2016 Giants: What’s the [Catcher] Plan?

First in a series of late-season/offseason posts concerning current 40-man players, as well as a few other relevant names both inside and outside the organization. I’ll try to address contract status, current and future production, projected playing time for next season, and whatever else I feel is pertinent to the 2016 team.

Let’s start with the backstops, a position where the Giants are still incredibly talented. While Posey is still the man, a surprising new name has emerged from the farm system, adding to what was already one of the deepest positional groups in the organization.

6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!
6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!

Buster Posey | Age 28: One of the elite talents in the game, and arguably getting better. Considering the resume he already boasts, it’s pretty darn impressive that Buster lowered his K% to 8.5 (career mark of 12.3%), while walking more than he struck out in 2015. Behind the dish, he raised his caught-stealing rate to 36%, best since his shortened 2011 season.

He’ll get a nice bump in pay next year, up to $20M. He’ll follow 2016 with 5 consecutive seasons at $21.4M before an option in 2022. A lot of folks are still asking how much longer he’ll catch full time at that price. My response to that: don’t expect anything different in the immediate future. He’s started 38 games at 1B to date this season, and I’d say that’s probably right about on par with what we’ll see next year. Until another catcher in the organization proves he’s capable of forcing the organization’s hand, Buster will be the team’s main attraction and its starting catcher.

Andrew Susac | Age 25: There was a lot of excitement surrounding Susac this year, but it’s hard to look at his first full MLB season as anything but a disappointment. It’s very hard to get into a rhythm when you aren’t playing consistently, but Susac did log 120 PA during the first half. He hit only .239, and then made only 5 starts after the All-Star break. Injuries have been a theme throughout his playing career, even dating back to his college days. They cut his 2015 campaign short, and it really is a bummer for him, as he’d probably be seeing most of the playing time that is currently going to Trevor Brown. Susac is young, cheap, and talented offensively. Though he’s probably very intriguing to some teams around the league, I’ll say the Giants aren’t trading him this winter. He’ll have to stay healthy and produce a little more though if he ever wants to unseat Posey behind the dish.

Hector Sanchez | Age 25: It’s hard to believe Hector is still only 25. It’s also hard to envision him having much of a future with the organization when 2014 was the last season he hit over .200. He’s team controlled through 2019 and arbitration-eligible again this winter (he earned $800K this year). There’s nothing wrong with having catchers with MLB experience in AAA, but at Hector’s relatively young age, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s better off asking for a trade to get out from behind Posey and Susac.

Trevor Brown | Age 23: The Giants went heavy on college pitching at the top of the 2012 draft, but it’s the hitters who’ve made the most noise from that class so far. By chance and injuries, Brown joined Matt Duffy (and later Mac Williamson) as the first members of that crop to reach the majors, and he’s played well enough this month to earn a longer look. 9-31 (.290) with 3 BB, 5 RBI, a stolen base, and respectable pitch-calling behind the plate in 10 games has earned him some press time – and even a little love from the coaching staff. The versatile backstop may not profile as a starter, but I can see a backup MLB gig in his future. Now, the question is “What do they do with all these catchers?” Maybe Brown shares time with Hector again next season in Sacramento, but maybe his September in the big leagues gives the organization some flexibility to explore a trade this offseason.

Jackson Williams | Age 29: Bringing Jackson Williams back to the organization (and calling him up in September) gave the Giants two first-round catchers on the active roster, drafted in back-to-back years no less. The difference? Posey was a top 5 pick in 2008, and Williams was the 5th first round pick in 2007 by the Giants alone. Still, it’s noteworthy that four of those six picks made it to the majors (the other was Charlie “Marco Scutaro” Culberson), and three of them (Bumgarner, Noonan and Williams) are all on the current Giants roster. That seems like it could be the answer to an obscure Giants-related trivia question. Either way, Jax has logged only 23 MLB plate appearances, and I have no idea if he’ll be in camp with the team next season or not.

On Deck: In my next post, I’ll analyze the young, talented, and ever-increasing group of infielders on the Giants 40-man roster. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Chase Johnson Deals for San Jose

Tim Hudson and Andrew Susac were supposed to be the main attractions last night at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Turns out a Giants prospect was ready to steal the show. Huddy made his first rehab appearance, allowing only one hit and striking out two over a clean 2.2 shutout innings. Susac spent the whole night behind the dish and went 2-4 with a HR at the plate. In reality, it was a good night for both rehabbing big leaguers. But Chase Johnson, who would have been the regular starting pitcher, entered the game in the 4th and had easily the most dominant pitching performance by a Giants farmhand this season.

During his 6 innings of relief last night, Johnson allowed only 3 hits, walked one batter, and kept Lancaster off the bases with 14 strikeouts! This from a guy who had never struck out more than 9 in his professional career. Just a week after profiling another “Johnson” in the San Jose rotation (newbie right-hander Jordan), Chase Johnson’s already rising stock now appears to be soaring.

Remember, Chase was the Giants 3rd round pick in 2013. He was essentially a money-saving pick who signed under slot and allowed some flexibility for the two prep hitters drafted before him, Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones. At the time of the draft, Johnson was a little used reliever at Cal Poly who could run his fastball up to 97 in short spurts. He started some during his freshman season, was moved to full-time closer as a sophomore, and ultimately lost the job (for unknown reasons) to Reed Reiley during his final year in college. He made only 15 appearances as a junior, but the Giants love their hard-throwing college relievers, and were all over him that June. I profiled him that summer as he was transitioned immediately into a starting role in the organization.

Later that summer (2013), then Baseball Prospectus writer Jason Cole posted some video of Johnson in an instructional league game that caught my eye. This was an eye-opener for me, as Chase showed a solid low-90’s fastball, a diving curve and a pretty good changeup. When Baseball America named him a top 10 prospect in the Northwest League that summer, it became pretty apparent that there was some real potential in that right arm.

After an inconsistent season as a full-time starter in Augusta last year (110 IP, 4.57, 40 BB, 94 K), Johnson has flourished in San Jose in 2015. One thing he’s been able to do his entire professional career is induce groundballs, which he’s done this season to a (career low, but still impressive) tune of 1.61 groundout to air out rate per MiLB.com. Now, he’s combining the ability to get those grounders with an overpowering mid-90’s fastball. The same guy who was topping out at 94 or 95 as a starter is now running his heater up to 97-98 at times, and has been doing it nearly all season for the Giants.

Over his last 10 outings – including last night’s relief appearance – Johnson is 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA over 56.1 innings. He owns a 63/18 K/BB rate during that span. For the season, his K/9 is now at an even 9.0 (111 K in 111 IP). His ERA has been dwindling all year, and is now down to 2.43. He’s also not allowing many baserunners, as his WHIP has crept down to 1.16. For a guy who just made it into the MLB.com’s recently-released Giants top 30 prospects list, I think there’s serious some re-evaluating going on here.For me, Johnson is clearly a top 10 prospect in the organization at this point.

Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes the guys who get all the press don’t show the results, while the guys with the results don’t get near the amount of press. Chase Johnson has shown the stuff this year; It’s about time he starts getting the press.

Organizational Thoughts

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to post on here, but please don’t fret. Cove Chatter is not dead! Baseball season is so crazy, I swear. One minute it’s Opening Day, you blink your eyes and it’s game 25. Holy smokes. I realize I really haven’t had a chance to reflect on things in a while (I really haven’t reflected on the MLB club at all since the first week of the season), so let’s take a few minutes to get caught up.

Giants: 14-10, 1st place NL West

Key Hitters: Angel Pagan, Mike Morse, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey

Key Pitchers: Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Entire Bullpen

The Gigantes are looking to sweep the Tribe out of AT&T Park today, with Vogey making his 5th start of the season. The starting pitching hasn’t exactly been the strong point of the team so far, but each man in the rotation will have started 5 games after today… that’s a major rarity in baseball this season, and its importance really can’t be overstated. Bumgarner has shown flashes of dominance, but hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. Same for Cain, who has also had some ups and downs. Hudson is without a doubt the early-season ace of this squad, and has been one of the best pitchers in the NL out of the gates. Heck of a signing right there.

The bullpen took some serious heat this winter, but those guys have really picked up the slack this month, especially in Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong’s starts. You really never know what you’re going to get from those two, but the pen has saved the day on many occasions already. Quick trivia question: who leads the team in wins right now? Would you have guessed Jean Machi? Fans seem to dog that guy big time, but he’s sitting 4-0 with a cool 0.84 ERA. Santiago Casilla’s is even better, 0.68; Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez have yet to allow a run, and Sergio Romo is 6/6 in saves. That group is absolutely rolling right now, and their continued health (and performance) will be huge as the season goes along.

On the offensive side, we’ve already seen this team’s peaks and valleys. Pagan has really been the difference-maker in April, and we’re seeing more and more how important he is to this club. Belt is hitting bombs and striking out like crazy. 7 HR in 23 games… is Belter becoming a power hitter? Posey’s bat has been mired in a big slump, but he continues to pump the ball out of the yard as well. I think Buster will be just fine. How about Morse? Another guy who people mocked the Giants up and down for signing… how’s that looking now? I just love that guy; he’s got some of the most impressive right-handed power in baseball, and he’s showing it off big time right now. Stay healthy, Mikey!

On the flip side, Pablo continues to struggle mightily at the dish. This is usually his time of year, but he’s hitting .165. The Panda was supposed to be a lock to have a career year… what will his month of May look like? Hunter Pence looks to be coming out of his own slump, and just in time. The Giants have been missing his bat, and we all know what he’s capable of when he’s hot. Finally, where’s Marco Scutaro? Not that I was expecting him to be on the field at this point, but there’s absolutely no updates on his condition. How did the front office overlook this during the winter? Brandon Hicks looks ok for now, but I don’t see him as a long-term solution. Don’t look now, but Joe Panik is holding his own in Fresno. Even hit his 1st HR of the season a few nights ago.

Overall, I’m very happy with this team right now. They’re hanging around, and staying healthy for the most part, while a good amount the league is not. In all honesty, I think this is one of the better teams in baseball that nobody’s talking about right now. That’s just how we like it, here in Giants Land.



Minor Leagues:

I wanted to touch on the farm system briefly. I entered the season very excited about this system, but I have to admit I’ve been a little letdown early on. We all know about the wealth of starting pitching the Giants have on the farm right now, and a few of those guys have shown up big this month. Joan Gregorio and Kendry Flores have to be the names to watch down in San Jose, and Keury Mella is holding his own in Augusta. Yep, the international guys are taking charge. Esky Escobar is learning how to pitch in Fresno, and his results are starting to get better. I think a lot of people are learning just how tough it is to throw in the PCL. Just ask Mike Kickham!

What’s going on with the Richmond pitching staff? That’s supposed to be the bread and butter of this organization, and the results have been a little disappointing so far. Clayton Blackburn has arguably been the ace of that group through four starts, while Adalberto Mejia is heating up. Ty Blach is keeping runs off the board, but he’s not striking anyone out. Kyle Crick has 14 BB in 12.2 IP. His control has been absolutely MIA lately. I think that’s been a little deflating for me, as I was hoping to see Cricky start hot. Let’s hope he can settle in a little bit, and start pitching deeper into games.

One more name to keep an eye on. Christian Jones, down in Augusta. The Oregon Duck lefty looks very good early on. We knew he had a nice pedigree, but I had no idea he’d be working in a starter’s role at this point. But he is, and the results have looked dang good so far. Jones pitches tonight, and David Lee has him working 88-91 with his fastball, showing a decent curve and a plus-potential changeup. That’s an 18th round pick who slid after having TJ surgery. Nice work on the draft front, Gigantes.

On the offensive side, Gary Brown has probably been the nicest surprise so far. Browny is looking much better in Fresno, and has been a difference-maker to this point. Christian Arroyo is struggling with the bat in Augusta, although Lee says he hits everything. He’s not playing SS (which I think is a mistake), and maybe that’s having an impact on his offensive performance. Mac Williamson is hitting much better in San Jose… I hope he gets to try AA soon. Andy Susac was off to a very nice start in Fresno, but has found himself on the DL. That’s been the theme of his career. Get healthy, kid. Our other sleeper, Matt Duffy, has played well in the Eastern League. The power has been zapped, but his approach at the plate looks good, as do the reports on his defense.

I think that’s enough for one post. Believe me, I’ve missed not writing on here. But sometimes, as we all know, life gets very busy. I’ll try to return soon, but hopefully this will wet your appetite for the time being. Thanks for following Cove Chatter, and go Giants!


(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

4/7 MiLB Wrap: Susac on Fire

While Fresno’s first week of play hasn’t yielded the best results (1-4 record), the Grizzlies offense is certainly not to blame for the early struggles. The Giants AAA bats have been hot out of the gates, nobody more so than catcher Andrew Susac. Susac, who made a name for himself this offseason in the AFL and again during spring training, opened his Fresno campaign with multiple hits in each of his first three games. After a day off Sunday, Susac was back in the lineup against Salt Lake last night.

Last month during Cactus League play, Rangers lefty Michael Kirkman found out exactly what can happen when you float a hanger over the plate to Susac in a 3-ball count. Andrew drilled Kirkman’s offering into the stands in left field… an absolute moonshot.

Last night, Bees’ lefty (and former MLB pitcher) Justin Thomas learned the hard way not to throw Susac a “get-it-in” fastball over the heart of the plate. 3-0 count…green light…liftoff. Like he did to Kirkman, Susac tattooed Wilson’s pitch over the wall in left field (see video below), his first HR of the young season. It was his only hit of the game, but the young catcher now sits at .500 (8-16) through four contests, with 2 BB and (very important for him) only 1 K so far.

Despite the attention he garnered this winter, Susac might just be the best prospect nobody’s talking about. For the life of me, I don’t know how he’s not on any top 100 lists. From the looks of it, I don’t think he really minds… but I do think he’s about to force scouts and writers into having more of those conversations. The season is very, very young, and he still needs to prove he can stay healthy. But right now, Susac looks primed to have the big offensive season many of us were hoping for.

MiLB Roundup

Fresno (1-4): At SLC | L 5-4

Richmond (2-2): At Bowie | PPD

San Jose (3-2): At Lancaster | L 3-2

Augusta (2-2): At Savannah | PPD

Stock Up

Joe Biagini, SJ: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K – Great line from Biagini, a 23 yo UC Davis righty who logged a 5.03 ERA in 20 starts for Augusta last year. The San Jose starters were very impressive in their first turn through the rotation.

Steven Okert, SJ: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 K – Another solid inning of work from the lefty, who has 3 holds and has yet to allow a run.

Joe Panik, FRS: 2-4, 3B, RBI – Panik has 5 hits in Fresno’s last two games, and is batting .350 (7-20) on the season. He’s also drawn 3 walks to only 2 strikeouts early on.

Stock Down

Mac Williamson, SJ: 0-4 – I really like Mac, and have a hard time putting him here. But his 1-17 start to the season (.059) really makes me wonder if his shoulder injury isn’t having some effects on his performance at the plate. Maybe it’d be wise to give him a couple days off to rest at this point?

Chris Heston, FRS: 4 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 4 K – Heston was off to a good start in his first outing of the season, but Salt Lake lit him up pretty good in the 4th inning (his last of the night). The righty had high expectations going into last season, bust just hasn’t been able to get comfortable in AAA.

What’s Ahead

Augusta at Savannah: Gm1 2:35 pm – Nick Vander Tuig (1st start)

Augusta at Savannah: Gm2 TBD – Starter TBD

San Jose at Lancaster: 6:30 pm – Chris Stratton (1-0, 1.80)

Richmond at Bowie: Gm1 2:35 pm – Kelvin Marte (1st start)

Richmond at Bowie: Gm2 TBD – Jack Snodgrass (1st start)

Fresno at SLC: 5:35 pm – Starter TBD

Today’s Notes

With the two rainouts yesterday, today is a busy day in the Giants organization, as both Richmond and Augusta play double-headers.

Augusta’s official page lists Jake Smith as today’s game 1 starter, and doesn’t have a pitcher listed for game 2. However, David Lee was told yesterday that 2013 draftees Nick Vander Tuig and Christian Jones are the next two starters in line. That makes more sense to me, as Smith has already been used in relief two or three times.

You might remember Vander Tuig as the winning pitcher for UCLA in last year’s National Championship game. Jones is a little lesser known, but was a starter at Oregon before having Tommy John surgery. He pitched solely in relief during his senior season for the Ducks, and was used as such by the Giants in short-season ball last summer. He’s a lefty with good size and a low-90’s fastball, so I’m excited to see how fares as a starter.

One other note about Augusta. I clearly remember lefty DJ Snelten’s name on the roster last week, but he’s nowhere to be found now. I was expecting him to be one of the Greenjackets’ starters. Don’t really know what’s going on there.

In San Jose, the rotation turns back over today, with Stratton taking the hill for the second time this year. That means Martin Agosta will not make a start in this turn. A quick check of the roster showed Agosta’s name on the 7-day DL. Again, no idea what happened there, as I thought he was fully healthy entering the season. Hopefully he’s activated soon.

Finally, a Javier Herrera sighting in Fresno. Herrera was apparently activated a few days ago, logging 1 AB each on 4/5 and 4/6. Last night, he was in the lineup as the DH and went 0-5. He was another guy I was curious about, but I’m glad to see him in AAA, where they’re a little short on outfielders.

Tuesday Morning Catch-All

**Edit: Kevin Frandsen is officially a free agent: Just how desperate ARE the Giants for a middle infielder?

Only two more Cactus League games left… wow, where is the time going?! I really don’t feel like this spring has drug on like some in the past, but maybe that’s because we haven’t actually seen the full starting lineup play together yet. The Giants seem like they’ve been on a mission from day one of camp, as they’ve trimmed their roster frequently and aggressively. We’re down to what, 29 guys now? At the moment, odd men out appear to be Law, Gutierrez, Colvin and Scutaro… with Scutaro obviously starting the season on the DL, and Brandon Hicks getting the final roster spot.

Andrew Susac gets the start behind the dish in today’s game, which happens to be Bumgarner’s final start of the spring. As Baggs tweeted out earlier, this is a great opportunity for Susac, but I also wonder if the organization isn’t trying to show the kid off a bit. Yes, Posey is playing 1B today, and Hector Sanchez is getting a day off, but the timing is a little odd in my opinion. I’m probably just reading into it more than I should. Either way, today should be a great chance for Susac to show off his spring progression.

Another note from the game today: Mike Morse is playing LF and batting #2. That’s pretty significant to me, as Morse really hasn’t spent much time in the field this spring. He swung the bat very well against the Angels yesterday, but you really have to wonder if he’s healthy enough to play every day at this point. Between Morse, Scutaro and Pagan, the Giants seem like they’ve been babying a few of these guys so far. After last year, we definitely don’t need anyone going down before the season even starts, but you have to wonder if the rust will carry over into April. In Scutaro’s case, what was even accomplished in 2 AB this spring?

Getting back to Morse… Baggs had a story up last night about options for the #2 spot in the order while Scooter is out. Belt, Morse and Crawford were a few of the names thrown around. I think he mentioned Arias as well. Morse got the nod yesterday, and they’ve penciled him in there again for this afternoon. Now I certainly don’t know everything in this world, and I would defer to Bruce Bochy’s knowledge of his players 100% of the time… but I really don’t see Morse as a good fit for #2 in a lineup. Yes, he can be a high average guy when he’s healthy, but he’s never had a great OBP. I watched quite a few Seattle games last year, and the dude is definitely a hacker. To me, Belt seems like a much better fit for the #2 spot than any of the others in consideration.

What else is on tap today? How about the “Sandoval Talks,” as I like to call them. Look, this is a very touchy subject for people. It’s a fanbase divider, without a doubt. Pablo is a fan favorite, and a genuinely likeable guy. But come on, is the organization really supposed to just give him any amount of money he wants? The comments from his agent about training 24/7 and never having weight problems again are laughable, but I guess that’s what an agent is supposed to say.

I want to make this clear: I am a big fan of the Panda, and I would be sad to see him go. But the organization has to stop shelling out major contracts at some point, especially for a player who’s been very inconsistent for the past four years. Believe me, I know there are 100 valid arguments to make in both parties’ favor at this point, but I’m not sold that Pablo Sandoval is a $100M player yet. I do have a caveat though: if the organization really has no desire to get creative in replacing Pablo at 3B (i.e. shifting Buster/Crawford/Susac), then I guess you might as well pay the man… because you’re going to have one heck of a time finding steady production from the free agent market. But, if you’re willing to explore every possible option, including the obvious internal switches, then hold your ground. If Panda wants the big money, he’ll have to earn it… and maybe, just maybe he’ll help get you back in another pennant chase while he’s earning it.

Ok, it’s probably time to wrap this thing up. Looking back, it feels like I’ve taken on a very negative tone in this post. That was not my intention, and I apologize if you’re a bit put off by it. But there have been a few things on my mind lately, so I figured it was time to share them. Believe me, I’m VERY excited for the season to get started. I’m also jacked for the minor league seasons to open as well. I want to start talking prospects again!

Just one more thing… Speaking of prospects, I do have a quick bit of news to share. Joe Ritzo was reporting on the Giants High-A squad yesterday in Arizona, and he tweeted out the lineup. Apparently Chris Stratton had a very nice outing, inducing tons of grounders in 5 solid innings. But something else caught my eye: Joe had “Chavez” listed as the Giants DH. I sure as heck couldn’t remember any Chavez from the farm system, so I asked Ritzo about it. Turns out it’s Matt Chavez, an independent league guy the Giants picked up over the winter… He’s a Burlingame kid, former USF Don, and was drafted in 2010 by the White Sox (as a pitcher). He’s 25, so definitely not a young guy. But a pretty interesting story no less. Here’s the link Joe sent me, give it a look if you have time. Could we be looking at another Daniel Nava story here?

I think that’s about all for today. Thanks for checking in. Before you know it, the Giants will be playing at AT&T this weekend. That, my friends, is a very good thing.

Afternoon Prospect Talk

Sorry for the long(ish) delay in posts recently. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, and my mind really just hasn’t been that focused on writing lately. I’ve still been watching and listening, however, as we’ve had a few opportunities to see the Gigantes on TV over the past week. As we speak, the skipper and his green St. Patty’s Day cap are out to present the lineup… teaser, Marco Scutaro is in there. Two weeks until Opening Day, will Scooter be ready to go?

**Scutaro doubled down the line in his first AB. Looks a little stiff, but nothing wrong with the ol’ man’s bat.

Tyler Graham and Jarrett Parker are also in the lineup against the Angels today. This could be a nice opportunity for Parker to show something with his bat.

We seem to have hit the lull of Spring Training. Problem is, there seems to be a new hitter dinged up every day. Scutaro, Pence, Morse, now Pagan. At some point, you’d like to see the club run out its “projected” everyday lineup before the season begins. I’m not saying I’m alarmed or anything at this point, but it’s definitely a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Ok, let’s talk about the kids. MLB.com released its Giants Top 20 list today, and I have to say it looks much better than it has in recent years. Of all the major prospect rankings, I usually take MLB’s with a grain of salt, as it always seems like something is off. Now, though, with the combination of Mayo, Cahill, Callis and Pleskoff, they seem to be right on cue.

First 5: Crick, Escobar, Mejia, Susac, Arroyo – Hard to argue with the “big 3” at the top, but Susac’s progression is evident. I’m not sure any player’s status was boosted this winter as much as Cool Andy’s.

Next 5: Blach, Stratton, Blackburn, Williamson, Law – Look at the love for Blach! I’d love to see Mac sitting top 5 on the mid-season list, but he’ll have to do a lot. And how about Law? I’m telling you, I deliberated for so long this fall in giving Law a top 10 spot… thought I’d be laughed off the block. Look at him now!

Final 10: Hembree, Gregorio, Agosta, Panik, Ryder Jones, Brown, Kickham, Osich, Mella, Flores – Gregorio’s stock seems to be on the rise. I’m not sure if Brown or Kickham will make the mid-season update, as I’m looking for Matt Duffy and Luis Ysla to find their way in. Still, this is a nice group, and even MLB said it: this might be the deepest crop of pitchers in the majors.

Callis added a “bonus prospects” section on his blog, to round out at top 25. So the bottom 5 looks like this: Kieschnick, Perez, Adrianza, Bandilla, Cody Hall. Steven Okert also made it as a “deep sleeper” in the system, or a first-man-out kind of deal. Personally, there are a handful of guys I like more than these bonus players (Duffy, Ragira, Villalona, Stephen Johnson), but I think this should be further proof to some of us that the Giants have some very interesting players farther down in their system than what meets the eye.

Finally, let’s talk about Susac, who I haven’t had a chance to comment on after his standout performance last week. One day left in big league camp, the kid gets his first start and puts on an absolute show. The home run was something to behold, and I had literally just said to myself, “ok, 2-0 count, let’s see what he does here…” Michael Kirkman serves one up, KA-BOOM.

There have been a few folks comparing Susac’s bat to Posey’s lately, and I don’t think they’re too far off. That was my impression when I first caught Andrew in the AFL a few months back. The stances are almost identical, but it goes beyond that. Just a quiet approach at the plate, similar leg kick, level inside-out swing, and the ability to take the ball to the deepest part of the park. Buster is obviously a rare talent, but I think Susac is giving us an idea about what he can do at the bat when he’s healthy. I don’t think he’ll ever hit .300, but I do see a 20-HR or two in his future.

Another catcher who Susac reminds me of: Mike Zunino. That home run off Kirkman on Thursday? Very similar to some of the moonshots I watched Zunino hit in AAA last season. Gets ahead in the count, looks for something up, and just destroys it. Easy to say, hard to do, but you see what’s happening here. I’m comparing Susac, a 2nd round pick, to a couple of guys taken among the top 5 picks in the draft. Susac and Zunino have a long way to catch Posey, but I do think both of those guys could have solid MLB careers. For Susac, it’s all going to be about staying healthy.

Cove Chatter 100: #3 (Not a typo)

Sorry for the mix-up on Mejia yesterday…

Andrew Susac | C, 23 yo, 6-2, 210, BR, TR | 2011 Draft – 2 | (AA) 84 G, 310 PA, .256/.362/.458, .820 OPS, 12 HR, 1 SB, 42 BB, 68 K | (AFL) 17 G, 50 AB, .360/.507/.480, .987 OPS, 2 HR, 16 BB, 11 K

Susac might have grown on me more in the past two months than any other prospect in the organization. He cemented his status as a top player in the Giants system with his strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. A 1st round talent who fell in the 2011 draft because of injuries at Oregon State, he’s starting to perform like a guy who has big league dreams in his future. He’s an offensive-oriented catcher who’s no slouch behind the dish either, although even he admits that he needs to concentrate on his defense a little more. Those types of players don’t come around all the time… just ask Buster Posey.

Speaking of Posey, Susac may have to be open to playing different positions if he wants a spot with the Giants down the road, as the front office seems committed to keeping Buster behind the dish for the long term. While Susac’s bat certainly isn’t Posey’s, I think a .260 average with 20-homer power and solid on-base skills is very possible for the athletic catcher. He’ll have to improve his durability if he wants to make it, as he has missed significant time to injuries over the past few seasons, even going back to his collegiate days. At worst, I can a see major league backup role with some pop off the bench in Susac’s future, but a starting gig is still very much in play at this point. If he’s healthy in 2014, he could have a big breakout season at the plate for Fresno.

They said it: “Has shown both offensive and defensive tools. Powerful and accurate arm behind plate and enough pop to hit home runs and hit for average. Solid catching tools.” ~ Bernie Pleskoff, MLB.com


Mac Williamson and the Eastern League Plunge

This is kind of an unusual post for me. I’ve been doing quite a bit of number crunching lately, and I wanted to share some of my findings. Long story short, it’s prospect ranking season, and I didn’t feel that Mac Williamson was getting the credit he had earned with his play in San Jose this season. I said as much in the comments over at DrB’s site, “When the Giants Come to Town” (Note: DrB has Mac #5 in his Giants top 50, so I certainly wasn’t complaining about his ranking there). Before you mock me, I’ll make it clear that I am fully aware of the hitter-friendly tendencies in the High-A Cal League, as well as the pitching-driven AA Eastern League. But I have seen a lot of unfair knocks on Williamson lately around the web… many from Giants fans. The old write off of, “He had a good year in San Jose, but there’s no way he holds up against the advanced pitching in AA.”

So, I wanted to know, just what are Mr. Williamson’s chances of excelling next year in Richmond? I also wondered whether the fact that Mac’s a right-handed hitter would help his chances, as it seemed to me (complete speculation) that lefty hitters had struggled more than righties in Richmond in recent years.

Here’s what I did in my attempt to answer these questions. Using Baseball Reference, I found 20 samples (10 right-handed, 10 left) of recent Giants prospects who’d played in both San Jose and Richmond, and measured the average decrease – or, rarely, increase – in their OPS. In all, I compared nearly 20,000 total plate appearances over five seasons, and I’ll admit the results were pretty eye-opening (and even somewhat promising).

A few things to keep in mind:

Players whose names are italicized have MLB service time.

The chart is sorted by the final column, which is the difference in OPS between SJ and Richmond. The players whose OPS dropped the least (or rose) are at the top.

The Giants AA affiliate moved Richmond in 2010, so I didn’t use any AA statistics from before that time (i.e. no Brett Pill).

I only included players who were right around or younger than league average (*Johnny Monell was 25 at AA in 2011). Essentially, nearly all of these guys were considered “prospects” at the time.

The ages/years listed are from the player’s season with Richmond. I did not include their age/year with San Jose. The average age of an Eastern League hitter from 2010-2013 was 24.4. The average age of a Cal League hitter in the same time was 22.7.

For players who repeated either San Jose or Richmond, I usually included their first season at each level. *The two exceptions to this are Angel Villalona, whose 2009 season at San Jose I omitted, and Roger Kieschnick, because his first stint in Richmond was cut short to injury. Kieschnick is also one of the prominent players that Williamson gets compared to, so I thought it beneficial to include both of his seasons in AA. For this reason, you’ll see his name twice (compared against his 2009 SJ season in both instances).

The average Eastern League OPS from 2010-2013 was .723.

The Average OPS in the Cal League from 2009-2013 was .767.

That should give you enough information to understand these numbers. If you have any questions about my thought-process or additions for me to consider, please don’t hesitate to address them in the comments section.

RH Hitters



PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)




















































































RHH Totals







LH Hitters



PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)




















































































LHH Totals







All Hitters







First off, I forgot how good Thomas Neal’s season in San Jose was. Holy smokes! On the flip side, Gary Brown in Richmond, yikes…

To the heart of the matter, though. These 19 players were once (or still are) some of the top hitting prospects in the organization. As a whole, this group was 70 points above average in the Cal League. In Richmond, 14 of the 19 were at least a full year younger than the Eastern League average, and as a group they (all 19) had an OPS 6 points above the league average. So, despite them losing 108 points in OPS (on average) from SJ to Richmond, 11 of these guys were still above average hitters in the Eastern. So the prognosis isn’t all bad. But wow, lefty hitters really take a hit in making the jump. Even in his second – and more successful – stint in AA, Kieschnick’s OPS still dropped 139 points from what he’d done in San Jose. On the surface, it appears that lefties really don’t struggle in Richmond any more than righties do, as I wouldn’t consider a 7 point difference to be all that dramatic. But, if you remove Brandon Belt’s 1.036, it drops the average OPS for the group down to .714… that’s below league average, and quite a bit lower than the average for the righties as well. So, for some reason, lefties do tend to have a harder time in Richmond. Especially when you consider that they fare better (on average) than righties in San Jose. If you remove Brandon Crawford’s inflated OPS in 119 PA, it drops the lefty average to .831, but that’s still higher than the .823 RHH mark.

One other thing I will note that caught my eye here. You’ll notice that the three top spots for righties and the top lefty are all 2013 Flying Squirrels. That’s some pretty sweet stuff, especially for an organization that gets knocked for its lack of impact bats. I know Susac didn’t play much in the second half, but can you see why people around these parts are getting excited about him? An 89 point spike from SJ to Richmond is very, very impressive. What about Parker and Duvall? What the heck are those guys doing? Don’t they know their numbers were supposed to fall off in the monster Eastern? Maybe those power numbers shouldn’t be taken too lightly… a .785 OPS in the EL is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, Mr. Mac Williamson, the focus of our study… Mac began last season at 22 years old (turned 23 in July), and compiled an .879 OPS. The age factor isn’t really a big deal to me, but it should be noted that he’ll be a little young for the EL next year. His OPS in SJ was better than all but four of the guys on this list. So, how will the jump affect him? Until the games are played next summer, none of us can really know for sure. But based on the 8,000+ PA in Richmond of top Giants prospects before him, I’d say it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mac’s OPS drop 100 points. His BA and OBP are likely to take a hit, but if he can maintain a slugging % above .475, he should be just fine. Mostly, he just needs to stay healthy and take his hacks. If the average drops near the Mendoza line, then it might be time to panic.

Here’s my take. If Williamson struggles in AA, he certainly won’t have been the first Giants prospect to do so. He’s set such a high bar for himself in SJ that he certainly has a lot to live up to in the coming years. But if Susac, Parker and Duvall can all post an OPS of .785+, I think Mac will be all right. If he posts anything north of .850, it’ll be time to get very excited. For now, I’ll look for something in the neighborhood of .795-.815 with about 17 HR, and cross my fingers for anything better. So, I guess I would say yes, Williamson could certainly conquer the Eastern League, even if his numbers won’t blow anyone away. In my opinion, he’s one of the premier hitting prospects in the organization… and I hope to be saying that again next winter.

Mac  Williamson

(Kenny Karst/MiLB.com)