Predicting the 2014 Rotations

I took part in a roster prediction over at McCovey Chronicles a few days ago. The challenge was to guess the Opening Day 25-man squads for each of the Giants’ full-season farm teams. Actually, Fresno and Richmond can only have 24 on the active roster… that’s something I didn’t know. Anyway, this is an exercise I did on my own last spring (with terrible accuracy I’d imagine), so I thought I’d give it a shot for fun. Not many people posted rosters – maybe three or four for each affiliate – but I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, as most fans probably don’t get as hyped up on the minors as I do. It’s actually not a real easy thing to do, if you aren’t someone who follows the system that far down.

Since I had a fun (if not difficult) time putting these predictions together, I thought I’d share them with you all over here. I’m sure they’re bound to be terribly wrong come April, but it should make for interesting conversation in the meantime. And if you’re like me, you’re just itching to get these guys on the field already.

I’ll start with the rotations, which I’ll admit weren’t quite as hard to piece together as the bullpens, but were still pretty tricky in some spots nonetheless. I’ve made a few tweaks from what I submitted at MCC last week, but a lot of the players are still in the same spots.

You’ve got to know who you’re working with when you do an exercise like this, so I began with a list of all the pitchers in the organization who started significant games last year or project as starters for a full-season club this season. There are 40 of them in all… No, you really can’t ever have too much pitching, ladies and gents.

Free agents/trades (4): David Huff, Dontrelle Willis, Jason Berken, *Jose De Paula (edit: forgot about him!)*

Fresno (5): Mike Kickham, Mitch Lively, Chris Heston, Justin Fitzgerald, Austin Fleet

Richmond (6): Craig Westcott (*Edit:no longer with the organization), Chris Gloor, Jack Snodgrass, Taylor Rogers, Ryan Bradley, Edwin Escobar

San Jose (7): Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach, Adalberto Mejia, Kyle Crick, Kelvin Marte, Jason Forjet, Chris Marlowe

Augusta (7): Kendry Flores, Chris Stratton, Joe Biagini, Martin Agosta, Joan Gregorio, Matt Lujan, Jose Reyes

Salem-Keizer (7): Chris Johnson, Andrew Leenhouts, Chase Johnson, Joe Kurrasch, Pat Young, Reyes Moronta, Nick Vander Tuig

Rookie (4): Luis Ysla, Keury Mella, Carlos Diaz, DJ Snelten

Ok, that’s our crew, and now we have to whittle it down. We know Fresno and Richmond usually run 5-man rotations, while Augusta and San Jose almost always go with 6. So we’ve got 40 players to fill 22 spots. Essentially, half of these guys won’t be in a rotation come Opening Day. Yes, some will get injured, moved to the bullpen, held for extended spring training, or even cut from the organization, but there are still probably 8-12 guys among this group who won’t get the job they were hoping for when April rolls around. That’s crazy, and while it’s a sign of improved talent in the organization, it still won’t be easy for management to tell any of them they’ve been passed up.

Obviously, it’s not hard to figure out where some of these guys will land on Opening Day. Crick, Blackburn, Mejia, and Blach are all probably headed to Richmond. Those are no-brainers, but predicting the rest of these squads is quite a bit harder than you might think. Take Fresno, for instance. While the Giants have given some hints that Esky Escobar is headed to AAA this spring, he’s really about the only sure thing to make that staff. Kickham will probably be there, but I’m still not convinced the organization won’t have him working out of the bullpen, where he seemed much more confortable during his time in the bigs last season.

Aside from those two, the Fresno staff gets very muddled with former AA/AAA guys like Gloor, Heston and Snodgrass, and offseason pickups like Willis, De Paula and the recently acquired Huff. Long story short, there are many deserving pitchers and not nearly enough roster spots to go around, and that should make the spring competition all the more fun.

Here are my 2014 rotation predictions, with a little breakdown of each staff:

Fresno: Edwin Escobar, Mike Kickham, Mitch Lively, David Huff, Jason Berken

We’ve talked some about this group already. The Giants are excited about Escobar, and I am too. Is there a chance he starts the season back in Richmond? Sure, but I think the front office wants him close to San Francisco. If Vogelsong and/or Petit can’t hack it, Esky’s probably the next man in line for the 5th spot. I think Kickham is a near lock as well. This is a big season for him, and I’m sure he’ll be watched closely this spring. The cavalry is coming behind him, so he needs to step it up and prove he’s MLB material.

The final three spots could go about 100 different ways. Huff has quite a bit of MLB time, where he’s been mostly used as a starter. He’s also on the 40-man, and that certainly improves his odds. I took Lively and Berken because they were invited to big league camp. Lively opened eyes as the Pitcher of the Year in the Venezuelan Winter League, and he’ll be fighting off a slew of other worthy competitors in camp. Berken has some MLB service time and is a proven AAA innings-eater. I like his chances.

Just missed the cut: Jose De Paula, Chris Heston, Jack Snodgrass

Richmond: Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach, Adalberto Mejia, Kelvin Marte

One of the top rotations in all of MiLB right here. The only real question is who gets the #5 spot. Marte is the little lefty who’s spent parts of the last 4 years in San Jose. I think he finally gets the move up. There’s a posse out there calling for Stratton to get bumped over the Cal League, but I don’t see it. He’s got to earn his way up this time, and I could actually envision Flores getting the call ahead of him. There’s also a whole host of guys that made multiple starts for Richmond or Fresno last year, and I could see the final spot going to any of them. But the top four fellows here are the ones that people will be paying to see, and they certainly should put on a pretty good show this summer.

Just missed the cut: Jack Snodgrass, Chris Gloor, Justin Fitzgerald

San Jose: Chris Stratton, Kendry Flores, Martin Agosta, Joan Gregorio, Nick Vander Tuig, Patt Young

The folks at Muni Park in San Jose saw one of the premier rotations in the minors last year, but they should be treated to some stellar pitching again this season. Gregorio and Agosta are the locks here in my opinion, primarily because they both missed a chunk of time to injury in 2013. Either of those two could be the staff ace by mid-season though. Stratton and Flores are interesting cases for an aggressive promotion, but I see both of them ultimately starting the year in the CAL. I’d think either of them would have an opportunity to get bumped to Richmond for the second half, the way that Escobar did last season. They’ll have to earn it though.

The back end of this rotation could go many different ways (as they all could!). Vander Tuig and Young are the 2013 draft picks who earned starts in San Jose during the season – Vander Tuig’s was a spot start, while Young was promoted from Salem-Keizer for the postseason. I think NVT is the most polished arm from the class, and I’m a bit more confident he’ll end up in San Jose than I am with Young. Don’t sleep on the Cal Poly kid Chase Johnson getting a look here, but I’m guessing the organization wants to get him a bit more experience as a starter in Augusta.

Just missed the cut: Chase Johnson, Jason Forjet, Austin Fleet

Augusta: Chase Johnson, Luis Ysla, Keury Mella, Chris Johnson, Joe Kurrasch, Andrew Leenhouts

While the other three full-season clubs should all have at least a couple of exciting guys in their rotation, I’ll admit that I’m most anxious to see how the Augusta staff lines up in April. Frankly, I’m dying inside to know whether Mella gets a spot. If so, he’s the headliner of the staff. Right now, I’d say his odds are 50/50, as the Giants really limited his workload last year, and may keep him out until summer ball starts. If it’s me, I’m taking the training wheels off and watching him go!

Of all these guys, I’d say Chris Johnson and Kurrasch are probably the most likely locks. As I mentioned, Chase Johnson could be ticketed for San Jose, which would bump either NVT or Young back to the SALLY. Ysla is a very interesting arm. Lefty who came out of nowhere in the depths of the Venezuelan league, and a report over at MCC said he was throwing 94-97 in rookie ball last year. I deliberated back and forth between Leenhouts and another southpaw, Snelten from Minnesota, for the final spot in the Greenjackets rotation. Snelten has the upside, but Leenhouts really pitched well in Salem-Keizer last season. I think he gets the nod, while Snelten waits for short-season.

This Augusta staff might not look too impressive to an outsider. Why am I so excited about it, you ask? Well, when you look at all of the talent at the other levels, especially Richmond and San Jose, Augusta to me is the perfect example of the wealth of pitching depth in this organization. While the rest of the baseball world has its eyes on the Crick’s, Escobar’s and Stratton’s (rightly so), the Giants could potentially have three guys blowing 95 in Low A if Mella, Ysla and Chase Johnson all make the rotation. That’s impressive stuff, folks.

Just missed the cut: DJ Snelten, Matt Lujan, Jose Reyes

There you go, 40 guys fighting for 22 jobs. Will it all pan out like this? Heck no, but that’s what makes spring so fun for a devoted baseball fan. I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way, both at the minor league and major league camps. I’ll tell you what though: this organization is stacked with pitching talent, some of it very close to breaking through. I can’t wait to see what these starters do this season, regardless of who’s pitching where.

A couple of updates on the blog. Two months later, the Cove Chatter 100 is finally coming to its conclusion. It took a ton of research and writing, but I’m very glad I decided to do it. The feedback was very positive, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the offseason. As I get the final few profiles out this week, I’ll also try to slip in the rest of my organizational roster predictions. I can promise you the rest of them won’t be as long as this one… but hey, starting pitching is the meat of this system, and these guys are worth every word in this post!

I’ve got plenty of other ideas in the works right now, and you can be sure that things will only pick up when pitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks. Thanks for following along, and as always, go Giants.

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(Nikki Boertman)

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19 thoughts on “Predicting the 2014 Rotations”

  1. Pretty much an epic and prodigious post on the Giants minor league affiliates. What could one possibly add or take away?

    I’m most interested in the Fresno rotation because that’s the one I get see in person. I like that you have Lively and Heston in there. Maybe the D-Train makes it. It all depends on how some of these guys are throwing in February and March. If a veteran minor leaguer, like Berken, Huff, and others, are throwing it well, they could grab a coveted spot within bus fare of AT&T.

    1. Hey, thanks a lot… it’ll probably turn out to be more of an epic and prodigious face plant by April 1! Fortunately and unfortunately, I live in a Pioneer League town… meaning I can watch some rookie ball during the summer, but ain’t no Giants teams in the Pioneer. I’ve got to get back to Northern CA so I can watch some of these kids.

      There are so many AAA arms to sort through this year, it’s really anyone’s guess as to who steps up. If Huff were tougher on lefties, I’d say he has a good shot of making the big club on Opening Day… problem is, lefties rake off him!

      1. Pioneer League town! Goodness. I just looked those towns up. You poor lost soul. Come back to the land of the living. You must feel like ‘William Blake’ in Dead Man.

      2. Plus side, I’ve been able to watch Billy Hamilton (when he was a shortstop), Didi Gregorius, and Robert Stephenson the past few years. Man, Stephenson was fun to watch… but didn’t stay down for very long. The Giants used to have a team out of Great Falls, MT. My buddy’s dad was a bat boy for them growing up, and has a lot of cool stories about those days.

  2. I’m pretty sure Caleb Clay bugged out and signed with a Korean team or something like that. The Giants kind of went out of their way to purchase Huff from the Yankees, so I would pencil him into the Fresno rotation because I don’t think he’s a reliever. Otherwise, great rundown.

    1. DrB, you’re right about Clay. I found a little blip about his release on Rotoworld… I wasn’t sure it had been confirmed. If Huff makes the Fresno rotation, who do you think gets bumped? Maybe Berken, but he’s made an awful lot of AAA starts over the past couple seasons. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Yeah, Clay was quietly signed then released, noticed that on the Giants’ website’s transaction logs for Dec/Jan.

  3. Don’t see Berken getting bumped. My five would be Kickam, Excobar, Heston, Berken and Huff. Just don’t see Lively making the starting rotation. While he threw well during league play in Venezuela, he got rocked in the play-offs and his overall BB/K stats are not that good.. Just my opinion.

    I’m wondering what will happen with Austin Fleet, Chris Gloor and Craig Wescott this year since there doesn’t appear to be room for them in Fresno and the young studs are heading to Richmond. Any thoughts?

    1. Thanks for the playoff updates on Lively. I hadn’t heard that. He may certainly be the odd man out. As for the Fleet/Gloor/Wescott trio (plus Fitzgerald, Snodgrass and Ryan Bradley for that matter), I’d imagine a couple of them won’t be with the organization when the season starts. Maybe one gets sent down to San Jose, as often happens with the guys who stall out at the upper levels. Maybe one claims the 5th spot in Richmond to add a veteran presence in that rotation… but there’s simply not enough room for all of them in the system anymore, in my opinion. Thanks for commenting.

      1. Think we can say goodnight to Justin Fitzgerald as a Giant. Nice kid from a great athletic family( dad was a good basketball player and his grandfather was a minor leaguer and a coaching legend at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa), but his days are numbered

      2. I didn’t know that about him. Cardinal Newman has one heck of an athletic history. I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on their football teams over the years. Gotta love the NorCal natives, Fitz from Santa Rosa, Lively from Susanville… up in Lassen County. Couple hours from where I grew up, and we used to camp at Eagle Lake every summer… just a few miles down the road from Susanville.

  4. Fresno: Given the buzz Sabean gave about Escobar being a guy they are depending on to give the rotation backup in 2014, I don’t see how he isn’t in Fresno. Kickham, while he did better in relief in the majors, he didn’t get a full season opportunity to prove himself in AAA yet, so I expect him to be starting in Fresno, if only so that he can work on whatever issues the Giants brain trust saw while he was starting in the majors. He was so dominant at times, I don’t see how they don’t work with that as a base and try to go from there.

    The other three, as you note, could go a lot of ways, and will be decided by how well they show to the coaches in spring training. Have to think Huff is one of them, but I can see him being jumped over Kickham if we need a Loogy reliever at some point in the season (heck, Escobar might get the call too, much like Sanchez did long ago).

    Richmond: mostly agree. Marte is just too old at this point, while not that dominant in SJ, so how could he dominate in Richmond, I thought. I had projected Flores jumped to Richmond, mostly because nobody else makes as much sense, plus his 8+ K/BB in Augusta suggests that he can jump leagues. But looking at the other guys on your list, I have to wonder if Jose De Paula ends up in Richmond, as he actually didn’t do that great in AA, high H/9, high HR/9, low K/9, but very low BB/9 and great K/BB because of that. If he’s in AA, that would push Flores to San Jose.

    San Jose and Augusta look pretty good. Could go either way on some of them. FYI, the Carlos Diaz link is not correct, Chris Johnson too, just too common a name in each case. I liked Diaz for the Augusta rotation, but I like the guys you have there too, so tough choice for me. Chris too.

    I really like Diaz over Leenhouts for Augusta (but can see him getting put in NWL as he’s still very young, just really liked his K/9), and I prefer Chris Johnson over Pat Young for San Jose (which would bump Young to Augusta). Johnson is the same age but did better, looking at his stats, than Young did, though as you noted, he got promoted to SJ for a start (though I would note sometimes that has as much to do with whose turn to take a start is, as well as perceived talent). But really minor quibbles.

    Great post, very enjoyable.

    1. Thanks OGC! I’m glad you enjoyed it… that’s why I decided to post them! I’ll fix those links, I didn’t realize that. Thanks for the heads up. De Paula does make sense in Richmond, to be honest. I hadn’t given it that much thought… Honestly, I’d completely forgotten him on the original draft. I looked his numbers over much closer last night, and you are correct, he really doesn’t seem that close to MLB-ready at this point. A return to AA may serve him well. The Giants must like him though, to put him on the 40-man. I believe his line against lefties wasn’t very impressive last year, which was a little disappointing to me.

      1. I had the same problems using the BB-Ref linker, common names just get assigned someone with that name. Happy to help out.

        Yeah, they must really like him to put him on the 40, probably sees something they think they can either fix or work with. De Paula had some nice stats last season, plus, he’s probably was still recovering from some big surgery that he had in 2012 when he came back in 2013, so he could have been a bit rusty too. So they could move him fast to AAA if he does well in the early season.

  5. Chris Haft, ion a recent post today, says that Huff is ouy of options so I think we can scratch him from the Fresno roster. Looking more and more like the battle for bulllpen work is coming down to Huff, Petit, Machi, Kontos and Hembree for the final three spots Seems like Romo, Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez are locks.

    1. If it’s me, I’m looking at Huff, Machi and Hembree very close. The options deal may end up keeping Hembree down in AAA to start the season. Unless he tears it up in camp, which I am hopeful for.

      1. It was Petit, which we already know. Looks like Huff is the competition with Petit for the long relief spot, plus provide depth in case Vogelsong falters or any other starter should be injured.

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