Every spring, the Giants go out and sign a bunch of players to minor-league deals. It’s baseball’s bargain bin, and history would suggest the Giants are particularly adept at this dumpster diving. Most teams are happy to come across the occasional Joaquin Arias, a useful yet seriously flawed player that is capable of serving a functional purpose at the major-league level. In past years though, the Giants have struck gold: last year, it was Ryan Vogelsong, who now has a 2.50 ERA in 309.1 innings with San Francisco. In 2010, it was Santiago Casilla, who has pitched to a 160 ERA+ in 145.2 innings here. A couple years before, it was Andres Torres, who ended up playing an integral role in bringing the Giants their championship in 2010. This year’s hidden gem: Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has appeared in 91 games with the Giants, providing value in just about every possible way: at the plate, in the outfield, and on the basepaths. His season line currently stands at .238/.333/.352 (98 wRC+), and his defense has unquestionably saved many runs. Just the other day, he had another one of those otherworldly diving catches to rob Jordany Valdespin of an extra-base hit.
With Hunter Pence now donning the orange and black, the other outfielders — specifically Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco — will likely see their roles diminished. My initial guess was that Pagan would remain the regular centerfielder, given that he’s the established major-leaguer. But Pagan has been struggling for months now, and he’s really burned through his leash. Yesterday, after another couple poor at-bats from Pagan in the six-spot of the batting order, Bochy subbed in Gregor Blanco in the fifth inning. Blanco himself hasn’t exactly been hitting well since his blistering hot May, but he’s still surpassed Pagan in terms of overall hitting production, and his defense has been much better.
As Pagan continues to get mowed down at the plate, Blanco becomes more important — and not just for the stretch run. I’m talking 2013 as well. Back when Pagan was raking and Gary Brown had hit a roadblock in his development, there was discussion of Pagan’s future role with the team. He’s precisely the kind of player that could sign a relatively cheap one-year committment in the offseason, and then make way for Brown when the time came. But in the wake of his extended struggles, this would no longer appear to be a desirable route.
Enter Gregor Blanco, who could very well seize the everyday job from Pagan in center. Blanco enters his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, and given that it’s his first go-around, he’ll come pretty cheap. Gary Brown has finally hit his stride in Richmond, and he’s boosted his numbers from “disappointing” to “respectable.” But it’s still highly possible — probable, even — that the Giants won’t feel he’s developmentally ready by the start of 2013. In this case, why not rely on Blanco to start in centerfield, then eventually hand the job to Brown and put Blanco back in the roaming fourth outfielder role? Given that the Giants will already be focused on investing in the corner outfield (welcome back, Melky?) and middle infield markets this offseason, it would make a lot of sense for them to go with Blanco as the short-term solution in center — assuming, of course, that he continues to perform well over the rest of the season — and just worry about the other stuff.
Yesterday I went down to Modesto to see the San Jose Giants season opener. The baby Giants roster features their 2011 1st and 2nd round draft picks (Joe Panik and Andrew Susac), 2010 2nd round pick Jarrett Parker as well as 2011 SAL all-stars Shawn Sanford and Adam Duvall. On the other side, Modesto started 2009 1st round pick Tyler Matzek who was one of the biggest enigmas in the minors last year, as well as 2010 1st round draft pick Kyle Parker and 2011 SAL All-star Corey Dickerson.
The most impressive prospect was probably Matzek, who struck out 7 in 4.2 innings and was pulled after 85 pitches. He pitched well, striking out the side twice and had his pitch count elevated by a Cristhian Adames throwing error in the first.
On the Giants side, Joe Panik looked good. He made two very nice defensive plays — one leaping to catch a ball, and one ranging to his right, spinning, and making an off balance throw. Offensively, he did a good job of grinding out at bats, which led to him drawing two walks including one that saw him battle back from a 1-2 hole by fouling off tough pitches. He also hit the ball that Adames made the error on, which was likely affected by his speed up the line.
On the other hand, Susac and Duvall had rough introductions to the Cal League. They both had the hat trick at the plate, and had issues defensively. Susac got charged with an error after dropping a pop-up. Duvall, meanwhile, had his range tested in the 9th and did not look great. It is still early and both can and likely will improve, especially Susac as he has a good defensive reputation.
Jarrett Parker had an interesting game. He threw out Kyle Parker trying to stretch a single into a double, and hit the first Giants HR, but also struck out, which was his major problem last season. One thing I did find interesting is that he played RF with Ryan Lollis playing CF. Parker was regarded as a good defensive CF coming out college, but played RF last year in deference to Gary Brown. I thought with Brown moving up they might try Parker back up the middle, but apparently he’s mainly a corner OF now.
Speaking of players who have a problem with strikeouts, Ricky Oropesa had a solid game. He singled to CF off Matzek in the first, and showed a solid ability to work the count, but also ended up with 2 K’s. He has upside as a three-true-outcomes type player, but his biggest key will be translating his strong raw power into game power, as well as not learning bad habits in the hitter-friendly Cal league.
Lastly, Shawn Sanford had a very solid start. He had some jitters initially walking the first batter of the game, but he calmed down and did not walk anyone else. While he wasn’t overpowering, he did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground (9/4 GO/AO) and he really seemed to settle into a groove into the middle innings.
All in all it was an interesting game, but you could definitely tell it was the first game of the year. The San Jose Giants may not have the star power that AA Richmond has, but they should be an interesting team to follow throughout the year.
My list to date
Now on to the top 10!
Crick was the Giants’ supplemental 1st round pick as a right hander out of a high school in Texas. He has good arm strength and a strong build but is still raw as a pitcher as he spent most of his time in high school playing 1B. He threw 7 innings in the AZL last year after signing and next year could head to Augusta, though given how new he is to pitching, an assignment to EST and then Salem-Keizer would not surprise me.
Sanchez probably did not expect to make his major league debut this year. He spent 2010 and part of 2011 splitting time behind the plate with Tommy Joseph before Buster Posey‘s injury caused the Giants to try and catch lightning in a bottle, so to speak, with Sanchez. Sanchez has shown flashes of power and on base ability, but unfortunately never at the same time. Last year he naturally struggled a bit with the adjustment to the higher levels. He’ll likely spend the year at AAA and possibly come up as a reserve if Chris Stewart or Eli Whiteside struggle.
This ranking may be a little low given how electric Hembree’s stuff is, but I have trouble ranking him any higher given his relief profile. Hembree was almost unhittable last year, striking out 13.2 batters per 9 across two levels. While his control could use some refinement, Hembree is knocking on the doors of the majors and looks like he could be a potential successor to Brian Wilson.
I like Peguero and early on thought about ranking him as high as second though. He is a very good hitter for average and has some pop as well as solid athleticism and a strong arm. His main weakness is his approach which is very poor as he has just 35 walks over the last 3 years. To put it another way: last year the Eastern League as a whole hit .259/.329/.395. In the EL Peguero hit .309/.318/.446. Peguero had a batting average 50 points higher than league average and still had a below average OBP. That’s…hard to do. He still has some electric tools though, so if he is able to mature his approach a little he could be a very good player.
Eric Surkamp made his major league debut and it did not go well as he walked more batters than he struck out. By now you probably know the story about Surkamp. He has a fringy fastball but a good curveball and change up as well as good command. Last year he didn’t show it in the majors but he was setting a career high in innings pitched and jumping to the majors from AA is a big leap, no matter how polished you are. I do think Surkamp will settle in as a nice back of the rotation guy, who should get some benefit from AT&T Park.
Susac was the Giants’ 2nd round pick which was surprising to me as I thought he definitely would have been picked in the first round. He slipped though, mainly due to a hamate injury and the fact that he had increased leverage as a draft eligible Sophomore. Susac has good tools including solid power and a strong arm. He has some things to work on behind the plate but he should stay at catcher. He’ll likely start the year at San Jose.
Panik was the Giants’ 1st round pick and he seemed to catch people a bit by surprise. Panik is a solid hitter for average and has good patience. He made his debut in the NWL and hit .341/.401/.467 before then playing in the AFL. Panik will likely start next year at San Jose playing SS, but if he hits there, the Giants could try to expedite his bat and promote him to AA to play 2B along side Ehire Adrianza.
And speaking of Adrianza-here he is. I probably have him rated higher than most places, and that is mainly due to the fact that I think he’ll hit enough to play everyday. He is regarded as a fantastic defensive SS and offensively has always posted a good walk rate. Last year, as a 21 year old in the Cal League he hit .300/.375/.470, though he was repeating the level. Next year he’ll likely head to AA which should provide a challenge for him offensively. While he may need 1000 more at bats in the minors, I do think that he can be good enough to hit at the bottom of the order and let his defense carry him.
Joseph is one of the more intriguing youngsters in the Giants system. He was drafted as a catcher and the common refrain at the time was that it was a question of when Joseph would need to move, not if. Now, after 2 years in the minors, most people believe he’ll be fine at catcher. Offensively he has big time raw power but a poor approach has hindered it a bit from translating completely, though he did have a good year in the Cal league last year. Joseph’s two best qualities are his age (he’ll be 20 in AA next year), and position. I think he could end up as a Miguel Olivo type with the upside to be more.
Brown was the 2010 1st round draft pick and he had an electric debut in the Cal league, hitting .336/.407/.519 with 53 stolen bags. Brown has game changing speed-an example of this was in a televised game he hit a groundball right up the middle to the CF-when the CF looked down to pick it up Brown bolted for second and made it. Brown is also an excellent defensive CF and has an excellent contact rate. While he’ll never walk a lot, he should have a high enough BA to keep a solid OBP. A median projection for him could be something along the lines of a Michael Bourn player. While I would have preferred to trade Brown and keep Wheeler, Brown certainly is a very good prospect.