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River Cats Offseason Update No. 1

Tracking the Latest Giants' Moves with Eyes Towards the River Cats
Erik Miller delivers a pitch during Sacramento's contest on June 8. (Ralph Thompson Photo)
December 4, 2023

It has been just over one month since the 2023 baseball season came to a close, and a total of 10 weeks since the Sacramento River Cats last took the diamond. MLB's hot stove is sure to heat up with the MLB Winter Meetings opening today in Nashville, but there

It has been just over one month since the 2023 baseball season came to a close, and a total of 10 weeks since the Sacramento River Cats last took the diamond. MLB's hot stove is sure to heat up with the MLB Winter Meetings opening today in Nashville, but there have still been minor moves made in preparation for all the action to come.

In the first River Cats offseason update, we'll take a look at all the moves within the San Francisco Giants organization that will have ripple effects in Sacramento for the 2024 campaign.

40-Man Roster Updates

Three contracts were selected by the Giants in advance of MLB's Rule 5 Draft, which will commence on the final day of the Winter Meetings this Wednesday at 11 a.m. PT. Beginning in 1892 and commencing every year since 1920, the Rule 5 draft is built of current professional players with 4-5 years or longer of service time but have yet to make their MLB debut. Last year's version featured a total of 67 selections.

There have been many notable selections over the years, including three Hall of Famers in Christy Matthewson (selected by the Cincinnati Reds in 1900), Hack Wilson (selected by the Chicago Cubs in 1925), and Roberto Clemente (selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates as the first pick in 1954). Other selections include all-stars such as Jose Bautista, Bobby Bonilla, R.A. Dickey, Josh Hamilton, and Johan Santana. The draft has taken different shape of its life span, but any player that is eligible who is selected must remain with that team on their active MLB roster through the season or else be returned to their original team.

Two of the contracts selected donned a Sacramento uniform last season in left-handed reliever Erik Miller and right-handed starter Kai-Wei Teng.

Miller spent last season as the team's primary closer after his promotion to the River Cats from Double-A Richmond on May 2. The Stanford product took the mound in 48 games, his most games pitched at any level of his professional career, and excelled by logging a 2.77 ERA while going 14-for-17 (82.4 percent) in save opportunities (also totaled a 2-1 record). His 14 saves were the most since Jeremy McBryde totaled 17 in 2014.

The flamethrowing southpaw posted one of the most dominant stretches by a River Cat this season, as he did not allow a run and surrendered only one hit over 16 appearances. That was the longest Sacramento scoreless games streak since McBryde went 18 contests without allowing a run in that same 2014 campaign.

Teng also began the year with Richmond and took a little bit longer to earn his promotion, but finally joined Miller in Sacramento on June 17. Teng was mostly sharp in his first bit of Triple-A action, battling a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League by boasting a 4.22 ERA and a 6-5 record in 17 games (16 starts). His six wins were the most of any River Cat who made more than six starts.

In every game he appeared in Teng logged at least three strikeouts, including punching out a season-best 12 batters against the Reno Aces on Aug. 1. His Sacramento total of 96 were tied for the second-most on the team along with Drew Strotman, trailing only the 105 by top prospect Kyle Harrison. For a full season Teng tallied 164 strikeouts, the second-most in the San Francisco organization behind only Giants ace and Rocklin, Calif. native Logan Webb. That body of work resulted in Teng being named a Baseball America Triple-A All-Star.

MiLB Signings

There have been three new additions to the San Francisco organization since the conclusion of the season, as well as the return of a familiar face from 2023.

The first to sign was right-handed pitcher Spencer Howard, who put pen to paper just before the close of the Triple-A campaign in late September. Howard was a former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017 (45th overall) and after three years in the Phillies' system, which included appearing at three levels in 2019, made his MLB debut during the 2020 season. Since then, Howard has yo-yoed back and forth between the majors and minors.

For his MLB career he is 3-11 with a 7.20 ERA in 38 career games, but has totaled a 5-2 record with a 2.49 ERA in 102 career MiLB contests. Last season he was 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA in 12 games while also pitching three times with the Texas Rangers. If Howard's name seems familiar, it is because of his season last year with the Round Rock Express (AAA) where he was named the PCL Pitcher of the Month in June as well as the PCL Pitcher of the Week on July 3. Additionally, he was named an Organization All-Star while with Philadelphia in 2019.

The Giants inked former seventh-round pick outfielder Chase Pinder, brother of former Oakland Athletic Chad Pinder, to a minor league deal on Nov 3. Selected 214th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017, Pinder has yet to make his MLB debut but has played in 401 minor league games and is batting .250 with 32 home runs and 171 RBI. Last season Pinder spent the majority of the campaign with the Memphis Redbirds (AAA) where he played in 75 games and hit .265 with six home runs and 34 RBI.

Also joining on a minor league deal is outfielder Yusniel Diaz, making his contract official on Nov. 21. Diaz began his professional career when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 19 in 2016, but was later traded to the Baltimore Orioles along with four others in the trade that brought Manny Machado to Chavez Ravine. Diaz later made his MLB debut and recorded his only MLB strikeout with the Orioles in August 2022.

For his career Diaz has played in a total of 617 minor league games, recording a batting average of .263 with 70 home runs and 328 RBI. The Cuba native spent all of 2023 with the Tulsa Drillers (AA--LAD) where he played 94 games and hit .278 with 16 homers and 60 RBI. Previously in 2018 Diaz was selected to the Futures Game, and he was named an Organization All-Star in 2019 with Baltimore.

Returning to the San Francisco organization is right-handed hurler Cole Waites, who entering the offseason held a 40-man roster spot but was later designated for assignment to clear space for the Rule 5 draft. Waites has since re-signed a minor league deal with the Giants on Nov. 22 where he will return to Sacramento looking to rebound from an elbow injury that cut his 2023 campaign short. Prior to being transferred to the 60-day injured list on May 11, Waites had logged a 3-4 record in 32 games with a 6.16 ERA and 32 strikeouts while also pitching in three games with the Giants.

Organizational Awards

Following the season on Oct. 30 the minor leagues announced their Organization All-Stars, and there were five River Cats to be included from the San Francisco Organization:

  • 3B David Villar
  • SS Tyler Fitzgerald
  • OF Wade Meckler
  • LHP Kyle Harrison (starter)
  • LHP Erik Miller (reliever)

Though Villar began the year with the big club, the 2022 Pacific Coast League MVP later returned to Sacramento and hit .272 in 75 games with 17 home runs and 51 RBI. Fitzgerald was a mainstay in the River Cats lineup after his promotion on May 2, and put together the first 20-20 home run and steals season since Jarrett Parker in 2015 before earning a late-season call-up on Sept. 21. Meckler rocketed through four levels of the San Francisco system including making his MLB debut, and while with the River Cats batted .354 with two homers and 10 RBI in 24 games.

Harrison showed the promise in his first Triple-A season that made him the top left-handed prospect in baseball entering the campaign, posting a 1-3 record in 20 starts with a 4.66 ERA and 105 strikeouts.

River Cats Signing Elsewhere

Along with Waites, there were a number of River Cats to elect free agency following the conclusion of the season. Among those were Sacramento's Offensive Player of the Year for 2023 infielder Armando Alvarez, who despite missing time to a broken bone in his hand still batted .308 in 74 games with 18 homers and 56 RBI. In three calendar months he hit over .300, which included him batting an eye-popping .400 in the month of July with five homers and 14 RBI.

Alvarez has since signed a minor league deal with the Oakland Athletics on Nov. 16 that includes an invite to spring training in 2024. Looking at organizational depth for the Athletics, there is a chance for Alvarez to break camp with the big club following the spring. Should he fail to do so, the Miami native will return to the PCL with the Las Vegas Aviators.