Matt Duffy and the Evolution of a Baseball Fan

I always wanted to be a quarterback…

Growing up in northern California, my early childhood was filled with 49ers red and gold. Steve Young was my idol, and at 7 years old I thought life began and ended with football. Little did I know I would end up 5-ft-7, skinny, and slow. Ironically, I never played a day of organized tackle football, and the quarterback dream died before it ever really began. Either way, I was a football kid through and through during the early years.

My first memory of Giants baseball came at a pretty young age as well. I remember watching part of a game with my babysitter’s husband, a die-hard fan who had one of those black 80’s (this was during the 90’s, mind you) Giants “Starter” jackets littered with dozens of commemorative pins. I couldn’t tell you who they were playing that day, but I’ll never forget the name of the pitcher on the mound for the orange and black. How can you forget a name like William VanLandingham? I vividly remember him slinging pitch after pitch at an opposing batter who simply kept fouling them off, one after the other.

My babysitter's husband had one of these bad boys.
My babysitter’s husband had one of these bad boys.

I’d say I really started following Giants baseball in the late-90’s. I was young, but I still remember most of the names who played during that time. I had a Barry Bonds poster on my wall for most of my childhood, but it wasn’t until I attended my first game (at an infant Pac Bell Park) in 2001 that I really became a fan. I went with a good buddy for his [12th] birthday, and talk about an experience. Front row seats right behind the Giants bullpen… still the best seats I’ve ever had at any game.

It was August 2nd, and Jason Schmidt was the starter that night – his first start with the Giants after being traded from Pittsburgh, who also just happened to be in town. Schmitty tossed his warm-ups 10 feet in front of us, and when he was done the bullpen catcher dropped the ball right in my glove. A half hour into my first ever big league ballgame, I was hooked for life. My buddy Russ would get a ball that day too (a foul dribbler off the bat of Benito Santiago), as his grandpa did too (an Andres Galarraga foul that Aaron Fultz threw into the stands). Three of the four of us went home with a baseball that night; Schmidt was brilliant; Bonds hit a majestic shot into the Cove, and Felix Rodriguez glove-fived me as Robb Nen nailed down the final out. For a kid in middle school at his first major sporting event, it was an absolutely magical experience. One I certainly hope to share with my own future kids someday.

Continue reading “Matt Duffy and the Evolution of a Baseball Fan”

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Game 1 of 162: Fireworks on Opening Night

Holy smokes!

If last night was any indication, we could be in for one heck of a ride this week in Arizona. If you missed the game (I’m sure you didn’t), it was a doozy of an opener. Fortunately, the Giants have Buster Posey, who looks ready to have another monster season at the plate. Buster’s 2-run shot with two outs in the 9th capped a big comeback from the Giants, who squeaked out a 9-8 dogfight.

Is it me or was last night’s game eerily similar to the games the Giants played in April and May of 2013? Less than stellar starting pitching and sloppy defense, bailed out by late-game offensive heroics. I’ll take an exciting win like that on Opening Day, but make no mistake, last night was not a formula for long-term success.

Positives from Game 1: The “big-picture” positives for me last night were the bats of Posey and Brandon Belt. If there’s one knock on Posey at all, it’s that it usually takes his bat a while to heat up this time of year… especially when it comes to extra base power. The same can be said for Belt, who obviously hasn’t seen the same success in his short career as Posey. But for two usually somewhat slow starters to hit absolute moonshots like that on day one, that’s a very good sign. I’m still in awe of Posey’s homer!

Another positive: I think we saw last night just how flexible Bruce Bochy can be with this roster. While some people outside (and maybe even inside) the organization will scoff at the Giants bench, I see a group that can do a lot of different things. In fact, after the abysmal defense we saw early on, I was very excited when Bochy brought Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez into the game late. Between those two, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks and Hector Sanchez, the Giants have some weapons they can employ off the bench.

Honorable mentions: Jean Machi… holy splitter! The dude takes a lot of heat from fans on the Internet, but he was nails last night. Good thing those fans don’t set the 25-man roster, or Machi wouldn’t have been able to shut the door last night!

Adrianza: Pinch-hit double and a rally starter. Watch out Joaquin Arias.

Angel Pagan: If Pagan can set the table like he did last night, the Giants will have some good times on offense this year.

Negatives: Infield defense. Wow. When Mike Krukow is putting you down, you screwed up. Grounders through the legs, errant throws all over the diamond, misplayed rundowns. Those are plays I would have been upset with my 7th grade Little League team for making. Tighten that stuff up, fellas!

Madison Bumgarner: Victim of some bad defense, but not the shutdown start we were hoping for from MadBum on Opening Day. It’s a long season though, and the kid will bounce back just fine. I’d be surprised if that’s his last Opening Day start… and he’s only 24!

Cainer takes the hill for game 2 of 162 tonight. More fireworks to come? I’d be just fine with a 3-1 win and some good fundamentals, to be honest!

Happy Opening Day!

Game 1 of 162: Madison Bumgarner, 24 years young, toes the rubber against an Arizona lineup featuring big boppers Paul Bunyan Goldschmidt and the newly acquired Mark Trumbo. Brandon McCarthy will be on the other side. I imagine we’ll see Brandon Belt in the 2-hole, Pablo 3 and Pence protecting Buster in the 5-spot. Hey, as long as these guys put up enough runs to win, I don’t care where Bochy bats them in the order!

Game time 6:40 PM out west, 7:40 here in Big Sky Country.

We finally made it, folks. Here’s to (hopefully) another great season. Thanks for hanging out with me here all winter.. it sure was a long one in these parts. But my favorite time of year is back. It’s a great time to be a Giants fan!

(Getty Images: There’s a new ace in town.)

“Never Give the Hitter Too Much Credit”

Good evening, folks. Cactus League play rolls on, and our beloved Gigantes evened their record (that doesn’t count) to 3-3 today. Solid performances at the plate from 5th OF competitors Juan Perez, Tyler Colvin and Gary Brown. Colvin has been showing a nice stroke, but Perez certainly isn’t giving that spot up for free. Brandon Belt had another two hits today – Belt is the Spring Training champion every season… will this be the year he carries it into April?

Good outings on the mound from Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Edwin Escobar today. Bumgarner looks to be on a mission this year, but I guess you could say the same thing about each of these guys every season. Solid work overall from the starting pitchers early on. You can’t ask for much more than that.

For any MLBtv subscribers out there, the first televised Giants game is tomorrow at noon PST. It’s Matt Cain’s first go-around of the New Year, and I’ll definitely be tuning in. Looking forward to it!

A couple of links before we wrap it up:

Baggarly Law Story – From today, Baggs tells the story of Derek Law’s pop Joe (a follower of Cove Chatter on Twitter… Thanks Mr. Law!). The elder Law made it to the show, but unfortunately never entered the stat books. Years later, his son is living by the mantra, “never give the hitter too much credit,” and D-Law looks ready to break through.

Baggs Bumgarner Story – Also from today, Bumgarner (3 months younger than me) playing the mentor role for some of the kids in camp. Bummy taught Mike Kickham how to throw a cutter. Speaking of lefties not to forget about…

That’s all for tonight. Keep grinding away, everyone. Less than a month until Opening Day.

Cain, Bumgarner… Crick!

I had the pleasure of watching Kyle Crick on the tube for the first time last night. Sure, I tuned into a couple of his starts with San Jose on the computer this season, but the video quality of those minor league games really isn’t very good. As far as TV goes, I missed his outing this summer in the Future’s Game, and wasn’t able to catch him in the Fall Stars game last week either. So, when I found out he was starting on MLB Network last night, I knew I wasn’t missing it.

Crick took the mound at the home of the Giants’ Spring Training complex last night, with fellow Gigantes prospect Andrew Susac calling pitches for him behind the dish. It was Cricky’s fourth AFL start, but since before the Fall Stars Game (he’d made three relief appearances in that time), and his first three hadn’t gone so well. So I had tempered expectations going in, hoping that the young hurler could just control the strike zone and get some outs… He did, folks.

For those who missed it last night, allow me to recap Crick’s outing: Jared Mitchell (CHW #10 prospect); Eddie Rosario (Min #5); Yorman Rodriguez (Cin #15); Brandon Jacobs (CHW #7); Max Kepler (Min #8)… Grab. Some. Pine.

If there’s anything we know about professional sports and baseball in general, one performance can’t possibly define a player’s potential, good, bad, or otherwise… but it sure can help. Had Crick walked the bases loaded last night and been pulled in the second inning, we’d have said that he needs to learn to command his pitches, understanding that he still had some maturing to do as a pitcher. But we already knew those things about Crick, and one outing wasn’t going to diminish his prospect value. Something entirely different happened last night though, something that you should be very excited about. Crick took the hill opposite the top pitching prospect in Minnesota’s stacked organization – the towering Alex Meyer – and the two young studs put on a show.

Crick’s line for the night: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K… and those numbers don’t even begin to tell the whole story for the Giants’ number one prospect. The 6-foot-4, Texas-grown righty dominated a pretty stacked Glendale lineup, with basically just a fastball. From the very first batter, Crick popped Susac’s mitt to the tune of 94,95,96 and even a 98 mph heater. He threw it down the middle, he threw it on the corners, he elevated it above the hands… and some of the top prospects in baseball couldn’t touch it. He struck out the side in the first, and then two more in the second. For a kid known for his inability to control the strike zone, Crick had only one 3-ball count on the night – the final hitter in the 3rd inning, to which he induced a chopper to 2B to finish his outing. One of the few changeups he threw all night was knocked back up the middle by Colin Moran in the first… that was the only blemish in an otherwise perfect performance for the Giants’ 2011 supplemental first round pick. This was literally a group of future MLB hitters getting blown away by nothing but high ched from a future MLB pitcher. Awesome stuff in a coming out party for Crick.

This post is certainly about Crick, but Meyer was just as dominant on the other side, taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning, striking out Susac twice in the process. Quite an impressive night from a couple of promising pitchers.

Crick was ranked #42 on MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects list this summer, but I’d have to think last night’s performance will have Johnathan Mayo and his posse considering a move into the top 25 for Crick next spring… that’s how good last night’s outing was. Yes, the same issues about control and developing offspeed pitches remain, but there’s no doubt to me that Crick’s got a promising MLB career ahead of him. This kid is the reason the Giants felt comfortable trading Zack Wheeler a couple years ago, and I think he’ll help all the fans who are still (inexcusably) bitter forget about that trade in a couple years. Like most 20 year-old power pitchers, he just needs time. If he stays healthy, I have to believe he’ll be a part of the 2015 rotation, and I’d say there’s even a slight chance we see him in a Giants’ uniform late next season… they did it with Madison Bumgarner in 2009.

One final thought here. The Crick comparisons to Matt Cain are well documented, and certainly have some backing. The similarities between the two really are uncanny. Right-handed, Southern country boys, similar body builds, easy deliveries, power pitcher profiles, prep first round picks… Crick is a carbon copy of Cain, and will hopefully find similar success at the big league level. But watch the video of Crick’s interview from last night. Not only does he resemble Cain, but he’s got the same dry, gruff personality of another pretty good Southern boy, Bumgarner. His response to the compliments about his start killed me. “Yeah, thank you.” And the slightest of smirks to go along with it. Seriously, if that interview doesn’t make you chuckle a little bit, I don’t know what will. The Giants know their pitching, and will have a great opportunity to draft another electric arm next summer… I have a sneaky hunch they will.

So… Cain, Bumgarner, and now Kyle Crick. It won’t be much longer, folks. It won’t be much longer.

Winter Shopping: Pitching Part I

Been on the road this week with an iPad. Lots of reading, but writing any posts was pretty much out of the question. Back home now, and so much to catch up on! I was able to draft a tentative Opening Day 2014 projection, but after much reading and speculating, I feel there are changes that need to be made. Predicting the Giants’ offseason moves is never easy, as they really do play things very close to the chest. I’d always followed the offseason pretty passively until last season, but this blog has given me an outlet to follow along much more intently this winter. So many things are up in the air right now, and I’ll admit I’m not sure how aggressive the front office will get in rebuilding this team for next year. We do know what the needs are though, and it never hurts to take a closer look at the options.

The hot stove is upon us, and Uncle Brian’s going shopping kids. Wonder what he’ll find…

For starters, he’ll need to find two more starting pitchers to join his 3 first round picks, who’ve all been rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Matt Cain, $20 million next season; Tim Lincecum, $17 million; and Madison Bumgarner, 2013 ace, maybe getting the short end of the stick at $3.75 million next year after his arbitration years were bought out. Over $40 million going to 3/5 of the 2014 rotation, and the dude with a sub-4.00 ERA gets 3.75! This group is getting expensive, but they’ve got the rings to back it up. So, who do you get to join them?

There really are a ton of starting pitchers on the market, but the high-end talent is very thin, as I’m sure you already know. I’ve taken 21 of the “premier” names out there (20 free agents + David Price), and sorted them into some groups.

Qualifying Offer Gang: Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana.

The only three to get the qualifying offer. The Giants goofed up and won a few too many games down the stretch, missing the protected pick. They aren’t giving up their first round pick, plain and simple. I don’t know that any of these guys would have been a great fit anyway. Kuroda’s steady but nearly 40. Ubaldo could be interesting, but not for the money he’ll get. I told a buddy Santana was looking for $100 million; his response was “Where? Under his couch cushions?” Not happening!

Damaged Goods: Doc Halladay, Johan Santana, Josh Johnson.

The former elite, currently busted up group. Some team might get a steal with Johnson on a one-year deal. Maybe Halladay too. It also could be money down the drain. Sabean needs to fill two spots, and he needs some certainty. I don’t see him calling this group.

No Thanks: Ricky Nolasco, AJ Burnett

Nolasco was intriguing for the brief period when the Giants had a winning record last spring. The guy has his first above average season (101 ERA+) since 2008 and they project an Edwin Jackson 4-$52 million deal? How’s that contract working out for the Cubs again? Burnett, like Kuroda, is considering retirement. No thanks.

A-List: Masahiro Tanaka, David Price, Matt Garza

Here’s the cream of the crop. You’ve got the international phenom in Tanaka, the prized trade piece in Price, and arguably the top free agent starter in MLB with Garza. The Giants have been connected in some form to Tanaka and Price, but a trade with the Rays is highly, highly unlikely to me. The high-ceiling prospects just aren’t there to make it happen right now. Kyle Crick would be a given, but I think Tampa would ask for Bumgarner or Belt as well. I just don’t see it happening. Peter Gammons can see a Price trade happening for the Dodgers, though… that’s scary.

That leaves Tanaka and Garza. Had you asked me about the Giants’ going for one or both of these two even a week ago, I’d probably have told you it wasn’t going to happen. But something seems to have changed this week. If you read the Baggs chat transcript on CSNBayArea.com yesterday, you might have read this: “The Giants are being very quiet and kind of trying to deflect interest. Which is precisely what makes me think they’ll make a push. That and they sent almost everyone who owns a panama hat (stereotype!) to see him pitch in Japan.” Those are Baggs’ words, followed by an article this morning. John Shea also wrote a Tanaka/Giants piece too. What’s going on here?

After giving it a lot of thought, I think Sabean will indeed make a run at Tanaka, and I for one cannot fault him for it. 25 years old…mid-90’s heat… dirty splitter… reports of intelligence and poise not shown by Yu Darvish… that’s hard to beat, regardless of the price. The kicker, though… like Price, Tanaka’s already been connected to the Dodgers. Again, that’s not good. Sabean has said he needs to build a rotation to compete with the big dogs. Tanaka could go a very long way in making that happen. It’ll be damn expensive outbidding the likes of the Dodgers and Yankees (estimates have been as high as $150 million for the posting fee and contract), and certainly a risk, but consider the alternative… Kershaw, Greinke, Tanaka, Ryu… Price? Can you handle that? I know I can’t…

The only real concern I have with Tanaka is his stamina going forward. He’s 25, and he’s already pitched 1,315 professional innings. He threw 160 pitches in his final postseason start in Japan… I’ll bet it wasn’t the first time.  There certainly aren’t any guarantees in baseball, but I think Sabean has to make a competitive bid. That’s all we can really ask for.

If the Giants come up short on Tanaka (which I ultimately think they will), I think Sabes needs to look to Garza next. He’s not an ace, and there are some injury concerns, but he’s really the top arm that doesn’t require draft pick compensation. He’s 29, and it’ll take a 4-5 year deal in excess of $15 million per, but Garza’s another guy who would add significant depth to the rotation. Will the Giants get involved with him? If they miss on Tanaka, I almost think they have to…

That’s it for tonight. In part two, we’ll take a look at some of the more realistic starting pitching options (or what I call the B and C-Lister’s) that Uncle Sabes may find at the market this winter.

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Scenes from the AFL

Just wanted to give a quick tip for those interested in Crick and the boys in the Arizona Fall League. Conner Penfold over at sfgiantpotential.com made the trip out to the desert to get some footage of the Giants prospects, and he’s got some sweet new video up from the last couple of days. He also has a write-up from each of the games he attended… so far, there’s video posted of every Giant farmhand except Cody Hall and Derek Law. As of the 8th inning in Peoria today, neither of the two relievers have pitched. I’ve seen a few clips on Law before, but Hall is a guy I’d be very interested to watch. Just how hard does he throw that fastball? Kyle Crick, who is working out of the pen in preparation for the AFL All-Star game, tossed two scoreless innings today, and his ERA has crept down to 4.66.

More about the videos. In Crick’s one inning of work, he’s rocking the heater. To me, he seems to really increase his pace when he’s in a groove. I love pitchers who do that, a la Tim Lincecum in his prime. My favorite part of that Crick footage though? Mr. Colin Moran, pride of North Carolina… grab some pine, meat! A side note here: I recently watched the “Homegrown Giants” feature that was produced as part of the “Inside the Clubhouse” series by the Giants media team. This one was released in September, but I hadn’t seen it before. Very cool stuff. Posey, Romo, the All-Star Game in New York… but it follows Crick around for a bit, and gives quite a bit of insight on the Giants’ player development philosophy. If you haven’t seen it, I’d definitely recommend setting 20 minutes aside to check it out. Here’s the link. In regards to Crick, I’ve just got to say, I really admire the kid, and I think the Giants have another future stud on their hands. Everyone involved understands what he needs to do to make it, but I get the feeling nobody thinks he can’t get there. He’s an intelligent young man – confident and incredibly talented… and I really am excited about his future.

Jarrett Parker is quite a bit slimmer than I thought. He’s listed at 6-4, 210 pounds, but he doesn’t look it to me. We know he strikes out at incredible rates, but he puts on a pretty spirited AB too. He gets deep into counts, takes his share of walks, and hits for a good amount of power. Sounds like he covers a ton of ground out in center as well. His lefty bat will need to find those gaps at AT&T if he wants to make it as a big leaguer, but hey, the guy is a former 2nd round pick, he’s probably headed to Fresno next year, and the organization sent him to Arizona to run with the big dogs. They’ve got their eye on him, and as far as I know they’re still looking for someone in the organization to grab ahold of left field…

Adalberto Mejia made his first start of the fall yesterday and got knocked around a bit in 2.1 innings of work. The first inning got off to a rough start after DeShields battled for a walk right out of the gate. Personally, I thought Mr. Mejia had him beat with an 0-2 slider that snapped in at the knees (4th pitch of the AB)… but he didn’t get the call and couldn’t put him away. DeShields is a tough out, and Mejia is still just a young kid gaining some tremendous experience this fall. He really wasn’t that wild, he just couldn’t quite find the zone… and he left some pitches up, which will get you run pretty quickly against competition like that.

A couple more thoughts on the young lefty. Wow, he’s a big-bodied kid! Very similar body type to Clayton Blackburn, in my humble opinion. If you’ve never been over to Giant Potential, I’d highly recommend clicking on the video section of the blog. Penfold gets some great footage, in full-on HD quality. In a previous piece about Mejia, he talks about him throwing a back-foot slider that’s very Bumgarner-esque. It didn’t look to me like he threw too many of them in the AFL clip, but that 0-2 pitch to DeShields was nasty. If he can hone that sucker in, the sky is absolutely the limit for him.

Andrew Susac and Angel Villalona went hitless, but Angel V. did put together some tough AB’s. Personally, I’d like to see the Giants challenge him with a Fresno assignment this season and see if he can hang. His time out of the country definitely set him back a bit in terms of professional development, but he showed the power potential in Richmond. So I say send him to AAA and see if he can swim. If not, he’s back in Richmond. If he does, look out ladies and gents!

Susac is a player I’m growing fonder of by the day. Small sample sizes in the AFL aren’t anything to get too worked up about, but the more digging I do on this guy, the more I like. In my eyes, he’s got a legitimate major league bat. Maybe not a big batting average guy, but he’s patient, powerful, and seems to have a real calm at the dish. If he’s even average defensively, the Giants have their excuse to get Buster Posey out of the gear. Speaking of Posey, I couldn’t help but notice Susac has a few tendencies in his batting stance and swing that remind me a lot of Buster… even the leg kick in his load. Now, I hope nobody reads too much into this comment, I’m not saying anything about Susac being the hitter/player Posey is. But I do think the kid has the potential to have a solid MLB career if he can change his injury-prone ways, and I hope he does so with the Giants. Is it crazy to say Susac is a bit of a sleeper in the organization?

Lastly, I just wanted to note that the blog hasn’t been as active lately. I apologize for that, but I hope you will stick around, as I’ve been working on some very big projects on the minor league front. I’m learning more and more about the Giants farm system every day, and I hope to start sharing some of these things pretty soon. I know they will be worth the wait.