Friday, April 29, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 27, Brock Bond, 2B

As a prospect, Brock Bond's ceiling has been a hot topic with many Giants fans. After all, he is 25 years old, has been in the minors since 2007 (he is starting is second year in Fresno), and his stats in the minors over five seasons are pretty impressive. His minor league career batting average is .308, his OBP is .406 and his OPS is .791 in 1,723 plate appearances. He has posted solid BB/K ratios throughout his minor league stops (he's never had a BB/K ratio under 0.65 going into this seasons, sans a 0.30 mark he had in Richmond where he only played 12 games), and he can occasionally steal a base here and there as well (46 stolen bases).

Unfortunately, while his numbers may suggest that he's an "under the radar" prospect, many experts and fans have a hard time buying the Bond hype. First off, he was a 24th round pick out of college, not necessarily a bad thing (a lot of late round picks have carved out good careers), but it illustrates that he didn't really have that high of a stock when he graduated from Missouri. Second, his slugging numbers have been questionable, as his career slugging percentage is .385 and he has only hit 93 extra base hits in his five seasons in the minors (he has only hit three home runs to boot). While not having much power doesn't bury him immediately, he still lacks the other complements or strengths of other "slap" hitters who have produced good careers in the Majors (e.g. he doesn't have much speed or base-stealing ability to make up for his lack of extra base hits).

Another issue with Bond is just the fact that he's playing at such a crowded position in the Giants system. Emmanuel Burriss has Major League experience. Charlie Culberson, Nick Noonan and Carlos Willoughby are guys in the minors who have more upside and money invested in them than Bond. And Freddy Sanchez seems to have a stranglehold on the position, as he just fresh off a contract extension as well. Even if Bond proves to be Major League ready, he might not get an opportunity with talent lingering in the lower minors and veterans ahead of him on the active roster (e.g. delving into Kevin Frandsen territory).

This year though, he is expected to be a major contributor to the Grizzlies' offense, which is still a good tag to have at this point (like I said, he's only 25 years old, so it's not like he's an older guy playing in Triple-A like a Tyler Graham or Edgar Gonzalez). While he isn't hitting too hot out of the gate (.213 average in 52 plate appearances), he is still showcasing the plate discipline (0.63 BB/K ratio) that made him such an interesting prospect when he was tearing it up in the Eastern League with the Connecticut Defenders (the Giants' Double-A affiliate at the time before they moved to Richmond last season).

To be honest, I ranked Bond this high mainly because I'm sympathetic with guys in his boat. Frandsen deserved a more serious shot and never got one despite putting up very good numbers in Fresno. Bond isn't like Frandsen in terms of his skill set (Frandsen has more power, but Bond is better in terms of getting on base). However, you can't deny the fact that they are in very similar situations, and if history repeats itself (and it often does in the Giants' minor league system...after all, Brian Sabean has been the general manager since 1997), Bond will most likely go through many of the same growing pains, flip-flopping constantly between Fresno and San Francisco (and that might be the best case scenario...he could be buried in Fresno more than Frandsen was).

Of course, you never know. Sanchez has had injury problems, as has Burriss and Mark Derosa, and God knows how effective Mike Fontenot will be as a backup infielder. If Bond gets a chance (and it is possible concerning the injury history and effectiveness of the middle infielders on the Giants active roster), maybe he can make the most of a callup ala "Eugenio Velez" style (e.g. a crazy ridiculous streak that garners him more playing time). Guys who get hits, get on base, showcase solid defense (which has been the report on Bond...good but not spectacular) and scores runs, then there will be a place for Bond on a Major League roster.

As a Giants fan, I would hope it would be on the Giants. (I want the Giants to develop and play their OWN players...isn't that the point of the farm system, really?). That being said, while I can be as optimistic as I want about Bond, it is probably a stretch he'll be a regular or even spot contributor in a Giants uniform at any point in the future.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 28, Rafael Rodriguez, OF and Carlos Willoughby, 2B

I was torn between these two mainly because I like what they bring to the table, but I'm a bit unsure if they really will develop into legitimate Major League players. As enticing as their tools and skills are, they both don't offer much power, and they have shown some inconsistencies at the plate in their short times in the minors (mostly so in Rodriguez's case). That being said, they still are extremely young (Rodriguez is only 18 years old and Willoughby is only 22), so they still have a lot of time to develop, which makes me optimistic.

Rodriguez came in with a lot of hype when he was signed as a 16 year old out of the Dominican Republic. At the time, Rodriguez got one of the biggest signing bonuses in team history at $2.55 million passing Angel Villanona's, who signed for $2.1 million in 2006 (Buster Posey later passed him in 2008). When he was signed, many people were making comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero in terms of his body type and athleticism. At six-foot, five-inches and 198 pounds, it is certainly understandable to see the Guerrero comparison, but so far, Rodriguez hasn't really lived up to lofty projection.

In the Arizona Rookie League in 2009, Rodriguez held his own in 148 plate appearances, posting a .299 average and a .392 OBP. While he didn't hit for much power (he hit no homers and he only had eight extra base hits), his plate patience was a promising sign considering his age at the time (he was only 17). However, the next season he took a bit step back as he struggled in his second go-around in Rookie League and his promotion to the Northwest League. In a combined 181 plate appearances between Arizona and Salem-Keizer, Rodriguez hit only .265 with a .309 OBP and .653 OPS. What was even more concerning though was his change in plate discipline (as his walk numbers dipped from 16 to 8) and how overwhelmed he looked in Short Season Single-A. In the Northwest League, he only hit .163 with a .459 OPS and had 12 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances. The only silver lining to this was the fact he was only 17 years old, and he was competing with guys who were three to five years older than him.

This Spring though, Rodriguez was "stinging the ball" in Minor League according to AZ, and ended up getting a promotion to Augusta despite the lackluster campaign with the Volcanoes. So far, he's off to a good start as he is hitting .293 with a .711 OPS. He has also recaptured some of the plate approach he flashed in Rookie League in 2009, as he has five walks and only three strikeouts in 63 plate appearances. As AZ stated, Rodriguez is still raw, but if he can develop his strength (which is likely as he gets older and grows into his tall frame) and continue the solid plate approach of 2009 and this year, he could become a legitimate prospect a few years down the road (not necessarily a bad thing considering his age).

As for Willoughby, he's a bit older than Rodriguez, but he already has a lot of professional experience under his belt. At 18, the native of Colombia began in the Dominican Summer League and immediately had an impact with the Giants' club. In three seasons in the DSL, he posted OPS numbers of .756, .759 and .904. The most attractive quality of Willoughby's game seems to be his speed, as he stole 91 bases in three seasons in the Dominican Republic. As he made the transition to the states in 2010, he didn't slow down, as he posted an OPS of .804 and stole 23 bases in 27 attempts in 45 games in the Arizona Rookie League.

Willoughby is a lot more developed than Rodriguez and his plate patience numbers have been a lot more consistent than Rodriguez. Willoughby posted a .372 OBP in the Arizona Rookie League last year and this year, he has an OBP of .402. Even in the DSL, the same proved to be true, as he never had an OBP below .414 in his three years in the DR.  With his speed and ability on the basepaths (he already has 10 stolen bases in only 19 games with the Green Jackets), his ability to draw a walk and get on base only adds to value as a prospect.

My only issue with Willoughby, much like Rodriguez, is that Willoughby seems to be more of a slap hitter without much power. His slugging percentage in his three years in the DSL was only .388, and unlike Rodriguez, it doesn't seem like he has a lot of potential to develop much power the future considering his size (he's five-feet, 10-inches and 170 pounds). That being said, Willoughby did post a slugging of .432 with six triples last year, so if he can hone his slap-hitting abilities, while still maintaining his patient plate approach, the lack of "big fly" potential might not be a big issue anyways. After all, Jose Reyes isn't hitting 30 bombs a year, but he is still a threat because is he able to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Willoughby could have the same kind of potential (then again, he could also develop into Luis Castillo as well).

In terms of upside? I like Rodriguez more. In terms of who's better now and will have a shot of breaking into the higher levels of the Giants system sooner? I got to go with Willoughby. Either way, these two are both very interesting players, and their good starts so far in the SALLY this year should give Giants fans (and the Giants management) a lot of hope concerning their potential as prospects.

Callup Profile: Emmanuel Burriss, 2B/SS

With Mark Derosa landing on the Disabled List (again...sigh), the Giants called up Emmanuel Burriss to add some depth to the infield and speed on the basepaths. As I noted yesterday in a post, Burriss had gotten off to a fast start out of the gate for the Grizzlies, as he was batting .344 with an .849 OPS and 15 stolen bases before his callup. With Miguel Tejada struggling as the Giants' starting shortstop (he is batting .200 with a .541 OPS and only one home run), Burriss is an interesting option, though I doubt he'll bring much competition to the position.

Burriss is a former first round pick out of Kent State University (he was the 33rd pick in the 2006 Draft and the Giants second pick in the first round with the other being Tim Lincecum). He has had two previous stints in the Majors: 2008 and 2009. In 2008, with Omar Vizquel suffering through injury and regression and Brian Bocock just a plain old bad option all together, Burriss came in and performed admirably as the Giants' starting shortstop. In 274 plate appearances, he hit .283 with a .357 OBP and added 13 stolen bases. Despite his good plate patience numbers though (0.96 BB/K ratio), he proved to add no power whatsoever as his ISO was only .046 and his OPS was .686.

In 2009, he earned the starting second base position in Spring Training in a close battle with Kevin Frandsen (the Giants gave the starting shortstop position to free agent Edgar Renteria). However, Burriss failed to capitalize on his strong Spring and 2008, as he regressed in almost every offensive category. His gaudy BB/K ratio fell to 0.41, his average dipped to .238 and his already minuscule power numbers fell to new depths (0.30 ISO). After playing in 94 games in 2008, he only appeared in 61 games in  2009 as he eventually lost the Giants' starting second base job to Matt Downs, Juan Uribe and eventually Freddy Sanchez (who was acquired in a trade-deadline deal for Tim Alderson).

Injuries have been an issue for Burriss, especially the past couple of years. After being demoted to Fresno, Burriss only played in 17 games in Triple-A before being shelved with a foot injury. In 2010 in Spring Training, he aggravated his foot again and only played 79 games total among stops in San Jose (for rehab), Fresno and San Francisco (he only played seven games with the Giants though and has only five plate appearances). The 2010 foot injury proved to have an effect on Burriss' stats as his wOBA was only .305 in Fresno and he only stole 11 bases on 16 attempts (he stole 103 bases in 2006 and 2007 total amongst his stops in Salem-Keizer, Augusta and San Jose). While it seems like his foot hasn't bothered him so much this year (as evidenced by his 15 stolen bases), Burriss' injury history is going to be an issue as he gets older.

Though his athleticism has been a noted trait of Burriss throughout his professional career, his defense is a bit questionable. On an advanced statistical note, Burriss' profile isn't impressive. At shortstop his career UZR is negative-3.7 and at second base, his UZR is only 0.2. And, he only has a 55 FSR (fans scouting reports) rating according to Thus, while he may not be Tejada-esque (negative UZR numbers the past three years), Burriss isn't exactly that much of an upgrade defensively as some Giants fans would like to believe.

With Andres Torres on the DL, Burriss, along with Darren Ford, bring some speed to a Giants roster that is devoid of it sans Torres. That being said, while Burriss' start has been very good this year in the Pacific Coast League, his slap-hitting approach (career 2.62 GB/FB ratio in the Majors) can be kind of hit and miss in terms of success (his BABIP was .310 in his good 2008; .284 during his mediocre 2009). If Burriss can find some holes in his short stint with the Giants, then maybe he could be a dark horse option for the Giants if Tejada or Fontenot don't cut it in the infield. To be realistic though, I foresee Burriss contributing more to the Fresno club this year rather than the San Francisco one (though that isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the Grizzlies would benefit with him as their leadoff or numbr two hitter and Brett Pill and Brandon Belt hitting behind him).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Farm Watch: 10 Prospects with Stong Starts Out of the Gate

I want to make this a weekly thing, but considering I'm a little late to it, I'm just going to start with whoever is off to hot starts thus far (all stats going into today's games). All levels of play will be examined from Triple-A to the Dominican Summer League, so this will be a nice radar in terms of who is playing well in the Giants system and whom fans should be watching and paying attention to over the course of the year. Now, while I list 10, it's not really a ranking of who's the best. The numbers are just for organizational purposes, not really ranking purposes.

10. Carlos Willoughby, 2B (Augusta Green Jackets)

Willoughby, the highly hyped infielder from Colombia who tore it up in the Dominican Summer League from 2007-2009 and performed well in the Arizona Rookie League last year, is off to a good start in the SALLY league. Willoughby is hitting .301 with a .414 OBP and has swiped 10 bags this year. While his power numbers are pretty meager (.356 slugging, which brings his OPS to .770), his good eye at the plate (13 walks) has made him one of the top run generators for this Green Jackets squad this year (he has scored a team high 17 runs and he has 3 RBI as well).

9. Shawn Sanford, RHP (Augusta Green Jackets)

The pitching has been a little inconsistent for Augusta, with fireballer Edward Concepcion still struggling with his control (a major issue so far in his professional career). Sanford though has been one of the nice bright spots however for this Green Jackets pitching staff, as he is posting a 1.65 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 16.1 IP. Sanford doesn't exactly strike guys out (only nine strikeouts and a K/9 rate of 5), but he shows decent control (four walks; 2.25 K/BB ratio), which helps him get through innings and generate outs. Sanford had a good year in the Northwest League last year (42 IP, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.86 K/BB ratio), so he has the potential to be solid contributor to this Augusta staff this season.

8. Devin Harris, OF/DH (Augusta Green Jackets)

Despite hitting only two home runs his rookie season in 41 games between Rookie and the Northwest League, former East Carolina Pirate Devin Harris is mashing this year in the SALLY. He has hit five home runs in 70 plate appearances and he is posting an OPS of .922. Harris has flashed some power before in college, as he hit 27 home runs combined in his last two seasons with the Pirates, but it's safe to say Harris is really flashing his muscles in his second year of professional ball. Harris probably needs to cut down the strikeouts (his 18 strikeouts are second-highest on the team) and he doesn't make up for it with a lot of walks either (only six this year), but the big fly ability is a nice surprise, even if it is probably unsustainable for the rest of the year.

7. Nick Liles, 2B (San Jose Giants)

While a lot of the hype has been around 2010 first round pick Gary Brown and Chris Dominguez (who has  team leading five home runs), Liles has been one of the more spectacular offensive player for the Giants thus far. He has a team-leading .945 OPS and he has 19 hits, 6 RBI, 8 runs scored and three stolen bases (on three attempts) in only 60 plate appearances (Brown has 35 more, Dominguez 26 more). Liles didn't exactly tear up the SALLY last year (only a .747 OPS), but he has a good eye (.361 OBP last year; .417 OBP this year) and speed and not just when it comes to swiping bags either. This year, he has five doubles and two triples, pretty telling evidence that Liles is the kind of player who can stretch base hits in a "Andres Torres-esque" style.

6. Gary Brown, OF (San Jose Giants)

While Liles has been the better player statistically speaking, Brown has had the more impact, which is pretty impressive considering he came in with a lot of question marks after skipping Single-A this year despite putting up pedestrian numbers in a combined stint in the Arizona Rookie and Northwest League last year (.524 OPS, only two extra base hits in 54 plate appearances). Brown is hitting .346 with an .844 OPS and he has a home run, 13 RBI and has scored 17 runs in 95 plate appearances. His speed, one of the most glowing aspects of his game when he was drafted, has also been on fully display, as he has swiped 16 bases on 21 attempts to begin the year. While one wonder if Brown's walk numbers (0.58 BB/K ratio) are for real (he only walked 41 times in 174 college games), his good start in Advanced Single-A is a promising sign of things to come.

5. Heath Hembree, RHP (San Jose Giants)

Hembree seems to be the Giants' closer and he seems primed for the responsibility. Hembree in 8 appearances has four saves, a 1.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.71 (not good I know, but stay with me). Despite giving up a lot of hits (he has given up eight this year), He has shown exceptional control (3.25 K/BB ratio) and a strong ability to strike guys out this year in the California League (13 strikeouts). This shouldn't be too much of a surprise as Hembree flashed the same strikeout ability last year in the Arizona Rookie League as he struck out 22 batter in 11 innings pitched (he also walked ZERO batters too...even more unbelievable).

4. Zach Wheeler, RHP (San Jose Giants)

The 55th rate prospect according to Baseball America, Wheeler has gotten off to a sterling start in his first three appearances in San Jose. While going through some injury issues a year ago, Wheeler struggled with his control at times, as evidenced by his 38 walks in 58.2 IP (A BB/9 of 5.8). However, the upside with the young right hander (and what helped make him the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft) was his lively fastball and ability to strike guys out. He didn't disappoint last year (10.7 K/9 in Augusta), and the same is true this year (18 strikeouts in 15.2 IP). What's even better is that Wheeler hasn't shown the control issues he sported a year ago. His WHIP is down (from 1.45 to 0.96) and his BB/9 and K/BB ratio looks a lot better as well (its 2.3 and 4.50 respectively). Of course, it's just a three start sample, his ERA (4.02) doesn't exactly show he's dominating (though his 2.69 FIP is a better indicator of how well he's doing in my opinion), and Wheeler still has to prove this over a full year of play. Still, Giants fans have to be happy with the First Round pick's jump to the California League.

3. Ryan Verdugo, LHP (Richmond Flying Squirrels)

Verdugo has been one of the few bright spots for a Richmond team that's got off to a bit of a shaky start. If you look up and down the statsheet, not a lot of guys on the roster are putting up great numbers, both on the offensive and pitching side of things. However, Verdugo has been nails, as illustrated by his 1.65 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 16.2 IP. He has also shown impeccable control in his first three starts this year, only walking two batters and hitting one (his BB/9 is currently 1.1 and his K/BB ratio is 8). For those Giants fans who think Verdugo is flash in the pan, they might have to think twice. Verdugo posted excellent numbers in a split stint in Augusta and San Jose last year (1.87 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.85 K/BB ratio in 62.2 IP) as well as in 2009 with in the SALLY and Rookie League (1.27 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB ratio in 35.1 IP).

2. Emmanuel Burriss, 2B/SS (Fresno Grizzlies)

With Tejada struggling, one of the hot topics with Giants fans is whether or not Tejada is going to replace the production Juan Uribe contributed the past two years for the Giants. While Burriss may not have the offensive upside that Tejada has (he has a career .687 OPS in the minors and .631 OPS in the Majors), Burriss is slap hitter with a strong knack for swiping bases. In the Grizzlies first 20 games (they are 9-11 currently), Burriss has been one of the Grizzlies' catalysts, as he is hitting .344 with an .849 OPS and 15 stolen bases. The speedster has also shown a good approach at the plate, as he has drawn seven walks and only struck out six times in 73 plate appearances. Granted, Burriss may not be a long-term solution, and he may just be feasting on Pacific Coast League pitching, which has a history of being mediocre. However, if Tejada doesn't bounce back soon, and if Burriss' bat continues to stay hot, it wouldn't be surprising to see Giants fans start clamoring for the 2006 first-round draft pick.

1. Brett Pill, 1B (Fresno Grizzlies)

If Burriss provides the speed to the team, then Pill provides the mashing. After a solid full year in Fresno (he hit 16 home runs and had an OPS of .752), Pill has made the most of his second season in Triple-A. He is currently hitting .390 with three home runs, 18 RBI, and sports an OPS of 1.001 in 89 plate appearances. Even though he has stellar competition at the first base position with Travis Ishikawa and the recently demoted Brandon Belt, Pill is making it hard for Grizzlies management to keep him out of the lineup. That being said, Belt is the Giants' future first baseman, and it's going to be interesting to see how the first base position is going to be platooned this year as long as Belt and Ishikawa are with the Grizzlies. Still, Pill is no slouch and he is certainly capable of having the kind of breakout season that might get him seriously noticed by the Giants brass as the seasons carries on.

Honorable mentions: Charlie Culberson, 2B (Richmond), Chris Dominguez, 3B (San Jose), Rafael Rodriguez, OF (Augusta), Hector Sanchez, C (San Jose), Justin Fitzgerald, RHP (Richmond), Luke Anders, 1B (San Jose).

Monday, April 25, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 29, Michael Main, RHP

Michael Main was the crown jewel in the Bengie Molina to Texas trade last June. Sure, Chris Ray was nice for like...a month...but when Main was named the player to be named later in the deal, many Giants fans and writers thought they were getting a steal. Molina was obviously proving to be dead space behind the plate, Buster Posey was obviously ready to take the reigns (The Rookie of the Year award being evidence), and Main was a first round pick pitcher who had some obvious upside (See the number of times I used the word "obvious?" That's how much Giants fans wanted Molina traded).

And yet, Main's career has been a series of up and downs. The right-handed pitcher from Florida, and the 24th pick overall in the 2007 MLB draft has really not developed as well as many hoped. What was once deemed an absolute hi-jacking by the Giants, proved to be a questionable pickup, as the Rangers organization probably wouldn't give up a prospect like Main (high pick, pitcher, etc) if there wasn't some "buyer beware" warnings attached. After all, Jon Daniels is one of the best general managers in the game who has really developed the Rangers' minor league talent during his tenure.

Early on in his career, Main lived up to his first-round hype. In a split campaign in Rookie Ball and Short Season Single-A, Main had a K/9 rate of 10.9, a K/BB ratio of 2.62, an ERA of 3.20 and a WHIP of 1.286 in 28 innings pitched. The following season in a split campaign between Rookie Ball and Single-A, he probably had his best season in the minors yet. He made 15 starts and pitched 58.2 innings, going 3-3 with a 2.76 ERA, a 3.61 K/BB ratio (compounded by a 10 K/9) and a 1.108 WHIP.

However, a variety of weird injuries (he got a viral infection) in 2009 seemed to sideline as he made the step up High Single-A ball in the Rangers system. In Bakersfield, he went 4-6 with a 6.80 ERA, a 1.879 WHIP and his gaudy K/BB ratio fell to 1.32. Granted, he wasn't helped by the .350 BABIP, but it was safe to say that Main's 2009 brought up some serious red flags in terms of his future and projection as a prospect.

Things didn't get much better when he was traded to the Giants organization. Despite showing some improvement his second time around in Bakersfield (he went 5-3 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.182 WHIP in 15 starts and 91.1 IP), he got shellacked in his promotion to Richmond. In 13.2 IP, he went 0-3 with a 13.83 ERA, a 2.561 WHIP and his K/BB ratio was a dismal 0.50. Main didn't show any of the control or strikeout ability that made him such a gaudy prospect when he was in the lower levels of the Rangers' farm system.

This year, he was assigned in San Jose to start the year, which the Giants probably should have done last year. He is off to a good start (0.87 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB ratio in 10.1 IP), but he has found himself on the injury list, which further hinders his development this season. It's nice to see Main find some success, but this is his third go-around in the California League, so you do have to keep his good start in context.

There are some things to like about Main. Though he probably won't duplicate the impressive K/9 numbers he flashed early on in his career, his FIP has outperformed his ERA during most of his stints in the minors (his FIP has been lower in five of his nine campaigns in the minors) and when his control is on (his BB/9 has been under 4.50 seven times), he can be as dominating as any pitcher in the Giants minor league system. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case, and his inconsistency with walks and control has been an issue more as of late.

Main still has a pretty decent ceiling as a prospect (though even Sickels admits he was probably vastly overrated by Rangers fans early in his career). He has a power arm and he has shown flashes of good command. However, considering he is still in the California League despite being 22 (he broke into professional ball in 2007 when he was 18) and his shaky health history, Main just seem to be a guy who'll live up to his first round billing. That being said, if he can turn it around in San Jose, and make an adjustment in Richmond some time this season, then Main might have some kind of future in the Giants system...even if it is a shaky one.

Marc Kroon: Apparently the Nicest Guy in the Giants System

If you're a Giant or Grizzlies or Minor League baseball fan in general and are not following Marc Kroon yet on Twitter, REALLY should start doing so for two reasons:

1.) He's a nice guy and probably responds directly to his tweeps more often than your usual "athlete" on twitter.
2.) He is hooking fans up with free tickets to Fresno Grizzlies games, not just at Chukchansi Park, but wherever the Grizzlies play.

Talk about a nice guy. You're not seeing really any other player with a Twitter profile be this generous (and not only in the Giants minor league system, but in all of minor league baseball in general).

But who is Marc Kroon, anyways?

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice story on him in January when he was signed to a Minor League contract. Though he didn't make the team out of Spring Training, Kroon currently is on the Grizzlies roster and holding his own. In 6.2 IP, he has 9 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.95 and an ERA of 2.70. While you would like him to control his walk numbers a little bit (he has five walks so far this year), Kroon can strike guys out, and that is a good quality to have as a reliever.

Kroon isn't exactly a young player (he's actually 38 years old) and he has spent most of his career in the minors and in Japan (though he was a top prospect coming out of High School, as he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft by the New York Mets). In Japan though, not only did he play for the Yomiuri Giants (Love his picture with Mariah BTW!), but he was one of the more dominant closers in the Far East, known for his blazing fastball (clocked at 101 MPH three years ago), and ability to make hitters whiff. In his four seasons in Japan from 2007-2010 (he played with Yokohama in 2007 and Yomiuri from 2008-2010...remember, in the Nippon Baseball League, all the teams are known by their sponsors, not their city), he posted K/9 rates of 13.8, 13.4, 10.3 and 13. His high K/9 rate, and good K/BB ratios (he never had a K/BB ratio under 2.52 in the NPB), made him ideal for the ninth inning as a closer. He saved 31 games with the Bay Stars in 2007 and 93 games total in his three seasons with the Giants.

Despite being a fan favorite in Japan, (he's got his own Web site that mostly caters to Japanese fans), he came back to the states looking for a second chance in the Majors (the last time he played in the Big Leagues was in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies). Considering the Giants organization hasn't hesitated to give relievers second chances in the past (and it has paid off), Kroon will have an opportunity to succeed, despite starting the year in Fresno. Additionally, his unique pitching style and motion could give some hitters fits in the Pacific Coast League and perhaps Major League level. (Many Japanese pitchers' styles do, especially initially, and despite being from the States, Kroon has seemingly adopted a more Japanese-style pitching motion, with a slight pause in the windup.)

Of course, Kroon isn't a slam dunk by any stretch just yet. Throughout his professional career, walks have been an issue (he has a career 5.1 BB/9 rate and 6.0 BB/9 rate in Triple-A). While he seemed to pan out the issues his first few years in Japan (his BB/9 was 3.2, 4.0 and 3.4 his first three seasons), his BB/9 numbers increased to 5.2 his last season with Yomiuri (which lowered his K/BB ratio under 3 for the first time in his Japanese career). The control issues haven't gotten any better either since coming to the states, as his five walks in 6.2 IP have produced a BB/9 rate of 6.8. While that is just a small sample, and Kroon has plenty of time to lower that rate, it certainly doesn't prove that his walk issues from his past are a thing of the past (at least initially).

The story with Kroon's career is a fascinating one, and in many ways, a lot of baseball fans are hoping for Kroon to succeed. Even just following him on Twitter, Kroon seems to be an upbeat, cordial and positive person who is a breath of fresh air. And not only is he a good person, but he seems to be a decent pitcher with an above average fastball and above average ability to strike batters out. Will he get to showcase those traits as a Giant? It's too early to call and a lot of chips will have to fall in the right place (ineffectiveness to relievers in the Giants bullpen, somebody being DFA'd to make room for Kroon on the 40-man roster, etc.), but you certainly hope so.

Good guys like him with skill sets like his deserve some kind of shot. (Or at least a second shot.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Is the Prospect Talent in the Giants System Treading Shallow Waters in 2011?

The Giants have undergone bit of an identity change under Brian Sabean's tenure as GM. Once known for dishing talent for higher-priced veterans (especially during the Barry Bonds era), the Giants the last five to six years made a heavy commitment to rebuild their minor league system. It all started with guys like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but with the emergence of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner last year, baseball fans and experts around the nation took notice of the talent the Giants were stocking and bringing up in their system. The days of Sabean trading Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano seemed to be a thing of the past (though Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez certainly wasn't popular at the time), as the organization seemed committed to developing their own players so they could eventually contribute to the San Francisco club, and not just the Fresno, Richmond and San Jose ones (in addition to Augusta, Salem Keizer and Arizona ones).

That being said, with Brandon Belt making the Opening Day roster (and then being eventually demoted back down to Fresno...a wise decision in my opinion), there seemed to be a question that lingered with Giants fans: Is the talent pool still strong in the Giants system? Or with Posey and Bumgarner now Major League players, is the talent not as deep as it was the past few seasons.

The answer is a mixed bag. First off, if you take a look at the Top 10 prospects list from Fangraphs the past two seasons (2010 and 2011), the list doesn't look that dramatically different, but the 2011 list doesn't pack the same punch as the 2010 one. Posey, Bumgarner and Dun Runzler are off the list in 2011, and the aura of the Giants rankings kind of diminishes as a result. Despite the losses though, many of the same players are there. Thomas Neal, Ehire Adrianza, Brandon Crawford, and Francisco Peguero are still prospects of note that still bring high hopes for the future of this Giants organization.

Unfortunately, there are a few guys who have fallen out of favor with "experts" and have questionable futures in this Giants organization. Roger Kieschnick tumbled big time in Richmond and out of the Top 10 after being ranked No. 5 in 2010 (then again, that probably was a reach considering his strikeout percentage). Clayton Tanner also tumbled out of the Top-10 after being ranked 8th going into the 2010 year. And Waldis Joaquin? He's not even in the Giants organization (he was released from the 40-man last season).

Additionally, those aren't the only prospects whose stocks have taken a hit. Conor Gillaspie and Nick Noonan came in with a lot of promise after being drafted in the first rounds of the 2008 and 2007 drafts, respectively. And yet, neither has made a big dent in the minors, as Gillaspie has struggled with his fielding and power, while Noonan has been over-matched offensively (though to be fair, he was probably rushed to Double-A last year and should have started the year in San Jose). Henry Sosa has also fallen into the Gillaspie and Noonan mold, failing to live up to the promise he garnered after striking out 139 in 125 innings pitched between Salem-Keizer and San Jose in 2007 (then again, injuries have been the main cause to Sosa's struggles).

Should Giants be fearful that the managements is reverting back to the old days, when the talent pool was thin in the minors and instead money was being spent through free agency on older vets like Dave Roberts and Matt Morris?

In the words of Lee Corso, I would say "not so fast my friend."

Yes, it may be easy to think that the farm system is in trouble with Posey and Bumgarner, two of our most prized prospects that past couple of seasons, no longer in the minors. Furthermore, it may be easy to get jealous when you look at systems like Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Toronto, which are packed to the brim with promising young talent. Also, the 20th future talent ranking according to Fangraphs doesn't exactly make Giants fans feel easy. When you look at the system as a whole though, the future talent in the Giants organization is still solid and bright.

Zach Wheeler, despite struggling through inconsistency and injuries last year, still displayed solid stuff in his first full year in Augusta, and he is off to a dominating start in the California League (18 strikeouts in 15.1 IP, 2-0 record, 0.96 WHIP, 4.02 ERA). Crawford and Adrianza have the potential to be everyday Major League shortstops considering their defensive ability (though they will have to develop some flaws offensively if they want to break into the Majors sooner rather than later). And even though the catcher's position seems to be solidified for the future with Posey, Hector Sanchez and Tommy Joseph showed flashes of promise in their campaigns in the South Atlantic League last season (Sanchez showed some decent plate patience and Joseph showcased solid power with Augusta as he hit 16 home runs).

And let's not forget about the heralded guys Belt and Gary Brown. Belt showed he could handle himself at the Major League level despite having only ONE year of professional experience under his belt (one!). And as for Brown, he's off to a great start in San Jose, as he was hitting .343 with a .819 OPS and 15 stolen bases going into tonight's game (and he hit an inside-the-park home run tonight!).

Sure, the system looked a lot nicer with Posey and Bumgarner, but those guys were elite First Round picks. They lived up to their potential, and the Giants roster is benefiting. That's a good thing. In my mind, it's better that our talent is contributing to our Major League roster rather than Minor League ones like some other teams (such as the Royals for example). It shows not only are we developing our prospects properly, but management is doing a good job investing in the right guys. Yes, the Minor League talent depth will take a hit, but in the long run, the point of prospects is for them to contribute to the Major League club, not just the Minor League ones.

Giants fans really have no reason to fret. The talent pool maybe isn't as deep as it was in 2008, 2009 and even 2010, but it's still chock-full with potential. The names aren't as big as the Posey's, Bumgarner's and even Belt's, but as we have seen so far this year, players are starting to emerge as serious candidates to contribute to the Giants roster in the next three to four years at the soonest.

Is three to four years too long? Maybe, but the talent is fine at the Major League level, and that's not a bad thing to have. With guys like Posey, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, Brian Wilson, and Jonathan Sanchez as our core for the future, there is no need to rush a Brown, Wheeler or Neal (and in some ways, even Belt). As history has showed (especially in our own organization), it's better to develop guys slowly rather than throw them quickly into the fire. Even phenoms like Lincecum and Posey spent some time to develop in the minors before they made the Big League jump. Ask Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Kansas City, teams that rushed their talent to the Majors, how that strategy fared out for them...

It didn't result in any playoff appearances or World Series titles, that's for sure.

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 30, Wendell Fairley, OF

Wendell Fairley is probably a case of why you shouldn't rely on OTF for prospect rankings. On projection alone, Fairley probably doesn't crack the Top-40 of any Giants prospects list (more on that later). However, Fairley intrigues me for a variety of reasons, which is why I included him on this list.

First off, he was a first round pick (No. 29 overall in the 2007 draft), and there is always going to be hype and expectations surrounding a guy who is drafted in the first round. Of course, Fairley was probably a first round pick for financial reasons rather than talent ones. The Giants had multiple supplemental picks after Moises Alou left for free agency, and Fairley, one of four first round draft picks for the Giants in 2007 (along with Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and Nick Noonan), was picked up by the Giants in the late first round mainly because he could be signed easily and at a low cost.

Many experts chided the Fairley pick as one that wouldn't amount too much. And so far, the experts have been right. Fairley, despite showing some raw athleticism and skills in high school, hasn't really excelled in any category since he broke in the minors in 2008. During his first year in Rookie Ball, Fairley struggled to hit for average (.252), but he showed strong plate patience in 238 plate appearances. His OBP was .388 and he had a BB/K ratio of 0.70 (helped by a 10.9 walk percentage), which produced some good advanced numbers (his wOBA in Rookie Ball was .363).

However, Fairley hasn't shown much as he's progressed through the Giants system. After a solid Rookie Ball campaign, Fairley took a big step back in 2009 in Augusta as he hit .243 with a .656 OPS. He didn't show power (three home runs in 390 plate appearances; 0.90 ISO), he struck out a lot (103 whiffs), and the one strength he did show as a rookie didn't translate to the South Atlantic league. He only had 10 more walks despite almost 160 plate appearances and his BB/K ratio fell to 0.35. Once a fringe prospect, Fairely fell totally off the radar after the 2009 season ended.

Despite the lackluster season in the South Atlantic League, the Giants promoted Fairley to San Jose after the organization got a pretty good look at him in Spring Training. Fairely in many ways bounced back a bit in High Single-A. He posted a much better average (.292) and he cut down his strikeouts (his K percentage went from 29.9 percent in 2009 to 22.1 percent in 2010). However, despite playing in a hitter's league, Fairley's power continued to dip. His ISO fell to .054 and he only hit one home run in 439 plate appearance. To compare, Fairely hitting one home run in Municipal Stadium is equivalent to Juan Pierre hitting only one home run in Coors Field (e.g. you must really not have any power).

Fairley is again starting the year in San Jose (predictably) and he is off to a better start. He is hitting .354 right now with an OPS of .853 in 58 plate appearances. Sure, he is still managing only to be a singles hitter (he has only three extra base hits), but his plate patience has been solid, as he has managed to bring back his BB/K ratio to a more respectable number (0.67) after slacking in that category a year ago (0.34). Of course, this year is just a small sample, but considering he has a year of High Single-A ball under his belt, it is expected that Fairley is capable of having a better year in San Jose in 2011 and may be capable of a promotion to Double-A if he can build upon on his good start in the California League.

Despite being athletic, Fairley isn't great on the basepaths. While he stole 10 bases last year, he was caught six times and he has only 19 stolen bases total in his minor league career. Additionally, he suffers from a lot of the same "Fred Lewis" problems: despite sporting some above average athleticism, he doesn't really get to balls as well as you would think (career 1.45 RF/G).

In many way, what intrigues me about Fairley is just the fact that he seems to be a "tools" player. He's got a lot of potential (or seems to have potential), and he could contribute to a team in a myriad of ways, but he's extremely undeveloped as a player overall. The one thing Fairley has going for him is the fact that he's young (he's only 23) and there doesn't seem to be any need to rush him through the system (the Giants are fine in the outfield with guys like Thomas Neal in Fresno).

The one guy I liken Fairley to is Fred Lewis, a "tools" player who showed above average plate patience in the minors. Of course, Lewis was a better base stealer than Fairley, and he also hit better as well in the lower levels (though much like Fairley, Lewis didn't show much power initially, as he hit only two home runs in his first two years in the minors). That being said, Lewis did have a year of college underneath his belt as he played for Southern University before getting drafted by the Giants in the second round of the 2002 draft. Hence, Lewis was a little more developed breaking into the minors than Fairley, who came in as a very raw outfielder out of high school.

Fairley is still developing, and unfortunately for him and the Giants, he is developing slower than expected. However, Fairley is one of those guys who could develop into something should he ever realize and build upon a certain skill set. Right now, it seems to be plate patience and drawing walks, but even then he's been inconsistent in that category over his minor league career. His ceiling may not be high, and he probably won't ever live up to his "first-round pick" billing, but Fairley is a guy Giants fans should pay some attention to. He could develop into a poor-man's Lewis, perhaps even a player on Lewis' level should he ever develop a modicum of power or adeptness on the basepaths.

Whether that's a good or bad thing for Fairley's future though is yet to be determined. Despite Lewis' solid minor league numbers and decent career with the Giants, he wasn't exactly a favorite with the Giants fans or management, as evidenced by him being jettisoned to Toronto last season.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can the Grizzlies Finally Break Through in the PCL in 2011?

If there is one organization in the Giants system that has taken strides in the past couple of years, it has to be the Fresno Grizzlies. Despite the competitiveness of the Pacific Coast League and the South Division, the Grizzlies have made strides from a mediocre squad to one that has been very competitive. After finishing with losing records in 2008 (67-76) and 2009 (71-73), Fresno bounced back in a big way, finishing with a 75-69 record, their first winning record since 2007.

Granted, while the improvement was nice, a late season swoon cost the Grizzlies the South Division to division rival Sacramento, the Oakland A's PCL Affiliate. The Rivercats have had a strangehold on the South Division title, as they have won it in seven of the past eight seasons.

Of course, you could argue the Rivercats' dominance over the Grizzlies is more of an indicator of how good the A's system has been in comparison to the Giants over the past decade. That point is probably true since the A's have built their rosters more through the draft and the farm under Billy Beane rather than the Giants who have built their teams through Free Agency under Brian Sabean. That being said, since 2007, the Giants have really invested more into the draft and their minor league system, which explains the progression the Grizzlies have made as a team the past few years. The Grizzlies are bringing up higher quality players with upside and talent, a far cry from the days when the players mostly manning the Fresno roster were Four-A players who really had little to no shot in terms of making the Giants squad.

This year though, it'll be interesting to see if the Grizzlies can finally break the Rivercats' reign over the South Division and win the Division for the first time since 1998 (their first year of existence).

Many of the crucial elements of the Grizzlies' success from a year ago are gone. Buster Posey was an offensive catalyst with the Grizzlies during the first half last year, but it's safe to say that he's probably not going to see the PCL in the future except for injury rehab assignments. The same goes with Madison Bumgarner, who has found a niche in the Giants rotation (and he still has one despite his early season struggles this year).

Also gone from the Fresno are Jesus Guzman, Eugenio Velez, John Bowker and Matt Downs, players who flip-flopped between Fresno and "cups of coffee" with the Giants club. Sure, all those guys were probably fringe prospects at best, and were (and still are) long-shots in terms of being successful Major League players, but they all contributed to the Grizzlies' offensive and overall success in 2010.

That being said, the Grizzlies do have a lot of players who are capable of having some success in 2011. First base prospect Brett Pill hit 16 home runs last year in Fresno and is off to a good start in 2011, as he is currently hitting .371 with two home runs, 14 RBI and has an OPS of .953. Also, Thomas Neal is off to a decent start, showing good plate patience (.345 OBP) in his first eight games in Triple-A. While the power (.385 slugging) isn't exactly where you would want it, Neal started slow last year as well in Richmond before ending the year with some decent power numbers (12 home runs, .440 slugging).

They key to the Grizzlies offense may be how the journeymen do, as Emmanuel Burriss, Travis Ishikawa and Tyler Graham are vets who will be expected to carry the Grizzlies offense. Burriss is off to a good start, showcasing good average (.339) and stolen base (15) numbers. However, Ishikawa and Graham have struggled a bit this year, as their OPS numbers are .484 and .629, respectively. Brock Bond and Ryan Rohlinger are also infielders who had solid 2010 campaigns in Fresno last year that are off to slow starts (Bond is hitting .229 and Rohlinger is hitting .211), but at least Rohlinger has showed some power potential, as he has hit three home runs and 11 RBI in 63 plate appearances this year.

Conor Gillaspie took a bit of a dive in Richmond last year after putting together a solid 2009 in San Jose, but Gillaspie as at least holding his own a bit with the Grizzlies. He has hit two home runs, and has continued to showcase solid plate patience at the dish (9.7 walk percentage). While he could cut the number of strikeouts (he has whiffed 12 times), Gillaspie is certainly capable of bouncing back in 2011 after losing so much ground as a prospect since breaking into the Majors in 2008.

The pitching seems to be key to the Grizzlies success in 2011, and much like the offense, the Grizzlies will need to replace a lot of arms. Kevin Pucetas and Eric Hacker, two inning-eaters for the Grizzlies a year ago are gone, and the Grizzlies will have to rely on some new arms to carry them through the PCL season. Two starters who have showed some promise this year are Shane Loux and Andrew Kown, who have posted solid ERA numbers (3.72 and 3.18, respectively) in their first 3 starts. While both guys are pretty old (they are 31 and 28, respectively), they could provide some stability to the Grizzlies rotation, since they probably won't be breaking the Giants' rotation anytime soon (barring injury of course).

The bullpen does seem to have some upside. Steve Edlefsen is off to a good start, as he struck out five and only walked one in 6.1 IP. Marc Kroon, Alex Hinshaw and Henry Sosa are also solid options, though they have struggled with walk issues this year and in the past. That being said, Kroon (who's pretty old at 38...but hey, he was a Baseball America Top-100 prospect in 1995!) and Hinshaw still can strike guys out, as they have put up good K/9 numbers this year in their appearances (Kroon has a K/9 of 11.4 and Hinshaw has a 11.1 rate). If Sosa can get his walk issues under control (9.0 BB/9 rate this year), he may be another good option, though it's safe to say he's not exactly the prospect he once was a couple of years ago, when many Giants fans thought he could be a viable option in the rotation or bullpen for the Giants in the near future.

In terms of projection, the Grizzlies should be where they were a year ago: in the mix with the Rivercats for the division title. However, the pitching (a weak spot for the team the past few years) needs to have some good years out of their "older" prospects, and Sosa and Edlefsen need to capture some of the promise they showcased a couple of years ago when they were lighting up the lower levels. If they can do that, then the Grizzlies could be in good shape, because the Grizzlies have the offensive firepower to compete in the PCL in 2011.

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 31, Ryan Cavan, IF

Ryan Cavan is probably a victim of depth in the Giants organization. While Cavan has posted solid numbers in his first two years in the minors, his age (24), position (infielder, primarily playing second, third and shortstop), as well as his low draft position (16th round) have him going under the radar on most people's prospects lists.

And yet, while he hasn't garnered as much publicity as infielders such as Nick Noonan, Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Crawford, for example, Cavan has carved a nice career for himself in his first couple of years in the minors.

After being drafted in the 16th round in the 2009 MLB Draft, Cavan reported to Salem-Keizer, and put up a solid line in 223 plate appearances: he hit .277, posted an OPS of .917 and added nine home runs and 33 RBI with the Volcanoes. Last season, he was promoted to the South Atlantic League, and also performed well with the Green Jackets. In 136 games and 608 plate appearances, Cavan hit .283 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI. Despite the nice home run totals, Cavan's OPS did take a dive from the Northwest League, as it fell from .917 to .803 in Augusta.

This year, Cavan has started the year in San Jose, and unfortunately for him, he hasn't exactly gotten off to a sterling start. He is currently hitting .233 in 67 plate appearances during the Giants' first 14 games of the year. The only upside with Cavan is despite lackluster average and OBP numbers (.284), he is still showcasing some good power in the California League. He has four home runs, 16 RBI, 11 runs scored and his slugging percentage is .500 (his ISO is .267, which is almost 100 points higher than the .168 ISO he posted in Augusta a season ago).

As a prospects, you would like to think Cavan is a sleeper. He was known for being patient at the dish during his collegiate career (his BB/K ratio was 1.41 in college), and that has pretty much continued as he has transitioned to professional ball (his BB/K ratio was 1.03 in Salem Keizer and 0.58 in Augusta). The big difference with Cavan as a professional seems to be power, as he hit only three home runs with the Gauchos (he only played one year with UCSB), but he has launched 30 so far as a professional. His emphasis on power may explain his decline in walks (his walk rate has decreased as he has increased level) as well as his increase in whiffs (his strikeout percentage jumped from 17.2 percent last year to 21.8 percent). However, power is a nice upside to have, especially in the infield.

Cavan doesn't have much speed on the basepaths (only 19 stolen bases out of 29 attempts in 208 minor league games) and he has had a tendency to boot the ball around a bit in the infield (45 errors committed), but he is athletic enough to make plays (career 4.89 RF/G), and play multiple positions, which increases his stock and chances to get promoted in the Giants system.

While he doesn't have the name power of Crawford or Adrianza, Cavan is still a solid prospects. The only problem is that there is so much depth in the system when it comes to the infield, that Cavan doesn't seem to have much of a shot in terms of moving quickly from San Jose to Richmond, let alone to the Major Leagues. Additionally, Cavan seems to be in the Kevin Frandsen/Matt Downs/Ryan Rohlinger mold: he is a good middle infield prospect that can showcase some upside with the bat, but overall, he probably won't have much of an impact at the Major League level. His glove isn't spectacular (though it certainly is serviceable), and while he shows good plate patience, nothing about his other statistics really stand out or scream "big league success". With Brock Bond and Emmanuel Burriss holding things down in Fresno, it will probably be a few seasons before we see Cavan crack a Grizzlies roster, let alone the Giants one.

Would Cavan succeeding be nice? Sure, it would be a good story and he has showcased some good numbers so far in the minors. In the long run though, he's probably is on the Frandsen track, with Triple-A probably being as high as he gets in the Giants system sans a "cup of coffee" here and there.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 32, Chris Dominguez, 3B

Note: This is NOT a prospect rankings. If you are looking for a ranking, check out John Sickels' report on the Giants system or SF Dugout's Top 50 Prospects for 2011. This is more of a look of guys in the Giants system I will be paying close attention to and guys who have interested me over the past couple of years. This is not so much a projection of who is going to be the best, but rather an introspective look on who seems to be the most intriguing to me in the Giants system.

Chris Dominguez brings one thing to the table as a Giants prospect: power. Known for mashing in his tenure at Louisville (he hit 61 home runs during his time with the Cardinals), Dominguez, a 3rd round pick by the Giants in 2009, is known for hitting home runs and driving in runs. In his first full year, in a combined stint between Arizona Rookie Ball and the Northwest League, Dominguez hit 11 home runs, drove in 40 RBI, and hit .263 with an OPS of .767.

Last year in the South Atlantic League with Augusta, Dominguez didn't slow down when it came to hitting home runs. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 101 RBI in 603 plate appearances with the Green Jackets, and posted an average of .272 and an OPS of .782. Even this year in San Jose, Dominguez continues to showcase his premier skill: he has hit four home runs and 13 RBI in 62 plate appearances.

However, while Dominguez can hit home runs, his other skills have been questionable. Dominguez's fielding at third base has been debated, as he committed 32 errors last year with the Green Jackets. Many experts feel that while Dominguez may be able to hit well enough to advance through the Giants system, he may be better suited to transition to another position to maximize his value (his six foot, three-inch frame is probably more prototypical of a first baseman).

Additionally, Dominguez has had some contact issues and isn't exactly patient at the plate either. He struck out 133 times (23.8 K percentage) and only walked 35 times (5.8 walk percentage) in the South Atlantic League last season. That proved to be the same during his rookie years, as his BB/K ratios were pretty below average (0.33 in Rookie ball, 0.16 in the Northwest League) for a guy coming out of college. If Dominguez is struggling with walks and strikeouts in the lower minors, that doesn't exactly bode well for his future as he moves up the ladder in the Giants system. While asking him to become more patient at the plate is a stretch, he has to minimize the strikeouts if he wants to have a shot to break into the Majors and earn a spot on this Giants roster in the future.

As a prospect, there is some things to like about Dominguez. His power is nice, and while he doesn't necessarily draw a lot of walks, his average seems to be in a good range that makes up for his strikeouts and lack of walks. Additionally, he can swipe a bag here and there, as he stole 14 last year with the Green Jackets and 12 overall in 2009 (and he was only caught 2 times in 2009 to boot). Granted, he has seen some good fortune in the minors so far (he's never had a BABIP under .311 in the minors), so one has to wonder what his stat line will look like should he hit a season where his luck dwindles and his BABIP falls. His numbers could look bad and hold back his development and advancement through the system. For a guy who's currently 24 years old, he can't afford to have many bumps on the road.

Dominguez could prove to be a bopper in the Jonny Gomes mold (mediocre average, bad OBP, solid home runs and slugging numbers). That being said, his age and BB/K ratios keep me from being too high on him, though he certainly could change that impression if he can put together a solid campaign in the California League this season (and he is off to a good start with a .345 average and .940 OPS).

Callup Profile: Ryan Vogelsong, Right-Handed Pitcher

Ryan Vogelsong's path to the Giants 25-man roster is a funny one. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Giants in 1998 and bounced around in the Giants' minor league system, pitching in San Jose and Shrevport (the Giants' Double-A affiliate at the time). In 2001, a day before the trade deadline, the Giants included Vogelsong in a deal with Armando Rios for John Vander Wal and....gasp...Jason Schmidt.

While Vogelsong always posted strong strikeout numbers in the minors (he has a career K/9 average of 8.9 in the minors), he never really could put anything together with the Pirates. Bouncing between starting pitcher and reliever roles, Vogelsong spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, making 103 appearances, 33 starts, and finished with an ERA of 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.61. Safe to say, the Giants seemed to get the better end of the deal when you compare Vogelsong's Pirate career with Schmidt's tenure as a Giant.

His advanced numbers in the Big Leagues though aren't as bad as his traditional stats. Since 2001, his ERA has always been higher than his FIP at the Major League level, as his career Major League FIP is 4.90 (his career ERA is 5.83). However, despite decent K/9 numbers over his Major League career (6.17), he has had struggles with his control. His career K/BB ratio is 1.41, and the only time when it was over two was in 2000, his rookie year where he only pitched six innings (hence, not a good sample).

Since being granted free agency by the Pirates in 2006, Vogelsong wasn't able to find a Major League team and spent the 2007-2009 seasons in Japan. From 2007-2008, he pitched for the Hanshin Tigers and in 2009 he finished his Japanese career with the Orix Buffaloes. Vogelsong was given a shot to earn a spot with the Phillies last year, but it didn't exactly pan out, as he was released by the Phillies in mid-July. He did manage to find a spot on the Angels' Triple-A club, but he never got a serious shot at the Majors, as Vogelsong spent the entire season in Salt Lake.

On April 17th, after the Giants placed Barry Zito on the disabled list, the Giants purchased his contract, hoping to get some temporary production out of the journeyman pitcher. In his first major league game in five years, Vogelsong went 1.1 IP, against the Colorado Rockies on April 18th, giving up a hit and striking out one. Before being called up, he flashed some solid stuff in Fresno, as he went 2-0 in two starts and 11.1 IP. He allowed eight hits, three runs and five walks in his first couple of starts with the Grizzlies, finishing with a 1.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP before being called up to the big-league roster.

  • Despite his age (33), Vogelsong still can strike guys out. He struck out 17 batters in 11.1 IP this year in the Pacific Coast League, and he had K/9 rates of 11.2 and 9.1 in Lehigh Valley (the Phillies' Triple-A Club) and Salt Lake, respectively. While Vogelsong may not be a long-term solution in the rotation, he certainly has the strikeout potential to make an impact in the bullpen. The Giants have had luck with high strikeout guys before who had down careers with other Major League teams, but were able to bounce back with the Giants (e.g. Santiago Casilla, Denny Bautista, etc.).
  • Vogelsong is a relatively low-risk, low-cost option for the Giants, and he gives some depth to a rather shallow area in their organization. Let's face it: pitching isn't exactly a strong point in the Giants system now, and even the pitching prospects who do have promise seem to be a couple of years away (at the soonest) from contributing at the Major League level. Vogelsong is a good stopgap, and he'll be relatively easy to part with should he not pan out with the Giants.

    • It's a good story (breaking into the majors after spending the past four seasons in Japan and Triple-A), but for the most part, there doesn't seem to be much potential for Vogelsong. Even though he posted strong strikeout numbers in Triple-A last year, he also walked a ton of batters as well (62 walks in 95.1 IP). Control has always seemed to be Vogelsong's achillies heel over his career, and despite a short stint in Japan, it seems has if his control hasn't really improved since coming back stateside. While Vogelsong neutralized his walks in Fresno this year, you have to remember that it was a very small sample, and it isn't necessarily a sure-fire indicator that his control problems are a thing of the past.
    • While his minor numbers are solid (career 2.57 K/BB ratio; 4.06 ERA), his history is very checkered. On a WAR basis, Vogelsong has a career WAR accumulation of 0.3. At the very best, he is a replacement-level player. Now, that might not be a bad thing considering he is only a temporary solution until Zito comes back off the disabled list. However, with the Giants defending their title, Giants fans and management probably want players who are going to help their chances to repeat. Judging by his past history, Vogelsong is probably not going to do that.

    Outlook for 2011

    As a Giants fan, the organization has gotten very lucky the past five years with relievers. Seriously. I don't know why, but relievers looking for second chances have fared well under Brian Sabean's tenure. Keiichi Yabu, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Brandon Medders, Santiago Casilla, Denny Bautista (for a little bit anyways), all have bounced back from down years with other teams to give solid productions in the Orange and Black. Now, is Vogelsong going to have the same impact as a Casilla, Lopez or Ramirez? Odds probably say no, but at the same time, it's worth giving him a shot, just to see if the Giants brass can strike gold and get another career year from a reliever who has a history of underachieving.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    The Promise of Brandon Belt's MLB Debut Stint

    Before today's 10-2 shellacking at the hands of the Rockies, the Giants activated Cody Ross of the disabled list and predictably sent down Brandon Belt to Fresno. The decision was expected after Belt's much-anticipated, but somewhat disappointing Major League debut. Despite hitting .282 with three home runs in Spring Training, Belt looked overmatched at times at the plate during the regular season and only hit .192 in 17 games.

    While most people would look at Belt's callup as a bit of a failure, Giants fans have to be somewhat relieved with Belt's cup of coffee stint this year. While the average wasn't pretty (sub-.200 averages never are), a lot of his numbers were actually very promising. In 60 plate appearances, he scored seven runs, drew eight walks, hit a home run and had four RBI. His walk rate calculated to 13.3 percent, and despite striking out 13 times (a 25 percent strikeout percentage), his BB/K ratio was still solid at 0.62.

    Additionally, Belt's plate discipline numbers were comforting as well. His O-swing percentage (swings outside the strike zone percentage) was 21.5 percent, which is below league average. Of course, his contact percentage was a bit below league average at 77.5 percent (league average is about 80 percent) and his swinging strike percentage was above league average at 9.5 percent (league average is around 8 percent). However, you have to remember Belt had only 61 plate appearances above Double-A going into this year. To break into the Major Leagues despite having only 61 plate appearances in Fresno, and show pretty above-average plate discipline is a testament to him as a hitter.

    And yet, much like I anticipated, Belt simply hasn't developed enough yet to have an immediate impact at the next level with the Giants. His power numbers (.077 ISO) were extremely down in comparison to what we saw last year in the minors (his ISO was .286 and .333 in Richmond and Fresno, respectively), and his BABIP was low to boot (.237). While some of this could be blamed on him just being unlucky, his low line drive rate (15.7 percent) and GB/FB ratio (2.00) probably show that he was overmatched a bit and needs to regain and retool a little bit before his next Major League callup. Thankfully for Giants fans, it's early in the season and it's not farfetched to think that if Belt can regain his form and power in Fresno (which is highly possible because the PCL is notoriously known as a hitter's league), he'll be back on the Giants 25-man roster sometime in July or August.

    Overall, it would have been nice to see Belt break onto the scene like Buster Posey did last year and be a favorite for the Rookie of the Year award (like some people thought). But unfortunately, those expectations were probably a little too high and unfair on Belt. Belt had less professional experience than last year's Rookie of the Year (Posey had 208 plate appearances with the Grizzlies in 2010 before he was called up), and he really never was a prospect of Posey's caliber. Posey was the fifth overall pick in the draft, had signed the highest signing bonus for a draft pick in team history, and in 2010 was the seventh-best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Belt was a fifth-round pick and was the 23rd-best prospect going into the 2011 season (he was unranked going into last season). So the Posey-Belt comparison was probably a case of overreaching by Giants fans.

    That being said, Belt still has the chance to be good, and I think he still should be the Giants' first baseman of the future as expected. The skill set is there, and the good foundation with his plate discipline is going to bode good things when he gets back to the Major League level. Furthermore, unlike Posey's situation when he was called up, there really isn't a dire need for a first baseman. Aubrey Huff is best-suited for the first base position, and our defense is a lot better with Ross and Nate Scheirholtz in right rather than Huff.

    Thus, there needs to be no need to panic for Giants fans or Giants management. Belt is going to be a solid, productive player for this Giants organization down the line. He just needs a little more development (as expected), and he's still young enough and early enough in his career to go through some more development in the minors. I expect him to do well in Fresno this year, where a lot of position prospects have been fostered nicely in the last few years (Posey, Nate Schierholtz and John Bowker being prime examples...they all had very good offensive campaigns with the Grizzlies).

    Callup Profile: Darren Ford, Outfielder

    With Andres Torres hitting the DL on April 10th, the Giants called up Darren Ford, the speedy outfielder who spent the last season in the Eastern League with Richmond and started off the year in the Pacific Coast League with Fresno. Ford had gotten off to a good start with the Grizzlies, as he was batting .323 with a .848 OPS in 33 plate appearances to start off the year. Additionally, he had scored six runs, had two doubles, a home run and seven stolen bases on seven attempts in his seven game start in Triple-A, so it's safe to say he was deserving of the callup.

    In all reality though, Ford is mostly likely due for a cup of coffee callup with the Giants until Torres returns off the Disabled List. Though Ford offers a nice speed skill set for the Giants and can cover some ground in the outfield (he had a 2.44 RF/G last year with the Flying Squirrels), the Giants outfield is crowded already with Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz, Pat Burrell, Mark Derosa and Cody Ross (who was just activated off the DL today with Brandon Belt being optioned to Fresno...more on this later). Furthermore, Ford probably needs a year of Triple-A under his belt before he can get some serious consideration for playing time in the Giants outfield. After a solid season in San Jose in 2009 where he hit .300, posted an .843 OPS and stole 35 bases (albeit he was old for the level at 23), he kind of cooled off in the Eastern League, as his average and OPS fell to .251 and .680, respectively. While he still showcased some base-stealing ability (he swiped 37 bases), Ford really wasn't considered a factor for the 25-man roster going into Spring Training this year.

    • Ford can steal bases, though he probably could be more efficient at it (he was caught stealing 27 times in 2009 and 2010). With Torres really the only base stealing threat, Ford offers a much-needed skill set to this Giants roster.
    • Ford showcases decent plate patience. From 2007-2009, he posted walker percentages over 10 at every level he played at and in Richmond, his walk percentage was 7.6 percent. While his BB/K ratio dipped a bit (0.37) from his impressive 2009 (0.51), Ford always has shown a decent difference between his batting average and OBP at every level he's played at.
    • With outfielders like Burrell and perhaps Huff (though he's probably going back to first when Brandon Belt eventually gets sent down to Fresno), there is definitely a need on the corners to cover ground, especially when Torres isn't in the lineup. While he's not on Torres' level, Ford has earned good reports as a solid outfielder who can cover ground at any outfield position. Considering AT&T's dimensions, his defensive ability and athleticism is definitely a plus.

    • While his walk numbers have been solid, he does strike out a lot for a leadoff guy. He struck out a 106 times in 2010 and 97 times in 2009. In 2008, in a combined stint in San Jose and Brevard County (he was in the Brewers' system before he was acquired by the Giants in the Ray Durham deal), he whiffed a 130 times. Yes, Ford is patient at the plate, but he needs to neutralize his strikeouts a bit, especially considering how his walk percentage dipped in the jump from A-plus ball to Double-A.
    • Much like any leadoff hitter, Ford doesn't showcase much power. However, he doesn't get many extra base hits either, as his slugging percentage has only been over .400 once at any level he's played at in the minors (that was in 2009 when he slugged .465 in a hitter's park in San Jose). While his slap-hitting style isn't necessarily a bad thing, with his speed set, you wish he could total more bags with his hits.

    Outlook for 2011

    Ford is still a raw talent in the Fred Lewis-mold (And I liked Lewis). He has a lot of athleticism, but he doesn't exactly have a lot of power and his athleticism seems to carry him to success more often than not. That may work at lower levels such as A-ball, but when you get to higher levels of play, that doesn't seem to work quite as often. While his campaign in Richmond was a bit disappointing considering how well he hit in San Jose, it wasn't surprising or all that discouraging considering the jump to Double-A (and the Eastern League) has always been unkind to hitters (case in point, his BABIP dipped to .314 after he had a .379 BABIP in San Jose the year before).

    Ford's ceiling as a prospect may not be very high, and not just this year (I don't expect him to play very much unless Torres' injury really persists), but in the long-run as well (but that's understandable considering he was an 18th round pick). That being said, considering speed is definitely a need for this Giants roster, Ford could be an interesting prospect who could make a run for some playing time in the outfield in the future, especially when the roster clears up after Ross, Burrell, Rowand and Derosa's contracts expire in the next couple of years.