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San Francisco Giants

Original Published Date: Dec. 20, 2013

After winning it all for the second time in three years in 2012, the San Francisco Giants had a disappointing 2013 season finishing ten games under .500 and missing the playoffs.  One of their first moves after the season ended was to sign Tim Lincecum to a surprising two-year, $35 million dollar contract.  While this decision was likely ownership driven, it’s a move not totally uncommon for Champions – reward the players that got you there.

Another attribute common for World Series Champions, is the toll that “going for it” can have on their minor league system.  Not only do they trade away talent in hopes of making it to the dance (see Zach Wheeler), they sign free agents; forfeiting valuable high draft picks, and because they are winning, they just pick lower than everyone else.  It’s the ebb and flow of major league baseball franchises that I believe is the soul of our great game.  You try to win it all and worry about the consequences and the rebuilding process later.

The Giants find themselves in this situation today.  Their minor league system is weak and their major league team is getting older.  Additionally, they have a committed payroll of over $132 million dollars for 2014 and are not finished building their team.

The minor league system has one impact talent in right-handed Kyle Crick.  While Crick’s arsenal says number two starter, his control is inconsistent and therefore his ceiling is far from certain.  The rest of the top ten consists primarily of interesting pitching talent that profile from bullpen arms to number three starters.

Clayton Blackburn has put up terrific numbers over the past two years but the arsenal and projection put his ceiling at a number three.  Lefties Edwin Escobar, Ty Blach, and Adalbarto Mejia all have good arms with Escobar and Blach having the best chance to contribute in San Francisco by 2015.

The positional players are weak with Mac Williamson and Andrew Susac the two highest ranked bats.  Williamson had a terrific year in 2013 but there is swing and miss in his game and concern that his 25 home runs were Cali League driven.  Susac has talent and plenty of raw power but as with Williamson, has a lot of swing and miss in his game.

It’s not dire by any stretch for the Giants as they are just one year removed from winning it all.  However, their hand doesn’t look great and they could use an infusion of talent – particularly positional talent.  However, doing that will signal the end of an era – but what an era it has been.

1. Kyle Crick (RHP)

2014 Age: 21 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws:Right
ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A+ 68.2 48 12 1 5.11 12.45 1.57 1.27

Kyle Crick has one of the most talented arms in all of the minor leagues but his inconsistencies are starting to worry many as the command has yet to develop.

The arsenal is impressive.  His four seam fastball sits 94-96 MPH and explodes out of his hand.  He also throws a mid-80’s slider that has nice two-plane cutting action and can miss bats.  He also throws a change-up, which is behind his other two pitches.  It does show promise and should develop into at least an average pitch if not more.  It’s a top-of-the-rotation arsenal, if only he had command of it.

In 68.2 innings in San Jose in the California League he walked just over five batters per nine; which was only slightly better than what he did in 2012.  To his defense, his season was interrupted by a two month stint on the disabled list with an oblique strain.  While lost development time is never good for a young arm, when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League in October, it was candidly more of the same – a bat missing arsenal that he can’t yet control.

With a poor walk rate, you would expect to find poor pitching mechanics but in fact, they are actually pretty good.  If anything I would call them mechanical.  It’s like he’s thinking about every one of his pitches as he releases.  That said, his posture, stride, and balance are all good; he’s just not throwing strikes.

Crick should start 2014 in Richmond in the Eastern League and given his past results, the Giants would be well served to keep him there for the entire year.  The arm is elite but unless he can control the arsenal, he could be destined for the bullpen.

Fantasy Impact:  Kyle Crick just turned 21-years-old, so time is still on his side.  He still has the ceiling of a number two starter with the potential for high strikeout totals but ratios that don’t match.  He’s a top 75 prospect for me which will probably put me as low-man on the Crick totem pole.

2. Clayton Blackburn (RHP)

2014 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws:Right
ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A+ 133.0 111 54 12 2.37 9.34 3.65 1.10

Kyle Crick still gets all the press as his overall arsenal is a grade above Clayton Blackburn but Blackburn continues to be the better pitcher.  It’s really the difference between upside and current performance as Crick has more potential but Blackburn has the higher floor.  That floor is a back-of-the-rotation major league starting pitcher with a ceiling of a number three.

Blackburn has a four-pitch arsenal.  The fastball is far from a monster pitch as it only sits 88-91 MPH but with a lot of natural sink.  The pitch does play up a grade as he is able to command it to both sides of the plate.   His best secondary pitch is his curveball that has a nice shape and can miss bats.  His change-up is better than has been advertised and is also a pitch that gets plenty of swings and misses.    As with his fastball, he can throw both his curve and change-up for strikes.

Blackburn turns 21 in January and is already a sturdy 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.  In fact, it’s the lack of physical projection that has always kept his stock down and given what has happened in his first two years of professional baseball, it appears the evaluators got it right.  That doesn’t mean that Blackburn will not be an effective major league pitcher.  In fact, assuming he stays healthy, he can have a long and successful career as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater.

Fantasy Impact:  I see Dan Straily when I watch Clayton Blackburn pitch – a number four capable of seven to eight strikeouts per nine and slightly better than league average ratios.  That’s a valuable fantasy asset and one in which I would be investing in a Dynasty League.

3. Edwin Escobar (LHP)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws:Left
ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A+-AA 128.2 112 40 5 2.10 10.21 2.80 1.10

Edwin Escobar was one of the big risers in the Giants organization in 2013 as he performed very well across two-levels.   He struck out over 10 batters per nine and showed great control by walking 2.1 per nine.  He was also able to keep the ball in the park by giving up only five home runs in 128.2 innings.

Escobar has a good arsenal that starts with an 89-91 MPH fastball that has a lot of late life.  Because of the extension he gets, the pitch plays up and sets up his average secondary offerings.  His best off-speed pitch is his change-up that has nice fading action which gets plenty of swings and misses.  There could be better deception as he noticeable slows his arm speed down.  In fact, he slows his arm speed on his hard curve ball as well.  While that might work in the minors, Major League batters will likely not be as fooled.

Besides the noticeable change in arm speed, his pitching mechanics are solid.  He does lose his arm slot, particularly later in the game and this can make his curve ball flat and hittable.  In fact, given how hard he throws, the reduced arm slots makes the pitch look more like a slurve and really reduces it’s effectiveness.

The Giants might decide to push Escobar in 2014 and start him in Fresno of the Pacific Coast League.  If that happens, he could see San Francisco sometime later in the year.  I think he’ll be a solid number four starter with the ability to miss bats and log significant innings.

Fantasy Impact:  Edwin Escobar could be a sneaky pick in a Dynasty League as he has the delivery and size to log innings and the arsenal to be effective.  He won’t be a top-of-the-rotation fantasy ace but has the potential to provide eight strikeouts per nine and league average ratios.  Throw in that few have heard of him and he could provide excellent value for a shrewd owner.

4. Ty Blach (LHP)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws:Left
ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A+ 130.1 124 42 8 1.24 8.08 2.90 1.09

I had a chance to see Ty Blach pitch in July and came away very impressed.  While his arsenal doesn’t jump out at you, he knows how to pitch and has some funk in his delivery that makes everything play-up.

Blach was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Creighton where he had a very successful college career.  He has a mature arsenal that consists of an 89-91 MPH fastball that jumps up on batters.   He was able to hold his velocity throughout his outing and actually hit 93 MPH twice during the outing including his last inning (5th).   I would grade the pitch as an above-average offering due to his ability to command it to both sides of the plate.  His 117K/18BB in 130.1 innings prove the point.

His best secondary pitch is his change-up.  It has nice fading action and can lock-up both right and left-handed batters.  He also throws a slurvy breaking pitch that has the delivery of a curve but the cutting action of a slider.  It’s an average pitch with some ability to miss bats.

While the arsenal is solid it plays up both because he can command his pitches but also because of a cross-fire delivery with a funky hesitation on his landing.  He locked up California League batters and for me, was one of the better pitchers in the league.

Fantasy Impact:  Ty Blach profiles as a number four pitcher and could be rosterable in deeper Dynasty Leagues.  He should start 2014 in Richmond with a chance to see San Francisco in 2015.

5. Chris Stratton (RHP)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 186 Bats: Right Throws:Right
ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 LowA 132 128 48 5 3.20 8.29 3.27 1.33

The Giants played it safe in the 2012 draft and went with 6-foot-3 Mississippi State pitcher Chris Stratton with their first round selection (pick 20).  While it wasn’t a sexy pick, I expected Stratton to quickly move through the system but curiously he spent the entire season in Low-A.

Stratton has a solid arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball that’s sits 90-92 MPH with sink.  He is able to command it well, which sets up his slider and change-up nicely.  Both off-speed pitches grade out as solid average pitches that play up because he can throw them for strikes.  While he posted a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine, I don’t believe the arsenal will sustain a strikeout per inning at the highest level.  I would suggest a strikeout rate of 6.5 to 7.0.  Remember, he pitched as a polished 22-year-old competing in Low-A.

I would not be surprised if Stratton skips the California League and the Giants start him in Richmond to begin the 2014 season.   The arsenal and advanced pitchability give him a ceiling of a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Again, not sexy but definitely a major leaguer.

Fantasy Impact:  Chris Stratton should only be owned in the deepest of dynasty leagues as the ceiling is limited.  Expect league average strikeouts with a chance for slightly better ratios given his ability to command his arsenal and pitching in the NL West.

6. Martin Agosta (RHP)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws:Right
ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 LowA 91.2 57 21 4 4.22 10.70 2.06 1.09

Taken as the 84th overall player in the 2012 draft, Martin Agosta has a nice arsenal to go with advanced pitchability and that should help him move quickly through the Giants system.

His arsenal consists of a 90-92 MPH fastball with some decent tailing action.  However, he doesn’t keep the ball down in the zone and is consequently a fly ball pitcher.  In fact, his 1.09 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio would indicate an extreme fly ball pitcher.  His primary secondary pitch is a slider that can miss bats with his change-up making vast improvements from 2012.  In fact his .164 batting average against RHB is indeed impressive.

Agosta’s pitching mechanics grade out as average.  He gets good momentum to the plate with good balance in the process.  He doesn’t always finish his pitches and this is leading to the ball staying up in the zone.  Statistically, we see this inconsistency show up with a 4.22 walk per nine in 91.2 innings.

Fantasy Impact:  Agosta is only draftable in very deep Dynasty Leagues. However, he should be monitored as the arsenal and fluid mechanics point to some upside.  With some tweaks to his delivery and continued improvement with his change-up, he could become relevant in fantasy leagues down-stream.

7. Mac Williamson (OF)
Mac Williamson showed impressive power in 136 games in the California league by hitting 25 home runs – third most in the league.  However, he also had a 75% contact rate that gives concern that he’ll hit enough to get to his natural raw power.   At 6-foot-5, you would expect his swing to be long and indeed, it is.  He also doesn’t have great bat speed and relies on his natural raw power to provide his in-game power.  Williamson also has average speed and should provide high single to low double-digit stolen base totals.   He has the ceiling of a Role 4-5 player with a ceiling of an extra outfielder at the highest level.

8. Andrew Susac (C)
Taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Andrew Susac made steady progress in 2013 posting a decent .256/.362/.458 slash line in Richmond.  He’s a good player but probably not the impact talent the Giants thought they had when they drafted him.  His carrying tool is plus raw power but that is still showing up more in batting practice than during games.  The swing is long and therefore, he’ll likely always have swing and miss in his game.  Susac should start 2014 in Triple-A after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .360 with a .507 OBP in a small sample size of 50 at-bats.

9. Adalbarto Mejia (LHP)
The San Jose Giants were stacked with pitchers for most of the 2013 season with the youngest being 20-year-old Dominican lefty Adalbarto Mejia.  The stat line was pretty good with an ERA of 3.31 while giving up less than a hit per inning.  Additionally, he posted an impressive 9.21 strikeouts per nine while only walking just over two per nine.   The downside is that he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher posting a 1.00 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio while giving up 11 home runs in only 87 innings.  Unless he can make better use of his 6-foot-3 frame to get better plane on his pitches, Mejia ceiling is a bullpen arm.

10. Christian Arroyo (SS)
Selecting 25th in the 2013 draft, the Giants surprised the industry by taking high-school shortstop Christian Arroyo.  He had an excellent professional debut by posting an impressive .899 OPS in the AZL but the performance as well as the scouting report is more about grit than talent.  He does have good actions at shortstop but lacks the overall athleticism and arm strength to profile as a plus defender.   Offensively, there are a lot of fringy grades around bat speed, power potential, and running speed.  Add all of that up together and it’s hard to put his ceiling higher than a second division starter or utility infielder.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Gustavo Cabrera (OF)
I could have easily placed Gustavo Cabrera as high as number five on the Giants list, but decided to leave him to the emerging prospect section primarily due to the fact that he has yet to play outside of the Dominican Republic.    The 17-year-old Dominican is a toolshed of ability with premium bat speed, plus-plus running ability and the chance for future plus power.   The swing could use improvement as Cabrera can get out on his front foot and displays a pretty long swing.  However, he’ll just turn 18-years-old in January so there is plenty of time for the Giants to refine his game.

5 comments on “San Francisco Giants

  1. Where would Gary brown rank? Seems to fallen off the map.

  2. Rich, as a Giants fan I shared your enthusiasm for Gustavo Cabrera — until his traumatic injury in October ’13. He suffered severe laceration in his wrist that required surgery, and was only able to move his fingers weeks later. Apparently, he accidently fell at his home and slit his wrist on glass. One Giants official called Cabrera’s situation “a year-long rehab process and then some.” FWIW.

  3. The Giants haven’t given up a pick to sign a free agent since 2005. I think its time to let that old stereotype go. Additionally, their starting 5 in Richmond next year is the best top to bottom rotation in minor league baseball for the 2nd straight year. Aggressive ranking of Stratton and Agosta, we’ll see how they do next year. Your comment on Arroyo’s bat speed is completely off base.

    • My sources were pretty down on Arroyo. I should see him this year and will provide a first hand scouting report afterwards. The Giants have a fine crop of pitchers and their Double-A team should be good. However, it’s about stars and I don’t see any of them, including Crick being a star. Thanks for your feedback.

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