AFL Wrap Up

Kyle Crick was impressive in another pitchers’ dual in Scottsdale’s final AFL game on Thursday. The right-handed gunner squared off against Aaron Sanchez, who’s the #1 prospect in Toronto’s system… Sanchez had an impressive fall campaign, and he earned the victory with five solid innings for Salt River. Crick was no slouch himself, allowing two walks over three hitless frames. He sent five Rafters’ hitters back to the dugout by way of the strikeout. By all accounts, he was pumping 95+ for the entire outing again, and dialed it up to 98 to get out of a jam in the 3rd inning. He also had an offering that clocked in at 90-91 on the gun… a slider… a cutter? Don’t know, but the kid had a very strong finish to his fall league campaign, and seems to be adding new tools to his belt almost every time out these days.

I figured this would be a good time to look at the final numbers from each of the Giants’ farmhands in the AFL, and maybe take a peak at a few of the other winter league Gigantes if we have time.

2013 Scottsdale Scorpions (10-21)

Kyle Crick: 7 G, 5 GS, 2.87 ERA, 15.2 IP, 9 H, 11 BB, 24 K, 1.28 WHIP

Make no mistake, 15.2 innings does not a dominant pitcher make, but I think the minor league baseball world got a glimpse of Crick’s immense talent this fall. It wasn’t all roses early on, as he was moved to the Scottsdale bullpen after yielding 8 ER on 8 H and 8 BB in his first three starts. Whether the move was made to get Crick ready for the Fall Stars game or send him a message, it wasn’t completely clear… what was clear, however, was the impact that move had on the top prospect in the organization. In his final four appearances, Cricky allowed only one hit, 3 BB, and most importantly, no runs in 9 innings of work. He struck out 12 in that span, and was flat out dominant in his final two starts; he regularly popped the mitt at 95-98 mph. For the short season, he had a .161 batting average against, proving yet again that his stuff is unhittable when it’s on.

Let’s be clear here: Crick is very much a work in progress, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m anointing him the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yes, the similarities to Matt Cain are uncanny, but Crick has a long way to go to live up to those expectations. Do I think he has the goods to get there? Hell yes. But he’s still just a (newly) 21 year-old kid who doesn’t offer much in the secondary pitch department, and often has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. All we can hope for at this point is a healthy 2014 that allows him the opportunity to increase his workload and experience in Richmond. If that happens, I think he may very well be on the fast track to the show… and I’ll be rooting him on all the way.

Just for fun, I totaled his 2013 numbers, including the Cal League postseason and the AFL… read it and weep: 23 G, 21 GS, 95 IP, 1.80 ERA, 64 H, 2 HR, 53 BB, 132 K.

Ditch the walks, and we’ve got a monster on our hands folks. He’s 21 years old.

Adalberto Mejia: 7 G, 3 GS, 8.47 ERA, 17 IP, 18 H, 8 BB, 14 K, 1.53 WHIP.

Like his buddy Crick, Mejia got off to a rocky start in the AFL. Unlike Crick, Mejia wasn’t ever really able to settle in. His best outing was a relief effort, in which he entered in the second to get Crick out of a bases-loaded jam. All told, the young lefty allowed only one baserunner (and no runs) over 3.1 innings that game, striking out 5 in the process. But that was the highlight for a campaign that saw him allow 18 H and 16 ER in only 17 IP.

Mejia is like most of the other pitchers not named Crick in the Giants’ organization. He has to rely more on control than stuff, and I think the AFL was a great learning experience for him. He flashed a pretty dirty slider at times in San Jose this year, and he’ll need to gain a better feel for it going forward if he wants to make it at the upper levels.

To me, this performance doesn’t set Mejia back, but may show him and the organization what needs to improve. He’s another very young pitcher with a ton of upside, and should easily make every top 10 Giants prospect list out there next spring.

Cody Hall: 9 G, 3.00 ERA, 9 IP, 13 H, 4 BB, 7 K, 1.89 WHIP, 3 HD

Hall definitely wasn’t the most impressive reliever for Scottsdale, and he wasn’t used a whole lot either. But that probably has more to do with his 2013 workload than anything else. Unlike some of the other guys, Hall wasn’t assigned to the AFL to make up for lost time. Instead, he (like teammate Derek Law) was probably given the challenge by the front office to see how he’d handle top competition. I think the Giants see big league dreams in Hall’s near future, and I wouldn’t say he did anything to negate his chances of making it.

I saw him toss an inning in one of the televised games last week, and the dude looks cut from the same cloth and Heath Hembree, with a fastball nearly as impressive. I think he’s in the same boat as a lot of other MiLB power relievers (Hembree included), in that he really just needs to find a consistent secondary pitch to make it. He’s not the youngest guy by any means, but his 2014 numbers don’t lie. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty excited to see some of these big-bodied relievers break through. Hall should be part of that bunch.

Derek Law: 11 G, 0.00 ERA, 12.1 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 16 K, 1.14 WHIP

If you haven’t heard of Derek Law, it’s time to do some homework. As much as Crick helped raise his stock this fall, Law might have taken the cake as Giants pitchers go. This is a kid who came out of almost complete anonymity to post a ridiculous 102 K in 66.1 IP during the regular season… with 12 BB and a 2.31 ERA, I might add. He also didn’t allow a run in the fall league, and may have earned himself a big boy spring training invite in the process. Law has nearly everything you look for in a polished late-inning reliever… presence, velocity, secondaries, and a heavy ball. His curve is filthy, and his fastball has good sink. It was his funky delivery that turned scouts off at some point in his career, but his professional numbers have grabbed everyone’s attention. If you were reading closely in Baggs’ weekly chat last week, you might have noticed the response he gave to a question about Heath Hembree and potential Giants relievers… there’s a dude out there with as much talent, if not more than Mr. Hembree… yup, the one and only Derek Law. Stock is way up for this kid!

Andrew Susac: 17 G, 50 AB, .360/.507/.480, 2 HR, 16 BB, 11 K, 3 E

Susac has been an injury case for most of his collegiate and professional career, and he missed significant time this season in Richmond. To this point, it seems to me there’s a lot of mixed opinion about the guy on the scouting front. Future starter? Bench player? Will he stick at catcher? Honestly, I think Susac’s performance in the fall may have quieted some of that talk… it impressed me, at least. He led the team in batting average, showed pretty adequate skills behind the dish in the games I saw him catch on TV, and all in all displayed a solid plate approach – one that I think will carry him all the way to the bigs. He even looks a little like Buster Posey when he’s at the plate. Now, is he a potential .300, 25-HR hitter? Doubtful, but a .260 guy with solid on-base skills and 15-20 HR power might not be out of the question. If he can stay healthy, I think he’ll have every chance to earn a job in the majors one day. Will it be with the Giants? That might be the real question to ask.

Angel Villalona: 19 G, 65 AB, .200/.243/.246, 0 HR, 3 BB, 19 K, 2 E

Ok, I promise I’m not just a Giants prospect homer, and I’ll prove it to you here. Villalona did receive some positive reviews on his 1B defense this fall (something that’s always been a big question for him), but maybe that’s because there wasn’t much to say about his offense. He knocked in 7 runs and hit a few doubles, but those were really his only highlights at the plate. I’ll be honest; if the three innings I saw Crick pitch were all I needed to tell me he could be a MLB star, then the handful of AB’s I saw Villalona take this fall were all I needed to know that he may not ever make it. Yes, the power is there, and he proved it in San Jose and Richmond last year. But the plate discipline just isn’t at this point, and he looked absolutely overmatched a few times. I don’t think you can just talk yourself out of being a relentless hacker without sacrificing some of the power that makes you special in the first place. His stock is down, in my opinion, but he’ll have a chance to prove me wrong in the upper minors next year.

Jarret Parker: 17 G, 60 AB, .300/.366/.333, 0 HR, 8 BB, 19 K, 1 SB, 0 E

Parker was a nice surprise this season, and I’ll say the same about his AFL performance. He doesn’t really doesn’t do anything amazingly (although his defense in center was pretty impressive), but he’ll give you a little bit of everything. I’m starting to see him as a type of poor-man’s Hunter Pence. Now he certainly won’t ever be hitting .290 at the major league level, but Parker is a guy who shows you why he was such a high draft pick a few years back… he’s just an all-around ball player, and one who might just stumble his way into a MLB stadium some day. We should get a chance to see how he stacks up with the guy who was drafted ahead of him, Gary Brown, in Fresno next year.

All in all, I’d say 2013 saw a pretty nice showing from Giants prospects in the AFL. I mean, when was the last time you saw a group of Giants pitchers like the four representing the team this season? Add the performances of Crick and Law to what Susac did at the plate, and I’ll call it a successful fall for the orange and black Scorpions, and one that gives us a lot to look forward to for the 2014 regular season.

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Cain, Bumgarner… Crick!

I had the pleasure of watching Kyle Crick on the tube for the first time last night. Sure, I tuned into a couple of his starts with San Jose on the computer this season, but the video quality of those minor league games really isn’t very good. As far as TV goes, I missed his outing this summer in the Future’s Game, and wasn’t able to catch him in the Fall Stars game last week either. So, when I found out he was starting on MLB Network last night, I knew I wasn’t missing it.

Crick took the mound at the home of the Giants’ Spring Training complex last night, with fellow Gigantes prospect Andrew Susac calling pitches for him behind the dish. It was Cricky’s fourth AFL start, but since before the Fall Stars Game (he’d made three relief appearances in that time), and his first three hadn’t gone so well. So I had tempered expectations going in, hoping that the young hurler could just control the strike zone and get some outs… He did, folks.

For those who missed it last night, allow me to recap Crick’s outing: Jared Mitchell (CHW #10 prospect); Eddie Rosario (Min #5); Yorman Rodriguez (Cin #15); Brandon Jacobs (CHW #7); Max Kepler (Min #8)… Grab. Some. Pine.

If there’s anything we know about professional sports and baseball in general, one performance can’t possibly define a player’s potential, good, bad, or otherwise… but it sure can help. Had Crick walked the bases loaded last night and been pulled in the second inning, we’d have said that he needs to learn to command his pitches, understanding that he still had some maturing to do as a pitcher. But we already knew those things about Crick, and one outing wasn’t going to diminish his prospect value. Something entirely different happened last night though, something that you should be very excited about. Crick took the hill opposite the top pitching prospect in Minnesota’s stacked organization – the towering Alex Meyer – and the two young studs put on a show.

Crick’s line for the night: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K… and those numbers don’t even begin to tell the whole story for the Giants’ number one prospect. The 6-foot-4, Texas-grown righty dominated a pretty stacked Glendale lineup, with basically just a fastball. From the very first batter, Crick popped Susac’s mitt to the tune of 94,95,96 and even a 98 mph heater. He threw it down the middle, he threw it on the corners, he elevated it above the hands… and some of the top prospects in baseball couldn’t touch it. He struck out the side in the first, and then two more in the second. For a kid known for his inability to control the strike zone, Crick had only one 3-ball count on the night – the final hitter in the 3rd inning, to which he induced a chopper to 2B to finish his outing. One of the few changeups he threw all night was knocked back up the middle by Colin Moran in the first… that was the only blemish in an otherwise perfect performance for the Giants’ 2011 supplemental first round pick. This was literally a group of future MLB hitters getting blown away by nothing but high ched from a future MLB pitcher. Awesome stuff in a coming out party for Crick.

This post is certainly about Crick, but Meyer was just as dominant on the other side, taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning, striking out Susac twice in the process. Quite an impressive night from a couple of promising pitchers.

Crick was ranked #42 on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list this summer, but I’d have to think last night’s performance will have Johnathan Mayo and his posse considering a move into the top 25 for Crick next spring… that’s how good last night’s outing was. Yes, the same issues about control and developing offspeed pitches remain, but there’s no doubt to me that Crick’s got a promising MLB career ahead of him. This kid is the reason the Giants felt comfortable trading Zack Wheeler a couple years ago, and I think he’ll help all the fans who are still (inexcusably) bitter forget about that trade in a couple years. Like most 20 year-old power pitchers, he just needs time. If he stays healthy, I have to believe he’ll be a part of the 2015 rotation, and I’d say there’s even a slight chance we see him in a Giants’ uniform late next season… they did it with Madison Bumgarner in 2009.

One final thought here. The Crick comparisons to Matt Cain are well documented, and certainly have some backing. The similarities between the two really are uncanny. Right-handed, Southern country boys, similar body builds, easy deliveries, power pitcher profiles, prep first round picks… Crick is a carbon copy of Cain, and will hopefully find similar success at the big league level. But watch the video of Crick’s interview from last night. Not only does he resemble Cain, but he’s got the same dry, gruff personality of another pretty good Southern boy, Bumgarner. His response to the compliments about his start killed me. “Yeah, thank you.” And the slightest of smirks to go along with it. Seriously, if that interview doesn’t make you chuckle a little bit, I don’t know what will. The Giants know their pitching, and will have a great opportunity to draft another electric arm next summer… I have a sneaky hunch they will.

So… Cain, Bumgarner, and now Kyle Crick. It won’t be much longer, folks. It won’t be much longer.

Scenes from the AFL

Just wanted to give a quick tip for those interested in Crick and the boys in the Arizona Fall League. Conner Penfold over at sfgiantpotential.com made the trip out to the desert to get some footage of the Giants prospects, and he’s got some sweet new video up from the last couple of days. He also has a write-up from each of the games he attended… so far, there’s video posted of every Giant farmhand except Cody Hall and Derek Law. As of the 8th inning in Peoria today, neither of the two relievers have pitched. I’ve seen a few clips on Law before, but Hall is a guy I’d be very interested to watch. Just how hard does he throw that fastball? Kyle Crick, who is working out of the pen in preparation for the AFL All-Star game, tossed two scoreless innings today, and his ERA has crept down to 4.66.

More about the videos. In Crick’s one inning of work, he’s rocking the heater. To me, he seems to really increase his pace when he’s in a groove. I love pitchers who do that, a la Tim Lincecum in his prime. My favorite part of that Crick footage though? Mr. Colin Moran, pride of North Carolina… grab some pine, meat! A side note here: I recently watched the “Homegrown Giants” feature that was produced as part of the “Inside the Clubhouse” series by the Giants media team. This one was released in September, but I hadn’t seen it before. Very cool stuff. Posey, Romo, the All-Star Game in New York… but it follows Crick around for a bit, and gives quite a bit of insight on the Giants’ player development philosophy. If you haven’t seen it, I’d definitely recommend setting 20 minutes aside to check it out. Here’s the link. In regards to Crick, I’ve just got to say, I really admire the kid, and I think the Giants have another future stud on their hands. Everyone involved understands what he needs to do to make it, but I get the feeling nobody thinks he can’t get there. He’s an intelligent young man – confident and incredibly talented… and I really am excited about his future.

Jarrett Parker is quite a bit slimmer than I thought. He’s listed at 6-4, 210 pounds, but he doesn’t look it to me. We know he strikes out at incredible rates, but he puts on a pretty spirited AB too. He gets deep into counts, takes his share of walks, and hits for a good amount of power. Sounds like he covers a ton of ground out in center as well. His lefty bat will need to find those gaps at AT&T if he wants to make it as a big leaguer, but hey, the guy is a former 2nd round pick, he’s probably headed to Fresno next year, and the organization sent him to Arizona to run with the big dogs. They’ve got their eye on him, and as far as I know they’re still looking for someone in the organization to grab ahold of left field…

Adalberto Mejia made his first start of the fall yesterday and got knocked around a bit in 2.1 innings of work. The first inning got off to a rough start after DeShields battled for a walk right out of the gate. Personally, I thought Mr. Mejia had him beat with an 0-2 slider that snapped in at the knees (4th pitch of the AB)… but he didn’t get the call and couldn’t put him away. DeShields is a tough out, and Mejia is still just a young kid gaining some tremendous experience this fall. He really wasn’t that wild, he just couldn’t quite find the zone… and he left some pitches up, which will get you run pretty quickly against competition like that.

A couple more thoughts on the young lefty. Wow, he’s a big-bodied kid! Very similar body type to Clayton Blackburn, in my humble opinion. If you’ve never been over to Giant Potential, I’d highly recommend clicking on the video section of the blog. Penfold gets some great footage, in full-on HD quality. In a previous piece about Mejia, he talks about him throwing a back-foot slider that’s very Bumgarner-esque. It didn’t look to me like he threw too many of them in the AFL clip, but that 0-2 pitch to DeShields was nasty. If he can hone that sucker in, the sky is absolutely the limit for him.

Andrew Susac and Angel Villalona went hitless, but Angel V. did put together some tough AB’s. Personally, I’d like to see the Giants challenge him with a Fresno assignment this season and see if he can hang. His time out of the country definitely set him back a bit in terms of professional development, but he showed the power potential in Richmond. So I say send him to AAA and see if he can swim. If not, he’s back in Richmond. If he does, look out ladies and gents!

Susac is a player I’m growing fonder of by the day. Small sample sizes in the AFL aren’t anything to get too worked up about, but the more digging I do on this guy, the more I like. In my eyes, he’s got a legitimate major league bat. Maybe not a big batting average guy, but he’s patient, powerful, and seems to have a real calm at the dish. If he’s even average defensively, the Giants have their excuse to get Buster Posey out of the gear. Speaking of Posey, I couldn’t help but notice Susac has a few tendencies in his batting stance and swing that remind me a lot of Buster… even the leg kick in his load. Now, I hope nobody reads too much into this comment, I’m not saying anything about Susac being the hitter/player Posey is. But I do think the kid has the potential to have a solid MLB career if he can change his injury-prone ways, and I hope he does so with the Giants. Is it crazy to say Susac is a bit of a sleeper in the organization?

Lastly, I just wanted to note that the blog hasn’t been as active lately. I apologize for that, but I hope you will stick around, as I’ve been working on some very big projects on the minor league front. I’m learning more and more about the Giants farm system every day, and I hope to start sharing some of these things pretty soon. I know they will be worth the wait.

AFL Opening Day: Mixed Bag for Susac, Mejia

Yesterday was Opening Day for the Arizona Fall League, which as always is littered with top minor league talent. This year’s notables include Byron Buxton, Addison Russell and Jameson Taillon, among others. The Giants sent 7 players to the Scottsdale squad this year, many that I’d consider top 25 prospects in the system. Kyle Crick, Adalberto Mejia and Andrew Susac are the headliners, and all are in the organization’s top 10 in my book. The Giants also sent Cody Hall and Derek Law as stout right-handed bullpen reps, and Angel Villalona and Jarrett Parker as power bats. To me, this is one of the more exciting groups the Giants have sent to the AFL in recent years. With a nice mixture of positions represented, I’m guessing you’ll see at least one of them in the box score nearly every day.

Susac started behind the dish in the opener for Scottsdale last night, and had a pretty eventful game. He hit 1-3 at the plate, with a walk, a strikeout, and an RBI single. On the other side, he played all 9 innings and caught 7 different pitchers in the process. He nailed a runner attempting to steal 3rd with an impressive throw (according to Bernie Pleskoff, who was at the game). He also made a throwing error. I’d say that’s a pretty full 9 innings, for sure. There are two other catchers on the Scottsdale roster, but I think Susac could see the majority of the starts.

Susac also caught Pirates’ phenom Taillon – who should join Gerrit Cole to make an even stronger Bucco rotation next year – for the first two innings. Taillon was followed by Mejia, who had a rocky AFL debut in his relief appearance. He couldn’t find the strike zone in the 3rd, walking two and allowing a hit before serving up a 3-run bomb to Kyle Parker of the Rockies. I wasn’t sure if the young lefty would even make it out of the inning, but he did, and even pitched a 1-2-3 4th before being pulled. Not the best start for the kid, obviously, but with Mejia, you have to keep in mind that he was the youngest player in the Cal League on Opening Day in April. The AFL is also a great hitter’s environment, so the fact that he settled down and breezed through the next inning was a good sign. He’ll be just fine, and I’d guess that he’ll be a part of the rotation at some point… you generally don’t see starters throw many innings in the winter leagues anyway.

I had heard Crick was supposed to start tonight, but it looks like Aaron Northcraft of the Braves got the nod. If Crick goes tomorrow, I’ll definitely try to get a short write-up done the next morning. If you want a direct link to the AFL homepage, try mlbfallball.com.