When I feel overwhelmed by the size of Major League Baseball — there are 750 active major leaguers right now, with another 250 getting regularly shuffled up and down — I remember that the poor folks covering the minor leagues have it worse. There are so, so, so many minor-league baseball players. It’s how Pablo Sandoval can miss a top-30 list of Giants prospects months before he leapt up from A-ball and destroyed the National League.
That’s why I leave the bulk of the minor-league lifting to Roger over here. He knows what’s going on. Read him.
However, I’m sure a lot of you follow the minors in at least some capacity. You’ve heard of Christian Arroyo or Tyler Beede, for example. You might know that Jose Vizcaino’s kid is in the Giants organization now. And I want you to chime in with your biggest minor-league hope of 2017. Pick a player you want to succeed above all others because of what that would mean for the Giants’ short- or long-term plans.
For example, I might have written this last year:
PLEASE. JUST ONE OUTFIELDER. THAT’S ALL I ASK. IT FEELS LIKE I’M LIVING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SIMULATION, AND THEY’RE JUST MESSING WITH ME AT THIS POINT.
But I’m pretty comfortable that at least one of the current young outfielders will continue to provide hope for the future, so I’ll use my pick on someone else.
Kyle Crick shouldn’t realistically be expected to help the Giants in 2017. That is, if you’re being rational and cautious, it’s enough to hope for incremental improvements and steps in the right direction. Not only that, but Crick recently suffered a concussion after taking a line drive to the head while watching from the dugout, so his odds got even longer. Best of luck to him on a speedy recovery.
However, this isn’t about realistic. This is about hopes and crossed fingers. And I have about a dozen innings here that support these hopes. My dream is Kyle Crick turning into a dominant reliever for the 2017 Giants.
First, back up and recall what Crick’s path has been so far. He was a top prospect in the organization and one of the most coveted right-handed pitching prospects in baseball, ranking in the top 40 of every prospect list before the 2014 season. He was raw, and he would need to iron out some of the wrinkles, but the stuff was just too good to ignore.
Then he ironed more wrinkles in. Then he dropped the iron on his foot. Then he left the house to find some ice, and the iron caught the house on fire. In 2015, he walked 66 batters in 63 innings, which is hard to fathom. He cut that rate to 5.5 walks per nine innings in 2016, but his strikeout rate cratered at the same time.
All the while, his stuff was super stuffy. Remember this video from 2013?
The velocity and breaking balls are the same in 2017, for the most part. You can see the potential. You can dream on it. Then you look at the walk rate, gasp, and shudder. I’ll bet Nick Neugebauer has good stuff right now, too. Stuff might not even be half the battle.
That’s why I was intrigued with Crick’s spring training. Of course, not only do small-sample warnings apply, but spring-stats-are-trash warnings apply. Still, he looked great, walking just three of the 35 batters he faced in relief, while striking out nine of them and allowing a run.
The Giants challenged him with a promotion to Triple-A after three seasons in Richmond. Maybe that was because they wanted him to have a change of scenery. Maybe it was because they were impressed with his outings in the spring. Either way, he responded well in three outings, striking out five in four innings without allowing a walk. He even picked up a save.
While the Giants experimented with Crick in relief in 2015, that might have been because they had no idea what else to do, and they let him start again the next season. It looks like the move to the bullpen is more of a long-term solution now, which is what scouts and prospect writers have been suggesting for years.
My dream is that everything just ... cricks into place.
Ha ha, a little prospect humor there, folks. But, no, sometimes pitchers find success in the bullpen that eluded them in the rotation. Maybe it’s a difference in preparation, or maybe they’re just better suited to facing anxious hitters in late-game situations. The overnight-success phenomenon happens more with converted starters, at least anecdotally.
One of my favorite Baseball-Reference pages belongs to Jeff Nelson, who was a successful right-handed reliever in the majors for 15 seasons. He was drafted out of high school by the Dodgers in 1984, and when he was 19, he walked 87 batters in 73 innings. He would eventually whittle that walk rate down to 5.2 walks for every nine innings he pitched in Double-A, which still isn’t very good. There are a lot of pitchers with great stuff who never make the majors because they can’t throw strikes, and Nelson was clearly one of them.
Then he moved to the bullpen and his control improved. Or maybe the control didn’t improve, but his new role suited his wildness better. Regardless, Nelson moved up to Triple-A and reached the majors when he was 25. He pitched well enough to become one of the rare middle-relief All-Stars in major league history.
The situations are different on more than a couple of levels. For example, Nelson pitched like this:
His lack of control had a lot to do with the wacky movement, which made him almost like a knuckleballer. And in his 30s, he became a wobbly, maddening walk machine again, even as he continued to find success, so it’s not like this is a Randy Johnson-like retelling of The Boy Who Learned How To Throw Strikes.
It’s just a story of a dude who couldn’t hit a target if Mickey Hatcher were catching ...
... and still ended up with a very successful career. This is my dream for Crick, and the fast start helps validate this because I want it to. It’s a small sample size, and moving struggling starting pitchers to the bullpen isn’t always magic. But it wouldn’t be that strange in a post-Vogelsong world, right? A live-armed pitcher and his gnarly fastball/curve combination finding a permanent home in the bullpen? It makes perfect sense to me.
That’s my prospect hope. Please, before you talk about your stupid lunch, humor me with a pick of your own. Bryan Reynolds zooming all the way to a September call-up? Chris Shaw hitting .350? Tyler Beede developing into a rotation fixture? Ryan Lollis winning the NLCS MVP?
There aren’t any wrong answers, here. Just beautiful prospect dreams.