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.

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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.

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.

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.