NWL Opening Day: Volcanoes go to Work

Boy, the time sure flies when your MLB club is rolling the way the Giants are this year. Seriously, I wouldn’t blame you if you’d gotten a little behind on the minor league scene this season. Heck, even I’ve had to catch myself up a couple times. There just really haven’t been a ton of standout performances to this point. But we’ve had this conversation before.

So, why are we getting together here today? Because short-season ball begins for the Northwest League tonight, that’s why. For the Giants, it’s the Volcanoes of Salem-Keizer, taking on Vancouver for a 3-game set this weekend. Recent S-K standouts include Jeremy Sy, Chris Johnson, Mac Williamson, Joe Panik, and a handful of others. With the 2014 summer season upon us, I wanted to take a quick look at the team the Giants will be running out there.

Admittedly, this isn’t a star-studded Volcanoes roster by any means at the moment. The headliner of the squad is without a doubt Christian Arroyo, who was pulled off the Augusta roster for injury purposes last month, but ended up in Arizona at extended spring training instead of going back to the SALLY. Arroyo just never could get much traction at the plate for the Greenjackets. That’s a very tough hitter’s environment, but I also wonder if the move off SS didn’t mess with his confidence a bit. I’m still not very impressed by that decision, but that’s a post for another day. You just hope that this move to the NWL will be a positive one for the kid, as he should be the everyday SS, and the team’s main attraction. Don’t forget, he’s still very young.

Aside from Arroyo, there really isn’t much in the way of offensive talent here. Really, there are a lot of guys who are returners to S-K, and a few others who’ve toyed around in Augusta here and there. If you’re looking for upside, Shilo McCall is a guy I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while. If you recall, he was the New Mexico kid the Giants drafted out of high school a couple years back. He’s got a sturdy build and some power potential, but the organization is bringing him along slowly.

The Giants haven’t released much information in the way of draft pick signings to this point, but you’d like to think they’ll get a few of their college guys signed on pretty soon. As it stands right now, this S-K team really doesn’t have anyone standing in the way of players like Aramis Garcia (2nd round) and Dylan Davis (3rd round). Davis being an Oregon State guy, I’d have to imagine they want to get him out there in a hurry. Once he signs, he’ll likely be the Volcanoes starting RF in a hurry. At the moment, there are 3 catchers listed on the roster. Geno Escalante is the guy who interests me the most, but Leo Rojas and Fernando Pujadas are international signings who have intriguing bats. Honestly, Pujadas might have the most offensive upside of the 3. The point here is, none of these guys will block Garcia from putting on the gear every night, if and when the Giants get him to put pen to paper. Once Garcia and Davis get to the ballpark, this will be a much-improved offense.

A few other 2014 draftees who might end up in the NWL by season’s end are Skyler Ewing, Austin Slater, Seth Harrison and Hunter Cole. Those are the guys from the power programs, while most of the other hitters the Giants took were guys from small schools or JuCo’s… those types usually spend the first summer in the AZL.

On the pitching side, I really don’t see a lot to catch my eye. Andrew Leenhouts takes the bump tonight. He was 9-2 for the Volcanoes last year, so the fans will remember his name. Problem is (and we say this all the time here in rookie-league Billings), it’s not a good sign if the fans see your face two years in a row in short-season ball.

A couple other notes on the pitching side: It looks like Ian Gardeck will start the season here on a rehab assignment. Who knows how long he’ll stay with the team, but he’s got the biggest (and maybe the wildest) arm on the roster at the moment. Nick Gonzalez is a nice-sized lefty out of South Florida who looked good in a handful of innings at rookie ball last year. He’s a guy I’d like to see the Giants try to start. Really, the only pitcher here who interests me much is Eury Sanchez. Sanchez is a smaller kid from the Dominican Republic, but he’s got some velocity on his arm, and his K rates have been impressive, albeit in only 45 career innings as a professional. He’s 21, and might be a name to watch.

As new draft picks go, the obvious name you’re looking for is Tyler Beede. I hate to burst your bubble, but I’d be very surprised to see the Artist known as “Young Beedah” make more than a handful of appearances in Oregon this summer, if the Giants even decide to pitch him at all. Vandy is still in the CWS, so Beede can’t even sign his contract yet. He’s got a ton of innings on his arm from the past three seasons, and the Giants might just decide to give him a rest once his college season is over. If you want to see him pitch this year, your best bet might be to check the Omaha schedule on ESPN this weekend.

If I had to throw a couple names out there for drafted pitchers who might show up on the Volcanoes roster this summer, I’d look for guys like Sam Coonrod (5th round), Matt Gage (10th round) out of Siena, or ACC arms Benton Moss and Matt Crownover, if the Giants can get either of them to sign. Gage seems like the best bet to me, a 6-4, 240 pound lefty who seems like he could slot right into that S-K rotation and eat up a few innings.

Ok, that’s a lot of talk for a roster that really doesn’t look all that great on paper. Hey, maybe a few surprises will pop up. Personally, I hope the organization gets Garcia and Davis fitted for uniforms in a hurry, otherwise young Arroyo might be entertaining the fans all by himself out there. If you’re looking for some reports on opening weekend, it sounds like Conner Penfold is headed out there to catch a few games. Give his site a look, as I’m sure some videos will surface by Sunday.

(Randy Ortiz and Christian Arroyo: c/o The Augusta Chronicle)

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Org Pitching: Salem-Keizer

Dan Slania – R (21): 3.95 era, 13.2 ip, 8.6 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 9.2 k/9 – 5th round pick from Notre Dame this year. Big body (6-5, 255), hard thrower. Nice fastball-slider combination. Maybe San Jose next year?

Eduardo (EJ) Enicinosa – R (22): 3.12 era, 17.1 ip, 4.2 h/9, 5.2 bb/9, 10.9 k/9 – Giants took him with 7th pick in 2012. Another 6-foot-5 bullpen power arm with control issues. Why is he only pitching sparingly in short-season ball?

Chase Johnson – R (21): 3.88 era, 46.1 ip, 8.0 h/9, 2.5 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – First pitcher taken in the 2013 draft. Former Cal Poly closer, now a starter. Low to mid-90’s sinking fastball.

Cameron McVey – R (24): 3.19 era, 42.1 ip, 7.2 h/9, 3.0 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – 3rd 6-foot-5 righty bullpen arm on this list. 22nd round pick last year out of tiny Biola (CA) College. Should help form a strong pen in Augusta next year.

Nick Vander Tuig – R (21): 11.70 era, 10.0 ip, 17.1 h/9, 3.6 bb/9, 9.0 k/9 – 6th round pick, led UCLA to CWS title this summer. Low 90’s fastball with great control. Definitely a sleeper.

Pat Young – R (21): 1.22 era, 44.1 ip, 6.1 h/9, 2.0 bb/9, 6.5 k/9 – 6-foot-5 starter from Villanova has been a nice surprise in S-K this summer. 13th round pick with a funky, but deceptive delivery.

Christian Jones – L (22): 2.84 era, 19.0 ip, 8.1 h/9, 1.5 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – Oregon lefty was 18th round pick in June. Sturdy frame. Giants loaded up on relievers in this draft.

Tyler Rogers – R (22): 2.30 era, 27.1 ip, 7.2 h/9, 4.0 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – 10th round pick this season. College senior with good size. Signed for $7.5k. Off to a surprisingly good start to pro career.

Chris Johnson – R (22): 2.49 era, 83.0 ip, 7.0 h/9, 0.9 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – Repeat performer in the NWL. Much better numbers this time around, with only 8 BB in 83 IP.

Andrew Leenhouts – L (23): 2.39 era, 71.2 ip, 8.5 h/9, 1.8 bb/9, 6.7 k/9 – Crafty lefty with sub-90’s velocity. 23rd round pick last season, leads the Volcanoes in wins this year.

Overview: It is my opinion that the Giants had a very good draft this summer, and I think we’ve already seen some proof of that in the 2nd half of the season. The high school picks have led the AZL team to a dominant championship this summer, while Salem-Keizer’s been no slouch in the NWL. All of the pitchers on this list were drafted either this year or last, and they make up a quite unheralded, but strong staff.

While the starting pitching has been good all summer, it’s the bullpen arms that are likely to be the quick movers in this system. Slania is a monster who brings the heat, and there were talks of the Giants making him a starter when they took him in the 5th round in June’s draft. Looks like the front office is satisfied with him out of the pen for now. He might make some top 20 Giants’ lists this winter. Encinosa and McVey are high-upside guys who I’ve spotted on a few lists already. McVey is a little older, but he’s only in his second pro season. Encinosa is closer material, but he hasn’t logged many innings this year. I’m not sure why.

Jones and Rogers are the other relievers on this list. Jones is a 6-foot-3 lefty from the University of Oregon (and a NorCal kid from Danville) who missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Once a top of the rotation starter with electric stuff, he worked almost exclusively out of the pen this spring in Eugene. If he can stay healthy, maybe the Giants give him another chance to start down the road.

Rogers, the Giants’ 10th round pick, signed for $7,500, obviously well below the slot value for a pick that high. I really don’t know what kind of stuff he offers, but he’s a 6-foot-5 kid who’s pitched very well in his 27.1 innings out of the pen this summer.

The rest of these guys make up the team’s starting rotation, and I have included them because each has seen some form of success in his their short professional careers. All 5 are college draft picks. Chase Johnson is the highest drafted (although his 3rd round selection was seen as a reach by many) of the group. He’s a former closer who the Giants are trying in a starting role.

To me, Chase has the most upside of the S-K rotation, although Vander Tuig might turn out to be the steady big league starter of the group. The UCLA ace was impressive in this year’s College World Series. If you saw his title clinching performance against Mississippi State, you know how dominant he was. 8 shutout innings in the biggest game of your career? I’ll take that guy on my team any day.

Vander Tuig hasn’t done well in his short stint as a professional (which included a spot start in San Jose), but it’s likely that his arm was pretty worn out after the college postseason. Either way, he’s a polished pitcher with great command, and I still think he could be the one from this group to bypass Augusta and start in San Jose next year.

Of course, Chase Johnson and Vander Tuig could turn out to be busts or organizational fillers. You never know, and that’s just the nature of the game. But those two will likely garner the most buzz from this crop of starters. The other three guys all have one thing in common: size. Young is 6-foot-5, Chris Johnson is 6-4, and Leenhouts is 6-3. Leenhouts and Johnson are second-year pros who have been steady members of the S-K rotation all summer. Johnson’s k/bb ratio of 78/8 is impressive, while the crafty lefty Leenhouts posted a 2.39 ERA in his 71 IP. Young is a product of the 2013 draft, and has only allowed 4 ER in 8 starts with the Volcanoes. He’s a lanky guy with a funky delivery, but he’s been impressive in his short time as a pro.

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Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #8

#8. Joe Panik – 2B, 22 yo, AA: Panik was the Giants’ first round pick (29th overall) in 2011. He was a shortstop at St. Johns, and after playing the position at Salem-Keizer and San Jose, he’s been moved to second base this year at AA Richmond. Even when he was drafted, most scouts felt Panik would eventually end up at second. His calling was his bat, not his defense. During his time as a professional, Panik has showed his above average abilities to make contact, but he hasn’t been able to hit for much power. In 289 career games, he has 16 HR and only a .401 slugging percentage. Those numbers don’t seem like they’re going to improve much.

This season, Panik’s batting average has dipped significantly. He’s currently hitting .250 through 90 games, with only 3 HR. However, he’s still shown the ability to walk more than he strikes out (43:41), which he’s done at every stop in the organization. It’s his ability to handle the bat that keeps him in the system’s top 10. It really is rare these days to see a hitter who doesn’t strike out (look at Marco Scutaro), but Panik needs some hits to start falling his way these last couple months if he wants to continue his path toward the big leagues. If he can regain his .300 hitting form, he’s still probably the Giants’ second-baseman of the future… If he can’t, he’s probably looking at a bench role. He’s still young, and Scutaro is locked up for two more years, so there’s no rush on Panik at this point.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #9

#9. Gustavo Cabrera – OF, 17 yo, DSL: Cabrera is a right-handed hitting outfielder who signed with the Giants for $1.3 million last season. He hails from the Dominican, and was one of the highest rated international players on the market in 2012. MLB.com ranked him as their #1 international prospect coming into this season. He made his professional debut in the DSL last month, and has all of 26 games under his belt. He’s hitting .207 with 10 SB in 15 attempts on the season. At this point, Cabrera is very young and a huge unknown. Depending on how the rest of his season plays out, he could be a big mover (either up or down) on this list.

What we do know about the kid is that he had scouts absolutely drooling last summer, and his signing bonus shows it. The common reviews rave about his foot speed and bat speed. He’s a 6’2”, athletic kid who should be able to play any outfield position. Like the majority of international prospects, Cabrera’s tools are very raw, but it is believed (hoped?) that he can be an above-average hitter with lightning speed. He spent some time in America playing ball as an amateur, but the Giants decided to assign him to the Dominican Summer League anyway. They’re hoping they picked up a gem here, but you just never know with these young, raw players. It’s probably a long shot, but it’d be pretty cool to see Cabrera, Nat Javier, Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones get a chance to play together in Salem-Keizer next season. 

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Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects (#18)

#18. Shilo McCall – OF, 19 yo, SS-A: 9th round pick in 2012. The Giants worked very hard to sign him out of high school, where he was a big time two-way player in New Mexico. He’s an athletic kid at 6’2″, 210 lbs. Scouts have mentioned his bat speed and potential to hit for power. He’s showing some tools early on at Salem-Keizer this summer, where he’s hitting .296 with 1 HR and 14 RBI in 21 games. The Giants are hoping McCall can develop some pop in his bat as he matures. He serves as another very intriguing under-20 position player to keep an eye on in this organization.

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