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Monday, April 28, 2008

April Minor League Report

Since the Giants are in a period of transition, I am going to start paying a little more attention to their minor league system this summer. The Giants Blog will now start giving monthly minor league reports, exploring what's going on in the Giants' system from AAA Fresno and below.

So far, the talk of April as far as positional prospects go has been all about Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval is off to a ridiculous start, hitting .423 with 7 home runs, 24 rbi and 11 doubles while sporting an OPS over 1.3. Sandoval is helping lead the Giants single A affiliate, San Jose, to one of the better records in the California League. The 21-year old catcher looks like he could be the first guy to get the shot when Bengie Molina's contract runs out at the end of the '09 season. Sandoval still has some work to do defensively, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him up with Connecticut before long and then possibly Fresno before the end of the season. I know it's still way early, but any time you have a young, left-handed hitting catcher on pace for 30 plus home runs in a season, that's certainly something to get excited about.

Another youngster helping out the San Jose Giants is 2007 first round pick Tim Alderson. The 19 year-old righty is 3-1 with a 2.67 era in 5 starts. He looks like he could be the first player from the '07 draft class to wear a Giants uniform at this rate. The Giants have him on a fast track so seeing him in early '09 is a possibility. A few other arms thriving in San Jose are 22 year-old Ben Snyder (3-0, 1.23 era, 23:4 K/BB in 29 ip) and 20 year-old lefty Clayton Tanner (2-1, 2.55 era 16:8 in 25 ip).

There really aren't too many other guys sticking out in the Giants system early on in April. In Fresno, Elizier Alfonzo (.316, 3 hr, 13 rbi) and Nate Schierholtz (.315, 2 hr, 13 rbi) have been solid, but not spectacular. Billy Sadler and Jessie Foppert are sporting fairly solid numbers on the mound in relief for the Grizzlies, but both have been too wild to even be considered a potential call-up.

The 2 biggest names in the Giants system have gotten off to slow starts. The 2007 10th overall pick, Madison Bumgarner, turned in his first real dominant performance as a professional on Sunday night. The 18 year-old lefty finally looked comfortable going 6.1 innings while striking out 8 hitters and allowing 1 unearned run on only 2 hits. Bumgarner had struggled in his previous starts so it's good to see him get his first taste of success as a pro. The top dog in the Giants' system, 17 year-old Angel Villalona, hasn't seen the success he's accustomed to quite yet. The Giants' top rated prospect has gotten off to a slow start hitting only .233 with 1 home run in 70 at-bats in low A Augusta. Keep in mind he's still one of the younger players in that league and I fully expect to see him around .300 with 15+ home runs before the end of the year.
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Starting Pitching Shining

The San Francisco Giants' starting pitching is starting to match the D-Backs' 5 as the class of the division and quite possibly the whole National League. Jonathan Sanchez turned in another dominant performance, his second 10-strikeout game in his last 4 starts, and beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-1 on Friday night. In previous seasons, Sanchez has had some trouble keeping a consistent release point and arm angle, but early on this season, it looks like those troubles are behind him. If you take away his horrible season opening start in Milwaukee, he is 2-0 with a 1.50 era and 28 punch-outs in 24 innings. One of the most impressive things about his start on Thursday though was his ability to get deep into the game and he did it by keeping the ball in strike zone. He only walked 1 batter in 8+ innings and if he can keep that ratio up, starts like this will start happening more and more frequently. With the emergence of Sanchez, the Giants now feature a power-armed threesome that can bring no-hit type stuff to the mound on a nightly basis. Tim Lincecum has been throwing like a Cy Young contender in April and it seems like the less support he gets, the better he pitches. Matt Cain has been inconsistent so far in the early going, but his last start (7 ip, 1er, 7 k's) is hopefully a sign of good things to come for Cain. Expect to see these guys still hit some growing pains here and there as they are all still 25 years old or younger, but not many.


Another youngster has come on and impressed in his limited time as well. Emanuel Burris was called up early in the week as Eric Threets was designated for assignment. Burris looks like he has the same type offensive game as Eugenio Velez without as potent of bat, but probably a little faster and a much better defender. Burris was a key component in Wednesday nights win against the Padres as he doubled, had a steal and scored a run. While he may not be quite as polished with the glove as Brian Bocock, he looks to be more major league ready at the plate. Although 8 at bats is hardly a sample, he has shown a good eye at the plate and also the ability to avoid striking out, which is something that has nagged Bocock. When Omar Vizquel returns from his injury, which may not be until mid to late May at this point, I would assume that Burris will stay up and Bocock would get sent down to Fresno.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Giants Notes

Tuesday nights start in Arizona is a huge one for Barry Zito. Currently sitting at 0-4, Zito takes the mound in search of his first win of the season against one of the best pitchers in the league, Brandon Webb. While Zito has been better in his last two starts than he was in his first two, he's still walking way too many batters and getting himself behind in the count early. With Zito topping out at 84 mph on the fastball, he can't afford to get behind hitters and become predictable to a count. The Diamondbacks are always a tough team for him as well because of all the right handed thump that they have. If Zito goes win-less in April, it will start rumblings about sending him to the DL or possibly to the bullpen so tonight would be as good of time as any to get back on track. The rest of the starting rotation continues to throw the ball well enough to stick and Zito right now really is the odd man out. Who knows, maybe a win over the Leagues best team and could be just what's needed to get Zito back on track. I doubt it, but we can hope.

The more Fred Lewis plays, the better he is starting to look. He has been playing so well lately that the Giants have cut Rajai Davis and have committed to Lewis full time in left. His defense, while still a bit shaky, has improved a bunch over the first couple weeks of the season and his base running is making progress as well. He has 2 stolen bases over the last 4 games and is looking a lot better getting jumps off of the pitcher. His hitting hasn't been an issue ever since he put on a Giants uniform last spring. I know 60 at-bats is a small sample, but as I said a few posts back, a 15 hr/20 sb season with a +.300 avg. and a +.850 OPS is not out of the question and that would be golden compared to what the Giants farm system has produced over the last 10 years. The only question regarding Lewis at this point is where to hit him in the order. His ability to work counts and get on base point to keeping him in the lead off spot, but he does have the potential to hit the ball out of the ballpark and drive in runs which is something this team lacks. They may eventually want his bat in the middle of the order if he keeps leading the team in OPS. Any way you look at it, the Giants look like they finally have they one of their own producing regularly in the big leagues and that is refreshing.
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Roster Moves On the Horrizon

The Giants made one of their easier roster decisions on Wednesday by bringing Vinny Chulk off the Disabled list and sending down Keiechi Yabu. Chulk brings a fresh arm to a bullpen that has been used pretty heavily through the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season and showed immediate dividends by throwing 2 scoreless innings of relief in Wednesday's game. They now have two more guys on the DL who are set to return in the next couple of weeks in Omar Vizquel and Noah Lowry. Vizquel's arrival will send Brian Bocock to Fresno, but it's unclear on who's spot Lowry will be taking when he makes his '08 debut, most likely in early May. Jonathan Sanchez and Kevin Corriea are in a battle for that last rotation spot and both have had their ups and downs. Corriea has the better era and has shown more consistency in being able to get deep into ballgames. As a matter of fact, Corriea may be the most economical of all Giants' starting pitchers with his pitch count. If Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum could learn a little from Corriea in that regard, maybe they'd start lasting longer than 5-6 innings a start. Sanchez also has struggled to keep his pitch count down but he has shown an uncanny ability to get the strikeout. Sanchez is currently 6th in the national league in strikeouts and hasn't even made a 4th start yet. That gives you a little hint on just how good this kid can be if he can iron out his mechanics. Both players are making strong cases to be rotation mainstay's and If I were running the team I'd send Barry Zito to the bullpen to iron himself out for a few weeks when Lowry returns.

There has also been a lot written lately about the Giants search for a first basemen. They have apparently contacted the Washington Nationals about Nick Johnson and the Florida Marlins about Mike Jacobs. Both of those guys would cost the Giants at least 2 solid young pitchers, so I don't know how serious they want to get there. Jacobs has had a tremendous April and the Marlins have been a surprise so I don't think Florida is looking to deal him at this point. Dan Johnson was another guy who had been mentioned in recent weeks and he had been on waivers until Friday when he was claimed by Tampa Bay. Sabean said he had no interest in trading for Johnson but it would have made no sense at all not to put a waiver claim in on him. The Giants, once again, are trotting out the least productive corner infield in the National League and when they have a chance to possibly improve that situation without giving up a thing, you'd hope they'd jump on the opportunity.

*New MLB '08 The Show: I just received my copy of MLB '08 The Show and I must say, having played both MLB 2k8 and The Show '08, The Show blows 2K8 out of the Water. The graphics are better and the gameplay is much more realistic. Also, you get to play with your minor league affiliates and watch you players grow, which isn't any option in MLB 2k8. The only small negative that I wish they had is Stadium creation like EA sports has with the Madden Franchise. Other than that, The Show is about as realistic as a baseball game as I've ever played.
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Monday, April 14, 2008

John Bowker Arrives

The Giants haven't had a player have the kind of debut weekend John Bowker had since Will Clark debuted with the Giants in the late 80's. Bowker homered in each of his first two games in the big leagues and after just 6 at-bats with the Giants he is second on the team in home runs (2) and RBI's (7). He worked the count well and even when he didn't hit the ball out of the park, he had good at bats and drove in runs when he had the chance. He's got a quick, compact power swing that reminds me a little bit of Travis Hafner's cut. It's hard to call anyone legit after two games in the bigs, but I think Bowker has certainly caught some eyes. I pointed out Bowker earlier in the spring as someone who could get a quick call up if someone gets hurt and with Dave Roberts likely shelved for the next 3 months, Bowker has himself a roster spot and a chance at legitimate playing time. Surprisingly to some, the Giants took called up Bowker over Nate Schierholtz with the open outfield spot and in his first weekend with the big club, Bowker may very well have passed Nate on the depth chart in the mind of the Giants' management.

Although it's not a terrible problem to have, the surfacing of Bowker further complicates a jammed up outfield. The team now has 2 young outfielders in Bowker and Fred Lewis who are proving they need to be played, but also two veteran guys (Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn) who are getting paid big money and are going to be tough to sit down. Then there is Rajai Davis who still has value to the team as their best defensive outfielder and best base runner. I think Bochy will somehow work a 4 man rotation in the outfield but I could definitely start seeing Randy Winn being weaved out if Bowker continues to show that power this team so desperately needs. There was also some talk this spring of Bowker being used at first base which might not be a bad idea. Rich Aurilia is having a rough start and it's not like he's a defensive strength. Whether it's at first or in the outfield, if he keeps swinging like that, they will find a spot for him.
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Friday, April 11, 2008

Giants Rebound

During the home stand, the Giants have not looked like the same team that started the year 1-5 on the road. Their starting pitching, as well as their bullpen, have been almost untouchable over the last 3 nights and they are finally starting to get some hits with runners in scoring position. Bengie Molina continues to carry the team offensively and is really becoming this teams' heart and soul. I still don't like Molina in the 4th spot in the lineup because he clogs the bases for the middle of the order, but he sure is producing like a cleanup hitter early on in the season. I also have to give a little credit to Bruce Bochy. I haven't said too many positive things about Bochy's managerial decisions since he came aboard last season, but I do like how he's starting mix up his lineup and isn't being tentative about benching the veterans. I like Rich Aurilia and Ray Durham, they seem like nice guys and would probably be fun to go out for a beer with, but these guys are no longer quality major league hitters and they are liabilities on defense. Dan Ortmeier had a huge confidence boaster with his game winning hit on Wednesday night and he should be in their on a daily basis until he proves that Rich Aurilia is clearly a better option at first, which I don't think will happen.

The Giants announced before Thursday nights game that Dave Roberts will most likely be heading under the knife to repair some damage in his left knee. If that is the case, Roberts would not be expected back until mid-season at the earliest which would mean a ton of at-bats for Freddie Lewis. I think this is almost a blessing in disguise for the Giants. You never want to see any player injured or in need of surgery, but with Roberts on the DL, it opens up a whole lot of at-bats for the Lewis and Eugenio Velez. Lewis had a very good game Thursday night with a couple of extra base hits and and two runs scored. I have said it before, if given consistent playing time over a long stretch, I really think Lewis could break out. Out of the youngsters on the roster, Lewis is the most polished with the bat and has the ability to be a 5-tool type player. I don't think he will ever be a big power guy, or even steal a ton of bases, but 15 home runs and 20+ steals with a respectable on base percentage and batting average would be awesome and I think he's capable of that right now. The question for Lewis since he arrived in the major leagues has been about his defense, but if the last couple of nights have been any indication, he looks like he may be turning the corner.
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Monday, April 07, 2008

Giants Struggle Through Home Opener

I know it's still way early on in the season and even though the Giants weren't expected to be very good this year, the way they have opened the season has been a little worse than I was expecting. They suffered their 4th lose in as many days in their home opener Monday. The starting pitching, outside of Tim Lincecum's warrior like performance at Dodger Stadium, has been below average, and that was supposed to be the clear cut strength of the team. Matt Cain got lit up on Monday, one day after Barry Zito lost for the second straight start in Milwaukee. Cain struggled to find his command all day and got himself in trouble by getting behind early in the count against practically every batter he faced. Cain has these kinds of days once in a while and he was probably a little amped up about the opener. Zito had the same problem in LA and to a lesser extent Milwaukee. Amazingly, the bullpen has been more of a strength than the starting pitching this season. Everyone in the pen seems to be throwing well besides Brad Hennessey, who has been awful in his 3 appearances this year, and closer Brian Wilson, who just hasn't really had an opportunity to get consistent work yet.

The offense continues to be in shambles too. They only managed a few hits off Greg Maddux as he had the young, aggressive Giants bats off balance all day in Monday's game. Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts are quickly working themselves out of playing time. Roberts is hitting .118 and Aurilia isn't sitting much higher at .190. Jose Castillo has had a few good at bats, but for the most part, he is looking like Pedro Feliz without the power and solid glove. I wouldn't mind seeing the Giants consider giving Justin Leone a shot at third. The lineup needs some pop and Leone has more power than Castillo and probably a little better glove. Although the lineup has been lackluster to say the least, their are a few guys who have been fun to watch at the plate. Aaron Rowand is hitting the ball well and is showing his grittiness by playing through a couple bruised ribs. Eugenio Velez and Fred Lewis are also making cases to be regulars. Velez had another triple in Monday's game and Lewis had a hit and reached base 2 times. These guys need to be playing 4-5 times a week at the very least. The Giants are certainly looking like a 100+ loss team at this point in this very tough division and there is no reason why those two shouldn't get 400+ at bats.
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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pitching Shines in Series Finale

Although the Giants still have yet to get their offense going after the first series of the season, their pitching is looking as good as advertised. Tim Lincecum didn't start the game Wednesday night as the Giants were expecting the game to be called in the middle innings, but he got the win in relief. He turned in a very gutsy performance and still dealt with a rain delay right in the middle of his outing. Lincecum also went 1-1 with the bat and scored what turned out being the winning run on a Randy Winn sac fly in the 6th. It wasn't just Lincecum who was impressed on the mound Wednesday night either. Merkin Valdez got the emergency start and kicked off the game in fashion by striking out the side with impressive 95 mph heaters and a wicked split. He ended up going 2 scoreless, hitless innings to start and Jack Taschner came in and threw well in his relief. It was also good to see Brian Wilson notch his first save of the year in harsh conditions and he did it with a very nice defensive play.

While the young Giants pitching lived up to their standards vs. the Dodgers, the offense lived down to theirs. As expected, the bats looked tired for the first 3 in LA, but at least it appears Bochy is finally starting to make some changes. I was impressed with Brian Bocock, although his bat isn't quite major league ready, his glove sure is. Eugenio Velez is also picking up right where he left off this spring. Velez got the start at second base and was on 2 times with a stolen base at the leadoff spot. Bochy needs to find a way to get Velez in the lineup everyday. Whether it's at 2nd base, left field, or even 3rd base, the Giants need his bat and legs at the top of the order.
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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Giants Go Quietly In Opener

Barry Zito's second opening day start as a Giant looked a lot like his first on. Zito struggled through 5 innings giving up 4 runs and 8 hits as the Giants were shut out for the second consecutive opener. Zito was around 83 mph with his fastball and although his curve is a big one, it's so slow that hitters can re-adjust at the plate and still be effective against the pitch. It looks like it's going to be another long season for Zito if he's around 82-83 mph on the fastball without much command. It's not like anybody can be too surprised with the outcome of Monday's game, but I think that Giants fans were expecting a little more life out of this team. The so called "warrior spirit" and "swagger" they supposedly now carry, didn't translate to much and the Giants looked identical to last year, minus Barry Bonds. We also didn't see the youth movement that was promised, as Brian Bocock and Jose Castillo were the only players in their twenties to start yesterday.

Now that the opener has passed, I really hope Bochy gets back to his plan of playing the younger players. After the springs they had, I don't see any reason why Eugenio Velez and Fred Lewis shouldn't be starting. Lewis should get the call in left field tonight, but the Giants appear tentative to let Velez play a defensive position for 9 innings. I know he isn't a very good third basemen, but with Cain and Lincecum (fly-ball/strikeout pitchers) scheduled to go today and tomorrow, I wouldn't mind letting him get his feet wet at third over the next few days. I don't see Velez pushing Durham and his 7.5 million dollar price tag to the bench yet, so if the Giants want their most explosive player in the lineup, they need to find a spot for him. I'm also looking forward to seeing Ort get some action. He struggled this spring but has started swinging well over the last week or so. If I were pushing the buttons, here's how I'd fill out the lineup for the final two in LA:

lf Lewis
3b Velez
rf Winn
cf Rowand
2b Durham
c Molina
1b Ortmeier
ss Bocock.
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