April 11th. May 15th.
Those two dates are the dates of Augusta’s biggest collapses. In each one, they had a lead of at least 8-1, and the bullpen gave it up. The big losses underlie a deeper problem in the Giants’ system: bullpen failures.
Augusta’s problems are some of the most pronounced. Connor Kaden has a 5.60 ERA through 12 games, Ryan Halstead has a 7.04 ERA in 13 games, and Matthew Pope has a 10.32 ERA in eight. But Augusta is hardly the only culpret. Ray Black in Double-A has seen his ERA hit a team-high 7.98. Other hard throwers Jake Smith and Dan Slania have a 5.40 and 5.06, respectively. And Jeff Soptic has an 11.37 ERA in San Jose.
Now, bullpen problems in the farm are hardly a system killer. However, some of the bigger bullpen prospects are now in the midst of incredible slumps. With the major league struggles as well, this brings a lot of questions up about what the future holds for that end of the system.
The Mixed Bag of Lucius Fox
The Giants came into this season with a handful of interesting, if not overwhelming, prospects. However, no one was more anticipated than international free agent signing Lucius Fox (perhaps since no one had seen him play yet). Fox got the assignment to Augusta, and expectations were probably too high for a talented-yet-raw 18-year old who had never played pro ball.
This week was an excellent example of what has been an up-and-down season.
Fox started the week falling a home run short of the cycle on Sunday. Then he went three straight hitless games before getting a day off. He stole three bases on the week, giving him 11 on the season (tied for 9th in the league), two of which came on a day he was hitless but got a walk. On the other hand, he had a three error game on Friday, giving him 14 on the season.
So it goes for the prospect. Fox ends this week batting .214, and slugging just .302, but with a respectable .326 on-base percentage, with 19 walks against 36 strikeouts. The switch-hitter has hit both his home runs from the right side, but both his doubles and a triple come from the left. His batting average, however, is pretty even from both sides (.217 as a RHH, .214 as a LHH).
The lack of hitting has been his only weakness, but he gets on base enough, and steals when he does. He’s stolen 11 on 15 attempts this season. However, the defense continues to come slow, though he’s not getting moved off of shortstop anytime soon.
This is the life of a young prospect, and he’s going to go through some travails. It’s too early to turn sour on a poor performance, but one shouldn’t expect him to dominate anytime too soon, either.
Catchers Coming Off The DL
Andrew Susac has been MIA for much of the year, but he’s getting some action back in the low-level minors. He returned in San Jose on Friday, and has gone 3-for-7 with a double and a walk in his first two games back. Susac hadn’t seen action since April 26th, batting .214 over just 8 games played. Susac should play one more game in San Jose on Sunday before heading back to Sacramento.
Meanwhile, Aramis Garcia made his own return to San Jose from injury, making his first appearance since May 8th. Garcia went 5-for-10 with 5 RBI in his first two games back, playing Tuesday and Thursday.
Arenado Named California League Offensive Player of the Week
Jonah Arenado took home the mouthful that is the Offensive Player of the Week in the California League, slugging his way to the honor. Arenado went 9-for-26, seven of which went for extra bases (four doubles, and three home runs) for the week ending on May 15th. He becomes the first San Jose player to win the honor this season.
Arenado had a slightly tougher time this week, going 4-for-28 on the week, and getting plunked a couple of times.
Changes At The Crater
This doesn’t directly affect the prospects, but it’s worth a few words.
The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes announced they will be upgrading Volcanoes Stadium for the 2017 season, their 20th anniversary. Most notably, a brand new 400-square foot LED scoreboard, some VIP table seating along the main concourse, a new group party patio and kids zone.
I hope the new scoreboard will continue one of its small, quirky features, a Volcano on the top that would "erupt" smoke after home runs.
Volcanoes Stadium is one of the more unique stadiums I’ve ever visited. Most stadiums prize the grandstand behind home plate. However, Volcanoes Stadium has 10 rows of a concrete grandstand ringing the infield, and while they have metal bleachers down the lines further up, behind home plate is the team’s administrative building, with press box, VIP club and some suites on the second floor. It lends to a surreal feel of a stadium, with the building there.
Hitter of the Week
I’m very tempted to give a second Hitter of the Week title to Jarrett Parker, who is tearing up Sacramento, but I’m going to give it to Steven Duggar.
Duggar hit .379 for the week, going 11-for-29 with two doubles, a triple and two home runs. That’s raised his batting average for .290, and brings Duggar up to six home runs on the season. He has a 45% extra-base hit percentage, with nine doubles, three triples and six home runs.
The 6th round pick remains a toolsy opportunity in San Jose, and he’s been one of the team’s most consistent hitters of the season.
Pitcher of the Week
This Pitcher of the Week is Michael Connolly, the 24-year old Augusta starter. Yep.
Connolly was a 27th round pick in 2013, and has been bouncing around the short-season leagues, last getting a taste of full-season ball in 2014, with four relief appearances in Augusta. He cut his chops starting last season in Salem-Keizer, with a 3.66 ERA in 13 starts, but had started as a reliever in Augusta. However, he’s switched over to starter now, and has three starts.
Two came this past week, and he went a combined 11 innings, giving up one earned run on three walks and 11 hits, with 9 strikeouts.
Clearly, Connolly isn’t on the top of the prospect heap, and I have no scouting reports on him, but for a player that’s been kicking around short-season, Connolly has been fairly successful numberswise. He has a career 3.64 ERA over parts of four seasons, with 121 strikeouts in 148.1 innings, and 49 walks.
Having lost five of their last seven games, Sacramento sits at the bottom of the division at 16-27. Turns out that it wasn’t just Salt Lake…Jarrett Parker continues to pound Triple-A pitching, and now Mac Williamson is starting to come back around as well. Parker notched his home run total up to 13 this week, good for the PCL lead. Williamson has only five, but is hitting .287 on the season.
With a big win on Saturday, Richmond broke a 14-game losing streak. Still, Richmond lives at the bottom of the division at 11-30, 19 games behind the leading RubberDucks…Austin Slater and Tyler Horan continue to be the offensive leaders in Richmond. Slater is batting .297, with three home runs and four stolen bases. Horan also has three home runs, but with a .284 batting average…Andrew Suarez had a rough second start in Richmond, getting knocked around for 5 earned runs on ten hits in 4.1 innings.
San Jose Footprints
The San Jose Giants are having the most success in the win-loss column of any of the farm team, just one game behind the division leading Visalia Rawhide with a 24-16 record…On Friday, San Jose defeated Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, on a rehab assignment with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes…Chris Shaw continues to power the Giants, hitting his team-leading 8th home run against Ryu on Friday.
Augusta Putt-putt Course
Despite all the talent, Augusta continues to struggle. At 20-22, they sit in fifth in the 7-team Southern Division. They are one of four teams grouped around .500, with the Columbia Fireflies in second at 21-21. Charleston leads the division by a wide margin at 26-15…Dillon Dobson, the early league leader in home runs, had gone quiet lately. But he finally hit his first home run since mid-April, and got two in back-to-back games.
5/16 - RHP George Kontos taken off the 15-day DL.
5/16 - RHP Clayton Blackburn optioned to Sacramento from San Francisco.
The carousel between San Francisco and Sacramento took a bit of a break, once Kontos returned from his DL stint. Blackburn didn’t get a chance to make his major league debut, but he got a nice little paid vacation in Major League cities for a few days. Blackburn went one inning in his return to Triple-A, giving up two hits but no runs.
5/17 - C Ben Turner assigned to Richmond from San Jose.
5/19 - LHP Phil McCormick assigned to Richmond from Sacramento.
5/20 - Richmond released LHP Mike Kickham.
It’s been a rough road for Kickham, a 6th round pick back in 2010 for the Giants. Kickham made the majors with the Giants in 2013 and 2014, posting a 10.98 ERA. He bumped around with the Cubs, Mariners and Rangers through 2015, and signed with the independent Bridgeport Bluefish but was released before making an appearance. His comeback with the Giants consisted of a 6.75 ERA over six appearances.
The 26-year old Turner went 0-for-10 with San Jose before his promotion to Richmond, where he went 1-for-4 in his Double-A debut. Turner hit .276 last season between San Jose and Sacramento. McCormick had a 4.05 ERA in 17 appearances for Sacramento this season, one of which was a start.
5/17 - C Aramis Garcia activated from the 7-day DL.
5/20 - C Andrew Susac assigned to San Jose from Sacramento.
Turner got pushed up to Richmond with Garcia’s return from the DL. Susac makes his long awaited return. See more above.
No Moves Listed
In yet another attempt to take something silly and/or stupid and tangentially connect it to the Giants farm system…the Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets has announced a contest to rename the team, and I blame the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
You see, in 2009, when the Connecticut Defenders moved to Richmond, the team held a poll to rename the team, a poll that had a few generic, serious names (The Flatheads, the Rhinos, the Hambones (until objections from the NAACP)), but a few goofy ones as well (Hush Puppies, Rock Hoppers), and one of the goofier won out…of course, the Flying Squirrels.
Since then, teams have thrown goofier and goofier names into the polls for new names, from Portland Oregon’s option of renaming their team the "Wet Sox" (since moved to El Paso, to become the Chihuahuas), to the recently moved and renamed Hartford Yard Goats, and even temporary names, such as the more and more popular Fresno Tacos of the former Giants affiliate. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Grizzlies are no more by 2018.
What names are Binghamton, New York, possibly going to get?
Uh….what? Okay, the Bullheads are a local Catfish, and Gobblers refer to the turkeys that local hunters hunt.
The four horse-related names? They refer to Binghamton as the "Carousel Capital of the World." And they don't...um, all sound horse related, necessarily.
While I can debate the need of that particular designation to inspire four different names…Stud Muffins? Really? According to the team, "the "Stud Muffins" celebrates the collection of carousel horses belonging to Binghamtonians."
This recent stretch of bad names isn’t unique in minor league history, but it sure seems to be getting worse. Ultimately, these names are kitschy and don’t seem to stick long, whether teams simply get renamed or just move. And some jsut don’t work out, such as a favorite of mine, the Casper (Wyoming) Ghosts. But I can’t help but think, one day, 20 years into the future, we’ll look back on this age of team names with the same disgust and confusion as we now look back at the 1990’s of sports and say "Really? Teal and Purple everywhere???"