pick in 2020 and another power arm who has quickly risen through the system.
Kyle Harrison, LHP: It doesn’t sound like this is going to happen, but it would be fun, wouldn’t it? The 20-year-old De La Salle product has dominated at both levels he’s pitched at this season. Farm director Kyle Haines told us last week the plan is for Harrison to finish the season in Double-A Richmond. In a world where it was possible, though, Harrison’s mid-90s heater and wipeout slider could already play out of a major-league bullpen. (The Giants also aren’t ones to waste a 40-man spot, and Harrison won’t have to be added until after 2024, or when he reaches the bigs.)
Who won’t we see?
Infielder Isan Diaz, who was enjoying a breakout season at Triple-A (.275/.377/.574, 23 HR) after being acquired from Miami earlier this year, would have been an obvious candidate for a September call-up. But Diaz strained his oblique last week — an injury the San Francisco Chronicle reported would end his season. In a recent appearance on KNBR, Zaidi said Diaz would have been “a potential consideration for the roster” before suffering the oblique strain.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see 6-foot-11 right-hander Sean Hjelle to get another look, either, but finding starts for him might be difficult. All five members of the Giants rotation are healthy and effective and so far have given them no reasons to worry about workload. Hjelle, 25, has exclusively been a starter in the minors but his three appearances with San Francisco have all come in relief (6 IP, 6 ER). In 21 starts at Triple-A this season, Hjelle is 6-8 with a 5.02 ERA.