Mac Williamson and the Eastern League Plunge

This is kind of an unusual post for me. I’ve been doing quite a bit of number crunching lately, and I wanted to share some of my findings. Long story short, it’s prospect ranking season, and I didn’t feel that Mac Williamson was getting the credit he had earned with his play in San Jose this season. I said as much in the comments over at DrB’s site, “When the Giants Come to Town” (Note: DrB has Mac #5 in his Giants top 50, so I certainly wasn’t complaining about his ranking there). Before you mock me, I’ll make it clear that I am fully aware of the hitter-friendly tendencies in the High-A Cal League, as well as the pitching-driven AA Eastern League. But I have seen a lot of unfair knocks on Williamson lately around the web… many from Giants fans. The old write off of, “He had a good year in San Jose, but there’s no way he holds up against the advanced pitching in AA.”

So, I wanted to know, just what are Mr. Williamson’s chances of excelling next year in Richmond? I also wondered whether the fact that Mac’s a right-handed hitter would help his chances, as it seemed to me (complete speculation) that lefty hitters had struggled more than righties in Richmond in recent years.

Here’s what I did in my attempt to answer these questions. Using Baseball Reference, I found 20 samples (10 right-handed, 10 left) of recent Giants prospects who’d played in both San Jose and Richmond, and measured the average decrease – or, rarely, increase – in their OPS. In all, I compared nearly 20,000 total plate appearances over five seasons, and I’ll admit the results were pretty eye-opening (and even somewhat promising).

A few things to keep in mind:

Players whose names are italicized have MLB service time.

The chart is sorted by the final column, which is the difference in OPS between SJ and Richmond. The players whose OPS dropped the least (or rose) are at the top.

The Giants AA affiliate moved Richmond in 2010, so I didn’t use any AA statistics from before that time (i.e. no Brett Pill).

I only included players who were right around or younger than league average (*Johnny Monell was 25 at AA in 2011). Essentially, nearly all of these guys were considered “prospects” at the time.

The ages/years listed are from the player’s season with Richmond. I did not include their age/year with San Jose. The average age of an Eastern League hitter from 2010-2013 was 24.4. The average age of a Cal League hitter in the same time was 22.7.

For players who repeated either San Jose or Richmond, I usually included their first season at each level. *The two exceptions to this are Angel Villalona, whose 2009 season at San Jose I omitted, and Roger Kieschnick, because his first stint in Richmond was cut short to injury. Kieschnick is also one of the prominent players that Williamson gets compared to, so I thought it beneficial to include both of his seasons in AA. For this reason, you’ll see his name twice (compared against his 2009 SJ season in both instances).

The average Eastern League OPS from 2010-2013 was .723.

The Average OPS in the Cal League from 2009-2013 was .767.

That should give you enough information to understand these numbers. If you have any questions about my thought-process or additions for me to consider, please don’t hesitate to address them in the comments section.

RH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Susac

2013

23

310

0.820

426

0.731

0.089

Villalona

2013

22

209

0.686

309

0.711

-0.025

Duvall

2013

24

430

0.785

598

0.814

-0.029

Joseph

2012

20

335

0.705

560

0.787

-0.082

Peguero

2011

23

296

0.763

538

0.846

-0.083

Culberson

2011

22

587

0.675

551

0.797

-0.122

Perez

2011

24

497

0.684

596

0.809

-0.125

Dominguez

2011

24

313

0.675

279

0.802

-0.127

Brown

2012

23

610

0.731

638

0.925

-0.194

Neal

2011

22

585

0.799

559

1.01

-0.211

RHH Totals

22.7

4172

0.732

5054

0.823

-0.091

LH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Parker

2013

24

524

0.785

571

0.757

0.028

Gillaspie

2010

22

540

0.754

530

0.750

0.004

Belt

2010

22

201

1.036

333

1.121

-0.085

Panik

2013

22

599

0.68

605

0.77

-0.090

Monell

2011

25

441

0.728

472

0.837

-0.109

Kieschnick

2011

24

501

0.737

563

0.876

-0.139

Noonan

2010

21

406

0.584

530

0.727

-0.143

Oropesa

2013

23

259

0.562

583

0.763

-0.201

Kieschnick

2010

23

246

0.673

563

0.876

-0.203

Crawford

2010

22

342

0.712

119

1.045

-0.333

LHH Totals

22.8

4059

0.725

4869

0.852

-0.127

All Hitters

8231

0.729

9923

0.837

-0.108

Findings:

First off, I forgot how good Thomas Neal’s season in San Jose was. Holy smokes! On the flip side, Gary Brown in Richmond, yikes…

To the heart of the matter, though. These 19 players were once (or still are) some of the top hitting prospects in the organization. As a whole, this group was 70 points above average in the Cal League. In Richmond, 14 of the 19 were at least a full year younger than the Eastern League average, and as a group they (all 19) had an OPS 6 points above the league average. So, despite them losing 108 points in OPS (on average) from SJ to Richmond, 11 of these guys were still above average hitters in the Eastern. So the prognosis isn’t all bad. But wow, lefty hitters really take a hit in making the jump. Even in his second – and more successful – stint in AA, Kieschnick’s OPS still dropped 139 points from what he’d done in San Jose. On the surface, it appears that lefties really don’t struggle in Richmond any more than righties do, as I wouldn’t consider a 7 point difference to be all that dramatic. But, if you remove Brandon Belt’s 1.036, it drops the average OPS for the group down to .714… that’s below league average, and quite a bit lower than the average for the righties as well. So, for some reason, lefties do tend to have a harder time in Richmond. Especially when you consider that they fare better (on average) than righties in San Jose. If you remove Brandon Crawford’s inflated OPS in 119 PA, it drops the lefty average to .831, but that’s still higher than the .823 RHH mark.

One other thing I will note that caught my eye here. You’ll notice that the three top spots for righties and the top lefty are all 2013 Flying Squirrels. That’s some pretty sweet stuff, especially for an organization that gets knocked for its lack of impact bats. I know Susac didn’t play much in the second half, but can you see why people around these parts are getting excited about him? An 89 point spike from SJ to Richmond is very, very impressive. What about Parker and Duvall? What the heck are those guys doing? Don’t they know their numbers were supposed to fall off in the monster Eastern? Maybe those power numbers shouldn’t be taken too lightly… a .785 OPS in the EL is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, Mr. Mac Williamson, the focus of our study… Mac began last season at 22 years old (turned 23 in July), and compiled an .879 OPS. The age factor isn’t really a big deal to me, but it should be noted that he’ll be a little young for the EL next year. His OPS in SJ was better than all but four of the guys on this list. So, how will the jump affect him? Until the games are played next summer, none of us can really know for sure. But based on the 8,000+ PA in Richmond of top Giants prospects before him, I’d say it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mac’s OPS drop 100 points. His BA and OBP are likely to take a hit, but if he can maintain a slugging % above .475, he should be just fine. Mostly, he just needs to stay healthy and take his hacks. If the average drops near the Mendoza line, then it might be time to panic.

Here’s my take. If Williamson struggles in AA, he certainly won’t have been the first Giants prospect to do so. He’s set such a high bar for himself in SJ that he certainly has a lot to live up to in the coming years. But if Susac, Parker and Duvall can all post an OPS of .785+, I think Mac will be all right. If he posts anything north of .850, it’ll be time to get very excited. For now, I’ll look for something in the neighborhood of .795-.815 with about 17 HR, and cross my fingers for anything better. So, I guess I would say yes, Williamson could certainly conquer the Eastern League, even if his numbers won’t blow anyone away. In my opinion, he’s one of the premier hitting prospects in the organization… and I hope to be saying that again next winter.

Mac  Williamson

(Kenny Karst/MiLB.com)

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More Moves (with Video!)

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It’s time to get caught up on some recent Giants roster moves, as there have been plenty in the past couple days. Some are more prominent than others, and there are already plenty of reaction pieces out there, so I’ll keep my thoughts brief. I’ve also done a little searching and found some video on each of the players involved in the recent slew of moves, which is nice because there’s not always a ton of clips out there.

Vogey’s Back:

First, reports came out just a few minutes ago that Ryan Vogelsong’s one-year deal is done, pending the customary physical. I haven’t seen anything describing the official terms of the contract, but rumors were that he’d earn somewhere around $3M in guaranteed money, with incentives taking it to more than $6.5M (the total for his 2014 option the Giants declined a couple weeks ago). If those numbers hold true, it’s a head scratcher to me why they didn’t just pick up his option in the first place.

At this point, it would appear that Sabean has filled his rotation for next season. He did so in a hurry, like usual. Considering that we knew Sabes wanted a 1-year deal for his 5th starter, and that the Giants had been connected to Vogey all along, this really shouldn’t be a big surprise. But I would be lying if I said I was completely satisfied with the move. With so many short-term options still available in the pitching market, I’m a little disappointed in the front office for closing the rotation door so quickly. When you consider Vogelsong’s 2013 season was pretty abysmal, I’m just not a big fan of bringing him back. Granted, this contract could turn out to be a steal if he even comes close to his 2012 performance next season. At 36 years old, I’m not so sure that’s going to happen. Honestly, I would have preferred a one-year flier on a guy like Phil Hughes to Vogelsong, but Hughes probably wouldn’t have come as cheap. Whatever, I guess…

Make no mistake about it: the Giants brought Vogey back because they think he’s capable of looking like this again. But, don’t forget those 93’s and 94’s had dipped to 88’s and 89’s this September. The only time he looked good all season was in the WBC start I watched in March, so maybe the short offseason really did screw him up. Only time will tell, but for now I think it’s safe to say the 5th spot in the rotation is Vogelsong’s to lose.

DFA:

A couple nights ago, we learned that two players had been DFA’d, making room for two new additions to the 40-man roster. For Johnny Monell and Francisco “Frankie Peggs” Peguero, it’s probably so long Gigantes. For pitchers Jose De Paula and Eric Cordier, it’s welcome to San Francisco, home of two world titles in four years.

Let’s be clear here. Monell had absolutely no future with the Giants. He was called up for a cup of coffee (and maybe a little showcase?) in September, but his age and defense are working against him in a big way. He’ll get picked up for his left-handed power (see this video), but he’s probably destined to a part-time DH role. Of course, I’ll be rooting for him.

The Giants have a logjam of AAA outfield types, and one or two of them were bound to bite the dust. It just happened to be Peguero that got the first call, but don’t be surprised if Roger Kieschnick’s phone rings too. Juan Perez passed both guys this year, and neither was all that impressive in their brief MLB action. If Peguero is claimed, there’ll be some upset fans out there, of that I am certain. The dude got only 46 PA in two seasons, which isn’t nearly enough to form an opinion. But we know how the Giants roll: if they give you an opportunity, you’d better damn well show them something. To me, all Peguero showed was the inability to take a pitch. He didn’t do himself any favors, and looked pretty rough in the majority of his AB’s. Of course, some fans will forget the bad, and remember his only good swing in a Giants uniform when they abuse Sabean for cutting ties.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy has nice speed, and maybe he’ll catch on with someone. But I just didn’t see him fitting into the Giants long-term plans.

40-Man Adds:

So, the newbies… De Paula is a lefty who earned a spring training invite in San Diego last year. That’s pretty good for a 23 year-old, as he is so listed on Baseball Reference. It’s not so exciting, however, for a 25 year-old, as he’s listed on SFGiants.com. Which one is it? Pretty certain it’s 25, and he’s already missed a season due to visa issues. He’s never been above AA, and doesn’t pitch all that well against righties. Maybe a future reliever? Here’s some video from his time in the Cal League.

Cordier (how do you pronounce that?) has bounced around a few organizations, but had a pretty nice season for Pittsburgh’s AAA club this year. He’s a big 27 year-old, throws major gas, and doesn’t seem to have any clue where it’s going. Don’t believe me? Watch the first three pitches from this AFL video in 2011. Yowzers. The Giants are loading up on flame-throwing bullpen arms, and I can’t say I disapprove. If Cordier can find the mitt, he may finally break through to the big leagues next season. And he should be fun to watch!

Gosh dang it, I rambled again. It’s a work in progress, friends. That’s all for now though, as we get closer to the winter meetings. Will Sabean swing a deal for an OF or a utility player? We can certainly hope. For now, the pitching staff looks to be locked up, so things could get pretty quiet on the Gigantes front heading forward.

Monell

40-Man Shakeup

Quite a bit to get caught up on here, starting with the Giants’ recent roster moves. Teams had until midnight last night to protect players eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. It’s kind of a complicated deal, and one I don’t entirely feel like researching or explaining. From what I understand, though, any player drafted out of college in 2010 or earlier, or an international player signed before 2009, are eligible for the Rule 5… I’m still not sure where players drafted out of high school fit in the mix, but oh well. So, how do you protect a player from being drafted by another team? You place him on your 40-man roster, that’s how. So that’s what was going on last night.

The Giants are pretty conservative with their 40-man spots. Once the roster is set, it usually doesn’t change much during the season. Other teams, (the Seattle Mariners are one I know of) are constantly adding and removing players from their 40-man.

On to last night’s roster changes…

Additions: Gary Brown, Adam Duvall, Kendry Flores, Hunter Strickland

Subtractions: Guillermo Moscoso

40-Man Roster Total: 40

Thoughts: Brown and Flores were pretty obvious candidates to be added. Despite Brown’s struggles this season, teams generally don’t just let a first round pick go unprotected unless he’s done absolutely nothing as a professional. Brown was still considered a top-5 prospect in the system by most people heading into last season. Now, he finds himself in the middle of a logjam of outfielders in Fresno, likely including Jarret Parker (who the Giants did not protect). Make no mistake though, Brown’s stock is way down, and this will easily be his most important season since he entered the organization. He really hasn’t been the same player since he was in San Jose two years ago, so he’s got a lot to prove in 2014.

Flores was a given because of his eligibility to be taken in the Rule 5, much like Edwin Escobar last season. Flores is about 5 months older than Escobar, but had a breakout season in Augusta. Now, we’re seeing scouting reports of his fastball touching 95 and his changeup looking like an above-average pitch. Watch out for Flores going forward, and don’t be surprised if he starts moving quickly now that he’s on the 40-man.

Duvall was likely battling Parker for one of the last spots on the roster. According to Baggs, the Giants had a scout at the AFL who wasn’t real impressed with Parker, the former second round pick. That scout does see a MLB future for Duvall, though, and that’s probably why Duvall was protected. Personally, I think the Giants made the right choice. Both players showed good power in Richmond this year, but Duvall totes some of the greatest raw power in the organization. His defense needs some shaping up. Parker, on the other hand, is a CF with good defense and an iffy bat. The Giants have a group of those players in their organization already. And honestly, I don’t think Parker will be taken in the Rule 5 anyway… definitely not in the major league portion of the draft, and maybe not even in the minor league portion.

The last pitching spot went to Strickland, who was signed as a minor league free agent last season and had Tommy John surgery about midway through 2013. This was probably the biggest surprise move, as Strickland’s in his 3rd organization since being drafted in 2007. He’s 25, and we don’t even know when he’ll pitch next season… but he’s also built in the mold of Heath Hembree and Cody Hall, with a mid to upper-90’s heater in his arsenal. The Giants love their relievers at 6-foot-4, 220, and they love that big fastball. Listening to Joe Ritzo’s podcast at SJGiants.com the other day, I was taken by surprise when Joe said Strickland could have been on his way to the Show before the elbow injury this season. Baggs repeated that sentiment in his roster recap last night. So, apparently the Giants see big things for Strickland, and the roster protection would definitely support that notion. We’ll see how much he pitches next year though…

One more thought here: The addition of Strickland was likely in front of Brett Bochy, who’s now eligible for the Rule 5. I’m sure the skipper’s kid is a little bummed out about that, and I don’t blame him. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see someone snag him in the MLB portion of the draft. He would have to spend the season on that team’s 25-man roster, but I could definitely see him helping a team’s bullpen… look at the contributions Dan Otero made in Oakland this year. Bochy has worked his butt off and had some pretty successful seasons. He deserves a chance to prove himself somewhere.

For now, the Giants’ 40-man is full… that will change very soon if a Javier Lopez deal is in place. In that case, Baggs thinks Jose Mijares will get the boot. We know that Mr. Sabean would still like to get his hands on another starting pitcher, a left fielder, and probably even a middle infielder, so there are certainly a few guys on the squad whose spots still aren’t safe. Tony Abreu? Brett Pill? Ehire Adrianza? The organization will have to sort out some of those infielders… and those outfield spots are starting to get a little crowded as well, so a trade or two wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Would a package of Adrianza and Francisco Peguero net Justin Ruggiano or Drew Stubbs? It should be interesting to see how things play out this winter.

Finally, here’s a look at the 40-man as it stands now:

Catchers (3) – Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, Johnny Monell

Infielders (11) – Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, Ehire Adrianza, Brett Pill, Tony Abreu, Joaquin Arias, Nick Noonan, Angel Villalona, Adam Duvall

Outfielders (7) – Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick, Gary Brown

Starting Pitchers (9) – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Kickham, Eric Surkamp, Edwin Escobar, Kendry Flores

Relief Pitchers (10) – Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Heath Hembree, Jean Machi, Jose Mijares, Sandy Rosario, George Kontos, Jake Dunning, Hunter Strickland

Giants 2014: Left Field

*Update: Forget the part about signing Jose Abreu… 6-years, $68 million deal with the White Sox. What happened to the Giants as favorites here? Much more on that topic to follow. 

What are the Giants going to do with left field? That’s the question everyone is asking this offseason, although the more I think about it, the more I feel left field is a secondary issue to solidifying the starting rotation. The Giants are a pitching-driven team, and it’s very likely they’ll head into winter with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots locked down. Finding three worthy pitchers to fill in around those two will be an incredible challenge for Brian Sabean – getting a #3 might be the toughest task of all (Tim Lincecum ain’t it). I think the rotation is more of a priority for Sabes than left field, but finding that elusive everyday left fielder is still an issue, and something that will be discussed and speculated all offseason. So I guess it’s our turn on Cove Chatter to dip our toes into the left field water.

Where it’s been: Barry Lamar Bonds had a 1.045 OPS in 2007. Barry Lamar Bonds wasn’t invited back for 2008, for reasons I still can’t understand. But those days are long gone. In the six seasons since the Giants decided they no longer needed the services of the greatest hitter in their franchise’s history, left field in San Francisco has taken the form of a community bicycle – nearly everyone has taken a ride. During those six seasons, here are the guys who’ve started more than 50 games in a season in left field for the Giants: Fred Lewis, Randy Winn, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres. Seven players in 6 seasons – That’s a revolving door, folks. Lewis is the only homegrown player among that group. He wasn’t bad for a couple seasons, but he also had the insurmountable task of replacing Bonds… he never had a chance.

Burrell was as valuable as anyone on the 2010 squad – and he was a Sabean Special dumpster dive. Burrell also demonstrated how valuable raw power can be. Sure, his outfield defense was miserable, but his bat was a key factor in the Giants’ late-season surge. Maybe more important though, Burrell and Aubrey Huff made one hell of a cocky pair, and their swagger went a long way in leading that young team down the stretch. Sometimes a little attitude goes a long way in this game.

Melky was a Godsend in 2012, and we all found out why in August. Remember all those early-season cries for management to lock him up long-term? That could have been bad…real bad. Regardless, Melky’s production gave the Giants a very deep lineup. The platoon of Blanco/Torres in 2013 didn’t come close to making up that production. The floodgates opened when both of those guys were thrust into starting roles after Angel Pagan’s injury. I have to give Sabean some credit, though. He definitely tried to get production out of LF after Pagan went down. But neither the vets (Tanaka, Francoeur) nor the kids (Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero) could really establish any consistent offense out there.

Where it’s headed: All of these things have made LF a significant hole in the Giants offense for the second consecutive offseason. So… how do they fix it? I’ll be honest; there are about a dozen different ways they can go here. But we can definitely look at a few of those ways Sabean may take to fill the void.     

In-house options: Blanco, Perez, Kieschnick, Peguero. Those are your in-house outfield options. Maybe Brett Pill to a lesser extent. All of them have spent time in the majors, but very little for the 3 rookies. It’s conceivable that any of these 4 could be your Opening Day LF next spring, depending on who steps up in spring training (don’t forget John Bowker once opened the season as the starting RF after a strong spring). Here’s my issue with these guys: none of them are MLB regulars right now. Blanco is the closest, and the Giants have sure tried their damndest to make him a starter. Yes, he’s got a nice tool belt – defense, speed, OBP. Give him 155 starts in left, and he’ll probably give you a .330 OBP with 5 HR in return. That’s not awful, by any means. Some guys will spend their career trying to put together a season like that. But I need more offense from my everyday corner outfielder, regardless of how good his defense is.

But Blanco hits pretty well against righty’s, you say. Give the kid Perez a chance to platoon with him, you plead. I know for a fact there are people out there who would be satisfied by a Perez/Blanco platoon. Not me. Not on a team that wants to contend. Both of those guys can be valuable bench players. Both can be game-saving defensive replacements in the late innings. Maybe Perez has more in the bat? Maybe Peguero and Kieschnick can put it all together? That would certainly be great, but the Giants don’t have time to find out right now. Entering the year with one or a combination of these in-house guys as the starter is the most conservative approach the Giants can take, and in my opinion the worst. So… what next?

Free agents: If you haven’t seen the free agent list, you check it out here. There’s not much depth, but we already knew that. As outfielders go, Ellsbury and Choo are the obvious prizes. I would love either of them in San Francisco. Ain’t happenin’. Granderson, Beltran? Probably not. But we need a starter, and he needs to come from outside the organization. So who’s it going to be? The Giants aren’t going to find a long-term solution to LF within this group. So I’m looking for my new Pat Burrell… and I’ve got some guys in mind: Mike Morse, Delmon Young, Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart.

Maybe these aren’t the sexy names on the market. Maybe some of them have injury concerns or defensive issues. Maybe they’re prone to strikeouts. But they all have one thing in common: power potential baby. Pat the Bat wasn’t a gifted defender, remember? Pat the Bat didn’t make a lot of contact. But Patty had confidence, and he could unload the long ball from time to time. Any one of these guys can, too. If you’re trying to hold a late lead, enter Blanco or Perez. If you need to lift this guy for a pinch runner, you can do that too. But each of these four guys has the ability to make an impact with his bat when he’s on the field, and that’s what I want to see out of my starting LF. If Sabean decides to kick the tires on one of them to the tune of a one or two-year deal, I’ll have no beef, as long as it’s within reason.

It might cost a little more to pry Hart away from Milwaukee, but I think it’s worth it if the guy can prove he’s healthy. Could be a nice comeback story. Morse’s wrist surgery makes his case a little complicated, but he’s another guy who could provide a nice power piece in the lineup if he’s healthy. With Byrd, you’re banking on one more productive season, as he’s older at 36. Stopgap option. Young could be a classic Burrell story. Former top prospect, castoff, playoff vet with pop. He’s an unknown at this point, but might be worth a flier along the lines of the deal Philly gave him last winter. Tampa gave him a shot down the stretch. Will the Giants?

Trades: If Sabean doesn’t find the free agent class enticing (which is completely understandable), maybe he looks to the trade market to find his nightly “postgame leap” buddy for Pagan and Pence. Sabean rebuilt his outfield through trades prior to 2012, so maybe he sneaks in another one this offseason. This is tough business though. Who does he offer… and who does he even go after? Peter Gammons recently suggested Pablo as a potential trade candidate this winter. Maybe Sabes dangles the Panda in front of the Yankees’ noses. Would they be willing to part ways with Tyler Austin? In the unlikely event, Austin would probably start the season in AA anyway, so that wouldn’t fill the LF void next season. Who else is out there that may be expendable? Colby Rasmus? In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine. Sabean hasn’t been afraid to make trades in the past, but this offseason doesn’t seem like it’ll boast a very favorable market.

If not a Blanco or Perez, a Morse or Byrd, or a [insert trade candidate here], where else could the Giants possibly look to patch their LF hole? There’s one more scenario, and I saved it for last not because I think it’s the most likely to happen, but because it just may be the best option the organization has at this point.

Brandon Belt: The idea of Belt moving to LF isn’t anything new. If you recall, Belty played a handful of games out there as a rookie, when Huff was still on the team – 31 starts to be exact. How was Belt as an outfielder? Hell if I remember. But I imagine he could settle nicely into the position if they committed to him being out there. He’s an athletic guy, tall, with a very strong left arm. I don’t think it’s too far off to say he could eventually be an asset in LF. Maybe it wouldn’t be the easiest transition in the world, but he could certainly do it.

If you’ve been watching the Giants the past couple of years, I think you can understand how getting Belt some time in LF would be in the team’s best interest. For two seasons, Buster Posey has been sliding over to play 1B on days when he wasn’t behind the dish. Posey’s bat is too valuable to keep out of the lineup, but he’s not going to play all 162 with the gear on. That’s perfectly understandable, but something happened this season that should change the way the Giants view this Belt/Posey situation: Belt became one of the team’s best hitters down the stretch. If he can carry his second-half momentum into next spring, the Giants really need to consider whether they can afford keeping Belt out of the lineup on days when Posey isn’t catching. What then? Does Posey play some 3B? We’ve all been suggesting it, but the Giants haven’t made any indication that they’re willing to try it. Just like they haven’t been very receptive to the idea of Belt playing LF. Maybe Posey just gets a complete day off? Either way, the writing is on the wall… this team needs more positional flexibility. They’ve got a young, budding talent in Belt, and there’s absolutely no excuse for not getting him some more experience in the outfield.

Of course, if the Giants are as interested in making a run for Cuban free agent Jose Abreu as they lead on, Belt may be heading to left whether he wants to or not. Any team who signs Abreu is banking on his bat, not his glove. And they sure as heck aren’t signing him to play the outfield. To me, there are numerous reasons to give Belt a chance in left, and many of them are starting to present themselves. Here’s a scenario for you: Sabean/Bochy sit Belt down, tell him he’s switching positions. Not only that, but they’re locking him up for his arbitration years. Essentially, you’re telling the kid that you’re committing to him as your everyday LF going forward. In my opinion, that’s ultimate job security…not a demotion or rejection. I’m sure not everyone looks at it that way. Yes, you’d be losing Belt’s above average defense at first. But I’d rather hide a poor defender at first than I would in left, especially if it’s an Abreu or a Morse-type player. Could allow Sabean to be a little more creative this offseason as well. Just a thought.

Ok, I think I’ve exhausted almost every possible scenario for addressing LF this winter here. That being said, I’m sure the Giants will pull something completely unexpected out of their hats and shock us all. Choo for $100 million? Naaaah. This is by far the longest post in this Giants 2014 series so far, and for good reason. The LF situation could literally go in a dozen different directions. I’ll try to keep the next few a bit shorter, and save some breath for the starting rotation. Thanks for reading, and it should be very interesting to see how Sabean goes forward with the position.

Blanco

Elimination

The Giants managed to avoid being mathematically eliminated from contention with a pair of walk-off wins on Sunday and Monday. They couldn’t avoid it last night, however, blowing a 6-0 lead over the Rockies. Trailing 8-6 in the 8th, Hunter Pence tied the game with a 2-run single, but Sergio Romo gave up a go-ahead home run to Michael Cuddyer in the 9th, and the Giants were cooked. To lose like that at home is both heartbreaking and embarrassing, regardless of the standings. So, the team that made it look easy down the stretch last season is now officially eliminated, with 3 weeks still to play… although realistically they were eliminated two months ago.

A tough night, in an even tougher season. But last night really highlighted a lot of the difficult decisions the Giants’ will be faced with in the offseason. Let’s look at a couple of them.

At the top of the list, Pence stayed red-hot with 4 hits and 6 RBI. That’s right, the Rev knocked in each of the Giants’ 6 runs last night. He did it with a 3-run HR, an RBI double, and the 2-run single in the 8th. The homer was his 20th of the year, and he’s the first 20-20 Giant (20 HR, 20 SB) since Barry Bonds 15 years ago, and only the 7th San Francisco Giant to accomplish the feat. That’s impressive stuff. That’s impact player stuff, and you can be darn sure the rest of the league is watching. The Giants want the guy back (as they should). Pence wants to be in San Francisco. He’s prime real estate in a thin outfield market, and someone is going to give him the big bucks. If the Giants don’t make a deal before he hits the open water this offseason, you can kiss his hustling behind goodbye. That’s the way I see it, at least.

So, how important is it to bring Pence back? Well, let’s take a look at the picture without him. If Pence leaves, what you’re left with is oft-injured Angel Pagan and a slew of guys who probably aren’t MLB starting material – Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero. That absolutely will not cut it. Maybe they (the front office) makes a push for Jacoby Ellsbury or Chin-Soo Choo, the other top outfield names on the market. But if they aren’t willing to pay for Pence, why would they be willing to throw down big dollars for another fragile player in Ellsbury or a guy about the same age as Pence (Choo)? All three of these players are going to get big bucks, and the Giants have not been big into the bidding war for free agents lately. Ideally, I’d like to see them lock up Pence AND go after Choo as well. Will they? I’m really not sure.

Pence is 30 years-old, and he’s a career .286/.339/.475 hitter. After his down year in 2012, he’s back to .289/.340/.474 in 2013 – literally right on par with his career line. He’s also swiped 20 bases this season for the first time. He’s one of the best athletes in baseball, and one of the only guys who you can pencil in every single night. Put it this way; if the Giants give Pence 5 years, I’d be willing to bet he makes good on those 5 years, even playing into his mid-30’s. You just can’t say that about a lot of players these days. The dude wants a long term home. Lock him up, Sabean!

The next order of business is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogey pitched last night, and had a 5-0 lead going into the 5th inning. Then, it all fell apart, as it has in so many of his starts this year. He finished the 5th, but not before allowing 5 ER. He also didn’t record a single strikeout last night. A few weeks ago, it seemed pretty likely that the Giants would pick up Vogelsong’s option for next season (which I believe is in the neighborhood of $6-7 million), but now I’m not so sure. The Giants need starting pitching, it’s true. But are they really willing to spend that money on a 35 year-old journeyman with a 5.82 ERA? Don’t get me wrong, Vogey has been a huge part of this team for the past couple years, and he’s as competitive as they come. But right now, Yusmeiro Petit looks like a better option than he does.

Lots more decisions to be made for the eliminated Gigantes, and we’ll get to them in due time. But for now, I say give the Rev a home, and let Vogey walk if he can’t pick up the pieces in his final couple starts. If he wants to come back on a cheap, minor league deal, great. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.

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.

Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.