Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Giants did it…they freaking did it…VICTORY!!! (Memories from the 2010 World Series)

I just have to write. I’m a wreck. I’m enthralled. I’m weeping. I’m shaking.

The Giants won the World Series. Nothing can bring this down. Nothing. Everything else is secondary to this feeling. After all those years. All those years where it was disappointment after disappointment. 1962. 1987. 1989. 1993. 1997. 2000. 2002. 2003. The putrid period that was 2004–2008. Armando Benitez. Solomon Torres. Scott Spiezio. Pro Player Park. K-Rod. That damn Rally Monkey. Benny Agbayani. Bobby Jones. Felix Rodriguez melting down. The Florida Marlins. The New York Yankees. Willie McCovey coming up just a couple of feet short. The Atlanta Braves coming back. The St. Louis Cardinals. Steve Finley as a Dodger. Steve Finley as a Giant.

The Ghosts are gone. On All Saints day. It seems fitting. It seems right. And I couldn’t be more thankful to God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, Joseph Smith, Xerxes, the Spartans that beat Xerxes’ army in “300” and whatever Shintoists believe in. I’m just on a high. I’m on a high, a cloud, and the powers that be couldn’t have been more generous.

It’s strange to be at this feeling. People know how much of a Giants fan I am. People know what I went through when I started writing about the Giants on a regular basis starting last year, the summer before I entered the novitiate. Some people will thank my fandom is crazy, over-the-top, perhaps even stupid. But it isn’t. Being a fan is a marriage. A REAL fan too. Not somebody who just picks a team because they are hot or they are good. Being a real fan is like committing to someone. You know their faults, you know they are going to disappoint you more often than not, and you know that your loyalty will put you in situations you don’t want to be in when you have had too many Whiskey sours (cough…Tattle Tale room…cough). And yet, you have to do this. In order to experience this kind of payoff, this kind of feeling, emotion, you need to commit to a team in terms of a matrimonial relationship. Or else, there’s no point in being a fan, there’s no reason in following sports.

When the Giants started the season, I felt the marriage hitting a skid. I loved what they did last year. I loved Pablo Sandoval. I loved Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson (for better and worse). And yet, I just didn’t see this team make improvements. We signed a guy coming off his worst statistical year in his career. We signed two guys who were coming off major injuries. We had a catcher who was blocking our catcher of the future, and a run of the mill starter blocking our pitcher of the future behind Lincecum and Cain.

I wasn’t giving up, but I was pessimistic. Giants fans usually are. We know that whenever there is hope (e.g. 2004 when we signed a “closer” in Benitez), the Gods have had a custom of crushing us down. And it seemed to be that way to start the year. The Giants at one point in June were in fourth place in the National League. The pitching looked to be mortal. Pablo looked liked Randall Simon (e.g. not good) and it just looked like another disappointing year, much like 2004 or 1998, when we were coming off hopeful seasons the previous season.

And something changed. As soon as I started following the Giants less (not by chance mind you) the Giants started winning. I was working in a summer camp where I had no TV or Internet access and the Giants had their best month of July since 2000. I had been entrenched in my work here at Red Cloud when they came up hot in September. The Giants just kept doing it and doing it, right when I was less and less involved and thus, I started to believe “Crap! I’m jinxing them when I watch them! I better watch from afar!”

And I couldn’t keep away this postseason though. After watching the first couple of games on the gamecast, I started watching the games again. I had to. And they did it. Cody Ross became a stud. Edgar Renteria became a stud. Madison Bumgarner proved Spring Training doesn’t mean jack. And Rob Neyer became the most asinine baseball analyst in America after he continued to defend the Phillies and Rangers with each loss. (“The Giants are just getting lucky!”)

Baseball is a funny game. Following a sports team is a funny thing too. It’s amazing how you can find your life correlating with the sports team you follow. You feel pain when they experience pain. You feel anguish when they falter. And yet, you also share in the joys. I feel like the Giants are almost my family, the family that I’m so connected with, that they make or break me depending on how they do. You should have seen me in June. The Giants were miserable, and by some strange cosmic fate, I was also miserable in my own life. And yet, they picked me up. The Giants gave a pessimistic, “waiting for doom” person like me hope to believe in things, believe in life and believe in miracles and the underdog. They made me believe in things like luck, picking yourself up and proving people wrong. They made me believe that confidence isn’t a bad thing as long as you do it the right way. And they made me believe that life…is surprising, a rollercoaster, but worth the ride at the same time. I just keep thinking about the line from the Grandma in “Parenthood”:

“[The Rollercoaster] goes up and down, side to side, all over the place. I have never experienced something so terrifying in my life. All my brothers and sisters…they went on the merry-go-round. All that does is go up and down. Nothing exciting about that. I’ll take the rollercoaster.”

That’s not just Giants baseball. It’s life. Giants baseball has been my symbol, my hope for life. Because sure, you experience things like Game 6 in Anaheim. You experience Barry Zito getting $126 million dollars. You experience Agbayani hitting a game-winning homer and never doing anything in his career ever again. But then you have this…a World Series. A world series ring. And I was alive to see it.
Sure, I know what it means to SF. I know a lot of Giants fans have been living a lot longer than I have. But I’m going to be selfish here. It means something more to me. I have almost a month left here at Red Cloud and on the Rez. Anything can happen, both good or bad and who knows, maybe I’ll hit that bad streak awful soon.

But I’ll just think of tonight. Lincecum’s gem. Renteria’s home run. Wilson striking out Cruz to end the game on a 3–2 count.

And I’ll feel okay. I won’t feel doom about whatever the situation is, because it’ll remind me that despite all the bad times and crap we go through in life, there is hope and there is promise and there is joy.

Who says sports can’t teach us things?

Friday, May 3, 2019

Appreciating the Final Days of Bumgarner as a Giant

Giants Ace Madison Bumgarner is still a Giant. Yes, there are rumors swirling more than ever, especially as the Giants sit in last place in the NL West at 13–18 as of May 1st, and sport the worst offense in all of baseball, according to wRC+. But as of now, Bumgarner is still the Giants’ best pitcher in the rotation, and arguably the best and biggest superstar on the Giants roster as of this moment (the only other competition may be battery mate Buster Posey). MadBum will bring Giants fans to the stadium, and not only will he perform, but he will also ignite memories of a Giants past that was a lot more successful and memorable.

Last night fit that bill perfectly, as Bumgarner went six innings, and struck out eight Dodger hitters, while only allowing four hits, two walks, and a run on 114 pitches. It was classic Bumgarner, what Giants fans have been used to for about a decade: not exactly the prettiest, not perfect, but still solid when it mattered most. And as usual, Bumgarner did it on the big stage, against Giants fans’ most hated opponent at Oracle Park.

Bumgarner didn’t get the win (per usual this year, the offense couldn’t back up the Giants’ stellar pitching), but it was a nice showcase for the 29-year-old ace, who showed that despite injury issues the past couple of years, he can still bring it and compete at the highest level. And while that is nice for Giants fans who may still hold onto the glimmer of hope that the organization can still stay in the playoff race (after all…we’ve only been a month into the season), it is more relevant to other organizations in baseball: Bumgarner is available, he is in the last year of his deal, and he can still perform against the best teams in baseball.

As he walked off the mound after finishing the sixth inning, you could sense that this performance may be the beginning of the end for MadBum in the black and orange. With pitching a premium around the league, and more crucial than ever for playoff qualification as well as success, there are not many pitchers on the market who are as affordable and reputable as Bumgarner. And for the Giants, with a terrible offense, an aging roster, and a thin farm system, getting some kind of return to booster this organization from the bottom up is more important than ever for new head honcho Farhan Zaidi, who was hired as Bobby Evans’ replacement to breathe new life in San Francisco. It won’t be a matter of “if” Bumgarner will be traded…more like a matter of “when.”
And it’s bittersweet because Bumgarner has been one of the best Giants pitchers…well…ever.

After Barry Bonds’ “retirement” in 2007, the Giants put a premium on developing the pitching, which never was “great” during Bonds’ tenure in the Bay Area (unless you consider Livan Hernandez and Shawn Estes “great”). The “swing for the fences” approach provided some fireworks and storylines during the Bonds era, but often it failed to lead to much significant or consistent regular season and postseason success. Then general manager at the time, Brian Sabean, shifted the Giants’ focus from offense (relying on aging power vets like Bonds and Moises Alou, for example, failed to get the Giants a World Series title) to pitching and defense (to prevent runs in Oracle Park’s spacious outfield) and can be credited for developing a home-grown rotation and plucky, on the cheap bullpen that set up their three-World-Series run from 2010–2014.
The shift in organizational approach started with Matt Cain, who went 13–12 as a rookie in 2005, and ended up being a workhorse for the Giants for nearly a decade en route to three All-Star appearances (2009, 2011, 2012). Then “The Freak” Tim Lincecum joined him, earning back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 while helping the Giants go from cellar-dweller to playoff contender. And while those two aces certainly experienced incredible high’s as Giants, it wasn’t until Bumgarner came along in 2010 (he debuted in 2009, but his first full season wasn’t until 2010) that the rotation really solidified and the Giants became the NL West juggernaut that they were from 2010–2016.
While Cain and Lincecum had more regular season brass and accolades (the highest Bumgarner ever finished in the Cy Young standings was fourth in 2014 and 2016), no other pitcher in the Giants organization was more valuable. From 2011–2016, Bumgarner was the ninth most valuable pitcher in baseball, according to WAR. Take a look at the chart below, and you can see that Bumgarner, though he has not won a Cy Young in his career, is up there statistically with past Cy Young winners such as the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, Nationals’ Max Scherzer, and Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, just to name a few.

Since 2016, it has been a rougher patch for Bumgarner, as injuries limited him to only 40 starts and 240 innings in 2017 and 2018 combined (he had no fewer than 32 starts and 204 innings every season from 2011 to 2016). Of course, he’s not alone in the Giants rotation when it comes to problems: big free agent pickup Johnny Cueto has also struggled to stay healthy (he missed most of last year due to arm issues, and will miss most, if not all, of this year due to Tommy John surgery), and Jeff Samardzija has struggled with inconsistency (15 losses in 2017; a 5.44 FIP in 2018). But despite the health question marks, Bumgarner still flashes that 2011–2016 self more often than not: he had a 3.32 and 3.26 ERA in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and though his ERA is higher in 2019 than the previous two years (3.92), his FIP is actually better (3.26), a reverse from the previous two seasons where his FIP (3.99 and 3.95, respectively) was higher than his ERA the past two seasons. If Bumgarner continues to pitch like last night, it will only be a matter of time before his ERA regresses closer to his career average (3.06).

But then again, Bumgarner probably won’t be around long enough in San Francisco for Giants fans to see it get there this season.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Poll Results: Diamondbacks Best Farm, Brown Giants Top Prospect

So, with the polls now closed, I figured it would be nice to recap some of the polls and kind of throw my own two cents on the results. A couple of new polls will be up this week, so it'll be more fodder for people to play with here on the blog.

Question 1: Who has the Best Farm System in the NL West?

San Francisco Giants: 8 votes (30 percent)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 10 votes (38 percent)
Colorado Rockies: 2 votes (7 percent)
Los Angeles Dodgers: 0 votes (0 percent)
San Diego Padres: 6 votes (23 percent)

Total votes: 26

OTF's Take: With pitchers Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley heading the list, it makes sense why the Diamondbacks were voted with having the best system in the NL West. Initially, I put the Padres because I liked the Yonder Alonso-Yasmani Grandal combo, but in terms of top-end talent, the Padres do compare in comparison to the Diamondbacks. Considering the need for pitching and the ballpark factors that favor hitters, legitimate pitching prospects are a need in the Arizona system, and they seem to have that in the three-headed monster of Bauer, Skaggs and Bradley.

The Giants got a lot of votes, but I'm not sure they would have gotten so many had this been a neutral-site. I like Gary Brown and Joe Panik, but beyond that and the system is very questionable. I would argue that the Rockies have the third best system in the NL West with the Giants following very closely behind. That being said, a lot of the prospects in the Giants system are pretty raw, so I think the Giants could pull into third place should they get some solid performances from some guys in the lower minors.

As for the Dodgers, they're the best team in the NL West right now (no thanks to Matt Kemp), but the system is looking thin with the graduation of Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra and Dee Gordon. Zach Lee is a legit prospect, but he seems a few years away and after Lee, their system is pretty questionable. With a new ownership group though, I expect that to change dramatically in the next couple of years.

Question No. 2: Who is the Giants' No. 1 Prospect in 2012?

Gary Brown: 31 votes (72 percent)
Joe Panik: 2 votes (4 percent)
Tommy Joseph: 2 votes (4 percent)
Heath Hembree: 3 votes (6 percent)
Andrew Susac: 1 vote (2 percent)
Francisco Peguero: 0 votes (0 percent)
Kyle Crick: 1 vote (0 percent)
Eric Surkamp: 2 votes (4 percent)
Other: 2 votes (4 percent)

Total votes: 43

OTF's Take: Not a big surprise here considering Brown is the consensus top prospect according to almost every publication and blog (with Seedlings 2 Stars being the lone exception; they rank Surkamp higher than Brown which to me, is ridiculous). At 72 percent, it is obvious that Giants fans are as hopeful as most analysts out there when it comes to Brown's future. He's off to a slow start, but even now, Brown still remains the Giants' best prospect by a wide margin.

Hembree comes in at second with three votes and with the injury to Brian Wilson, Hembree could see some time in the Giants bullpen by June. He already made the transition to Fresno a couple of weeks ago, so it's obvious that the Giants are looking for him to contribute to the Big League club sooner rather than later. Panik, Joseph and Surkamp come in at second with two votes each and Susac and Crick follow with one vote. The most surprising non-vote getter was Peguero who received none. I find this surprising because Jonathan Mayo ranked Peguero No. 99 in his Top-100 MLB prospects list going into 2012.

In terms of the other, I'm guessing Ehire Adrianza and Hector Sanchez were the one who garnered the votes. I like both of them, but at the same time, they aren't in the same tier as Brown and not even in the same tier as Hembree, Panik and Joseph. That being said, Sanchez is holding his own as the Giants' backup catcher, so he's off to a good start to begin 2012, even if he is now technically graduated as a prospect.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Can 2012 Be Bounce Back Campaigns for Juan Perez and Nick Noonan?

Wow...12 days. Can't really apologize for that long a lay-off, especially considering my history (it would be like Rick Pitino apologizing for another relationship out of wedlock). But, with school being what it is here, and my responsibilities to Seedlings 2 Stars, posting here has been more difficult than usual. Hopefully though, I can get back into the swing of things here at OTF. I will be having a recap of general Minor League performances later this week, and should finish off the rankings for good. Of course, considering my inconsistencies with posting, I will make no guarantees (though I will make guarantees to bitch about how much I'm frustrated with the Brandon Belt situation on Twitter...sorry it couldn't be helped).

Two players who have really jumped out to me to begin the year in 2012 are Juan Perez and Nick Noonan. Both were Top-30 prospects according to Baseball America going into 2011 who fell out of the rankings after lackluster years in Double-A Richmond. However, they have regrouped to have solid starts to begin the 2012 year and one has to wonder if they are in the process of regaining their once-lofty prospect statuses. That being said, are their starts legitimate signs of progress? Or are they just good months that are flashes in the pan?

Let's take a look on the outlook for Perez and Noonan for the remainder of the season.

Juan Perez, Outfielder

Age: 25
Current Team: Richmond Flying Squirrels

2012 numbers: .317 average, .359 OBP, .400 slugging percentage, .759 OPS, 10 runs scored, one home run, three stolen bases, three walks, 14 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances (through 16 games).

Why is Perez's Hot Start Promising?

A late-blooming prospect (Perez didn't break into professional ball until he was 23), Perez has the makings of an Andres Torres-esque player (and I liked Torres a lot when he was a Giant). Despite his diminutive stature (he's five-feet, 11 inches and a 185 pounds), he sports decent pop in his bat (he hit 13 home runs in San Jose in 2010) and good speed on the basepaths (he stole 22 bases on 28 attempts in 2011 in Richmond). Even though he struggled in the transition from the California League to the Eastern League last year (he posted a slash of .256/.303/.381 in 497 plate appearances), he has bounced back in a repeat campaign this year, as he is sporting a slash of .317/.359/.400 through 17 games.

With Gary Brown struggling on the offensive end, Perez has been the main catalyst for the Flying Squirrels offense, as he has scored 10 runs and stolen three bases on four attempts. He also has a home run and two doubles, a sign that the power that he displayed in the California League in 2010 wasn't a complete fluke. While it is still early in the year, the solid start in his second year in the EL, along with a good campaign in Spring Training bodes good things for Perez who fell off the radar after the 2011 season. If he continues to build on this solid start, he could be a candidate to move up to Fresno at some point this year, especially if someone gets injured in the Giants outfield.

What Should Giants Fans Expect from Perez for the Remainder of 2012?

Despite the gaudy slash line, Perez's performance has been far from perfect. The biggest concern has been his eye at the plate, which has been raw and unrefined as a professional. Last year, Perez posted a BB/K ratio of 0.29 and this year hasn't been better, despite his familiarity with Eastern League pitching. His BB/K ratio is currently 0.21, highlighted by 14 strikeouts. Add this with a contact rate of 76 percent, and one has to wonder if Perez will ever be able to make consistent enough contact as a professional to be a legitimate Major League player.

That being said, those aspects were concerns of Torres as a professional. However, pre-injury, Torres was able to be a productive player for the Giants during their 2009 and 2010 campaigns. While Torres had a much more patient eye at the plate than Perez, he was also older (Torres was in his early thirties prior to his breakout) and actually was around the same percentage contact-wise. Sans his 2010 campaign in San Jose where he was caught 15 times on 32 attempts, Perez has sported solid speed and efficiency on the basepaths and could be at the very least a platoon player at the Major League level in addition being a solid pinch-running option off the bench. There still is a long way to go for Perez, but his solid April in Richmond is a promising start for the 25-year-old outfielder.

Nick Noonan, Infielder

Age: 22
Current Team: Fresno Grizzlies

2012 numbers: .333 average, .370 OBP, .381 slugging, .751 OPS, 5 runs scored, 1 stolen base, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances.

Why is Noonan's Hot Start So Promising?

Noonan was once a top prospect who held Chase Utley comparisons until he started struggling at the plate starting in 2009 in San Jose. After two lackluster campaigns in Richmond (his Double-A career slash is .226/.290/.297), the Giants decided to move Noonan up to Triple-A to give him a change of pace and scenery. So far, the move has paid off, as Noonan has put up a .751 OPS in 13 games (his previous high OPS was .727 in 2009 in San Jose).

The biggest improvement for Noonan to begin the 2012 year has been his plate approach, as he is currently sporting a BB/K ratio of 0.75. Noonan has always produced good approaches at the plate, for he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.67 and 0.55 in San Jose and Richmond, respectively in 2011. However, considering his campaigns in San Jose and Richmond were repeats of those levels, the fact that he is carrying his disciplined approach to the next level is a promising sign. Furthermore, Noonan has displayed a strong ability to make contact against Pacific Coast League pitching, as his contact rate currently sits at 90 percent for the year. Considering that his career contact rate in Double-A was 78 percent, this is a nice indicator that Noonan is finally honing his approach and abilities at the plate after so many years of disappointing performances in the minors over his professional career.

What Should Giants Fans Expect from Noonan for the Remainder of 2012?

Despite Noonan's nice start at the plate, his defensive play has been a different story. With Charlie Culberson a mainstay at the keystone position and Conor Gillaspie holding down the hot corner, Noonan has flip flopped between shortstop and third base with the Grizzlies in 2012. However, the results have not been good, as he has committed four errors already and is sporting a fielding percentage of .852. If Noonan continues to hit, it is likely that he will get more playing time and thus more opportunities in the field, which naturally will raise his fielding percentage. That being said, Noonan hasn't showed the Giants brass or Grizzlies' coaching staff that his glove merits regular playing time at a certain position so far this year.

Also, while Noonan is obviously performing much better in Triple-A than in Double-A, one has to wonder if his hot start is a true measure of improvement, or if it is proof of the old Brian Sabean-adage that "Triple-A Pitching isn't very good." While it is typical to see top position prospects see extended time in the PCL or IL (International League), the same doesn't ring true for pitchers, as top pitching prospects spend little to no time at all in Triple-A before they make the jump from Double-A to the Majors. Sure, Noonan may be hitting in Fresno, but he might be doing so against Quad-A pitchers or guys who are simply lifetime Minor Leaguers in the Matt Kinney and Kevin Pucetas mold.  Hence, Noonan might be able to sustain the hot start he's built in 2012. Unfortunately, unless his glove work gets better, a solid 2012 campaign might not be a sign that he's ready for the Major Leagues, but rather an example of why PCL stats (especially ones in Fresno) should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Around the Horn: S2S Opening Day Recaps, WTGCTT Lines, Age vs. Level at MCC, Giants Window at BTB, Advanced Stats at MLC

Have a lot of work to catch up on, but wanted to do a quick post here at OTF. I just realized I haven't shot out a lot of links lately, and I figured it would be a good time to throw out some interesting pieces I have read over the past week and share it with people who follow it here. The list complies of a nice array of pieces from some Giants-centric, and just general baseball blogs out there on the Web.

Seedlings 2 Stars Minor League Opening Day Coverage

If you haven't checked it out on the blogroll, please check out the work at Seedlings 2 Stars. It's a Minor League blog run by the FanSided network. Wally Fish runs the baseball side of things and keeps things going at S2S, and they have some great writers who contribute to the site. Nathaniel Stoltz, whom I was a big fan of during his Bleacher Report days, used to write for the site and helped start it, but it seems like he has gone away from the site and is doing something different. Wally asked me to write for the site, and I have contributed three pieces so far: a look at the top Latin American position and pitching prospects from the NL West, and a Opening Day recap of the Sally.

I'm still figuring out my role with the site (kinda tough to write as freely as I do here with so many other writers contributing and being new to the staff), but I expect to write 2-3 times a week for the site on general minor league and perhaps scouting stuff (I would like to delve into more foreign and Latin America scouting pieces, since it doesn't seem anybody on the site has claimed a stake or expertise in that area to my knowledge). So, for now, don't expect much "general" minor league or scouting stuff on this site for the time being (the DPL Profiles and Draft looks I'll probably save for S2S), but that could be a good thing as it will allow me to focus more on being "Giants-centric" here at OTF.

When the Giants Come to Town Begins It's Grind

If you want to look at the most committed Giants blogger (and especially Minor League blogger on the net), look no further than Dr. B of When the Giants Come to Town. With the start of the Minor and Major League seasons, Dr. B has started his daily recaps, which highlight top performers from every Giants Minor League team in action that night. While McCovey Chronicles does the same thing with poster Steve S, I really do enjoy Dr. B's take on the Minor League standouts each night. It has become daily reading for me, and definitely has made things easier here at OTF. Don't know how he manages to teach in college while still posting as much as he does!

Age vs. Level by Roger at McCovey Chronicles (Part I and Part II)

One of the most ambitious "Giants-centric" pieces I have read in a long time, this two-part series by Roger is so good that I am in the middle of reading it over again to sink it all in. Complete with thorough writing and graphs to back it up, Roger at McC takes a look at how teenagers who break in at A-Ball end up as Major League players in comparison to players who break into A-Ball at higher ages (such as college guys for example). It is an interesting piece to read, especially when you consider the Giants' draft strategy for the past decade or so (favoring low-ceiling, low-risk college guys in comparison to higher-ceiling, higher-risk teens). It isn't something that will take you a couple of minutes, but it's an engrossing read and one of the more enjoyable pieces on McCovey Chronicles I have encountered on the Fan Posts section in a long time.

David Fung's "Visual Look" at the Giants Window to Compete at Beyond the Box Score

I have loved Fung's graphical take on "the Window", which was a phrase used by Billy Beane explaining the Athletics plan and how their time to compete was in limited spurts during his tenure there due to the Small Market and limited budget (Jonah Keri wrote an interesting piece on it for Grantland that refuted Beane's position). Fung's graphs are always great, and the pieces give a nice general glance of what teams (the Giants in the case) will be dealing with not only now, but four to five years down the line. If you can, check out the others, just to see what the "windows" to compete are like for the other teams in Major League Baseball.

Minor League Central

It kills me that I haven't found this site earlier, but Minor League Central is basically to Minor League Ball what Fangraphs is to Major League Ball. While the site's creators and analysts note that not all of the data is completely accurate (they are subject to the recorders of the numbers, whom they admit are less accurate at the lower levels), it does give a little bit more "advanced" numbers from players who are currently in the Minor Leagues. Expect me to use more numbers from MLC in future posts (though I have already started), and I can't begin to tell you how enthralled I am that a site like this exists on the Web. I'm about as excited as Chris Farley was when one of his "comrades" told the "Sheep Pudding" story around the camp fire in the movie "Amost Heroes."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Season Preview: San Jose Giants

First off, yes, I'm posting on Easter. Which means one of four things:

1.) I'm away from family and don't have enough money to make the trip back home by road or air
2.) I'm not religious, don't believe in Easter or any God for that matter and like to live a shallow life that is devoid of anything "spiritual."
3.) Am Jewish and celebrated Passover already.
4.) Am at home, but trying to avoid family because well...I'm  just an anti-social kind of guy that would rather spend time in front of a computer than with family.

Well, if you guessed one, you would be correct. Two or three wouldn't have been bad choices, simply because I never touch anything religious on this blog, so my religious views have been (and will remain) fairly ambiguous. And as for four, just have to be a jerk to think that, so shame on you. I hope you feel better after you eat your Ham on Easter Sunday.

Bitterness aside, on to the 2012 preview of the San Jose Giants.

2011 Recap:

The San Jose Giants got off to a roaring start to begin the year, as they finished the first half with an unreal record of 51-19, good for the best record in the Cal League overall at the time. The Giants finished the first half 13 games ahead of second place Stockton, and 16 games ahead of third place Bakersfield. Considering the Giants past history of success in the California League (they have been in the title hunt consistently the past five years), the Giants looked primed for another run at the CL championship in 2011.

However, with the callups of Chris Dominguez, Francisco Peguero and Heath Hembree to Richmond by mid-season, a trade of top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets (in the Carlos Beltran) and a mid-season slump by top prospect Gary Brown, the Giants regressed in the second half, going 38-32 over their next 70 games. The Giants did have a chance to win the Northern Division at the end of the year, but they ended up losing out to Stockton in the Northern Division Championship series. Still, at 90-50, it was an impressive year overall for the South Bay Giants, and the fans took notice, as they finished with the second-best attendance in the Cal League.

Offensively, everything began and ended with Brown, whose strong campaign in the Cal League garnered him honors as the Giants' top prospect going into 2012 by almost every publication and analyst. Brown posted a slash of .336/.407/.519 and added a .925 OPS to go along with 14 home runs, 115 runs scored and 53 stolen bases. For his efforts, Brown was named the 2011 Cal League Rookie of the Year and also earned a spot in the Futures Game at All-Star Weekend.

However, Brown wasn't the only bat that stood out in San Jose. Before getting call ups to Fresno and San Francisco, catcher Hector Sanchez went from middling catcher prospect to a Top-10 system guy after lighting up Cal League pitching in only 52 games. The 21-year-old Venezuelan put up a .302/.338/.533 line in 228 plate appearances and also added 11 home runs and 58 RBI to his already gaudy averages. Fellow countryman Ehire Adrianza sparked the Giants offense in the second half after Peguero and Dominguez moved up to Richmond, as the slick-fielding shorstop posted a career best slash of .300/.375/.470 in 262 plate appearances.

While the offense was a force for San Jose in 2011, the pitching was sneakily good, even after they lost Wheeler in the Beltran trade. The Giants pitching staff finished first in the Cal League runs allowed per game at 4.21, which was 0.80 runs better than second place Stockton. San Jose also finished with the league's best team ERA at 3.70 (they were the only CL team under 4.00) and second-best WHIP at 1.33 (only .04 behind first-place Stockton).

While Wheeler was the Giants' most dynamic pitcher in his tenure in San Jose (he struck out 98 in 88 innings pitched), he was far from the best pitcher statistically on the San Jose roster in 2011. The rotation was led by the three-headed-force of Craig Westcott, Chris Heston and Kelvin Marte, who all threw over 145 innings in 2011, and posted sub-4 ERAs (3.42, 3.16, 3.47, respectively). Though he finished a win behind Westcott in the W-L column, Heston was the most impressive of the three as he finished with the best K/BB ratio (3.28), K/9 (7.8), HA/9 (8.6) of the bunch. Heston was 23 years old last year, so he was around league average when it came to age (the average age of CL pitchers was 23.2 last year), but he certainly has the potential to be a strong contributor to the rotation in Richmond in 2012.

After Hembree dominated the CL (21 saves, 0.73 ERA, 16.1 K/9) and predictably earned a call up to the Eastern League, Jake Dunning and Mitch Lively split closer duties to mixed results. While Dunning did earn 10 saves, he posted a 4.74 ERA and allowed 10.2 hits per nine innings. While he did post solid K/BB ratios (2.96), Dunning has to improve his ability to limit contact if he wants to survive in the move to the Eastern League this upcoming season.

As for Lively, though an older prospect at 25 years old, he finished the year with nice numbers, recording 8 saves and posting a 1.46 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 38 appearances and 17 games finished. Lively will be 26 years old and will bypass Richmond and begin the year in Triple-A Fresno.

Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for at the Plate?

San Jose should be a nice showcase for 2011 Giants draft picks, as catcher Andrew Susac, first baseman Ricky Oropesa, and first round pick, shortstop Joe Panik will all begin the year in the Cal League. So far, the results have been a little mixed for Oropesa and Susac, as they are batting .250 and .231 after three games, respectively. However, it is still VERY early in the season, and they could bounce those numbers up with a solid game today against Modesto.

As for Panik, he is continuing where he left off in the Northwest League, as he is putting up a slash of .400/.538/.600 in 10 at-bats. Panik has recorded two doubles and three walks and no strikeouts going into today's game. As he showed last year in Salem Keizer, Panik's mature skills and approach has illustrated why the Giants took him in the first round of the draft last season (despite the scoffs of many scouts and experts). I expect Panik to really stand out this year and have a breakout season similar to Brown a year ago, though without the speed or home run numbers (though I think he could come close in the home runs and I think their slugging percentages will be similar because of Panik's ability to hit to the gaps).

One of the big under-the-radar prospects to watch for San Jose is Adam Duvall, who is coming off a sensational year in Augusta where he posted a .912 OPS to go along with 22 home runs. Duvall shares a similar prospect profile to Chris Dominguez in the sense that they are both from the University of Louisville and both third base prospects. While he doesn't have the athleticism or plus tools of Dominguez, Duvall's Sally numbers in 2011 were more impressive than Dominguez's 2010. While he hasn't gotten of to the best start (Duvall has struck six times in 12 at-bats and has no walks and only one hit), he could be a key component to this Giants offense in 2012.

Another infield prospect to watch out for will be Carter Jurica, a 2010 draft pick who split last year between the Arizona Rookie League and the Cal League. Jurica posted a .250/.355/.383 slash last year in San Jose, and also added four home runs and five stolen bases. Most of Jurica's value comes defensively, as he has been noted for his solid though unspectacular glove up the middle. He and Panik should provide a very interesting double play combo up the middle, and are expected to rotate between second and shortstop throughout the year.

The outfield will be led Jarett Parker, who'll be making his second tour of duty in the Cal League in 2012. While Parker displayed nice power potential (13 home runs), and a patient approach (.360 OBP, 0.51 BB/K ratio, 74 walks in 571 plate appearances), he struggled in terms of making consistent contact at the plate, as evidenced by his .260 average, 70 percent contact rate, and team-leading 144 strikeouts. I don't expect Parker to stay the whole year in San Jose, as I think he is due for a call up to Richmond at some point this year simply because of his age (he'll be 23). However, he does need to show progress at the plate in terms of making better contact if he wants to be taken more seriously as a prospect. Right now, his stock has regressed since he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, and he looks to be way behind outfielder prospects such as Brown and Peguero.

The rest of the outfield looks pretty thin, as Ryan Lollis and Chris Lofton will look to contribute to the Giants lineup. Lollis put up stellar numbers in Augusta last year, posting a slash of .314/.393/.422 and an OPS of .816 in .296 at-bats, but he struggled in call ups to San Jose and Richmond, posting OPS numbers of .627 and .444, respectively. Lofton is a strong athlete who was rated by Baseball America as being the best athlete of any Giants pick other than Brown in the 2010 draft. A ninth round pick, Lofton put up a pedestrian .615 OPS in 418 at-bats in Augusta. He did steal 22 bags with the Green Jackets, but he was caught 14 times, a sign that his instincts on the basepaths aren't that great and are in need of improvement in San Jose. However with his athleticism, Lofton has a lot of potential to be a contributor to this San Jose lineup in 2012.

Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for on the Mound?

Shawn Sanford and Taylor Rogers led the Green Jackets rotation in 2011 and will be expected to do the same in San Jose in 2012. Sanford's 10-10 record doesn't impress, but he did post a 2.55 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 3.57 in the Sally a year ago. Sanford's strength as a pitcher is his control, as he walked only 30 batters in 169.2 innings pitched (good for a BB/9 of 1.7). That being said, while his control,  command and ability to keep the ball on the ground to limit hits has been impressive (1.69 GO/AO last year), he doesn't possess overwhelming stuff or strikeout prowess. Last year, his K/9 was only 5.7, a regression from the 8.6 mark he put up in 2010 in Salem Keizer. It'll be interesting to see how well he keeps batters at bay in the Cal League in 2012, especially considering the park factors and t he'll be around league average age-wise for a pitcher at 23 years old. He's off to a good start as he went six innings and allowed only three hits and no runs while walking one and striking out one in his debut start of the 2012 season (which resulted in a win for San Jose credited to Sanford).

As for Rogers, while his 2012 debut wasn't as impressive as Sanford's (he went five innings and allowed seven hits, two runs and a walk; but he did strike out seven and earned the win), he does share a similar profile to Sanford as a pitcher, even though he is a year older. Much like Sanford, Rogers showed good command in Augusta last year (2.26 K/BB ratio) and a strong ability to keep the ball on the ground (2.11 GO/AO ratio last year with the Green Jackets). However, he doesn't blow away hitters (5.0 K/9) and he can prove to be quite hittable (career H/9 of 9.3). While Sanford's age and skills give him a little bit more upside, Rogers could prove to be a good No. 2 guy in the San Jose rotation in 2012.

The Giants will have wild cards on the staff in Stephen Harrold, Seth Rosin, Josh Osich and Edward Concepcion, who will all be in the Giants bullpen to begin the year in 2012 (though Rosin and Osich have starter potential). Harrold was rated as the 25th best prospect in the Giants system, according to Baseball America, and Rosin is a power-armed right hander who has cracked the Top 30 in many lists. Both have showed a strong ability to strike batters out over the course of their minor league careers (Harrold has a minor league career K/9 of 9.3 while Rosin is just a notch below at 9.2), but they don't have very high ceilings as older, polished arms out of college.

Osich is a big wild card because it is unknown if the Giants will keep him in the bullpen or if they might move him into the rotation eventually. Osich started in college at Oregon State (and excelled as he threw a no-hitter against UCLA last year), but he had arm issues that could have been related to TJ surgery in 2009 (which forced him to miss 2010) and was shut down for the remainder of the 2011 season (which ended hurting his draft stock as he fell to the Giants' slot in the sixth round; he originally had first round/supplemental round potential pre-shut down). While it is probably wise to ease Osich into professional pitching by keeping him in the pen to begin the year, I do hope Giants management somehow works him into the rotation at some point this year. He has the ability to start, as evidenced by his track record in college, along with a repertoire that includes a solid fastball that touches 97 MPH, and a slider and changeup that have average to slightly above potential. A move of Osich to the rotation would increase his value significantly, and make him a steal as a sixth-round selection.

A sleeper out of the bullpen to watch out for is Concepcion, as he has showed a strong ability to strike batters out (career 9.1 K/9), but has had significant command and control issues as well. After a disastrous stint in the Northwest League which saw him post a 6.39 ERA and K/BB ratio of 1.24 (a minor league career low, and that includes his stint in the DSL) in 63.1 IP as a starter, Concepcion bounced back with a move to the pen in Augusta and posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.72 K/BB ratio in 52.1 IP. Concepcion still walked hitters in bunches (6.2 BB/9), but he did strike out 10.7 batters per nine innings, his best total in that category since his stint in the Arizona Rookie League (when it was 11.5). If Concepcion can harness his control even a little bit, he could be a very valuable arm in the San Jose bullpen this year, and could see his stock as a prospect rise by the end of the season simply because of his ability to strike batters out.

What Should We Expect from the Giants in 2012?

San Jose has been one of the strengths in the Giants' system "team-wise" for a while. They have consistently competed for Cal League titles while at the same time developing talent that has progressed nicely in their system. Of course, it's always tough to judge prospects (hitters especially) in the Cal League because of the offensive-friendly park factors. We have seen many hitters mash in the Cal League, only to be fully exposed in their transition to the Double-A Eastern League. This year, the offense will attract a lot of attention, especially with 2011 Draft picks Panik, Susac and Oropesa expected to get a lot of at-bats. Past those though (and maybe Duvall), the talent offensively does drop off quite a bit. I'm not a big believe in Lofton, and Jurica seems to be backup material at the Major League level at best. Furthermore, the pitching seems less strong in comparison to years past, as the staff lacks that front line starter they've sported in years past (Wheeler last year, Surkamp two years ago, Bumgarner and Alderson in 2009).

I think San Jose has produced a clubhouse environment where the team will always be competitive and I don't expect that to stop in 2012. However, considering how reliant they will be on offense (and considering this is Susac and Oropesa's first exposure to professional pitching, that's a big risk), and how thin the pitching looks, I expect a big regression for the CL Giants in 2012 from their 90-50 record a year ago.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Season Preview: Augusta Green Jackets

With Opening Day happening across the Minor League yesterday, I figured it would be good to take a look at what Giants fans could expect from the teams in the Giants organization. I'm going to start with the lower levels first and move my way up. Since the Arizona Rookie League, the Northwest League and Dominican Summer League don't start until later in the season, I'm going to start with the Giants' Sally team, the Augusta Green Jackets.

2011 Recap:

It was a tale of two seasons for the Green Jackets, as they got off to a slow start in 2011. They finished the first half 31-39, good for fifth place in the Southern Division. However, a couple of roster moves and some better play sparked them in the second half, as they finished with the best record in the Southern Division after the break at 39-29. While they still finished behind the Savannah Sand Gants (the Mets organization) in the overall standings, the 70-68 record was still a promising end for a team that had its share of struggles in the beginning of the year.

The Green Jackets relied on their pitching as they finished sixth best in the league in runs allowed per game at 4.43 and fourth in ERA at 3.70. Shawn Sanford, Stan Rogers and Mike Kickham provided good production at the top of the rotation, as they each threw over 100 innings and posted ERA numbers of 2.55, 2.91, and 4.11, respectively. Seth Rosin proved to be an excellent spot starter for the Green Jackets, as he struck out 93 batters in 89 innings pitched while posting an ERA of 3.34 and a WHIP of 1.25. The bullpen also got a bounce back season from Edward Concepcion, who struck out 62 batters in 52.1 IP. While Concepcion still sports control issues (his K/BB ratio was 1.72), the performance was a nice sign for a prospect whose stock took a serious drop in 2010.

Offensively, Augusta struggled to score runs, as they finished fifth-worst in the Sally in runs scored per game at 4.43 and fourth-worst in OPS at .693. Despite the lackluster team showing, the Green Jackets did have some position players who made solid contributions during the 2011 season.

Though overshadowed by Chris Dominguez since college (they both were third basemen from the University of Louisville), Adam Duvall had a breakout year, posting a .285/.385/.527 slash with a team leading .917 OPS and 22 home runs. Outfielder Ryan Lollis also had a solid 80-game stint before he made the move to San Jose, as he posted a slash of .314/.393/.422 with an OPS of .816. While he struggled at the end of the year to post a pedestrian .650 OPS, Carlos Willoughby was a catalyst for the most part at the top of the order, as he showed a patient approach at the plate (.343 OBP, 0.73 BB/K ratio) and some speed on the basepaths (a team-high 33 stolen bases). Though he is repeating the year in Augusta, Willoughby is somebody to keep an eye on, especially to start the year.

Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for at the Plate?

The outfield will be intriguing as Chuckie Jones, Brett Krill and Shawn Payne will look to be the regular starting outfield during the 2012 season. Jones is a super-athlete with plus power, arm strength and speed tools (a lot of scouts have made Matt Kemp comparisons because of his background), but he has struggled to make contact over the course of his Minor League career (61 percent contact rate in Salem Keizer a year ago). Krill was a low-round pick in the Giants' 2010 Draft (25th round), but he is coming off a sensational campaign with the Volcanoes where he put up a slash of .304/.350/.488 along with six home runs and four stolen bases in 226 plate appearances. Payne is a toolsy-outfielder who has "Fred Lewis" potential, as he sports a patient approach at the plate, and good speed and instincts on the basepaths (though he doesn't sport a lot of raw power, as he hit no home runs a year ago).  Payne put up a slash of .306/.431/.394 and stole 21 bases on 27 attempts in 195 plate appearances in the NWL last year.

In addition to Willoughby, shortstop Kelby Tomlinson will be an infielder to watch out for this year in Augusta. Baseball America rated Tomlinson with the best speed tool set and the best athleticism out of any Giants draft pick in the 2011 draft (the Giants selected him in the 12th round). Tomlinson however is not just all tools, as he roped pitching in the Arizona Rookie League last year. He posted a slash of .357/.417/.543 in 156 plate appearances. While he doesn't sport "home run power", Tomlinson has showed a strong ability to stretch out hits, as he hit 10 doubles, 5 triples and two home runs in the AZL. He does have to improve his concentration in the field if he wants to continue to stick at shortstop (10 errors, .924 fielding percentage last year), but scouts note that he has the tools and potential to be an above-average defensive shortstop as he moves up the system.

Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for on the Mound?

The strength of the Green Jackets' roster is in the rotation, as there will be many arms to watch out for in Augusta in 2012. The roster is filled with projectable, high-ceiling arms who not only could be impact prospects in the Giants system, but could help make this Green Jackets team competitive in the Sally Southern conference.

In terms of starting pitching, Clayton Blackburn, Kyle Crick and Adalberto Mejia will anchor the top of the rotation. Blackburn started on Opening Day for the Jackets and performed well as he struck out six and walked zero while allowing four hits in 4.2 innings pitched. Blackburn is a big (six-foot, three-inches, 220 pounds) powerful arm that showed impeccable command in the Arizona Rookie League as an 18 year old. Crick also shares a similar profile to Blackburn, as he is a powerful prep arm out of Texas who was the Giants' supplemental round pick in the 2011 draft. Crick has more control and command issues than Blackburn at this point in his career (he walked eight and allowed nine hits in seven innings pitched in the Arizona Rookie League last year), but he is only 19 years old, was rated more highly by scouts than Blackburn out of high school, and still has a lot of time for development on the mound.

Mejia is a big surprise to make the Green Jackets roster, as many figured Joan Gregorio would be starting the year in Augusta instead of Mejia. However, though this is Mejia's first exposure Stateside, he was absolutely dominant in the Dominican Summer League in 2011. He struck out 71 and walked only eight batters in 76 innings pitched, and he finished the year with the DSL Giants with a 5-2 record and 1.42 ERA. It'll be interesting to see how Mejia fares in the Sally as a raw 18-year-old (he'll turn 19 in June) out of the Dominican, but he has the size (six-foot, three-inches and 195 pounds) and skills to project as a good starting pitching prospect not only this year, but for years to come.

Some sleepers in the Giants' pitching rotation are Demondre Arnold, Bryce Bandilla and Chris Marlowe, all picks in the Giants' 2011 draft. Arnold is a raw right hander out of junior college, but scouts have noted his impressive stuff and his strong performance last year in the Arizona Rookie League bullpen. In 26.2 IP, Arnold struck out 32 batters, allowed 16 hits and 8 walks as a nineteen year old. While he is expected to be in the Green Jackets bullpen, his excellent command and strikeout ability should make him a solid late innings option for the Green Jackets in 2012.

Bandilla and Marlowe are college prospects who come out of Arizona and Oklahoma State, respectively. While control has been an issue for them in their college careers, they have excellent stuff and strikeout potential, and could be fast risers in the Giants system, especially if they stay in the pen. Marlowe could compete for the setup or closer's position with Arnold, while Bandilla could be the first left-handed pitcher out of the pen in the late innings. While they didn't get much playing time after signing (Bandilla didn't play while Marlowe threw only three innings in the AZL; he did strike out five in three innings of work though), they do offer some upside and will be interesting arms to watch. If they do well, don't be surprised to see a second half promotion for both of these guys in the second half of the year.

What Should We Expect from the Green Jackets in 2012?

The Green Jackets have a solid pitching staff that could carry them, especially in the beginning of the year. While the offense has some interesting players with strong tools (Jones, especially), I would be surprised to see the Green Jackets surpass their offensive production from a year ago, especially with their main run producer, Duvall, now playing in San Jose. However, if Willoughby can have a year that was more similar to his first half and not his second half, than the Green Jackets might be able to muster enough offense, especially with a pitching staff that sports so much potential. I don't know if Augusta will be able to compete for a Sally title, but they certainly have the potential to be a dark horse, especially if guys like Jones and Tomlinson can back up their prospect hype with solid seasons at the plate in the Sally.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Richmond and San Jose Set 2012 Rosters (Updated: With Giants and Grizzlies Notes to Come)

As the Giants start to figure out today who will and won't be on the active roster for Opening Day, the San Jose Giants and Richmond Flying Squirrels have already released their 2012 Opening Day rosters. This doesn't really come as too big of a surprise since both teams are opening up tomorrow. Here are some things I noticed about the rosters.

(Update as of 2:30 p.m. mountain time) The Giants just announced their 25-man roster and consequently, the Grizzlies just unveiled their roster as well. Will have another post to come. The biggest change to this post is that Ehire Adrianza is NOT going to Richmond, but Fresno after all. He is off the Squirrels' list and is now on the Grizzlies roster page. Will have thoughts on the Giants and Grizzlies in a post sometime later today 

San Jose Roster Notes
  • Though there were rumors that Jarrett Parker would make the move up to Richmond with draft classmate Gary Brown, the Giants decided to keep him in High-A to start the year. The move is probably a wise one, since Parker struck out a lot at the plate, and didn't have a steady position with Brown patrolling center field. Now, he most likely will get to play his natural position of center field (his main competition is Chris Lofton, who's athletic but a lot less skilled than Parker), which should give Giants fans and scouts a gauge of how good he is defensively. Hopefully Parker can make some adjustments and cut down on the whiffs that hurt his stock so heavily last season.
  • It will be quite a battle to see who'll be playing in the middle infield in San Jose. Joe Panik predictably makes the move to the California League after mashing in the Northwest League the previous season. However, he won't simply be handed the position, as he will be competing with Carter Jurica, the Giants' third round pick in 2010. Jurica has the experience factor on Panik, as he played in 50 games and put up a slash of .250/.355/.383 in 212 plate appearances for San Jose in 2011. However, Panik profiles as the better player overall, for Jurica did commit 14 errors last year at the shortstop position. The best seems to be that Jurica will start at second and Panik will be the shortstop on Opening Day.
  • Despite not playing at all last year due to signing late, Ricky Oropesa will start the year in San Jose. With his power potential, he could have a big season, especially in terms of power numbers and home runs. He may strike out a lot, but I could see him having the kind of season in the Cal League that Roger Kieschnick had in 2009 in the CL.
  • Some notable absences from the list were Aaron King, Michael Main, Ryan Scoma, and James Simmons, who were all released, according to this post on the McCovey Chronicles. King and Main were once top pitching prospects in the Giants and Rangers systems, respectively, but injuries and ineffectiveness have derailed their careers.

Richmond Roster Notes
  • Tommy Joseph makes the move up to Double-A and it'll be interesting to see how the Giants will handle him in Richmond. The Flying Squirrels will have Johnny Monell back behind the plate, but it's obvious that more upside rests in Joseph. Because of Monell's presence, it wouldn't be surprising to see Joseph split a lot of time between catcher and first base in 2012, especially if he continues to hit in Richmond like he did in San Jose in 2011.
  • The Flying Squirrels will have an interesting outfield setup with Wendell Fairley, Juan Perez and Nick Liles battling for two spots. Right now, I'd say the favorites are Perez (whom I like a lot) and Liles (whom I'm not much a fan of, but more so than Fairley) for the right and left field positions, respectively. Center field won't be up for debate as Gary Brown should and will have the position on lockdown barring injury.
  • The pitching staff lacks big-time arms or names, but it should be interesting nonetheless. Michael Kickham looks like the most intriguing prospect on the Flying Squirrels staff, but don't count out Jake Dunning (who's No. 26 on my list), Justin Fitzgerald (the Squirrels' projected Opening Day starter), Austin Fleet (who could transition to more of a starter after spending most of the time in the bullpen in Augusta and Richmond last year) or Craig Westcott (who went 13-4 with a 3.42 ERA in SJ last year). They may not dominate like Eric Surkamp a year ago, but they do have some potential to have good years in the EL.
  • Chris Dominguez looks slated to be the starting third baseman for the Squirrels and safe to say, it's a big year for him. He got off to a hot start last year when he made the transition from SJ to Richmond, but he struggled down the stretch and ended finishing with a .244/.272/.403 line for the year. The power potential with Dominguez is there, and his arm strength is probably the strongest out of any infielder in the Giants system. That being said, his ability to make consistent contact as a professional has been lackluster at best. At 25 years of age, he doesn't have much time left on the clock.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    OTF Top 30: No. 21-25; Duvall, Correa, Gregorio, Bochy, Galindo

    We're winding down with the Top 30, and now we're really delving deeper into the Giants system in terms of finding guys with talent. While a lot of the prospects in this series of the list have talent and some potential, they do carry considerable amount of risk and are still a long ways off from the Major League level. All of the guys are C prospects, so you're probably not going to find them on the Top-15 of many lists (though Gregorio rates high with a lot of scouts and experts because of his youth, size and upside). However, there are a few guys I'm pretty high on in this series whom I think can make major strides with good seasons this year. Don't be surprised to see two-three of these guys rise to C+ or B- grades next year.

    No. 21: Adam Duvall, Third Base

    Overall Grade: C
    Projection: Major League backup; platoon player at the best, could be a career minor leaguer

    Summary: When it comes to third base prospects in the Giants system from Louisville, Chris Dominguez gets all the hype. It's understandable. Dominguez mashed in college for four years with the Cardinals, and he was a third round pick in 2009 who sported plus power and arm strength as a prospect. Furthermore, at six-foot, five inches and 225 pounds, he has the size and frame of a player with Major League potential.

    And yet, Dominguez may not be the best prospect from Louisville in the Giants system. Adam Duvall, a former teammate of his who took over the hot corner after Dominguez graduated from Louisville in 2009, is quickly catching up to the more ballyhooed Dominguez after a solid 2011 season in the Sally where he earned All-Star honors.

    Duvall is an interesting player because he doesn't have the "tools" that Dominguez has. Duvall's got a good frame (six-foot, one inches, and 205 pounds), but it looks diminutive in comparison to his former college teammate. Furthermore, none of Duvall's tools have ever been plus rated by scouts, which explains why he dropped to the Giants' slot in the 11th round of the 2010 Draft. Even Baseball America in their profile on him in their Prospect Handbook for 2012 (they ranked him as the Giants' 28th best prospect) noted that he had average range and arm strength, fringy speed and that his at-bats "aren't likely to be found on an instructional video" (e.g. his swing doesn't impress). In a myriad of ways, Duvall seems to fit the profile of an organizational player at-best.

    And yet, his numbers in Augusta were promising, and do flash potential. Yes, he was old for the Sally (22 years old), but so was Dominguez (23 years old), and yet that hasn't prevented scouts and experts from still rating Dominguez as one of the Giants' top 3rd base prospects (Baseball America rated him as the Giants' 16th best prospect this year). Let's take a look at the numbers from their respective seasons in Augusta:

    Dominguez (2010):  .272/.326/.456 (average/OBP/slugging), 21 home runs, 85 runs scored, 35 walks, 133 strikeouts, 0.26 BB/K ratio in 608 plate appearances.

    Duvall (2011): .285/.385/.527 (average/OBP/slugging), 22 home runs, 69 runs scored, 59 walks, 98 walks, 0.60 BB/K ratio in 510 plate appearances.

    If one looks at the numbers and considers the age factor (that Duvall broke into the Sally one year earlier than Dominguez), then Duvall's season looks far superior. Not only did Duvall flash power potential (he hit more home runs is almost 100 less at-bats), but he also displayed a better eye at the plate and made better contact against pitchers in the Sally. Of course, Duvall's line isn't perfect by any means (at 19.2 percent, his strikeout rate is still high, especially considering his age), but it definitely adds a little bit to the debate in terms of which former Cardinal is a better prospect at third base.

    As good as Duvall's offensive year was, there still are some serious flaws in his game, mostly with his glove. First off, defensively he sports not only average tools, but he also struggled at times with concentration in the field his first full season in professional ball. Last year, he committed 27 errors and posted a fielding percentage of .908, which is very disheartening. He may not have the athletic gifts to be apremium or even an average infielder. That being said, he needs to cut down the errors in 2012 if he wants to be able to stay at the position as he moves up the Giants system.

    What to Expect in 2012: Most of Duvall's value as a prospect comes with his bat. He was four for eight on stolen base attempts last year, and he'll be lucky to steal five bags a year considering the reports on his speed and athleticism. Hence, Duvall doesn't offer much upside with his glove or on the basepaths, so if Duvall wants to move through the Giants system, he's going to have to continue to hit. He has a good plate approach, and his power tool seems to be legitimate (Robbie Knopf made some interesting points about his power numbers in Augusta). In addition, his offensive numbers are bound to get better as he moves to the hitter-friendly California League this upcoming season, so that will certainly be a boost to his stock.

    That being said, we have seen prospect bash in the lower minors and struggle once they start to face better pitching and hit in more pitcher friendly environments (the Eastern League will be a huge test). While I am not saying Duvall is going to fall into that category, he hasn't done much to prove that he isn't more than a one year wonder. Duvall's campaign in San Jose should be interesting to pay attention to, especially if he gets off to a hot start. If so, I'll be curious to see if the Giants will take the same path with him as they did with Dominguez (move him to Double-A mid-year after he mashed High-A pitching). If that happens (though I think it is unlikely), that should be a real gauge of Duvall's status and projection as a prospect.

    No. 22: Hector Correa, right-handed pitcher

    Overall grade: C
    Projection: Middle innings reliever; perhaps could find himself in a setup role

    Summary: Correa was acquired in a trade in 2009 that sent former left-handed bullpen arm Jack Taschner to Florida. At six-foot, three inches and a 175 pounds, Correa has a tall, wiry frame and has flashed some potential, though he is probably destined for middle relief at the Major League level.

    Correa went under the radar when he was acquired because he was battling shoulder issues and missed the entire 2009 season due to surgery. However, when he resurfaced in 2010 in Augusta, he dominated the Sally, striking out 58 batters and only walking 16 in 43.2 IP. His split campaign in San Jose and Richmond last year proved his comeback wasn't a fluke, as he continued to excel on the mound in the Cal and Eastern League. In San Jose, he struck out 37 in 42 innings pitched and posted an ERA of 1.93 and a K/BB ratio of 3.08. While his ERA did jump up to 3.20 with the Flying Squirrels, he still showed excellent command in 39.1 IP, posting a K/BB ratio of 2.67.

    His tools and arsenal as a pitcher rate well by scouts and experts, as he throws a fastball that sits 91-92 MPH but can touch the mid-90's. While his slider is rated as a "below average" pitch, according to Baseball America, his changeup is considered to be a strong secondary pitch, and many people believe that Correa can succeed with that two pitch arsenal, especially if he remains in the bullpen. Here is what Dr. B of When the Giants Come to Town said in his writeup of Correa this season (he rated him as the Giants' 20th best prospect):

    "Baggs did an Organizational Report on him for BA in November and reported that his fastball was in the "mid-90s" and he combined it with a "plus-plus" changeup. The changeup allows him to be effective against LH batters allowing the Giants to stretch him out to 3 and 4 inning stints in Richmond. He could still be stretched all the way out to starter, but I have to say it's more likely he'll end up as a setup man or long reliever in the majors."

    Considered a good athlete with a lean, strong frame and plus makeup, Correa certainly has the potential to be a viable pitcher in the Giants bullpen as soon as this season. He was a top prospect in the Marlins system prior to injury, and now that those shoulder issues seem to be a thing of the past, Correa is starting to live up to the expectations that were placed upon him when he was drafted in the fourth round out of Puerto Rico in the 2006 draft.

    What to expect in 2012: Correa was placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and it seems like it was a good idea. With Dan Runzler probably out for an extended time, Correa could break in and have an impact at the Major League roster as soon as this year. Correa didn't get much time with the Big League roster this Spring, but he did strike out 3 in 2.1 innings pitched. However, his two walks and three hits allowed probably displayed that he could use some seasoning in Fresno to begin the year.

    I like what Correa brings to the table, but his limited ceiling as a bullpen arm and prior history of injury issues (as I said though, it looks to be in the past, but you never know) limit me from grading him higher than a C. However, should any of the Giants' bullpen arms falter or suffer injury, Correa could be a strong first option the Giants may resort too. He has been stellar the past couple of years, and at 23 years old, he still has a lot of years and mileage left in the tank.

    No. 23: Joan Gregorio, right-handed pitcher

    Overall Grade: C
    Projection: No. 3-5 starter; could be a long or middle innings reliever

    Summary: When it comes to pitchers out of Latin America in the Giants system, probably no other prospect (well...except for maybe Adalberto Mejia) generates as much buzz as Joan Gregorio. At six-foot, seven inches and a 180 pounds, Gregorio is the kind of tall, raw but high-ceiling pitching prospect that most scouts and analysts foam at the mouth for.

    Gregorio signed with the Giants out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, and immediately started playing in the Dominican Summer League after signing. While his numbers weren't as impressive in the DSL as Mejia's (but then again, few pitchers did what Mejia did last summer), they still were solid overall and displayed that Gregorio wields a tremendous amount of potential. Gregorio made 14 starts and pitched 74 innings for the Giants' DSL squad, and he held batters at bay, posting a 2.80 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and 2.41 K/BB ratio. While his strikeout numbers weren't gaudy by any measure (41 strikeouts), his control (17) and command were still impressive for an 18 year old who had just recently signed.

    After the strong performance in the DSL, the Giants moved Gregorio to the Arizona Rookie League in 2011 and he did even better in his second partial professional season. Gregorio increased his strikeout rate (to 7.7) without sacrificing much control (his walk rate rose to 2.9), and he posted a stellar 2.30 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 50 innings pitched and 12 starts in Arizona.

    One of Gregorio's strengths as a pitcher, in addition to his control and command, is his ability to induce groundballs. According to Minor League Central, Gregorio posted a GB/FB ratio of 1.14, with a groundball rate of 45 percent. Considering this was his first taste of pitching stateside, the ability to keep the ball on the ground and minimize hard contact (he only gave up a line drive rate of 14.8 percent) bodes good things for his future, especially if he can continue to keep up the stellar strikeout rates and command he displayed in 2011.

    John Sickels of Minor League Ball has been high on Gregorio as a prospect in the Giants system going into 2012. Here is what he says about Gregorio in his report:

    "He’s hyper-projectable, already throws 89-94 MPH, and may pick up more velocity as he matures. He has a decent curve but is still working on his changeup. He was one of the more promising pitchers in the Arizona Rookie League, but he needs another weapon against left-handed hitters, who hit .333 against him. At this point his youth and projectability are more important than the numbers, but the numbers aren’t bad either."

    Of course, as Sickels notes, Gregorio's tools as a pitcher are still works-in-progress, and he's a long way from the Bigs. So, he definitely carries a size-able amount of risk. That being said, the potential is there, and with his long frame and projectable body, Gregorio is far from a polished product as a prospect, which should give the Giants organization and fans a lot of hope for the future with him.

    What to expect in 2012: The word on the street is that Gregorio is going to be starting in Augusta, and at 20 years old, that makes sense. He and fellow AZL teammate Clayton Blackburn should make a good 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in the Sally. As far as what kind of impact Gregorio will have on the mound in his first full season, it's still hard to project because his tools are so raw, but I think Gregorio is trending in the right direction. He's already got some good velocity on the fastball, and as he grows into his body, the velocity will only increase. As of now, reports have him as a two-pitch pitcher, but if he can continue to make strides with his changeup, then he could sport a dangerous arsenal as a middle-of-the-rotation guy. I don't think Gregorio has the upside or potential of a No. 1, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Giants rotation in the future as well.

    If his tools develop as planned, then the Giants will have another home-grown arm to stock their rotation/pen with. Of course, we said the same things about Henry Sosa and Merkin Valdez, but Gregorio's size and frame make him one of the more enticing arms the Giants have had from Latin America in the past few years. He's a C prospect now, but I expect him to make nice strides this year in Augusta and make some kind of a jump in grade in 2013.

    No. 24: Brett Bochy, left-handed pitcher

    Overall Grade: C
    Projection: Middle relief with possibility to be a setup guy or spot closer

    Summary: Drafted in the 20th round of the Rule 4 draft, a lot of experts and Giants fans took the pick with a grain of salt. After all, Bochy was the son of manager Bruce Bochy, and while he did have a stellar career at Kansas (he posted a 0.78 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 23 innings with 34 strikeouts as Kansas' closer his final year in college), scouts weren't exactly bursting with praise about Bochy having a future at the Big League level. Many felt that the pick was either a.) done for publicity purposes or b.) done more as a favor to Bruce.

    However, since making his debut in Augusta last year, the six-foot, two-inch lefty has turned around some heads in baseball analyst and scout circles, as many people are starting to recognize that he offers more to the table as a prospect than just being Bruce Bochy's son. Pitching primarily out of the bullpen for the Green Jackets, Bochy made 35 appearances and pitched 39 innings in the Sally last year, and finished the season with a 1.38 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 10 saves.

    Bochy's biggest strength as a pitcher is his impeccable command and strikeout ability, which he displayed even at Kansas. In Augusta over the full course of a Minor League season, it was even more evident, as he struck out 53 batters, good for a 12.1 K/9. To make things better, Bochy limited his free passes in the Sally last year (8 total walks), which resulted in him posting a ridiculous 6.63 K/BB ratio. To put things in perspective, the last pitcher who put up K/BB ratios that impressive in the Sally from the Giants organization was Madison Bumgarner, who posted a K/BB ratio of 7.81 in 2008. While Bumgarner's ratio is obviously more impressive because he is a starting pitcher and Bochy is a reliever, it does add some context on how sterling Bochy's numbers were in his first professional season.

    If there is anything to knock against Bochy, it may be that his ceiling is limited to a bullpen role at the Major League level, and he may not have the kind of elite stuff to be a closer, either. His arsenal is mainly a fastball/slider combo, with his fastball ranging from 90-93 MPH. His slider also is tough on right handed hitters, according to Sickels in his report on Bochy. Another issue is Bochy's history of arm issues, as he had TJ surgery after blowing out his elbow his last year at Kansas. However, the arm issues didn't seem to be a problem for him at all last season in Augusta.

    What to expect in 2012: Because of his age (24 years old) and low ceiling, Bochy could move up quickly this year in the Giants system. The Giants already decided to have him skip High-A San Jose, as he will start the year in Double-A Richmond. Richmond might not be the only destination for him this year, for if his Spring Training was any indicator (he struck out two in an inning of work with the Big League club this Spring), it wouldn't be surprising to see him see some time in Fresno or even the Majors should injuries or ineffectiveness hit the bullpen.

    Overall, Bochy could end up being a gem in the rough for this Giants organization. He went from a 20th round pick with arm issues, to a strong reliever with excellent command in the matter of a year's time. The Eastern League will obviously be a step up in competition from the Sally, but if his progress from the beginning of last Spring to this Spring is any indicator, then Giants fans could have a lot more to look forward to from Bruce's son in 2012.

    No. 25: Jesus Galindo, outfielder

    Overall Grade: C
    Projection: Platoon to backup outfielder; could be a starting one if his contact ability improves

    Summary: Behind Gary Brown, Galindo probably has the best speed tool set out of any prospect in the Giants system. Last season, he swiped 47 bases on 55 attempts (an 85 percent success rate) in Salem Keizer, his first season stateside (he played the previous two years in the Dominican Summer League). In addition to the stellar stolen base numbers in the Northwest League last year, scouts and coaches have raved about his speed. The biggest endorsement came from Volcanoes manager Tom Trebelhorn who compared Galindo's baserunning ability to Ricky Henderson.

    A burner on the basepaths from Venezuela at five-feet, 11-inches and 175 pounds, Galindo sports good athleticism for his size, though he could afford to add some strength to increase his value at the plate. While he has been lauded for his plate discipline (he posted BB/K ratios of 0.76 and 1.17 in 2009 and 2010 in the DSL, respectively, and last year he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.54), his ability to make consistent contact as a hitter has been up for debate. While he did hit .276 last year in the NWL, he struggled to hit for average in the DSL, posting batting averages of .244 and .246 in his two seasons there. Galindo has the ability to make contact, as he posted an 81 percent contact rate a year ago, but he needs to show progress this year that the skills he displayed in 2011 is more of an indicator of what Giants fans should expect from 2012-forward.

    Defensively, scouts are high about Galindo's potential, with Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst noting that he covers ground well in center field, and the has a strong enough arm to keep runners honest. Baseball America noted the same things, saying that he maximized his speed by getting good jumps on balls. I'm not sure if Galindo will be a premium defensive outfielder at the next level (it's far too early to tell to be honest), but he certainly has the tools and athleticism to be a strong defender despite his diminutive stature (think Andres Torres-esque).

    The main issue with Galindo is his lack of power, as he displayed little last year in the NWL and even less in the DSL. Last year with the Volcanoes, Galindo posted an ISO of .088 and an extra base hit percentage of 21 percent, which are far from impressive. Yes, Galindo has tremendous speed and he's going to have the potential to beat out well-placed groundballs on a regular basis (especially since he's a switch hitter). On that same note though, if he can be able to hit the ball in the gaps, he could be a regular threat to be a 20-plus doubles and 15-plus triples guy on a regular basis. Galindo may never be a home run hitter and with his size, it would be hard for him to project as one too. But, with his speed, if he can garner even a little bit of gap power, then his ceiling as a hitter could be tremendous.

    What to expect in 2012: At 21 years old, Galindo could start the year in San Jose, especially with Gary Brown and perhaps Jarrett Parker moving on to Richmond in 2012. It may be wiser to start him in Augusta, simply not to rush him, but he is a bit of an older prospect because he spent a couple of years in the DSL. Wherever he starts at in 2012, Galindo will be an interesting prospect to watch in 2012. He has incredible speed, solid plate discipline and a solid glove in the field. If he can continue to make contact in the Sally or Cal League like he did in the NWL, then the future could look very bright for Galindo and the Giants.