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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Two More Years for Timmy

Tim Lincecum won’t be wearing a different uniform for the next two years. I’m sure you’re already aware of the 2-year, $35 million contract Lincecum signed with the Giants yesterday. There are numerous reactions and perspectives to Timmy’s new deal that you can find all over the internet, and I’m sure most are more insightful than mine. But this wouldn’t be a San Francisco Giants blog if we didn’t discuss a new contract of one of the most influential players in franchise history. So, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

I found out about the Lincecum deal by way of Twitter yesterday afternoon, and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me completely off guard. For the second time in a week, reports on CSN Bay Area had us believing one thing, while in reality something entirely different was going on behind the scenes. I love the coverage their website provides (I don’t get the local CSNBA channel anymore, so I’m strictly an online follower), but between the misleading reports about the Jose Abreu sweepstakes, the Lincecum contract talks, and all of the recent posts tied to the Dodgers, they’re beginning to lose a little respect in my eyes. Baggs and the crew over there need to take a breather and let things play out a bit before they start making conclusions. Lately, I feel like I get a more realistic outlook on the Giants in the blog scene than I do with Comcast.

Let’s not get off track here. The point is, as of a couple days ago, the CSN report had me believing that Lincecum’s days in orange and black were all but done. Supposedly, he’d rejected their two year offer and wanted to see what he could get on the open market (most likely from Seattle). That, however, is quite the opposite from what Bobby Evans explained on KNBR yesterday. What I took from Evans was the Giants and Timmy had a tentative deal in place for a while, but were finalizing the numbers for a while. Either way, the reports of Timmy spitting on the Giants offer and heading for greener pastures don’t seem to have much backing now.

Along with being surprised that Lincecum had re-signed with the Giants before hitting the market, one of my first reactions to the terms of the deal was that it was a significant win for Lincecum and a drastic overpay by the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to react that way, but I sure was blasted by a few people on Twitter for making my feelings known. After two very un-Timmy-like seasons, he’s essentially taking a measly $2.5 million pay cut to stay with the team. For a guy with diminishing velocity and plenty of hiccups throughout his last two-year contract, that’s highway robbery in my book…

***

My initial reaction to the Lincecum deal was very negative, as is often the case for me. But over the years, I have learned to step back and try to look at the bigger picture, instead of griping about money that isn’t even mine. Instead of running to the blog and criticizing the Giants for something I clearly hadn’t allowed myself ample time to process, I decided to read as much about the topic as I could. And I read a lot, including Shankbone’s take at “You Gotta Like These Kids”, DrB’s at “When the Giants Come to Town”, and OGC’s at “Obsessive Giants Compulsive.” Those blogs are run by some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in Giants Nation, and I admire them highly. I also read the beat writers’ takes, from Baggs to Pavlovic to Kawakami and even Ratto, that eternal pessimist… and all had their own unique take on the Freak’s new contract. And I’ll tell you what, they sure helped me put things into perspective.

Here’s what I know about the Giants and the way they do business in the modern era: They are a players-first organization. If a player comes in (via the farm system, free agency or trade) and has success, generally Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and company reward that player for his contributions with a nice, shiny contract. This is especially true for the guys who gain admiration from the fan base – the Cain’s, the Posey’s, the Romo’s, etc. The Giants value players who buy into the team mentality, and they have a squad full of those type of players right now. Think about it: it’s pretty hard to have a beef with anyone on the team… maybe Pablo for his lack of conditioning, but even he’s an upbeat person who contributes to the clubhouse camaraderie.

In my opinion, the biggest reason the Giants didn’t offer Carlos Beltran a contract in 2011 was the way the fans perceived him. Beltran had pretty good numbers in his short time with the club, but the fans didn’t think of him as a team player. It turned out the Giants might have been able to bring him back at a reasonable cost, but they sent him packing anyway. In the end, he didn’t fit the “Giants way.” Really, about the only recent case I can think of where a fan favorite type of player wasn’t offered a contract was Cody Ross. Even Ross was a little different to me, though, in that he wasn’t ever really seen as a full-time player. He didn’t even take over an everyday position in 2010 until the playoffs started, and platooned for the most part in 2011. Still, it was a little surprising when the Giants let him walk after the 2011 season, after the adoration he’d earned in those 2010 playoffs.

My point here is this: Nobody embodies the modern day San Francisco Giants as much as Tim Lincecum. They call him the Franchise for a reason, and his emergence as a young ace was the catalyst in changing the course of history for the organization. And he’s still a fan favorite, six years later. As his fastball velocity and strikeout rates have diminished, his leadership and maturity have grown substantially. The general word around the organization is that Timmy is a very hard-working player, and one who is well respected by his teammates. All of those things have made him a very valuable commodity to the Giants, even if his in-game performance isn’t what it was three years ago (and probably never will be).

I want to be clear about something: I don’t think a player with Lincecum’s numbers over the past two seasons deserves to be paid anything close to $17.5 million. So, in that regard, I do feel the Giants are overpaying for his services. But baseball is a very wealthy sport, and that’s how business is done in this era. Really, that’s a completely different issue, and one which I’m not prepared to tackle at the moment. In regards to the Giants and Lincecum, I can now clearly understand (after my initial frustration) why the Giants made the offer they did, even if Timmy’s performance last year doesn’t reflect the offer.

Lincecum wanted a short-term contract. He always has, and in this case the shorter deal benefits the Giants. Their crop of talented arms in the minors should be near MLB-ready in 2016, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when #55 takes the hill anymore. You always hope for good Timmy, but it’s been bad Timmy showing quite often recently. Just look at his two starts which separated the first and second half of the season. Final start of the first half, he puts on one of the most dominant performances in Giants’ history (and one nobody was expecting) by no-hitting the Padres,  striking out 13 and throwing 148 pitches in the process. His first start of the second half? How about 8 ER and 3 HR allowed in 3.2 IP against Cincinnati. The same guy who used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game now has the ability to get absolutely obliterated when his stuff isn’t on.

Back to my point about the contract offer. The Giants had already made it clear that they were going to give Lincecum the qualifying offer, which would have been a one-year, $14 million contract, which he would have reportedly declined. So, with that in mind, Sabean really had no leverage in offering his former ace anything lower than $14 million per year. With Timmy’s previous contract earning him $40.5 million over two seasons, it seems pretty clear now that the two sides had to meet in the middle to get a deal done. $17M for next season, $18M in 2015. Full no-trade clause. The Freak may be a northwest kid, but he likes playing in San Francisco (and why not, for that kind of money?).

Sabean said re-signing Lincecum was one of his offseason priorities. He wasn’t lying. Like the Pence deal, he got Timmy locked up rather quickly. Now it’s on to Javier Lopez, who should be getting a two-year offer this week, I’d expect. The Giants like their guys – they’re a players-first franchise, like I said. But here’s the biggest question I have in regards to the Sabean offseason plan? Are the Giants going to be a better team when they step on the field next spring, as a result of these moves? With Pence, I’d say that’s a resounding yes. But what about Lincecum? Does an inconsistent mid-rotation starter who’s still figuring out how to make it as a finesse guy really make you that much stronger? If this were 2015 and Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar or any combination of the Giants’ top young arms were ready to step into the rotation, I would say the team could afford to let Lincecum go. But with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots guaranteed heading into the winter, the Giants needed another sure bet in the rotation. And make no mistake, Timmy is as much of a sure bet to take the ball every 5 days as anyone in baseball. In his 6 full seasons in the bigs, he’s made at least 32 starts every year. That’s consistency, and it’s something the Giants need… even if he can’t give you top of the line production anymore. So, at this point, after some serious consideration, I will say that bringing Lincecum back does make the Giants a stronger team – or at least more stable.

So, Timmy’s coming back to the Giants for a couple more years, for a bit more money than some of us would like. Can he improve? Of course he can. Will we see him as the leader of the staff again? I think that’s unlikely, but I guess you never can be sure. He’s only 29, so he could potentially still have some quite a few seasons left in him. He’s a former Cy Young, and a fan favorite. For the sake of putting butts in the seats, Sabean had to make this deal. For the sake of being a competitive ball club, I hope Sabean continues to shop for starting pitchers. He has said that is a priority area for the team, and they simply have too many holes right now to stand pat. But for now, I’d say it’s been a pretty productive postseason for the organization. Hopefully they’re doing a little less negotiating and a lot more competing by this time next year, though.

Baggs Postseason Chat Recap

Andrew Baggarly had a quick postseason chat over on CSNBayarea.com today, so I thought I would recap a few of the major topics he addressed (Giants’ related, of course). I’ll note that he seemed quite less irritated with Giants’ brass this time around. That hasn’t been the case all season.

Jose Abreu

I noticed the link for Baggs’ chat as I was leaving for lunch today, so I hopped on and sent him a quick question. I’ve submitted a few questions before, yet he’s never responded despite answering multiple questions from other users. So I was quite surprised to see that my question was answered when I checked back later. Here’s the direct text from my question regarding Abreu and Baggs’ response.

CoveChatter:

Any follow-up to the recent CSN report on the Giants as favorites to land Abreu? Goes against all previous reports.

3 Hours Ago from www.csnbayarea.com

CSNBaggs:

Hard to say they’re the favorite because this is still developing and other teams are making up their minds how involved they will be. But the Giants have done an analysis on the free-agent market and even though Abreu is untested against major league pitching, I think the Giants recognize they have more bang-for-their-buck potential with him than many of the other free agents, who will command massive contracts. Is Shin Soo Choo really worth $100 million? Is Robinson Cano worth $300 million? That’s what agents are throwing out there, and yes, I think those numbers are ridiculous, too. I do think the Giants will be in on Abreu to the very end, and they’re going to try hard to get him. The concern is that he is more of a DH type, so while they like his ability to hit for power, they won’t overspend to get him. It’s hard to commit mega dollars to a DH type in the NL because you end up getting stuck with no place to put him.

2 Hours Ago from www.csnbayarea.com

I was very surprised by his response to this, as it seems many others don’t see Abreu as a realistic option for the Giants. This would lead me to believe otherwise, and it makes sense, as I don’t see the Giants putting so much time and effort into scouting a player if they weren’t seriously interested. Abreu is essentially a 1B-only player, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see reports coming out this winter about a LF transition for Brandon Belt. You’d have to think management has already had talks with him about this, as it’s not a secret that Sabean and his posse have been to the DR to scout Abreu.

Pitching

As you’d imagine, there were plenty of questions about starting pitching. On the Lincecum front, Baggs seemed to indicate that Timmy’s only realistic options after the qualifying offer might be returning to San Francisco or going to Seattle, who has a protected pick and obvious interest. His words… Either way, I think the qualifying offer will cripple him as a free agent. The Mariners wouldn’t need to give up their first-round pick since it’s protected, though. So my expectation is that he’ll return, or he’ll go home to Seattle if the Mariners make a push.” He also mentioned the Angels and Dodgers as sleeper teams in the Lincecum market. Personally, I’d be shocked if the Angels didn’t make him some kind of an offer.  

Other notes on the pitching front: Ryan Vogelsong’s option may be (or is currently being?) restructured to save some money… that would seem to indicate that he is coming back in some form for 2014.

If Yusmeiro Petit has a strong spring, he will essentially start the season in the role held this season by Chad Guadin.

As for Gaudin, he might be looking at a minor league deal until he proves he’s healthy. By the Giants? That part isn’t clear.

Responding to a question about the Giants forming a blockbuster trade for a David Price, Cliff Lee type, here’s what Baggs had to say: I doubt you would see a big trade for a starter of that ilk. They don’t have the prospects to make that happen without moving Crick and others, and that’s the next wave they’re relying upon. Probably they’d just sign Dan Haren and Bronson Arroyo and hope for the best.”

Arroyo has been linked to the Giants a couple of times already, and has even noted his excitement for the city in an interview. I’ve seen Haren’s name mentioned on a couple of Giants blogs out there recently. If nothing else, I would say this gives us a pretty good indication of the organization’s standpoint on the 2014 rotation… Surround Bumgarner and Cain with some stopgap options until the young core is ready to contribute (maybe 2015?).

Speaking of the young core…

Edwin Escobar

Baggs referenced Escobar when asked about who might be closest among the “next wave” of pitchers in the organization. Obviously this isn’t breaking news, but the fact that he finished with this: “…and he’s way more legit than a Kickham or a Surkamp” gives some pretty good evidence that we prospect-hounds aren’t the only ones excited about these young arms. He probably got himself kicked off the Surkamp and Kickham family Christmas card lists, though.

Masahiro Tanaka

Someone asked about the Giants’ interest in Tanaka, the star righty from Japan. From the sounds of it, they don’t think he’ll be worth the big money he’s going to pull. Personally, I’d spend the big money on Tanaka if I were going to spend it on anyone. If they’re willing to go in on Abreu, how much more money could Tanaka possibly be commanding?

Angel Villalona

A final thought here on Angel V., who’s hanging out in the Arizona Fall League right now. Baggs didn’t seem to think he’d be a MLB regular even before his time away from the game. Felipe Alou thinks Villalona is a solid defensive 1B… apparently he’s the only one who feels that way.

You can find the full chat transcript here.

Prospects in the Press

We’ve got some news on the prospect front for the first time in a while. Jason Cole of Baseball Prospectus posted video from a recent instructional league game between the Giants and A’s. Originally he posted four clips; pitchers Kyle Crick and Keury Mella, and hitters Angel Villalona and Ryder Jones. Later, Cole snuck in a one-inning stint from 3rd round pick Chase Johnson. If you haven’t seen these, I’ll link them here. I definitely recommend checking them out… All are high-quality, HD clips that get right in behind home plate. Pretty sweet views of each pitcher’s breaking pitches!

Crick Video

Mella Video

Johnson Video

Jones Video

Villalona Video

My take: The pitchers were a bit more exciting, as you might have guessed. Pitching is the cream of the crop in this franchise! Crick’s video is the longest, as he throws a few innings. He’s a bit wild at first, surrendering walks and a couple of base hits in the first inning. He settled in pretty nicely in the following frames, and was consistently 94-96 with his fastball. I don’t know about you, but I just love this guy. Do me a favor: watch the Crick video again, then watch this clip of another pitcher the Giants developed a few years back. See any similarities? Pretty awesome stuff if you ask me.

I think Mella’s video was my favorite, and I’ve watched it over a few times. This kid is highly, highly underrated in my opinion. I don’t think it’ll be that way for much longer, though. Look at that frame! Abbreviated windup (a little like David Price), fastball at 93-95, and a filthy breaking ball! Gives up a base hit to the first hitter, then absolutely makes the second guy (Higley) look silly on three pitches. He’d work through the second inning without allowing a baserunner, recording a few K’s in the process. This video was an eye-opener for me, as I still knew relatively little about this kid. Let’s just say he’ll get a nice bump up my offseason rankings. He’s got a long way to go, but that fastball looks goooood going forward. What other starting pitcher in the system throws that hard?

Johnson pitched an inning, losing a long battle with Oakland’s 1st rounder Billy McKinney. McKinney took the walk after spoiling some 3-2 pitches, and the next batter hit an RBI triple to left center. Looked like the CF had trouble getting the ball in, but it was crushed either way. Still, Johnson worked 91-94 with the fastball, and even hit 95 once from what I remember. His breaking ball is a big, over the top curve. Had a little trouble controlling it. The changeup is low 80’s, making for a very nice change of pace from his fastball. You know, for a guy whose 3rd round draft spot prompted some questions in June, Johnson is starting to get some hype at the national level all of a sudden. Baseball America ranked him the #8 player in the NWL in its offseason top 20 list last week. He was the only Salem-Keizer player to make the list, in fact. It’ll be interesting to see what the Giants do with him next year. Augusta? San Jose? Starter? Reliever? Guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

Jones and Villalona’s videos were a little uneventful. I can’t, however, get over how big Angel V. is. He is a serious bopper, and he’s headed to the AFL to put his bat to the test. It looked like he got into one pretty good during this game, but you couldn’t see where the ball landed. Could have been a routine base hit, but I got the impression it was a very long single. Either way, this kid looks like he’s got major league power. Does he have major league contact?

Hopefully Cole will get the chance to shoot a few more Giants before instructional league ends. Those were a lot of fun to check out!

Finally, the Cal League top 20 was released by Baseball America today, and the Giants ran away with it. Crick came it at #3 behind A’s phenom Addison Russell and Rockies hurler Eddie Butler (although MLB.com has Crick #42 in its updated top 100; Butler was ranked in the 80’s). Delino Deshields and Austin Hedges got the 4 and 5 spots, with our own Edwin “Esky” Escobar sliding in at #6. Who came in at #10, you ask? Well, that would be none other than Adalberto Mejia, lefty extraordinaire. Three Giants pitchers in the top 10 gives you a pretty good idea that we fans aren’t the only ones taking notice of these arms anymore. Pretty exciting stuff.

On the back end, Ty Blach came in at #15, Mac Williamson at 18, and Clayton Blackburn rounded it out at 20. Six Giants in the top 20, impressive. I think what surprised me the most here was Blackburn getting the lowest spot among this group. Many in the Giants fan base (myself included) believe Blackburn is a top 5 prospect in the system. Hell, you could make the argument that he’s #2 or 3. So I think this list gives us a pretty good idea about how the rest of the world looks at these pitchers. Also great to see Mac make the list as well, although I don’t know how he could have been left off. He fell a tick short of .300 on the season. Otherwise, his offensive numbers were very, very impressive. This is the cream of the crop in the system, ladies and gents, and they’re moving up to Richmond next year. Escobar may be moving to Fresno… as Sabean says, AA is the true test, not Fresno.

A quick recap on those BA rankings. As Giants affiliates go, I think the Eastern League and PCL are the only leagues that haven’t had top 20’s announced. Not sure if we’ll see anyone from the organization make either of those lists. Panik and Susac probably have the best shot for the EL. Maybe Heath Hembree gets a spot in the PCL 20? 10 Gigantes farmhands have made it onto their respective BA lists. The super 6 in the Cal, Chase Johnson in the NWL, and 3 more from the AZL. Christian Arroyo at #2, Mella at #14, Ryder Jones at #19. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s your 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft picks all on the top 20 lists for their summer leagues. All of this from a Giants draft class that got laughed off the field by the national pundits in June. Interesting stuff.

That was a lot, but many good things going on in the depths of the Giants system these days. I have a feeling we’ll see a couple more of these kids crack the preseason top 100, but that’s still a long way off. For now, enjoy those videos, and we’ll catch up on the prospect front again soon as the AFL season gets rolling.

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(Conner Penfold/Giant Potential)

San Jose Season Recap: Part 1

The San Jose Giants were swept out of the Cal League championship series by Inland Empire, ending their season a couple nights ago with a 3-1 loss. The Giants were the last remaining minor league affiliate of the MLB Giants still in play, and were seeking to bring a title home after winning the deciding game against Visalia in the league semifinals. San Jose’s bats went cold in the championship series, though, as Ricky Oropesa and company were held to only 2 runs and a .133 average (per MiLB.com) in three games. The Giants certainly had to be the favorites in this series, as Inland Empire entered the postseason despite a sub-.500 regular season record.

This seems to be a case of a team (Inland Empire) getting hot at the right time, as often happens in playoff play in every sport, but I’m sure a championship sweep is not what Kyle Crick and his teammates had in mind. Either way, the Giants had another superb season, and remain one of the most successful clubs in minor league baseball. They finished the regular season 83-57, the best overall record in the Cal League.

Let’s take a look back at the season that was for the Giants’ high-A affiliate.

The storyline entering the season for San Jose was the starting pitching, and it remained the focal point of the club all year. The rotation was the backbone of this team, and on Opening Day featured highly touted 2011 prep draft picks Crick and Clayton Blackburn, along with international lefties Edwin Escobar (acquired from Texas in 2010) and Adalberto Mejia. All four were 20 years old or younger entering the season, with loads of promise.

While it was thought by most that top 2012 picks Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta would be joining the quartet of under-21 prospects in San Jose, the Giants brass decided to fill the final rotation spot with Ty Blach, an unheralded southpaw taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Creighton. Stratton and Agosta, though higher selections, were assigned to Augusta for Opening Day.

The rotation of Crick, Blackburn, Escobar, Mejia, and Blach entered the season with very high expectations. Aside from a couple of injuries that kept Crick and Mejia out for extended periods early in the year, the group didn’t disappoint.

2013 with SJ

Crick: 14 gs, 3-1, 1.57 era, 6.3 h/9, 5.1 bb/9, 12.5 k/9

Blackburn: 23 gs, 7-5, 3.65 era, 7.5 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 9.3 k/9

Escobar: 16 g (14 gs), 3-4, 2.89 era, 8.2 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 11.1 k/9

Mejia: 16 gs, 7-4, 3.31 era, 7.8 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 9.2 k/9

Blach: 22 g (20 gs), 12-4, 2.90 era, 8.6 h/9, 1.2 bb/9, 8.1 k/9

Impressive stuff. Escobar, who may be the Giants’ breakout prospect of the year, was the lone member of San Jose’s rotation to get a midseason bump to AA Richmond. He was just as good after the promotion, logging a 2.67 ERA over 10 starts while averaging a strikeout per inning. Overall, Escobar finished the season with 146 K (10.2 k/9) and 30 BB (2.1 BB/9) in 128.2 IP. He’s moving very quickly through the organization all of a sudden, and he’s already on the 40-man roster to boot. In other words, don’t be surprised if he gets an invite to big league Spring Training next year. If he shows his stuff, we could see him in San Francisco sooner rather than later. My guess is that the Giants want to see how he holds up in the bandboxes of the PCL before they get too crazy with him. Either way, this Venezuelan lefty should easily be on every Giant top 10 list out there, if not most top 5’s.

Kyle Crick’s season was cut significantly short by an oblique strain in this third start. Honestly, I think the injury is the only thing that kept him from joining Escobar in Richmond. He was the staff ace in the second half, and opened the postseason with an absolute gem in game 2 against Visalia – a 3-hitter over 7 scoreless innings, with 8 K and 0 BB. Crick is the crown jewel of the system, “Mr. Untouchable” in the trade market. His fastball was too big for the Cal League in July and August, and he’ll get a chance to see how it matches up with some top talent in the AFL this fall. If he can get a handle on his wild cannon next year in Richmond, I say he’s knocking on Fresno’s door by mid-season.

Blackburn was steady-Eddie for most of the season. Got knocked around a few times, but kept the very good K/BB rates that he’s shown ever since the Giants stole him in the 16th round two years ago. He’s an old pro in a young man’s body, and he’ll take his game to AA with the rest of the bunch next year, still only 20 years old. As is Mejia, the 6-foot-3 Dominican lefty nobody’s talking about. But they should be, and I think they will by next season, if he can keep plugging along. He’s got as much upside or more than Blackburn, and the Giants liked him enough to give him a spot start in Fresno this year. He’s very unknown to the mainstream group, but I think that’ll change soon. Like Crick, Mejia missed some time to injury this year, and gets to spend his fall in the AFL with the big dogs.

Blach is the forgotten man in this group, but he had one hell of a season for anybody, let alone a guy who wasn’t even the second-most hyped pitcher in the Giants’ 2012 draft class. While Stratton and Agosta got all the press, Blach made an impact from the very start, and eventually earned San Jose team MVP honors in the process. He’s not fancy, and he’s just a tad older than the rest of this group, but his walk rates were insane. All. Season. Long. If it were any other year, Blach would be a household name after the season he put up, but for now he’ll hopefully continue to do his thing under the radar in Richmond in 2014.

Wow, got a little long-winded there. That’s a lot of talk about 5 guys. But those 5 are some of the best and brightest horses in the Giants’ minor league stable. They’ll make up the best rotation fans of the Richmond Flying Squirrels have ever seen next season, maybe to be joined by Chris Stratton if the brass so chooses.

We’ll shorten it up a bit on the bullpen, which featured partial seasons from a handful of very talented arms. Cody Hall and Josh Osich burned through the Cal League before taking their talents to AA mid-year. Osich struggled to get his feet under him in Richmond while Hall thrived for most of the second half. Both guys have a chance to be nice pieces in Bochy’s pen in the next couple years. Another partial season came from oft-injured Bryce Bandilla, whose 14.6 K/9 was the best in the organization this year. The big lefty lasted only 44.1 innings though, the same exact amount he tossed in 2012 before succumbing to injuries.

Hunter Strickland, a 24 year-old former Red Sox farmhand, made it only 21 innings before his arm failed him. He had 9 saves and a 0.86 ERA when he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. It looks like the Giants want to keep him around, but I have no idea when he’ll be back on a mound.

Derek Law was called up from Augusta in July, and absolutely dominated as San Jose’s closer in the final months of the season. In 25.2 IP with the little Giants, he saved 11 games to the tune of a 2.10 ERA. He fanned 45 hitters and walked just one. Try that on for size! Law has pitched very well since the Giants drafted him in 2011, and he’s another underrated guy who is starting to make some noise.

Chris Marlowe is the final pitcher of interest to us here, and the only one who doesn’t fit the mold of beefy power arm like the rest of these relief guys. Marlowe runs his fastball low 90’s, but supposedly has the best curve in the organization. He made 7 starts for San Jose, but spent most of his season in the pen. His overall numbers aren’t bad, but I don’t think he did enough to earn a promotion. Richmond’s roster is going to be mighty crowded next year as it is.

Ok, I think that’s enough for one night. Can you tell how I felt about this pitching staff? Can’t forget about Mac and the San Jose bats though! I’ll have to get to them another night. I can only hope this was enough to keep your appetite wet for the rest of the story…

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Minors Roundup: Fresno

Minor League regular seasons are winding down (the rookie leagues have already finished), and many of the Giants’ affiliates are headed for the postseason. There’s a lot going on in general with the farm these days, so I thought we’d play a little catch-up for each squad.

A quick side note: I haven’t finished the series on pitching in the organization, as I’ve yet to cover the short-season teams. Once you get down to those levels, though, basically everyone except for the occasional 24 year-old who’s never made it out of rookie ball is a realistic prospect. I say this because most of these guys are new draft picks or international signings. They haven’t really had any time to either improve or blow their stock yet. Keeping this in mind, I’ll probably find a way to look at just a few of the noteworthy pitchers at these levels, rather than logging stats for all 50-60 of them. So… maybe we’ll look at 5 or 6 from Salem-Keizer and 3 or 4 from the rookie league clubs. Anyway, I hope the pitching series has been as much of a learning experience for you as it has been for me, and I hope to have it wrapped up soon.

Back to the MiLB updates:

Fresno: 65-74, Eliminated from playoff contention.

The AAA Griz have four games left to play this year. At that point, they’ll send a handful of players up to San Francisco for expanded roster season, or Christmas for last place MLB teams. Among the group, Heath Hembree and Ehire Adrianza will be making their Major League debuts. Hembree had a very rough outing last week, surrendering 5 hits and 3 ER in 1.2 IP. That’s the only blip he’s had on his radar this month, though. The hard-throwing righty has 30 saves this season for Fresno, and it’s about damn time his blazing heater gets a look on a big league mound. Adrianza was once a top 10 prospect in the system. He’s always had elite defensive skills, but it’s his bat that’s finally come to the party this season. I’ll admit I had all but written this kid off until recently. Taking a closer look, I realize that was a mistake. Yes, he’s been in the system for ages, but Adrianza is still only 24. He likely won’t ever hit for power, but he’s got an OBP of .342 over his MiLB career. In 41 games with Fresno this summer, he’s hitting .297 with 23 BB and 31 K. If he can hit a little bit at the big league level, he’ll be a valuable player.

So, Hembree and Adrianza (both 24) are headed for the show, along with Juan Perez, Nick Noonan, Jake Dunning… Alex Pavlovic says you can probably add Surkamp and Kontos to that list. No stars, but a lot of role players. Hembree has shown he can close at every level of the minors. The Giants need more velocity in that pen. Adrianza can pick it. Can he hit? Perez may be the best defensive CF in the entire system, with a cannon attached to his right shoulder. Can he hit? Surkamp needs a few big league starts down the stretch. Dunning has been lights out in Fresno, and looked good in San Francisco earlier in the year.

Those are your September reinforcements. Who does that leave on the 40-man?

Pitchers – Dan Runzler and Edwin Escobar, as well as the injured (Affeldt, Cain, Gaudin). Runzler hasn’t really earned a promotion this season. Escobar is the one to dream on here, but I’d say a call-up is pretty wishful thinking. MLB spring training next year? Yes, please.

Infield – Tony Abreu, Angel Villalona. Abreu is technically still on the DL, but he’s been rehabbing in Fresno. He should be promoted at some point next month. Villalona has put himself back on the map this year with his bat. 21 HR between San Jose and Richmond. Big power, but very little plate discipline. In 49 games at AA: 55k/8bb. The Giants are sending Angel to the Arizona Fall League. Can you imagine if he takes a couple of top pitchers deep?

Outfield – Tanaka is the only one left here, and he’s not really even an OF. He’s worked hard all year, but I think the Giants saw all they needed from him in July. Does he get one final chance? There’s just not enough room these days. Big league dreams may be over.

Gary Brown entered the season as Fresno’s top prospect by a pretty wide margin. Where does all of this leave him? Try this on for size… in 40 games post All-Star break, he’s hitting .201 with 8 extra base hits (2 HR) and 4 RBI. He’s stolen 4 of 6 bases, and struck out 37 times. Ouch. Brown is hitting .230 for the season (.217 vs. righty’s), and needs to completely regroup this offseason.

A couple of guys who had nice seasons at the plate, but likely won’t make their MLB debuts this year:

Chris Dominguez: 128 g, .296/.337/.799 (ops), 14 hr, 5 3b, 60 rbi, 23 bb, 110 k – Dominguez has tons of power and a very strong arm at third base. Contact has always been his big issue, although he did very well to keep his average around .300 this year. The power numbers are down, but the average is up. He seems to be of the Francisco Peguero, Juan Perez plate discipline group though… hack, hack, hack.

Johnny Monell: 117 g, .281/.370/.876, 20 hr, 63 rbi, 57 bb, 102 k, 6 sb – Monell is a 27 year-old catcher who’s been in the organization since 2007. He’s always been known for his left-handed bat, but this was his best season as a professional. The 57 walks are nice to see, as is the long-ball power. Why isn’t he a major leaguer? Defense. He’s a catcher who doesn’t catch all that well, and I don’t know that he can really play anywhere else on the diamond either. Like Dominguez, though, he deserves a shot, and I wonder how his bat would play in the show.

Wow, this went on a little longer than I was expecting. I think that gives us a pretty good look at things in Fresno. I’ll have to get to Richmond later.

Org Pitching Part II: Richmond

Continuing the look at the noteworthy arms in the Giants’ system… Flying Squirrel edition.

Richmond

Edwin Escobar – L (21): 2.78 era, 116.2 ip, 8.0 h/9, 1.8 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – First of the San Jose starters to get the bump to AA. Low 90’s fastball with excellent control, could be in Major League camp next spring.

Cody Hall – R (25): 9 sv, 1.31 era, 55 ip, 4.1 h/9, 2.3 bb/9, 11.5 k/9 – Big, power arm has thrived in the closer role since his promotion from SJ. May move quickly.

Josh Osich – L (24): 14 sv, 3.84 era, 61 ip, 8.0 h/9, 2.8 bb/9, 10.0 k/9 – Flame-throwing lefty was dominant in SJ, but has struggled since moving to AA.

Jose Valdez – R (25): 4.74 era, 49.1 ip, 9.7 h/9, 7.7 bb/9, 8.8 k/9 – 6 foot 7 monster. 78 K’s in 57 IP last year at San Jose. Major control issues this season.

Scott Shuman – R (25): 25 g, 10.55 era, 21.2 ip, 5.9 h/9, 16.5 bb/9, 15.6 k/9 – Rule 5 draft pick who throws serious heat, gives up few hits, but has absolutely no idea where the ball is going.

Edwin Quirarte – R (26): 10 sv, 2.67 era, 60.2 ip, 8.6 h/9, 3.6 bb/9, 5.3 k/9 – Former 5th round pick, doesn’t have amazing stuff, but induces tons of grounders. May be a useful bullpen arm for a Major League team one day.

Phil McCormick – L (24): 3 sv, 3.44 era, 49.2 ip, 7.8 h/9, 5.3 bb/9, 8.9 k/9 – Crafty lefty with sink and deception. Big groundball rates, but the walks have inflated this season.

Chris Gloor – L (26): 3.56 era, 139 ip, 8.9 h/9, 2.5 bb/9, 6.9 k/9 – 6 foot 6, big-bodied lefty. Second year in AA, first full season as a starter. Should get a chance in Fresno next year.

Overview: A team that began the season with little high-end pitching talent has seen three of the top arms in the system promoted from San Jose. Escobar may be the Giants’ breakout candidate of the year, and he seems to be getting stronger. Will he compete for a big league rotation spot next spring? Hall and Osich are two of the organization’s big bullpen arms. Hall may surpass Heath Hembree, while Osich needs to work out some kinks. All 3 are big bodies that feature elite velocity. The rest of these guys are long shots. Valdez and Shuman are wildcards – big arms with no control. Quirarte was once a future closer candidate, but he doesn’t seem to have the stuff to strike out professional hitters. Maybe he gets a shot in a middle-relief role someday. If McCormick can continue to induce the grounders, could he work himself up as a situational lefty? Gloor is a grinder who should be in AAA next season.

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