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Friday, August 29, 2008

September Auditions On Horrizon

We have officially hit the dog days of the major league baseball season, which means that the September call-ups are right around the corner. Unfortunately, the Giants haven't been able to deal off any of their veterans before the August 31st waiver-deadline. And although Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts are still going to steal some at-bats away from the likes of Nate Schierholtz, Jon Bowker and Ryan Rohlinger, this is going to be an important September as far as analyzing some of the Giants' young talent. As the team stands now, the whole infield could have a different look come opening day 2009. The outfield seems pretty set as Aaron Rowand, Winn and Roberts are all under contract through next season and none of them are likely to go anywhere. The Giants also have Fred Lewis, who has entrenched himself as the teams' everyday left fielder and should be a cog in the Giants outfield for years to come. Outside of the outfield and the starting rotation though, the Giants will have a lot of roster spot that will need to be filled. Here is a quick look at some of the call-ups I'm looking forward to seeing audition over the next month.

OF Nate Schieholtz: He's had another terrific year in Fresno hitting well over .300 and showing above average power and run producing ability. The only thing holding Schierholtz back, and and the reason he isn't playing right field everyday for the team right now is Randy Winn. Winn still has one year left on a contract that will pay him over 8 million dollars next season. Still, if Schierholtz comes up and tears the cover off the ball in September and looks good next spring, he'll certainly start stealing at-bats from Winn the way Lewis did from Roberts.

IF Travis Denker: The 22-year old was up with the team a few times earlier in the year, but, like Schierholtz, the Giants wanted him playing everyday and they had Rich Aurilia, Jose Castillo, Ray Durham and Eugenio Velez all in the mix as well. Denker has been swinging a hot bat over the last couple weeks in Fresno though and looks ready to come back up and get some consistent playing time this time around. Over his last 10 games in Fresno, Denker is hitting .368 with 4 home runs, 9 RBI's and 14 runs scored. I think he's ready.

IF Matt Downs: Downs was tearing it up in San Jose, was sent up to Fresno and cooled down, then was sent back down to San Jose and has since heated back up. The 24 year-old should get a look this September as he can play two of the positions the Giants need depth at, 2nd and 3rd base. On the year between Fresno and San Jose, he's hit .299 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI.

SP Joseph Martinez: He may not get the call-up, but he's really been the Giants best starting pitcher, in the higher part of their farm system, all year long. The Giants 12th rounder from 2005 earned Eastern League All-Star honors this summer and is sporting one the best era's among Eastern League starting pitchers. On the year he's gone 10-10 over 26 starts while sporting a 2.56 era and striking out 111 batters in 141 innings pitched. He really has turned it on as of late though going 3-2 with a 1.72 era in August.

RP Justin Hedrick: Has kind of come out of nowhere to be the bullpen leader in Connecticut this year. The Giants have had a few relievers break onto the scene with success in 2008 (Alex Hinshaw, Merkin Valdez, Sergio Romo) and Hedrick could be next. He's been dominant as a closer for the Defenders this year and has looked almost untouchable over his last 10 outings (0.75 era, 18 strikeouts and 4 hits over 12 innings, 4 sv). He's a little on the older side at 26 to be considered a real prospect, but he's a reliever, so he has a fresh arm and is starting to come into his own.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Monday, August 25, 2008

Giants Winning With The Youngsters

The general consensus was that when the Giants called up Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval a couple weeks ago, it was the beginning of the Giants youth movement and that this team was definitely on it's way to a 100 loss season. However, that has not been the case. The Giants have actually been a winning ball club since the arrival of the rookie catcher and first basemen and both of them have been a big part of it. Sandoval, who has been raking the ball everywhere he's been since spring training this year, hasn't missed a beat since he's arrived in the major leagues. Sandoval was hitting nearly .340 in the minors this season, and although it's only been a small sample, he's looked even better since his promotion. The 21 year-old catcher/1st basemen/3rd baseman has gone 14-32 so far and has helped the Giants to a 8-4 record since he joined the team on August 13th. Ishikawa hasn't been quite as impressive as Sandoval, but has still looked good at times. He isn't hitting for the average that Sandoval is, but he does have 2 impressive home runs and 6 RBI in his first 30 at-bats. Look for Ishikawa to still get the majority of looks at first base, at least until Jon Bowker gets back from Fresno, but he's going to have to start hitting more consistently if he wants to continue getting the bulk of the pt there over the last month of the season.

The Giants starting pitching has been especially impressive over these last few weeks as well. So well in fact, that even Barry Zito netted two wins in one week. It took him more than the seasons' first two months to get 2 victories, so that just goes to show you how much better he's thrown in the second half. The rotation did take a hit earlier this week when Jonathon Sanchez was placed on the 15-day DL. Sanchez had been struggling mightily since the all-star break, so whether he really does have some sort of injury, or the Giants are giving him a few weeks rest is still a mystery. I don't have any problem with sitting Sanchez down for a few weeks if there is something going on with his shoulder but if they are just resting him to avoid having him throw too many innings, that's another story. Sanchez is at 135 innings pitched for the year which is more than he's thrown in his big league career, but the Giants should still shoot to get 160+ innings from him this year so he can be prepared for a bigger workload next year. Either way, Sanchez should be back at some point in mid-August and hopefully he can get another 3 or 4 starts in 2008.

Notes: Noah Lowry has been throwing off of a mound lately and he is still holding out hope that he'll be able to make a start or 2 at the end of this season. I'd give it about a 10% chance of happening, but it's good news to see Lowry throwing off of a mound for the first time since spring training, without any problems. If the Giants keep their staff intact, they could have the makings of a dominant rotation next season (Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez-Zito-Lowry)
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Linceucm Brilliant vs. Atlanta

Tim Lincecum alleviated any concerns there were for his left knee after taking a line drive directly off of it in his last start. There was some question as to whether or not he would even make the start, but it's a good thing he did. Lincecum reassured everyone that he's alright by going 7 2/3 giving up only 3 hits and 1 run while striking out 10 batters. He did walk 4 batters and his control looked off at times, but dominated when he had too and improved his record to 13-3. Over the second half of the year him and Matt Cain, especially, have begun to gel into the two top end starters that they are. Since the all-star break, Cain is 3-2 with a 2.11 era and 32 k's in 42 innings pitched (6 starts). Cain has been very good since the calendar hit July and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he's finally starting to get some run support. He may actually finish the year with winning record after pitching through horrible luck and run support in last years 7-16 campaign. Yes, the Giants are still 20 games below .500, but surprisingly, they are a little closer to getting back on track than many think, and I can't wait to see what these two guys start doing when they're actually pitching for a decent ball club.

A few other bright youngsters who have came up and made some noise over the last week are Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval. Ishikawa hasn't missed a beat since his promotion after tearing it up in the minor leagues for the first 4 months of the year. It's hard to get too excited after only 4 games, but Ishikawa looks like he has middle of the order potential. The 24 year-old hit his first big fly as a major leaguer on Sunday and reminds me a little of the Dodgers' James Loney. Sandoval has been getting looks at both first base and catcher and looks pretty smooth in both places. He could work on his blocking ability a little behind the plate, but he looks like a natural at first base. His bat has also looked solid since he was called up from Connecticut. He's not going to get quite as many starts as Ishikawa because he has Bengie Molina in front of him, but look for him to start at first base vs. lefties and behind the plate on most day games. The only call-up from last weeks trio who has not looked comfortable is Ryan Rohlinger. The third basemen has only 2 hits in 18 at-bats and has looked a little out of his element up here so far. Not saying it's time to send him back down, but I would hope to see more out of him over next 18 ab's.

Note: The Giants signed their top pick, Buster Posey, just before the deadline Friday night. Posey will get a 6.2 million dollar signing bonus which ended up being less than the original reported 7.5 that he was seeking. Good to see it done, now can't wait to see him began his career.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Friday, August 15, 2008

Roster Overhaul Underway

The Giants called up a few of their best minor league players earlier this week, in a move that shows they are indeed ready to look towards the future. Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Rohlinger were all brought up prior to the Houston series, and although the Giants looked bad in the series, it was good to see the Giants finally shift gears. I just talked pretty in-depth about Pablo Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa a few posts back in the minor league report and mentioned how both were on the verge of being called up. With Bowker out of the picture, Ishikawa should get the bulk of the at-bats at first with Sandoval getting time both behind the plate and at first base. Rohlinger spent time in both Connecticut and Fresno this year and though he wasn't really tearing the cover off the ball in the minors, he has swung a steady bat all season, and really had a decent spring training before the season which put some eyes on him early. He looks to get the majority of the time at third base where he supposedly plays solid defense, but he didn't look great out there in his first series as a big leaguer.

On their way out of San Francisco is Jon Bowker, who's being optioned back to Fresno after an up and down 3 months with the bat in the big leagues. Bowker will go back down to Fresno for a few weeks to work on getting his knowledge of the strike zone back and should be back September 1st. Also sent down to Fresno was catcher Steve Holm, who has had a decent rookie season as a backup catcher and he should be back as the Giants third catcher when the rosters expend next month. The man who won't be dawning a Giants uniform again is Jose Castillo who was designated for assignment. This move was a little surprising, but in a good way. Castillo didn't have a future with this team and for a while there it looked like the Giants were seriously considering him as a piece to next years team. Castillo isn't a bad player, but he's really better suited for a bench roll, and the Giants have better options then him at the moment. The next guy that needs to be DFA'd is Tyler Walker, which would enable Sergio Romo to return to the big leagues.

Notes: The Giants are reportedly very close to signing Buster Posey, their top pick from this years draft, to a 7.5 million dollar deal. However, there has been nothing made official yet, and the deadline is at 9:30 Friday night. Most people were expecting it to come down to the deadline, so I'm not to worried, but as of now, we're 4.5 hours from the deadline....Also Tim Lincecum has declared that he will make his next scheduled start after taking a line drive off the knee in has last one. I would prefer to see Lincecum take a start off to be on the cautious side, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Giants Suffering Through Power Outage

It was no secret coming into the year that the 2008 San Francisco Giants were going to have to beat you with small ball, pitching and defense. However, as we approach mid-August, I don't think anyone expected the Giants to be quite as much of a soft hitting club they've been. Through Tuesday, the Giants sit dead last in all of baseball in home runs, and it's not even close. The Giants have hit only 64 home runs through the seasons first 118 games which is 16 below the next lowest team (Blue Jays). I'm not trying to say that if you don't hit home runs, you won't win games, but I am trying to point out that it's tough to generate runs when your team has substantially less power than every other team in the league. Two guys who have been in a huge power drought this season are Randy Winn and Bengie Molina. Neither are your prototypical number 3 or 4 hitter, but Winn, who's averaged about 14 homers a year over the last 5 seasons, has only 5 this year. Molina, who had 19 in each of his last 2 seasons only has 9 so far. It's not just their bat's that have lost punch this season. Nobody expected Aaron Rowand to repeat last years career numbers, but I did expect him to be closer to the 20 home run mark at this point than the 10 home run mark. I'd have to say, the only Giant who has met or exceeded expectations as far as the power numbers are concerned is Jon Bowker, and he wasn't even a guy who had expectations coming into the year. Again, not saying that you need power hitters to score runs, but it's pretty obvious why the Giants have struggled to do so this year.

Now, on to the positive, which again is the starting pitching. Matt Cain shut down the Dodgers in his last start, followed by a terrific 7 inning performance in Houston by Jonathan Sanchez Monday, then another gem by Tim Lincecum (albeit for 4.1 innings) Tuesday night. Whenever the Giants "Big 3" throw well in consecutive starts, it definitely gives the fans something to get excited about. Sanchez, especially, needed a good start after a horrific July, and he turned in one of his better starts of the year. He suffered the loss due to no run support, but he only walked 1 batter and allowed 5 hits through his 7 innings. Something that he had been doing to much of in July was letting runners on base. It seemed like every inning he threw last month, there were always a runner or 2 on base. He's going to be one of the better lefties in this league if he can minimize the number of base runners allowed via base on balls and he did so on Monday. There had been some whispers about slowing Sanchez down a little as he's already surpassed the most innings he's ever pitching in his professional career. The same thing has been mentioned about Tim Lincecum. The Franchise left the game Tuesday after taking a liner of the knee, but early reports where that nothing was serious. He was able to walk off on his own and Bruce Bochy said he was moving fine after he was taken out. However, this may push the Giants towards giving him a start or two off so he doesn't throw too many innings in only his first, full big league season. I don't mind letting Lincecum take a few starts off to rest his knee, even if it is only bruised.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Giants Sign Gillaspie

The Giants signed their second overall pick from June's amateur draft Friday. The signing comes exactly a week before the August 15th deadline, and will allow Conor Gillaspie to partake in some minor league ball this season. He will start off in the Arizona rookie league and then should be moved to either Salem Keizer or Augusta shortly thereafter. The un-official number being put next to Gillaspie's deal is $975,000 which would be right in line with what other supplemental picks receive. I am definitely excited to see Gillaspie get going. The 21 year-old has had a lot of experience in the amateur ranks and his polished bat could allow him to breeze through the Giants' system. The only question about him is where exactly to play him. He's played 3rd base throughout his collegiate career, but his contact bat and average arm strength may have him better suited for second base in the major leagues. Now all we can do is hope that Buster Posey miraculously signs in the next 24 hours or so and he can join Gillaspie in Arizona next week, but that's probably wishful thinking.

Speaking of young Giants, Bruce Bochy has actually stuck by his plan on playing the youngsters more over the last 2 months of the season. We are still getting the daily dose of Randy Winn and Rich Aurilia, but Emmanuel Burris and Ivan Ochoa are being given a long look in the middle of the infield. Ochoa has been especially impressive since he's been starting. His defensive ability at shortstop is certainly major league caliber. The only question about him is can he maintain enough offense to stay here? So far, he's 11-39 at the plate and is hitting second in the batting order on most nights. Bochy has also re-worked the Giants lineup since Ochoa and Burris have been inserted. Fred Lewis has now moved down in the order where the Giants feel he can put his ability to drive in runs to use. I don't know if Lewis is a true number 3 or 5 hitter in the long run, but it's not going to hurt anything by batting him there for the short term. I would eventually like to see him get a look in the number two spot. His patience and speed are still best used at the top of the order. He's more of a gap-to-gap, line drive hitter than a run producing, power hitter.

I couldn't go without mentioning the FSMA fundraiser that took place in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday night. If you were there, you know what a great event it was, and if you weren't, do everything in your power to make it there next year. Most of the Giants' were there and served as guest bartenders and the atmosphere was great. I had a chance to talk to Kevin Correia for a while and he was one of the most humble, down to earth ball players I've ever met. The same can be said for Fred Lewis. Even Tim Lincecum was out there having a good time and mingling with everyone. Again, if you missed it, stay on the heads up next August as it looks like this event is becoming an annual gig. A great time for a great cause, can't go wrong.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________

Monday, August 04, 2008

Giants Minor League Report

I didn't get a chance to touch much on the minors last month and with the Giants starting to commit to a full on youth movement, now is a good time to take a look at what some of the future Giants have been doing.

Travis Ishikawa, a guy who's had expectations after a pretty big 2005 season in San Jose, hasn't really been heard of since then, until now. Ishikawa is quietly putting together his best season as a professional and has been on fire since being called up to Fresno. In 377 at-bats split between AA and AAA, the 24 year-old first basemen has 21 home runs and 86 RBI's while carrying a .292 average. However, since his arrival in Fresno, he has hit 13 bombs and driven in 38 runs in only 140 at-bats. Talk about a huge rebound from a horrible '07 season in which he hit .243 with only 16 home runs and 59 RBI's between High A, and AA ball. The only problem for Ishikawa, as with Nate Schieholtz, is that they have guys blocking them at the major league level. The Giants are committed to giving Jon Bowker at-bats at first base right now, and they aren't ready to sit Randy Winn's 8.5 million dollar salary on the bench which would open up a spot for Schierholtz and/or Bowker to move to. Ishikawa should be up no later than September 1st, and hopefully he'll be given a chance to translate that minor league success into big league production.

The only notable player to mention from the Giants' AA affiliate is catcher Pablo Sandoval. The 21-year old was tearing it up in San Jose for the seasons' first 3 months, and although it took him a week or so to get used to it, he's begun doing the same in Connecticut. Sandoval continues to lead the Giants system in hitting as he's carrying a combined .345 average and has maintained his above average power stroke with 6 home runs in 138 at-bats in the Eastern League.

The Giants have a lot going on down at the A level, where most of their top prospects currently are. High-A San Jose continues to be the class of the Giants system, as their starting pitching is second to none in the California League. Tim Alderson (11-3, 2.82 era, 107:33 K/BB in 121 innings) has exceeded expectations in his first full professional season, and the 2007 first round pick could see some time at AA before the end of the summer. His fellow rotation mates have been equally impressive. Jesse English (11-4, 3.09, 109 k's, 112 IP) and future's game representative, Kevin Pucetas (8-0, 2.71, 75 k's, 96 IP) should be advancing soon. They may also be joined by the Giants top pick from '07, Madison Bumgarner who has been untouchable at times for Low-A Augusta. In 3 of his last 4 starts, Bumgarner hasn't allowed a run, and his season era continues to drop. For the year, he is now sporting a 1.70 era to go along with a 11-3 record and 125:18 strikeout/walk ratio. That is pretty darn good.

While the pitching has been great in the lower part of the Giants system, the same cannot be said for the offense. The Giants top prospect, 17 year-old Angel Villilona, has had a tough year with Augusta in Low-A. Villilona is hitting only .251 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI in 366 at-bats this year. Not horrible numbers for a guy who should be a senior in high school, but definitely not top prospect worthy. The only offensive player from last years draft has has been even remotely worth mentioning here is Nick Noonan, and he's only hitting .280 with a .702 OPS% in low-A. As always, the Giants organizational strength is it's arms. Hopefully Connor Gillaspie and Buster Posey are the saviors and can infuse some offensive life in this slumping system, but we'll have to wait until next summer to find out.
_________________________________________________ Get expert matchup reports and predictions on every single MLB game at Doc's Sports click Here _________________________________________________
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