2016 Giants: What’s the [Catcher] Plan?

First in a series of late-season/offseason posts concerning current 40-man players, as well as a few other relevant names both inside and outside the organization. I’ll try to address contract status, current and future production, projected playing time for next season, and whatever else I feel is pertinent to the 2016 team.

Let’s start with the backstops, a position where the Giants are still incredibly talented. While Posey is still the man, a surprising new name has emerged from the farm system, adding to what was already one of the deepest positional groups in the organization.

6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!
6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!

Buster Posey | Age 28: One of the elite talents in the game, and arguably getting better. Considering the resume he already boasts, it’s pretty darn impressive that Buster lowered his K% to 8.5 (career mark of 12.3%), while walking more than he struck out in 2015. Behind the dish, he raised his caught-stealing rate to 36%, best since his shortened 2011 season.

He’ll get a nice bump in pay next year, up to $20M. He’ll follow 2016 with 5 consecutive seasons at $21.4M before an option in 2022. A lot of folks are still asking how much longer he’ll catch full time at that price. My response to that: don’t expect anything different in the immediate future. He’s started 38 games at 1B to date this season, and I’d say that’s probably right about on par with what we’ll see next year. Until another catcher in the organization proves he’s capable of forcing the organization’s hand, Buster will be the team’s main attraction and its starting catcher.

Andrew Susac | Age 25: There was a lot of excitement surrounding Susac this year, but it’s hard to look at his first full MLB season as anything but a disappointment. It’s very hard to get into a rhythm when you aren’t playing consistently, but Susac did log 120 PA during the first half. He hit only .239, and then made only 5 starts after the All-Star break. Injuries have been a theme throughout his playing career, even dating back to his college days. They cut his 2015 campaign short, and it really is a bummer for him, as he’d probably be seeing most of the playing time that is currently going to Trevor Brown. Susac is young, cheap, and talented offensively. Though he’s probably very intriguing to some teams around the league, I’ll say the Giants aren’t trading him this winter. He’ll have to stay healthy and produce a little more though if he ever wants to unseat Posey behind the dish.

Hector Sanchez | Age 25: It’s hard to believe Hector is still only 25. It’s also hard to envision him having much of a future with the organization when 2014 was the last season he hit over .200. He’s team controlled through 2019 and arbitration-eligible again this winter (he earned $800K this year). There’s nothing wrong with having catchers with MLB experience in AAA, but at Hector’s relatively young age, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s better off asking for a trade to get out from behind Posey and Susac.

Trevor Brown | Age 23: The Giants went heavy on college pitching at the top of the 2012 draft, but it’s the hitters who’ve made the most noise from that class so far. By chance and injuries, Brown joined Matt Duffy (and later Mac Williamson) as the first members of that crop to reach the majors, and he’s played well enough this month to earn a longer look. 9-31 (.290) with 3 BB, 5 RBI, a stolen base, and respectable pitch-calling behind the plate in 10 games has earned him some press time – and even a little love from the coaching staff. The versatile backstop may not profile as a starter, but I can see a backup MLB gig in his future. Now, the question is “What do they do with all these catchers?” Maybe Brown shares time with Hector again next season in Sacramento, but maybe his September in the big leagues gives the organization some flexibility to explore a trade this offseason.

Jackson Williams | Age 29: Bringing Jackson Williams back to the organization (and calling him up in September) gave the Giants two first-round catchers on the active roster, drafted in back-to-back years no less. The difference? Posey was a top 5 pick in 2008, and Williams was the 5th first round pick in 2007 by the Giants alone. Still, it’s noteworthy that four of those six picks made it to the majors (the other was Charlie “Marco Scutaro” Culberson), and three of them (Bumgarner, Noonan and Williams) are all on the current Giants roster. That seems like it could be the answer to an obscure Giants-related trivia question. Either way, Jax has logged only 23 MLB plate appearances, and I have no idea if he’ll be in camp with the team next season or not.

On Deck: In my next post, I’ll analyze the young, talented, and ever-increasing group of infielders on the Giants 40-man roster. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Clutch Home Runs

I just had to sneak a late post in tonight. The Gigantes snagged that elusive first sweep of the season after falling short in their first two tries (both against the big blue). This one came in pretty sweet fashion, with Brandon Hicks crushing a 3-run walkoff job into the left field seats. The only downside to the day was Ryan Vogelsong getting a no-decision after twirling 7 shutout innings on the day. I’d say Hicks’ big fly more than made up for it, but Giants starting pitchers haven’t really been rewarded with many W’s this month. Hey, that’s baseball sometimes, but you have to be impressed with Vogey. 2 hitter? Yes, please!

Speaking of impressed… wasn’t I just saying this morning that Hicks isn’t the long-term solution? No, one swing of the bat in April doesn’t hold a ton of weight, but when a non-roster invite does something like that, you can bet Brian Sabean sits up in his chair and takes notice. Nice work, Hick. Keep it up, and you can play on my team any day.

Most importantly, the Giants took a week that started off pretty rough, and finished it with a 4-game winning streak. Getting a sweep in interleague play isn’t too shabby; the AL has been pretty tough on our Gigantes in recent years (well, not in the postseason, or the All-Star game, but you get the point), so the club has to be feeling pretty good after finishing off Cleveland today. Don’t look now, but the orange and black are 15-10, sitting 1.5 games up on Colorado and the Dodgers. One more series to go in April, with the Fathers coming to town for an early-week series. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to build on that 1st place record to me.  

This isn’t supposed to be a real long post, but I did want to note something. As mentioned this morning, the Giants are hitting home runs left and right so far in 2014. Will that trend keep up? It might be too early to tell, but it’s not too early to make this point: some of the most important big flies this month have come off the bat of some pretty unheralded guys. Brandon Crawford’s walk-off splash against the Rockies on the 13th; Hector Sanchez’ granny in Coors on Wednesday; Hicks’ game-ender this afternoon… those are some seriously clutch home runs, from a few guys who take a lot of heat from the fans.

For some reason, a large percentage of Giants’ faithful love to bash on Hector. He can’t catch. He can’t throw. He can’t take a walk. You know what? He sure can come up with the big hit… and he’s younger than just about any backup catcher in the league. Hicks, for all the praise he earned in spring training, really hasn’t made many friends among the fanbase with his up and down defense in the early going. He strikes out in pretty high numbers as well, and doesn’t hit for a very high average. But there are guys who play their whole career without doing what he did in the 9th inning today. And if you remember the video I posted back in February, today’s walk-off wasn’t the first for Brandon H, who also sent the folks home happy with a blast a couple of years ago with Oakland.

Crawford might get a little break because of his slick glove-work, but come on. How many people in the general fanbase really believed his bat was a serious threat coming into this season? Not as many as you might think.

What’s my point here? The Giants might not have the sexiest roster in the league, but they’re sure getting production from a lot of different players in the early going. When guys like Sanchez, Crawford and Hicks are hitting the clutch home runs, you’ve got a deep roster. Once again, Sabean’s overlooked offseason moves are paying off, and the Giants are playing good ball because of it. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be… underrated moves have helped the Giants win two World Series titles in this decade, despite drawing sneers from pundits all over baseball. Those pundits can keep on sneering, but I like where this team is headed.

Long Ball Power

If you missed it yesterday, the Giants broke a Petco Park record by knocking six balls out of the yard in a 13-5 win. The first three of those homers came from Brandon Crawford (his 9th), Hunter Pence (18), and Hector Sanchez (3). The final three left the park off the bat of Pablo Sandoval, who now has 13 for the year. Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit for the Giants, who cranked out 17 hits total. All of this without Buster Posey. For some odd reason, I feel like many of these offensive outbursts (not that there have been an abundance or anything) have come when Posey is out of the lineup. I’m not trying to get at anything here, but it’s definitely a weird coincidence.

So… in the last calendar year, Pablo has had a pair of 3-HR games. Obviously, it’s hard to compare them when one was in the World Series against Justin Verlander, while the other came on a September afternoon between two bottom-feeders. Seriously, though, if a guy is going to have multiple 3-HR efforts, you’d think he’d get at least one of them in places like Arizona, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. Sandoval did it in San Francisco and San Diego, in two of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the game. Yesterday’s outburst was the result of Crawford calling out Pablo after his (Crawford’s) home-run that started the party, according to Baggarly. Want the Panda to go big at the plate? Just show him up. What a crock, Baggs.

Look, so many things have gone wrong this season, and there are a handful of players who’ve had letdown years, for injury purposes or lack of performance. Pablo’s name should be right at the top of that list. I’ll be honest, I typed up some informal projections for each Giants’ starter before the season. That was back in March, and I hadn’t revisited those numbers until today. I didn’t really need to. Expectations don’t change, and I could’ve told you which players exceeded my projections, and which ones who came up short. But Pablo’s performance yesterday made me wonder exactly what I’d predicted him to do this year, so I finally opened the file again. Get ready for it.

Prediction: Pablo Sandoval: .312, 35 HR, 99 RBI.

Reality: Pablo Sandoval: .277, 13 HR, 71 RBI (in 119 games).

Was I crazy? That’s up to you to decide. But the Panda truly was my breakout candidate, and I thought all of this pieces were in place for that breakout to happen. It didn’t, and I don’t know that it ever will in a Giants uniform. After hitting 25 HR in his first full season, he’s got 61 dingers over the last four years. That’s an average of 15 a year, and the biggest reason has been his conditioning, as well as a slew of injuries. He hasn’t made it through a full season since 2010, and that was his worst year in the league.

If yesterday’s outburst tells us anything about the Giants’ 3rd baseman, it’s that he’s still got an incredible amount of natural talent stored in that body. He’s a .357 hitter over the last month, with 9k/10bb. He was also the hottest hitter on the planet through the season’s first 6 weeks. If he can manage to put together a healthy season, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be a .300 hitter with 20-30 home runs. Will he ever do it? Who knows. But next season is a contract year for the Panda, as many of us know, and he will certainly spend it with the Giants. That could be Sabean and Co.’s last chance to tap into that potential.

We know the front office isn’t happy with Sandoval, but games like yesterday definitely help ease the tension a bit. Either way, the guy knows how to put on a show every now and then, and he did it yesterday. Whether he can sustain success for a full season is the million dollar issue.

Going Large in Miami

With Buster Posey on the bench, the Giants finally unleashed the offense, and held on to win a long, furious game in Miami. They did it against a good young pitcher in Nathan Eovaldi, a hard-throwing righty who overpowered them in San Francisco back on June 23. Things didn’t go so well for Eovaldi this time around, however, as the Giants’ middle of the order led the way for the second game in a row. In all, the orange and black pounded 19 hits, including 4 doubles, 3 triples and another home run from Hector Sanchez. They scored 14 runs, which they would need on a night when Chad Gaudin couldn’t make it through the 5th inning. The Giants needed a night like this to drive away the bad vibes of the past few months.

Thoughts:

Brandon Belt has completely turned his season around since adjusting his grip on the bat. His 4-hit night yesterday extended his hitting streak to 11 games and raised his batting average to .431 for the month of August. The same guy who was sat down three weeks ago because his struggles had put him in such a funk is now the Giants’ hottest hitter. He’s also got an .842 OPS and 15 HR for the season. Pretty impressive stuff from the young 1B lately. We’ve seen these prolonged hot streaks from Belt lately, so I’ll be interested to see what happens when his bat cools back off. Hopefully he’s turned a corner.

Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval combined for 7 hits (4 XBH) and 8 RBI yesterday. Pence is hitting .359 over the last month, but without a single home run. If he can hit for extra bases like he did last night, the home run power isn’t a huge deal. But I’d like to hope he’d regain some of that pop before season’s end.

Sandoval really couldn’t sink much lower at the plate, but it’s still nice to see him swinging the bat well again. He’s 9 for his last 18, including a 4-4 last night. Still no home runs for the Panda lately either, but for right now, he just needs to keep building confidence. I truly thought Sandoval would be a 30-homer guy this year, but he’s fallen far short of expectations. Next year could be his last in a Giant uniform, so we’re really going to need some steady production from him if we want to compete again. I think he’s got it in him, but there’s really no way to predict how he’ll look come March.

The Giants finally found their bats… and it felt amazing. That’s how you’re supposed to hit the worst team in the National League. Now let’s just hope they saved some offense for tonight.

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Adios Pelota

A team that desperately needed a spark finally got it yesterday in Washington, and it unexpectedly came off the bat of Hector Sanchez, whose struggles have certainly contributed to the Giants’ offensive woes this year. But this is why we watch the games folks. Even in a season with so much disappointment, baseball can be beautiful. Last place, first place, it doesn’t matter in moments like the one young Hector provided yesterday. Sanchez has had some serious ups and downs in his short career. He’s won a World Series, but you’d have to think this is the greatest individual feat for him as a big leaguer.

I’ll leave it at that, and give you the link to Sanchez’ pinch hit, go-ahead, 3-run homer in the 9th. It hasn’t gotten old yet, and I doubt it will. You just never know, in this fickle game of baseball.

Finally…stay hot Brandon Belt.

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Bad Pennies

Damn you, Denard.

The Giants are beyond saving this season. We knew that nearly a month ago. Deep down we probably knew it in June. In the words of Brian Sabean, 2013 has been a “bad penny” year for the orange and black. I’ll argue that poor play on the part of the 25 men who put on the uniform every night is more to blame for this season’s struggles than bad luck. Sure, there have been injuries and some bad breaks, but mostly this team’s undoing can be traced back to its own performance on the field.

Yes, this season is over in the figurative sense. But it’s never too early to play for next season. In baseball, much as in other sports, a little momentum can go a long way. This group of guys we call the Giants aren’t this bad of a baseball team. They know it, we know it, and the rest of the league knows it. They’ve got the rings, and we’ve got the commemorative DVD’s to prove it. Right now, however, the Giants are a team in need of a lucky break. Not to save the season, but to save face.  

Last night, the proverbial bad penny waited until there were two outs in the top of the 9th before it reared its ugly head. For once, the Giants were rallying. After falling into a 6-1 hole to the Nationals in the 4th inning, Brandon Belt sparked some life back into the club with a towering home run in the 8th. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence followed with singles, and Pablo Sandoval doubled them home. The Giants’ 3-4-5-6 hitters – the source of so many offensive problems lately – combined for 9 hits, and 4 (yes, 4) RBI’s last night. In the 9th, the Giants rallied again. Hector Sanchez singled, pinch runner Andres Torres took second, advanced to third on a ground out, and Belt knocked him in. Posey kept the 2-out rally going with a base hit.

That all led to Hunter Pence, who whacked a hanging slider from Rafael Soriano into left-center. For a couple seconds, the ball looked like it was going to split the outfielders. This was going to be the clutch hit that the Giants have been so desperately missing for the past two months. But Denard Span had other intentions, and it became apparent as the ball started coming down that he was going to make a fantastic play. He did, and from the mouth of Duane Kuiper, “that’s the ball game.” A team in need of sign of hope didn’t get it last night, and has now dropped two games in Washington while outhitting the Nat’s 23-17. Span’s game-saving catch was the third such play that has ended a game against the Giants this season. Maybe Sabean was onto something with those bad pennies after all.

Coming Soon to a Park Near You?

**Edit** Sounds like Pill and Kieschnick have been called up from Fresno this afternoon. Per Baggs, they’ll be in Philly tomorrow. Tanaka optioned, Abreu to DL… and Giants’ beat writers are full of __it, as usual.

With the trade deadline soon approaching and the Giants on one of their worst slides in recent memory, there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the team right now. While I have a hard time believing that nobody from the current 25-man roster will be traded in the next couple days, I truly don’t think we’ll see any big deals involving guys like Lincecum, Sandoval, Romo and most notably, Pence.

There are a number of factors that go into this train of thought, ranging from contract status, market value, trade return, comments from Brian Sabean himself, and, not to be forgotten, the player’s popularity with the fans. At this point, though, the season seems lost. Barring a miracle, the Giants will likely finish the year in the bottom-third of the standings. That being said, this team is in dire need of some changes. The current group, despite its huge achievements in the past, is putting a pretty awful product on the field these days. That is something the front office will need to change, as soon as possible preferably.

The Giants haven’t had a season like this since 2008, and it got me thinking: there sure are a lot of interesting guys on the squad in Fresno this year. Even if Sabean doesn’t make any big splashes on the trade front, we’re certain to see a few familiar faces get called up from AAA at some point. I’d bet we’ll see a couple new faces as well. Just my opinion here, but if you’re out of the race, it’s time to see what you’ve got going into next season. Some of these guys have earned the chance to get an extended look. Others would just be fun to see for some of us prospect-watchers.

I put together a list of the guys who are potential August/September call-ups, in order of most likely to get the call (my opinion). There are quite a few names, and for now we’ll keep it at AAA guys. It’s not likely anyone below Fresno would get a look, but I guess you never know. Maybe Mark Minicozzi or Javier Herrera from AA? My guess is no, but as Kruk says, stranger things have happened.

Brett Pill: 95% – Pill hasn’t gotten much of a shot this year, but I’d think he’s a lock for a call-up, just to add some pop off the bench. He crushes AAA pitching, but he doesn’t look like he can hit the big league breaker. I’d still like to see him get regular AB’s for a month, but that would require Belt on the bench or in the OF. Not likely.

Jake Dunning: 92% – Dunning pitched well in 19 innings with the Giants, but was sent down to make room for Joaquin Arias and newly-acquired Guillermo Moscoso. He’s got a nice fastball and shows a pretty cool head. He’ll probably be back at some point as long as he doesn’t melt in Fresno (a la Mike Kickham).

Hector Sanchez: 90% – Sanchez played a big role in last year’s World Series run, providing offense when Posey needed a break. This season, he pulled a Sandoval and showed up out of shape. He’s back in Fresno after injuries and inconsistency in SF, but I’d be shocked if he’s not called up when rosters expand in September.

Nick Noonan: 85% – Noonan has paid his dues in the minors. He flashed some nice plate discipline back in April after making the Opening Day lineup. He’s been passed over by Arias and Tony Abreu, but I’d like to see him get another shot.

Eric Surkamp: 85% – Surkamp got knocked around in his first ML action post-Tommy John surgery, but I’d say he’s a good bet for some September action if the Giants choose to rest Cain and Bumgarner.

Francisco Peguero: 75% – Peguero got a big league sniff last year, and earned another call-up early this season. The Giants didn’t give him much of a leash, and he hasn’t been back since. If he can stay healthy in Fresno, he’s another guy who needs a chance to prove himself in the outfield.

Heath Hembree: 70% – The Giants say he doesn’t have a secondary pitch, but I really think it’s time to see what Hembree DOES have, and that’s a mid-90’s heater. If you can’t give him a chance now, you might as well trade him.

Roger Kieschnick: 70% – Kieschnick would have gotten called up in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending injury. He’s been hurt a lot in his pro career, but he’s another guy who deserves a chance to show what he can do. He’s got power and a nice outfield arm, and I’m ready to see it.

Mike Kickham: 65% – Kickham has kind of fallen off the table lately in Fresno, and that may cost him a shot at getting back to AT&T Park. But it really would behoove the Giants to see if he can’t work some of his kinks out in September.

Juan Perez: 60% – Perez provided a nice spark during his brief debut in June. He played the best CF on the team, giving up his body for amazing catches and firing runners out at second, third and home. He couldn’t really hit, but I’ll say this: when he was in the lineup, I was watching to see what he’d do next. Might have to wait for Peguero and Kieschnick before he gets another shot now, though.

Dan Runzler: 45% – Runzler had a great spring, but hasn’t pitched all that well in Fresno. His strong, erratic left arm has major league stuff. If the team needs a lefty, I’d say he gets some consideration.

Gary Brown: 40% – Brown hasn’t really earned a call-up at this point, but maybe he gets a cup of coffee in September. The Giants really need their former top prospect to start hitting, and soon.

Brett Bochy: 35% – Bochy probably could have been in San Francisco this year if not for injuries and a shaky start to his season. He’s nothing fancy, but he’s closed games before, and it’d be pretty cool to see father Bruce and son Brett on the AT&T mound together.

Justin Fitzgerald: 30% – Fitzgerald is a 5th starter type and a UC Davis grad. He’s 27 and struggling in Fresno, but I’d have to think his name has at least been mentioned a couple times in talks for a spot starter.

Chris Dominguez: 25% – Dominguez seems to have changed his approach at the plate this year. He’s hitting for higher average but less power, and reportedly has a cannon at third. He’s been a strikeout machine since being drafted out of Louisville, but maybe he forces his hand in September?

Ehire Adrianza: 20% – Adrianza is a classic all-glove, no-hit shortstop. His elite defense has had him ranked in the Giants top 10 prospects in the past. He’s now one step away from the bigs. He’s still pretty young, so there’s no rush, but if he can hit at all, he’s got at least a utility job waiting for him down the road.

Johnny Monell: 15% – Monell is a catcher/1B with tremendous power, but he’s a terrible defender by most accounts. It’d be interesting to see if his left-handed bat could play at AT&T.