Giants 40-man roster: Why Kai-Wei Teng, Trevor McDonald and Erik Miller were added

Last offseason, the Giants added Marco Luciano to their 40-man roster, which prevented him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. This was an obvious move, and it all but guaranteed that Luciano would make his major-league debut in 2023. He did.

The Giants also added Keaton Winn, Tristan Beck, Brett Wisely and Luis Matos to the roster last offseason, and it was reasonable to expect that the first three would make their major-league debuts, and that Matos would if he blew the doors off the minor leagues. All of this happened.

Only José Cruz, a hard-throwing right hander who finished 2022 in Low A, didn’t make the jump from November roster addition to the majors. He was in that Matos category of “if he thrives, then he’s an option,” but he struggled with his command and control in Double A.

This is worth reviewing because the Giants added three pitchers to the 40-man roster ahead of this December’s Rule 5 Draft, and you’re almost certainly going to see all of them in the majors next season. Adding pitchers in the upper minors to the roster isn’t just a procedural move; it’s a preview of who will be first in line to fill a need on the major-league roster. With the new limit on how many times a pitcher can be sent back to the minors in a given season (five), it’s more important than ever to overstuff your roster with pitching depth.

So let’s look at the new additions to the Giants’ 40-man roster. Why are they there, and why is it likely that you’ll see them in San Francisco next season?

Kai-Wei Teng — 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher

How acquired

Acquired from the Twins, along with Jaylin Davis and Prelander Berroa, for Sam Dyson.

Why he needed to be protected

Teng had a very strong season, albeit one that requires you to look past his combined ERA in Double A and Triple A (4.42). He started the season for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels by throwing four scoreless innings, striking out 10 of the 15 batters he faced, and he consistently missed bats all season. When he joined the organization, he was known as a low-90s guy who touched the mid 90s, but now he’s more of a mid-9os guy who can add a little extra at times.

The fastball should play well enough, but it’s his slider that’ll get him to the majors. It’s a nasty sucker at its best, with a tight spin and late movement, but it seems like he has two different kinds, with one of them having a bigger, sweeper-like break.

The pitch at 0:18 that’s described as a “sweeping pitch away” looks like a slider to me, while the ones with more slide seem to be sweepers. Got it? Sure you do. Either way, just know that his breaking ball is what gives him a chance at a major-league career.

His weakness is control, as he’s walked 4.5 batters per nine innings as a professional, and the robo-umps in the Pacific Coast League weren’t doing him any favors (5.5 BB/9). The silver lining here is that he has an above-average groundball rate, which gives him a chance to succeed, despite the walk rate.

If the Giants didn’t protect him, another team definitely would have snatched him up. He could have made an opening-day start in Las Vegas one of these days, but he’ll help the Giants next season instead.

Role he might fill next season

Watch that video again. A fastball with enough fuzz to keep hitters honest and set up a slider/sweeper that he throws nearly two-thirds of the time. Does it remind you of anyone?

There are lazy comps and there are unavoidable comps, and this is one of the latter. Teng is a latter-day Jakob Junis, but with a better ability to keep the ball on the ground, at least in the minors. If he can cut down on the walks, he can fill the same role that Junis filled last year and for several years to come. It’s a big “if,” but you’ve seen this profile work before.

Trevor McDonald — 22-year-old right-handed starting pitcher

How acquired

11th-round pick in the 2019 draft

Why he needed to be protected

Thirty years ago, back in 2019, McDonald was the 151st-best amateur prospect, according to Baseball America, which put him in line to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. When he slipped to the 11th round, it looked like he was going to college at South Alabama. The Giants paid him nearly $800,000 to turn pro, though, so it’s clear that they’ve been fans for a while. He was hurt for a large chunk of last season, but he pitched so well in the Northwest League, with fancy numbers to match, that the Giants are essentially treating him like an upper-minors arm.

McDonald’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, but it plays up because of a deceptive delivery. Here’s what a hitter is looking at right before the ball comes out:

(Roger Munter had a great, detailed write up of McDonald’s 40-man roster chances that I intentionally didn’t read until I wrote most of this, lest I be overly influenced. He just so happened to use a screenshot from this exact pitch, except his screenshot was from when McDonald’s hand was below his waist. There’s plenty of deception to go around, in other words.)

McDonald pairs that fastball with a nasty 12-6 curveball from the same release point, which means it almost functions like a big ol’ freaky splitter. If a hitter is worried about the fastball, the curve looks like one up in the zone for just long enough. These pitches are traveling in the same tunnel, as the scouts and quants say these days, and it’s not hard to see how this two-pitch mix would help him stick in the bullpen of a non-contending team next season, especially considering that he throws strikes.

Role he might fill next season

Even more so than the typical prospect on the 40-man roster, McDonald’s role will be determined by his performance. As in, if he’s pitching well in Double A or Triple A, he’s immediately an option for the major-league bullpen. Ryan Walker isn’t the best comp because he’s been a dedicated reliever for years, whereas McDonald is still a starter, but the path would be similar. Walker looked sharp in Triple A, so he got a shot in the majors, and he never stopped looking sharp, so he stuck.

A less fun scenario would be similar to what happened to Cruz last season. Cruz blew away A-ball hitters and earned a quick promotion to Double A, but he had a horrible time throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park, so he was never a consideration for a major-league spot at any point (and could conceivably be one of the players the Giants try to sneak through waivers when they sign Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto on Dec. 6).

It seems less likely that McDonald would come up as a starter, considering how many other options the Giants would have there, from Beck to Winn to Teng to other starters who might have even more than four letters in their last name. Ross Stripling might not be in the rotation to start the season, for example, but he’ll be available in a pinch if the need arises. Mason Black will have a shot.

It’s not hard to see how McDonald would work, though. Strikes with the fastball up in the zone, strikes swinging on curveballs down and out of the zone. It’s a combination that’s worked for about 100 years or so, and if he can execute it well enough in Double A, he’ll be closer than you might expect.

Erik Miller — 25-year-old left-handed reliever

How acquired

Acquired from the Phillies for Yunior Marté

Why he needed to be protected

Miller is a 6-foot-5 left-hander who throws in the mid-90s, coming close to triple-digits at times, with a changeup that can absolutely demoralize hitters when it’s working.

If you need more reasons, fine, but that’s a sentence that’s worth an entire essay on why a team might think he can pitch in the majors. Big, left-handed, with more than just a fastball. He started the season in Double A and struck out 15 of the 36 batters he faced. That got him a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, where he struck out 33 percent of the batters he faced and had a 2.77 ERA.

Sound too good to be true? Well, kinda. Miller struggles with his command and control. Like, really struggles with it. He walked 41 batters in 52 Triple-A innings, and you can’t blame that all on the robo-umps. The good news is that he’s hilariously hard to hit (5.8 H/9 for his career and a 4.7 H/9 in Triple A last season) and he doesn’t allow many home runs. Probably on account of chucking baseballs at the mascot behind the on-deck circle.

Still, you just don’t see this kind of changeup from a lefty that often:

The Giants would be more worried if he paired the wildness with a penchant for getting crushed when he’s behind in the count and has to come in the strike zone. That’s not what’s happening, though, and left-handed relievers will always have more forgiveness with this kind of repertoire.

Role he might fill next season

It would be a stretch for him to fill the Scott Alexander role right away, but not much of one. The Giants have Taylor Rogers to be their key left-hander out of the bullpen, and it’s possible that they’ll sign or trade for another lefty to complement him. But assuming that lefty isn’t Josh Hader or another veteran on a multi-year deal, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll get anyone who would block Miller if he suddenly starts throwing strikes in the Cactus League.

(Photo of Teng, left, chatting with Patrick Bailey last spring: Abbie Parr / Getty Images)

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