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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Giants Add 2 Relievers Before Deadline

The Giants stayed relatively quiet on Saturday as the non-waiver trade deadline came and passed. They did pull the trigger on two small moves in order to bolster their bullpen, adding lefty Javier Lopez from Pittsburgh and righty Ramon Ramierez from the Red Sox.

The Giants and Brian Sabean apparently re-visited the most logical trade options for the team in the hours leading up to the deadline, including re-starting the Corey Hart talks with Millwaukee and they even were in talks regarding a potential 3-way deal involving the D-Backs and Blue Jays that included names Kelly Johnson, Jose Bautista, Jason Frasier and Scott Downs. However, in the end, they came to the realization that there just weren't any deals that made enough sense for them to pull the trigger on. Every team wanted either Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner, and Brian Sabean wisely kept the team's strength in-tact. Still though, I think he gave up a tad too much in order to get Javier Lopez in here. I like Lopez and believe he'll help this bullpen a lot, but the Giants had to give up Joe Martinez and Jon Bowker. Now, neither of those guys have significant roles with the Giants, so they won't be missed immediately, but both of those guys will end up starting in Pittsburgh. Basically, the Pirates just traded a middle reliever, for a 27 year-old starting pitcher who will go right into their rotation, and a 27 year-old outfielder who should hit 20 hr's per year with a full playing load, to come in and start in right field for them. I'd say the Pirates got the better in this deal in the long-term, although Lopez could provide a Jeremy Affeldt (2009 version) type upgrade to this bullpen if he comes in strong.

I don't quite understand the Ramon Ramirez deal as much as the Lopez trade. The Giants desperately needed another lefty so Lopez was a necessity (Bochy was relegated to using Jonathan Sanchez to get an out in Friday nights game due to no other left-handed options), but Ramirez wasn't exactly dominating in Boston (4.46 era, 1.30 WHIP) and doesn't really appear to be an upgrade over the rest of the right-handers the Giants have in the pen right now. What Sabean is hoping for, is that Ramirez will revert back to his pre-2010 form, when he sported a 2.74 era and a .226 BAA and nearly a K per inning in 140 innings between '08-'09. It's going to be interesting to see what the Giants to in order to make room for Ramirez on the 25-man. Obviously, Lopez will slide into Joe Martinez's spot, but it's not clear on what will happen in order to clear room for Ramirez. If I had to guess, I'd say he replaces Santiago Casilla or Guillermo Mota. Neither has been particularly effective of late, in fact, all the right-handers in the Giants' bully have been hit around a bit lately. The Giants gave up minor league releiver Daniel Turpen, who has had a strong 2010 season in AA.

So, although they still could make a deal before the August 31'st waiver deadline, it appears as if the Giants are content with standing pat, sitting just 2.5 games out of first place in the West and atop the NL Wild Card standings. Somewhat lost in all the trade deadline speculation and rumors, the Giants have also had a few interesting things happen already in the series with LA. Tim Lincecum debuted a new delivery on Friday night, and it resulted in 7 strong innings, 9 strikeouts and his 11th win of the season. Lincecum was backed by Aubrey Huff's 20th jack and Juan Uribe's 15th longball of the year. Aubrey Huff continues to look like the best valued free-agent signing of last offseason, now hitting .313 with 65 RBI and a .959 OPS to go along with his 20 homers, and I really wish Sabean would extend his contract another year already. I'm fairly confident that he's going to become the first left-handed hitting Giant, not named Barry Bonds, to have 30-home run season since the team moved into AT&T Park. He's not discouraged by hitting in this park, and it's tough to find hitters, especially of the left-handed variety, that you can say that about. Only question is whether or not Huff would have interest in coming back. He's having a great year, but he may think that if he were playing in a more hitter friendly yard, he'd be putting up even better numbers. Not to mention, after his big season, he's going to get some lucrative multi-year offers from other clubs.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Giants Have Options as Deadline Nears

The Giants continued their 2nd half magic Wednesday with another extra-inning victory over the Florida Marlins in a wild one, 10-9. And with the way the team has been thriving right now, it must have Brian Sabean in a tough spot, with the trade deadline looming (72 hours and counting), as he decides whether to add or stand pat.

When I saw the headline the other day from MLB Rumors that said the Giants were interested in Scott Podsednik, I was at first surprised, but then I remembered, this is Brian Sabean after all, and when he sets his sights on a player (the Giants have had interest in Podsednik more than once in the past too) he never gives up. What does surprise me, and upsets me to a degree is that he's spending his time focusing on adding a leadoff guy, while Andres Torres (4-6, 1 hr, 3 RBI Wednesday) does all he can to prove himself. I mean, I'm not totally sold on Torres as the future leadoff man for the Giants, but right now, I'd say he's doing an admirable job, and if the Giants are going to add a bat, it should be one that they'd hit in the middle of the order, not at the top. The popular name floating around right now is Jorge Cantu, who's having a less-than stellar .260, 10 HR, 54 RBI campaign with Florida. If that is indeed a target, I'd just assume stand pat. I'd rather give Travis Ishikawa at-bats right now than Cantu to tell you the truth. If they are going to make a move, a few realistic names I'd like Sabean to look at would be another Marlin by the name of Dan Uggla, Pittsburgh's Garrett Jones, Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman or Corey Hart, but only if the price is reasonable. I don't really see the Giants having enough or wanting to part with enough to get Prince Fielder, but that rumor just refuses to go away.

An area which the team also needs help at, and an area that has been hurting recently is the bullpen. They've given up 6 runs in this Marlins series alone and all have been crucial runs. I'm not worried about Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo or Denny Bautista, but the rest are expendable if you ask me. What they really need is another lefty, or Jeremy Affeldt and Dan Runzler to each return strong here in the next week or so. Even when Affeldt and Runzler back, this bullpen could use a shot in the arm and some reinforcement. A few guys Sabean has apparently been looking at are Scott Downs and former Giants' top-pick David Aardsma. Relief pitchers are one of the easiest positions to come by this time of year, I just hope the Giants can get a quality one and either of those two guys would fit the bill. As far as guys I'd be stingy with when it comes to trading chips, I came up with a list of 12 Giants' prospects that I'd be extremely cautious with and would only use to obtain a player for the long-term. Here are the names I came up with: OF Thomas Neal, 1B Brandon Belt, OF Francisco Peguero, 2B Charlie Culberson, SS Ehire Adrianza, SP Zach Wheeler, SS Brandon Crawford, OF Roger Kieschnick, c/1B Tommy Joseph, 3B Chris Dominguez, SP Eric Surkamp and SP Jorge Bucardo. Everyone else in the minors in my mind is expendable and a few guys that I think could draw at least some interest are OF Jon Bowker, IF Connor Gillespie, RP Henry Sosa, SS Emmanuel Burris OF Darren Ford, SP Craig Westcott, SP Joe Martinez, RP Jason Stoffel. Of those "expendable" guys, I actually believe Bowker, Stoffel and Burris may have somewhat of a market, and the other guys could be decent deal-sweeteners. Even Jesus Guzman could have some appeal to an AL team desperate for right-handed power off the bench/DH.

The one thing different for Sabean this time around is that he does leverage, this year more so than any in the last 7 years, in that he doesn't really "need" to make a move for the Giants to stay in contention, and other teams can't really hold a gun to his head in negotiations this time around. Should be interesting to see what goes down, I'll certainly be watching closely.
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

San Francisco Giants: Hottest Team in Baseball?

The second half of the Major League Baseball season is barely 2 weeks old, but since it started, there hasn't been a team hotter than the Giants in all of baseball.

Since the 3 day break, the Giants have gone 9-2, and lost those 2 games by a combined total of 3 runs. It's been the two rookies that have grabbed most of the headlines over the last two weeks, with Buster Posey extending his hitting streak to 18 games on Sunday, and Madison Bumgarner getting stronger with each outing at the big league level. Over that 18 game hitting streak, Posey's hitting .467 with 7 home run and 23 RBI and a 1.300 OPS. Talk about video game numbers! I don't really like making comparisons unless I really see something in a player, but I can't help but be reminded of a right-handed Joe Mauer with even a little more power, when looking at Posey. If Posey can somehow manage to get to the minimum plate appearance number in order to contend for the batting tittle, I'd put my money on him winning it. He's currently sitting at .371 with 178 at-bats and chances are that he will reach that minimum of 450 plate appearances (not sure on exact number needed) that he'd need in order to be eligible for the batting title. I'll tell you this much, he's the hottest hitter on one of the hottest teams in baseball and it's no surprise the Giants are 14-4 over that span. If he doesn't win Rookie of the Month for July, it would be a crime.

The other prominent Giants' rookie to really step up and claim his spot on the 25-man roster for good is Madison Bumgarner. The 20 year-old power lefty was a little bit of an afterthought in Giants fans minds after a sub-par spring and a slow start in the minor leagues, but he's come on strong and is throwing as well now than at any point in his professional career. MadBum won his 4th consecutive start on Saturday, shutting down the Diamondbacks in Arizona with 7 strong innings that included 7 strikeouts. The Giants have to be pleased with the way Bumgarner has responded after taking a couple of tough luck losses in his first 2 starts of the season. A lot of 20-year old's would have lost their confidence and probably let the situation get worse, then ultimately find themselves back in the minor leagues. Instead, Bumgarner stayed focused and positive and all the sudden he's 4-2 a month later. The success of Bumgarner cannot be overlooked, as it really has rounded out, or completed the Giants rotation. For years now the Giants have kept a 5th starter that was basically keeping the seat warm for Bumgarner, and finally, the Giants rotation is flying at full-force, and it's showing. Even with Buster Posey's emergence, and the solid output from Aubrey Huff, without Sandoval and Rowand hitting, the Giants lineup will not be a strength, so for them to be 13 games over .500 at this point is truly a tribute to their pitching staff.

Walking Wounded: The Giants did lose a couple of players to the 15-day DL this weekend. Eugenio Velez took a Pat Burrell line drive off the face in the dugout and even though he ended up OK considered what happened, the Giants will still shelve him for 2 weeks. He's being replaced by Ryan Rohlinger. Joe Martinez also was recalled a few days ago to replace Jeremy Affeldt who has a strained oblique and will miss 2 weeks as well.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Giants Take 3 of 4 From Mets

The Giants offense really started to pick up early in July up until the all-star break, and it looks like they've picked right up where they left off. They started off the 2nd half of the season by taking 3 of 4 from the Mets and like always, got tremendous starting pitching in the process.

Timmy Lincecum started the 2nd half with a complete game shutout on Thursday night, allowing just 6 hits while striking out 5 batters and needing just 110 pitches to get through one of the better lineups in the NL. Lincecum was followed by an even stronger performance by Barry Zito, who allowed just 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 10 in 8 strong innings to earn his 8th victory of the year. It was a big start for Zito who had hit a rough patch over the last month, and only won 1 game after May 16th. Matt Cain continued to add to the Mets offensive frustration Saturday with 7 strong innings, allowing just 3 hits and 2 runs. The Mets did touch up the Giants bullpen for 2 runs after Cain departed, but Andres Torres, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval provided all the offense the Giants would need. Torres and Posey each hit their 8th home run of the season and Sandoval had just his 2nd 3-RBI day of the year and first 3-hit day since May 31st. The Mets were able to salvage the fourth game of the series Sunday, although Jonathan Sanchez continued the trend of dominant starting pitching. Sanchez went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits with 5 strikeouts. Unfortunately, the Mets got to Chris Ray and Brian Wilson for a run apiece which ultimately cost the Giants the game and the sweep.

What was a little surprising to me was that Bruce Bochy didn't give Travis Ishikawa some more at bats in the Mets series. Ishi was arguably the hottest Giants' hitter going into the break, and got just 1 start in the 4-game set. He did get the call to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday's game with the tying runs in scoring position, and he delivered a game-tying single off of ace closer Francisco Rodriguez which pushed the game into extra innings. Right now, Ishikawa is as hot as any Giant not named Buster Posey or Aubrey Huff, and I think he needs to be given a steady 2 weeks worth of at-bats to see if this hot streak of his is real or not. If it means that Torres, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell need to rotate in the 2 outfield spots next to Aubrey Huff in order to get Ishi into the lineup more, then so be it. Another positive in giving Ishikawa playing time right now is that he could be showcased as possible trade bait. The July 31st trade deadline is less than 2 weeks away and with the Giants right in the thick of the playoff race, and knowing that they haven't reached the postseason since 2003, something tells me they're going to be active. They may not make an earth shattering addition, but I do think they're going to attempt to upgrade somehow. There just hasn't been a ton of trade talk on the Giants front so far. I mentioned in our last post a list of premiere hitters who could likely be had for the right price, but the only name that has been directly linked to the Giants is the Brewer's Corey Hart. The right fielder would be a very nice add to the Giants lineup, just not sure the Brewers asking price fits with what the Giants are willing to part with.

Up Next: Now the Giants will play host to the sputtering LA Dodgers. The Dodgers just got swept by the Cardinals in St. Louis and only mustered up 9 runs in the 4-game set. I'm stoked to see how Madison Bumgarner does in his first second half start after looking so good in his first couple of starts.... Also, in roster news, the Giants recalled Eugenio Velez and sent down Joe Martinez to make room.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Giants Set to Begin Second Half

The 2nd half of the Major League Baseball season officially begins tonight, and the Giants hope they will pick right up were they left off before the break when they won 6 of 7 and had their offense clicking on all cylinders.

What really kept the Giants afloat for much of the first half was their spectacular starting pitching. All of their starting pitchers have era's below 3.76 and all of them and all should have winning records, although Matt Cain has once again pitched through some terrible luck. For a while there in early-mid June, it looked like 4 of the Giants 5 starters had legit shots at making the all-star team. All of them (besides Todd Wellemeyer) had era's under 3 and had winning records. They were thriving even though they weren't getting consistent run support. Unfortunately, they haven't really been able to get their offense and starting pitching clicking together at the same time. For much of the first half of the year though, the Giants offense has been very inconsistent. It took them a while to find their best leadoff man (Andres Torres) and a couple of their big hitters like Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe really didn't get going until May and June. The guy they were counting on really carrying the offense, Pablo Sandoval, has not been nearly the factor that he was in '08-'09, and I think that was a big reason why the offense was so slow out of the gate. However, ever since Buster Posey's arrival, it seems like the Giants offense has stepped it up a notch.

Posey's emergence has helped equal out the under-performance from Sandoval, and has really solidified the middle of the Giants batting order. That along with the solid outputs they're getting out of Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe has helped shape the best Giants lineup since the early 2000's. Keep in mind also, that they are doing this without Mark DeRosa (out for season with injury) and without getting very much out of Aaron Rowand (.238, 8 HR, 27 RBI). Even though Posey has been a big part of the Giants offensive turnaround, he wasn't the most valuable player for this team in the first half. That honor would have to go to Aubrey Huff, who's quietly put together one of his best halves of his career, and has turned out to be an absolute bargain at $3 million for 2010. Entering the 2nd half, Huff is hitting .295 with 17 bombs and 54 RBI to go with a .921 OPS. There were plenty of people who didn't even think Huff would hit 17 homers all year playing at AT&T Park after hitting just 15 last year with Baltimore. I'd have to say the two biggest contributors and most important pieces to the Giants lineup in half #1 were Huff and Andres Torres. The 31 year-0ld Torres has been huge at the top of the lineup where Aaron Rowand failed so miserably. He's cooled off a little lately, but his .281 average, .378 OBP and 17 steals at the leadoff spot has given the Giants their best production out of that slot since when Ray Durham was used there in his first few years in San Francisco.

It's all going to come down to offense for the Giants in the second half, and that's pretty much what everyone was expecting all along. The trade deadline is just around the corner (July 31st) and the Giants could go out and really put themselves in a good spot with another big bat. Their bullpen is rock solid, and their starting pitching, especially after the arrival of Madison Bumgarner, doesn't need any work. Even their lineup is starting to round into shape, but if they could just get one more corner outfielder, or possibly even a first basemen who could rake, it would really help their chances of winning this division. They may have found that extra bat in one of their own, Travis Ishikawa, who's been on fire since being inserted into the starting lineup. If they're going to go outside the organization, there are a bunch of options out there. A few that come to mind right off the top of my head are Lance Berkman, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Dan Uggla and Garrett Jones.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Giants Cruise Into All-Star Break

Heading into July, the Giants were sputtering and fans started to panic a little bit. However, over the last 10 days, the Giants seem to have hit their offensive stride, it's just too bad they did it just in time for the all-star break.

All of the sudden, over the last week, the Giants offense has just exploded. They've scored 53 runs over their last 7 games, good for about 7.5 runs per game, and they've gone 6-1 in that span. One guy who's really flown under the radar in this first half has been huge over the last week, and that guy is Travis Ishikawa. Before July 1st, Ishikawa had just 36 at-bats all year, but since July 1st, he's collected 25 at-bats and has been extremely productive with those ab's (.385 with 1 hr and 8 RBI). Ever since the Giants traded away Bengie Molina, they've they've been working with some extra at-bats and Ishikawa has taken full advantage. So much so, that Giants fans are going to be expecting to see more of him when the Giants resume play on Thursday against the Mets. When Ishikawa plays first, Aubrey Huff has moved back to left-field, which once again takes the bat out of either Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowannd or Andres Torres hand, but with the way Ishi is playing, you have to do it in order to make room. Also, besides his clutch hitting, Ishikawa has always been a plus defender over at first base and although Huff has done a very good job over there this year, having Ishi there really strengthens the infield defense.

Speaking of Aubrey Huff, Giants management has to be pleased with the way his year has gone as we hit the un-official halfway point in the year. I remember before the seasons started, he was asked a ton about how he's going to deal with that huge right field space at AT&T, and early in the season, he had a few balls knocked down out there that would have been home runs almost anywhere else. However, he's showed his veteran savy, and has figured it out. He's hit 9 of his 17 first half home runs at home, and looks to be quite comfortable hitting in the pitcher-friendly confines of this yard. There hasn't been many left-handed power hitters who have come in and had success here, outside of Barry Bonds, but Huff looks to be one of those rare cases. Because of that, I think it would be wise for the Giants to try and extend him another year right now if possible. He's probably going to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs and will get a multi-year deal somewhere if he hits the market, so why not give him a 1 year, $7 million extension right now if he'd do it. If Ishikawa continues to emerge in the 2nd half of the year and claims first base, then Huff can play the outfield in 2011, as he's shown the ability to do so this year.

Up Next: Up next here at The Giants Baseball Blog, we'll get into our first half review of the Giants season up to the All-Star break and discuss what needs to change in the second half in order for the Giants to win this wide-open division where 4 teams are separated by 4 games or less.
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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Giants Minor League Report

With the draft in June taking up most of our organizational focus, it's been a couple months since we've had a chance to take a look at whats happening down on the farm with the Giants' minor league affiliates.

Since our last minor league update, the teams top-2 prospects have finally been called-up to the Big Leagues, and I think it's for good this time for both guys. With those two up with the Giants, the guy who has stepped into the spotlight in the minors this year has been Brandon Belt. The 22 year-old put up ridiculous numbers in the first half of the year in San Jose (.383 avg, 10 HR, 62 RBI, 18 SB and a 1.121 OPS in 269 at-bats). Then the 6'5" first basemen got the call-up to AA Richmond last week, and arrived with a bang there as well. In his first 3 games with the Squirrels, he's got 5 hits in 11 at-bats, including 2 more solo home runs. The Eastern League has traditionally been a tough hitters league, so if he can keep this up there, that would be huge. The way Belt has kind of came from under-the-radar to bust out like this really reminds me of the way Pablo Sandoval did it in 2008. He had a few solid years in the minors prior to that year and was a guy on the rise, but nobody saw an offensive explosion to the extent that he showed in '08 at all levels he stopped at. Not saying Belt is going to be the next Panda, but he very well could be the next young successful hitter to join Buster and Pablo up with the Giants at the big league level.

Speaking of hitters, one of the Giants top-5 prospects has really started to turn his season around, and that guy is Thomas Neal. I discussed Neal a bit a few posts back, and even though his overall numbers for the year don't jump out at you (.283, 8 hr, 44 RBI), he really has gotten stronger as the year has gone on. Again, he's in that Eastern League, so I didn't expect big time numbers from him anyway, but was still expecting 20 hr/85 RBI and around a .300 avg and I still think he could make it there. A couple other Giants prospects in AA haven't had quite as much success though. Roger Kieschnick (.251, 4, 23) and Brandon Crawford (.244, 7, 22) and a guy I had some expectations for after the spring he had, Darren Ford (.235, 4, 26, 25 sb) really have struggled all year. I was hoping Crawford would fair a little better, seeing that he's already spent some time in AA prior to this year, but that hasn't been the case. The only real notable arm in AA currently is 22 year-old Clayton Tanner who's been decent, going 4-5 with a 3.28 era and a .239 BAA. Only negative with Tanner is his inability to strike people out. He's got just 39 in 82 innings of work.

Down In San Jose, the Giants have one guy I'm keeping tabs on, somebody who's been in the system for a few years now, but just turned 21, and that guy is Charlie Culberson. The 2nd basemen has really found his swing in his 4th professional season. It's kind of a surprise too, because prior to this years breakout (.322, 10 hr, 51 RBI, 12 sb, .894 OPS) he was carrying a career minor league average of .254 and had only 6 home runs in nearly 1000 minor league at-bats. The rest of the young Giants prospects, and most of the guys who were taken in the '09 draft are with low-A Augusta. Third basemen Chris Dominguez, who I really liked when the Giants took him in the third round last year, is hitting .275 with 12 homers and 53 RBI. 2nd rounder Thomas Joseph hasn't been quite as good, but has been heating up and has 9 homers and 44 RBI on the year (.325 with 3 jacks and 7 RBI in his last 10 games). Zach Wheeler has been out since the middle of May, so there's nothing new to talk about with him, but he's scheduled to return after the all-star break, so hopefully we'll be seeing the 6th overall choice from 2009 back in action very soon. Also, although he's not in Augusta, Emmanuel Burris has come back from his groin injury and has started off well in Fresno now giving the Giants a versatile and speedy middle infield option if they need one in a pinch.
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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Giants Deal Bengie Molina to Texas

The Giants traded away one of their longest tenured position players on team, sending Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers for reliever Chris Ray and a minor leaguer.

Bengie wasn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball lately, and started to lose more and more playing time after Buster Posey was called up towards the end of May. He'll always be remembered best for his clutch hitting, leadership and his ability to catch and call a very good game. A big reason why the Giants signed him to come back this year was because of the way he has handled their young staff and nurtured these guys along. He's been basically the only catcher the Giants' young arms (Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Bumgarner) have ever thrown to at this level and although I expect them to be fine on their own, they now have a new responsibility with Bengie Molina no longer back there for them. Eli Whiteside got the first start back there on Wednesday, but I fully expect Buster Posey to be the everyday catcher for this team by the end of the year. They still may play him a couple times a week at first base to keep his legs fresh, but he's going to be behind the plate more often than not.

The Molina trade also opens up the outfield log-jam a little bit. It will allow Aubrey Huff to return to first base full-time, leaving the 4-man rotation of Pat Burrell, Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz to carry the load. Unfortunately, this means Aaron Rowand gets his full-time gig in center back, which really is hurting the lineup with this funk he's in. The Giants just don't have many other options right now outside of Rowand though. Schierholtz isn't really hitting, and even though John Bowker keeps tearing up the PCL, he can't seem to get it together each time he gets called up to the show. The one guy who I'm keeping an eye on is a prospect who's been mentioned here plenty in the past, and that is Thomas Neal. He started off slowly in AA ball, bat has really come around of late. In his last 10 games in AA, he's hitting .341 with 4 homers, 12 RBI and a 1.107 OPS. In one of those games, he hit 3 home runs in 5 at-bats. Now, he's not getting a call-up anytime soon, but if this is a sign of things to come, he could definitely be on the radar come August.
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