More Spring Talk

It’s still winter at my house, but dang if I don’t have spring on the brain (almost every waking second) these days. Lots of people calling to the uncertainty facing the Giants as pitchers and catchers get ready to report to Scottsdale at the end of this week. I’m doing my best to steer clear of the negativity. I’m big on positive thoughts this time of year, folks. Personally, I’m excited to get this squad rolling. Lots of people to prove wrong this season, so let’s get to it!

We’ll keep this brief, but I wanted to mention a few things I’ve had on my mind lately. If you scan over to the right, you’ll see I posted some questions on Twitter earlier today (mostly so I wouldn’t forget them).

Question 1: How long is Vogey’s leash? It’s hard not to love Ryan Vogelsong because of what he’s done for the organization. His story is awesome, just plain awesome. But you either stopped watching altogether in September last year or you’re in some serious denial if you don’t remember his velocity dipping significantly down the stretch. A quick look at Brooks Baseball today showed what we all thought: Average fastball velocity of 92+ in September and October 2012, dropped to 87 in August and 88 in September 2013. WBC hangover? Rust from the injury time off? Only he knows, but I’d sure feel a lot better about some 90’s this spring. Something a little more like this…

Back to the question. If Vogey just doesn’t have it anymore (which is a very relevant question in my mind), does he still get the 5th spot in the rotation? What if Yusmeiro Petit or David Huff out-perform him? At their peak, Vogelsong is head and shoulders better than those two. But I don’t think we’re talking about peak performances anymore.

My take: I think Vogey would have to really, really fall apart (or never actually get going) to lose his spot this spring. The Giants wouldn’t have promised him the job if they didn’t think he could do it. Worst case scenario, he starts the year on the 15-day DL to see if the kinks come out, with Petit taking the #5 spot. Best case scenario, Vogey comes back well-rested and makes us forget this conversation even happened.

**Update**: I posted this question to Baggarly in his weekly chat this morning. Also told him I had a hunch the WBC played a much bigger role than we anticipated. His response: “I agree on the WBC. I think he’ll be given a bit of leash because that’s Bochy’s MO. But it’s all relative to the alternatives. If someone else like Escobar is blowing off doors, then I think Vogelsong’s leash would be shorter.” I’m starting to get the impression that Baggs’ thinks pretty highly of these kids. He mentions Escobar and Derek Law a ton. Said he’s most excited to see Law’s power curve in camp. Hearing things like that gets me pretty excited, as I believe Baggs’ views are often a strong reflection of the organization’s.

Question 2: Will there be a surprise competitor in the bullpen race?

There are at least two relief spots open heading into camp, maybe three if you include Petit and the long-man role. At this point, there are too many guys to count that are vying for these spots. I’ll have some profiles up in the next couple of weeks so we can keep everything straight. The obvious favorites (in my estimation) are Jean Machi and Heath Hembree, but George Kontos and Jake Dunning will get some long looks. Machi looks like he’s slimmed down, and he’s been working away as the closer for the Venezuelan team in the Caribbean Series.

Ok, maybe he hasn’t slimmed down THAT much…

So, any surprises? Everyone’s talking about Derek Law. I’d love to see him break through. Love it. But I just don’t think the front office is ready to promote a kid from High-A to the bigs in the span of one offseason. The two guys I’ll be paying special attention to this spring are Rafael Dolis and Adam Reifer. Dolis throws very hard, but the statistics don’t match the scouting report. Reifer was on the verge of breaking through with St. Louis a couple years ago, and allowed 19 hits in 41 innings pitched at AAA last season…yeah, reread the first part of the sentence and let it sink in. He’s also had a tough time controlling the strike zone as a pro. I found a grainy video of him, must have been from the minors a few years back. Tops out around 93 with the fastball – I’d heard he throws harder than that. Either way, he’s my sleeper this spring.

Just for fun, I’ll throw Erik Cordier’s name into the ring as well. Just how hard does he throw?

That’s it for now. We’ll get to some more topics later in the week, as we wait out the final days until the beat writers start hitting us left and right with camp stories. As Chris Berman likes to say, “tick-tick-tick, tick…”

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18 thoughts on “More Spring Talk”

    1. It’s just crazy to think that’s the same guy we saw just get knocked around for most of last season. Seeing that video really did make me wonder if the short offseason/WBC wasn’t the major culprit for his struggles. I mean, how do you just drop 5 mph on your fastball almost overnight? Especially when he looked normal in the WBC…

    1. Thanks for the clarification OGC. So Augusta had the most pitcher-friendly park in the minors last year. That blows my mind. Does that mean we should be worried even more about Stratton’s move to the Cal League though?

      1. You’re welcome, you gave the link to it, so I appreciated that, so I thought I would return the favor once I found out, as you brought up that question.

        i don’t really know for Stratton. Personally, I’m giving him a push for 2013, someone speculated that maybe that concussion in 2012 was still affecting him in 2013, and the brain does work in mysterious ways, so since so many sites seem to love his skill set, I will have an open mind on him in 2014.

        But who knows? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the talent people saw in him before is still there, just waiting to be unleashed.

        Yeah, scary thought about the move, but that’s really true for most of our pitchers, the Sally has always been a pitcher’s league and the CAL a hitter’s league, so that’s a huge leap for any season. Hopefully, they are developing and making progress of some sort, so that they continue to do well when making the jump.

        In any case, I just remind myself that prospects that late in the first round are not actually that great in terms of prospects, generally, there is a lot of failures in this group, that’s just a fact of life, that it’s just a numbers game.

      2. On the bright side, we already have 5 starting pitcher prospects (and a few relievers) who already excelled in San Jose. So we know it can be done, and I think the Stratton/Flores group has a pretty good chance or repeating the success (without the absolute dominance of Crick, of course).

      3. Wow, talk about good timing! I checked out Baggerly’s chat today and he basically said the same thing (so I probably heard from him before): he felt that Stratton had a pretty severe concussion in 2012 so he’s excusing his 2013, and see where he stands after 2014.

        Good point about others succeeding in San Jose. I would add Cainer and Bumgarner to the list too (Dirty would make the list too, but just didn’t pitch much, if I remember right, in SJ, the Giants moved him up fast after his nice Augusta season).

        He also mentioned that the reason his Susac ranking was so low (relative to others, he ranked him 11th) is that he wrote his in the middle of the AFL. Now, after taking into account the whole AFL season plus some talks with scouts, he would rank him 6-7 now.

      4. That’s funny that you mention the Baggs chat. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Stratton response was to a question I asked. I usually submit a question or two, and he rarely gets to them. But he answered at least two of my three Q’s this time. I asked about Stratton, as well as Vogey’s leash this spring, and any surprise arms we might see emerge in the bullpen race.
        On the last question, I was talking specifically about Spring Training, but Baggs said he thought Osich was a guy who could move fast. He seems to think very highly of this new wave of guys, which is a nice feeling of validation I should think for all of us who talk them up.
        About Stratton: If his somewhat up and down season was a byproduct of concussion effects, then I certainly overlooked it. But I constantly checked in on David Lee’s writing for the Augusta Chronicle, and I don’t ever really remember him mentioning anything about the concussion affecting Chris’ performance. I’m sure Stratton himself would likely downplay it if that were the case, but you’d think a former 1st round pick and SEC player of the year having lasting concussion effects would have been something the beat writers would have been all over. So, at this point I guess you could say I have no idea what happened with Stratton last season.

      5. Regarding Stratton, two points: First, the concussion in August 2012 surely affected his offseason preparation for 2013. (He also got married in early 2013, and that never seems to be a great predictor for the following season–see Madison Bumgarner in 2010 and Hector Sanchez in 2013!) Anyway, when a pitcher is physically behind schedule, the effects can linger well into/throughout a season. So even if Stratton didn’t have lingering concussion symptoms, he may just have been playing catchup during his first full pro season.

        Second, it’s not like Stratton had a BAD 2013 season–he didn’t. I think observers were surprised that a 23-year-old college pitcher was (a) assigned to Augusta at all and (b) didn’t completely dominate the Sally League. Maybe the concussion/catchup factor above is the reason for both, but to be fair to him, his 2013 season wasn’t disastrous, either. In fact, he lowered his walk rate and WHIP from his (injury-shortened) Salem-Keizer stint while amassing a lot of strikeouts and giving up almost no HRs. He was in the top 12 or higher in the league in ERA, WHIP, Ks, and IPs. Again, not all-world domination but certainly not bad.

        This will be a very important year for Stratton. He should have had a full normal offseason to do his work, and he’ll be transitioning from the best pitchers’ park in the minors to a hitters’ league (assuming he goes to San Jose). I’m rooting for him, as he seems like a very likable, high-character young man, and that severe concussion so early on was a bad break for him.

      6. Great points Lefty! I didn’t know he got married last year, and the “playing catch-up” idea makes total sense. I certainly don’t think he had a bad season, but the more I have read this winter, the more negativity I’ve seen regarding his performance… aside from Baggarly. Yes, that could all be wiped away this season, and hopefully so. He didn’t really blossom in college until his final season, so maybe it takes him a little longer to adjust. Like you say, this will be a key season for him. Thanks for your input, I certainly have a new way of looking at his situation now. Oh, one last thing: He does seem very likable, as do the majority of the players in the Giants farm system. The organization really puts value in character, and that makes me very proud to be a Giants fan.

      7. Ha ha, did not realize those were your questions, but I did think of you when I saw the leash question!

        Thanks for your perspective, leftydf. I, like Kyle, had no idea what exactly was meant by the concussion affecting his 2013, all I know is that after my concussion, I found that my memory seemed to be affected, but physically I’ve been fine, so I thought maybe something like that. What you say makes a lot more sense, of how it probably affected his preparation during the off-season, which then lingered into the season (and that seemed to happen to a lot of the Giants after the World Series/WBC combo, frankly).

        To your point, Kyle, I would point out that some ballplayers don’t want to give an excuse for why they aren’t doing as well as expected. It’s the “Just do it” mentality (or the “Do or Do Not. There is no try.” mentality). Plus, leftydf made the good point regarding how well he did pitch, it was not like he got bombed or anything, he just didn’t do as well as people thought he would because of those givens. No need to give a public reason when you still did well. In any case, I do expect him to get promoted to SJ, per this point.

        Yeah, I root harder for the players who are like that, nice young men of high character. I especially like that he didn’t want to get every last dollar or demand more (as he was slotted to be drafted higher), he signed quickly because he wanted to get started on his career, and how can you not love that as a fan?

      8. Yeah, it was nice validation Kyle to see Osich get a shout out like that. I’ve been high on him since he was drafted, thought he was a real steal (like everyone else :^). Obviously, health is his big “IF” but with his preference for relief anyway, I would like to see if they can develop him into that uber-reliever role that I’ve been advocating for Lincecum once he’s no longer starting.

        While Osich don’t have Tim’s rubber arm, so he can’t pitch multiple days, he could be a huge weapon in set-up with his upper 90’s heat combined with starter’s broad repertoire of pitches, while sometimes coming into the game in the middle and bridge to the other set-up guys on occasion, if they can keep up his stamina for multiple innings. Or at least pitch two innings at a time, maybe 7th and 8th.

        Plus close sometimes as well, I would like to see a return to the Giants heyday of Lavelle-Moffitt, having a lefty closer and a righty closer, teamed up. Puts less stress on the arms, there is no shame if the manager decides to relieve one with the other in the 9th (hey, some nights you just don’t have it), plus it protects the team if one of the closers suddenly loses it or is temporarily not available.

        Plus, I wouldn’t mind even taking the next step beyond that, having a pool of closers (the Giants kind of have that right now with Romo, Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez) who the manager deploys as he sees best for the situation, in the 7th, 8th, 9th, plus go 1+ innings if necessary.

      9. Well the nice thing is that most of the guys the Giants are bringing through the system right now are hard throwers who profile as closers or have spent some time in that role in the minors. Guys like Hembree, Law, Osich, Hall, St. Johnson, etc. Add Dan Slania to that list now. I’d much rather have a bullpen full of guys like that than middle-relief-only types. I’m excited to see if these younger relievers can carry their success over to the next level, and some of them should start to get some chances in the next couple years (hopefully Hembree gets a full-season’s worth this year).

  1. I hope you’re right about Hembree and Machi getting those two spots. That’s how I see it, too. IMO, Hembree should have been called up in early August. The Giants were out of it and Hembree had turned his season around and was absolutely dealing in Fresno. Lost season–why not redeem it a bit by taking a (longer) look at a top reliever prospect? We’d know more about Hembree if they had done that.

    1. I felt the same way about a few guys toward the end of the season. Surkamp, Kickham, Kieschnick… I thought it would have made a lot of sense to get longer looks at these guys. I know the front office wanted to get some good mojo back going into the end of the season, but they ended up only a couple of wins north of having a protected pick. It was a great opportunity to evaluate the younger guys, and I honestly don’t know what the thought process was. I do think Hembree will get one of the spots though, as the bullpen could really use someone with a little more velocity.

  2. Just realized I never answered your questions.

    I think Vogey’s leash will depend on how well Petit and Escobar pitches in the spring, so hard to say. I think there will be some length because they believe in him, but at the same time, if he’s getting beat like a drum in spring and they don’t like what they see, he could start out as the long relief guy while Petit becomes the 5th starter. But if neither of them look ready anyhow, they will probably just default to Vogey (with Huff as another possible replacement, I just realized, so he’s in the mix too).

    But I don’t expect that. Presuming that there isn’t something physically or mechanically wrong, else they wouldn’t have resigned him, I don’t see any other reason for his severe drop in velocity last season other than lack of enough time to prepare and then rushing to start pitching for the WBC. With enough time this season (and the long rest he got during the season when on the DL), his arm should be both fresh and conditioned right. He might not have the velocity of 2011-12, but it should be closer to that than his 2013.

    And he was extremely good in 2011-2012. He doesn’t have to pitch that well for the Giants to do well. He can fall off 10-20% from then and still deliver a sub-4 ERA, which would still be great to get from the back of the rotation. He could even be as bad as Zito was – and he was never really that bad through most of his Giants career – with a low 4 ERA and that would still be good from the back of the rotation.

    For the bullpen, I would have chosen Osich even before the chat or our discussion here, as I really like him. How about Bochy’s son? He has actually done well, but has not gotten much press, probably because he’s not as skilled as others, but ultimately in baseball, it’s about your performance, not your skill set. I would also point out JC Guiterrez, only because I never saw his name until ZiPS came out and his name popped up (apparently we picked him up over the off-season), plus he’s pitched in the majors before and his high K/9 and BB/9 suggests wild heat. He would in the same category as Cordier (or Runzler).

    And of course, like everyone else, I’m hoping Law breaking out in spring and stealing a spot. I disagree about the Giants being afraid to rush him. They have pushed guys fast before (Dirty, Barnes, Correia, Runzler) to the majors. Plus, you forgot that it is not just over the off-season, but also includes how well he did in the AFL, which is considered to be in-between AA and AAA, plus how he does in spring training.

    1. Thanks OGC, I saw that this morning! Lots of turnover with the Phillies pitching staff in the past couple days, with the Hamels injury and Burnett signing. Hopefully Petit can have a Gaudin-like season this year.

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