It has been 35 years since a homegrown Giants outfielder played in the All Star Game.
That drought isn’t going to end this year, obviously. But a fleet of power-hitting outfielders at the lower levels of the Giants’ farm system has the franchise believing it won’t be much longer before Chili Davis, All Star class of 1984, finally gets some company.
The Giants have used two of their last three first-round picks on slugging outfielders, selecting Puerto Rican teenager Heliot Ramos in 2017 before choosing Arizona State center fielder Hunter Bishop this year. Ramos was named a California League All-Star this season. If he were to become a Major League All Star, he would be the Giants’ first international signee to do so since 2003 when a Venezuelan catcher named Pablo Sandoval signed with the team.
Like Ramos, Bishop is one of the top-five prospects in the Giants’ system, a designation accorded him last Saturday when he signed his first professional contract. The two will remain in the spotlight throughout their professional careers, but they’re not the only outfielders Giants evaluators are excited about.
Alexander Canario, a 19-year-old center fielder from the Dominican Republic, has spent the early portion of the summer making a statement at the plate.
“He’s got all the tools to be an impact center fielder or even right fielder at Oracle Park,” farm director Kyle Haines said. “Even if he wasn’t in center field for some reason, he would have enough bat to impact the team as a corner.”
MLB.com considers Canario the No. 9 prospect in the Giants’ farm system and he’s proven deserving of the high ranking with an impressive display of power this year. In 12 Arizona League games, Canario hit seven home runs and posted a 1.435 OPS before earning a promotion to Salem-Keizer, the Giants’ short-season affiliate.
Canario began playing baseball with his brother at age seven in the Dominican Republic and said in an interview last week that he idolized infielder Starlin Castro, who hailed from the same neighborhood, growing up. He signed with the Giants for $60,000 – the same amount as Sandoval – in 2016 and said his time in the United States has helped him see that his dream of playing in the majors is now within reach.
“It’s the recognition that I’m climbing the ladder professionally,” Canario said through translator and Giants’ minor league coordinator Gabe Alvarez. “And also, I know that my family is really proud of the progress that I’ve made.”
Pomares, a 2018 signee out of Cuba, fell in love with baseball as a child by watching videos of Alex Rodríguez and Miguel Cabrera and he could develop into the Giants’ best Cuban-born player since infielder Tito Fuentes was a regular starter in the last 1960s and early 1970s.
“We had one of our draftees that came in out of college and he asked after Pomares’ at-bat, ‘How old is that kid?’” Haines said. “They told him his age and he said he has at-bats like a 30-year-old. He’s one of those guys that has such impressive at-bats for such a young guy and such an idea of what he’s doing at the plate.”
Haines said the left-handed hitting Pomares is athletic enough to play center field, but could end up in a corner outfield position as he fills out and continues to develop defensively.
“The bat has always been a strong part of my offensive game,” Pomares said. “Defense was a weakness for me growing up, but I feel like I’ve developed a ton down here in that aspect.”
Pomares earned the second-highest reported bonus of any Giants’ signee in the 2018 international class as the $975,000 he received trailed only the $2.6 million the organization committed to shortstop Marco Luciano.
The Giants believe both Canario and Pomares have the potential to hit for power at the major league level, but Luciano is the international prospect with the best chance to break the extended All-Star drought. At 17, he’s shredding Arizona League pitching and is poised to skyrocket when various publications release their next set of prospect rankings.
At the beginning of the decade, the Giants overcame their failure to develop successful international prospects and homegrown outfielders through tremendous success drafting pitchers and infielders. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner were all first round draft choices while Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were all selected in either 2008 or 2009.
Former general manager Brian Sabean added many other key contributors through free agency and trades, but eventually, the Giants’ homegrown talent pool was drained.
At the end of the Giants’ 98-loss season in 2017, the organization had a bottom-five farm system in baseball, creating short-term and long-term issues for the franchise. The Giants’ failure to develop homegrown sluggers in the outfield and sign successful international prospects played a part in Bobby Evans’ dismissal as general manager in 2018, but by that point in time the front office had already re-committed to the international market.
The Giants modernized, expanded and rededicated their Latin American headquarters in the fall of 2016 when they opened the Felipe Alou Academy, which has already helped the franchise make up crucial ground abroad.
Outside of the top prospects the Giants have either drafted or signed like Ramos and Pomares, others like 17-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Luis Matos (1.018 OPS in 24 Dominican Summer League games) and 21-year-old outfielder Franklin Labour (nine homers in 18 games with Salem-Keizer) are making the type of strides that have renewed the organization’s sense of hope.
The Giants believe a large group of their youngest prospects have major league potential, but there’s a big difference between players who can contribute to a roster and All-Star-caliber talent.
All it takes is one player earning an All-Star nod for either drought to end, and over the next decade, the Giants will have several young talents take a crack at shining on the game’s biggest stage.