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

Hi everybody. Gosh, it’s been over a month since I started this series with a look at the 40-man catchers. I’m sorry for the hiatus. The sad truth is it’s just tough to find the time these days. Believe me though, my passion for this organization hasn’t ‘waned a bit. That was evident to me tonight when I scrolled down the official roster and saw this:

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Six infielders, all under 30, all homegrown success stories. Not one of these guys was acquired through trade, rule 5, or other. They were all drafted (Adrianza was signed IFA) and developed as Giants from the very start.

They now form one of the elite infield groups in the bigs, yet not a single one was hyped on draft day. Even Panik, highest drafted among them, was viewed as a first round reach. For someone who has followed this farm system so closely over the years, the success of this group is so rewarding. Let’s take a closer look at them.

As a quick side note, Nick Noonan and Kevin Frandsen have been removed from the 40-man since season’s end. That’s two more former promising Giants draftees, though neither had much of an impact on the club.

Brandon Crawford | Age 28: There’s no doubt B-Craw was a valuable player before 2015, but I think it’s also fair to say he was somewhat of a frustrating player as well. He’d make a highlight play, then turn around and botch a routine grounder. He’d make hard contact for a month straight, then go into a brutal offensive slump for 6 weeks. It always seemed like he was capable of more, and this year he became a star. If not for his September injury, Crawford had a legitimate shot at 25 HR. He’s absolutely deserving of a Gold Glove, as well as a long-term contract. I don’t think he gets the latter, however, and I don’t blame the Giants for waiting a year to see what he does. MLB Trade Rumors (who I defer to with this kind of information) projects him at $5.7M in arbitration this winter, and if he puts up anything close to this season’s 5.6 WAR in 2016, it’ll take some serious dough to get him locked up before his contract year.

Brandon Belt | Age 27: Belt came back from his injury-filled 2014 and settled in for a solid 2015 summer. He was an 18 HR, 3.9 WAR player in only 137 games, but his lingering concussion symptoms from the end of the season have some folks concerned heading into the winter. The guy really can’t seem to catch a break health-wise, so you just hope he can come back completely healthy from all this.

Belt still divides a lot of Gigantes fanatics, and I won’t say he’s my favorite player on the team… but this much I know: the Giants are a much better team with him than without him. If he’s healthy, it’s hard not to envision him topping the 20 HR threshold for the first time. He’s headed into what should be the prime years of his career, but I truly don’t know what his future holds at the moment. He’s got two years of team control left, and although it’s hard to see the organization letting him walk (or trading him!), there’s a few things standing in the way of him getting a long term extension at this point. The obvious elephant in the room is Posey’s potential move to first down the road (not a given in the next 4-5 years for me), but the more subtle barrier is the organization’s drafting of Chris Shaw, arguably the strongest power hitter in the 2015 draft class. Shaw led the short-season NWL in homers this summer and got a lot of positive reviews for his swing in fall instructs. It’s way too early to anoint him the incumbent at 1B, but the situation is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Joe Panik | Age 25: Panik’s sophomore slump took a vacation to the tune of a .312 average, 8 HR, nearly 1:1 BB/K ratio, Gold Glove defense, and a spot in the All-Star game. His lower back had something to say about it though, keeping him out of all but 15 second half games. Whether it’ll be an ongoing issue for him remains to be seen at this point, but at 25 you’d like to think to he’ll make a full recovery. Kelby T. was able to take a bit of the sting out of Panik’s absence, but there’s no doubt Joe’s got impact potential when he’s on the field. He’s been on an absolute offensive tear since the beginning of 2014 in AAA, but it’s easy to forget he was a sub-.260 hitter for Richmond in 2013. A lot of folks slapped a utility label on him that summer, an obvious oversight looking back. The Giants, they kept the faith, and they’re now seeing the player they hoped for when they “reached” in the first round four years ago.

Matt Duffy | Age 24: A 4.9 WAR player in his rookie year, the guy who made us forget about Pablo, and my favorite player in the organization? That’s a big hell yes, to all of the above. Everyone knows the story by now. Light-hitting infielder for Long Beach State, 18th round pick in 2012. He zooms through the minors; gets the call in 2014; helps win a ring; busts his butt in spring training; makes the club; eventually forces Casey McGehee out of a job. In the meantime, he took on a position at which he had no professional experience, learned it at the highest level, and gave tremendous at bats night…after night…after night. Oh, and he won the Willy Mac Award. All in a year’s work for the DuffMan. Now, the question becomes, can he do it again? The league is harsh, and it will adjust. Mark my words… so will Duffy.

Kelby Tomlinson | Age 25: Kelby was a 2011 draftee out of Texas Tech with little fanfare. He was a guy who could hold his own at shortstop and fly around the bases. But he wasn’t supposed to hit, and after posting a .357 average in the AZL that summer, he didn’t. His 2014 season in Richmond was an improvement, but .268 and 1 HR still wasn’t anything to put him on the prospect radar. A tweak in his swing last offseason changed all that, and he took the Eastern League by storm in 2015. Panik’s injury turned out to be an opportunity for Tomlinson to show what he could do. A month later, he’s got two nicknames and a big league gig. Word at the end of the season was he’d be tried out in CF in instructs, and apparently it didn’t go tremendously. I really have no idea whether he’ll see the position at all next year, but I do think his approach and speed will continue to force the organization’s hand. They’d be crazy not to at least give him regular reps in LF next spring, otherwise he’ll lose a ton of playing time as Panik’s backup at 2B.

Ehire Adrianza | Age 26: It’s crazy to think Adrianza’s been with the Giants for 10 years, and he’s only played just over 100 games at the MLB level. He was once considered a top 10 prospect in the system, dubbed a defensive wizard whose bat would always be in question. Personally, I think his defensive abilities have been a bit overplayed, while I don’t think he’s nearly as bad at the plate as he’s been made out to be. He’s one of the few players on the roster who can hold down SS on Crawford’s days off, and that to me gives him a guaranteed spot. The Giants have shown faith in Adrianza, and I believe he’ll reward them for it someday.

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Updating Joe Panik and Matt Duffy’s Scouting Grades

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. It’s always interesting to look back on a player’s scouting reports, grades, etc. It’s downright fun to do it when those players are turning heads and surprising the heck out of people all over MLB. So what do you say we rethink those grades for Panik & Duffy, two of the sweetest-swinging young players in the Giants lineup?

Joe Panik has now played over a full season’s worth of games in his MLB career, hitting a cool .307/.361/.411 in 710 PA. This season he’s at .309/.374/.443 with 25 2B and 7 HR. His season K% is 9.9, BB% is 8.8. His 2015 season adjusted to 650 PA (per Baseball-Ref) is .309, 41 2B, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 61 BB & 70 K. Pretty nice, huh?

The Duff Man has played 124 career MLB games (coming into today), and has logged a .299/.337/.439 slash with 9 HR in those 412 PA. He’s played 3/4 of those games in 2015, hitting .304/.343/.462 with 17 2B and 9 HR. He walks 4.3% of the time, strikes out in 17.3%. His HR% this year is 2.6. He’s also literally one of the most valuable rookies in all of baseball this season, making folks forget about a certain Panda pretty darn quickly.

So, how did the scouting reports read before these two were breakout MLB players? Obviously there was a lot more information readily available for Panik, who was considered a potential supplemental pick in the 2011 draft. Reports on Duffy were pretty sparse before he torched the Eastern League last season. I did find some prospect grades though, which I have included with a few old quotes from this site and others around the web.

Continue reading “Updating Joe Panik and Matt Duffy’s Scouting Grades”

Sorting Out Second

Ok, so all is obviously not right in the world. The Giants were bound to come back to Earth a bit, and they have this week against the Nationals. Hey, those things happen over the span of 162 games. After losing the first 3 against Washington, you just hope that Hudson and the crew can snatch a victory this afternoon and carry some momentum into the weekend series against Colorado. The Rockies are reeling big time right now, and even with the best record in baseball, the Giants still can’t afford to get sloppy on this homestand.

Anyway, the hot topic of the week in Gigantes Land seems to be second base. Everyone wants to know what’s going on at the Keystone, and now that the boys have lost a few and looked a little listless, these people are pissed off. Brandon Hicks isn’t doing his job over there, and the team is suffering because of it… or something to that effect. Wanna know what I say? Give me a break! The hottest team in baseball loses a few games to a very good team (who apparently is even hotter at the moment), and the finger-pointing begins. Such is life in a “what have you done for me lately?” society. Still, I think the Giants second base situation is definitely worth taking a closer look into at this point. So let’s get to it.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned about the Giants and 2B in the first 2+ months of the season.

1) We probably shouldn’t expect to see Marco Scutaro on the field this year. Honestly, that’s a total bummer, and Scutaro’s situation is looking way too familiar at this point. Seriously, 2B has been an all-or-nothing position for the Giants in the past 5 years. Either these guys are leading World Series runs or they’re rehabbing injuries. There really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

2) Ehire Adrianza isn’t ready for a full-time gig. Truly, he may never have the bat to be an every day starter. The defense is great, but Ehire seems very expendable on this team right now. Obviously, the Giants still value him (as they should), but at some point they’ll have to make a decision on where he stands with the organization.

3) Brandon Hicks is the epitome of a “3 true outcomes” hitter. What does that mean? It means the majority of the dude’s plate appearances end in either a walk, a strikeout, or a home run. At the moment, he’s tied for third on the team with 8 HR, and he leads all Giants hitters in both strikeouts (65) and walks (28). He holds his own defensively at 2B (as most former SS usually do), but his batting average is becoming an eyesore. It’s down to .183, and has drug his slugging % down to .361. Most people would argue that those aren’t MLB-caliber numbers. Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla would tell you to keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.

So, that’s what the season has taught us about 2B to this point. What about the rest of the year? Well, knowing what I do about the Giants, here are a few things I think are very likely going forward in 2014.

1) You should not expect to see Joe Panik called up from Fresno anytime soon.

“Average Joe,” as Shankbone often calls him, is having himself a nice season in the PCL. And I can guarantee you, the majority of the fanbase has one of two opinions. Either they think he’s ready to play and should be the starting 2B in San Francisco now, or that his AAA numbers are a complete mirage and he’ll be destroyed by MLB pitching. That always seems to be how the party lines are drawn with this fanbase, and I don’t see it any different with Panik.

Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the middle of this argument. Do I think Panik still has the potential to be a starting 2B in the bigs someday? Yes, I do, and unlike quite a few scouts and internet writers out there, I’ve felt that way all along. Joe’s bounceback season in Fresno has been quite impressive so far, and I think he’s a guy whose average will range somewhere between .270 and .300 in his prime as a major leaguer. For now, though, I think he needs to stay exactly where he’s at. He’s young for AAA, and he’s shown he can be a streaky hitter in the past. His .320+ average will certainly even out a bit as the summer wears on, and I think Fresno is a fine spot for him right now. On the technical side of things, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and Adrianza (the player Panik would likely replace on the roster) is out of options. The Giants are a 1st place club without any major weaknesses at the moment… why would they throw Adrianza away and bring Panik up to replace Hicks? My guess is they wouldn’t, unless an injury forced their hand. Panik should have every opportunity to win a 25-man spot next year. For now, though, he needs to keep hitting in Fresno.

2) Brian Sabean will be more than happy to swing a deal if something presents itself.

Let’s be honest: Hicks has provided the Giants with so much more offensive production this season than they ever could have dreamed of from Adrianza or Joaquin Arias. If you think otherwise, you’re dreaming. That being said, Hicks wasn’t even expected to make this team out of camp. He was a minor league signee who has come almost out of nowhere and provided a nice spark. But the league is starting to figure him out, and his numbers are starting to show it. If his average continues to fall as it has recently, I definitely think the Giants need to give someone else a shot. Hicks shouldn’t go anywhere, however. Ideally, his bat could be a real weapon off the bench, and I don’t think the organization has any plans of demoting him.

Back to the point at hand. If Hicks doesn’t see a major upswing in his production from now until the trade deadline, you’d have to think Sabean will look outside the organization for some help. And we all know there’s plenty of options out there. You’ve already heard a lot of names tossed around: Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist, Gordon Beckham, maybe even Brandon Phillips. A lot of people are calling for Utley, but I really just don’t see a match there. The guy is injury prone, on the wrong side of 35, and the Phils owe him $25 MILLION next season. Yeah, that might be a little much to take on. What about Murphy? I know Shankbone likes him, and really he’d be the perfect fit. But the early word is Sandy Alderson is going to be a real headache come July 31, and we already know how that guy feels about the Giants. Take a hike Sandy!

Personally, I’d look to make a hard push for Ben Zobrist. The Rays are a tremendous disappointment this year, and they’ve never been one to turn away a trade offer. Zobrist is veteran, versatile, and very productive. He’s got the 3 V’s that the Giants tend to look for in a mid-season trade. Not to mention he’s got a $7.5 M team option for 2015. That’s a little pricey for a franchise that can’t fill its stadium to 40% capacity, but not for a large market club looking to win another ring. Who would the Rays ask for? I’m sure we can think of a few names. To me, nobody is off limits this season. That’s the way it goes when you’re looking to make a run, and the Giants look like they covered themselves nicely with Tyler Beede and Aramis Garcia in the draft. If they wanted build a package around Andrew Susac (and even Mr. Panik for that matter), I think they’d be able to get in the room for Zobrist. Add in a Clayton Blackburn and you might have yourself a deal. Am I lowballing a bit? I’m not sure, but I think the Rays would happily take Susac if he can get back on the field this month.

We’re almost to 1,500 words here, and I think I’ve exhausted myself. Hopefully I made the main points clear though. Scutaro is a long-shot, Hicks has been a dream, the Giants aren’t going to rock the boat until they absolutely have to, and Sabean should and likely will be surveying the market for an upgrade. If the Giants are able to get Brandon Belt back, keep the rest of the group intact, AND land a player like Zobrist at the deadline, I’ll think they’ll be sitting pretty for another nice pennant run. In the meantime, I hope the anxious fans out there will turn the panic meter down just a notch or two. This is a very good Giants team, and I don’t see them just flipping a switch over night and free-falling. They’re off to a tremendous start, and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to as we march toward the season’s second half.

Enjoy your afternoons, friends, and hopefully Huddy gets us back in the win column by dinner time.

Updates on the Farm

It’s been a while since we took an extended look at the Giants farm system… turns out we didn’t miss much. Seriously, though, it’s a dang good thing the MLB team has been so entertaining this season, because there really just haven’t been many standout performances on the prospect front to this point. As a blogger who threw out some major criticism of the national pundits for calling the Giants system a middle-to-back-end group, I’ve been very disappointed in how the first couple months has gone for the organization. Coming into the year, there were a number of players I was expecting great things from, and so far that just hasn’t happened.

Chris Stratton, Martin Agosta, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo, Kendry Flores… where are you?

That being said, there are certainly some standout performances from the early months of the season that are definitely worth mentioning, so I thought we’d take a little time to recognize these guys for their strong play. So far, I would say the two most intriguing storylines from the farm system have come from middle infielders and bullpen arms. Let’s take a look at some of these guys who’ve stood out.

Middle Infielders

Joe Panik, AAA: Panik took some heat for his performance in Richmond last season, but I think it’s safe to say he’s back to his usual ways this year in Fresno. At the moment, he’s sporting a .321/.389/.424 line, with 3 long balls, and a stellar 23 BB/26 K ratio. While I think it’d be nice to see him steal a few bases like he did his first couple seasons with the organization, I think the Giants have to be quite happy with the former 1st rounder’s year to this point. Panik can handle the bat, and I think he’s still got an outside chance at winning the starting 2B job next spring. He’s hitting .385 over his last 10 games.

Matt Duffy, AA: Duffy is a stud, what else really is there to say? I profiled the former Long Beach Dirtbag mid-season last year, as he was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak Augusta lineup. The Giants promoted him to San Jose for the stretch run, and decided to bump him aggressively to Richmond out of spring training this year. For two months, he’s made the front office look like geniuses. .323/.383/.399 to date (.359/.435/.410 last 10), with 10 2B and 12 SB. He’s not going to hit for a lot of power, but Duffy, like Panik, has an advanced approach at the dish. Initially, I wasn’t sure he had the track record to stick at shortstop, but he received pretty glowing reviews out there this spring, and it doesn’t seem he’s done anything to this point to hurt his stock at short.

Blake Miller, Hi-A: Maybe my favorite player in the entire organization, right here. Miller was the starting SS at Sac State from day 1 as a freshman, and he held his own offensively for two seasons. He eventually went back to where he came from (Oregon), and promptly destroyed the GNAC in his final two years for D2 Western Oregon. The Giants took him fairly late in the 2013 draft, to little fanfare. Now, he’s a 6-ft-3 jack of all trades infielder and one of the best hitters for San Jose. .307/.359/.497, 6 HR, 42 RBI. He’s strikeout-prone, 24 years old, and not necessarily the slickest fielding shortstop around, but I think Miller has a chance to really surprise people on his way up the ladder. He’s off to a great start so far.

Bullpen Arms

Dan Runzler, AAA: 6th year in Fresno for lefty Dan. He’s not on the 40-man roster anymore, but the Giants are going to need another lefty relief arm at some point this season. It might be sooner than you think, with David Huff starting to stumble of late. Runzler still walks more hitters than he should (16 in 26 IP), but he’s easily been one of the most reliable bullpen arms for the Grizzlies this season. 26 IP, 1.04 ERA, 1 HR, 16 BB, 32 K. If he can keep up this performance, and maybe limit those walks a bit (pretty please?), Dan might finally find himself in San Francisco again… After such a long and bumpy ride, that would be pretty sweet to see.

Derek Law, AA: Law was the story of spring training, and he’s quietly biding his time as the closer in Richmond. May wasn’t as kind on him as April, but overall he’s still sporting a 2.96 ERA and 12 saves in 24 IP. He’s walked 8 batters and allowed 7 ER in his last 10 appearances, so the league is starting make some adjustments, it would seem. At this point, June could be a big month for young Derek, as we’ll see whether he gets his control back in order. We know he’s got the goods to pitch in the show, but these two months are his only experience in the upper minors. If he can iron things out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Fresno by late summer, with a chance to help the big club if the need arises.

Steven Okert, Hi-A: Okert has arguably been the best pitcher, starter or relief, in the organization this season. The former 4th round southpaw didn’t earn the best reviews last year in Augusta, but you knew he had the ability to do pretty well if he could get his fastball back to where it was in college. Well, it looks like he has, and that deadly fastball/slider combo has been wreaking havoc on the Cal League through two months. On a team with a handful of solid bullpen options, Okert claimed the closer’s job early on, and hasn’t looked back. He’s got 16 saves, and has racked up 47 K (11 BB) in only 29.2 IP. He’s allowed 4 runs all year, good to the tune of a 1.21 ERA. Okert was billed as a guy who could move fast when the Giants drafted him in 2012, and I could see that happen this summer. Richmond’s bullpen hasn’t lived up to its billing yet, and Okert has been nails since day one. Look out for this guy.

Ray Black, Lo-A: Black is finally back! And he just might be the comeback story of the year for the franchise. After going MIA for two full seasons after the Giants drafted him, he finally surfaced (multiple surgeries later) this spring in Arizona, bringing 100 mph gas along with a wipeout slider. He made an appearance for Augusta on Opening Day, but promptly hit the DL with shoulder stiffness the next day. It looks like he’s got that shoulder under control for the moment, and has been impressive in 9 outings since returning to action a month ago. At this point, Black just needs professional experience. If he’s healthy, it’s obvious he has major league quality stuff. He’s definitely a name to watch as the season progresses.

There you go. Seven worthy names from the first two months of minor league ball on the Giants farm. That’s about all the time I have for now, but I did want to toss in a few guys who I didn’t have time for today.

Other 2014 Standouts:

Fresno: Adam Duvall, Andrew Susac, Chris Dominguez

Richmond: Tyler Graham, Angel Villalona, Mario Lisson, Ty Blach

San Jose: Jesus Galindo, Mitch Delfino, Mason McVay

Augusta: Ryder Jones, Tyler Horan, Matt Lujan, Luis Ysla, Christian Jones, Jake Smith

*Bonus Coverage: Here’s a quick shot of Ryder Jones cranking one out for Augusta last week. Enjoy!

Organizational Thoughts

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been able to post on here, but please don’t fret. Cove Chatter is not dead! Baseball season is so crazy, I swear. One minute it’s Opening Day, you blink your eyes and it’s game 25. Holy smokes. I realize I really haven’t had a chance to reflect on things in a while (I really haven’t reflected on the MLB club at all since the first week of the season), so let’s take a few minutes to get caught up.

Giants: 14-10, 1st place NL West

Key Hitters: Angel Pagan, Mike Morse, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey

Key Pitchers: Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Entire Bullpen

The Gigantes are looking to sweep the Tribe out of AT&T Park today, with Vogey making his 5th start of the season. The starting pitching hasn’t exactly been the strong point of the team so far, but each man in the rotation will have started 5 games after today… that’s a major rarity in baseball this season, and its importance really can’t be overstated. Bumgarner has shown flashes of dominance, but hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. Same for Cain, who has also had some ups and downs. Hudson is without a doubt the early-season ace of this squad, and has been one of the best pitchers in the NL out of the gates. Heck of a signing right there.

The bullpen took some serious heat this winter, but those guys have really picked up the slack this month, especially in Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong’s starts. You really never know what you’re going to get from those two, but the pen has saved the day on many occasions already. Quick trivia question: who leads the team in wins right now? Would you have guessed Jean Machi? Fans seem to dog that guy big time, but he’s sitting 4-0 with a cool 0.84 ERA. Santiago Casilla’s is even better, 0.68; Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez have yet to allow a run, and Sergio Romo is 6/6 in saves. That group is absolutely rolling right now, and their continued health (and performance) will be huge as the season goes along.

On the offensive side, we’ve already seen this team’s peaks and valleys. Pagan has really been the difference-maker in April, and we’re seeing more and more how important he is to this club. Belt is hitting bombs and striking out like crazy. 7 HR in 23 games… is Belter becoming a power hitter? Posey’s bat has been mired in a big slump, but he continues to pump the ball out of the yard as well. I think Buster will be just fine. How about Morse? Another guy who people mocked the Giants up and down for signing… how’s that looking now? I just love that guy; he’s got some of the most impressive right-handed power in baseball, and he’s showing it off big time right now. Stay healthy, Mikey!

On the flip side, Pablo continues to struggle mightily at the dish. This is usually his time of year, but he’s hitting .165. The Panda was supposed to be a lock to have a career year… what will his month of May look like? Hunter Pence looks to be coming out of his own slump, and just in time. The Giants have been missing his bat, and we all know what he’s capable of when he’s hot. Finally, where’s Marco Scutaro? Not that I was expecting him to be on the field at this point, but there’s absolutely no updates on his condition. How did the front office overlook this during the winter? Brandon Hicks looks ok for now, but I don’t see him as a long-term solution. Don’t look now, but Joe Panik is holding his own in Fresno. Even hit his 1st HR of the season a few nights ago.

Overall, I’m very happy with this team right now. They’re hanging around, and staying healthy for the most part, while a good amount the league is not. In all honesty, I think this is one of the better teams in baseball that nobody’s talking about right now. That’s just how we like it, here in Giants Land.

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(SFGiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

Minor Leagues:

I wanted to touch on the farm system briefly. I entered the season very excited about this system, but I have to admit I’ve been a little letdown early on. We all know about the wealth of starting pitching the Giants have on the farm right now, and a few of those guys have shown up big this month. Joan Gregorio and Kendry Flores have to be the names to watch down in San Jose, and Keury Mella is holding his own in Augusta. Yep, the international guys are taking charge. Esky Escobar is learning how to pitch in Fresno, and his results are starting to get better. I think a lot of people are learning just how tough it is to throw in the PCL. Just ask Mike Kickham!

What’s going on with the Richmond pitching staff? That’s supposed to be the bread and butter of this organization, and the results have been a little disappointing so far. Clayton Blackburn has arguably been the ace of that group through four starts, while Adalberto Mejia is heating up. Ty Blach is keeping runs off the board, but he’s not striking anyone out. Kyle Crick has 14 BB in 12.2 IP. His control has been absolutely MIA lately. I think that’s been a little deflating for me, as I was hoping to see Cricky start hot. Let’s hope he can settle in a little bit, and start pitching deeper into games.

One more name to keep an eye on. Christian Jones, down in Augusta. The Oregon Duck lefty looks very good early on. We knew he had a nice pedigree, but I had no idea he’d be working in a starter’s role at this point. But he is, and the results have looked dang good so far. Jones pitches tonight, and David Lee has him working 88-91 with his fastball, showing a decent curve and a plus-potential changeup. That’s an 18th round pick who slid after having TJ surgery. Nice work on the draft front, Gigantes.

On the offensive side, Gary Brown has probably been the nicest surprise so far. Browny is looking much better in Fresno, and has been a difference-maker to this point. Christian Arroyo is struggling with the bat in Augusta, although Lee says he hits everything. He’s not playing SS (which I think is a mistake), and maybe that’s having an impact on his offensive performance. Mac Williamson is hitting much better in San Jose… I hope he gets to try AA soon. Andy Susac was off to a very nice start in Fresno, but has found himself on the DL. That’s been the theme of his career. Get healthy, kid. Our other sleeper, Matt Duffy, has played well in the Eastern League. The power has been zapped, but his approach at the plate looks good, as do the reports on his defense.

I think that’s enough for one post. Believe me, I’ve missed not writing on here. But sometimes, as we all know, life gets very busy. I’ll try to return soon, but hopefully this will wet your appetite for the time being. Thanks for following Cove Chatter, and go Giants!

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(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Cove Chatter 100: #11

Joe Panik | 2B, 23 yo, 6-1, 190, BL, TR | 2011 Draft – 1  (29) | (AA) 137 G, 599 PA, .257/.333/.347, .680 OPS, 4 HR, 10 SB, 5 CS, 58 BB, 68 K

Panik, like fellow 1st round pick Gary Brown before him, had somewhat of a down season in AA this year. Here’s the reality though: very few hitters excel in the Eastern League, and the rest just have to trudge through it. Personally, I think Panik did just that. He’ll be in Fresno next year, and he’s still got every opportunity to take the 2B job when Marco Scutaro’s contract is up. He probably won’t ever hit for power, but his plate approach has been above average at every level so far… I think that trend will continue. Just my personal opinion, but I think the “utility” label on Panik is a bit rushed at this point. He’s only 23 and headed to MLB spring training. Don’t count this kid out.

They said it: “I still like him…He walks as much as he strikes out and you can’t fake that, no matter what level pitching you’re facing. He might not be a star…But I wouldn’t rule out a career like Scutaro or Freddy Sanchez.” ~ Andrew Baggarly

Panik video:

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Giants 2014: Second Base

Back to the Giants 2014 series, let’s take a look at second base. To be honest, there seem to be more questions here than answers going into next season… and that really has become a pattern for the position recently (aside from 2012). Can Marco Scutaro stay healthy? Is he too much of a defensive liability to play every day? Will Sabean find him a platoon partner? Another issue to consider here is the logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man… how will the Giants sort that out?

Lots of questions; we’ll see how many we can answer.

Where it’s been: The story of 2nd base for the Giants in recent years is one that features a mixture of trades, aging vets, organizational fillers, injuries, and (most importantly) big-time performances in the postseason.  It’s been a mixed bag to say the least, and one that’s led to a pair of rings. But the organization has been searching for a long-term answer at the position for quite some time, and will likely continue to do so as it moves toward 2014.

The last player that I’d consider a mainstay at 2nd base in San Francisco was Ray Durham, who played his last year with the club in 2008. Durham was a Giant for roughly five and a half years, and he held his own pretty damn well for the majority of that time. The dude hit 26 home runs in 2006… 26! He was a consistent hitter, and did a pretty good job filling the hole left by Jeff Kent in the mid-2000’s. The Giants tried to replace Durham with homegrown cats Kevin Frandsen, Manny Burriss and Eugenio Velez. We all know how that turned out. Frandsen is really the only one who has had any kind of a decent career, but even he never turned into a true everyday player.

In 2009, Good Panda Pablo Sandoval and his buddies came out of the woodworks under Bruce Bochy, and Sabean set out to find a 2B (among other positions) at the trade deadline. I remember thinking at the time that Frandsen deserved a shot at the full-time gig… that he could hold the position down as well as anybody on the trade market. In my mind, I played Frandsen out to be a Dustin Pedroia grinder type who just needed an opportunity to shine. Now, I wonder what the hell I was thinking back then. Luckily, Sabean did not give the job to Frandsen, instead trading Tim Alderson to Pittsburgh for Freddy Sanchez. That’s right about the time that I was beginning my days as a prospect hound, and nobody excited me more in the organization than Bumgarner and Alderson. I didn’t know exactly how to feel about the deal at first, but it only took a couple Sanchez AB’s with runners on for me to shake any previous doubt. Honestly, I haven’t had a second thought about that trade since. The fact that Alderson never really did anything with the Pirates made it that much easier… but it’s astounding to me that there are people in this world who still question that deal. You’re kidding me, right?

As we’d find out, Freddy was a walking injury waiting to happen. But he (like Edgar Renteria) was healthy long enough in 2010 to help bring home a title, and that’s really all that mattered in the end. It was the injuries after the 2010 World Series that really hurt for Sanchez. Regardless, I’ll always remember him as a good Giant, and part of the band of misfits who shocked the world. Tim Alderson? I can’t say the same.

Freddy’s career as a Giant was effectively over after 58 games in 2011, and the rest of the season was spent trying out a number of different, mostly ineffective options to replace him. Mike Fontenot, Jeff Keppinger, more Burriss, even a Bill Hall sighting… again, 2011 turned into a trash can year in the final month and a half.

The 2012 season saw another vet enter the mix in Ryan Theriot, who played 91 games at 2B, providing somewhat of an improvement over Burriss (whose days with the club were becoming numbered). By the trade deadline, Theriot actually had a pretty good hold on the everyday job. That’s why, if you remember correctly, Scutaro was actually acquired to add depth to the infield, not necessarily to take the 2B job from Theriot. It was a bit of a head-scratcher move at the time, but Scooter sure put a quick stop to any doubt. A .387 average in 45 games…Hardest hitter in the league to strikeout… NLCS MVP… One day, you’re being traded for a minor league middle-infielder with a good-looking wife and almost no professional experience, the next you’re driving in the winning run in the World Series. In 3 months, Scutaro went from being infield depth to postseason hero in San Francisco. The Giants’ marketing team even created a “rain-globe” of him to commemorate Game 7 of the NLCS. Funny game, that baseball…

Where it’s headed: Despite his age, the Giants gave Scutaro a 3-year deal worth $20 million last offseason. But 2013 became a lost season very quickly, and Scutaro battled injuries seemingly all year. With all the talk of the WBC and health issues, I’d have to throw Scutaro into the mix of guys whose seasons were screwed up by the early competition. Throw in the fact that the Giants had a very short offseason, and Scooter really didn’t appear to be in the healthiest condition this spring. He fought problems with his back all summer, and I’d be willing to bet that had a direct impact on his poor defense. Throw in the mallet finger case, and you’re talking about a very rough season. But Marco’s a gamer, and he did his best to play through it all. Despite the injuries, he was still one of the most consistent hitters on the team, flirting with .300 all year. Maybe he doesn’t show much pop anymore, but he still gives you a very solid AB every time out.

So, year one on the Scutaro contract didn’t go all that well. The Giants were short on middle-infield depth for most of the year as well. Tony Abreu was supposed to be the guy that provided that depth, but he spent a good portion of the season on the shelf with injuries. Nick Noonan got a shot out of spring training, and while I thought he was impressive at the plate early on, it became pretty obvious that he wasn’t the right fit. Joaquin Arias played a handful of games at 2nd too, but to me he’s needed more on the left side of the infield (although I’m sure he’d be happy to play anywhere at this point).

All of this leaves quite a few questions surrounding the position going into the offseason. Scutaro still has two years left on his deal, and we know he’s a capable hitter. But he missed 35 games last year, and really doesn’t have the range to play adequate defense on a nightly basis anymore. Even if he is fully healthy, at age 38 I can’t see him being a guy who plays more than 125 games next season. To me, it’s more important to keep him fresh (hopefully for another postseason run) than it is to run him out there every day with nagging injuries. The latter had a bigger impact on the Giants’ struggles this season than most people think. Ryan Theriot gave Bochy a nice infield option off the bench last fall, and I think his absence was felt this year.

It would be very wise of Sabean to find a reliable player this winter who can share time with Scutaro next season. Really, we’re talking about another Theriot-type guy here – someone who understands he’s probably not going to play every day, but who Bochy can trust to run out there if Scutaro struggles or goes down. Ideally, I see a 60-40 split, with Scooter playing roughly 100 games if he’s healthy… Depending on whether Sabes looks outside the organization for help, maybe Scutaro actually comes off the bench. I’m talking about trading for a guy like Brandon Phillips, who’s reportedly on the block in Cincinnati. Phillips would be an obvious upgrade, both offensively and defensively. It’s not out of the question that Scutaro could be unseated at this point, and he’d provide a solid late-game bat off the bench if so. Another trade candidate the Giants could take a look at is Daniel Murphy of the Mets, who would likely play a secondary role if he were acquired. I think Murphy would be a good fit, and Shankbone of “You Gotta Like These Kids” has a nice take on Murphy as a target over on his site (linked to the right).

On the free agent front, there’s really only one player I feel would be worthy of offering a contract to; Omar Infante. Infante’s game profiles pretty similarly to Scutaro’s, but he’s a few years younger, and likely would give you a little better defense. Infante can hit, and he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience. If the Giants were to make him a 2-year offer for $5-7 million a year, I wouldn’t be upset a bit. One other name to keep an eye on is Mark Ellis, who the Dodgers parted ways with recently. He’s another guy who seems to fit the Sabean mold of grinder-type middle infielders… and he’d probably come pretty cheap on a one year deal.

The other piece to consider here is that the Giants have a logjam of middle-infielders on the 40-man roster at the moment. Between Arias, Abreu, Noonan and Ehire Adrianza, you’ve got four guys who could all be vying for one utility infield spot next year. Add in Brett Pill as another potential bench option, and the front office has some personnel decisions to make. Who gets a contract, who doesn’t? Right now, that’s anybody’s guess. Personally, I’d give one of the positions to Arias… he’s been a very valuable player the past couple seasons, and he can play all over the infield. He is due for a slight salary bump though, as is Abreu… Neither one of them is set to make all that much money through arbitration, but the Giants might choose to go cheaper with Adrianza, who’s been a top prospect in the system for quite a while, and is out of minor league options. I’ll take my best guess and say the Giants give one of the backup spots to Arias, package Adrianza with a pitching prospect in a trade (possibly for a guy like Murphy, but maybe a LF as well), and fill the other infield spot with a free agent. Whatever they do, Sabean has made it pretty clear he will be looking for more depth this winter, so I’d definitely expect to see a new face platooning at 2B next season with Scutaro.

Finally, I wanted to touch briefly on the position long-term. The Giants have tried and missed on a handful of players in the organization recently, most notably Frandsen, Velez and Burriss. Not all that long ago, Noonan was drafted very high as an 18 year-old, but his progression really hit a wall in AA. But he kept grinding, and eventually made it to San Francisco. As a guy who the organization once had very lofty expectations for, I’m sure he’ll get a few more chances before it’s all said and done, but I don’t see much of an upside from him anymore.

Another former 2B prospect the Giants had hopes for was Charlie Culberson, who gave the Giants the gift of an NLCS MVP when he was shipped to Colorado for Scutaro last summer.

A bit more recently, the Giants have taken middle infielders as their first round pick in two of the past three drafts. Both were drafted as shortstops, but known more for their bats than their gloves. Joe Panik was moved to 2B full-time this season in Richmond, and is no longer considered the future everyday stalwart that he was even a year ago by many in the scouting world. Personally, I think it’s much too early to write the guy off. No, his numbers in Richmond weren’t spectacular. But many hitters with lofty expectations have been absolutely defeated by the Eastern League. I wouldn’t put Panik among that group. To me, he did enough to earn a promotion to Fresno next year. He’s only 23, and I’d like to see the Giants put him on the 40-man eventually so he has a chance to learn from Scutaro at the highest level. Is Panik an elite prospect? No. He likely won’t ever hit for much power either. But he still showed above average plate discipline last season, and if he can have a bounce back season in Fresno, he could be looking at a potential call-up late next year.

The last player I want to note is Christian Arroyo. Arroyo was drafted as a SS, but like Panik, I’m sure he’ll eventually move to 2B. If he can stay at short, great, but that’s not what most of the scouting world tells us is going to happen. Again, Arroyo was drafted for the bat, not the glove. His pick was also mocked up and down by the baseball world, much like Panik’s. I think it’s safe to say the mocking has subsided for now, as a #2 ranking in the AZL Top 20 by Baseball America this fall has put Arroyo on the map, and likely near the top of most Giants’ prospect rankings. It’s going to take some time, for sure, but the Giants (and all of us) hope that Arroyo’s bat will help him get to the shores of McCovey Cove someday, putting an end to the exhaustive search for a long-term answer at second base.