Walking (Off)

When you’re 17 games out and you steal a win from a first-place team like the Red Sox, I think that’s cause for a little celebration. The Giants definitely stole one last night, gutting out three runs to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Buster tied it with a sac fly in the 8th, and Scutaro walked on a very close pitch with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and the Sox left the field pouting. I’m not sure when the Giants last walked off, but it feels like it was probably back in May. A literal “walk” off is kind of awkward, and the Giants almost didn’t know how to react at first. Scooter didn’t even think the pitch was a ball. I’m guessing the Red Sox didn’t think so either, but the whole ordeal just made the win that much sweeter.

Thoughts:

Ryan Vogelsong still didn’t have his normal fastball velocity, but he threw over 100 pitches while working 7 strong. That’s the Vogey we’ve all become accustomed to over the past couple years, digging in and working himself out of trouble. It’d sure be nice to see a few more starts like this from him down the stretch. Sabean needs someone to step up and lock down a rotation spot for next season, and the Giants would gladly pick up his option in a heartbeat if he finishes the year strong.

Another 3-hit night for Belt, and this one may have been the most impressive to me. He hit a mammoth triple off the wall in right-center in the 4th, then doubled down the line in right in the 6th. Belt’s bat has been strong all month, but he crushed those pitches last night. I can’t help but think he’s found that next level as a hitter that many players spend their entire career striving for. If he really has turned the corner, that’s a huge positive for the Giants going forward.

Speaking of 3-hit nights, Roger Kieschnick went 3-4 last night with 2 runs, including the game-winner on Scutaro’s walk (off). Roger K. continues to gain confidence at the plate. He still only has one extra base hit in the big leagues, but he’s taken 6 walks to only 4 strikeouts over the last 10 days. After starting his career with a bb/k ratio of 1/16, he’s starting to make nice adjustments. We know the guy has power in his bat, and I think we’ll start to see it as he gains more confidence. For now, he’s taken a pretty nice hold on the everyday left field spot.

Roster News:

Francoeur DFA’d; Machi and Kickham recalled; Dunning and Hembree are probably pissed.

Zito moves back into the rotation… and I can’t find any good reasons why. Not one.

Angel Pagan is getting close to returning from the DL. Pagan’s presence could make the Giants a much happier (and more competitive) team closing out this season.

Francisco Peguero and Juan Perez should be back September 1. I’d think Nick Noonan will be as well. Andres Torres should be sent the way of Francoeur… and that’s that.

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Organizational Pitching Depth: Grizzly Edition

The Giants have learned the hard way this season that there’s no such thing as too much pitching. Viewed as pitching gurus over the past few seasons, the Giants’ brass saw their 2013 staff fall far short of expectations due to a combination of inconsistency and injury, with fatigue almost certainly lending a hand as well. While we’ve seen first-hand that there aren’t any major impact arms on the way to San Francisco at the current time, the organization is still loaded with pitching talent in the lower minors. That being said, I thought we’d take a look at some of the noteworthy pitchers from each level in the Giants’ farm system, beginning with Fresno. I’ve added their current stats, as well as a quick blurb and a positional overview at the end. I hope this series will show that the Giants do still know how to find and develop pitching talent, and still have as many solid prospects as ever in the system – even a few at the higher levels as well. As always, I appreciate any feedback, and would love your response to my thoughts.

*The player’s name is followed by the arm they throw with, followed by their age in parenthesis. Statistics are for the entire season and combine levels.

FRESNO

The Top

Heath Hembree – R (24): 27 sv, 4.07 era, 48.2 ip, 8.9 h/9, 2.8 bb/9, 10.7 k/9 – Still throws the big fastball by hitters, but he’s giving up too many hits. Needs a 40-man spot to open up before he can get a call to the show.

Mike Kickham – L (24): 5.36 era, 122.2 ip, 9.5 h/9, 4.0 bb/9, 7.5 k/9 – Electric but wild. ML debut didn’t go so well. Pitching better in Fresno of late.

Eric Surkamp – L (26): 3.65 era, 66.2 ip, 8.2 h/9, 2.3 bb/9, 7.3 k/9 – Recovering nicely from TJ surgery. Knocked around in emergency ML start against Cincy. Hoping to challenge for SF rotation spot next spring.

The Rest

Jake DunningR (25): 1.95 era, 60 ip, 8.5 h/9, 2.5 bb/9, 7.5 k/9 – Looked good in his time with the big club this summer. Could be back in SF next month.

Dan RunzlerL (28): 5.81 era, 48 ip, 9.4 h/9, 5.8 bb/9, 8.4 k/9High velocity arm from the left side, but can’t seem to control it anymore. How much longer will the Giants keep him in the system?

Justin Fitzgerald – R (27): 3.74 era, 91.1 ip, 9.8 h/9, 3.3 bb/9, 8.7 k/9 – Started season in AA. Pitch to contact guy from UC Davis. Long shot, but he’s made adjustments at every level.

Brett Bochy – R (25): 1 sv, 4.12 era, 48 ip, 8.2 h/9, 2.6 bb/9, 9.2 k/9 – Manager’s kid has advanced through each level in the system, but needs to keep making adjustments if he wants a shot someday.

Overview: The Giants’ top pitching talent is obviously in the lower minors, but there are still some guys on the Fresno staff who could impact the Giants as soon as September. Surkamp and Kickham will certainly be given an opportunity to earn a roster spot next spring. Surkamp looks to follow the path of another crafty lefty on his way out of the Bay Area, Zito. Kickham needs to harness his control, otherwise I see him as a poor man’s Johnathan Sanchez. Hembree should be in San Francisco at this point, and I’m really not sure why he wasn’t put on the 40-man. He’s still very much a top prospect, but you don’t throw high 90-s your whole career, so it’s time to see what he’s got. Dunning will likely be back soon, fighting for a pen spot next year. Bochy and Fitzgerald are long shots. Runzler is runzling out of time.

MiLB Two Up, One Down

August 5, 2013

Two Up

Christian Arroyo, SS, AZL: 3-4, 2B, BB, 3 RBI, 2 E.

Arroyo swung the bat very well in the Arizona Rookie League last night, raising his batting average to .292 in the Giants’ 16-1 drubbing of the Padres. The Giants drafted Arroyo in the first round this year for his offense, which has shown up nicely in his first couple months of professional ball. The 18 year-old shortstop did make two fielding errors on the night, however. (Fellow 2013 prep picks Ryder Jones and Jonah Arenado both drove in 3 runs in this game as well).

Mike Kickham, LHP, Fresno: 1 GS, 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K.

Kickham had been trending in the wrong direction in Fresno after his second stint in the big leagues came to an end last month. However, he’s strung a couple nice starts together recently, including 6 shutout innings last night in a 2-0 win over Albuquerque. For Kickham, the big issue is always going to be control, so his two walks last night are a positive sign. He’s allowed only 2 ER in his last couple of starts and his ERA is now under 5.00 again. But it’s the 30 walks in his last 54 IP which are still a bit alarming. He’ll need a few more starts like last night if he wants another shot in San Francisco.

One Down

Kyle Crick, RHP, San Jose: 1 GS, 5 IP 4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 K.

While a 5 IP, 2 ER performance doesn’t seem that bad overall, Crick’s walks are beginning to become an issue. After an 11 K masterpiece in his last start, the Giants’ #1 prospect was wild last night, posting another 5-walk line. That’s Crick’s 3rd outing with 5 walks in his last 5 starts. While he has certainly shown the ability to work out of trouble this season (1.78 ERA in 50 IP), Crick will have to work his control issues out if he wants to find success at the higher levels.

Coming Soon to a Park Near You?

**Edit** Sounds like Pill and Kieschnick have been called up from Fresno this afternoon. Per Baggs, they’ll be in Philly tomorrow. Tanaka optioned, Abreu to DL… and Giants’ beat writers are full of __it, as usual.

With the trade deadline soon approaching and the Giants on one of their worst slides in recent memory, there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the team right now. While I have a hard time believing that nobody from the current 25-man roster will be traded in the next couple days, I truly don’t think we’ll see any big deals involving guys like Lincecum, Sandoval, Romo and most notably, Pence.

There are a number of factors that go into this train of thought, ranging from contract status, market value, trade return, comments from Brian Sabean himself, and, not to be forgotten, the player’s popularity with the fans. At this point, though, the season seems lost. Barring a miracle, the Giants will likely finish the year in the bottom-third of the standings. That being said, this team is in dire need of some changes. The current group, despite its huge achievements in the past, is putting a pretty awful product on the field these days. That is something the front office will need to change, as soon as possible preferably.

The Giants haven’t had a season like this since 2008, and it got me thinking: there sure are a lot of interesting guys on the squad in Fresno this year. Even if Sabean doesn’t make any big splashes on the trade front, we’re certain to see a few familiar faces get called up from AAA at some point. I’d bet we’ll see a couple new faces as well. Just my opinion here, but if you’re out of the race, it’s time to see what you’ve got going into next season. Some of these guys have earned the chance to get an extended look. Others would just be fun to see for some of us prospect-watchers.

I put together a list of the guys who are potential August/September call-ups, in order of most likely to get the call (my opinion). There are quite a few names, and for now we’ll keep it at AAA guys. It’s not likely anyone below Fresno would get a look, but I guess you never know. Maybe Mark Minicozzi or Javier Herrera from AA? My guess is no, but as Kruk says, stranger things have happened.

Brett Pill: 95% – Pill hasn’t gotten much of a shot this year, but I’d think he’s a lock for a call-up, just to add some pop off the bench. He crushes AAA pitching, but he doesn’t look like he can hit the big league breaker. I’d still like to see him get regular AB’s for a month, but that would require Belt on the bench or in the OF. Not likely.

Jake Dunning: 92% – Dunning pitched well in 19 innings with the Giants, but was sent down to make room for Joaquin Arias and newly-acquired Guillermo Moscoso. He’s got a nice fastball and shows a pretty cool head. He’ll probably be back at some point as long as he doesn’t melt in Fresno (a la Mike Kickham).

Hector Sanchez: 90% – Sanchez played a big role in last year’s World Series run, providing offense when Posey needed a break. This season, he pulled a Sandoval and showed up out of shape. He’s back in Fresno after injuries and inconsistency in SF, but I’d be shocked if he’s not called up when rosters expand in September.

Nick Noonan: 85% – Noonan has paid his dues in the minors. He flashed some nice plate discipline back in April after making the Opening Day lineup. He’s been passed over by Arias and Tony Abreu, but I’d like to see him get another shot.

Eric Surkamp: 85% – Surkamp got knocked around in his first ML action post-Tommy John surgery, but I’d say he’s a good bet for some September action if the Giants choose to rest Cain and Bumgarner.

Francisco Peguero: 75% – Peguero got a big league sniff last year, and earned another call-up early this season. The Giants didn’t give him much of a leash, and he hasn’t been back since. If he can stay healthy in Fresno, he’s another guy who needs a chance to prove himself in the outfield.

Heath Hembree: 70% – The Giants say he doesn’t have a secondary pitch, but I really think it’s time to see what Hembree DOES have, and that’s a mid-90’s heater. If you can’t give him a chance now, you might as well trade him.

Roger Kieschnick: 70% – Kieschnick would have gotten called up in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending injury. He’s been hurt a lot in his pro career, but he’s another guy who deserves a chance to show what he can do. He’s got power and a nice outfield arm, and I’m ready to see it.

Mike Kickham: 65% – Kickham has kind of fallen off the table lately in Fresno, and that may cost him a shot at getting back to AT&T Park. But it really would behoove the Giants to see if he can’t work some of his kinks out in September.

Juan Perez: 60% – Perez provided a nice spark during his brief debut in June. He played the best CF on the team, giving up his body for amazing catches and firing runners out at second, third and home. He couldn’t really hit, but I’ll say this: when he was in the lineup, I was watching to see what he’d do next. Might have to wait for Peguero and Kieschnick before he gets another shot now, though.

Dan Runzler: 45% – Runzler had a great spring, but hasn’t pitched all that well in Fresno. His strong, erratic left arm has major league stuff. If the team needs a lefty, I’d say he gets some consideration.

Gary Brown: 40% – Brown hasn’t really earned a call-up at this point, but maybe he gets a cup of coffee in September. The Giants really need their former top prospect to start hitting, and soon.

Brett Bochy: 35% – Bochy probably could have been in San Francisco this year if not for injuries and a shaky start to his season. He’s nothing fancy, but he’s closed games before, and it’d be pretty cool to see father Bruce and son Brett on the AT&T mound together.

Justin Fitzgerald: 30% – Fitzgerald is a 5th starter type and a UC Davis grad. He’s 27 and struggling in Fresno, but I’d have to think his name has at least been mentioned a couple times in talks for a spot starter.

Chris Dominguez: 25% – Dominguez seems to have changed his approach at the plate this year. He’s hitting for higher average but less power, and reportedly has a cannon at third. He’s been a strikeout machine since being drafted out of Louisville, but maybe he forces his hand in September?

Ehire Adrianza: 20% – Adrianza is a classic all-glove, no-hit shortstop. His elite defense has had him ranked in the Giants top 10 prospects in the past. He’s now one step away from the bigs. He’s still pretty young, so there’s no rush, but if he can hit at all, he’s got at least a utility job waiting for him down the road.

Johnny Monell: 15% – Monell is a catcher/1B with tremendous power, but he’s a terrible defender by most accounts. It’d be interesting to see if his left-handed bat could play at AT&T.

Minor League Report: 2 up, 1 down

July 26, 2013

Just wanted to give a quick update on a few prospects from our mid-season top 40. I’ll try to do these updates from time to time, just to check in on some of the notable performances from the farm. I thought it might be beneficial to list a couple of guys who did well, as well as one or two who had a rough night. These will be brief, but if you’d like a full daily recap of the Giants’ minor league affiliates, check out whenthegiantscometotown.blogspot.com, where DrB is full of great insights.

Two Up

Clayton Blackburn, RHP | San Jose (#3 on our list): 8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K.

Blackburn has been on a tear in Hi-A lately, and continued his hot streak with one of the best starts of his young career. He took a perfect game into the 7th, retiring the first 20 Lancaster hitters before allowing a double. He induced 10 groundouts on the night, pitching 8 innings strong. That’s four straight starts of 6 IP, 2 ER or less for Blackburn, who seems to be turning the corner in San Jose.

Gustavo Cabrera, OF, | DSL Giants (#9): 2-5, 2B.

Cabrera is the Giants’ 2012 prize international signee. At 17 years old, he’s in his first season of professional ball, playing in the Dominican Summer League. Understandably, his hitting numbers have been pretty poor this summer, but he seems to be catching fire all of a sudden. He’s got 6 hits and 2 2B over his last three games, and sports a very nice .356 OBP for the season. He’s got all kinds of tools, so it’ll be interesting to see if his recent hitting streak continues.

One Down

Mike Kickham, LHP | Fresno (#12): 0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HR.

Kickham’s season is spiraling downward in a hurry these days. He didn’t make it out of the first inning last night, racking up 42 pitches and allowing a HR before getting the hook. His ERA in Fresno is now 5.29 for the season, and he’s allowed 5 ER or more in three of his last six starts. This has to be frustrating for the lefty, who would probably still be in the majors if not for his control issues.

Writing on the Wall

The Giants split an old-fashioned double header last night with the Reds, dropping the first game in ugly fashion and gutting out a win in the night-cap. The split kept the Giants at 8 games under .500, but they lost a half-game in the standings to the division-leading Dodgers, who made a furious comeback last night in Toronto.

Game 1: Reds 9 Giants 3

Eric Surkamp made his first big league start in nearly two years after recovering from Tommy John surgery… it did not go well. Surkamp’s start was eerily similar to Mike Kickham’s against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month; after breezing through a 1-2-3 first inning, Surkamp could not locate his pitches, and the Reds teed off. Apparently somebody forgot to tell Votto, Cosart, Bruce and the rest of the Cincy hitters that AT&T Park is not a hitter-friendly stadium, because balls seem to leave the yard frequently whenever they’re in town. Ultimately, Surkamp was tagged for 9 hits and 7 runs in less than three innings of work. Yusmeiro Petit, who was called up with Surkamp to provide some bullpen relief, did just that, eating 5.1 IP and allowing 2 ER. I know it probably wouldn’t have been a popular decision among the fan base, but maybe Petit should’ve taken the start rather than rushing Surkamp up before he was ready. Either way, Petit’s efforts may have saved the night for Bruce Bochy, who needed all the bullpen help he could get in the second game.

Game 2: Giants 5 Reds 3

After two embarrassing losses to start the series, the Giants needed a win badly in the night game. Luckily, the offense came out hacking, posting 3 runs in the 1st and another in the 2nd. Sandoval and Pence had two hits apiece in this one, which was nice to see. The four early runs were enough to earn the win, although it didn’t come easy. Zito allowed three ER and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, but Bochy used five relievers to seal the win, including a 4-out save from Romo, who allowed a hit but recorded all four outs by way of the K. The win marked #1,500 for the skipper Bruce Bochy, who is building himself quite a lengthy list of accomplishments. Way to go, Skip!

A few thoughts here:

The Giants are 6.5 back of the Dodgers right now, with a week left until the trade deadline. That really isn’t a huge deficit, especially for how the Giants have played. But let’s be honest here, are the Giants really a good baseball team this year? To me, the eyeball test is sometimes a better indicator than any statistic on how a team is performing. They’ve been battling injuries and inconsistency most of the year. They’re still not scoring many runs. They’re not playing good defense. They don’t have three, let alone five reliable starting pitchers. They can’t beat anybody outside the NL West, and they haven’t proven they can compete on the road… they play nine games against the AL East alone in August.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are surging. They’ve won 22 of 27 and 9 straight on the road – and they’re doing this with a cooled-off Puig and almost entirely without Matt Kemp. To me, it’s pretty clear that one team is headed in one direction, while the other is headed in the complete opposite.

You’d have to think that Brian Sabean and his team know all of this much better than any of us, and I hope they use the trade deadline to make some tough decisions. There really isn’t one player out there who can transform the Giants into a contending team, but this certainly isn’t a time to completely sell the ranch either. The Giants are a proud franchise, but 8 games below .500 is a steep hill to climb. I think it was a mistake to publicly declare Lincecum safe at the deadline, but maybe they toss Romo’s name out there in the next couple days. Why not get some value for a few of these guys while we can? Yes, you’ll probably lose some casual fans in the process, but if the sellout streak at AT&T Park ends and the team is forced to lower ticket prices, allowing the die-hards to start attending more games again, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

The Giants have given its fan base so much to be thankful for in the past few years, so there really shouldn’t be too much complaining here. And if today marks the start of a historic resurrection and they end up playing their way back into the playoff race, I’ll gladly look like an idiot for saying all of this. But I just don’t see it happening this year. At this point, though, what takes place between now and July 31 is really anybody’s guess.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #12

#12: Mike Kickham – LHP, 24 yo, AAA: Kickham has had an interesting year, to say the least. After posting a 3.05 ERA in 27 starts at AA Richmond in 2012, he made a few spring training appearances this year and was assigned to Fresno for Opening Day. It was pretty well known that he or Chris Heston would get the first looks if the Giants needed a starter at some point. Kickham had mixed results in 10 starts. However, he’d found a pretty good groove in mid-May (when the Giants just happened to need a starter) and got the call when Chad Gaudin was placed on the DL. Kickham went right into the fire, making his ML debut in Oakland against the red-hot A’s. He didn’t do well, giving up 4 ER in only 2.2 IP. He’s been back and forth from Fresno and San Francisco ever since, losing all three of his starts at the major league level. Lately, Bochy’s called on him as a long reliever, and the Giants indicated they may give him a longer look out of the bullpen. In fairness to Kickham, however, all of his big league starts have been on the road… Oakland, LA, and Cincinnati.  That’s a pretty rough way to start your major league career. For that reason alone, I think he deserves a longer look (as a starter) in San Francisco.

Kickham was a 6th round draft pick out of Missouri State in 2010, so he certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Oddly though, after a full season in Lo-A Augusta in 2011, the Giants promoted him straight to Richmond, skipping Hi-A San Jose in the process. That doesn’t happen very often, so maybe the org. thought his stuff was ready to play at a higher level. Coming into 2013, Kickham earned some mixed reviews on the prospect lists. MLB.com, for example, ranked him #12 in the Giants’ system, while I saw him slotted as high as 4th on a couple other sites. We’ve seen what he can offer at this point. Funky three-quarters delivery, low-90’s fastball, slider and curve with lots of movement, and a changeup he tosses in from time to time. His stuff can be live enough at times to do this, while at other times so flat it gets crushed by Mark Ellis. For a guy with swing-and-miss stuff, Kickham sure has gotten hit hard during his brief time in the bigs. In 18 IP, he’s given up 30 hits and 6 home runs. That’s really bad. But he’s also struck out 21 batters in those same 18 innings, so he’s definitely got the potential to be dynamic if he can harness his control.

I’ve written quite a bit more about Kickham than most other prospects on this list. Not because I think he’s any better or more interesting, but because he’s the only player on this list who has seen time at the big league level. We’ve all seen him play against the highest competition, so there’s a bit more to say about him.  He’s certainly still a work in progress, but here’s my take on him right now. If the Giants continue to sit in the cellar come August and September, Kickham needs to be in the rotation, auditioning for a job on the 2014 team. It’s pretty clear the Giants will be looking to fill some combination of Timmy, Zito and Vogey’s rotation spots, so there’s no reason Kickham shouldn’t be able to prove whether he belongs or not. The same can be said of Eric Surkamp if he’s healthy. Either way, I hope Kickham can figure out his control. He’s kind of a cool looking guy with his mullet and goggles, and I think he’d be a guy the fans could get behind. If he can’t find that control, however, he’s probably destined for a short career in the bullpen.

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