Minor League Quick Hits

The Giants farm system took a lot of heat in the offseason, and then didn’t exactly start the year on fire. Things have really turned around in the 2nd half, however. Here’s a few names, notes, and other talking points about the organization’s prospects.

1. The Giants supposedly can’t develop a hitter to save their lives. Yet Joe Panik, Adam Duvall, Andrew Susac and Matt Duffy are all major leaguers right now. Mark this down: You could start Susac, Panik and Duffy every game for the rest of the year, and I’d be willing to wager you’d have a competitive team. I LOVE what those guys are doing.

2. Clayton Blackburn put together the pitching performance of the year for the organization yesterday. 8 shutout innings, 3 H, no walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s outings like that in the upper minors which take a prospect’s status to the next level. Blackburn has been injured for a good portion of the season, so yesterday’s gem was a huge development.

3. More on Blackburn: I caught about 5 minutes of the start on MiLB tv. His breaking ball was dominant. What stood out most to me, however, was his body. He appears to be in much better shape (to my untrained eye) now than he was earlier in the year.

4. People should be, and soon likely will be talking about Cuban signee Daniel Carbonell. He’s got the chance to be a game-changer for this organization… speed, defense, and an impressive swing. Hopefully his early performance will motivate the front office to take a harder look at Cuban sensation Rusney Castillo – high price tag or not.

5. To the naked eye, the 2014 draft class doesn’t look like anything special. But it’s a group that is growing on me. Obviously, the success of the class hinges on Tyler Beede. But the Giants took some very interesting players with college picks (bats) Aramis Garcia, Austin Slater, Dylan Davis, Skyler Ewing, Hunter Cole and Richard Amion, and (arms) Sam Coonrod, Connor Kaden, Matt Gage, and Greg Brody. Some of those guys are off to pretty nice starts this summer. I think I’m most interested in the prep picks the organization made this year. Guys like Logan Webb and Stetson Woods, Byron Murray, Luis Lacen and Kevin Rivera. These aren’t the sexy names among the draft, but if one of them can develop into something, it will be a huge win for the farm system. Keep an eye on this class (and last year’s) going forward. 

6. With the Giants rather uncharacteristically promoting so many rookie hitters to the big leagues this season, I’ve been thinking a lot about prospect evaluation, specifically for this organization. As bloggers and fans, we often try to find that one magical statistic that separates the great minor leaguers from the average ones. Because, as we know, the majority of prospects in a system at any given time will never see a MLB clubhouse. Some people will argue that average is the all-important number to watch for hitters, while K rates are viewed as a major indicator for pitchers. But, in the Giants case, I’m starting to find that maybe the most important indicator to how the organization views its minor leaguers is service time.

What do I mean by this? Well, if you look at the 4 players (Duffy, Susac, Panik, Duvall) who the Giants have promoted and played at the MLB level this year, they all have a couple things in common. None of the 4 ever spent more than one season at a level, regardless of their performance that year (remember that Susac didn’t exactly light the world on fire in San Jose. Same for Panik last year in Richmond). Actually, Duffy is the outlier of this group, as he was promoted in-season to San Jose last year, and then aggressively assigned to Richmond for 2014. Long story short, we don’t see any players who repeated levels here. But most telling, in my opinion, is the time (or lack thereof) that each player spent in AAA. Think about it. Panik, Duvall and Susac were all in their first season with Fresno. Duffy had never even played in AAA before the Giants summoned him from Richmond. It’s becoming rather apparent to me that the Giants view their prospects’ performance in AA as the true indicator of whether they are ready to play in the majors. I know Brian Sabean mentioned something along the lines of this last winter when asked about Kyle Crick and the other AA arms, and it’s now looking very obvious at the moment – at least on the hitting side.

Matt Duffy

(The Duff Man: Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

I guess what I’m trying to say here is this: If you’re looking to evaluate a prospect (say for ranking purposes or general discussion), there are 3 things to look closely at. Did the player ever repeat a level? Was he ever promoted in-season? And maybe most importantly, has he spent more than one full season in Fresno. If you can answer yes to either the first or third questions, then odds are the Giants don’t view those players as future impact talent. And being promoted in-season? Well, that would certainly seem to indicate the organization’s feelings about a prospect, but it doesn’t always guarantee they’ll make the final jump. We have two very recent examples of that in Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Both of them were in-season promotion players, and guys who sped their way to AAA. But Hembree had already spent way too much time in Fresno to be considered a top prospect, and it was becoming clear that Escobar would not be a candidate for a promotion to the majors this year. So, by my estimation, neither player was viewed very highly by the organization… and that was proven to be true when Sabean dealt them for Jake Peavy. Want a good example of Sabes getting value for a prospect (or two) that he isn’t crazy about? There it is.

Wow. That turned out to be much, much more than just a “quick hit.” But I think it’s very relevant to what we talk about all the time on this blog, as well as others. If the Giants view a player as MLB impact caliber, they will nearly always promote him in his first season at AAA. If you have time, take a look at all of the players on the current 25-man (or DL) that the Giants developed… Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, Adrianza, Duffy, Susac, Duvall, Panik, Romo, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Cain… How much time did they play for Fresno? Hint: not much. So, much as it pains me to say it, it’s pretty clear at this point that Gary Brown doesn’t have a future with the organization. But you probably already knew that. 

Anyway, I hope you found this as interesting as I did. I’d been thinking about it for some time, and wanted to share my thoughts. If you take away anything, it’s this: don’t believe everything you read out there… the Giants CAN AND DO develop hitters! 

7. Last, but most definitely not least: I know I don’t have the biggest following out there, but I hope that I have earned enough credibility in the Giants’ prospecting world to make a recommendation. Most of you probably already know this, but if not, then you absolutely MUST make Giant Potential a daily stop on your list. In a year’s time (I know he’s had the site longer, but I’ve only been following for about a year), Conner Penfold has transformed this site into the most unbiased and comprehensive place for all things Giants prospects. There simply is no better site out there for daily coverage, video, etc. of the Giants farm. MLB Pipeline has upped its game in the past couple years, but in my opinion even they don’t hold a candle to what Conner is doing with his site. I’m lucky to consider him a pal in the Giants “blogosphere,” and I think it’s finally time to give him the credit he is due for the awesome work he’s been doing. I sure enjoy following along, and I hope all of you will as well.

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5 thoughts on “Minor League Quick Hits”

  1. Great take CC. I am enjoying the hell out of Panik, Susac, Duvall and Duffy. I also think there are a lot of strides made second half historically as players adjust to the new level of play. Particularly with pitchers, of which the Giants have a lot of promising ones. The Giants have a solid, sleeper farm. Far from being a wasteland of any kind.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and my apologies for the lack of activity here lately! Just look at all of the homegrown hitters on this club right now. Pretty impressive stuff. It was actually easier to use the hitters as examples at the moment, which really says something. But that should change next season, as the obvious names to watch from a MLB promotion standpoint should just about all be pitchers. Crick, Blach, Blackburn, Okert, Law… who gets the call?

  2. Great to see you up and writing again. I almost missed these 2 posts because I have gotten so used to going straight to the Twitter column! BTW, your Twitter column is the BEST! You could have a whole site with nothing but that on it!(BTW, I’m not on Twitter or Instagram, but should probably get with the times).

    Kruk and Kuip mentioned that Giants fans are looking forward to Panik’s AB’s. I agree wholeheartedly. Yeah, I know he’s red hot right now and regressions happen to everybody, but even when this kid makes outs, he puts on a clinic at the plate. I don’t remember when the Giants have ever brought up a prospect with an eye at the plate like Panik. Yeah, Belt always took a lot of walks, but he also let a lot of very hittable pitches go by and still swung at a lot of garbage. Panik, on the other hand, isn’t taking pitches to try for a walk. He’s taking pitches trying to get into hitters counts and looking for pitches to hit. I’d love to see what Panik’s o-Swing and z-Swing rates are but I bet he’s already one of the best at not swinging outside the zone and jumping on stuff in the zone.

    It’s just such a pleasure to watch the kid hit!

    1. Thanks for the kind words DrB! I’m glad someone is following my Twitter feed, as that is really the only way I’ve been able to communicate lately. Once I can get my 4th graders settled in, I’d like to start finding more time to blog again… so that will probably never happen!

      Panik is definitely fun to watch. There’s a reason why we’ve all been saying that he could have a Marco Scutaro type career, and I think we’re seeing it now! What do all the writers slapping that utility label on him have to say now? It’s just great to see some young hitters coming up through the system, with hopefully a few pitchers breaking through next year.

  3. Kyle, I definitely like the blog and check in on the G Potential site as well. Good job.

    I think Hector Sanchez should not catch another game this season. Susec looks pretty good back there and if the stick comes alive watch out.

    I am in total agreement with your take on Brandon Crawford. I love that he is a home town kid that attended games as a kid but he sure has a lot of swing and miss going on right now. I think Adrianza is every bit as good defensively and he seems to make pretty good contact.

    Panik getting hurt sucks big time but I guess it now gives us a look at Duffy for a few days. BTW, get Panik in the 2 hole and Pence in an RBI spot.

    Blackburn played against my son growing up and always had good stuff and great control. The change up and breaking ball were already pretty decent pitches for him in HS. It’s great to see him healthy and getting closer to the show. He has always reminded me of Rick Reuchel.

    The guy I am the most excited about right now is Tyler Horan. Gap power and he plays LF, that is one of our big question marks going forward. Could be a fun race to see who takes the spot between Mac, Horan, and Carbonell.

    Tim Kurkjian of Espn is stating that the scouts are comping Castillo as a Raj Davis equivalent player. Not worth the cash to me. I’m still waiting for one of these Cuban guys to be a bust.

    Last point, it sure would be nice to see Duvall start hitting in the bigs.

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