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.

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(SFGiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

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!

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(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

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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.

Cove Chatter 100 Honorable Mention: The Draftees

These are 2013 draft picks who didn’t make the top 50. The Giants were mocked by many in the baseball media for their selection of Christian Arroyo in the 1st round of this year’s draft… that ended pretty quickly once Arroyo took the field. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve read one national review that was complementary of the Giants draft (although there aren’t many reviews to begin with, admittedly). If I remember right, Keith Law even said that he’d place this Giants’ class among the bottom of MLB. I think he’s way off base, as were the sneers about the Arroyo pick. If you look closely at the following 10 players (who aren’t even among the headliners of the class), and consider where they were selected, I think you’ll find there’s some real value here. The Giants know were very intentional with this group, which has seriously grown on me over the past few months. Keep these names in mind, because I think you’ll see a couple of them turn some heads next season.

PS: If you have a little extra time, I’d encourage you to click on some of the links… some are video (if I could find any), some just articles, but I think they’re all worthwhile.

Eugene Escalante | C, 22 yo, 5-10, 185, BR, TR | 2013 Draft – 15 | (A-) 39 G, 151 PA, .300/.777, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 11 BB, 34 K

He goes by Geno, and he’s my sleeper from the 2013 draft. D2 defensive player of the year at Mount Olive College, where he hit .399 and had a 46-game hitting streak during his final two collegiate seasons. NorCal kid from Fairfield was drafted out of high school. Attended and played at Cal State Fullerton for a year before transferring to Chipola JC, where he played one season as well. He’ll have to compete for time within the organization with Ross, but it sounds like their defensive abilities may be pretty even, and I’d give a slight edge to Escalante with the bat at this point. Here’s the thing I love about this guy: I couldn’t tell you if he’s offensive or defensive-minded at the moment… maybe he’s both! A D1 talent who slipped because he played D2 ball? I really like the pick.

Escalante Link:

Pat Young | RHP, 21 yo, 6-5, 200 | 2013 Draft – 13 | (AZL, A-) 10 G, 9 GS, 44.1 IP, 1.22 ERA, 30 H, 10 BB, 32 K

Villanova righty had an impressive professional debut this summer with Salem-Keizer. Earned a spot in San Jose’s playoff rotation, and may wind up there again next spring. Features a low-90’s fastball and an odd delivery from his 6-foot-5 frame.

Young Video:

Brandon Bednar | SS, 21 yo, 6-4, 185, BR, TR | 2013 Draft – 7 | (A-, AZL) 51 G, 230 PA, .270/.737, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB, 15 BB, 28 K

Tall, versatile middle-infielder was a star at Florida Gulf Coast. Displayed a nice bit of power at the plate for Salem-Keizer this summer. Could become a super-utility type of player.

Bednar FGCU Profile:

Christian Jones | LHP, 22 yo, 6-3, 210 | 2013 Draft – 18 | (R, A-) 15 G, 19 IP, 2.84 ERA, 17 H, 4 BB, 18 K

Oregon lefty had solid draft stock in 2012 before having TJ surgery. Could be a nice steal from the 18th round this summer.

Jones Video:

Ty Ross | C, 21 yo, 6-1, 200, BR, TR | 2013 Draft – 12 | (A-, AZL) 34 G, 130 PA, .237/.655, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, 12 BB, 22 K

Drafted as a junior out of LSU this summer. Has solid skills behind the dish, as well as some pop in his bat. Saw his average drop to .211 at LSU last year, so he seems to profile more as a Jackson Williams type.

Ross Article:

Nick Jones | LHP, 22 yo, 6-6, 215 | 2013 Draft – 14 | (AZL) 17 G, 18.2 IP, 1.93 ERA, 9 H, 9 BB, 18 K

Tall lefty was JUCO All-American and a stud two-way player at Chattahoochie Valley CC. He led his club in almost every offensive category, and was also the team’s closer. The Giants liked him better on the mound. Videos show him bringing a couple different arm slots, including some sidearm funk. With his size, he could be another southpaw sleeper to follow from this class.

Jones Video:

Garrett Hughes | LHP, 22, 6-9, 230 | 2013 Draft – 19 | (AZL) 9 G, 7.2 IP, 4.70 ERA, 8 H, 8 BB, 7 K

The Giants took a number of tall pitchers in this year’s draft, none taller than 6-foot-9 Hughes. The giant Stanford lefty features a fastball that runs 88-91 with a curve and changeup, and has been on the MLB radar since his high school days in southern California. He seems to be strictly a reliever, but could be pretty nasty on lefties with his downhill movement.

Hughes Article:

Nick Gonzalez | LHP, 21 yo, 6-4, 220 | 2013 Draft – 24 | (AZL) 7 G, 17.1 IP, 1.04 ERA, 6 H, 3 BB, 17 K

Impressive debut for the 21 year-old lefty from South Florida, allowing only 9 baserunners in 17 IP in the Arizona League. It’s not much of a sample size, but he’s got the perfect frame for a power lefty. He’s an intriguing player, and it’s quite possible the Giants got a steal for a pick that late in the draft.

Gonzalez USF:

Tyler Rogers | RHP, 22 yo, 6-5, 187 | 2013 Draft – 10 | (A-, AZL) 20 G, 27.1 IP, 2.30 ERA, 22 H, 12 BB, 31 K

Senior sign from Austin Peay in the 10th round of the draft. He’s a tall, lanky submariner. He tied the NCAA D1 single-season record with 23 saves this year, working a 1.63 ERA for the season. In the Giants world, we call this guy a gamer. He’ll have to stretch that $7.5K signing bonus and work twice as hard if he wants to make it to the top.

Rogers Video:

Blake Miller | SS, 23 yo, 6-3, 195, BR, TR | 2013 Draft – 25 | (A-,AZL) 41 G, 161 PA, .281/.800, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB, 19 BB, 31 K

25th round pick from D2 Western Oregon. Began college career at Sac State.  Was the GNAC MVP, West Region Hitter of the Year, and started all 54 games for WOU in 2013. He posted solid offensive numbers in Salem-Keizer (his hometown) this summer after being drafted. Talent can come from anywhere, and the Giants have had their eye on D2 grinders the past couple years. As a former GNAC athlete, I’ll be rooting for him big time.

Miller Article:

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Geno Escalante

Org Pitching: Salem-Keizer

Dan Slania – R (21): 3.95 era, 13.2 ip, 8.6 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 9.2 k/9 – 5th round pick from Notre Dame this year. Big body (6-5, 255), hard thrower. Nice fastball-slider combination. Maybe San Jose next year?

Eduardo (EJ) Enicinosa – R (22): 3.12 era, 17.1 ip, 4.2 h/9, 5.2 bb/9, 10.9 k/9 – Giants took him with 7th pick in 2012. Another 6-foot-5 bullpen power arm with control issues. Why is he only pitching sparingly in short-season ball?

Chase Johnson – R (21): 3.88 era, 46.1 ip, 8.0 h/9, 2.5 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – First pitcher taken in the 2013 draft. Former Cal Poly closer, now a starter. Low to mid-90’s sinking fastball.

Cameron McVey – R (24): 3.19 era, 42.1 ip, 7.2 h/9, 3.0 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – 3rd 6-foot-5 righty bullpen arm on this list. 22nd round pick last year out of tiny Biola (CA) College. Should help form a strong pen in Augusta next year.

Nick Vander Tuig – R (21): 11.70 era, 10.0 ip, 17.1 h/9, 3.6 bb/9, 9.0 k/9 – 6th round pick, led UCLA to CWS title this summer. Low 90’s fastball with great control. Definitely a sleeper.

Pat Young – R (21): 1.22 era, 44.1 ip, 6.1 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 6.5 k/9 – 6-foot-5 starter from Villanova has been a nice surprise in S-K this summer. 13th round pick with a funky, but deceptive delivery.

Christian Jones – L (22): 2.84 era, 19.0 ip, 8.1 h/9, 1.5 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – Oregon lefty was 18th round pick in June. Sturdy frame. Giants loaded up on relievers in this draft.

Tyler Rogers – R (22): 2.30 era, 27.1 ip, 7.2 h/9, 4.0 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – 10th round pick this season. College senior with good size. Signed for $7.5k. Off to a surprisingly good start to pro career.

Chris Johnson – R (22): 2.49 era, 83.0 ip, 7.0 h/9, 0.9 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – Repeat performer in the NWL. Much better numbers this time around, with only 8 BB in 83 IP.

Andrew Leenhouts – L (23): 2.39 era, 71.2 ip, 8.5 h/9, 1.8 bb/9, 6.7 k/9 – Crafty lefty with sub-90’s velocity. 23rd round pick last season, leads the Volcanoes in wins this year.

Overview: It is my opinion that the Giants had a very good draft this summer, and I think we’ve already seen some proof of that in the 2nd half of the season. The high school picks have led the AZL team to a dominant championship this summer, while Salem-Keizer’s been no slouch in the NWL. All of the pitchers on this list were drafted either this year or last, and they make up a quite unheralded, but strong staff.

While the starting pitching has been good all summer, it’s the bullpen arms that are likely to be the quick movers in this system. Slania is a monster who brings the heat, and there were talks of the Giants making him a starter when they took him in the 5th round in June’s draft. Looks like the front office is satisfied with him out of the pen for now. He might make some top 20 Giants’ lists this winter. Encinosa and McVey are high-upside guys who I’ve spotted on a few lists already. McVey is a little older, but he’s only in his second pro season. Encinosa is closer material, but he hasn’t logged many innings this year. I’m not sure why.

Jones and Rogers are the other relievers on this list. Jones is a 6-foot-3 lefty from the University of Oregon (and a NorCal kid from Danville) who missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Once a top of the rotation starter with electric stuff, he worked almost exclusively out of the pen this spring in Eugene. If he can stay healthy, maybe the Giants give him another chance to start down the road.

Rogers, the Giants’ 10th round pick, signed for $7,500, obviously well below the slot value for a pick that high. I really don’t know what kind of stuff he offers, but he’s a 6-foot-5 kid who’s pitched very well in his 27.1 innings out of the pen this summer.

The rest of these guys make up the team’s starting rotation, and I have included them because each has seen some form of success in his their short professional careers. All 5 are college draft picks. Chase Johnson is the highest drafted (although his 3rd round selection was seen as a reach by many) of the group. He’s a former closer who the Giants are trying in a starting role.

To me, Chase has the most upside of the S-K rotation, although Vander Tuig might turn out to be the steady big league starter of the group. The UCLA ace was impressive in this year’s College World Series. If you saw his title clinching performance against Mississippi State, you know how dominant he was. 8 shutout innings in the biggest game of your career? I’ll take that guy on my team any day.

Vander Tuig hasn’t done well in his short stint as a professional (which included a spot start in San Jose), but it’s likely that his arm was pretty worn out after the college postseason. Either way, he’s a polished pitcher with great command, and I still think he could be the one from this group to bypass Augusta and start in San Jose next year.

Of course, Chase Johnson and Vander Tuig could turn out to be busts or organizational fillers. You never know, and that’s just the nature of the game. But those two will likely garner the most buzz from this crop of starters. The other three guys all have one thing in common: size. Young is 6-foot-5, Chris Johnson is 6-4, and Leenhouts is 6-3. Leenhouts and Johnson are second-year pros who have been steady members of the S-K rotation all summer. Johnson’s k/bb ratio of 78/8 is impressive, while the crafty lefty Leenhouts posted a 2.39 ERA in his 71 IP. Young is a product of the 2013 draft, and has only allowed 4 ER in 8 starts with the Volcanoes. He’s a lanky guy with a funky delivery, but he’s been impressive in his short time as a pro.

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