A little update from the arms on the farm…
Joan Gregorio, the towering 21 year-old righty from the Dominican Republic (and the number 23 prospect on my mid-season list), put on a show last night in Augusta. Gregorio is having a very good year for the Giants’ Low-A affiliate, but last night he unleashed his full arsenal in what has to be the best game of his professional career.
Here’s Joan’s line last night against the Lakewood BlueClaws: 7 IP 0 H 0 ER 1 BB 10 K. Seven no-hit innings – wow! Gregorio’s been very steady all season, but he’s been exceptional in his last two starts: 13 IP 4 H 1 ER 3 BB 19 K. If he keeps pitching like this, you’d have to wonder if he’ll get the call to San Jose before the season is over.
David Lee of the Augusta Chronicle was pretty impressed by the performance, and I’d recommend reading his article here. He notes, among other things, Gregorio pumping mid-90’s fastballs while dominating against a mostly-lefty lineup.
In case you missed it, here’s my review of Joan Gregorio from a couple weeks ago.
In other news, Edwin Escobar earned his first win at AA Richmond last night, with a line of 6.2 IP 6 H 1 ER 0 BB 8 K. Pretty impressive numbers for the talented lefty, who’s also only 21.
Not to be outdone, check out what fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia did in San Jose last night: 5.2, 2 H 0 ER, 2 BB 9 K… Man, are these guys rolling or what? Pretty solid night for some of the Giants’ top minor league arms.
#4. Martin Agosta – RHP, 22 yo, Lo-A: Agosta was the Giants’ 2nd round pick in 2012. He’s another NorCal kid who grew up in Sacramento before attending St. Mary’s College, where he ranks 3rd all-time in wins and 6th in career strikeouts. He made 38 career starts for the Gaels, racking up a 3.25 career ERA. He was especially steady his final (junior) year, posting a 9-2 record with a 2.18 ERA. He struck out 95 and walked 27 in 103 IP. Agosta stands at 6’1”, 180 lb, but looks like a slightly taller Tim Lincecum in pictures I’ve seen of him. Agosta, like 2012 1st round pick Chris Stratton, works in the low 90’s with his fastball, but can pump it up to 95 from time to time. He mixes the fastball with a nice curve and changeup, and is pretty polished at this point, as he’s made evident this season.
After tossing only a handful of innings at Salem-Keizer last summer, Agosta was assigned to Lo-A Augusta for the start of 2013. In a year when the Giants didn’t have as much pitching talent in the low minors, Agosta and Stratton would likely have been slotted in the San Jose rotation. However, there really just wasn’t room for everybody. While Stratton hasn’t met expectations yet this year, Agosta has truly shown the performance you’d like to see from a top college pitcher playing in Lo-A. Through 14 starts, he’s 7-3 with a 2.18 ERA. He’s struck out 92 hitters in only 74 IP, though he’s walked 32. Aside from the walks, those are dominant numbers. He’d been cruising until recently, when he started going through some concerning injury issues. He looked out of whack in a start on June 22, and was pulled after one inning with what coaches were calling dead arm… That’s not good. After taking a couple weeks off, he returned to the mound for 4.2, but left with a blister issue. He’s now on the DL.
Agosta’s injury situation is definitely worth keeping an eye on, but if he can manage to get back on track before the season is over, he should be ready for San Jose very soon. The Giants are hoping he can be a middle of the rotation starter in a few years.
#6. Andrew Susac – C, 23 yo, AA: Susac is a NorCal kid who graduated from Jesuit High before playing two years at Oregon State. The Giants took him with a second round pick in 2011, and after trading away fellow catching prospect Tommy Joseph in the Pence deal last year, Susac is now the top option for replacing Posey behind the dish if/when the Giants change Buster’s position some day.
Susac began his professional career at Hi-A last season, where he certainly had an up-and-down performance while learning the craft of pro catcher (which is not an easy one). He hit .244 with 9 hr in 102 games – certainly not incredible numbers for a highly-touted prospect. But the Giants showed faith in the kid by promoting him to AA this year, and he’s proven them right so far. Through 70 games, he’s hit .265 with 11 hr, 16 2b and a .373 OBP, and was named to the Eastern League’s mid-season All-Star team. His OPS has improved from .731 in San Jose to .862 this year in Richmond – which is opposite of what happens to most hitters in the Giants’ organization. He’d been on the DL since July 1 with a finger injury, but went 1-4 with a 2b and an rbi tonight.
Susac’s performance at the plate this year is great news for the Giants’ front office, as it was thought that he may repeat Hi-A before the season. Obviously he’s not Buster, but he still profiles as an everyday catcher with a strong arm behind the dish and the ability to hit for above average power (there aren’t a lot of those to go around the majors these days). He has shown that he can take a walk, and if he can stay healthy for the rest of the year, he could land in Fresno by Opening Day next season.
#7. Gary Brown – CF, 24 yo, AAA: Brown, like Joe Panik, is a former first round pick who’s seen his stock drop recently. Brown was the Giants’ top prospect as recently as last year, but that distinction is now reserved for pitcher Kyle Crick. As far as position players go, Brown is still rated very high, but I think there are a couple of guys who have moved ahead of him. Drafted in 2010 out of Cal State-Fullerton, his calling has always been speed, contact and defense (the speed being his elite-level tool.) The Giants drafted him with the intention that he’d be their CF and leadoff hitter for many years, as his quirky bat flashed .300 potential with gap power. He did nothing to dispel those beliefs during his first full season of pro ball, hitting .336 with 14 HR, 13 3B, 34 2B and 53 SB for San Jose in 2011. That performance earned him a #38 ranking on the Baseball America Top 100 prior to the 2012 season. Visions of Brown winning the starting CF gig in San Francisco by 2013 filled the heads of many Giants’ fans.
Those lofty visions have faded a bit since then, as Brown’s numbers took a hit in Richmond last season, and his performance through the first half in Fresno has been disappointing so far. He’s seen his OPS dip from .925 (’11) to .731 (’12) to .724 (’13) over a three-year span. He also saw his SB dip to 33 last season and only 12 through 92 games at AAA this year. For a guy with elite speed, 12-21 in SB attempts is a bit concerning. While Brown has not hit for average this season, he does have 11 home runs, including 8 in the month of June alone. He’s already broken his career high for strikeouts in roughly half a season, however, so maybe he’s changed his approach at the plate. Whatever the case, the Giants have said that he’ll need to prove he can hit righties if he wants to play in the big leagues. His defense and arm are still very good, but it’s the bat that might end up keeping him from being a MLB starter. Brown is an old-school type of guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I think he will eventually find a way to prove those who jumped off his bandwagon wrong.
#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.
#10. Heath Hembree – RHP, 24 yo, AAA: Hembree is the crown jewel of power bullpen arms in the system. The Giants drafted him in the 5th round in 2010 out of the College of Charleston, and he burst onto the scene in San Jose in 2011. In 26 games with the little Giants that spring, he (and his 99 mph fastball) was a strikeout machine. He also logged 21 saves and a 0.73 ERA. Ultimately, he saved 38 games between Hi-A and AA in 2011. Those kinds of numbers will get you on the fast track, and they did for Hembree. For the past two years, he’s been called the Giants’ closer of the future. However, he’s seen up and down results for the past season and a half in Fresno, where he’s struggled with his control at times. For what it’s worth, his strikeout and walk rates are much improved this year from last, but it’s the 4.53 ERA and the apparent lack of a good secondary pitch that’s prevented Hembree from helping a struggling bullpen in San Francisco this season. The stout righty still has 18 saves on the season, and 8 of his 19 ER came in back-to-back outings in June. Take those two appearances out, and he’s got a very respectable 2.73 ERA. I’m not sure when he’ll get the call to the show, but I’d have to think it’s coming soon.
#11. Adalberto Mejia – LHP, 20 yo, Hi-A: Mejia is a young, 6’3” lefty from the Dominican Republic who has a good body and tons of potential. After signing with the Giants in 2011, he tore it up in the DSL with 71k/8bb and a 1.42 ERA in 76 IP. Last season, as a 19 year-old in Augusta, Mejia split time as a starter and a reliever. He began the year slow and lost his rotation spot, but he reclaimed that spot in the second half and turned his game up to a new level. He finished the year 10-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 106 IP. This season, Mejia joined Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn as 20 year-olds pitching in a stacked San Jose rotation. So far, injuries have limited Mejia to only 9 starts, but he’s logged a respectable 3.94 ERA. For someone so young, Mejia has shown great control during his time in the organization (he’s got a career 1.7 bb/9 in 228 IP). His fastball supposedly sits around 90, but he’s got an arsenal of secondary pitches that he can mix for strikes. I also found it impressive that he’s only allowed 8 HR during his pro career. If he can stay healthy, he could be in AA by next season.