Game Review: San Jose Giants At Modesto Nuts: 4/5/12

Yesterday I went down to Modesto to see the San Jose Giants season opener. The baby Giants roster features their 2011 1st and 2nd round draft picks (Joe Panik and Andrew Susac), 2010 2nd round pick Jarrett Parker as well as 2011 SAL all-stars Shawn Sanford and Adam Duvall. On the other side, Modesto started 2009 1st round pick Tyler Matzek who was one of the biggest enigmas in the minors last year, as well as 2010 1st round draft pick Kyle Parker and 2011 SAL All-star Corey Dickerson.

The most impressive prospect was probably Matzek, who struck out 7 in 4.2 innings and was pulled after 85 pitches. He pitched well, striking out the side twice and had his pitch count elevated by a Cristhian Adames throwing error in the first.

On the Giants side, Joe Panik looked good. He made two very nice defensive plays — one leaping to catch a ball, and one ranging to his right, spinning, and making an off balance throw. Offensively, he did a good job of grinding out at bats, which led to him drawing two walks including one that saw him battle back from a 1-2 hole by fouling off tough pitches. He also hit the ball that Adames made the error on, which was likely affected by his speed up the line.

On the other hand, Susac and Duvall had rough introductions to the Cal League. They both had the hat trick at the plate, and had issues defensively. Susac got charged with an error after dropping a pop-up. Duvall, meanwhile, had his range tested in the 9th and did not look great. It is still early and both can and likely will improve, especially Susac as he has a good defensive reputation.

Jarrett Parker had an interesting game. He threw out Kyle Parker trying to stretch a single into a double, and hit the first Giants HR, but also struck out, which was his major problem last season. One thing I did find interesting is that he played RF with Ryan Lollis playing CF. Parker was regarded as a good defensive CF coming out college, but played RF last year in deference to Gary Brown. I thought with Brown moving up they might try Parker back up the middle, but apparently he’s mainly a corner OF now.

Speaking of players who have a problem with strikeouts, Ricky Oropesa had a solid game. He singled to CF off Matzek in the first, and showed a solid ability to work the count, but also ended up with 2 K’s. He has upside as a three-true-outcomes type player, but his biggest key will be translating his strong raw power into game power, as well as not learning bad habits in the hitter-friendly Cal league.

Lastly, Shawn Sanford had a very solid start. He had some jitters initially walking the first batter of the game, but he calmed down and did not walk anyone else. While he wasn’t overpowering, he did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground (9/4 GO/AO) and he really seemed to settle into a groove into the middle innings.

All in all it was an interesting game, but you could definitely tell it was the first game of the year. The San Jose Giants may not have the star power that AA Richmond has, but they should be an interesting team to follow throughout the year.

Giants’ Top Twenty Prospects: Part I…20-11

After a lot of work and deliberation, here are my Giants prospect rankings for 2012. These are based on a number of factors (scouting reports, tools, age relative to league, polish, upside, positional value, etc.), with performance and potential weighted similarly. I decided to arbitrarily go with a top-20, and I’ll break it up into two parts. Chances are I’ll post some honorable mentions as well. Anyway, here goes…

20. Clayton Blackburn, age 18, RHP

Blackburn was a steal as the Giants’ 16th-round pick this year, and he dominated the Arizona League in a limited sample (10.00 K/BB, 0.570 WHIP, 1.08 ERA in 33 innings). Baseball America had him as the best late round pick at or below slot in the entire draft.

19. Chris Dominguez, age 24, 3B

I have a hard time even ranking him this high…the 9/78 BB/K in Double-A Richmond is quite rough, but he’s a 3B with a lot of power.

18. Charlie Culberson, age 22, 2B

Another guy with disappointing numbers in Richmond (22/129 BB/K), but age works in his favor.

17. Jake Dunning, age 23, RHP

Another sleeper, Dunning was drafted as a shortstop and has only been pitching for two years. He thrived after converting to a relief role earlier in the year (43/10 K/BB in 42 IP).

16. Brett Bochy, age 24, RHP

A bit of an aggressive ranking, particularly for a reliever of his age and level, but he’s a late-round guy (2010, 20th round) who had tons of success out of the ‘pen in Augusta. 1.90 FIP, 0.769 WHIP, 1.38 ERA

15. Joshua Osich, age 23, LHP

A first-round talent that dropped all the way to round six this year due to injury concerns. If he stays healthy, he’ll move up fast through these rankings.

14. Chuckie Jones, age 19, OF

I’ve always liked him as a sleeper. Didn’t impress in 41 games at Salem-Keizer this year (.636 OPS), but he’s just 19 years old.

13. Adam Duvall, age 23, 3B

Raked in Augusta to the tune of .285/.385/.527

12. Mike Kickham, age 22, LHP

One of the Giants’ better starting pitching prospects, Kickham was solid in his first full season of professional ball (3.81 FIP in 111.2 innings in Augusta).

11. Jarrett Parker, age 22, OF

Toolsy guy who can draw walks (.360 OBP). He strikes out too much, though.

End-of-season prospect roundup

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Giants’ farm system, so I figured I’d do an end-of-season roundup. These aren’t rankings per se, but rather, a rundown of a few of the Giants’ top prospects, with notes on other guys to watch for.

Back in late July, I posted a midseason top 25 list; since then, the system’s undergone quite a few changes. Zack Wheeler and Thomas Neal departed in trades soon after, the signing deadline for 2011 MLB draft picks has passed, and — of course — minor-league seasons (including the postseason) have been completed.

Pitching

Eric Surkamp: I had him at #4 on the midseason list, and he’s since made his major-league debut (six starts in total). He’s been quite underwhelming, to say the least. Though his performance is certainly a very small sample we’re talking about — roughly 27 innings in total, he has failed to a) induce whiffs, and b) throw with the command he consistently displayed at various levels in the minors. His future remains to be seen, although he’s most likely not going to begin 2012 in the Giants’ rotation:

Sabean all but said Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract. Eric Surkamp clearly isn’t ready and Barry Zito has had his “trials and tribulations.” Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

I have not been the least impressed with what he’s done in the majors thus far, but I’m still holding out hope that he can stick at the back-end of the rotation as a useful starter.

Heath Hembree: While the Giants’ organizational depth is fairly thin in terms of starting pitching, they have a few intriguing relief arms. Hembree is the cream of the crop. He spent half of his first full season in the minors down in San Jose, where he posted a 0.73 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched, and struck out nearly half the hitters he faced (43.6% K/PA). After receiving the call-up to Double-A Richmond, he continued to dominate: 2.83 ERA/2.86 FIP spanning 28 appearances. The average pitcher in the Eastern League this year was 24 and a half years old, so Hembree’s fairly advanced for his age (22). As of now, he’s looking like the future closer for the San Francisco Giants.

Kyle Crick: The Giants’ 2011 supplemental-round pick — a right-hander out of high school, he’s probably got the highest ceiling of the Giants’ starting pitching prospects (now that Wheeler is out of the picture). Keith Law actually liked Crick better than the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik. He made seven appearances this year with the AZL Giants, but hasn’t done anything to really affect his prospect status.

Others: There are quite a few other interesting arms in the Giants’ system…Ryan Verdugo made the switch to starter this year, and while he had a solid season, nothing about his performance really stood out — especially considering that he was in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League (pitching in pitcher-friendly Richmond). Mike Kickham and Seth Rosin, a pair of Augusta arms, each did well this year (Kickham starting, and Rosin pitching out of the bullpen for the majority of the season). Lastly, Adalberto Mejia had a hell of a season in the Dominican Summer League, and the Giants selected some quality pitching in this year’s draft — Joshua Osich, Chris Marlowe, and Bryce Bandilla, in addition to the aforementioned Crick.

Hitting

Gary Brown: He’s the best prospect the Giants have, and after an excellent season in San Jose, he’s one of the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. One of the major concerns about Brown entering this season was walks: he didn’t draw very many walks in college, which is (for obvious reasons) alarming for a prospect whose game is speed. No longer much of an issue though: he posted a 7.2% walk rate this season, which is perfectly acceptable for a hitter with above-average contact skills. And considering that he has a penchant for getting hit by pitches (which, I’d assume is a somewhat repeatable skill), all the better.

There was a story on Brown in the Mercury News the other day, and one quote stood out to me:

“People keep saying I’m a singles hitter,” said Brown, who is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. “Maybe they think that because I’m a leadoff man, but that’s not me. I’ve been a gap hitter my whole life. So that gets me a little riled up.”

He’s got a point, really. His numbers: 33 doubles, 13 triples, 14 home runs (.181 ISO). Juan Pierre comps (I’ve heard him compared to Pierre on several occasions) don’t do him justice — his power’s a lot better.

Joe Panik: There were a lot of people that weren’t happy with the Panik pick — having hoped that the Giants would go for a player with a higher ceiling. I was pretty content with the pick though, and I feel somewhat validated by Panik’s performance in Salem-Keizer. .341/.401/.467 in 304 plate appearances with 13 SB/5 CS, and a BB/K ratio of 28/25. Even if he doesn’t stick at short, he projects as an above-average defender at second-base. I expect that he’ll continue to move up through the system quickly.

Tommy Joseph: The biggest snub on my midseason rankings, Joseph was all the way down at #16. The reasoning behind this was: 1) defensive limitations at catcher, which is of paramount importance. 2) poor plate discipline.

Joseph got off to a cold start this year, but really started to pick things up as the season progressed. Here’s his wOBA by month (note: September includes only ~20 plate appearances) –

Tommy Joseph wOBA by month

Joseph finished the year with a line of .270/.317/.471, nearly a +.100 improvement in OPS from 2010. In mid-August, he was ranked the best defensive catcher in the Cal League, and Joe Ritzo, San Jose Giants director of broadcasting, raved about Joseph’s progress:

I’ve noticed a tremendous improvement with Tommy Joseph behind the plate this year, just going from April to August he really has become one of the better defensive catchers in the league. His receiving skills I think have improved the most, and his ability to block pitches in the dirt. He definitely has made tremendous improvement in that regard. I asked Andy Skeels recently which player has improved the most and Tommy Joseph was at the top of that list for what he’s done defensively and offensively.

Joseph’s still only 20 years old, and a catcher that can excel at both defense and offense is inherently valuable. He’s rocketed this year to become — in my mind — one of the Giants’ top five prospects, and maybe even one of the top 100 prospects in baseball (he was listed on THT’s top 100).

Others: Ehire Adrianza hit well in San Jose this time around (.845 OPS in 56 games), which is an encouraging sign. Not a big fan of Francisco Peguero, who’s widely considered to be one of the Giants’ top prospects, and here’s why: .309/.318/.446 at Double-A Richmond. He only drew five walks in 71 games, and posted a miserable BB/K of 5/45. Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac round out the Giants’ organizational depth at catcher. Lastly, there are others to look out for: Jarrett Parker, Chris Dominguez, Charlie Culberson, and Ricky Oropeza to name a few. As a whole, I think the Giants’ organizational depth in terms of hitting — particularly at the catching position — is markedly better than the pitching.