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How Giants prospect Carter Aldrete fixed his swing and jump-started his career – The Athletic

Carter Aldrete knew he needed a change. The swing that had taken him to professional baseball wasn’t getting it done any longer, so he spent his offseason at the Giants’ minor-league complex at Papago Park working with the Giants’ player development group to rebuild it.

“We really went to work this offseason,” Aldrete said in a phone interview last Thursday. “Thank God I live in Arizona and I had access to them. I just told them, ‘I don’t care what my swing feels like, I don’t care what it looks like, I need it to work.’”

So began the process of breaking down Aldrete’s swing to build it back up again. He and Giants minor-league hitting instructor Mike McCormack looked at the video and the Giants ran a full diagnostic to see where Aldrete’s body needed to improve from a conditioning perspective and to pinpoint what movements were working and which ones needed to change to get Aldrete in the best position to recognize pitches and attack them.

“I told Mike, ‘I will be in here every day for three hours. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what it takes, this has to happen.’ And he looked right at me and said, ‘Let’s do it. I’m in,’” Aldrete said. “I bugged him for three months straight. And we were in the cage every day for two to three hours, video, drills, you name it, we were doing it.”

McCormack said Aldrete’s self-awareness and willingness to make drastic changes were key to finding a swing that would work for him.

“I think he had a really good idea of what he wanted to do, and really how he wanted to get there,” McCormack said over the phone on Saturday. “He himself had a lot of really good ideas, and it was more of working together to have a plan of how are we going to get there by looking at what he had done in the past and who he was in the past, and where we wanted to go with it.

“He was really committed to his work. And obviously, he worked really hard for it.”

Along the way, McCormack and Aldrete would test the changes to get data on whether or not they were working, utilizing the Giants’ new high-tech facilities in Phoenix. As Aldrete was struggling to get comfortable with new setups and swing paths, the data gave him confidence that the work was moving him in the right direction.

“He really challenged himself in some really difficult training setups and environments, and I think that was a big part of him becoming more comfortable with the changes that he was making, was that he was doing it while he was testing them as well,” McCormack said.

The results back up the work. Aldrete, a 2019 15th-round pick out of Arizona State, was one of the Giants’ top hitters in spring training, according to farm director Kyle Haines. Like most of his High-A Eugene team, he got off to a slow start to the season, hitting only .179 in April. Since then, however, Aldrete has been one of the league’s most productive hitters. In 51 games on the season, he’s batting .286 with a .351 OBP and 10 home runs and he’s raised his season OPS from .615 to .881, which ranks third in the Northwest League. Only teammate Casey Schmitt and Blue Jays prospect Addison Barger have a higher OPS in the league.

“It was a grind, and I’m glad I did it because now it feels like I’m actually swinging correctly,” Aldrete said of his offseason work. “Hitting has become a lot more fun because I’m hitting the correct way now instead of only being able to hit a certain way.”

Aldrete said one of the biggest changes he made was to stay behind the ball when he was swinging rather than being out in front, which prevented him from pulling the ball in the air. That adjustment has helped him in a number of areas.

“Now that I’m on my backside and hitting the ball out in front, it gives me better vision, because everything’s happening out in front of me,” he said.

Aldrete’s pitch recognition has improved along with his quality of contact. He’s reduced his strikeout rate from 31 percent in 81 Northwest League games last season to 19 percent so far in 2022. He’s also upped his walk rate by more than one walk per nine innings.

“There’s been a few at-bats this year where I take pitches or take a borderline pitch, and I’m thinking to myself in between pitches, like ‘Wow, man, this is hitting. This is fun. This is what it’s supposed to feel like when you’re doing it right.’ You’re making decisions after he throws it not pre-determining swings, and just guessing pitches,” he said. “I feel like I’m becoming in-tune with being a good hitter now.”

Defensively, Aldrete has continued to add the kind of versatility that the Giants covet at the major-league level. A college shortstop, he’s logged time everywhere but catcher and center field in his three pro seasons. This season, he’s seen the majority of his reps at first base. Though his uncle Mike was an excellent first baseman for the Giants in the 1980s, Carter wasn’t always enamored with the position.

“I used to not like first base because I thought, ‘Oh, I’m way too athletic to just get stuck at first base.’ I really enjoy playing shortstop and second base and third base even,” he said. “But now that I’ve been over there, I’ve kind of realized how important it is to a team to have a good first baseman. And I’ve taken a lot of pride in being a good first baseman because you can pick up your teammates in a lot of ways.”

Aldrete jokes that he’s spent his entire career in the Northwest League. In fact, he’s played all but 19 of his 179 pro games in the league, which moved from a short-season league in 2019 to a full-season High-A league in 2021. The league presents as many mental challenges as it does physical ones. Inclement weather causes regular rainouts.

“I think we’ve played 50 games, and 49 of them have been in the rain,” Aldrete said. “It’s just a really tough place to hit.”

He’d be thrilled with a promotion to the Double-A Eastern League — no walk in the park for hitters either — but he knows a promotion is out of his control.

“I just try to show up at the field and be the same guy every day and really focus on being there because when that day comes and I do get called up to Double A I want to be ready,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a bad headspace. I just try to stay focused, stay positive and when that day comes, I want to be as ready as I can because getting to Double A is a huge goal of mine.”


Health watch: Matos returns but Luciano lands on the IL

The injury bug has bitten the Giants’ system a little harder this season than it did last year, with several top prospects losing development time to injury. The latest is top prospect Marco Luciano, who landed on the 7-day injured list on June 8 with a lower back strain. The injury isn’t believed to be serious, but the Giants are being cautious with their top prospect. He isn’t expected to resume baseball activities for at least another week.

The injury prevented an early-season promotion to Richmond for Luciano, who is in the midst of an outstanding season for the Emeralds. In 40 games, Luciano has a .288/.360/.507 line with eight home runs. The Northwest League average line is .226/.315/.366. Once he’s healthy and back in rhythm, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move up to Double A.

Outfielder Luis Matos hasn’t found the same level of success with the Emeralds this season. The 20-year-old missed more than a month with a left quad strain. He began a rehab assignment in the Arizona Complex League on June 6 and re-joined the Emeralds on June 9. He’s batting .245 since his return (12-for-49), but that’s actually a significant improvement, as he was batting .149 at the time he got hurt. He’s also homered and doubled four times since his return from injury — he hadn’t collected an extra-base hit at the time of the quad strain. On Saturday, he reached base six times, going 5-for-5 with a walk and two doubles.

In other health news, 2021 fifth-round pick Rohan Handa was placed on the 60-day injured list. He’s dealing with a shoulder injury and isn’t likely to pitch this season.


Wilson, Waites move up; Genovés moves down

While there has yet to be a significant wave of player promotions, the Giants have shifted a few players around recently. Shortstop Will Wilson jumped to Triple-A Sacramento, taking the roster spot of catcher Ricardo Genovés, who moved to Double-A Richmond so both he and Joey Bart could get regular catching reps at different levels. The Giants also promoted hard-throwing reliever Cole Waites to Richmond and moved utility man Simon Whiteman from Richmond to Eugene.

Wilson’s promotion is significant as he has positioned himself as a potential infield option for the Giants later this season or next season with a strong start to the 2022 campaign. Wilson, a 2019 first-round pick of the Angels acquired in a trade before the 2020 season, struggled with Richmond last season after a mid-year promotion, hitting only .189 in 51 games. He’s been a different player this season — posting an .852 OPS in 29 games for Richmond and playing with a renewed vigor defensively all over the infield.

Genovés was moved aggressively at the start of this season, going from Eugene at the end of 2021 directly to Triple A. He hit .233/.320/.349 and showed some rawness defensively with the River Cats. The Giants are still high on his overall potential behind the plate, however. Since his demotion to Richmond, he’s 6-for-15 with a triple and a walk in four games.

Waites, who regularly tops 100 with his fastball, could be the next impact relief arm to graduate from the Giants’ system. In three appearances so far for Richmond, he has allowed a run on two hits in four innings with eight strikeouts and three walks. He has 35 strikeouts in 16 2/3 total innings this season. He’s also got that Rick Vaughn sense of style in uniform.


Harrison getting settled in Double A

After thoroughly dominating both A-ball levels the last two seasons, Kyle Harrison made the jump to Double-A Richmond on May 27. At 20 years old, he’s the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League, four years younger than the average hurler in that league.

Not surprisingly, he’s met with a few challenges in his first four starts. In 19 1/3 innings, Harrison has a 5.12 ERA. He has still shown elite swing-and-miss stuff — he has 30 strikeouts and has allowed only 17 hits — but his sometimes shaky command has hurt him against the more advanced hitters. He’s already allowed three home runs after giving up just two in 29 innings with Eugene and two all season last year with Low-A San Jose. He’s also walked 12, with 11 of those coming over his last three starts (13 2/3 innings).

Despite imperfect command, Harrison was able to grind through a season-high six innings in his last start against Harrisburg on Wednesday. He was charged with only an unearned run, though he got some help defensively, and was able to work around four walks. He struck out eight in the win. All in all, it’s a solid beginning to Harrison’s foray into the upper levels. He’s getting a chance to see what he needs to work on but still showing he can dominate advanced hitters.


Who’s hot?

Aeverson Arteaga, SS, San Jose: The dynamic 19-year-old prospect had two three-hit games in the recently completed six-game series against Fresno. He also homered and doubled three times in the series. For the season, he’s batting .280/.340/.457 with seven home runs in 57 games.

Tristan Beck, RHP, Sacramento: Beck has mostly struggled since his promotion to Sacramento, but he threw a gem on Sunday, tossing seven shutout innings in a win over Tacoma. He struck out five and walked one. Though his ERA is 7.19 in 41 1/3 innings with Sacramento, he’s had good life on his pitches and has 37 strikeouts during that stretch.

Hunter Bishop, OF, Eugene: It hasn’t been an easy start to the season for Bishop, but the 2019 first-round pick has been swinging better of late. In June, he has a .246/.372/.462 line with three of his seven home runs and five doubles. He’s also swiped five bases. He’s still striking out a lot (21 in 72 PA), but he’s improved his strikeout rate significantly over the last month.

Mason Black, RHP, Eugene: Black has made four starts since his promotion from San Jose. One wasn’t great (six runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings), but in the other three, the 2021 third-round pick allowed three runs in 15 1/3 total innings. On Friday, he threw five innings, allowing two runs and striking out seven while walking one.

Bryan Brickhouse, RHP, Richmond: June has been Brickhouse’s best month to date. In three starts, he’s allowed five earned runs in 17 innings (2.65 ERA) with a 12:1 K:BB. He’s gone six innings in each of his last two starts.

Vaun Brown, OF, San Jose: It’s hard to conceive of what else Brown has to prove at the Low-A level. The 2021 10th-round pick has thoroughly dominated the California League all season and currently has a .342/.426/.617 line with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 57 games. He didn’t play in the Giants’ final two games of the weekend, however.

Isan Díaz, IF, Sacramento: Díaz hasn’t hit for average since the Giants acquired him from the Marlins on April 30, but he’s whacked 12 home runs and walked 16 times in 34 games and has a .945 OPS despite a .229 BA. He’s homered six times in 13 games in June and has 11 RBIs this month for the River Cats.

Hunter Dula, RHP, San Jose: An 18th-round pick last season out of Wingate, Dula has been lights-out for the Giants out of the bullpen all season. In June, he’s yet to allow a run in 6 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit and striking out 10. He hasn’t walked a batter this month and has walked just five in 19 2/3 innings all season. He’s struck out 26 and has a 1.83 ERA.

Raynel Espinal, RHP, Sacramento: Espinal allowed six runs in five innings to Las Vegas on June 5, but he still struck out nine in the outing and has followed that up with two five-inning outings in which he’s allowed a combined three runs while striking out 15. For the season, the veteran right-hander has 76 strikeouts in 55 innings and a 3.93 ERA.

Tyler Forner, OF, ACL Giants Orange: An undrafted free-agent signing out of high school in 2020, Forner has eight hits — including two doubles — in 25 at-bats to start his season. He’s walked four times but has 13 strikeouts.

Garrett Frechette, 1B, San Jose: Frechette, 21, is batting .346 in 13 games so far in June. He’s improved his OPS each month so far this season and is batting .277/.339/.382 on the year for San Jose.

Matt Frisbee, RHP, Richmond: Frisbee has been an Iron Man of late for the Flying Squirrels. He’s gone at least six innings in each of his last five starts and went a season-high 7 2/3 innings on Friday, holding Harrisburg to a run on five hits. During this stretch, he’s dropped his ERA from 5.96 to 4.23.

Michael Gigliotti, OF, Richmond: A minor-league Rule 5 pick this offseason, Gigliotti has been a spark for Richmond when he’s been healthy. He’s walked 30 times in 43 games and has a .375 OBP with 15 stolen bases in 18 chances. In June, he’s batting .268/.434/.561 with three home runs and more walks (9) than strikeouts (8).

Joe Kemlage, LHP, ACL Giants Black: An undrafted free-agent signing out of American International last season, Kemlage has yet to allow a run in 12 innings to start his season. He’s struck out 19, walked one, and at 23, is probably ready for a stiffer challenge than Rookie ball.

Seth Lonsway, LHP, San Jose: Lonsway hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in any outing this month. In four appearances, the piggy-back starter has allowed two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, striking out 19 and walking only three. He went a season-high 5 1/3 innings in his start on Saturday.

Jediael Maduro, LF, DSL Giants Orange: In 10 games, Maduro has a .438/.538/.688 line with two home runs and two doubles in 32 at-bats. He’s also walked (7) more than he’s struck out (5).

Mikell Manzano, RHP, ACL Giants Orange: Manzano, 19, had an absurd 70:5 K:BB in 48 1/3 innings in the Dominican Summer League last year. In 14 innings in the ACL, he has a 17:3 K:BB and a 3.21 ERA.

Shane Matheny, IF, Richmond: Matheny has quietly been the Flying Squirrels’ best hitter this season. In 44 games, the infielder has a .299/.430/.507 line with seven home runs. That’s a big improvement from 2021 in Richmond, when he hit .207/.333/.345 in 58 games. He has a .487 OBP in 10 games in June.

Grant McCray, OF, San Jose: McCray has pushed his name into the conversation for inclusion among the top five Giants prospects with a breakout season for San Jose. The 21-year-old is batting .288/.376/.486 with 25 extra-base hits in 255 plate appearances and he’s stolen 19 bases while playing excellent defense. He leads the league in triples (7). After batting .327 in May, he’s batting .306 in June. Strikeouts remain McCray’s biggest weakness — he has 75 already this season.

Nomar Medina, RHP, ACL Giants Black: The 19-year-old had a 2.57 ERA in the ACL last season and he’s picked up where he left off, posting a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings to start this year. Medina has 19 strikeouts and has walked only one.

Ryan Murphy, RHP, Eugene: In three starts in June, Murphy has allowed six runs in 14 innings, striking out 24 and walking only four in those outings. Since returning from a back injury, Murphy has a 3.60 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 25 innings.

Mat Olsen, RHP, Eugene: Olsen has continued to pitch well after a May 17 promotion from San Jose to Eugene. The 2021 ninth-round pick has a 3.63 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Eugene, with a 24:10 K:BB. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last three outings, spanning 6 2/3 innings. On the season, he’s struck out 48 in 34 1/3 IP.

Cesar Perdomo, LHP, DSL Giants Orange: Signed last July 2, Perdomo has yet to allow a run in his first two pro outings, spanning nine innings. He’s struck out 13 and walked one.

Jairo Pomares, OF, Eugene: Pomares spent last week in Arizona because he isn’t able to travel to Vancouver, Canada, on his current work visa. He used his time well, hitting three homers and three doubles in 15 at-bats and posting a .533/.563/1.333 line. He also played his first pro game at first base. Pomares will return to Eugene this week, where he’s posted a .920 OPS so far in June.

Anthony Rodriguez, SS, ACL Giants Black: The 19-year-old has homered three times in nine games to start his season. He has a .265/.342/.559 line, although he’s struck out 12 times in 38 plate appearances.

Landen Roupp, RHP, San Jose: Roupp has been a long reliever for San Jose all season, but he made his first start of the year on Sunday and worked into the sixth inning, going 5 2/3 and allowing two runs. He has a 3.45 ERA and a 20:5 K:BB in 15 2/3 June innings.

Diego Rincones, OF, Richmond: Hand soreness contributed to a slow start for Rincones this season, but he seems healthy now and has been back to his typical self at the plate of late. He finished the week on a five-game hitting streak, during which he had 10 hits in 20 at-bats, including two home runs. He homered on June 9 for his first of the year and is batting .381/.440/.667 in June after coming into the month hitting .176/.233/.193.

Ghordy Santos, SS, Eugene: In Luciano’s absence, Santos has provided a spark for Eugene. After struggling in May, Santos is hitting .311/.361/.500 with three home runs in 17 June games.

Casey Schmitt, 3B, Eugene: Schmitt started the season red-hot and he hasn’t let up. So far in June, he’s batting .286/.375/.500 with four home runs, and that’s his worst month to date. He currently leads the Northwest League with a .903 OPS and is second in the league with 11 home runs. He plays an outstanding third base and has filled in at shortstop of late, logging 14 games there and acquitting himself well.

Eric Silva, RHP, San Jose: The ERA isn’t sparkling this month (6.19 in 16 innings), but Silva became the first San Jose pitcher to go six innings in his start on Thursday. He’s gone at least five innings in five of his last six starts.

Armani Smith, OF, Richmond: Smith got off to a slow start for Richmond after a mid-May promotion, but he’s found his groove in June. In 46 at-bats, he’s batting .283/.340/.457 with five extra-base hits.

Nick Swiney, LHP, Eugene: Swiney shook off a rough first start in June (four runs allowed in four innings) to put together back-to-back gems. Over his last two starts, he’s allowed one earned run in 11 innings, striking out 13 and walking one. On the season, the 2020 compensation pick has a 3.48 ERA and a 49:16 K:BB. He’s walked only six in his last 28 innings.

Luis Toribio, 1B, Eugene: Toribio really struggled the first two months of the season, but he’s had an encouraging June so far for Eugene, hitting .226/.364/.585 with six of his eight home runs for the season.

David Villar, 3B, Sacramento: After missing a week following a hit by pitch, Villar has hit safely in eight of 10 games. He’s hit only .225 in those 10 games but homered twice this weekend. He’s also added some defensive versatility, adding second base to his defensive toolkit in recent games. He has a 1.020 OPS on the season with 18 home runs.

Jake Wong, RHP, Eugene: After a rough May, Wong is putting together a strong June. In three starts, he has allowed three earned runs in 14 1/3 IP with a 13:6 K:BB. His ERA on the season is 4.43.


Notable transactions

On Saturday, the Giants claimed former White Sox sensation Yermín Mercedes and optioned him to Sacramento. They designated Michael Papierski for assignment to make room for Mercedes, who hit .339/.386/.523 in 70 plate appearances against left-handed pitching for the White Sox last season. He can catch and play first base, and a little third base in a pinch.

Sacramento also activated catcher Joey Bart on Saturday. The Giants gave Bart a little time to decompress and work on his hitting away from game-play after he was sent down earlier this month. He debuted on Sunday and went 2-4, with two singles and a walk and no strikeouts.

The Giants have also signed veterans Shelby Miller (yes, that Shelby Miller) and Matt Hall to minor-league contracts and added them to the River Cats’ roster. Right-hander Gregory Santos has also re-joined the River Cats’ roster after a stint in Arizona.

In six innings, Miller, who has been used as a reliever, has a 1.50 ERA and a 5:1 K:BB. Santos threw a scoreless inning on Friday in his return to Sacramento following a rehab stint in Arizona. Hall has yet to debut for Sacramento.


Team updates

Triple-A Sacramento River Cats (27-39): 10 1/2 games out of first.

Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels (37-26): first place, one-game lead.

High-A Eugene Emeralds (35-24): Clinched first-half playoff berth.

Low-A San Jose Giants (37-26): Two games out of first place.

ACL Giants Black (8-1): 1/2-game lead for first place.

ACL Giants Orange (2-8): Last place, 6 1/2 games out of first.

DSL Giants Black (4-7): Five games out of first place.

DSL Giants Orange (5-6): Four games out of first place.

(Photo of Carter Aldrete: Eugene Emeralds / Gary Breedlove)

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