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The Spring Prospect-ish Round-up, 4/2

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In which Roger and Kevin have a lengthy discussion that is leaked to the media.

Spring Prospect-ish Roundup Design by Kevin J. Cunningham

First, The Final Roster News

(Just in case you want to follow the guys on Twitter. You should definitely follow Melancon, he’s a very active and interactive tweeter, similar to Hunter Pence.)

As you’ve likely heard by now, the big league team has made their roster decisions with no real bench surprises, but one huge one in the bullpen. The team kept Ty Blach as a reliever…and as the only left-handed reliever. The team felt giving up Neil Ramirez to waivers was too much, so both of the O’s, Oshich and Okert, were optioned to Sacramento. Debate the riskiness all you want, but it’s likely they won’t stay in Sacramento all season. So Okert and Osich top the watch list for quick promotions to the majors.

Right behind them will be Tyler Beede and Jae-gyun Hwang, both of whom had fantastic springs, and just need to wait for the right opening to appear. Some news reports suggest that Hwang will be playing some left field and first base in Sacramento, to see where he might fit. As for Beede, it’s pretty clear what everyone will be watching for his opportunity.

Roster Moves To Come

I’ll try to update this with move news on Sunday.

The Giants have three NRIs making the team: Ramirez, Aaron Hill, and Chris Marrero. That means the team needs to open up three roster spots.

One spot is easy, as Will Smith will be going on the 60-Day Disabled List. Ian Gardeck is probable to hit the 60-Day DL as well, as he had Tommy John surgery last March. That leaves one more spot to open up.

My completely uninformed bet: Albert Suarez will get put through waivers. Suarez had a solid though not great stint in San Francisco as starter and long reliever, but the team has plenty of right-handed relievers and Triple-A level starters. So do a lot of other teams, which makes him a low risk to be lost to another team in waivers.

EDIT:

Yikes! Gardeck is actually a pretty good possibility to slip through waivers, but Ray Black? The most exciting arm in the bullpen when it comes to radar guns, but frustrating with injuries and control issues? I will be quite curious to see if he slips through, but it’s very much an if.

Ty Blach the Reliever

Blach makes the Giants bullpen, and as the lone lefty, he may not get the long reliever duties one would have expected, instead getting short stints in high leverage situations.

Blach comes into this role with very little experience in the role. He has made exactly four relief appearances in his pro career. Two came in SF last year, when he combined for six scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and one walk. The other two came during his first season in the minors, 2013, when he gave up four runs in 10 innings for a 3.60 ERA. That’s an average of four innings per relief appearance in his career…likely to be much longer than his appearances this season.

Former Giant News

It’s oddly accurate to call Gordon Beckham as a former Giant, considering most probably remember him better for his performance this past spring than his surprise acquisition with a week left in the season in 2016. However, Beckham has a new home.

Beckham, not surprisingly, only got a minor league deal. The Mariners have a pretty settled infield, but at least won’t be competing for playing time at Triple-A with two pretty good prospects, as he would have in Sacramento with Christian Arroyo and Hwang.

More Minor League Veterans To Triple-A News

A Long Delayed Minor League Season Preview, from Kevin and Roger!

First, a mea-culpa. Roger and I had this discussion earlier in March and I was supposed to post it, and I failed. Hey, it was Spring Training for writers, too. So forgive some obvious notes of how long ago we discussed some of this.

However, since the majority of our discussion was about the upcoming minor league season, it was important to get out here. Also, outside of news you probably already knew…yeah, I needed something to fill space. And boy, when me and Roger get talking, we fill space. So here is a Minor League Season Preview!


Kevin: So I’ll start with this question: What is something you’re watching in the Spring?

I’ll start off with the use of Arroyo, and others around him in Spring Training. I’m not as sure about Arroyo’s role as the third baseman of the future, particularly after the signing of Jae-gyun Hwang. The Giants have made a lot of signings this spring, and while I don’t expect some of the veteran signings to affect Arroyo directly, signings of some that could be destined for Sacramento could definitely affect playing time at various spots (Orlando Calixte is another that comes to mind).

Roger: On the major league side, there's obviously a lot of competition in camp this year which is mostly capturing my interest. And a lot of that will have spillover into the minor league system. I still think Parker's options clock is going to be the determining factor in the LF competition which very likely sends Williamson back to Sacramento to start the year. Likely one of Osich/Okert starts in SF and one in Sacramento. And then a big story for the year will be to see which of the various major league vets that don't make the Giants will accept a AAA assignment. That answer could end up having a big effect on the season, as it did last year.

(EDIT: As noted, this talk happened a little while ago, and we all know how the bullpen turned out.)

Beyond that, I do always like to keep an eye on which minor league pitchers who aren't on the 40 man end up getting into the Major League spring training games. Though logistics plays the biggest part in travel squads it does give a tiny peak into which guys might be considered big league arms, so I always like to track that. It's also been interesting and encouraging thus far to see Duggar getting as much playing time as he has in the big league games. If I'm not mistaken he's seen time in all three games. Chris Shaw isn't getting ABs in the big league games, but Duggar's been out there in CF every day. That's definitely intriguing and exciting. I think with Span's health and age, it's not crazy to think that Duggar could be a guy we see getting some big league experience this year.

As for Arroyo, I don't read much into the acquisition of Hwang or all the other IF they've picked up. Those mostly strike me as 2017 depth moves. I still think Arroyo's the apple of the org's eye and is on target for a 2018 starting gig, assuming he doesn't face plant in AAA.

So my question for you: Who's the first SP up when Cain falters? Do you think it's Blach or has Beede surpassed Ty already? It might have to do with timing. If Cain doesn't make it through ST then I think Blach would get the assignment. But if we're looking at May or June or later, I suspect Beede gets the nod so long as he's maintaining some sort of equilibrium in the high climes of the PCL. I am a fan of Blach's though and think he can be a valuable swing man as he settles into the majors.

Kevin: I couldn’t agree more about Duggar getting a lot of time early this spring in center field. I’ll be keeping an eye on both him and Gorkys Hernandez this spring. I really had Hernandez pegged as the next Gregor Blanco, but he got off to a rough start. There’s a lot of time left this spring, but if Gorkys can’t recapture that momentum from last year, I agree that we could see Duggar get a big push.

One more question on the Arroyo front, because he is my Most Interesting Prospect Of The Year (TM), do you think he’s going to stick at third? Or is he going to move back to middle infield? The way he moved around last year (alongside Ryder Jones), and that he’s played defensively only at shortstop so far in the Spring has me curious about his future.

Also, who is your Most Interesting Prospect Of The Year (TM)?

On the fifth starter spot, I agree with you. The earlier Cain struggles/gets injured, the more likely it’ll be Blach. Later in the year, I think it’s Tyler Beede getting the call. Obviously, Beede is the man the Giants love on the pitching prospect side, and long-term, he’s the guy who will fill a hole in the rotation. I might push the deadline on where Beede is the probable callup out to a June-July time, but otherwise, I don’t think that’s going to be a difficult question. That said, if everything goes to Heston-level poop, I would make Chris Stratton a dark horse to get a shot in the rotation.

(Rhetorical Question: What percentage of Giants fans will slap their forehead and go “Oh yeah, I forgot we had a Player To Be Named Later for Heston” when the Player To Be Named Later is finally named?)

Roger: The usage of Arroyo in ST is interesting. I suspect that they are getting him reps at SS with a plan to use him frequently if not primarily at SS in Sacramento this year. That's probably in part a roster logistics issue: Hwang is most comfortable at 3b and Tomlinson (if he ends up back in AAA) is best at 2b, so there's no obvious SS on the roster other than maybe Querecueto or Calixte who both might be better served in UT roles. Also, this follows the rule of keeping a guy at the hardest position for as long as you can.

I still think that Arroyo is lined up for the 2018 3B job personally, but it's not a bad idea to remain open to the idea of introducing him to the Giants' roster as a utility infielder and do that it's good to keep his SS chops honed.

As for my Most Interesting Prospect, that's a tough one. You know I don't like to be tied down to just one answer! All the group of outfielders in the top of the rankings are pretty interesting, especially since its the area of most mid-term need at the big league level and it's also now the long great wasteland of player development for this org. I'll especially have my eye on young Sandro Fabian who really exploded onto the scene in 2016 as well as the two guys from the top of the 2016 draft to see if we could at long last have a chance at a homegrown star outfielder (if MacParkerson don't get there first).

But I think my ultimate answer to the question has got to be Matt Krook. Right now the system looks to be pretty well stacked with potential contributors, but very very light on potential stars. By and large the exceptions to that rule are all in short season ball, and Matt Krook is likely the leader of that pack. Four potential average or better pitches with three that are potential plus or even plus plus. His command was disastrous last year and his stuff uneven, but his history isn't that of a pitcher with minus control. In his Freshman year at Oregon he sported a perfectly acceptable (for college ball) walk rate which more than doubled after his TJ surgery. Generally speaking command is the last thing to return for pitchers recovering from TJ so it's not crazy to think that we could see a big improvement on that front for Krook this year. But it's also no certainty. Jesse Foppert (who had probably the best stuff I've ever personally witnessed out of a Giants pitching prospect) wasn't that long ago, so we have good reason as Giants fans to know that recovery from TJ is a tenuous thing. And, of course, with Krook it's a multi-layered issue: he could find good enough command of his fastball (with its famed "magic movement") to be a very useful major leaguer without ever gaining command over his specialty pitches. But if he somehow found a way to throw strikes with all four pitches, he's a potential star. Best guess: he ends up falling from the ranks of "potential star" onto the "useful player" track but that's still a 4th round win. (Psst: I really want the potential star though)..

And as an Honorable Mention: can Melvin Adon still hit 100 as a starter? And if so, can he do anything else along with it? Pretty interesting!

Kevin: Krook is definitely interesting. He was a big high-risk, high-reward guy even in the 4th round. But boy, those control issues… Maybe I’m just now a little prejudiced by pitchers with a hard (c) sound on both ends of his last name, but those control issues are frightening.

That said, I agree. Between the Lucius Fox-signing limits and the lack of a first round draft pick last season, and the big trades at the deadline last year, this team lost a period of grabbing big ceiling guys. This year’s first round draft pick (#19) will be more important than usual for this team, especially as I think we’ll see Beede get promoted from prospect status at some point.

Another storyline I think will be in the background this season for the farm system, however, is what will happen if Cueto opts out of his contract. If he has a season like last year, that is not impossible. While no one’s going to say it out loud, I have to think the Giants are going to be looking past Beede in the farm system and wonder who else could step up to a rotation spot, or to go after another big free agent. Blach, Stratton, Clayton Blackburn and Joan Gregorio all could have a legitimate shot in that case.

The guessing game about Cueto and his contract could also be a subtext in what the Giants decide to do at the trade deadline, because there is a glut of those guys in Sacramento, and they could be nice pieces (if slightly off-center) in a deadline trade.

So who do you like behind Beede for a possible need in 2018? My money is on Blach, with Stratton closely behind him.

Roger: I think from a major league perspective it will be interesting to see how they approach Cueto negotiations next year. It seems almost inevitable that Cueto will indeed opt out, because that's just the right move for him so long as he doesn't have a disastrous wiped out year. But what the Giants will do in response will be fascinating. It's a tough choice: letting an elite starter leave at his peak is on the face of it counter-productive in the short-term. You're not going to replace one of the 10 or so best starters in the majors immediately. And I personally don't see that there's really anything that can happen on the farm that will change that fact by December of 2017. So do they keep the band together and swallow the bad back end of a contract? And how does that effect the coming Bumgarner negotiations? All a delicate balance for Bobby and his team.

How about a crazy, far out alternative possibility: Shohei Otani? Now I know the knee-jerk reaction would be: no way can the Giants sign Otani when they're capped by the Fox situation to only signing players for a max of $300k. But I pose the following: Otani, if he were to post next year, is doing so knowing that he could make something in the range of $250-300mm if he were to just wait two more years. But he wants to compete against the best and on the brightest stage. So I wonder: is a guy willing to sacrifice a quarter of a billion dollars in the short run likely to make his decision based on who's able to give him a $3mm signing bonus? I think not. I think he'll look to put himself in the best situation, where he can be a star and where he can compete for post-season glory. Maybe NY, maybe Chicago, maybe LA but other West Coast teams like SF and Seattle have their appeal. Maybe there's a chance if Cueto leaves, for a shocking pull out of the rabbit's hat!

Ok, now back from fantasy land. It was a good trip! What was the question again?

Oh yeah, after Beede. I guess you could say if Beede ends up in the major league rotation this year and shows enough that he looks like he could be a legit 3/4 guy AND Moore takes a leap forward delivering on his promise and shows that he can be a 2, they could potentially bite down hard and try to replace Cueto with a #5 (and see) type for 2018 and open the competition to Gregorio/Blach/Blackburn/Suarez. In that scenario in 2018 I think I'd give the leg up to Gregorio (if he's still around) if for no other reason than the options clock. It's been a long road getting Gregorio to this point, and you'd hate to have to let him go right when he gets to the point of helping your club. But long term I have a suspicion that Suarez might be the guy of that group to end up making the most major league starts.

Kevin: Oh…Otani? Geeze, that was not a name I expected to see in this discussion. All I’m going to ask is…do you still have that “It’s a Small World” song trapped in your head after visiting FantasyLand? Seriously, though, I’m disappointed Otani won’t be in the WBC…and disappointed that if he comes out after this season the Giants won’t likely be in competition for him.

As far as Gregorio goes, I admit, I’m not the fan of him some others are. For all the work he’s put in, and he has put in a lot, he’s got a very mercurial feel to him. I’d be more interested to see him shift to a reliever role, even though that path to San Francisco is just as crowded as the starter role. But I don’t see the Giants putting him into such a tough spot post-Cueto, if it comes to that.

Roger: Ok, my question: what happens with Chris Shaw? Does his power ultimately play at the major league level? And if so, is there any way to integrate him onto the Giants team?

Kevin: Haha…You know, I didn’t feel right bringing up Chris Shaw first to you. It’d be like going to Gordon Ramsay’s house and grabbing the first cut of whatever roast he’d prepared for the dinner party. It’s not mine to grab.

You know, it’s funny that just a couple of games prior to writing this, the Giants saw former prospect Chris Dominguez, now in the Cubs organization. Prior to Shaw, Dominguez had the biggest power in the Giants’ farm system. I’d hear the praises of his power sung by people up and down the system, but for all that power, he never found a way to make it work.

Shaw, of course, is a different player, who has much different abilities. Shaw is much more well-rounded in his hitting ability, which is often one of the hurdles of trying to make that power work at the major league level. But to be honest, from what I’ve seen, I don’t see him challenging any records on home runs at the major league level. Like every power hitter, he needs to cut down on the strikeouts, though he doesn’t do poorly getting walks to supplement his batting average.

Shaw kind of becomes my #2 interesting player to watch because I think it’ll be most telling how he does in Richmond this year. His home/road splits at Richmond in 60 games last season were absolutely insane, and it’s hard to read if they were the result of streakiness or just a better ability to see the ball at home…which is unusual, because of a lot of players seem to struggle at the Diamond but do better on the road (such as Arroyo). Regardless, if he shows he can cut down those strikeouts in Richmond this year without big sacrifices in power, I think you’ve got a 30+ home run hitter in the majors.

Now, making him fit with the Giants…uh…urg….huh. After the long-term extension to Belt through 2021, that’s tough. I don’t see Shaw moving anywhere else on the diamond. I don’t see a lot of ability to trade Belt, between $16M a year every year from 2018-2021 and a partial no-trade clause (he can block deals to 10 clubs each year). And they are both left-handed hitters, so forget about a platoon. Let’s just say this: Shaw would need to greatly improve his defense to be considered to unseat Belt. Belt’s ability to stretch and pick up throws are a big part of the Giants’ defensive prowess, and that’s nothing to discount in terms of how the team will make decisions. If Shaw can become a plus defender at first, which I believe he’s capable of, then we can wait and see what the future holds for Belt and whether his play or health allows competition for that role at first base.

That said…(cover your ears now, Roger)…Shaw earns the “Andrew Susac Trade Chip” award of the most obvious trade chip the Giants could use at the deadline.

So...who do you think has a make it or break it Season coming up? No answering Kyle Crick...he's had too many of them.

Roger: Make it or break it? Well I guess I'll start with the guys whose options clocks are running out. In particular Ray Black. 2011 draft pick and the dude's thrown 91 total innings in pro ball. Not good enough Ray. Setting aside the control issue he just has to stay off the DL to have any chance of ever displaying that incredible arm in AT&T before his options run out. And of course Joan Gregorio is also on his final option year, so he needs to put himself on the SF train at some point this year and prove out there.

Other than that, I'd say Jordan Johnson has a big year coming up. He's the guy who probably had the greatest variation of opinions in the various prospect ranking sites -- top 10 in a couple places, not even in the top 30 in others. There's still a lot to like in the package but 2016 was rough for JJ. Give him the benefit of the doubt for pitching more innings than he had every year since he graduated from High School combined, but he needs to take a step forward with his stuff and results in 2017.

I also think it's an important year for Ryder Jones. He had a nice little second half last year and a very good AFL. Now he needs to build on that and go out and have a full productive season and maybe for the first time in his career manage to post an OBP above .300. Right now he's a man without a clear position or a history of producing on the field. Next year his 40 man clock starts ticking. He needs to make 2017 a bust out year if he's to have much future.

Oh wait, nevermind all that! It's Jalen Miller's make or break year. What am I even thinking? Miller looks like a baseball player. He's got ginormous forearms and wrists and fantastic bat speed. He's got quickness, speed, some dynamic infield range. But what he doesn't have is a stat line you can look at without recoiling in horror. His first year and a half have been ugly and he's looked overmatched too often. He needs to improve the approach and pitch recognition and start having some of those tools prove out on a day to day, game to game consistent basis this year. It's time for a step up from Jalen.

Kevin: Wow…that’s quite a few guys on that list that need to make or break.

I can definitely agree with Jones and Miller, although I think Miller has a little more room for struggles. And Gregorio is certainly a guy who just fades into the background for me when I think of pitching prospects. For me, however, I’m going to start with Chris Stratton. The freak injury certainly left him with a slower track than most first rounders, but we’re at the point he needs to figure out what his future is. Both in terms of role and performance. I believe he’s got major league stuff, but he’s got a crowded competition around him whether he continues to pursue a starter role or a power reliever role. I personally would love to see him stay a starter, but I think the bullpen move is likely, and not just because there’s still a couple of guys in the Major League bullpen I don’t trust.

But right up there as well is Clayton Blackburn. Remember when, as a 22-year old, he was the ERA champ of the PCL? I’m not sure what happened last season, but right now Blackburn is starting to get overlooked in a crowded Triple-A rotation. Sure, he has one more option year left in 2018, but with Blach making the team, Beede pretty much a favorite to be Cain’s replacement over Blach, and other guys like Stratton and Gregorio making Sacramento crowded, this is the year Blackburn needs to make that statement that he should be a part of the mix in case things go haywire.


Cross-Level Exhibitions!

One benefit of having farm teams relatively close to home, and thus close to each other, are the exhibitions! Sometimes the big league team heads to a minor league city, but this year it’ll be something different.

San Jose (High-A) and Sacramento (Triple-A) will play and home-and-home exhibition series on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Tuesday night will be at Municipal Stadium, and Wednesday will be in Sacramento. That leads out to Thursday’s Opening Day! If you are available (unfortunately, I will not be), go check out two levels of prospects at once!

The Minor League System Opens on Thursday

With the season almost upon us, let’s give our teams a quick preview of how each team will open its season.

Sacramento Litterbox

The River Cats will open at home with five games against the Tacoma Rainiers, playing Thursday through Monday. From there, they will hit the road for Salt Lake and Las Vegas. Remember, the River Cats had some problems with Salt Lake last season, but this year it will be a different team.

Richmond Nuthouse

The Flying Squirrels will open their season against the traveling Hartford Yard Goats, who spent last season as a full-time road team due to stadium construction issues. Hartford will have a home this year. After four games against the goats, the Squirrels will head to Reading for three and then on to Bowie for four, with an off-day on Sunday for travel.

San Jose Footprints

After their Wednesday exhibition, the San Jose Giants will open the season on the road in Southern California. They’ll face Inland Empire for four and Lancaster for three before the home opener on Thursday, April 13th against Stockton. San Jose’s second Sunday of the season will be an unusual off-day. Remember, this year, the California League has only 8 teams, with the departures of Bakersfield and High Desert.

Augusta Putt-putt Course

Augusta will start the season on the road, avoiding that golf thing happening. They’ll start on the road against the Tim Tebow experience (otherwise known as the Columbia Fireflies, a Mets affiliate) and then in Charleston. After that, they’ll face the same two teams at home.

The Wrap-Up:

The Giants’ flagship network is changing names, from Comcast SportsNet Bay Area to…NBC Sports Bay Area. If you were following them on Twitter, they’ve already changed the names without you losing the follow. But one good news coming out of this change: NBC Bay Area will stream the games on its channel to your computer or mobile devices, assuming you subscribe to the channel in a regular cable bill. Sure, it’s not a true cord-cutting thing, but hey, at least streaming is getting more and more ubiquitous.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet of what to do to get those games streaming.

It’s Opening Day, y’all! Enjoy this season!