What’s New in the AFL?

And you thought baseball season was over… For some reason, I actually find it easier to post during the offseason. Maybe it’s because things aren’t as fast paced as they are during the spring and summer.

Anyway, MLB.com’s Jim Callis released a nice article on Clayton Blackburn today, so I figured this would be an appropriate time to make a quick check-in on Giants prospects in the AFL. Fortunately, Callis has done most of the leg-work here. His piece has quotes from Blackburn and a scouting blurb on each of the guys the Giants have out in Arizona right now. There’s even a video with Callis and Mayo chatting about Blackburn and Steven Okert. Pretty nice work from the MLB Pipeline guys here.

Overall, it’s been pretty quiet on the Giants prospect front this fall (most of the big names were helping bring home another ring for the big club). There really isn’t much to speak about at all on the offensive side, which is a bit of a bummer since I had high hopes for Daniel Carbonell. The trio of Carbonell, Blake Miller and Kelby Tomlinson has been pretty quiet in the desert so far.

Most of the noise has been made on the pitching side, as Okert has been dominant out of the pen for Scottsdale. Okert came on huge this year after a so-so campaign in Augusta. According to Callis, he profiles more as a lefty specialist in the majors, but I’d think another big year in 2015 could change some minds. Either way, guys like that don’t get a ton of hype… but the numbers have been impressive for the former 4th rounder this fall.

Blackburn, who should be a member of the inaugural Giants-affililated Sacramento Rivercats squad next April, has had a quiet fall himself. He’s been working out of the bullpen, taking things slow. But Callis reports that he’s trying to refine his arsenal with a slider and splitter (sounds like more of a split-change), which he hopes to partner up with his big hook. That is exciting news to me. Like most Giants prospects, Clayton will never get the big press. But he might just be one of the most polished young righties in all the minors right now, and if he can add a few more tools to his belt, he may well be ready to contribute in SF some time next year.

Folks jumped off the Blackburn bandwagon after two rough months in San Jose last season. Those folks missed out on the great turnaround he had in the second half of that season. This kid has taken a back seat to Kyle Crick in the organization, but all he has done is pitch beyond his years since the day he turned pro.

Here’s the link to the Callis article. I definitely recommend you give it a quick read. I’m attempting to post the video on this page, but this site has been giving me all kinds of problems in regards to video links lately. If it doesn’t work, there are two nice Giants-related AFL videos embedded in the MLB.com article.

Hope you’re all enjoying your start to the offseason. With all the postseason hoopla this month, Giants minor league content has been almost nonexistent. But I promise I’m still on the lookout for any updates, and I will certainly keep you all in the loop when I find them. Thanks for reading.

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Updates on the Farm

It’s been a while since we took an extended look at the Giants farm system… turns out we didn’t miss much. Seriously, though, it’s a dang good thing the MLB team has been so entertaining this season, because there really just haven’t been many standout performances on the prospect front to this point. As a blogger who threw out some major criticism of the national pundits for calling the Giants system a middle-to-back-end group, I’ve been very disappointed in how the first couple months has gone for the organization. Coming into the year, there were a number of players I was expecting great things from, and so far that just hasn’t happened.

Chris Stratton, Martin Agosta, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo, Kendry Flores… where are you?

That being said, there are certainly some standout performances from the early months of the season that are definitely worth mentioning, so I thought we’d take a little time to recognize these guys for their strong play. So far, I would say the two most intriguing storylines from the farm system have come from middle infielders and bullpen arms. Let’s take a look at some of these guys who’ve stood out.

Middle Infielders

Joe Panik, AAA: Panik took some heat for his performance in Richmond last season, but I think it’s safe to say he’s back to his usual ways this year in Fresno. At the moment, he’s sporting a .321/.389/.424 line, with 3 long balls, and a stellar 23 BB/26 K ratio. While I think it’d be nice to see him steal a few bases like he did his first couple seasons with the organization, I think the Giants have to be quite happy with the former 1st rounder’s year to this point. Panik can handle the bat, and I think he’s still got an outside chance at winning the starting 2B job next spring. He’s hitting .385 over his last 10 games.

Matt Duffy, AA: Duffy is a stud, what else really is there to say? I profiled the former Long Beach Dirtbag mid-season last year, as he was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak Augusta lineup. The Giants promoted him to San Jose for the stretch run, and decided to bump him aggressively to Richmond out of spring training this year. For two months, he’s made the front office look like geniuses. .323/.383/.399 to date (.359/.435/.410 last 10), with 10 2B and 12 SB. He’s not going to hit for a lot of power, but Duffy, like Panik, has an advanced approach at the dish. Initially, I wasn’t sure he had the track record to stick at shortstop, but he received pretty glowing reviews out there this spring, and it doesn’t seem he’s done anything to this point to hurt his stock at short.

Blake Miller, Hi-A: Maybe my favorite player in the entire organization, right here. Miller was the starting SS at Sac State from day 1 as a freshman, and he held his own offensively for two seasons. He eventually went back to where he came from (Oregon), and promptly destroyed the GNAC in his final two years for D2 Western Oregon. The Giants took him fairly late in the 2013 draft, to little fanfare. Now, he’s a 6-ft-3 jack of all trades infielder and one of the best hitters for San Jose. .307/.359/.497, 6 HR, 42 RBI. He’s strikeout-prone, 24 years old, and not necessarily the slickest fielding shortstop around, but I think Miller has a chance to really surprise people on his way up the ladder. He’s off to a great start so far.

Bullpen Arms

Dan Runzler, AAA: 6th year in Fresno for lefty Dan. He’s not on the 40-man roster anymore, but the Giants are going to need another lefty relief arm at some point this season. It might be sooner than you think, with David Huff starting to stumble of late. Runzler still walks more hitters than he should (16 in 26 IP), but he’s easily been one of the most reliable bullpen arms for the Grizzlies this season. 26 IP, 1.04 ERA, 1 HR, 16 BB, 32 K. If he can keep up this performance, and maybe limit those walks a bit (pretty please?), Dan might finally find himself in San Francisco again… After such a long and bumpy ride, that would be pretty sweet to see.

Derek Law, AA: Law was the story of spring training, and he’s quietly biding his time as the closer in Richmond. May wasn’t as kind on him as April, but overall he’s still sporting a 2.96 ERA and 12 saves in 24 IP. He’s walked 8 batters and allowed 7 ER in his last 10 appearances, so the league is starting make some adjustments, it would seem. At this point, June could be a big month for young Derek, as we’ll see whether he gets his control back in order. We know he’s got the goods to pitch in the show, but these two months are his only experience in the upper minors. If he can iron things out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Fresno by late summer, with a chance to help the big club if the need arises.

Steven Okert, Hi-A: Okert has arguably been the best pitcher, starter or relief, in the organization this season. The former 4th round southpaw didn’t earn the best reviews last year in Augusta, but you knew he had the ability to do pretty well if he could get his fastball back to where it was in college. Well, it looks like he has, and that deadly fastball/slider combo has been wreaking havoc on the Cal League through two months. On a team with a handful of solid bullpen options, Okert claimed the closer’s job early on, and hasn’t looked back. He’s got 16 saves, and has racked up 47 K (11 BB) in only 29.2 IP. He’s allowed 4 runs all year, good to the tune of a 1.21 ERA. Okert was billed as a guy who could move fast when the Giants drafted him in 2012, and I could see that happen this summer. Richmond’s bullpen hasn’t lived up to its billing yet, and Okert has been nails since day one. Look out for this guy.

Ray Black, Lo-A: Black is finally back! And he just might be the comeback story of the year for the franchise. After going MIA for two full seasons after the Giants drafted him, he finally surfaced (multiple surgeries later) this spring in Arizona, bringing 100 mph gas along with a wipeout slider. He made an appearance for Augusta on Opening Day, but promptly hit the DL with shoulder stiffness the next day. It looks like he’s got that shoulder under control for the moment, and has been impressive in 9 outings since returning to action a month ago. At this point, Black just needs professional experience. If he’s healthy, it’s obvious he has major league quality stuff. He’s definitely a name to watch as the season progresses.

There you go. Seven worthy names from the first two months of minor league ball on the Giants farm. That’s about all the time I have for now, but I did want to toss in a few guys who I didn’t have time for today.

Other 2014 Standouts:

Fresno: Adam Duvall, Andrew Susac, Chris Dominguez

Richmond: Tyler Graham, Angel Villalona, Mario Lisson, Ty Blach

San Jose: Jesus Galindo, Mitch Delfino, Mason McVay

Augusta: Ryder Jones, Tyler Horan, Matt Lujan, Luis Ysla, Christian Jones, Jake Smith

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

Cove Chatter 100: #40

Steven Okert | LHP, 22 yo, 6-3, 210 | 2012 Draft – 4 | (A) 44 G, 60.2 IP, 2.97 ERA, 8.2 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 8.8 K/9

First full season as a pro was solid but unexciting for the former OU Sooner. He got quite a bit of love in Giants top prospect lists last season, but I don’t imagine we’ll see his name much this year. He’s a big-bodied southpaw with a slider that’s kryptonite to lefties (who hit only .189 against him in 2013). The Augusta beat writer David Lee wasn’t as high on him as some of the other bullpen arms on the staff. When I asked him why, he answered that Okert’s previous mid-90’s velocity just wasn’t there. He should be in San Jose next season, and I could see him working his way into at least a lefty specialist role in the bigs someday. He may not get the hype of other relievers in the system anymore, but I certainly wouldn’t forget about him.

They said it: “Saw him in college and loved him, good stuff, nice delivery, gets tons of grounders. Underrated.” ~ John Sickels, Minor League Ball

Okert Interview:

Org Pitching: Keep Your Eye on those Greenjackets!

Augusta

The Best:

Chris Stratton – R (23) 3.16 era, 125.1 ip, 8.7 h/9, 3.2 bb/9, 8.5 k/9 – Former 1st round pick has had a good but not great season in Augusta. Maybe he goes to Richmond next year?

Martin Agosta – R (22) 1.97 era, 86.2 ip, 5.5 h/9, 4.2 bb/9, 10.7 k/9 – 2nd round pick has flashed great stuff in first full season, but blisters and dead arm have limited his second half significantly.

Joan Gregorio – R (21) 4.18 era, 66.2 ip, 8.5 h/9, 2.3 bb/9, 10.8 k/9 – 6-foot-7, 180-lb beanpole was apparently throwing mid-90’s before hitting the DL. He’s got a 6.31 era in 7 second half starts, but he’s loaded with potential.

Kendry Flores – R (21) 2.65 era, 135.2 ip, 7.2 h/9, 1.1 bb/9, 8.9 k/9 –5th year in the organization has been a breakout for the young righty. He’s logged 10+ K’s four times in last 10 starts, topping at 15 in 8 innings his last start.

Steven Okert – L (21) 3.00 era, 60 ip, 8.2 h/9, 3.6 bb/9, 8.7 k/9 – 4th round pick last year, 6-foot-3 lefty is having a solid first full season in the pen. Can dial up the heat.

Stephen Johnson – R (22) 8 sv, 3.83 era, 49.1 ip, 7.1 h/9, 5.3 bb/9, 12.0 k/9 – D2 selection from 2012, throws upper 90’s with the fastball. Has been outstanding in the second half.

Ian Gardeck – R (22) 3.00 era, 54.0 ip, 6.8 h/9, 6.0 bb/9, 11.0 k/9 – Another bullpen flamethrower in his first full season. Big strikeout stuff, needs to control it.

Tyler Mizenko – R (23) 24 sv, 2.86 era, 50.1 ip, 7.7 h/9, 3.8 bb/9, 8.8 k/9 – Former closer from Winthrop is big with low to mid-90’s sink. Started the season red-hot, but has spent some time on the DL recently.

Jacob Dunnington – R (22) 3.60 era, 20.0 ip, 7.6 h/9, 4.5 bb/9, 13.0 k/9 – Former undrafted righty had a mysterious injury to start the season, and must be working his arm back to health in Augusta. Spent time in Richmond last year. Big strikeouts definitely a reason to keep an eye on him.

Mason McVay – L (22) 3.90 era, 64.2 ip, 9.3 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 10.2 k/9 – 6-foot-7 lefty was a 26th round pick last year. Great k/bb ratio, but he’s been hittable in first full season.

The Rest:

Joe Kurrasch – L (22) 3.72 era, 58.0 ip, 9.6 h/9, 2.9 bb/9, 8.7 k/9 – 8th round pick from 2012 has found his niche since promotion from S-K last month. Threw a 2-hitter with 12 K’s in his most recent start.

Jorge Bucardo – R (23) 5 sv, 1.93 era, 42.0 ip, 6.0 h/9, 2.4 bb/9, 7.9 k/9 – Former standout starter missed all of 2011, most of 2012, and a good chunk of 2013 with shoulder injuries. He’s in the pen now, but still could find himself moving up the latter if he can stay healthy.

Joe Biagini – R (23) 5.03 era, 96.2 ip, 9.5 h/9, 3.9 bb/9, 7.4 k/9 – Big, strong righty has had an up and down season in Augusta’s rotation. He hasn’t seen great results since being drafted in 2011, but he’s certainly not a guy to give up on.

Matthew Lujan – L (25) 3.24 era, 72.1 ip, 8.7 h/9, 3.2 bb/9, 7.5 k/9 – Tore his UCL at the end of his senior season at USF, and went undrafted that summer (2011). Giants took a flier on him, and he’s put up nice numbers in parts of 2 seasons. Crafty lefty with very good secondary pitches. Should be interesting to see where he ends up next year.

Overview: This group is highly underrated in my opinion, and has really grown on me this year. Augusta is quietly having a great season in the SALLY, and the pitching staff has been the catalyst. Yes, guys like Crick, Blackburn, and Mejia in San Jose and Escobar in Richmond are younger and get more press, but the Giants have some serious talent at the Low-A level as well.

Naturally, the majority of these guys are products of the 2012 draft, highlighted by top picks Stratton (#1) and Agosta (#2). Among this list, Okert (4), Johnson (6), Kurrasch (8), Gardeck (16), and McVay (26) were all members of the Giants’ 2012 class, while Biagini (26) and Mizenko (28) were 2011 selections. If picking up big-armed bullpen guys like Gardeck, McVay and Mizenko below the 15th round isn’t solid drafting, I don’t know what is.

Among the Giants’ affiliates, San Jose’s rotation has earned the most love this year. And for good reason. But Augusta’s group of Stratton, Agosta, Gregorio, and Flores are nothing to sneeze at. Stratton hasn’t been as dominant as hoped this season, but he definitely hasn’t had a bad year by any means. He’s stayed healthy, and that can’t be overlooked. He still has every bit of upside as guys like Blackburn and Mejia, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he skipped over San Jose next season. He’s 23 and pitched in a major D1 college… it’s time to get him moving!

Agosta has been Augusta’s ace this season, but has battled injuries. Side-by-side, his numbers have been much better than Stratton’s, but Agosta just hasn’t consistently stayed healthy the past couple months. He’ll be an interesting player to watch next year in San Jose. Gregorio and Flores are international prospects who have opened a lot of eyes this year. Gregorio is very tall and can pump the fastball, but he’s been dealing with blister issues. Maybe that’s a cause for his shaky second half? Flores has been in the system a long time, but hasn’t really excelled until this year. Now, he’s flashing big time strikeout stuff. 15 K’s in his last start! And he’s still only 21.

The Greenjackets’ bullpen should be very exciting to watch next year in San Jose. Lots of college power arms from the recent drafts. Okert and McVay from the left side, Johnson, Gardeck and Mizenko from the right. Okert and Johnson probably have the best stuff, but Gardeck isn’t far behind. McVay is towering at 6-7, while Mizenko has used his sinker-slider combo to earn 24 saves this year. None of these 5 are putting up numbers like Heath Hembree did a few years ago or Cody Hall has this season, but they all have shown the ability to be dominant in stretches. I’ll say this: this bullpen has to be one of the best in all of Low-A.

Dunnington and Bucardo are the experienced relief guys who are probably only in Augusta because of recent injuries. Kurrasch, the lefty from Penn State has put together a nice string of starts since coming up from Salem-Keizer, and should definitely be on the radar after a 12-k performance the other day. Lujan and Biagini are a little older than the rest. It sounds like Biagini is a bulldog with good velocity, but he’s been way too hittable at the low levels. Lujan’s story is a new one to me, but he’s a guy I’ll be keeping an eye on now. His Perfect Game profile coming out of high school raved about his secondary stuff, and it sounds like he may have earned a nice draft selection his senior year if not for the TJ surgery. Could be an interesting guy to watch.

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Agosta Returns for Red-Hot ‘Jackets

Giants’ top pitching prospect Martin Agosta returned to the mound for Low-A Augusta last night, allowing only one baserunner in three innings of work. Word from David Lee in Augusta was Martin had a 50-pitch limit, which is why he was pulled after the 3rd.  The start was Agosta’s first appearance since July 21 and only his 3rd since the end of June. The month of July was certainly a frustrating one for the righty from Saint Mary’s, as he suffered from both a “dead arm” and a nagging blister. By all accounts, Agosta has been the Greenjackets’ ace this year, which is saying something when you look at the talent in that starting rotation. He’s outperformed guys like Joan Gregorio, Kendry Flores and Chris Stratton, and it really hasn’t been close.

Agosta’s 3 IP, 0 ER, 4 K outing last night lowered his ERA to a ridiculous 1.96 for the season. He’s got 101 K in 85 IP, and if he can manage to get another start in, I really see no reason for him to be in Low-A anymore. I thought both he and Stratton should have been moved to San Jose long ago, but Agosta was hurt and Stratton was a bit inconsistent for a while. Now they both look to be cruising along.

When I checked the Giants’ affiliate rundown on MiLB.com this morning, something really popped out at me. Augusta is 68-51. When did that happen?! If you hadn’t noticed (and I’ll admit I hadn’t), the Jackets are rolling along in the SALLY these days. Even more impressive, they’ve been winning without Agosta or Gregorio. Going back to the last week of July, Augusta has won 15 of its last 18 games. Literally one of the hottest teams in baseball.

So what’s going on with these guys? First, have you seen that pitching staff? We’ve talked about the rotation, but you’ll find just as many big time arms in the bullpen as well. You’ve got the flame-throwing righties, Stephen Johnson and Ian Gardeck. Between the two of them, you’ve got 16 consecutive scoreless IP, with lots of K’s to go around. Then there’s the high-upside lefties, Steven Okert and Mason McVay. Okert is 6’3” with a big heater, while McVay towers at 6’7”. Both have plenty of talent, and Okert has a miniscule 1.19 ERA over his last 10 games. Throw in closer Tyler Mizenko, the over-achieving closer from Winthrop, and you’ve got one hell of a relief corps for hitters in Low-A to deal with. Mizenko has actually been pretty shaky lately, but he still has pretty good numbers overall.

If San Jose fans thought they saw some great pitching this year, they’re right. But I think they’ve got a chance to see another solid crop of arms come through the Cal League next season as well. Make no mistake, the pitching staff is the strength of this team. But I’ll say this about the offense: there are some guys who can’t be written off just yet. I check the Giants’ MiLB box scores on a daily basis, and there are certainly guys at each level that I look for every day. Up until recently, there wasn’t much to look at on the hitting end for Augusta, besides some Dirt Bag named Duffy, who’s now tearing up the Cal League. Lately, though, a few guys have really started to come out of their shell at the plate.

Last 10 games:

OF Charles “Chuckie” Jones: .314/.385/.571, 3 2b, 2 hr, 7 rbi.

1B Joey Rapp: .389/.450/.556, 3 2b, 1 hr, 8 rbi.

SS Alberto Robles: .375/.412/.469, 1 hr, 3 rbi, 5 sb.

As the Jackets look to keep rolling down south, a final note. For a system that most rank near the bottom of the barrel in baseball, the Giants’ MiLB squads below AAA all have winning records. The AZL team is a blistering 34-10. I’m not sure where the system ranks with the rest of MLB, overall record-wise, but I’ll bet there aren’t many systems that have a higher win percentage. Some exciting times are coming folks – we can hope, at least.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects (26-30)

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#26. Cody Hall – RHP, 25 yo, AA: Bullpen arm, pumps a mid-90’s fastball. Having a monster year in SJ; Allowed only 5 ER with 42k/7bb in 30 innings this year. Stellar closer with 21 saves for Low-A Augusta in 2012.

#27. Chris Heston – RHP, 25 yo, AAA: Command pitcher drafted in the 12th round (2009). He’s stopped at nearly every level in the system, his best year by far coming a season ago in AA. A 5.30 EA through 15 starts in Fresno has prevented him from getting the call.  The Giants could sure use him if he turns things around in the second half.

#28. Jarrett Parker – OF, 24 yo, AA: Former 2nd round pick from UVA, can hit for power, knows how to draw a walk, and can swipe a bag. Strikes out a ton, but I’m keeping a close eye on him after hitting 8 HR this May.

#29. Brian Ragira – 1B, 22 yo, SS-A: 4th round pick in 2013, he was the third player drafted out of Stanford. Has a chance to hit for contact and field his position well. Could turn out to be a draft steal if he can hit for power.

#30. Steven Okert – LHP, 21 yo, Lo-A: Big, hard-throwing lefty reliever. He was the Giants 4th round pick in 2012. 3.19 ERA (but 14 walks) in 31 innings pitched this season.