Sean Hjelle is one of many Giants prospects climbing up San Francisco's farm system. His rise through the ranks almost has reached the heights of his 6-foot-11 frame.
Hjelle, the Giants' second-round pick from the 2018 MLB Draft, already has pitched at three different levels this season. He began the year at Class A Augusta before being promoted to Class A Advanced San Jose after nine starts. After posting a 2.78 ERA over 14 starts for the San Jose Giants, the 22-year-old reached Double-A Richmond.
"It was an amazing night. I won't forget that one," Hjelle said Wednesday on KNBR regarding his Double-A debut.
But it wasn't an easy one.
Hjelle quickly learned what a difference Double-A is compared to Advanced Class A. Though it's only one level higher in the minor leagues, it can feel like much more. Miss your spot and a hitter won't let you forget about it.
"Getting hit for five runs in one inning is definitely a big jump," Hjelle said with a laugh. "The guys up here, they definitely capitalize on mistakes. They're here for a reason. I gotta be a little sharper, and they're gonna jump on any little mistake that I throw."
Through two starts with the Flying Squirrels, the long and lanky right-hander has learned the hard way. Hjelle allowed four earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a loss Thursday night and now has given up nine earned runs in 9 2/3 over his two Double-A starts.
There's a silver lining, however.
Of the nine runs that have crossed the plate against Hjelle, eight have come in two separate innings. He gave up a five-run inning in his first start and a three-run inning in his next.
Hjelle pitches to contact and uses his unusually tall height to his advantage to create odd angles for opposing batters. For the most part, his strategy has worked. Not at the Double-A level, though.
The Giants' No. 6 prospect will have to make a quick adjustment against better competition. Failure can be the best learning tool, as long as it doesn't last too long.
Despite recently enduring two tough starts, Hjelle is on the fast track to San Francisco. He joined the Giants' top-two prospects, Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos, in being promoted to Richmond on the same day. And from being drafted to now, Bart has been there behind the dish for Hjelle.
"We have a really good relationship right now. We've got to the point where it's just a head nod here or there or a quick facial expression," Hjelle said. "We kind of know each other now and can keep the game flowing and moving that way."
[RELATED: Bart, Ramos honored by minor league coaches]
The former Kentucky Wildcat says he watches Giants games and studies the staff's pitchers. For now, though, he -- along with Bart and Ramos -- is focused on succeeding as a Flying Squirrel before anything else.
"We just try to stay where our feet are right now," Hjelle said. "We're just trying to focus on the next day and just take it day by day."