Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Gigante

Cueto
Photo credit: Fox Sports

I’ve been crunched for time lately, so wasn’t able to post any immediate reaction to the Giants signing Johnny Cueto. But I’m officially on vacation now, and of course I have some thoughts to share on the matter.

I’m not going to make you wonder – I’ll just come right out and say it. I LOVE this move for the Giants. I really liked the deal for Samardzija (who already looks, sounds like he was born to be a Giant, doesn’t he?), but the Cueto move took this offseason to a whole other level for me. This, my friends, is the type of move that makes you RUN to the phone and call/text every Giants fan you know.

First thing I did when I saw the tweet from Rosenthal (“Giants heavily pursuing Cueto”) was pick up the phone in my classroom and dial my best friend, who just happens to teach at the same school. “Giants… Johnny Cueto… Giants,” was about all I could spit out at the time. I knew, right then, that something big was about to happen.

The Cueto signing took me by complete surprise. I legitimately thought the Giants had already inked their biggest contract of the year with Samardzija, and was convinced they were going to bring back someone like Mike Leake. I said from the beginning that I didn’t believe the rumors for an elite outfielder, but I certainly never thought the front office would strike a $100M+ deal for Cueto. Honestly, I was 90% sure he’d be a Dodger.

Let’s get something straight. There sure seem to be a lot of people out there having to “talk themselves into” being a fan of the Cueto signing. I’m not criticizing those people, but I’m certainly not one of them. I mean, we’re talking about a pitcher who hasn’t finished a season in the NL with a 3+ ERA since 2010. We’re talking about a guy whose average Game Score was 65.6 in 2014. Plain and simple, that’s elite pitching. Zack Greinke, who’s now the richest pitcher in baseball, earned all that money by logging a 67.1 Game Score average this season… considered one of the best pitching campaigns in the last 20 years.

Johnny Cueto, on the other hand, was ignored by the pitching market because he missed a start in May and made 12 inconsistent starts in Kansas City. To recap: Greinke got the ultimate payday for what will go down as the best season in his career, by far, while Cueto, absolute beast in the NL for the past 5 years, took $75M less based on 12 starts in the AL. I watched Game 2 of the World Series (Cueto’s final 2015 start). At that point, it was already pretty apparent in reports that he’d cost himself $50M or more in free agency. But watching him that night, I made a mental note that whoever signed him could be getting one of the best bargains of the offseason.

I’m absolutely astounded Johnny Cueto is a Giant. Make no mistake, the opt-out clause is the #1 reason Bobby Evans and company were able to get him locked. I do not see Cueto pitching in San Francisco for 6 years. I think he sees the organization and the ball park as the perfect place to build his value back up. Cueto’s a guy who looks like he’s having fun on the mound. I do think he’ll love playing for this club, and will be well received by the city. If he’s back on the market in two seasons (as I believe he will be), there’s a very real chance he’s the proud owner of another World Series ring.

Is there risk in all this money the Giants have spent in the last month? Absolutely, and I’m not denying that for a second. But consider the alternative. Would you really prefer Mike Leake on a 5-year deal over Johnny Cueto for 6? The two guys were teammates for many seasons. One of them was the ace of that club… the other wasn’t. Yes, there is risk in the Cueto and Samardzija contracts. But the Giants, as I’ve said countless times, are all about looking at what a player CAN do. And Johnny Cueto can help this franchise achieve the ultimate goal.

I have to admit, as bad as I wanted the Giants to land Greinke, I think it’s pretty clear to me at this point that signing Cueto & Samardzija for essentially the same money was a tremendous plan B. Heck, I think I’m happier looking at this rotation now than I would have been with a Greinke deal. I certainly didn’t imagine saying that last month.

So Johnny Cueto is a Giant, and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a new season to start (maybe 2010-11?). We’ve known this all along, but it bears repeating: this is the golden age of Giants baseball!

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Giants Miss Greinke, Sign Samardzija

Well that escalated quickly.

The Giants, led on a wild goose chase for the the top arm on the market for the second winter in a row, came up short in their pursuit of Zack Greinke. Sixteen hours later, they’ve got Jeff “Shark” Samardzija in agreement to a 5-year pact. Here’s my rapid reaction to the whole ordeal, as well as the next steps for Bobby Evans and his team going forward.

Greinke: Signed with Arizona, 12/4 (6-$206M)

I tried not to get my hopes up. I really did. I told myself the Giants were a long shot all along. But in the back of my mind, I was excited. Battling with the Dodgers, mano a mano…

But as the clock ticked (and visions of ace pitchers danced in our heads), I knew something was off. Turns out (as per usual this time of year), we were all duped. When the Giants & Dodgers refused to separate themselves, Greinke and his agent left the window open just long enough for someone else to sneak in.

Whether Arizona’s front office is brilliant or insane, I’m not yet sure. But there’s certainly no doubting their boldness. Stepping in to give Greinke the sixth guaranteed year (boosting the deal over $200M) was all(!) it took, apparently. Like any top talent, he took the money without hesitation, while the state of California wept.

A year later, and the Giants still hadn’t lured a top arm to San Francisco. After my initial disappointment (pretty significant disappointment, really), I realized Greinke signing with Arizona probably hurt the Dodgers more than it did the Giants, as strange as that is to say. Check the LA message boards – Dodger nation is NOT happy with Andrew Freidman. Letting their co-ace get outbid by the Snakes apparently didn’t sit too well with those folks…

The only question that mattered for us on the good side of the state was this: what next for Los Gigantes?

Samardzija: Signed with San Francisco, 12/5 (5-$90M)

With the Winter Meetings fast approaching and 3 of the NL’s heavy hitters (Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals) still missing a rotation upgrade (what are the Yankees up to these days?), Evans absolutely needed to move fast. So he invited Samardzija’s team in for another meeting this morning, and didn’t let the Shark leave without an agreement.

So it’s 5 years and $90M total for the long-haired righty. The Giants lost their first round pick in the process (as will many other teams this winter due to the ridiculous and outdated qualifying offer system). For a draft class that has a pretty deep first round, that’s a significant piece to the puzzle, and something that has some of the fanbase a little miffed.

Personally, it seemed pretty unlikely to me from the start that the Giants would hold  onto that pick this winter, as many of the arms on the market were slapped with the QO. Yes, there were a couple of first round names I had on my radar that likely won’t be available anymore, but so much will change between now and next June. In this case, I’m ok with giving up the pick.

So, what of this Shark, the newest Giant? Look, I’m no expert. I’m just a fan with a blog. I certainly can’t predict how Samardzija will perform every year of this contract. But I can tell you I’m excited to have him come to San Francisco. I really think there’s a lot to like here. The fact that Evans signed him for less than half of what Greinke got isn’t insignificant. The Giants absolutely have more flexibility going into the Winter Meetings now. Granted, Greinke would have been a sweet, sweet signing. But Shark is a pretty talented consolation prize in my opinion.

As far as recent performance goes, there’s a reason why Samardzija didn’t get $100M, and everyone knows it. Many people out there are hung up on his season with the White Sox. No, it wasn’t good (49.5 avg Game Score, well below league average). You know what? Sometimes good players have bad seasons. Sometimes players who perform well in one league go to the other and flop.

Think about the last two years for this guy. He’s having the season of his career for the Cubs, pitching like an absolute boss while getting absolutely no run support. The Cubbies decide to unload almost every veteran piece they’ve got at the deadline, and Jeff goes to Oakland. He pitches quite well there too, but the A’s come up short (trading Cespedes REALLY hurt). Shark gets the royal Beane treatment – shipped to the other side of Chicago for his contract year.

The White Sox, despite some big offseason moves, are a dud. Their defense is plain awful, Samardzija mysteriously starts tweaking with his fastball, and struggles with the long-ball in an extreme hitter’s park. It didn’t turn out well.

Now, what he gets is a winning organization, a talented group of teammates, and some of the best pitching gurus in the game. Maybe most important, he finally gets some needed stability. For the folks out there bemoaning this deal, I have this to say: Samardzija has the pure stuff to be a tremendous talent… and you don’t even have to squint to see it, because he was a tremendous talent just two seasons ago (58.8 avg GmSc, putting him in the top tier of starters).

He’s not an ace (we already have one of those), but he’s also not being paid like one. What Jeff Samardzija is though is a tremendous athlete, a durable pitcher with a competitive edge and an explosive fastball. He’s looking for a fresh start, and that’s what he gets with us.

Welcome to San Francisco, Jeff “Shark” Samardzija, I say. I think this could be a very nice relationship for both parties.

What Now?

Another big positive of this move is the Giants still have payroll flexibility. They can and will still add to their 2016 (and almost certainly beyond) roster.

Ben Zobrist is reportedly coming for a visit shortly (before the Winter Meetings?). Really, he’d be a great fit for this team… but at four years? That makes me nervous for a 34 year-old on a team whose infield is stacked with young talent. While Zobrist can handle LF right now, I’m not sure how many more passable years he has left out there. I said it a while back, a 2-year deal would really tie the room together… but that isn’t going to happen.

Personally, I think the best move at this point is another pitcher. Evans really needs to stay away from the other QO guys at this point (no giving up the 2nd round pick too), so I’d campaign for someone like Scott Kazmir on a 3-4 year deal (4 might be a bit tricky considering his injury history). Another lefty would be very nice in that rotation. I also would not be surprised by a 1 year bounceback deal for Bay Area guy Doug Fister. Just what caused his velocity decline last year, and can he get it back?

Don’t discount the Giants farm system in all of this, or the fact that Jake Peavy’s contract is up after next season. At some point, they’re going to need some contribution from the in-house options, and I think there’s going to be a pretty spirited competition between Chris Heston and Clayton Blackburn next spring.

Adalberto Mejia and Tyler Beede aren’t far behind, Chris Stratton is still hanging around with his slider, and Chase Johnson heads back to AA with a mid-90’s fastball. There are certainly some options there, which is why I think a Fister-type short-term signing might be more likely now than a longer deal for someone like Mike Leake. But I could be misreading the situation as well.

And finally, I still don’t buy the Upton/Cespedes rumors. Alex Gordon though? As I’ve made clear, I am partial to Mac Williamson’s future with the club. But if they end up with extra money to spend, it would be very hard to blame them for wanting to put another veteran piece into their lineup.

As always, thanks for reading. The Winter Meetings start Monday, and I expect the Giants to be heavily involved in what’s going on there.

2016 Giants: What’s the [Catcher] Plan?

First in a series of late-season/offseason posts concerning current 40-man players, as well as a few other relevant names both inside and outside the organization. I’ll try to address contract status, current and future production, projected playing time for next season, and whatever else I feel is pertinent to the 2016 team.

Let’s start with the backstops, a position where the Giants are still incredibly talented. While Posey is still the man, a surprising new name has emerged from the farm system, adding to what was already one of the deepest positional groups in the organization.

6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!
6.1 WAR? Good luck telling him to play a different position!

Buster Posey | Age 28: One of the elite talents in the game, and arguably getting better. Considering the resume he already boasts, it’s pretty darn impressive that Buster lowered his K% to 8.5 (career mark of 12.3%), while walking more than he struck out in 2015. Behind the dish, he raised his caught-stealing rate to 36%, best since his shortened 2011 season.

He’ll get a nice bump in pay next year, up to $20M. He’ll follow 2016 with 5 consecutive seasons at $21.4M before an option in 2022. A lot of folks are still asking how much longer he’ll catch full time at that price. My response to that: don’t expect anything different in the immediate future. He’s started 38 games at 1B to date this season, and I’d say that’s probably right about on par with what we’ll see next year. Until another catcher in the organization proves he’s capable of forcing the organization’s hand, Buster will be the team’s main attraction and its starting catcher.

Andrew Susac | Age 25: There was a lot of excitement surrounding Susac this year, but it’s hard to look at his first full MLB season as anything but a disappointment. It’s very hard to get into a rhythm when you aren’t playing consistently, but Susac did log 120 PA during the first half. He hit only .239, and then made only 5 starts after the All-Star break. Injuries have been a theme throughout his playing career, even dating back to his college days. They cut his 2015 campaign short, and it really is a bummer for him, as he’d probably be seeing most of the playing time that is currently going to Trevor Brown. Susac is young, cheap, and talented offensively. Though he’s probably very intriguing to some teams around the league, I’ll say the Giants aren’t trading him this winter. He’ll have to stay healthy and produce a little more though if he ever wants to unseat Posey behind the dish.

Hector Sanchez | Age 25: It’s hard to believe Hector is still only 25. It’s also hard to envision him having much of a future with the organization when 2014 was the last season he hit over .200. He’s team controlled through 2019 and arbitration-eligible again this winter (he earned $800K this year). There’s nothing wrong with having catchers with MLB experience in AAA, but at Hector’s relatively young age, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s better off asking for a trade to get out from behind Posey and Susac.

Trevor Brown | Age 23: The Giants went heavy on college pitching at the top of the 2012 draft, but it’s the hitters who’ve made the most noise from that class so far. By chance and injuries, Brown joined Matt Duffy (and later Mac Williamson) as the first members of that crop to reach the majors, and he’s played well enough this month to earn a longer look. 9-31 (.290) with 3 BB, 5 RBI, a stolen base, and respectable pitch-calling behind the plate in 10 games has earned him some press time – and even a little love from the coaching staff. The versatile backstop may not profile as a starter, but I can see a backup MLB gig in his future. Now, the question is “What do they do with all these catchers?” Maybe Brown shares time with Hector again next season in Sacramento, but maybe his September in the big leagues gives the organization some flexibility to explore a trade this offseason.

Jackson Williams | Age 29: Bringing Jackson Williams back to the organization (and calling him up in September) gave the Giants two first-round catchers on the active roster, drafted in back-to-back years no less. The difference? Posey was a top 5 pick in 2008, and Williams was the 5th first round pick in 2007 by the Giants alone. Still, it’s noteworthy that four of those six picks made it to the majors (the other was Charlie “Marco Scutaro” Culberson), and three of them (Bumgarner, Noonan and Williams) are all on the current Giants roster. That seems like it could be the answer to an obscure Giants-related trivia question. Either way, Jax has logged only 23 MLB plate appearances, and I have no idea if he’ll be in camp with the team next season or not.

On Deck: In my next post, I’ll analyze the young, talented, and ever-increasing group of infielders on the Giants 40-man roster. Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Mid-Season Prospects: #21-25

21. Steven Okert, LHP, Age 22

San Jose (A+): 35.1 IP, 19 SV, 1.53, 33 H, 11 BB, 54 K

**Update: Okert was indeed promoted to AA Richmond last night, as announced via Twitter. The promotion is well deserved.

Okert was a pretty well-regarded lefty when the Giants drafted him out of Oklahoma in 2012 (4th round). He pitched well in Salem-Keizer that summer, but he struggled with consistency in Augusta last season. On the surface, his 2013 numbers don’t look all that bad, but they aren’t quite what you’d expect from a lefty said to be pumping mid-90’s in college. Apparently he wasn’t lighting the radar gun up as great as advertised down the stretch in the SALLY. But all reports indicate his velocity is back this season in San Jose, and he’s been arguably the best left-handed pitching prospect in the organization to this point. Everyone knows how tough the Cal League can be on hitters, but Okert has surrendered only 6 ER in 33 appearances this year. I’ve seen his fastball mentioned as high as 97 on the gun, and he adds a beauty of a slider to go with it. He was selected to the Cal/Car All-Star game, where he opened eyes by getting the CAL squad out of a hairy situation with runners on and no outs in the 9th. The dude earned the save, and earned himself an Aaron Rodgers-style championship belt in the clubhouse for his efforts. Okert’s emergence this year is a wonderful surprise. If he keeps pitching like this, I believe he’ll be in Richmond very soon.

(Video from Conner Penfold)

22. Daniel Carbonell, CF, Age 23

Salem-Keizer (ssA): N/A

The Giants signed Carbonell to a 4-year deal last week, giving him a $1M signing bonus and a spot on the 40-man roster. He’s a Cuban defector with tremendous athleticism and speed, and it sounds like he should report to short-season A-ball in Oregon (by way of his current home, Mexico) in the next couple of weeks. Carbonell is not a polished player like Cespedes or Puig. He is a project, and the Giants will need to help refine his game. But the videos I’ve seen show a guy who looks like he can do incredible things on a baseball diamond. He’s got 80 speed on the bases, and should be fun to watch in CF. The big question, as always, is whether he can hit. If so, look out! Really, this is a great move by the Giants. There is relatively little risk in taking a chance on a player like Carbonell. I’m excited for him to make his pro debut. This, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction for an organization that’s lacking international hitting talent in its system.

23. Mikey Edie, CF, Age 16

DSL Giants (R): 72 AB, .236/.368/.264, 8 SB (4 CS)

Edie was the Giants top international position player signee last winter, and he recently made his debut in the Dominican Summer League. He’s very, very young (turns 17 next week), and at 5-11, 175, there’s certainly time for him to get bigger and stronger. Through 18 games, you can already see the Venezuelan CF has the chance to become an impact player, much like Gustavo Cabrera did in the DSL last summer. Edie was a standout in international competition at a young age, and that is a trait professional teams certainly look for when scouting foreign-born players. He reminds somewhat of Derek Hill, the OF from Elk Grove High who I really wanted the Giants to draft earlier this month. Hill is obviously older and more polished, but Edie’s game profiles very similarly. Both players have a chance to become 5-tool prospects if their bats develop. For now, there’s not a ton of information out there about this kid, but he and fellow Giants signee Kelvin Beltre are off to fine starts to their pro career. Honestly, the sky is the limit for guys like this. Now we have to sit back patiently and see if they can put everything together.

24. Angel Villalona, 1B, Age 23

Richmond (AA): 228 AB, .263/.323/.443, 8 HR, 41 RBI

Villalona has become somewhat of a lightning rod among Giants prospect followers these days. I’m finding that a good number of people (fans) I talk to wouldn’t blink an eye if the Giants designated him for assignment. I can assure you, the Giants have no plans of doing that, as he would be scooped up in a hurry. Look, I realize Villalona likely isn’t the future all-star most people had hoped he’d become when the Giants made him a millionaire in 2007. He’s 23 years old now, and still strikes out in bunches as he always had. But Angel V. is very much an intriguing prospect in my book. I think people forget that he missed 3 full seasons of professional ball in the US. That’s an incredibly long time for any athlete, let alone a baseball prospect. We found out last winter (from Pavlovic, I believe) the Giants still have a couple of option years left on him, so there really is no rush to do anything crazy at this point. Although he’s on the DL at the moment, Villalona was having a very nice June, hitting .298 with 3 HR in 13 games. I’ll admit, the very few times I’ve seen him play, I wasn’t all that impressed with his plate approach. But the kid has monster right-handed power, and his numbers in Richmond this year are already an improvement from last season. He’s still very inexperienced in baseball terms, so I’m reserving judgment on the kid for now. We should see him in Fresno next year, where I believe he can easily hit 20+ homers over a full season.

25. Dylan Davis, RF, Age 20

Oregon State: 237 AB, .283, 7 HR, 21 BB, 31 K

3rd round pick this year out of Oregon State; he has not signed yet, but I don’t have much doubt that he will. He played high school ball in Washington with his college teammate and All-American Michael Conforto. The two were held in pretty similar regard heading into their junior year, but Davis saw his average drop from .327  in 2013 down to .283 this spring, while Conforto hit well above .300 all season en route to a 1st round selection. This is a prototypical Giants 3rd rounder – College corner bat with power potential and contact issues. Looking a little closer, Davis reminds me a lot of Chris Dominguez, another former 3rd rounder (2009). Dominguez is bigger in size, and a tad more athletic, but he offered major power potential and a cannon for an arm coming out of Louisville. Davis has a similar arm, and apparently can pump it up to 97 on the mound. Obviously, you don’t draft a hitter this high with the intention of changing him to a pitcher. But you just never know. Davis was ranked #74 on MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects. He’s an interesting pick, and hopefully he inks a deal soon. If the Giants can get him to Salem-Keizer in the next few weeks, he’ll likely provide a nice offensive boost, and I’m sure the fans out there would love to see another Oregon boy in the lineup, like they had with Blake Miller last summer.

Cove Chatter: One Year Later

Just thought I’d share this little tidbit. Today is the one-year anniversary for Cove Chatter. Boy, time flies when you’re having fun! In all seriousness, though, it seems like only yesterday I wrote that very first post. Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was about. It probably wasn’t very good though! The goal of this blog was to share my thoughts about a baseball team that literally consumes about 90% of every waking thought on my mind. Over the course of a year, I have learned so much about this organization, from the majors all the way to the rookie leagues. Heck, I even took an interest in the MLB draft, and created what I felt was a pretty well informed mock draft. That was definitely a first for me.

Anyone can start a blog, and many folks have. But dedicating yourself to it is quite a challenge. Believe me, there were certainly a few occasions where my drive waned a bit. But if you truly love something, the passion and excitement are always there. That, I feel, is why I’ve been able to keep rolling out posts (for the most part) for the past year. Really, it’s amazing what starting something like this will do for your life. When you’ve researched as much as I have for projects like the Cove Chatter 100, and conversed with some of the greatest minds in the Giants blogosphere, you really start to feel like an expert on the subject.

Obviously, I am no baseball expert. But I do believe I could bust out a pretty accurate scouting report today for about 80-85% of the prospects in the Giants organization without doing a Google search. One year ago, when I started my mid-season prospect rankings, I literally had to dig up information on every player. Talk about a transformation!

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(Packing for the games, April 2013)

There have been many small milestones for Cove Chatter since its creation, and I feel I have benefitted greatly as a person since starting this blog. But I truly believe the greatest impact this blog has had on me is all the different people it’s introduced me to. DrB, Shankbone, Obsessive Giants Compulsive, Conner at Giant Potential, Foothills Ryan, Dana (Dr. Lefty), and so many other knowledgeable posters have helped make me a better fan. Many of these folks have been mentors for me in the blogging world, and I am in awe to even be mentioned in the same sentence as them. These folks truly are the heavyweights among Giants bloggers and online community members, and I strive to be like them in my own way.

This also seems like an appropriate time to get everyone caught up on some major changes that have taken place in my life recently. About two months ago, I interviewed for and accepted a teaching position in the Chico area in northern California. I earned my degree in Elementary & Special Education a few years ago, so this will be my first teaching position. I start school in August, and could not be more excited. My best friend, who both introduced me to the wonderful world of Giants baseball, and accompanied me on a wild move to a foreign land (Montana), will be teaching 8th grade at the same small school… and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. As it is, I’ll be relocating from Montana to my hometown in the Sacramento Valley. I’m leaving in a week, actually!

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(At the Yard, August 2013)

My last professional position (which I finished a week ago) didn’t always keep me busy. In turn, I had quite a bit of extra time to dedicate to the blog, even if some of those posts were coming from Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Fargo, Pasadena, and many other places I have traveled in a year’s time in search of prospective college students.

Unfortunately for this site, that “free time” likely will not be the case with my future 4th grade classes, especially in this first year. It is inevitable that Cove Chatter will have to move down the priority list a bit. I can tell you with honesty, however, that I have no plans to disband the blog. Even if I am only able to check in a handful of times by this fall (as the Giants are hopefully making another October run!), I know that I just can’t let this thing go. It’s become too big of a part of my life, and I just enjoy writing and interacting with all of you too much. So, even if the activity dwindles a bit at times around here, I sincerely hope all of you will still try to make a little time for old Cove Chatter each month, as I certainly hope to do the same for you.

For the time being, we are right in the middle of the mid-season Giants prospect updates. I am very excited to release the top 25, and will continue to work on them as I am moving to California. I would hope that we could get to #1 (which is actually up for a bit of debate around Giants circles lately) within the next couple weeks. This is probably the most well educated list I’ve compiled, as I’m learning more and more about these players.

So, to make a short story long, Happy birthday Cove Chatter. Thanks for giving me something to work toward for the past year. I am very proud of how this blog has evolved in a year’s time, and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Lastly, thanks to all of you for supporting my efforts here, basically from day one. Without your following, this little project wouldn’t have lasted long. Thanks for reading, and as always, GO GIANTS!

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(Leaving on the ferry, August 2012)

 

Mid-Season Top Prospects: #26-30

26. Kendry Melo, RHP, Age 20

AZL Giants (R)

If you’re a Giants fan who’s been following the careers of Adalberto Mejia and Keury Mella, and you’re wondering who the next Dominican sensation might be… well, here’s your guy. Melo is a sturdy righty (6-3, 210) with no prior professional experience. According to Ben Badler, he signed with Toronto in 2011, but MLB nixed the deal after some age concerns sprung up. Two years later, he’s a Giant for the price of $500k. We think he’s 20 years old, but there’s no questioning his size and stuff. Apparently Melo was chucking fastballs up to 93 this spring in Arizona, adding in a sharp low-80’s slider (this all according to Badler) as well. He’ll likely make his debut very soon with the Giants AZL rookie club, which just started its season last night. Between he and fellow newbie Rodolfo Martinez, the organization has some very tantalizing international pitching in the desert this summer.

Badler Notes:

27. Martin Agosta, RHP, Age 23

San Jose (A+): 21.1 IP, 10.55, 35 H, 17 BB, 16 K, .376 BAA

Agosta was #4 in my mid-season rankings last summer, down ten spots to #14 in the pre-season top 50, and now out of the top 25 in June. Maybe that’s not entirely fair, as we’ve seen what he can do when he’s healthy. The problem is, he hasn’t really been healthy since last summer. Even in his roughly 5 weeks of action for San Jose during the first half, Agosta just didn’t seem right. He only lasted 5 innings twice in 7 starts, and tossed a mere 3.2 innings in his final two appearances before heading back to the DL. To be honest, I can’t find the official diagnosis anywhere, and I truly don’t remember hearing much even when he went on the DL back in May. I also don’t know how well he is progressing, and when we should expect to see him back in the San Jose rotation this year. All I know is, Agosta is a guy with incredible potential, as we saw for four months in Augusta last year. Will he be healthy enough to show us that potential again? I hope so.

(Video courtesy of Conner Penfold)

28. Blake Miller, IF, Age 24

San Jose (A+): 250 AB, .304/.356/.484, 7 HR, 52 RBI, .955 FLD%

Blake Miller – gamer, grinder, and one of my favorite players in the organization. The Giants grabbed him in the 25th round of the draft last summer out of D2 Western Oregon. He had played two years at WOU after spending his first two college seasons as the starting SS at Sac State. Turns out, all this dude does is hit no matter where he plays. After hitting at a .309 clip for Salem-Keizer (his hometown) last summer, the Giants gave him some AB’s with the big league club in spring training, then sent him straight to San Jose. He responded by becoming one of the most reliable hitters in the Giants order in the first half. While he’s a little old for the league, his season to this point is still very impressive for a player taken that late in the draft. He’s a good-sized kid, and though the roster lists him as a 1B, he’s actually played all but 6 games this year at either SS or 2B. His bat is strikeout-prone, and he’s certainly going to have to prove himself at every level. But I’d say he’s off to a nice start.

29. Ray Black, RHP, Age 23

Augusta (A): 14.1 IP, 2.51, 7 H, 4 BB, 27 K, .140 BAA

7th round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2011 never showed up in any box scores that summer. Or the next. Or the next. But Conner Penfold finally found him this spring in Arizona (video below), and wrote a great piece about his roller-coaster ride of a pro career. Turns out Black had labrum surgery, and had spent the majority of 2012 and 2013 trying to get back to full strength. Three years after he was drafted, the 6-5 beast of a reliever is finally healthy, and he’s throwing GAS in Augusta. David Lee has had him as high as 101, and he regularly works in the 96-98 range. He also throws a slider that shows plus potential at times. The Giants have been careful with him, and sent him to the DL after his shoulder flared up on him on Opening Day. He’s been absolutely dominant since returning. Look at those numbers… yep, that’s a 17.0 K/9. Personally, I don’t think he has anything to prove in the SALLY if he’s healthy. Will the Giants get him moving later this summer? I hope so. Black was one of the nicest surprises this spring, and it’s hard not to root for a guy like this. He’s a name to watch out for in the second half, and a prime candidate to shoot up this list if he keeps blowing his fastball past hitters all summer.

(Video by David Lee)

30. Hunter Strickland, RHP, Age 25

Richmond (AA): [2 levels] 12.2 IP, 3.55, 10 H, 3 BB, 18 K, .227 BA

Strickland stays in the same spot I had him in the preseason top 50. He was a minor league journeyman of sorts before coming to the Giants in 2013. He was sent to close games in San Jose, where he embarrassed Cal League hitters with a mid-90’s fastball. Tommy John surgery cut his promising season short, but the Giants made a curious move by protecting him on the 40-man. To do that for a 24 year-old pitcher who’d spent only 2 months with your organization, the front office really made a statement about this guy’s potential. He returned to action this May and made only 3 appearances in San Jose before being promoted to Richmond. Strickland has the ideal frame for a power pitcher (6-4, 220), and he’s a guy who could be in Fresno… if not the big leagues… by September.

Mid-Season Prospects: Honorable Mention (Pitchers)

Five arms who missed the top 30 cut. Videos of Johnson and Hall are courtesy of Conner Penfold (Giant Potential). Video of Castillo is courtesy of Nathaniel Stoltz (Fangraphs).

Jose De Paula, LHP, Age 26

Fresno (AAA): 26.2 IP, 5.06, 34 H, 9 BB, 22 K, .306 BAA

If De Paula isn’t a name you’re totally familiar with, don’t feel bad. If you recall, though, the Giants claimed him off waivers from San Diego last year around Thanksgiving, giving him a spot on the 40-man. At 26, he’s not exactly a blue-chip prospect. But I gave him a spot here because I was so blown away by what I saw in spring training, that I really believe he has the tools to be a solid reliever in the majors. De Paula’s a Dominican native who’s been in pro ball since 2007, but has missed significant amounts of time to injuries and visa problems. He’s got a lean build and a powerful arm from the left side, but he’s not unlike Mike Kickham in that the stats haven’t always matched the stuff. He’s only made 9 appearances (5 starts) in Fresno this year, and he’s allowed 15 ER in those 26.2 IP. So, obviously he still has a ways to go. But I like his 91-95 mph fastball, and his sweeping curve was absolutely unhittable to lefties at times this spring. I think the Giants would be wise to keep working him strictly out of the bullpen to see if they can’t get some better results.

*Fast-forward to the 1:00 mark on the video below to see some clips of De Paula and some comments from Bochy.

Christian Jones, LHP, Age 23

Augusta (A): 59.2 IP, 2.72, 46 H, 13 BB, 57 K, .213 BAA

Jones might be the most intriguing story among pitchers in the Giants farm system this year. Here’s a guy that had an impressive sophomore season as a starter at Oregon (followed by an All-Star worthy Cape Cod campaign that summer), but ended up having Tommy John surgery and missing his junior season. He returned to the hill in 2013 but pitched strictly out of the bullpen for the Ducks. The Giants nabbed Jones in the 18th round of the draft that summer, and decided to give him a look in the Augusta rotation. He’s responded with a 2.72 ERA over 12 starts, including a dominant 7-inning outing in his first start after the SALLY All-Star game. He’s striking out nearly a batter an inning, and he’s only allowed 13 walks in 59 IP. His stuff isn’t overpowering, but David Lee reports that he’s developed a 2-seamer this year to go along with the 4-seam. Between the two fastballs, he ranges 87-92 from the left side, and features an average slider and a changeup with plus potential. Right now, he’s pitching like an advanced college pitcher should in low-A… but for a guy who hadn’t started in three years, color me impressed. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward, as I think he’s a very nice sleeper in this system.

Stephen Johnson, RHP, Age 22

San Jose (A+): 32 IP, 3.66, 31 H, 20 BB, 30 K .256 BAA

I gave him a #26 ranking in my offseason Top 50, and looking back that was probably a bit generous. He’s a former 6th round pick from D2 St. Edwards, and a guy who made a name for himself pumping 100 mph fastballs in college. Nowadays, he works comfortably at 92-96, and adds in a nice wipeout slider to boot. If you haven’t seen the video Conner Penfold took of him in minor league spring training, I’ve posted it below. For a guy who’s listed at 6-4, 205, Johnson looks lanky to me. The big concern is his delivery, which just looks uncomfortable on his arm. But he hasn’t had any major arm troubles in his pitching career that I’m familiar with. His issues are more in the command department, where he owns a career BB/9 of 5.5. This season, he’s issued 20 BB in 32 IP for San Jose – but 13 of those came in April. He’s actually been very impressive in May and June, combing for a 2.70 ERA and 21k/7bb in 23.1 IP. He keeps the ball down, and if he can ever shake the command problems, we could be looking at a nice late-inning arm here.

Luis Castillo, RHP, Age 21

Augusta (A): 27.1 IP, 3.29, 32 H, 14 BB, 25 K, .291 BAA

Castillo is a curious prospect. He’s been strictly a reliever in his 2+ years with the organization; he repeated the DSL after throwing 54 innings as a 19 year-old in 2012; and he was assigned straight to Augusta after his second season pitching overseas. This kid throws major, major gas, although I haven’t seen any velocity reports from Augusta beat writer David Lee this season. At any rate, the Giants don’t just send guys from the DSL to full-season ball unless they think very highly of them. Castillo isn’t a very big guy, but he’s a little lanky at 6-2, 170. You can hear in the video below that he threw a changeup at 83, and in a couple of the other clips from Nathanial Stoltz on Youtube Castillo’s FB clocks in at 95 and 96. Man-o! He’s allowed 14 free passes in 27.1 IP as Augusta’s closer this year, so obviously the Giants would like to see him improve his command. If he can, that fastball could get him moving through the organization rather quickly.

Cody Hall, RHP, Age 26

Richmond (AA): 31 IP, 3.19, 28 H, 8 BB, 40 K, .241 BAA

Hall is a guy, in my opinion, that has been pretty overlooked in the organization. He was a college senior out of Southern U. when the Giants drafted him in 2011 (19th round). This is his third full season as a professional, and he earned a promotion in each of his first two. Between the second half of last year and the first half of 2014, he’s now made 49 appearances in Richmond, where the results have been pretty darn impressive (67 K, 16 BB in 57.1 IP). He, like a few of his hard-throwing teammates in the Squirrels’ bullpen, got off to a rough start this spring. But he’s settled in nicely since April, and has seen his ERA drop and K’s rise since replacing the injured Derek Law in the closer’s spot. If he keeps pitching like this, I’d have to think he’ll work his way to Fresno at some point this summer. Hall has a major league fastball that works mid-90’s, but at this point he’s likely still trying to find a reliable secondary offering. If he does, he’s got back back of the bullpen potential.