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