Giant Pride

Even in last place, a win against the Dodgers feels good. Friday night, Madison Bumgarner topped Clayton Kershaw. The Giants never beat Kershaw. Last night, the Giants obliterated Ricky Nolasco. The Giants never beat Nolasco. 19 runs on 22 hits from a last-place team, on the road against its first-place archrivals? We’ll take that any day.

I’m not writing this to try and stir anything up with the Dodgers. The records are what they are, and LA will be the ones playing in October this year. The Giants are simply trying to move out of the cellar in the season’s final weeks. But I’ll tell you this: when your last-place rival comes into your house, prevents you from clinching the division, and sets a stadium-record for runs scored while beating you up and down the diamond, it can’t feel good. And for a season like the one the Giants are having, you take small victories where you can find them.

The Giants were awful in the month of June, and it ruined their season. Most of us know that. But it was their play in July and August that frustrated me even more. After falling out of contention mid-season, there was no way they could’ve played any worse. But in all honesty, they didn’t play a whole lot better either. Think about it; when is the last time the Giants went on a nice winning streak this season? Frankly, they soured me with their lifeless play in July and August more than they did with their terrible defense and pitching in June.

I point all of this out not to frustrate anyone, but to make a point that the Giants are finally playing better baseball in the month of September. Not amazing baseball, but better. They’ve won 5 of their last 7, and they’ve been very competitive in Los Angeles this weekend. Everything came together last night for a Giants’ offense that has been looking better of late as well.

Giants 19, Dodgers 3. The most runs by one team (including the Dodgers) in Dodger Stadium history. A grand slam and career high 7 RBI for Hunter Pence, who should have been locked up in August, and will now likely cost the Giants at least $80 million over 5 years. That’s a lot of money. Pence in the month of September? 54 AB, .407, 7 HR, 22 RBI. He’s a streaky son of a gun, but he can play, and the Giants would be fools to let him enter free agency without signing a deal. Sounds like they’ve begun talks, and Hunter has all the leverage in this one.

Brandon Belt came to the party last night too. 5 hits, a home run, and 6 RBI in a SUPPORTING act from Belt, who’s a .289 hitter with 16 HR for the season. I was frustrated with Belt for quite a while, and I’ll admit I feel very foolish about it now. When a guy hits .352 with 23 HR in his first minor league season, you start envisioning big things. I think big things are coming for Belt, it just took him a little longer to get going than the impatient fans (myself included) expected. With an offseason to rest and a fresh slate heading into 2014, a 1-5 lineup of Pagan, Scutaro, Belt, Posey, and Pence could do some real damage. If Pablo can put together a healthy season and Brian Sabean can find a regular to man LF, that could be a dangerous lineup. But Belt is my 3-hitter going forward, and he’s become a different hitter in the second half. Good for him.

The highlight of the night for me was the late innings, when the Giants’ backups continued to tack on runs. 7 of them in the last 3 frames, to be exact. Ehire Adrianza had his first hit as a big leaguer, as did Johnny Monell. Great to see from a couple of guys who rode the bus for a long time down in the minors. Adrianza looks like he can handle the bat a bit, and we all know he’s got the glove-work. I think Monell’s bat can play a bit too, and he didn’t look awful behind the dish to me, as his scouting reports would lead one to believe.

Heath Hembree continues to look good on the mound in his debut action. Hasn’t given up a run yet, although the plus velocity hasn’t been there yet. Maybe he works 93-94 now? But I was hoping to see some 97’s as well.

Overall, this was a night to feel proud if you’re a Giants fan, and we haven’t had many of those this season. If they can win today and take 3 of 4 from the Dodgers in LA, it’ll feel very, very good.

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Organization Pitching Depth Recap

Over the past few weeks, we broke down some of the top pitchers for each team in the Giants’ minor league system. We covered a lot. 70 arms to be exact. 48 righties, 22 southpaws. There are others in the organization, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Even after profiling 70 guys, I’m sure I still missed a few potential sleepers in there, but I think we’ve covered most of the meat.

I learned a ton about the organization while doing this series. I hope you did as well, or at least enjoyed catching up on a few guys you hadn’t given much attention recently. I’ll say this about the Giants: They have pitching. Not a ton of it is major league ready, which was definitely a factor in this season’s struggles. But they do have a wealth of arms below AAA, and it’ll be interesting to see who makes the jump to the next level. Are Cody Hall and Edwin Escobar in the bigs next year? Does Hembree win a spot out of Spring Training? Will the San Jose rotation of 2013 be as successful as the Richmond rotation of 2014? Is Kyle Crick in Fresno this time next season? How about the Augusta staff? Who separates themselves from this year’s draft class? Are Mella and Ysla for real? Lots of questions, and all good ones. You can’t have too much pitching, ever.

I decided to write this recap of the entire pitching series because I felt like there should be a place where we can tie all these posts together. Also, I wanted a spot where each of these pieces could be easily found. So here are the team links if you need a refresher.

AAA Fresno

AA Richmond

A+ San Jose

A Augusta

A-ss Salem-Keizer

Rookie Leagues

So, 70 pitchers that may or may not be the future of Giants baseball. One potential ace (Crick), lots of potential valuable pieces, both starters and relievers. The overlying trend for the top starters tends to be control above velocity, while some of the bullpen guys can definitely dial up the heat.

If I had to rank the top guys right now, it’d probably look something like this:

RH Starters

Kyle Crick

Clayton Blackburn

Chris Stratton

Martin Agosta

Keury Mella

Sleeper: Joan Gregorio

LH Starters

Edwin Escobar

Adalberto Mejia

Eric Surkamp

Ty Blach

Mike Kickham

Sleeper: Luis Ysla

RH Pen

Heath Hembree

Cody Hall

Derek Law

Dan Slania

Stephen Johnson

Sleeper: Ian Gardeck

LH Pen

Josh Osich

Bryce Bandilla

Mason McVay

Steven Okert

Nick Jones

Sleeper: Nick Gonzalez

There’s your top 24. If you can get 4-6 regular players and a few trade pieces out of that crop (which I think the Giants can), I’d consider it a successful group. Next season should be a big one for the hurlers, that’s for sure. As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated. I’m hoping to do a few more of these throughout the winter, looking at position-player depth in the organization. Thanks for reading, and go Giants.

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.

Help on the Way

A few odds and ends here, as we haven’t really talked about the 25 men on the big league squad much lately… have they really given us much to talk about? Not so much. Anyway, August is coming to an end, and barring a complete flip of the switch, the Giants will finish in the bottom 10 in MLB. That could be a good thing come draft time next June. Right now, though, they’re a lousy club that’s very tough to watch.

Good news is, we may have a few more reasons to tune in when the calendar turns to September. Word is that Angel Pagan will be back some time around the 1st, with more backup coming from Fresno on the 3rd when the AAA season ends. Pagan’s return should give the team a nice boost, but I highly doubt Bochy runs him out there every night. After missing as much time as he has, and the team sitting in the cellar, it would seem inappropriate to push him. The Giants also have plenty of young outfielders to look at. Kieschnick and Peguero are already on the roster, and Alex Pavlovic reported today that Juan Perez will be joining them when rosters expand.  Seems likely that Perez will see time in CF while Peguero and Roger K share LF. Can’t forget about Blanco, who will surely get some starts down the stretch as well. I’ll be very intrigued to see how the OF playing time is passed around.

From Pavlovic’s report, the other Fresno call-ups will include Nick Noonan, Jake Dunning, probably George Kontos, possibly Eric Surkamp… None of these are big surprises. However, it sounds like the Giants have confirmed Heath Hembree and Ehire Adrianza will be on their way to the show as well. If you’re a prospect guru, there’s your excitement. Hembree is a little overdue, and I hope he shows something. I’d love to see that big fastball at AT&T next spring.

Adrianza is the big surprise here. He’s on the 40-man, so he wasn’t a tremendous long shot, but I certainly didn’t see him as a lock to get a call. In fact, he was near the very bottom of my list of possible September call-ups that I wrote about in July. His elite glove at shortstop has been talked about for a few years now, but his bat just wasn’t cutting it. He’s definitely put together a nice second half this year, earning a promotion from Richmond to Fresno mid-season. He’s got a .407 OBP in 40 games at AAA, and a .357 mark for the season. I’m excited to see his glove, but I don’t know how much time he’ll take from Crawford at short.

One last piece of good news from today: Baggarly wrote a piece about the Giants involvement in international scouting today. He mentions Masahiro Tanaka, Japanese phenom pitcher who I’d never heard of before, as well as Cuba’s big slugger Jose Abreu. Top talent like that will pull some big money, but the fact that the Giants are finally ready to get in on some of the fun is a great sign. It’s going to take some creativity to build this team up again, and the foreign market is producing a lot of talent these days.

Adrianza

Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.

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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Organizational Pitching Depth: Grizzly Edition

The Giants have learned the hard way this season that there’s no such thing as too much pitching. Viewed as pitching gurus over the past few seasons, the Giants’ brass saw their 2013 staff fall far short of expectations due to a combination of inconsistency and injury, with fatigue almost certainly lending a hand as well. While we’ve seen first-hand that there aren’t any major impact arms on the way to San Francisco at the current time, the organization is still loaded with pitching talent in the lower minors. That being said, I thought we’d take a look at some of the noteworthy pitchers from each level in the Giants’ farm system, beginning with Fresno. I’ve added their current stats, as well as a quick blurb and a positional overview at the end. I hope this series will show that the Giants do still know how to find and develop pitching talent, and still have as many solid prospects as ever in the system – even a few at the higher levels as well. As always, I appreciate any feedback, and would love your response to my thoughts.

*The player’s name is followed by the arm they throw with, followed by their age in parenthesis. Statistics are for the entire season and combine levels.

FRESNO

The Top

Heath Hembree – R (24): 27 sv, 4.07 era, 48.2 ip, 8.9 h/9, 2.8 bb/9, 10.7 k/9 – Still throws the big fastball by hitters, but he’s giving up too many hits. Needs a 40-man spot to open up before he can get a call to the show.

Mike Kickham – L (24): 5.36 era, 122.2 ip, 9.5 h/9, 4.0 bb/9, 7.5 k/9 – Electric but wild. ML debut didn’t go so well. Pitching better in Fresno of late.

Eric Surkamp – L (26): 3.65 era, 66.2 ip, 8.2 h/9, 2.3 bb/9, 7.3 k/9 – Recovering nicely from TJ surgery. Knocked around in emergency ML start against Cincy. Hoping to challenge for SF rotation spot next spring.

The Rest

Jake DunningR (25): 1.95 era, 60 ip, 8.5 h/9, 2.5 bb/9, 7.5 k/9 – Looked good in his time with the big club this summer. Could be back in SF next month.

Dan RunzlerL (28): 5.81 era, 48 ip, 9.4 h/9, 5.8 bb/9, 8.4 k/9High velocity arm from the left side, but can’t seem to control it anymore. How much longer will the Giants keep him in the system?

Justin Fitzgerald – R (27): 3.74 era, 91.1 ip, 9.8 h/9, 3.3 bb/9, 8.7 k/9 – Started season in AA. Pitch to contact guy from UC Davis. Long shot, but he’s made adjustments at every level.

Brett Bochy – R (25): 1 sv, 4.12 era, 48 ip, 8.2 h/9, 2.6 bb/9, 9.2 k/9 – Manager’s kid has advanced through each level in the system, but needs to keep making adjustments if he wants a shot someday.

Overview: The Giants’ top pitching talent is obviously in the lower minors, but there are still some guys on the Fresno staff who could impact the Giants as soon as September. Surkamp and Kickham will certainly be given an opportunity to earn a roster spot next spring. Surkamp looks to follow the path of another crafty lefty on his way out of the Bay Area, Zito. Kickham needs to harness his control, otherwise I see him as a poor man’s Johnathan Sanchez. Hembree should be in San Francisco at this point, and I’m really not sure why he wasn’t put on the 40-man. He’s still very much a top prospect, but you don’t throw high 90-s your whole career, so it’s time to see what he’s got. Dunning will likely be back soon, fighting for a pen spot next year. Bochy and Fitzgerald are long shots. Runzler is runzling out of time.