With the big league team suffering from some bullpen problems, this seems like a good, simple time to review the relief pitching prospects in the system. I’m going to focus on pitchers who started the season in the minors (so it includes recent callups), and pitchers likely to end up as relievers (so not much speculation about current starters who may get switched, like Bickford). So let’s look at the Top 8 in this writer’s opinion, enough relievers to fill out an 13-man bullpen:
San Francisco fans now know why Law was the hot prospect in 2014. He has velocity, he has knee-buckling secondary pitches, he has a great mentality. The Tommy John surgery diverted him, but didn’t derail him. Now, he’s got a high-level closer ceiling, and he won’t be considered a prospect anymore after the next few weeks.
Lefties in the minors still generally always get viewed as future Loogys, rightfully or not. But Okert’s ceiling is actually as a closer, though in the Giants’ system, there’s a lot of competition. Mid-90’s fastball, a slow 80’s slider, and a slingside delivery makes him difficult to pick up. His ERA in Sacramento (3.82) put a damper on his numbers, as his batting average allowed and WHIP spiked, but he got off to a good start in Sacramento before his promotion. He’s a future major leaguer, for sure, and while we might see him as Javier Lopez’s eventual replacement, the future of the Giants left-handed bullpen is All-O’s.
Ray Black is the current sideshow of the minors, at least the Giants’ system, with a fastball that hits three digits. If he gets in a game, watch the scouts. They drop what they’re doing and pay attention to him the way sportswriters would anytime Barry Bonds came up to bat. The ceiling is real, but injuries and control have generally be his undoing. He was hit by the Richmond bullpen implosion, so his ERA hurts this year, but he has 13 strikeouts in 5.2 innings so far. But, Black has averaged two strikeouts an inning his entire minor league career, so it’s hard not to imagine the best.
Slania is a big boy. At 6’5, 275 pounds (as listed), he was a Notre Dame power starter who got converted to a reliever. He throws mid-90’s, and was part of last season’s San Jose power group, but the most overshadowed. He’s had some control issues and has been going through some mechanics tweaks. His ERA has stuck around the mid-threes, but in San Jose, things turned around, as he nearly doubled his strikeout high to 90 in 71.1 innings, and cut his walks from 24 to 15. So far in Richmond, 11 strikeouts and one walk in 8 innings is a good sign.
By far, the best story of the reliever prospects, the former groundskeeper who struck gas (in his arm) has moved up the prospect rankings. The mid-90s thrower was one of the closers in San Jose. The 25-year old racked up 118 strikeouts in San Jose in 84.1 innings pitched. This season, he started the season on the 7-day DL for undisclosed reason, and in his second start, was part of a Richmond bullpen implosion, giving up four runs, so his ERA doesn’t look good early, but it should get better. After all, he struck out the side on Saturday.
Cyr has emerged this season. The 10th rounder out of last year’s draft stuck around the rookie league for only three games, and then surprising got a push up to Augusta, where he collected an unimpressive 5.60 ERA. This year? Back in Augusta, where he’s average nearly 2.2 IP per relief outing, and in 13.1 innings, has 22 strikeouts and four walks. Scouting reports are sketchy, but he throws mid-90’s and reportedly has touched 97, with a big curve. He had control issues in college. The Fremont native has opened some eyes, and he’ll be interesting to watch from here.
Technically not a rookie anymore (and therefore not what some would consider a prospect), Dunning caught the eye of many in Spring Training, but the 27-year old’s path to the majors has been inhibited by his inability to make it through Triple-A. He had a great run in Fresno in 2013, but overall he’s had a 4.18 ERA over three seasons in Triple-A, including a 6.85 ERA in Sacramento last season mired by groin injuries. But there’s a 90’s fastball inside his arm, and a good slider, and an attitude to get ground balls. He’s not a closer of the future, though some compare him to Joe Nathan, but he could be an effective setup man.
Agosta was a 2nd round pick out of St. Mary’s, but has never lived up to that status, with his ERA spiking anytime he was near San Jose. He has a low-90’s fastball, but the Giants kepting toying with his offerings. This year, he got off to a solid start in San Jose, with just over 7 scoreless innings in relief, before getting a push up to Sacramento this week to help fill in the holes from the Major League team’s plundering of Sacramento’s bullpen. He likely won’t stay there, but if he impresses, at 25, he could start moving fast. However, the Sacramento native opened his River Cat stint with three walks to four batters.
By The Way...
Let's break this down once & for all. My last name is pronounced See-er (Cyr), not Sire, nor Siri-r. Glad grammar school taught you well.— Tyler Cyr (@tcyr_11) April 22, 2016
For your future ability to read Minor Lines properly. I'm still waiting for Johneshwy Vargas to do his tweet...
Richmond’s Bullpen Implosion
For those who think that pitching isn’t psychological, and that psychology isn’t contagious, I present last weekend’s bullpen implosion by Richmond. It started with Ray Black on Saturday, picking up what was then a 0-0 tie in the ninth inning. The fireballer started the top of the ninth, and got an out on a bunt attempt. From there, things got bad. Black walked the next batter on four pitches, and threw a wild pitch while walking the next batter on four pitches, and guess what happened next? Walked the next batter on four pitches, with another wild pitch. He got a called strike to lead off the next batter, but still took him to three balls before striking him out. However, a triple by the next batter left Black shell-shocked, his ERA erupted, and a loss to Richmond.
But that’s just one day. However, the next day, it hit Dan Slania and Jake Smith. Slania’s problem was simpler: Richmond was leading 1-0 as he came into the seventh inning, and Slania gave up a leadoff home run to tie the game and leave him with a blown save. Slania ended up with two innings of work allowing just that one run. But in the 9th, with Richmond up 3-1, Smith came in. He got two outs, but also allowed two hits to put runners on the corners. He walked the next two batters, and then gave up a triple of his own to allow three runs and the second blown save of the game.
All the pitchers have improved since, but the bullpen implosion was pretty epic.
Strikeouts Aren’t Everything
Everyone knows you only get three outs per inning. So how does a pitcher rack up five strikeouts in one inning? Augusta was on the receiving end of this, thanks to Charleston RiverDogs pitcher James Reeves.
In a tie game in the 10th, Reeves struck out the first three GreenJackets batters swinging. But the second one, Jean Angomas, was able to race to first as he swung at a slider in the dirt and it got by the catcher. So Reeves went ahead and struck out the fourth batter he faced, Manuel Geraldo…but Geraldo also swung at that slider in the dirt, and it got away, and Geraldo reached. After Reeves walked the next batter, Jalen Miller, to load the bases, he got replaced. The next pitcher allowed the next two batters to single, scoring four runs. Finally, Dylan Davis struck out swinging, and this time the catcher held on. Five strikeouts, and all it cost Charleston was a loss to Augusta.
Give the kid credit, though, he wasn’t blaming his catcher after the game.
The Comeback Trail
Gustavo Cabrera suffered one of the worst injuries I think any young ballplayer could. If you want to read about it, click this link because I’m sure not going to recap it here; I don’t have the testicular fortitude. Suffice it to say, his hand was injured enough that there were very real doubts he’d ever be playing baseball again.
Well, in his first game back…
Gustavo Cabrera blasting a double off Mike Soroka. pic.twitter.com/FYgDqOZ30Q— David Lee (@David11Lee) April 19, 2016
You can watch the full AB here. Cabrera is just 20 years old, so despite the setback he’s still young and has room for quite a career. So far he’s hit .278 with a pair of doubles in 5 games since his return.
The Susac Curiosity
Andrew Susac went 3-for-5 on Saturday, with a double and a home run. That, in of itself, would be enough to make him a headliner in Minor Lines. However, it’s notable for another reason: he’d been missing for quite some time.
Before Saturday, Susac had last been in the lineup on Monday, April 11th. He wasn’t placed on the disabled list, nor was any news ever reported, he was just out. He hadn’t left the team for any reason, as he was helping the team’s coaches out as first base coach while Jose Aguacil was away helping his family. This isn’t unheard of in the minors, but it is for a player to be out so long.
It’s probably that Susac’s wrist was still acting up and they didn’t think he’d miss 11 days of action, which is why they didn’t put him on the DL (remember, the Minor League DL is 7 days, not 14). Indeed, Susac was DH on his first day back, so we’ll have to see how things are going this week for him.
Dillon Dobson: Home Run Leader?
Dillon Dobson, who is still listed as a shortstop for some reason, has been getting plenty of playing time at first base, thanks to the Sklyer Ewing injuries. More impressively, the 23rd round pick has been slugging home runs at an amazing rate. Well, okay, he has 5 in 15 games, but in the South Atlantic League and especially in Augusta. No GreenJacket has ever led the South Atlantic League in home runs, but for the moment, Dobson is tied. He has a four-way tie with three other players atop the SAL leaderboard.
Dobson, who had just three home runs in 57 games in 2015, did lead Appalachian State in home runs in 2014 and 2015 before being drafted, but wasn’t exactly expected to be a slugger in the pros.
Hitter of the Week
By a nose, Steven Duggar comes out ahead as the hitter of this week. It was mostly off the power of last Sunday’s four-hit game, which included both his home runs on the week. Duggar had two other multi-hit games, as well as a game with three walks. He ended up batting .348 with four walks against five strikeouts, and even added a stolen base. Duggar has been the leader of San Jose’s offense so far, batting .327 on the year, with four home runs, and a 1.095 OPS.
Apologies to Dillon Dobson, who is pounding home runs in Augusta but also added a lot of singles this week; Dylan Davis, who had four two-hit games and three home runs for Augusta; Ryder Jones, who had only one hitless game this week for Richmond.
Pitcher of the Week
San Jose’s Andrew Suarez collected nine strikeouts without walking anyone in his Thursday start, and that’s what has earned him the Pitcher of the Week spot this week. Suarez allowed just one run in seven innings of work to bring his ERA down to 3.38 after his third game of the season. Suarez now has 20 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings of work this season.
Apologies to Joan Gregorio, who was snubbed last week since his best start was on Saturday, and collected 15 strikeouts between that start and another this week; Sam Coonrod, who only worked nine innings between last Saturday and this week, but didn’t allow any runs.
Sacramento and Fresno may be natural rivals, but this year, Salt Lake City has been Sacramento’s kryptonite. Sac has gone 0-8 against the Bees, and is 6-3 otherwise…Outfielder Mac Williamson was brought back down to the minors after going 0-for-3 in three pinch-hit opportunities, and he’s responded by hitting 4-for-7 with two home runs and a double…Catcher George Kottaras, who has been in four games while Susac was mysteriously out, still does not have a hit…Hak-Ju Lee had a great series against Las Vegas, going 5-for-12 with a home run. The 25-year old has a .315/.383/.537 line with a pair of home runs.
Richmond has quite a prospect-filled roataion, but Joan Gregorio has been the class so far, through three starts. Gregorio has a 1.69 ERA, with a 21:5 SO:BB ratio. The 24-year old is repeating Richmond, where he had a 3.09 ERA last year, but might be on a promotion list if he keeps this up…Adalberto Mejia hasn’t been bad, either. He has a 19:4 SO:BB ratio and a 2.30 ERA, and has been hurt by giving up 2 home runs…Despite a .210 batting average, Ricky Oropesa leads the team with five home runs, matching Dobson for the system lead.
San Jose Footprints
C.J. Hinojosa is having a good start to his season, and is in the midst of a five-game hitting streak. He also has seven walks against seven strikeouts…After a great start to the season, Jason Forjet had an outing to, uh, not remember, giving up six runs in three innings of work…Sam Coonrod only has given up one run, unearned, in two starts so far this year, but only has a total of nine innings pitched. He hasn’t had the strikeouts this season yet, though, with six strikeouts and two walks…Johneshwy Fargas was taken out of Thursday’s game after getting hit in the head with a pitch, but was good enough to come back on Saturday. Fargas’ 2015 season ended getting hit in the face with a fastball.
Augusta Putt-Putt Course
Phil Bickford has had an interesting early season. He’s given up eight runs on ten hits and four walks in 13.2 innings, so his ERA is 5.27. On the other hand, he has 24 strikeouts against those four walks. That total is only one strikeout short of the league lead…Notably, reliever Tyler Cyr has 22 strikeouts in 13.1 innings, good for the 7th most in the league among all pitchers…The young players continue to have struggles in Augusta. In particular, Lucius Fox and Manuel Geraldo each are sitting at a .154 batting average, though Fox has 6 walks against 19 strikeouts. Geraldo has struck out 24 times without walking once…Dylan Davis had four different two-hit games this week, including a two home run game on Wednesday, and is batting .293 on the season.
4/18 - 2B Ramiro Pena placed on the 7-Day DL due to a concussion.
4/19 - RHP Chris Heston optioned to the River Cats. LHP Ricky Romero placed on the 7-Day DL. RHP Austin Fleet activated from the 7-Day DL. RHP Mike Broadway and LHP Steven Okert promoted to San Francisco.
4/21 - Martin Agosta assigned to the River Cats from San Jose.
4/22 - Mac Williamson optioned to the River Cats. Conor Gillaspie promoted to San Francisco.
Agosta’s promotion is more to fill a plundered Sacramento bullpen than a permanent thing, but he’ll get the opportunity to show he can belong. Pena’s concussion gives Grant Green a chance at consistent playing time.
4/17 - Tyler Mizenko placed on the 7-Day DL due to a fractured toe.
Tough break for Mizenko, who was repeating the Eastern League after posting a 1.98 ERA last year. He had a 2.08 in four relief appearances this season.
San Jose (High-A):
4/21 - RHP Jose Morel assigned to the San Jose Giants.
Jose Morel is a reliever getting a big push from the AZL Giants, where he had a 1.91 ERA in 2015, up past Salem-Keizer and Augusta. The 22-year old is only in his second season of American ball.
4/18 - Activated RF Ashford Fulmer. Activated CF Gustavo Cabrera from the 7-Day DL. Placed SS Tyler Brown, RF Ashford Fulmer, RHP Heath Slatton on the 7-Day DL.
4/19 - Activated 1B Skyler Ewing from the 7-Day DL.
4/20 - Placed RHP Ryan Halstead on the 7-Day DL.
4/21 - Placed 1B Skyler Ewing on the 7-Day DL. Activated RHP Matthew Pope and C Matt Pare from the 7-Day DL.
Boy, Skyler Ewing didn’t get much time off the DL (although the official listing seems off, as he played a bit before the 18th), which helps Dillon Dobson get more playing time. Tyler Brown’s DL stint is retroactive to the 17th, and is due to a left knee contusion. Tough timing, as the other middle infielders’ struggles in Augusta would give him opportunities. Heath Slatton’s reason for the DL stint is an oblique strain, so it’s worth keeping an eye on how he recovers.
And To Wrap It Up…
Last season, the Fresno Grizzlies hit it big, with a Taco jersey and hat, a big promotion, and the love of taco-loving baseball fans everywhere. Well, it appears that the Richmond Flying Squirrels are trying to cash in as well, but…
Really? Waffles? That’s like a Saturday morning companion to cartoons, not exactly a…cult following sort of food. I think I’d suggest that the Squirrels leggo this idea.