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

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Susac

2013

23

310

0.820

426

0.731

0.089

Villalona

2013

22

209

0.686

309

0.711

-0.025

Duvall

2013

24

430

0.785

598

0.814

-0.029

Joseph

2012

20

335

0.705

560

0.787

-0.082

Peguero

2011

23

296

0.763

538

0.846

-0.083

Culberson

2011

22

587

0.675

551

0.797

-0.122

Perez

2011

24

497

0.684

596

0.809

-0.125

Dominguez

2011

24

313

0.675

279

0.802

-0.127

Brown

2012

23

610

0.731

638

0.925

-0.194

Neal

2011

22

585

0.799

559

1.01

-0.211

RHH Totals

22.7

4172

0.732

5054

0.823

-0.091

LH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Parker

2013

24

524

0.785

571

0.757

0.028

Gillaspie

2010

22

540

0.754

530

0.750

0.004

Belt

2010

22

201

1.036

333

1.121

-0.085

Panik

2013

22

599

0.68

605

0.77

-0.090

Monell

2011

25

441

0.728

472

0.837

-0.109

Kieschnick

2011

24

501

0.737

563

0.876

-0.139

Noonan

2010

21

406

0.584

530

0.727

-0.143

Oropesa

2013

23

259

0.562

583

0.763

-0.201

Kieschnick

2010

23

246

0.673

563

0.876

-0.203

Crawford

2010

22

342

0.712

119

1.045

-0.333

LHH Totals

22.8

4059

0.725

4869

0.852

-0.127

All Hitters

8231

0.729

9923

0.837

-0.108

Findings:

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)

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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.

Fire up the Stove

As of yesterday, the options for Andres Torres and Barry Zito have officially been declined, making them free agents. No shocker there. Both guys had their time in the sun with the club, but it was time for the Giants to move on. Neither guy really made any significant contributions all season, when both were expected to play somewhat significant roles… the organization can’t let that happen next year.

The free agency period is nearly upon us. The exclusive negotiating window teams have with their potential free agents will end in the next day or so, at which point the offseason will officially begin. As it stands, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong’s status with the Gigantes is still very much up in the air. In his live chat last week, Baggs’ stated what most of us know on the Lopez front: there’s mutual interest, but no deal is in place. Javy’s been a huge (and underrated) piece in Bruce Bochy’s bullpen since he came over from Pittsburgh, and I expect there’ll be a deal announced shortly… probably another two years for the lefty extraordinaire. The Giants specifically didn’t trade him at the deadline because they wanted to bring him back. Generally, when a player and the club have mutual interest, a deal gets done.  I’ll say this though: if Lopez doesn’t sign, there are a few other intriguing lefties out there. A guy I’ve always liked is JP Howell. He had a very good year for the Dodgers, and he’s only 30.

As for Vogey, Baggs has been indicating for a while that the Giants won’t pick up the $6.5 million option for next year, but they’ll renegotiate a cheaper deal. There hasn’t been much talk either way so far, which isn’t all that surprising when it comes to Sabean doing business… but I did find the comments on from Vogey’s agent last week interesting. I can’t seem to find the article now. Essentially, that there hadn’t been any contact from the Giants yet… Can you picture Vogelsong sitting by his phone, staring intently, waiting for the call to come in? Me neither, but it really didn’t sound like there’d been a whole lot of communication. Vogey wants to come back, but Sabean would be absolutely nuts to give him anything more than $1 million at this point. If they could come to some reasonable terms, I’d gladly have him back to compete with Petit/Surkamp/Kickham for the 5th starter spot. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that at this point.

With Lopez and Vogey being the last remaining free agents-to-be on the club at the moment, the Giants aren’t going to be offering any qualifying offers. There’s some significance here, as at one point they could have potentially been looking at a couple of potential first round picks… but they weren’t willing to take the chance of losing Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecum to free agency. I have to admit, the more I think about the Timmy situation, the more I wish they would have waited and made the qualifying offer. It’s all water under the bridge at this point, though. The Giants will take their 14th pick in next year’s draft, and they’ll like it.

A few more offseason thoughts here. CSN has had a few free agent power rankings posts on their site lately. If I remember right, they basically copied and pasted the left field, starting pitcher, and relief pitcher rankings from hardballtalk.com. I want to address the site comments on these posts. It’s amazing to me how unrealistic or distorted a view people have on Sabean, the Giants and their offseason agenda. The front office has said numerous times already that they aren’t going to sacrifice their first round pick, which is not protected. So… Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo are out of the picture, as are any other players who receive a qualifying offer. If you aren’t familiar with the qualifying offer and draft pick compensation, take a look at this article from SB Nation. Pretty good explanation of the process.

Also, you have to look at the market for free agency. There’s not much talent out there this year. Cano, Ellsbury, and Choo are going to make some major green. Even if you take the qualifying offer out of the equation, when’s the last time Sabes forked out $100 million for a free agent not named Barry Zito? It’s not the way he does business, and the Giants have already committed nearly $130 million to the payroll for next season. Barring something very unforeseen (like a hard push for Masahiro Tanaka), Sabean has already spent his big money for the offseason. As hard as it is for those of us who support the orange and black to watch what the Dodgers are doing down in La-La Land, you have to understand the way the Giants do business. Every team has holes that need to be filled, and while the Dodgers may be willing to empty their pockets and farm system to acquire talent, the Giants just don’t play that game. They never have. You may disagree with the way they do business (as I do from time to time), but this club won the World Series only one year ago. Sabean is banking on his key players from 2012 having a bounceback season in 2014, despite his comments about windows closing.

Personally, I don’t see any indications that the Giants will be in on Tanaka. I don’t think they’ll even make the final three teams involved. The estimates being tossed around for his services are pretty outrageous, but there are teams willing to spend that kind of dough. Tanaka could be a game-changer, but I’m really not getting my hopes up anymore. I’d bank more on a Bronson Arroyo or AJ Burnett. Maybe Sabes ponies up a bit more for a guy like Ubaldo Jimenez.

One thing I do expect to take place this winter is a trade or two. Every indication I’ve gotten is that the Giants don’t think too highly of the free agent class (and how can they?). If that’s the case, maybe they’ll put some packages together to land a pitcher or left fielder. But who do they trade? Other than Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar and Adalberto Mejia (all mentioned by Baggs last week as “untouchable”), I’d think every other minor leaguer in the organization is available. I think Clayton Blackburn could be a nice trade piece… Add Joan Gregorio and Chris Stratton to that list, as well as any of the high-octane relievers. Stratton is a guy I’d like to hold onto, though. On the hitting side, I’d have to think Sabean would listen on anyone. I’d like to see Susac and Williamson be off limits, but those are probably the two most coveted guys. Either way, the Giants understand the limitations of modern-day free agency, and may try to get creative in strengthening the roster.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to talk about in the coming weeks, but that’s all for now. The hot stove is almost upon us, so things should start to get interesting (or not interesting, depending on your expectations) very soon.

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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.

Updates on the Top Prospects, #1-10

It’s been a month since we finished our mid-season top prospects list, so I wanted to take a few minutes to look at how these guys are holding up through the summer. There are certainly a few guys who’ve helped or hurt their stock big time, and I’m constantly re-evaluating the system. Luckily, the top 5 guys are all doing fairly well, although I don’t know that they’ll all be able to keep their lofty spots in the organization come off-season rankings… not if guys like Edwin Escobar have anything to say about it.

#1 Kyle Crick, RHP, San Jose | 11 gs, 1-1, 1.78 era, 50.2 ip, 38 h, 32 bb, 69 k.

Crick has been inconsistent with his control at times, but his fastball is baffling Cal League hitters this summer, and he’s keeping runs off the board. If he can stay healthy, I don’t think an Arizona Fall League assignment would be out of the question for Crick this year.

#2 Chris Stratton, RHP, Augusta | 19 gs, 8-3, 3.11 era, 113 ip, 107 h, 41 bb, 114 k.

I thought Stratton might get a second-half promotion to San Jose, but it looks like he’ll be staying in Augusta for the remainder of the season. While there are certainly other pitchers in the system whose stars have shone brighter than his right now, Stratton has actually been very consistent. He’s also been better lately, allowing only 2 ER over his last four starts.

#3 Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Jose | 20 gs, 7-5, 3.62 era, 117 ip, 97 h, 28 bb, 119 k.

Blackburn has lived up to his workhorse reputation this year in San Jose, giving the Giants a competitive effort on the mound every 5th day. With guys like Crick, Escobar and Mejia pitching around him this year, it’s been very easy to overlook Blackburn. But that would be a huge mistake, as the 20 year-old has really been on a tear lately. He’s 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA over his last 10 starts. I would say his stock is holding strong.

#4 Martin Agosta, RHP, Augusta | 15 gs, 8-3, 2.03 era, 79.2 ip, 49 h, 34 bb, 97 k.

Agosta has been dominant when he’s been on the mound this season. His 49 hits allowed and 97 K’s in 79 innings indicate his dominant stuff, but durability has been an issue in the past couple of months for the 2nd round pick. He’s made only 5 starts since June 1, and is currently on the DL with a blister. He’s already missed some time with dead arm this summer, so his health is definitely a concern right now. But I’m sure the Giants would really like to get his electric arm back on the mound sooner rather than later.

#5 Mac Williamson, OF, San Jose | 115 g, .277/.360, 20 hr, 67 rbi, 42 bb, 115 k, 9 sb.

Mac has done nothing to hurt his value this summer after a slow start to his first full professional season this spring. He hit .320 in June and .321 in July, with a combined 13 HR. He’s cooled off a bit in August so far, but his bat and defensive skills make him one of the top position player prospects in the system. The real test for Williamson will obviously be Richmond, but his season in San Jose has been pretty impressive.

#6 Andrew Susac, C, Richmond | 84 g, .256/.362, 12 hr, 56 rbi, 42 bb, 68 k.

Susac’s season thus far has been pretty consistent with his overall scouting report. He’s shown power while posting an OBP 100 points higher than his average, yet battled injuries for most of the summer in Richmond. This may seem like a simple analysis, but Susac really has had a nice season, especially for a guy who hit only .244 with 9 HR in San Jose last year. The former 2nd round pick is coming along nicely, both at the plate and behind it. If he can just keep himself on the field with more consistency, I’d think he could be ready to break out in Fresno next year.

#7 Gary Brown, CF, Fresno | 115 g, .230/.289, 12 hr, 46 rbi, 29 bb, 115 k, 13 sb.

Brown’s stock is fading pretty quickly these days. After a terribly cold start in Fresno, the former top prospect heated up in June, adding the long ball to his repertoire. However, his bat has gone cold again, to the tune of .233 in July and .247 in August. The Giants could really use his elite defense in San Francisco, but his bat just hasn’t developed as hoped to this point. Maybe he needs another season to make some adjustments at the dish.

#8 Joe Panik, 2B, Richmond | 117 g, .266/.341, 4 hr, 47 rbi, 50 bb, 50 k, 10 sb.

Panik is another curious case for the Giants and their top hitting prospects. He’s had his ups and downs in Richmond this season. After going ice cold in June, he’s finally starting to get his average up again with a .368 line in August. He continues to show excellent plate discipline, as well as a lack of power. He’s probably done enough at this point to move out of the dreaded Eastern League next season, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll hit enough to play every day in the big leagues.

#9 Gustavo Cabrera, CF, DSL | 44 g, .231/.375, 0 hr, 14 rbi, 28 bb, 45 k, 17 sb.

Cabrera, the 17 year-old bonus baby, has held his own in his first taste of professional baseball. After hitting .200 in the month of June, he posted a .413 OBP in July, and is 8-23 so far in August. Cabrera’s ability to take a walk and steal a base should make the Giants feel good about his game so far. Not incredible numbers for a top prospect, but for a kid who’s as young and raw as he is, I think he’s doing just fine.

#10 Heath Hembree, RHP, Fresno | 47 g, 26 sv, 4.15 era, 47.2 ip, 47 h, 15 bb, 58 k.

Hembree has been anointed the Giants’ closer of the future at times during his minor league career, but he seems to have stalled in AAA. After spending most of the season in Fresno last year, he’s been stuck in the Pacific Coast League again this year as well. The Giants needed bullpen help badly while Santiago Casilla was out, but never called Hembree’s name. Hembree’s ERA isn’t amazing, but I think he’s done enough to earn a call to the show. Not sure what the hold-up is at this point.

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