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!

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San Jose Season Recap: The Bats

We’ve already covered San Jose’s pitching staff here (a couple times, actually), so we need to wrap things up with the position-player talent for the High-A Giants, who advanced to the Cal League Championship series, where they were swept by Inland Empire. San Jose’s bats didn’t make a whole lot of noise in the finals – 2 runs in 3 games to be exact. This was a little surprising, as a handful of guys had hit very well in the league semi’s. It should be noted, however, that three of San Jose’s regular postseason lineup spots were filled by guys who’d spent all or most of the regular season down in Augusta. CF Jesus Galindo and 3B/DH Mitch Delfino were called up at the start of the postseason, while Trevor Brown, a 2B and C, was promoted to San Jose very late in the season. While those three combined had almost no experience at the advanced-A ball level, I’m sure the Giants were still expecting to compete a little better in the series finals.

Let’s not kid ourselves here; San Jose was a team led by its pitching staff most of the year. You can’t begin to talk about the Little Giants without mentioning names like Crick, Blackburn and Mejia – who we’ve already discussed at length. But you also can’t talk about this team without getting into Mac Williamson, who was the biggest offensive mover in the system this year, by far. Mac was the Giants’ 3rd round pick out of Wake Forest last summer, and one of the only hitters from the 2012 class to bypass Augusta completely. How ironic is it that Williamson and Ty Blach – the only starting pitcher from the 2012 draft to debut in San Jose this year – ended up earning team MVP awards?

After Mac’s impressive performance last summer with Salem-Keizer (33 g, .321, 9 hr) there were definitely some high expectations for the 22 year-old RF entering the season. But you never can be quite certain what you’re going to get from a hitter who is given an aggressive assignment in his first full season. There were some growing pains early on, including a .244 average in April and a .228 mark in May, with 6 big flies in his first 51 games. The months that followed, however, would elevate him to the top of many Giants’ prospects lists. It went something like this…

June: 27 g, .320, 6 hr, 1.009 ops.

July: 29 g, .321, 7 hr, .946.

August: 27 g, .356, 6 hr, 1.068.

Yep, that’ll do it. In the month of August alone Mac slugged .625. He finished the regular season with a line of .292/.375/.504, 25 hr, 89 rbi and 10 sb. The obvious concern is his contact rate, and the 132 k’s in 136 games. But he also walked 51 times, including 26 after July 1. Next season in Richmond will be his big challenge. If he makes it out alive, the Giants could have their LF of the future (assuming Hunter Pence is in right for the next handful of years) arriving rather quickly. There’s no guarantee he’ll cruise through AA, and it’s probably a better bet that he’ll take his lumps. Personally, I think Williamson is the type of talent that can make adjustments needed to beat the big bad Eastern League (we already saw him adjust midseason this year). He’s the top- rated position-player in the organization in my eyes, and I think he’ll be in Fresno by 2015.

The list of high-end hitting talent on the San Jose roster pretty much begins and ends with Mac. Angel Villalona, the 23 year-old former top Dominican 1B, spent 73 games with the Giants before trading spots with Ricky Oropesa in Richmond. Villalona actually raised his average a tick with the Flying Squirrels, but showed terrible plate discipline while slugging 22 HR between the two levels. Between Mac and Angel V., you’ve got two of the most powerful bats in the entire organization. Williamson is the much more refined hitter (though not a tremendous contact guy himself), but Villalona’s bat should play at the MLB level someday. In what role, we don’t yet know.

Oropesa had a nice first full season in San Jose in 2012, but was swallowed up in Richmond this year, as many before him have been. After hitting .207 with 6 HR in 66 games at AA, Ricky saw much better results in the friendly confines of the Cal League. He finished the year a .249 hitter with 14 HR and 61 RBI in combined efforts. He also hit 4 long balls in a 4 game span during the semifinals against Visalia. Maybe he’ll get a running start at it in Richmond next year?

We obviously can’t mention everyone here, and there really weren’t too many notable hitters on this squad in 2013. But one guy who definitely deserves some attention is Matt Duffy, the shortstop who we profiled earlier this summer after his midseason promotion from Augusta. Although he missed a little time in August with an injury, he was a very consistent top-of-the-order bat all season long, no matter who he was playing for. After logging a .307, 4 HR, 22 SB mark with 78 games for the Greenjackets, Duffy hit .292 and knocked 5 balls out of the yard in 26 games for San Jose. Overall, his 52bb/57k performance for the season looks very Joe Panik-esque. With Panik likely moving up to Fresno next season, don’t be surprised to see Duffy manning the middle-infield in Richmond. He’s definitely a sleeper candidate in this system.

Finally, a couple other under-the-radar guys who had nice seasons:

Devin Harris: Harris is 25, and a former 8th round pick of the Orioles in 2009. He didn’t sign, and the Giants plucked him all the way down in the 48th round of the 2010 draft. I have no idea what caused the 40-round discrepancy. After hitting .215 with Augusta and San Jose in 2012, he followed up with a very nice campaign in 2013 for the Giants, launching 23 HR while driving in 84 runs. Will his power play at higher levels? Doubtful, but Harris was still the only guy not named Williamson with a 20-HR season in San Jose this year.

Myles Schroder: I’ll be honest. I know absolutely nothing about Schroder, other than what Baseball-Reference tells me. He’s a 5-11 righty who the Giants drafted in 2007 (27th round). He hit .296 with 6 HR and 6 3B in 86 games this year (he must have suffered a long-term injury, as he played in only 24 contests for Augusta last year). It looks like he’s played every position in the infield, including catcher, as well as a little LF during his professional career. I also know this: Dr B. of “When the Giants Come to Town” raved about him late in the year, so I might just have to do a little more digging on the guy…

That’s it. San Jose baseball, 2013. Again one of the elite clubs in all of minor league ball. Just fell a tad short of a championship. Will we see a few big leaguers from this group some day? I would answer that with an emphatic YES, but it may be heavier on the pitching side. Thanks for reading.