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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Cove Chatter 2015 Giants “All-Farm” Team

Christian Arroyo | Photo c/o Larry Goren | Four Seam Images via AP Images
Christian Arroyo | Photo c/o Larry Goren | Four Seam Images via AP Images

Sorry for the major lack of posting lately. Trying to run a classroom and a blog simultaneously has proven very difficult for me over the last month, but I’m working to put a few posts together with the season winding down. I’d never done an organization all-star-type post before, so I thought this would be fun. Just keep in mind, this group is statistic based. This is not an “All-Prospect” team, but more of a prospect “All-Star” team. You will find some of the top prospects in the system on this list, while others will be noticeably absent.

There are no hard and fast “eligibility rules” for this list. Some of these guys are prospects, some graduated to the majors, and others still bounced up and down a bit. Please, don’t get hung up on that kind of stuff. This is supposed to be for enjoyment. So let me know what you think! I did select a 2nd team, but I haven’t done the write-ups for those guys yet. I’ll try to get it posted in the coming days. Thanks for reading!

MVP: Matt Duffy, 3B, San Francisco – .299/.339/.434, 11 HR, 73 RBI, 11 SB, 4.5 WAR | I’m obviously breaking the nonexistent “rules” here as he didn’t spend a day in the minors all year… but I don’t care. Duffy has been the organization’s breakout player for 2015. He’s one of the steadiest bats and gloves in the National League. What a huge win for the farm system, and for us prospect watchers who’ve been rooting for him over the years.

First Team

C: Aramis Garcia, Augusta/San Jose – .264/.342/.431, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 40 CS% | A slow offensive start gave way to a summer surge for Garcia in Augusta, who showed improved defense and one of the strongest arms in the system. He’s a clear top 10 prospect in the organization right now.

1B: Chris Shaw, Salem-Keizer – .287/.360/.551, 12 HR, 30 RBI | Shaw was a 1B/OF at Boston College and one of the best power hitters in the Cape Cod League last summer. The Giants plucked him in the supplemental first round, and he led the short-season NWL in Home Runs despite only playing in 46 games and logging 200 PA. That’s a 36-HR pace over 600 PA, so it’s evident why the Giants believe in his bat.

2B: Kelby Tomlinson, Richmond/Sacramento/SF – (minors) .321/.376/.414, 3 HR, 21 SB | (majors) .275/.338/.362, 1 HR, 5 SB | Kelby looked like a completely new hitter during his second full season in Richmond. The Giants moved him up to Sacramento where he kept on producing at the plate. When Joe Panik went down, I felt very good about KT’s ability to pick up some slack at 2B. After some early defensive jitters, he settled in nicely while giving the Giants steady at-bats almost every night. He was a serious candidate for my “prospect MVP” award.

3B: Miguel Gomez, Salem-Keizer – .319/.331/.442, 6 HR, 52 RBI | The 22 year-old C/DH/3B made his stateside debut after spending three summers in the DSL. He’s a switch-hitter who is extremely aggressive at the plate… and all he did was hit this summer for Salem-Keizer (coming within 1 or 2 games of the all-time NWL hit streak record). He’s still a pretty unknown commodity, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Giants push him to San Jose next spring.

SS: Christian Arroyo, San Jose – .304/.344/.459, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 5 SB | He missed some significant time to injury for the second season in a row, but when he was healthy, all Arroyo did was hit. Ultimately he was the SJ Giants offensive player of the year, and at 20 years old he appears on the fast track to the majors (not that the Giants need any middle-infielders at the moment). AA will be a big test for him next year, but he’s the #1 prospect in the system for me right now.

LF: Hunter Cole, Augusta/San Jose/Richmond – .301/.358/.474, 9 3B, 9 HR, 63 RBI, 7 SB | Strong first full season for the 2014 26th round pick out of Georgia. He spent some time in the infield, but the Giants moved him primarily to RF once he was promoted to AA. With the Giants current MLB/AAA outfield situation, he’ll likely return to Richmond next spring.

CF: Johneshwy Fargas, Augusta – .278/.347/.349, 2 HR, 59 SB | The young, Puerto Rican CF has impact speed and arm strength. If his bat can develop, he’ll likely be one of the top prospects in the system. San Jose should be a good test of his hitting abilities next season, and he still has plenty of time to develop.

RF: Jarrett Parker, Sacramento/San Francisco – (minors) .283/.375/.514, 23 HR, 74 RBI, 20 SB | (majors) .370/.414/1.074, 6 HR. 12 RBI, 1 SB | If this were the all-prospect team, Mac Williamson would have undoubtedly been my pick here. But I’m going on overall performance, and Parker had his best season as a pro for Sacramento this year. Oh, and did I mention he just clubbed THREE HOMERUNS in Oakland?! That’s 29 big flies on the year…. whoa. After looking rather unassuming in his brief MLB stint in June, I’d say Parker’s surge this month has put his name in conversations for next year’s roster.

SP: Chase Johnson, San Jose/Richmond – 124.2 IP, 111 H, 2.82 ERA, 3.0 BB/9, 9.3 K/9 | The former Cal Poly reliever took a giant leap forward in his second professional season. He got a small taste of AA late in the year, allowing 24 baserunners and striking out 18 batters in 13.2 IP. He maintained a mid-90’s fastball and hard curveball all season, and his breakout performance puts him among the top arms in the system for me.

SP: Sam Coonrod, Augusta – 111.2 IP, 103 H, 3.14 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 9.2 K/9 | Converted college closer tamed his previous control problems this summer in Augusta. He mixes a sometimes upper-90’s heater with a very good slider. Whether he’s a starter long term is still up for debate, but at the moment Coonrod’s stuff and results are getting rave reviews around the baseball world.

SP: Clayton Blackburn, Sacramento – 123 IP, 127 H, 2.85 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 7.2 K/9 | Keeping AAA hitters in check is a difficult task for any pitcher, regardless of age. Blackburn is 22 years old and the owner of a PCL ERA crown. He transformed his body over the winter, and the results were obvious as he dominated down the stretch. His fastball won’t ever blow up a radar gun, but his ability to mix speeds and locate his pitches has played at every level in the minors. His next test is a MLB tryout.

RP: Jake Smith, San Jose – 84.1 IP, 50 H, 2.35 ERA, 16 SV, 2.2 BB/9, 12.6 K/9 | Smith was one of the Cal League leaders in strikeouts despite pitching out of the bullpen the entire season. From start to finish, he was a major contributor to a dominant Giants relief corps that made it all the way to the CAL Championship Series. The MLB draft was cut down to 40 rounds a few years ago; Smith was a 48th round selection in 2011. Don’t let that fool you… this guy has a big league arm.

RP: Josh Osich, Richmond/Sacramento/SF – (minors) 41 IP, 26 H, 1.32 ERA, 21 SV, 2.6 BB/9, 9.0 K/9 | (majors) 23.2 IP, 18 H, 1.90 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 9.1 K/9 | Osich’s stuff returned to form this season, and the Giants have reaped the benefits. With Jeremy Affeldt’s contract expiring this winter, Osich might be looking at a full-time MLB job next spring. When he’s right, he’s one of the most electric arms in the bullpen.