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Friday, February 28, 2014

Bumgarner, Vogelsong strong in spring debuts

While letting Bochy figure out which is going to be his most effective nightly lineup is crucial, we all know the real focus around this club to start the spring is the starting pitching. I know we re-emphasize it nearly every post, but now there's actual results we get to talk about instead of just speculation, and the results look pretty good.

Thanks to some sketchy defense out there coupled with him elevating his pitches up in the strike zone consistently, it wasn't the way Yusmeiro Petit wanted to begin his spring audition. Petit got charged with 4 runs in the inning which can't all be blamed on him, but most of it can. However, on Friday's 2nd day of Exhibition baseball, the Giants split their squads to play two games, and had both starters throw up identical, impressive lines that has to have Bruce Bochy feeling pretty good. Not to mention, Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants projected 5th guy, came in after Madison Bumgarner's uneventful two innings and threw two scoreless frames on the board himself. We all know that MadBum is pretty darn solid by now, and these are the things we come to expect from the newly dubbed ace. What really peaked my interest though was how successful one of the Giants top young starting prospects fared in the other half of Friday's split squad vs. the A's. As we did our prospect breakdown of the Giants top-20 last month, we ranked Edwin Escobar 2nd and the most likely of the top-10 to possibly see big league time in 2014. He shut down the A's with 1-2-3 innings in the first and second before departing with no base-runners allowed and a strikeout over the two frames. The more I see and hear about this kid, the more of a believer I'm becoming. He's probably not going to be another one in the Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner echelon, but certainly a strong starter with mid-rotation capabilities.

The big league relievers haven't fared quite as well. Sergio Romo got lit up on day one by Oakland, Heath Hembree took the loss in the game vs. Oakland on Friday, and George Kontos gave up two runs on 4 hits in one inning of work. Jean Machi is the only projected Giants' bullpen member to have a scoreless outing yet, although Affeldt, Lopez and Casilla have yet to throw.

As far as the positional players through these first 3 games, there have certainly been a few who've stood out. Brandon Belt's off to a 4 for 5 start with a double and RBI, but he's the only Giants' regular who's played both days so far, so he's had more chances than the others. As far as prospects who have appeared in two games thus far and are impressing, the man atop that list is surprisingly Gary Brown. A lot of people have written Gary Brown off already, and those that are still hanging onto a fringe of hope need him to be big in 2014. So far, he's started this spring off in solid fashion with 2 hits, 2 BB and a stolen base. Two of his main problems are not knowing the strike zone and inept base running for a guy with his speed, but if this start is any indication, things may be turning around for the 25 year-old. The other youngster to step up and a guy who Bruce Bochy's been raving about early on is shortstop Ehire Adrianza. This guy was always on the radar the last few years because of his slick glove, but this winter he apparently went with a new strategy of focusing on strength and muscle gain which in turn will hopefully translate at the plate. He was one of the first Giants' to hit a homer when the team had their initial workout 10 days back, and then stepped up in Wednesday's game and did the same. He didn't blast off in Friday's game, but he did rope a triple. He's got 4 RBI and is slugging 1.4000 after two games and has shown that slick glove up the middle he's known for. Tony Abreau has the clear-cut lead in this race, being with a Major League contract and all, but if Adrianza significantly outplays him this spring, the Giants may have a hard decision to make since Adrianza's out of options himself.

Best case is both Abreu and Adrianza play well and the Giants maybe ship one of them out for some more relief depth. I just don't think David Huff and Kameron Loe are great options should someone go down in the pen or rotation.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spring Notes: Colvin brings much needed depth

Last season, the Giants lack of depth ended up costing them big time, as many of their key players hit the DL at various points in the season and they weren't able to sufficiently overcome it.

While adding Michael Morse brings some depth to the outfield by enabling Gregor Blanco to carry the fourtt outfield role, they still have very little depth outside of their starting 3, with Blanco the only one with legit ML experience there. Juan Perez looked decent at times, but for the most part, looked like a AAAA'er and not a guy who should have a prominent role on a team with championship aspirations. They did take step towards adding some more depth earlier this week however, bringing in Tyler Colvin on a minor league deal, a player I mentioned a few times this winter as a potential low-risk/high-reward type. He basically fell off the face of the earth last season, thanks in part to some back issues that kept him sidelined or down in AAA for most of the year, but he was once a highly touted prospect in the Cubs organization and does have a couple of solid seasons under his belt at age 28. Before his abysmal .160/3/10/.472 line he posted in 27 games last year, he put up a respectable .290/18/72/.858 line over 136 games in 2012. He also had a nice year in 2010 with the Cubs, hitting 20 HR and driving in 56 runs over 358 at-bats in more of a reserve role. If he's healthy, and he says he is, he should be the clear-cut favorite to win the Giants' fifth outfield spot, which currently is Perez's by default. He won't be handed the job though, and he'll have to prove last season's injuries and ineffectiveness are behind him.

So, as you can probably tell, I very much like the addition just cause there really is no downside here. Worst case; he doesn't make the opening day roster. Best case; he reverts to 2012 form, not only makes the squad but makes it hard for Bochy to keep him on the bench. He can play all 3 outfield positions and handle first base as well, so having him on the team in a reserve role gives them more flexibility than many other players would.

There are still a few other players, especially bullpen guys, that are looking for homes that could come in and provide some competition for roster spots. They did bring in David Huff a few weeks back to add some depth, but regardless of what Bochy says, he doesn't have a realistic shot at making the opening day roster unless someone gets hurt or he absolutely dominates this spring. Kevin Gregg especially stands out as he's got experience in nearly every bullpen role, including success as a closer. The Giants bullpen is probably fine as is, but Santiago Casilla's missed some time last year and it hurt. Plus, Sergio Romo, with his small frame and violent style of pitching. is always a risk to go down. In any case, adding another arm would certainly not hurt matters.

Notes: Things are definitely starting to pick up in Giants' camp with the exhibition opener a few days out. Brandon Belt got his deal all wrapped up, Santiago Casilla got his visa issues taken care of and has arrived in impressive fashion (throwing in the high-90's during his live batting practice session Saturday), and Bruce Bochy announced his starter for Wednesday's Cactus League premiere. Yusmiero Petit will draw the start Wednesday, then the Giants will delve into their rotation starting with Friday's game... According to Alex Pavlovic, the Giants have been particularly impressed by Derick Law (our #11 prospect on our annual Giants top-20 from last month) and Jose De Paula, two guys with outside shots at making the opening day roster but aren't considered serious candidates at this point. De Paula, a young hard-throwing lefty, is interesting though as a rule 5 guy and must make the opening day roster in order for the Giants to keep him (barring a trade). As of now, the favorites to fill out the Giants' pen after Romo, Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez are Petit, Heath Hembree and Jean Machi, but that's where we'll see most of the competition for spots this spring.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Giants ready to rock with full-squad in tow

Although many players arrived before the official reporting date, all Giants position players have now joined pitchers and catchers in Scottsdale with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Wednesday.

There's been a ton of talk about the new offseason workout of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson's ankle and of course, the abundant weight loss from Pablo Sandoval. While all three subjects will be watched
closely over the next few weeks, I'm most curious to see how this new offseason throwing program will work out for Lincecum. Up until this winter, Timmy had never thrown off a mound during an offseason, but hopes the work he put in prior to spring training will help him get on track quicker in the Cactus League and lead to a much better start to 2014 than he had to '13. As for the other Tim in the rotation, all signs have been pointing towards him being a full-go with no special restrictions (other than your normal pitch count watch for starters in early April) for his first scheduled start of the season. He says to have no issue with the surgically repaired ankle when throwing though he does notice it when breaking off the mound to field balls or cover first. Although they haven't really said anything about their plans for the starters to begin the Cactus League, I'd be surprised if we didn't see Huddy make his first scheduled appearance along with the other four. 

Buster Posey, getting to catch Huddy for the first time, said the 38 year-old veteran, along with the other four projected starters all looked good for their initial bullpen sessions. He had similar things to say about the relievers he caught as well, which is standard for this time of year, but is certainly always reassuring to see everyone healthy enough to throw.

As for the positional guys, the talk of the camp so far has been about how good everyone feels physically. Marco Scutaro, who was handicapped by a bum finger for over half the season last year says he should have no carry over effects from the injury and plans to be 100% ready by opening day though he will take it cautiously this spring to ensure that. Also, Angel Pagan has shown up in good
health and good spirits. Many people like to focus only on the starting pitching as being the reason for last years letdown, but the Giants top of the order was basically non-existent for much of the year. We all saw how hot the offense got when Pagan was moved to the leadoff spot for good after mid-season in 2012, and it's crucial the Giants get him back to the level he was performing at then, and keep him on the field this time around. His all out play will leave him susceptible to injury, but he's not going to change a thing and the Giants aren't asking him too. He even added some more muscle this season which could translate to more extra-base power from the Giants all-time single season triples king.

The only Giants pitcher who has yet to join the squad is Santiago Casilla, as he's clearing up visa issues in his native Dominican Republic. The Giants are hopeful he'll join them before the week is over. Also, unless they resolve the issue in the next 12 hours, it looks like Brandon Belt and the Giants are headed for an arbitration hearing early Wednesday. Arbitration hearings can a pain, but the club and the player are still nearly $2M apart on a salary for 2014, so it seems inevitable.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back to Work: Spring Training opens Friday

The date we've all been waiting for since the 2013 season ended is finally upon us. Giants' pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training Friday with the positional players following shortly after as they try and get back on track after a disappointing display last year.

There will be a couple of new faces playing prominent roles for the 2014 club that weren't here in 2013, but for the most part the Giants will be relying on much of the same recipe that landed them a World Championship in 2012, then saw them finish 10 games below .500 a season ago. Regardless of how good of additions Michael Morse and Tim Hudson end up being, in order for the Giants to get back to the success they saw in 2012 they'll need their core players to rebound from sub-par showings in 2013. First and foremost, that responsibility lies with the pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation. The only guy that should be satisfied by their personal performance last summer is Madison Bumgarner. Everyone else should be coming in to 2014 with a chip on their shoulder. That includes Matt Cain, although he did start to look like himself in the second half last year after a horrendous first few months, and Tim Lincecum, who's struggled with consistency the last two seasons. Those two are the guys that hold the keys to the Giants success in 2014, at least within the starting rotation. Madison Bumgarner will be fine, Tim Hudson should be that rock-solid veteran presence we're all expecting him to be (health permitting), and Ryan Vogelsong should be fine in the fifth spot based on his finish to 2013. This rotation can be great again, as good as in 2010 and 2011, but Cain and Lincecum need to pitch like "The Horse" and "The Franchise" in order for it to happen.

As we've seen the past several years, this team goes by way of the starting pitching and that's the reason why they'll be so crucial in 2014 and under the microscope this spring. However, it wasn't just the Giants starting pitching that took a hit last summer. Their everyday lineup, outside of a strong year from Hunter Pence and some solid growth from Brandon Belt, was largely unimpressive last year as well. The two guys that I'm really looking at for bounce-back 2014 seasons are Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. Pablo's new slimmed down look will hopefully help keep him off the DL and on the field more often in 2014. The improved conditioning coupled with it being a contract year has all signs pointing toward a career rejuvenation in 2014 for the 27 year-old. He knows if he performs like he did in 2009 and 2011, he'll have a large payday waiting for him next winter, which should be plenty of incentive to keep the weight off, which is the real challenge with Panda. As for Posey, many are blaming 2012's large, extended workload after his injury shortened 2011 as reason for his fall-off in 2013 and he's been working on adding strength to help keep him spry for the full 6-month marathon this winter. While expecting another MVP-type season from the superstar backstop may not be realistic, I think a return to a .300/20/90/.900 line would be just fine for the All-Star backstop. Improved health with Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan should help as well, but Panda and Posey can really make this offense a strength if they're on.

Cain, Lincecum, Sandoval and Posey are the four key figures that I'll be watching closest as we start the 6 week journey towards opening day Friday, but there's obviously plenty more going on. We'll start diving into the upcoming spring battles, and examine some other key areas for the 2014 season in the coming days as full-squad workouts start next week. Time to dust off the cobwebs of winter folks, baseball's back!

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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

GBB's 2014 Giants Top-20 Prospects: 1-10

In Saturday's post, we listed the Giants top-20 prospects, numbers 11-20, as we see them entering the 2014 season. Today, we'll finish off the list with numbers 1-10.

10) Martin Agosta, RHP: When the Giants drafted him, Agosta reminded me a bit of Tim Lincecum. He's slender with incredible stuff and the only reason he's not ranked higher is because his best role is still a bit undetermined. Right now, he looks like he's going to be solid in whatever role the Giants decide on using him in, starter or reliever. He had his way with Low-A hitters last season, allowing just 57 hits in 91 innings, but he'll be 23 in April and still has some command issues to work out. Should start off in San Jose though could be in Fresno before season's end. Just curious to see whether it's as a starter or reliever.

2013: 18 G, 91 IP, 9-3, 2.06 ERA, 57 H, 43 BB, 109 K, 1.09 WHIP (Low-A Augusta)

9) Andrew Sussac, C: Sussac is one of the rare Giants' hitters who had more success in the AA Eastern League than in the California League, and it wasn't even close. He saw his power really come around, and all his numbers at the plate trend upwards despite playing in the more advanced league where potential impact bats often go to die (see Gary Brown). I had my doubts about the 23 year-old after the sub-par 2012 showing, but 2013 definitely made me a believer. His skills behind the plate are already advanced for his age, and as long as his hitting continues improve, he could jump into the top-5 next year.

2013: 262 AB, 67 H, 32 R, .256 AVG., 12 HR, 46 RBI .820 OPS

8) Calyton Blackburn, RHP: I've always been a big fan of Blackburn's, and it's hard for me not to place him a few slots higher. Although his success at the lower levels points toward a solid future, he doesn't quite have the upside as the arms higher than him on this list. He was in my top-3 just a year ago, and another big season at a higher level could put the 21 year-old right back in the fold. He's got decent stuff and knows how to pitch, but there's some question as to how much better he's going to get. Crick, Escobar, Mejia and Stratton all project hugher at this point, but Blackburn certainly has the makeup to become a quality back-end starter at the next level.

2013: 23 G, 133 IP, 7-5, 3.65 ERA, 111 H, 35 BB, 138 K, 1.09 WHIP (A San Jose)

7) Ty Blach, LHP: The young lefty did nothing but impress in his first full year of pro ball last summer, in the hitter-friendly California League no less. At age 23 and with the collegiate experience he's had, he's a good candidate to move quickly through the system and should start 2014 in AA Richmond. He's got that smooth left-handed delivery that is easy to repeat and has terrific command because of it. He won the 2013 MiLBY Award for best starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Has a bit of a Noah Lowry-type arsenal with his fastball-changeup combo as his bread and butter and could have a similar upside as Lowry should he fulfill his potential.

2013: 22 G, 130 IP, 12-4, 2.90 ERA, 124 H, 18 BB, 117 K, 1.09 WHIP (A San Jose)

6) Christian Arroyo, SS: The Giants surprised a lot of people by taking Arroyo with their top pick in the 2013 draft, a round or two ahead of where he was projected, but there's no questioning the kids talent. His bat is what got him drafted as high as he was, as he's likely the brightest young offensive talent they've taken since taking Posey in 2008 (Gary Brown just hasn't panned out). His defense at short is average, as lacks elite range. He's got a strong arm though and is certainly capable at short, but likely is projected out as a better 2nd basemen at the big league level. It wouldn't surprise me if next year's list has Arroyo in the top-3.

2013: 184 AB, 60 H, .326 AVG, 47 R, 18 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 3 SB .898 OPS (Rookie League)

5) Chris Stratton, RHP: After a concussion forced his first pro season to end prematurely, we were able to get a much more in-depth look at Stratton in 2013, and he was very much as advertised. He's very efficient with stuff that grades out above average but he doesn't dominate or strike guys out at as high of rate as you'd think. One area I'd like to see him improve on in 2014 is his free passes. He's got all the tools though, and certainly appears to know how to pitch and approach hitters. Should start 2014 in San Jose, though his experience could make the 23 year-old a quick mover.

2013: 22 G, 132 IP, 9-3, 3.27 ERA, 128 H, 47 BB, 123 K, 1.32 WHIP (Low-A Augusta)

4) Mac Williamson, OF: This guy really looked like the real deal in 2013 in San Jose. Only thing with that is San Jose has been great to a lot of Giants prospects in recent years and they haven't always panned out upon advancing. Williamson will hope to stop that trend in 2014 though as the 23 year-old will look to continue his success in AA to begin 2014. His build and style of play almost remind me a bit of a poor man's Matt Holliday. If he could come anywhere close to that, the Giants will have themselves a valuable asset. At the very least, he becomes a 4th/5th outfielder bringing power off the bench (Johnny Gomes type).

2013: 520 AB, .292 AVG, 152 H, 94 R, 31 2B, 25 HR, 89 RBI, 10 SB, .879 OPS (A San Jose)

3) Adalberto Mejia, LHP: The 20 year-old has made a large climb in a short amount of time. He cracked MiLB's Giants top-20 list last season, his first in pro ball. This year, he's a consensus top-5 on all lists. He's got great command and although he won't blow away hitters with any particular pitch, he's got some deception to his throw and it makes him a tricky pickup at the plate. He kind of reminds me of Jonathan Sanchez, only with much better command. He should start the year off in San Jose, although he made it all the way up to Fresno for a start in 2013, so AA Richmond could be a realistic start point for the youngster. Expect his numbers to be impressive, no matter what level he's at though, as this kid looks like the real deal and a potential mid-rotation arm in the the near future.

2013: 17 G, 92 IP, 7-4, 3.33 ERA, 80 H, 25 BB, 91 K, 1.14 WHIP (A San Jose, AAA Fresno)

2) Edwin Escobar, LHP: Although I have huge expectations for Kyle Crick and still have him ranked at one, Edwin Escobar has quickly become my personal favorite prospect in the system. He's got a heater that reaches the mid-90's and sits around 93, a solid change and a swing-and-miss breaking ball that could use some refining, but looks like it will become a plus pitch. Most importantly, he's got solid command of all his stuff, and has displayed an uncanny ability of knowing the art of pitching for a 21 year-old. You know you have good stuff when you go 128 innings and have more K's than hits and walks combined. Look for him to start in AAA, and possibly be at the top of the list should of the the Giants starting five go down at some point in 2014.

2013: 26 G, 128 IP, 8-8, 2.80 ERA, 112 H, 30 BB, 146 K, 1.10 WHIP (A San Jose, AA Richmond)

1) Kyle Crick, RHP: The big right-hander has A+ stuff, but his command has held him down just a bit early in his professional career. He's good enough to overcome the slight command issue though, and I'm expecting 2014 to be a big year for the 21 year-old Texan. He's built a lot like Matt Cain, and resembles his delivery a bit, but his stuff reminds me more of a Jason Schmidt-type. He's got that hard breaking ball, and the fastball that comes out of his hand so easily and sits in the mid-90's with consistency. After posting a 2.51 ERA in Augusta in '12, he dropped it down to a ridiculous 1.57 in San Jose last year. He's the next big thing expected from a farm system that's produced some pretty great arms over the last several years. Look for him to start in Richmond, or at least spend most of 2014 there.

2013: 14 G, 68 IP, 3-1, 1.57 ERA, 48 H, 39 BB, 95 K, 1.26 WHIP (A San Jose)
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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