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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Down on the Farm: Giants Minor League Report

Well, with the big club struggling, injuries and anxiety moving through the clubhouse and even the un-beatable Tim Lincecum looking like a mere mortal, I figured we'd switch gears today and talk a little minor league baseball. The Giants are struggling and we all know why that is, you can just scroll down to our last few posts and find everything we would have just repeated had we continued to discuss their struggles.

Gary Brown Struggling
Down in A-Ball is where most of the Giants top prospects are currently residing, whether it's low-A Salem or high-A San Jose, but nobody has really stuck out this first month at the lower levels, including 2011 first round pick Joe Panik. The Giants hopeful future shortstop has really started slowly after having a strong 2011 campaign, hitting just .240 with no home runs through 27 games. Outfielder Jarret Parker, taken after Gary Brown in 2010, has 4 HR and 4 SB through the first month, but is hitting a Brandon Crawford-like .172. Some of the arms the Giants selected in recent drafts have looked well though. Highly touted right-hander Kyle Crick (taken as a supplemental pick in last years draft) has looked dominant at times with a 2.45 ERA and over a K per inning in his 5 starts for Salem, but his BB:K ratio is practically 1:1 and that needs to change. Perhaps the best arm down in A ball going though has been reliever Josh Osich. He was a guy who we talked about a lot after he was drafted, as he has the makings to be a star, but battled injuries in college which held him back. He no-hit UCLA last season to beat the 2011 drafts 8th overall pick, Trevor Bauer, but the Giants have used him in relief to start the year and he's cashed in with 8 scoreless outings and 10 strikeouts in just 7 innings of work. I'd like to see him shifted back to the rotation if his arm can handle it.

Up in AA Richmond is where the Giants currently have their two best offensive prospects in Gary Brown and Tommy Joseph, but neither has looked the part and both have struggled mightily in the Eastern League. Brown is hitting just .243 and slugging .291. He does have a .344 OBP and 7 steals, but the Giants would have liked to see him start off a lot better than he has. Joseph has shown some pop, leading the team with 3 homers in a notoriously tough league to hit home runs in, but he too is struggling to get hits on a regular basis, with his average just a point higher than Browns right now. Down in AAA Fresno though, the Giants are having no such problem hitting and scoring runs and one has to wonder whether the Giants may move Brown and Joseph up to the PCL just to give them a change of scenary and a warmer environment to hit in. The bright spot as far as Giants prospects go in Fresno has been Roger Kieshnick. He leads the
Roger Kieschnick: 7 HR in AAA
organization with 7 HR, and has 20 RBI and a 1.076 OPS to boot. With that production, and the Giants lack of power and outfielders, I'm a bit surprised he hasn't gotten a call-up yet. If he were right-handed, it may be a different story, since the Giants are already so left-handed heavy. Also, before he got called up, Connor Gillaspie was leading Fresno in hitting with a .368 average, 3 HR and 12 RBI. Fresno's middle-infield combo has perhaps been the most impressive though, as two prospects that were thought to have been losing value have gotten off to huge starts. 23 year-old Second basemen Charlie Culberson had a big year in 2010, then a solid year in 2011 with AA, but has started this season just as hot as Kieschnick. He's got 5 HR and leads the team with 23 RBI while hitting a solid .286. That puts him on pace for a 25/100 season, which for a 23 year-old AAA 2nd basemen is huge production. His double-play partner, SS Nick Noonan, taken in the same draft as Culberson, but has had nowhere near the success yet, is hitting a strong .333 with .400 on-base percentage.

With the Giants lacking depth in the middle infield, especially without Freddy Sanchez and Brandon Crawford struggling to hit his weight, if Noonan and Culberson keep raking like that and Brandon Crawford keeps struggling in San Fran, we could see some changes in the coming weeks. Especially after the Giants learn more about where Freddy Sanchez is on his rehab. He suffered another set-back while playing in San Jose last week and has been shut down since. As I said upon hearing that news, it now wouldn't surprise me if Sanchez misses all of 2012, in which case Culberson could get a look. Last but not least is the bright outfielder Francisco Pegeuro, who's had an up and down year to start out (.235/2 HR/18 RBI), but at least he's producing.

All in all, the Giants top-prospects haven't performed the way the Giants were hoping to start 2012. They had thoughts of possibly bringing Gary Brown up as soon as this summer, but after seeing him struggling in Richmond, that thought process may have changed. Same can be said for Joe Panik, who looked to be on the fast track after hitting nearly .400 in the minors last season after being drafted and signing his contract. However, they have had some bright spots, like Kieshnick, Culberson and Gillaspie. Also, the team's top reliever in the minors, Heath Hembree, has been dominant as Fresno's closer, prompting talk that he could be on his way up to the Giants sooner than later. One of their top arms, starter Eric Surkamp, is still recovering from the injury he suffered in spring and has yet to pitch in any games, though he's getting a lot closer to being ready. There have been some pleseant surprises too, for instance, 24 year-old Chris Heston, who's got a 1.23 ERA and a 2-2 record in 5 starts in AA Richmond. And of course, we know about Erick Hacker and Travis Blackley's success in Fresno, as each have been up with the big club, though both are a tad old at 29 and 30 to be considered "prospects".
The Giants Baseball Blog


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