Thursday, May 5, 2011

Farm Watch: Belt, Gillaspie, Surkamp, Kieschnick, Noonan, Marte, Escobar, and Concepcion

I figured it'd be good to take a look in the minors and see how things were faring amongst the Giants affiliates. Let's take a look at things level by level:

Fresno Grizzlies (14-13 after May 4th)

The Grizzlies have been bolstered by some solid hitting, which is making up for their relative pitching woes (5.80 team ERA, 1.605 team WHIP and 2.01 team K/BB ratio). The biggest performer lately has been Brandon Belt, who has been mashing PCL pitching since being demoted to Fresno a couple of weeks ago when the Giants activated Cody Ross off the disabled list. In 11 games and 45 plate appearances, Belt is hitting .471 with an OPS of 1.342. He has hit two home runs, 11 RBI, scored 9 runs, drew 10 walks and is 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts.

While Belt's numbers are comforting (and a sign of why Giants fans shouldn't panic about Belt's slow debut with the Giants), another player who has somewhat rebounded this year in Fresno is Conor Gillaspie. Picked in the Supplemental Round of the 2008 draft, there was a lot of hype surrounding Gillaspie, as many experts felt that the Giants plucked two "Close-to-Major League Ready" players in the former Wichita State third baseman and Buster Posey. While Posey has lived up to the hype, Gillaspie's defensive and offensive struggles has set him back the past couple of seasons.

This year, Gillaspie is showing some promise in the PCL. He is hitting .280 with an OPS of .808, and he has 14 walks, 19 RBI and two home runs to boot. Gillaspie's plate patience has always been solid in the minors (that was the one plus aspect scouts raved about his hitting when he was drafted) until last year in Richmond, when his OBP dipped to .335 and his BB/K ratio fell to 0.55 (it hadn't been lower than 0.69 previously). Granted, Gillaspie's lack of power (his career slugging in the minors is .402) and defensive inefficiencies are concerning. Then again, his better power numbers (.440 slugging this year) and his efficient plate approach (0.82 BB/K ratio this year) might be a sign that all is not lost on Gillaspie just yet.

Richmond Flying Spiders (11-14 after May 4th)

The record is not good, and they have the lowest R/G of any affiliate in the Giants system (3.56...but that is typical considering the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers more). However, Eric Surkamp has continued to flash his potential as an under-the-radar prospect in the Giants system.

In five starts, Surkamp has pitched 26.1 innings and has an ERA of 2.05, a FIP of 2.67, a WHIP of 1.29 and a K/BB ratio of 3.42. Surkamp has continued his trend of maintaining high K/9 numbers (11.1 per career, 14.0 in Richmond), while minimizing his walks (career 2.5 BB/9; 4.1 this year). And, his BABIP has been high so far (.364), so once his BABIP starts to fall back to earth, Surkamp's numbers will look even better and his win-loss record (1-2 currently) will start to reflect his other numbers (Of course, it would work to his benefit if the Flying Spiders could generate some more runs).

On the offensive side of things, once heralded prospects Roger Kieschnick and Nick Noonan continue their struggles at the plate in their second go-around in the Eastern League. They flashed some promise in San Jose a couple of years ago, but they had dismal years in 2010 and things haven't changed much  to start off the year in 2011. Kieschnick is currently batting .194 with a .513 OPS and isn't showcasing any of the power he showed when he broke in as a professional in the California League (23 home runs, .532 slugging in San Jose). He is walking more (0.53 BB/K ratio), but it hasn't made up for his 171 point drop in ISO (Isolated Power)  from 2009 to now.

Noonan started off the year injured, but the struggles from 2010 (.237 average, .584 OPS) continue. He is hitting .222 with a .541 OPS in 62 plate appearances and he has only one extra base hit. It is possible Noonan is still recovering from injury and he's bound to turn it around as he gets more at-bats, but right now, things aren't looking bright for the 22-year-old former first round pick.

San Jose Giants (17-10 after May 4th)

The best affiliate in the Giants system the past few seasons continues that trend this year, as they have the best record of any Giants affiliate. The offense has been carried by first round pick Gary Brown, who has an .832 OPS and 17 stolen bases in 127 plate appearances. Wendell Fairley has also had a positive impact on this Giants team, as he currently is posting an .834 OPS in his second season in San Jose. No wonder the Giants generate the most runs per game (6.04) out of any Giants affiliate.

While a lot of the attention gets placed on the hitters in San Jose and in the California League in general, the Giants pitching shouldn't be swept under the rug. They have the lowest R/G (3.52) numbers of any Giants affiliate and the rotation has been the anchor to the Giants' pitching success. Zach Wheeler and Craig Westcott are the ones getting the most buzz out of the South Bay (and they should be, especially Wheeler who has a 3.78 K/BB ratio), but one guy who's been interesting to follow is Kelvin Marte.

Marte this year is 3-1 with a 0.94 ERA a 1.15 WHIP. However, though he did get a little bit of pub in an article by Baseball, for the most part Marte has been a guy who hasn't really impressed too much since he broke into the league in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic. Marte has a decent fastball (92 MPH) and he works off his changeup, but he needs to develop his secondary pitches (especially his curveball) to become more effective, according to BE writer Richard Van Zandt. Furthermore, Van Zandt's concerns are probably legitimate as well, since many of Marte's advance numbers (.250 BABIP, 1.60 K/BB ratio, 86.3 strand rate, 3.94 FIP) suggest that he is not really developing as a pitcher, but just going through a lucky patch. It'll be interesting to see how Marte will maintain his numbers as he garners more starts.

Augusta Green Jackets (8-18 after May 4th)

The Green Jackets have had serious problems with their pitching, and their 6.3 R/G allowed proves it. Youngsters Edwin Escobar and Edward Concepcion have really struggled in the SALLY, battling issues with their control and command. Escobar has appeared in four games, and has started two, but he has only pitched six innings total. He has given up 15 hits and 15 runs, and his ERA currently sits at 18.00 and his WHIP is 3.33. Furthermore, his K/BB ratio is one, so Escobar is getting guys on the basepaths (7.5 BB/9) and that has only killed him so far this year.

Concepcion has many of the same struggles as Escobar, but walks really stand out in his case. While Concepcion has struck out 13 batters in 13.1 IP, he has also walked a whopping 15 batters and has given up 16 hits and 11 runs as well. These walk issues are familiar territory for Concepcion, as he posted a 6.5 BB/9 and a 1.24 K/BB ratio in 63.1 IP  last year in the Northwest League. While it's still early in the year and you certainly hope Concepcion can revert to the form he showed in the Arizona Rookie League in 2009 (he posted a 2.69 K/BB ratio and an 11.5 K/9), it seems like he hasn't really figured out the problems that plagued him with the Volcanoes a year ago.

Both Escobar and Concepcion aren't the sole problems with this Green Jackets pitching staff. Mario Rodriguez, Seth Rosin and Justin Schumer have all had issues on the bump. That being said, you would have hoped for a bit better start out of two high-ceiling guys like Escobar and Concepcion, who are both young and both have live arms.


  1. Nice rundown!

    About Noonan, while worrisome, I suppose, his slow start, but remember that his injury means that other players are ahead of him right now, he's going through spring training again.

    I'm actually encouraged for Nick this season. In an article on how Belt changed his hitting mechanics using the Giants video training system, Noonan raved about the system, saying that he's now hitting line drives. Of course, he needs to translate that from practice to the game. But I expect him to break out this season, particularly if he can field SS adequately, where the Giants have moved him.

    Regarding Conor Gillaspie, I would add that he broke out last season in the AFL, hitting very well there and for power. A key metric that he has done well in his minor league career is keeping his K-rate on the low end, which shows a good eye and the ability to turn on the pitches, which is a better sign of his hitting ability than patience.

    He appears to be figuring out how to do it with power, which was his major negative at the time of the draft, he was considered to have too little power for 3B but not good enough physically to play 2B, a tweener. I am hopeful on him, though ideally if he's a good prospect, his OPS should be 900+ in AAA.

    What makes Augusta's performance even worse is that the Sally League is normally a pitcher's league.

  2. Thanks OGC! I agree about Noonan. I actually wrote about him in my prospect rundown list. I think people have bailed ship on him a little too early. Do think he's going to be the next Chase Utley? No, but I still think he can break into the majors and be a solid middle infielder. He hit two home runs yesterday in a doubleheader with New Britain, so hopefully that's a sign of things to come.

    Good observations on Gillaspie. I do like his approach (you're right about him keeping his K rates low, which has produced solid BB/K ratios over his minor league career), but he never has seemed to hit with much power. I remember reading about his AFL stint this year, so you're right, hopefully that bodes well and is a sign that he is figuring it out. The only issue is position, as it'll be interesting to see if he sticks at third base (he could be a Bill Mueller-type).

    I totally agree about Augusta. A lot of Giants pitcher (Madison Bumgarner most recently) have done very well in the Sally and it does have the reputation for being a pitcher's league. The issues with a lot of our pitchers seems to be walking guys, as Concepcion and Escobar are two glaring examples.