San Jose Season Recap: Part 1

The San Jose Giants were swept out of the Cal League championship series by Inland Empire, ending their season a couple nights ago with a 3-1 loss. The Giants were the last remaining minor league affiliate of the MLB Giants still in play, and were seeking to bring a title home after winning the deciding game against Visalia in the league semifinals. San Jose’s bats went cold in the championship series, though, as Ricky Oropesa and company were held to only 2 runs and a .133 average (per MiLB.com) in three games. The Giants certainly had to be the favorites in this series, as Inland Empire entered the postseason despite a sub-.500 regular season record.

This seems to be a case of a team (Inland Empire) getting hot at the right time, as often happens in playoff play in every sport, but I’m sure a championship sweep is not what Kyle Crick and his teammates had in mind. Either way, the Giants had another superb season, and remain one of the most successful clubs in minor league baseball. They finished the regular season 83-57, the best overall record in the Cal League.

Let’s take a look back at the season that was for the Giants’ high-A affiliate.

The storyline entering the season for San Jose was the starting pitching, and it remained the focal point of the club all year. The rotation was the backbone of this team, and on Opening Day featured highly touted 2011 prep draft picks Crick and Clayton Blackburn, along with international lefties Edwin Escobar (acquired from Texas in 2010) and Adalberto Mejia. All four were 20 years old or younger entering the season, with loads of promise.

While it was thought by most that top 2012 picks Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta would be joining the quartet of under-21 prospects in San Jose, the Giants brass decided to fill the final rotation spot with Ty Blach, an unheralded southpaw taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Creighton. Stratton and Agosta, though higher selections, were assigned to Augusta for Opening Day.

The rotation of Crick, Blackburn, Escobar, Mejia, and Blach entered the season with very high expectations. Aside from a couple of injuries that kept Crick and Mejia out for extended periods early in the year, the group didn’t disappoint.

2013 with SJ

Crick: 14 gs, 3-1, 1.57 era, 6.3 h/9, 5.1 bb/9, 12.5 k/9

Blackburn: 23 gs, 7-5, 3.65 era, 7.5 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 9.3 k/9

Escobar: 16 g (14 gs), 3-4, 2.89 era, 8.2 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 11.1 k/9

Mejia: 16 gs, 7-4, 3.31 era, 7.8 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 9.2 k/9

Blach: 22 g (20 gs), 12-4, 2.90 era, 8.6 h/9, 1.2 bb/9, 8.1 k/9

Impressive stuff. Escobar, who may be the Giants’ breakout prospect of the year, was the lone member of San Jose’s rotation to get a midseason bump to AA Richmond. He was just as good after the promotion, logging a 2.67 ERA over 10 starts while averaging a strikeout per inning. Overall, Escobar finished the season with 146 K (10.2 k/9) and 30 BB (2.1 BB/9) in 128.2 IP. He’s moving very quickly through the organization all of a sudden, and he’s already on the 40-man roster to boot. In other words, don’t be surprised if he gets an invite to big league Spring Training next year. If he shows his stuff, we could see him in San Francisco sooner rather than later. My guess is that the Giants want to see how he holds up in the bandboxes of the PCL before they get too crazy with him. Either way, this Venezuelan lefty should easily be on every Giant top 10 list out there, if not most top 5’s.

Kyle Crick’s season was cut significantly short by an oblique strain in this third start. Honestly, I think the injury is the only thing that kept him from joining Escobar in Richmond. He was the staff ace in the second half, and opened the postseason with an absolute gem in game 2 against Visalia – a 3-hitter over 7 scoreless innings, with 8 K and 0 BB. Crick is the crown jewel of the system, “Mr. Untouchable” in the trade market. His fastball was too big for the Cal League in July and August, and he’ll get a chance to see how it matches up with some top talent in the AFL this fall. If he can get a handle on his wild cannon next year in Richmond, I say he’s knocking on Fresno’s door by mid-season.

Blackburn was steady-Eddie for most of the season. Got knocked around a few times, but kept the very good K/BB rates that he’s shown ever since the Giants stole him in the 16th round two years ago. He’s an old pro in a young man’s body, and he’ll take his game to AA with the rest of the bunch next year, still only 20 years old. As is Mejia, the 6-foot-3 Dominican lefty nobody’s talking about. But they should be, and I think they will by next season, if he can keep plugging along. He’s got as much upside or more than Blackburn, and the Giants liked him enough to give him a spot start in Fresno this year. He’s very unknown to the mainstream group, but I think that’ll change soon. Like Crick, Mejia missed some time to injury this year, and gets to spend his fall in the AFL with the big dogs.

Blach is the forgotten man in this group, but he had one hell of a season for anybody, let alone a guy who wasn’t even the second-most hyped pitcher in the Giants’ 2012 draft class. While Stratton and Agosta got all the press, Blach made an impact from the very start, and eventually earned San Jose team MVP honors in the process. He’s not fancy, and he’s just a tad older than the rest of this group, but his walk rates were insane. All. Season. Long. If it were any other year, Blach would be a household name after the season he put up, but for now he’ll hopefully continue to do his thing under the radar in Richmond in 2014.

Wow, got a little long-winded there. That’s a lot of talk about 5 guys. But those 5 are some of the best and brightest horses in the Giants’ minor league stable. They’ll make up the best rotation fans of the Richmond Flying Squirrels have ever seen next season, maybe to be joined by Chris Stratton if the brass so chooses.

We’ll shorten it up a bit on the bullpen, which featured partial seasons from a handful of very talented arms. Cody Hall and Josh Osich burned through the Cal League before taking their talents to AA mid-year. Osich struggled to get his feet under him in Richmond while Hall thrived for most of the second half. Both guys have a chance to be nice pieces in Bochy’s pen in the next couple years. Another partial season came from oft-injured Bryce Bandilla, whose 14.6 K/9 was the best in the organization this year. The big lefty lasted only 44.1 innings though, the same exact amount he tossed in 2012 before succumbing to injuries.

Hunter Strickland, a 24 year-old former Red Sox farmhand, made it only 21 innings before his arm failed him. He had 9 saves and a 0.86 ERA when he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. It looks like the Giants want to keep him around, but I have no idea when he’ll be back on a mound.

Derek Law was called up from Augusta in July, and absolutely dominated as San Jose’s closer in the final months of the season. In 25.2 IP with the little Giants, he saved 11 games to the tune of a 2.10 ERA. He fanned 45 hitters and walked just one. Try that on for size! Law has pitched very well since the Giants drafted him in 2011, and he’s another underrated guy who is starting to make some noise.

Chris Marlowe is the final pitcher of interest to us here, and the only one who doesn’t fit the mold of beefy power arm like the rest of these relief guys. Marlowe runs his fastball low 90’s, but supposedly has the best curve in the organization. He made 7 starts for San Jose, but spent most of his season in the pen. His overall numbers aren’t bad, but I don’t think he did enough to earn a promotion. Richmond’s roster is going to be mighty crowded next year as it is.

Ok, I think that’s enough for one night. Can you tell how I felt about this pitching staff? Can’t forget about Mac and the San Jose bats though! I’ll have to get to them another night. I can only hope this was enough to keep your appetite wet for the rest of the story…

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