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.

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Fresno Official Roster

Cove Chatter Predictions

Players in bold were my correct picks.

C: Andrew Susac: Is this the year he stays on the field? If so, he’s a 20-HR candidate. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a September MLB cup of coffee this season.

C: Guillermo Quiroz: He’s off the 40-man, but still probably the first C to get called if there’s an injury in SF.

C: Tyler La Torre: Organizational player will provide depth in Fresno, but probably won’t see much playing time.

IF: Tony Abreu: Cleared waivers, back in the organization.

IF: Juan Ciriaco: Minor league journeyman split time between AA and AAA last year. Can play all over the infield.

IF: Chris Dominguez: Wasn’t protected on the 40-man, but still saw considerable action in MLB camp this spring. Great arm at 3B… were the offensive adjustments last year for real?

IF: Adam Duvall: Another guy who battles injuries often. Might have the bat to play in the majors, but defense has always been a concern.

IF: Mark Minicozzi: I love this guy. One of the best stories of this spring. He’ll play a lot of 1B in Fresno, and I hope he gets to play on a major league field one day.

IF: Joe Panik: Not the greatest statistical season in Richmond last year, but I think he bounces back in Fresno. He’s not an old prospect by any means, and the Giants have a pretty glaring need at 2B.

OF: Gary Brown: Will Brown make the adjustments at the plate this season? He’s finally on the 40-man, but if he wants to be a Giant, he needs to earn it.

OF: Darren Ford: Speedster brought back to the organization this spring. His bat was always the issue before.

P: Michael Kickham: For the moment, Escobar seems to have jumped him for the “next guy in line” label. How will he respond? This is a big year for Kickham, who needs to harness his stuff if he wants to remain a starter.

P: Edwin Escobar: The quickest mover in the system over the past couple of seasons. Earned some valuable experience this spring. Won’t overpower, but has control and can work out of trouble.

P: Jason Berken: Veteran with MLB experience had some nice outings this spring. Nice to have a guy like this on your AAA club.

P: Mitch Lively: Susanville (not too far from my neck of the woods), CA native had a nice VWL campaign, earning himself an MLB spring training invite. Fighting for his chance in the Show.

P: Chris Heston: 2013 was a big season for him, but it went sideways pretty fast. Can he adjust to AAA hitters and keep the ball down?

P: Dontrelle Willis: Remember when Dontrelle’s windup was the coolest thing in baseball? He’s a full-on reclamation project now, and I’m glad he made the roster out of camp.

P: Brett Bochy: He doesn’t throw hard, but there’s a place for his type of profile in the game. I think he’ll get a shot someday, but maybe not with the Giants.

P: Erik Cordier: Throws HARD. Doesn’t have a clue where it’s going. Fighting with Kontos and Hembree for a trip to SF if the need for a bullpen arm arises.

P: Rafael Dolis: Another hard thrower with MLB experience. Didn’t last long in MLB camp. Likely needs to reign his stuff in.

P: Jake Dunning: Dunning pitched fine in MLB action a year ago, but seems to be buried by harder throwers on the depth chart this spring. Those things can change quickly when the games count.

P: Heath Hembree: Most of us thought he had a spot to lose this spring. Either he did and he lost it, or the Giants planned for him to start the year in Fresno all along. Keep grinding, Heath; your time will come.

P: George Kontos: Didn’t quite make the cut this spring. Kontos has shown he can be an effective MLB reliever, but he lost his consistency last year. He’ll look to get it back this time around.

P: Adam Reifer: 27 yo righty came over this winter from the Marlins system. Originally came up with St. Louis… never been a big leaguer, but features good velocity on his fastball. Maybe a name to watch.

P: Dan Runzler: Released from the organization last year, found himself down to the final cuts in Giants camp this spring. Runzler has always had the stuff. Will his new delivery help him to better control it?

P: Mason Tobin: Hard-throwing Glendive, MT (just down the road from my current neck of the woods) native has spent the last two springs in MLB camp. The Giants like his arm, and he had a brief cup of coffee with Texas a couple years back.

Analysis: Not a juggernaut team by any means, but a solid roster by my estimation. Should feature one of the best young lineups Fresno has seen in a while, with Susac, Panik and Duvall leading the way. How will Gary Brown respond to his 2013 struggles?

On the pitching end, Escobar looks to continue his evolution into an MLB starting pitcher. The Giants like him a lot, and they’ll be watching closely. The bullpen could be the strength of the pitching staff. A lot of lively arms in that group.

I’m trying like crazy to get a Minor League preview of sorts up this afternoon, so stay tuned!

Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #12

#12: Mike Kickham – LHP, 24 yo, AAA: Kickham has had an interesting year, to say the least. After posting a 3.05 ERA in 27 starts at AA Richmond in 2012, he made a few spring training appearances this year and was assigned to Fresno for Opening Day. It was pretty well known that he or Chris Heston would get the first looks if the Giants needed a starter at some point. Kickham had mixed results in 10 starts. However, he’d found a pretty good groove in mid-May (when the Giants just happened to need a starter) and got the call when Chad Gaudin was placed on the DL. Kickham went right into the fire, making his ML debut in Oakland against the red-hot A’s. He didn’t do well, giving up 4 ER in only 2.2 IP. He’s been back and forth from Fresno and San Francisco ever since, losing all three of his starts at the major league level. Lately, Bochy’s called on him as a long reliever, and the Giants indicated they may give him a longer look out of the bullpen. In fairness to Kickham, however, all of his big league starts have been on the road… Oakland, LA, and Cincinnati.  That’s a pretty rough way to start your major league career. For that reason alone, I think he deserves a longer look (as a starter) in San Francisco.

Kickham was a 6th round draft pick out of Missouri State in 2010, so he certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Oddly though, after a full season in Lo-A Augusta in 2011, the Giants promoted him straight to Richmond, skipping Hi-A San Jose in the process. That doesn’t happen very often, so maybe the org. thought his stuff was ready to play at a higher level. Coming into 2013, Kickham earned some mixed reviews on the prospect lists. MLB.com, for example, ranked him #12 in the Giants’ system, while I saw him slotted as high as 4th on a couple other sites. We’ve seen what he can offer at this point. Funky three-quarters delivery, low-90’s fastball, slider and curve with lots of movement, and a changeup he tosses in from time to time. His stuff can be live enough at times to do this, while at other times so flat it gets crushed by Mark Ellis. For a guy with swing-and-miss stuff, Kickham sure has gotten hit hard during his brief time in the bigs. In 18 IP, he’s given up 30 hits and 6 home runs. That’s really bad. But he’s also struck out 21 batters in those same 18 innings, so he’s definitely got the potential to be dynamic if he can harness his control.

I’ve written quite a bit more about Kickham than most other prospects on this list. Not because I think he’s any better or more interesting, but because he’s the only player on this list who has seen time at the big league level. We’ve all seen him play against the highest competition, so there’s a bit more to say about him.  He’s certainly still a work in progress, but here’s my take on him right now. If the Giants continue to sit in the cellar come August and September, Kickham needs to be in the rotation, auditioning for a job on the 2014 team. It’s pretty clear the Giants will be looking to fill some combination of Timmy, Zito and Vogey’s rotation spots, so there’s no reason Kickham shouldn’t be able to prove whether he belongs or not. The same can be said of Eric Surkamp if he’s healthy. Either way, I hope Kickham can figure out his control. He’s kind of a cool looking guy with his mullet and goggles, and I think he’d be a guy the fans could get behind. If he can’t find that control, however, he’s probably destined for a short career in the bullpen.

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Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #16

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#16. Roger Kieschnick – OF, 26 yo, AAA: Kieschnick is a guy who I feel could be seeing his window closing with the Giants. Unfortunately, he’s never gotten the chance to show what he can do in AT&T Park. The athletic lefty was taken in the 3rd round in 2008 from Texas Tech, and he burst onto the scene with 23 HR and 110 RBI in his first professional season at San Jose. After spending two rocky seasons in AA, Kieschnick opened 2012 in AAA Fresno, where he hit .306 with 15 HR in 55 games. A season-ending shoulder injury probably cost him a shot at making his MLB debut. Injuries have been a theme for him during his pro career. This season, he’s cooled down considerably after a hot start. He strikes out in bunches, but I’m still impressed by his ability to hit for extra bases (37 in 78 games), and he’s known for his defense and arm in the outfield. His 9 triples really stand out, and I think his athleticism and tools could be of use for a major league team. I just don’t know if the Giants are that team anymore.

240 Words on Gary Brown

Gary Brown

Gary Brown hit another home run for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies tonight.  Yes, the same Gary Brown who hit .180 with 1 HR in April now has 10 long balls (7 this month), and has an OPS of 1.148 over his last 9 games.  Last season, Brown lost his status as an upper-level prospect in the eyes of many so-called prospect gurus (although many of us in Giants land didn’t think his season at AA Richmond was really that terrible).  By the end of his first month in Fresno, nearly everyone who’d stayed on his bandwagon had written him off.  Now, he’s red hot at the dish.  Brown’s always been known as a plus defender, but it’s his much-hyped speed on the bases that isn’t showing up this season (9-16 in SB attempts).

With Angel Pagan shelved for who knows how long, I couldn’t see how promoting Brown at this point would hurt a team who’s had its share of blunders in the outfield.  Juan Perez has provided a spark in only a handful of games since his promotion from Fresno, and I feel that Brown could do the same.  The Giants could send down one of their backup catchers, and essentially use a platoon of Blanco and Torres in left, Brown and Perez in center.  Crazy? Maybe, but I think the team could benefit from Brown’s speed, defense and pop.  Just something that crossed my mind.