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Which Flying Squirrels alumni have had the best MLB careers?

Ranking the MLB careers (so far) of Squirrels in the Show
Brandon Crawford was part of the Flying Squirrels' inaugural season in 2010 (Carl Kline / MiLB)
March 30, 2020

Over the last decade, nearly 70 alumni of the Richmond Flying Squirrels have gone on to play in the majors. Many of them played important roles in the Giants’ World Series titles in 2012 and 2014.

Over the last decade, nearly 70 alumni of the Richmond Flying Squirrels have gone on to play in the majors. Many of them played important roles in the Giants’ World Series titles in 2012 and 2014.

Some players had quiet careers with Richmond before going on to major-league stardom. Some players were far off the radar before making a name for themselves with the Flying Squirrels.

Today, we are looking at the five players who have gone on to have the best major-league careers so far through the end of the 2019 season.

There are many ways to evaluate what makes a player successful. For the sake of this article, we ranked all of the Flying Squirrels alumni by their career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) on Baseball Reference. For more information on Baseball Reference WAR, click here. It’s way more complicated than we could explain here, but it’s a widely accepted industry standard these days for understanding a player’s success.

Here’s the list:

Just missed the cut: Dan Otero (4.9 WAR), Hunter Strickland (4.0 WAR), Heath Hembree (2.3 WAR), Kyle Crick (1.8 WAR), Kelby Tomlinson (1.6 WAR)

Adam Duvall is tied for third on the Flying Squirrels' single-season home run list despite missing five weeks in 2013 with an injury Kevin Pataky / MiLB

No. 5: Adam Duvall (6.7 WAR)

Adam Duvall was the Opening Day third baseman for the Flying Squirrels in 2013 and spent that whole season with Richmond. He had one of the more successful offensive seasons in team history despite missing about five weeks with a thumb injury, and his .465 slugging percentage from that year is still the third-highest single-season mark in franchise history. In the Flying Squirrels franchise’s fourth season, Duvall finished with 17 homers, which is tied for third-best in team history today. He finished one homer behind his 2013 teammate Jarrett Parker, who set the team record for the most homers in a season that still stands.

Duvall debuted in the majors with the San Francisco Giants the next year, homering in his MLB debut in June. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2015 and homered in his first at-bat with them. In Duvall’s first full MLB season in 2016, he was selected as a National League All-Star and worked into a mid-season tie for the most homers in the majors. He was also selected to participate in the Home Run Derby. Duvall played four total seasons with the Reds before he was traded to the Braves prior to the deadline in 2018. He played with Atlanta for the last two seasons. After spending most of 2019 in Triple-A with Gwinnett, Duvall made the Braves’ postseason roster last fall and came through with some clutch hits before Atlanta was eliminated by St. Louis in the NLDS.

Joe Panik played 137 games for the Flying Squirrels in 2013, tied for the most in a season by a player in team history Will Bentzel / MiLB

No. 4: Joe Panik (7.7 WAR)

Joe Panik was the Flying Squirrels’ Opening Day second baseman in 2013 and entered the season rated by MLB.com as the Giants’ No. 4 prospect. That year, he played in 137 games, tied for the most in a season in team history, and led the team with 522 at-bats. On May 23, 2013, Panik started a game-winning triple play, the only one turned by the Flying Squirrels in team history at The Diamond, to close out a game against the Trenton Thunder. In July, he was selected as an Eastern League All-Star. Panik finished the season with 58 walks, which currently sits as the fourth-most in a season in team history.

The next year, Panik debuted with the Giants in June. He made the Giants’ postseason roster and contributed several key moments in their World Series title run. In Game 2 of the NLDS, he worked a walk that set up the game-tying run in the ninth in an eventually 18-inning Giants win. He helped spark the Giants’ clinching win with a home run in Game 5 of the NLCS. In Game 7 of the World Series, he made a memorable diving stop to start a double play.

Panik was selected as an NL All-Star in 2015, his first full MLB season, and won a Gold Glove Award the next year. He played parts of six seasons with the Giants before being let go last season and signing with the Mets. Panik signed with the Blue Jays in January.

Matt Duffy had one of the best seasons in Flying Squirrels history in 2014 before reaching the majors in August of that year Kevin Pataky / MiLB

No. 3: Matt Duffy (7.8 WAR)

Matt Duffy was not ranked in Baseball America’s top-30 Giants prospects heading into the 2014 season with Richmond, but by the end of his breakout year he was playing in San Francisco. That year, Duffy had one of the best seasons in Flying Squirrels history. After starting the year as Richmond’s Opening Day shortstop, Duffy set a still-standing franchise record with a .332 batting average and became the first Richmond player to win the Eastern League batting title. He was named the Flying Squirrels’ MVP and still holds the team record for highest career on-base percentage (.398). Duffy was selected as an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star and was also picked for the league’s season-ending All-Star list, the most recent Richmond player to earn that honor.

His performance earned him a promotion to the majors at the beginning of August and he remained with the Giants through their World Series title run that fall. Duffy had his best season to date during his rookie campaign in 2015, hitting .295 in 149 games with the Giants. He started the 2016 season with San Francisco but was traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline. Duffy had a solid season with the Rays in 2018 but missed most of 2019 with injuries. He signed with the Texas Rangers in January.

Brandon Belt hit nine homers in just 46 games with the Flying Squirrels in 2010 Kevin Littlefield / MiLB

No. 2: Brandon Belt (23.0 WAR)

Brandon Belt took the Giants system by storm in his pro debut season in 2010. He started the year with A-Adv. San Jose, hitting .383 in 77 games. That earned him a mid-season promotion to Richmond, where he continued to hit well. Over 46 games, Belt hit .337 with nine homers and 40 RBIs before getting bumped to Triple-A for the final two weeks of the season. At three levels in 2010, Belt hit .352 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs. Although his stay with the Flying Squirrels during their debut season was brief, he had one of the best stretches by any player to this day. In just his second Flying Squirrels game and in front of a sold-out crowd at The Diamond on July 4, 2010, Belt picked up four hits, including a homer. He entered the 2011 season ranked by Baseball America as the Giants’ No. 1 prospect.

He made the Giants’ Opening Day roster in 2011 and took over as the everyday first baseman in 2012. Belt was a key part of the Giants’ World Series championships in 2012 and 2014. He was selected as an NL All-Star in 2016. Overall, Belt has played nine seasons with the Giants, batting .261 with 129 homers over 1,084 games.

Brandon Crawford played 79 games for the Flying Squirrels before an injury shortened his 2010 season Kevin Pataky / MiLB

No. 1: Brandon Crawford (24.0 WAR):

Brandon Crawford was part of the Flying Squirrels’ first-ever game and has gone on to be the franchise’s most celebrated major leaguer. He had once been projected as a first-round pick, but he slid to the fourth round in the 2008 draft. When he joined the Flying Squirrels, he was rated behind several of his teammates in the prospect rankings. Crawford played 79 games for the Flying Squirrels and was selected as an Eastern League All-Star, but his season was cut short due to a broken hand in early-July. Crawford and Belt were teammates in Richmond for only three days before the injury. He returned to Richmond on a rehab assignment in 2017.

Crawford debuted with the Giants in May 2011 and has been the team’s everyday shortstop since 2011, winning a pair of World Series titles in 2012 and 2014. He solidified his status as a major-league star in 2015, when he was named an NL All-Star, Silver Slugger Award winner and Gold Glove Award winner. Overall, Crawford is a two-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove Award winner in his nine MLB seasons with the Giants.

Trey Wilson is the play-by-play broadcaster and Director of Communications for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Follow the Flying Squirrels on Twitter @GoSquirrels.