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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Giants Drop Final Two in Tampa

The Giants lost by a run for the second day in a row in Tampa Bay this afternoon. The Rays took two of three from the Orange and Black, who probably feel like they should’ve had a road sweep against one of the top teams in baseball. If this were any year but 2013, the Giants probably would have swept the Rays. Guillermo Moscoso made his first start since coming over in a trade with the Cubs, and was decent for four innings. His control wasn’t great, he didn’t have amazing stuff, and he served up a monster home run to Wil Myers. But he gave the Giants a chance to win. Ultimately, he didn’t make it out of the 5th, but I’d say he was effective enough. This might have been his only start anyway, as Ryan Vogelsong cruised through another rehab outing in AA Richmond. I haven’t heard anything official yet, but I’d guess we’ll see Vogey back in SF some time next week.

Moscoso wasn’t the reason the Giants lost today. Nor has starting pitching been the reason the Giants have lost six of their last nine. Take a look at what the starting hurlers have done during that span, starting with the Cubs’ series: 

7/26 vs Chc: Cain 7 ip, 1 er, 7 k (ND)

7/27 vs Chc: Bumgarner 8 ip, 0 er, 7 k (ND)

7/28 vs Chc: Lincecum 7 ip, 2 er, 10 k (L)

7/30 at Phi: Zito 3.1 ip, 4 er, 2 k (L)

7/31 at Phi: Gaudin 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (W)

8/1 at Phi: Cain 8 ip, 1 er, 7 k (W)

8/2 at TB: Bumgarner 7 ip, 1 er, 11 k (W)

8/3 at TB: Lincecum 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (ND)

8/4 at TB: Moscoso 4.2 ip, 3 er, 3 k (ND)

Total: 9 gs, 59 ip, 14 er (2.13 era) 57 k (3-2)

That’s pretty impressive stuff. Take Zito and Moscoso’s starts out, and you get seven starts that rival even the greatest stretches from 2010 to 2012. The difference; the Giants are 3-6 during is stretch. So, no, starting pitching is not the problem right now. Actually, if Vogelsong can post even average numbers the rest of the way in the #5 spot, the Giants will have a very strong rotation. Essentially, guys like Vogey, Gaudin and Timmy are auditioning for spots on the team next season, so I’d expect them all to be competitive this month and next.

Honestly, the dominance of the Giants rotation right now makes those lousy two months of play sting even worse. Had the team been able to win a few more games against the Marlins, the Mets, the Cubs, or anyone else for that matter, we may be looking at a very exciting last couple months of the year. Instead, it’s 12 games below .500 and an offense that inspires little confidence these days. In a 162-game season, all you have to do is avoid the awful month, because you never know what might happen down the stretch. The Giants couldn’t do that this season.

I read a tweet from Baggs this afternoon that Giants’ leadoff hitters own a .150 average since the All-Star break. Can we please see someone besides Blanco or Torres out there? What’s Francisco Peguero doing these days? How about Juan Perez? If you don’t like those options, maybe you move Scutaro up. Wanna get crazy? How about Javier Herrera in AA? Either way, this offense needs someone to be a rally-starter at the top, and neither Blanco nor Torres is doing that anymore. I think we all understand why the Giants gave Angel Pagan $40 million this offseason. You have to have a good leadoff hitter, and Pagan is ours.

The Giants head back home for four with Milwaukee, which may be a great opportunity to get some momentum going into a tough stretch of games. With the offense still sputtering (aside from an upstart Brandon Crawford), here’s what I would like to see: address the leadoff position – try someone different! Also, no more platoons please. Play the hot hitter. Belt nearly hits for the cycle against Chris Archer, then sits the next day against David Price. Francoeur gets three knocks off of Cy Price, then he sits today. I don’t care if lefties aren’t supposed to hit lefties and righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. If a guy is swinging the bat well, let him hit against whoever is pitching.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for one day. The Giants are at least playing better ball lately, and hopefully they can defend AT&T with a little more authority this time around.

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Prospect Spotlight: Javier Herrera

Ok, so Javier Herrera is certainly not your traditional minor league “prospect,” but he’s put up impressive numbers in AA this year, and he’s a player I’m very intrigued by. So let’s take a closer look…

Javier Herrera: 28 yo, AA

Pos: OF

HT, WT, B/T: 5-11 225 | RR

2013: 102 g, .302/.381/.495, 28 2b, 13 hr, 57 rbi, 18 sb/6 cs, 42 bb/86 k

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Herrera is a 28 year-old outfielder who the Giants signed prior to the 2013 season. He’s been a professional baseball player for a very long time, signing with the A’s as an international free agent back in 2001. He’s battled some very significant injuries during his career, and has been out of minor league baseball entirely for multiple years at a time. At this point, the “minor league journeyman” label would certainly fit Herrera well. So why am I taking the time to look at him at all, you ask. Frankly, when you’re having the kind of season at the plate in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League that he is, you’re worth discussing in my opinion.

Herrera is a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and signed his first professional contract at the age of 16. He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2002, and made his US debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 at age 18. He hit .230 in 18 games that summer, and the A’s sent him to Vancouver in the short-season Northwest League the following summer (2004). Herrera broke out in Vancouver, posting a .331 mark with 12 HR, and was only caught stealing once in 24 attempts. He also displayed impressive defensive abilities and a very strong outfield arm, and his performance earned him the #68 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects heading into 2005.

Herrera’s first full season in professional ball saw him in Low-A Kane County, where he hit .274 with 13 HR and 26 SB in 94 games. The A’s must have been impressed, because they bumped him all the way to AAA for a brief stint at the end of the year. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .417 with a HR in 5 games with Sacramento. At this point, Herrera’s stock was at its peak. He entered 2006 as the #2 prospect in Oakland’s system and the #74 prospect in MLB. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster and gave him an invite to big league Spring Training. At 20 years-old, it appeared he was on the fast track to the majors…then everything came unraveled.

Herrera never made it to Opening Day in 2006, as it was announced at the end of Spring Training that he needed Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season, and never made it back to Sacramento. In 2009, he was either released or injured (maybe both), and only logged 2 at-bats on the year. 2010 saw him in the short-lived independent Golden Baseball League, and he was out of baseball with hamstring issues in 2011. He was back in independent ball again last season, where he posted a combined .319/.397/.523 line with 14 HR and 78 RBI with two clubs in the Frontier League. Herrera’s tools impressed the Giants, who signed him to a deal in the offseason.

The Giants assigned Herrera to AA Richmond this year, where he’s put up consistent numbers at the plate all year. He’s posted an average of .298 or better each month, and had a 1.016 OPS in June. His first-half campaign earned him a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, where he was named MVP after hitting a 3-run HR off Anthony Ranaudo in the first inning. He hasn’t hit as well since the break, but still owns a .299 average for the season, with 13 HR and 18 SB. In a lineup with guys like Andrew Susac, Joe Panik, Adam Duvall, and now slugger Angel Villalona, Herrera’s name is very easy to overlook in the box scores. However, he and fellow minor league journeyman Mark Minicozzi have been the Flying Squirrels’ best hitters by far this year. It makes sense, as Minicozzi is 30 and Herrera is 28, but there’s a big difference in the two veterans. While Minicozzi is a former 17th round pick of the Giants, Herrera was once a budding star.

Most observers might consider Herrera organizational filler, but there’s much more to his story. If you pull up his profile on Baseball America, you see a bevvy of Oakland’s organizational “best tools” selections from 2004 to 2008. During those years, Herrera was given multiple “best athlete,” “best outfield arm,” and “best defensive outfielder” honors in the system. When you see that, you can’t help but dream on the kind of player Herrera could have been (and maybe could still be). Health issues kept him out of minor league baseball for the past four years, but they didn’t scare off the Giants. If he can continue to produce in the difficult Eastern League, you’d have to think he’ll be in Fresno for next season.

 In baseball, they say you never give up on tools. Herrera has certainly showcased his tools in Richmond this year, and may be turning into a nice resurrection story if he can stay healthy. The Giants have gotten contributions from so many castoff type players lately: Where would they be without the efforts of Arias, Blanco, Vogelsong, or Gaudin? Unlike these players, Herrera has never been to the big leagues. But he’s in an organization that needs outfield depth, and he seems to be in the prime of his career. If the Giants get desperate come September, and they don’t mind fiddling with the 40-man roster a little bit, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see them take a chance on a guy who offers some pop, speed and defensive ability. Not to mention, one who’s out to show the world what he can do.