Fresno Grizzlies, 18-15 going into May 11th.
- The Grizzlies have picked it up a little, as they sit a few games over .500 and in third place in the Pacific Coast League, three games behind Reno and Sacramento. That mainly can be contributed to Brandon Belt's stellar performance. He is hitting .389 with a 1.106 OPS and has two home runs and 13 RBI to go along with 16 walks and only 18 strikeouts. It's obvious he is just toying with PCL pitching and he is due for a callup soon. However, with Cody Ross' recent surge and Andres Torres and Mark Derosa back off the DL, it'll be difficult to plug him into first base or the outfield, for both positions are very crowded. That being said, Belt is ready for a promotion, and I think with this recent stint under his belt (Ha! Pun!), Giants fans can expect a much better performance from him this second-time around.
- Shane Loux is an older journeyman pitcher in the Giants system (he is 31 years old and he has pitched in the Tigers, Royals, Angels and Astros farm systems), but he is coming off a good string of starts. On May 2nd, he pitched 6 innings and allowed five hits and zero runs in a win over Colorado Springs. His latest start though was probably his best of the year. On May 9th, he went eight innings, struck out eight and only allowed one hit (albeit a two run homer that prevented him from getting the decision). Loux has shown good control this year in the PCL (only six walks in 45 innings piched) and though he doesn't strike a lot of guys out (4.8 K/9), he still has managed to give the Grizzlies good, quality starts. While I think it's a stretch that he'll have any impact on the Giants rotation, he certainly is capable of having the kind of impact on the Grizzlies that Eric Hacker had last season.
- Tyler Graham has rebounded offensively after a slow start to this year, as he is now hitting .276 and has scored 18 runs for the Grizzlies. He isn't really drawing walks (five in 84 plate appearances) and his numbers other than his batting average are pretty mediocre (.317 OBP, .659 OPS). However, Graham's plus skill (base stealing ability) has been on full display this year, despite his inconsistency with the bat. He is currently 14-for-14 on stolen base attempts this year. He is a little old to be considered a serious prospect (27 years old) and he plays at a crowded position in the Giants system (outfield), but the Grizzlies have to like the speed skill set Graham brings to the table.
Richmond Flying Squirrels, 15-17 going into May 11th.
- The Squirrels have been a pretty inept team offensively this year. They are averaging 3.56 R/G this year and they have a team OPS of .596, both dead last in the Eastern League. ( To compare, the second lowest OPS is Trenton, who has a .649 OPS...just goes to show you how bad the Flying Squirrels have been offensively). What makes these offensive numbers even more disheartening is the fact that the Flying Squirrels hitters have wasted good pitching performances this season. Led by Eric Surkamp, Clayton Tanner and Ryan Verdugo in the rotation and Jason Sotffel, David Quinowski and Just Dowdy in the pen, the Flying Squirrels pitching staff has allowed only 3.53 R/G and sports a team ERA of 2.85, both league bests.
- The only real offensive hitter of note for the Flying Squirrels has been second baseman, Charlie Culberson, who tore up the California League last season (he hit 16 home runs, drove in 71 RBI, stole 25 bases and had an OPS of .797 in San Jose). He leads the team in plate appearances (143), batting average (.290) and OPS (.713). He could cut down his strikeouts (28) and draw some more walks (only six this year), but he is still young (at 22, he's two years younger than the average age of Eastern League players) and at least he hasn't fallen off a cliff like some players have in the Eastern League after transitioning from the hitter-friendly California League.
- Speaking of Tanner, his progress this year as he enters his second season with Richmond has been interesting to follow. He has improved the K/9 rate and has shown a little bit better command (2.10 K/BB ratio in comparison to the 1.23 one he sported last year) in his first six starts this season. However, he still has been quite hittable (9.6 H/9) and he has had some shaky outings which are concerns considering the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers. I'm not exactly saying things are gloomy for Tanner, but considering he earned a spot on the 40-man roster this year, you hope he can continue to develop as the season progresses.
San Jose Giants, 20-12 going into May 11th.
- San Jose always proves to be one of the better organizations in the Giants system and this year is no different. The Giants have the second best offense (6.44 R/G) and best pitching staff (3.84) when it comes to runs scored and runs allowed per game. While Stockton (the A's affiliate) is currently a game ahead of the Giants going into today, San Jose seems primed for another California League title run.
- If you want a reason for the Giants' offensive success this year, look no further than Gary Brown. He has been on an absolute tear lately, as he was recently named the California League player of the week. Also, Baseball America tabbed him as one of the hottest prospect in the minors right now, and for good reason: he is hitting .366 with a .940 OPS and he has 27 RBI and 27 runs scored in 154 plate appearances. Brown is a five-tool talent that may end up as the top prospect in the Giants system by the end of the year (assuming Belt graduates to the big leagues, which looks to be the case; I'll be surprised if he is still in Fresno by Mid-June). Of course, how Brown's numbers will transition to Richmond will be a good measuring point, so I'm not ready to get too carried away with him just yet. Even so, for California League standards, what Brown is doing is pretty remarkable (especially considering he's around the league average age-wise).
- Zack Wheeler has been the catalyst to this Giants rotation (11.3 K/9, 3.78 K/BB ratio, 1.04 WHIP) and most talked about pitcher in San Jose, but they have been getting good performances out of the bullpen from Hector Correa and Heath Hembree. Correa has pitched 24 innings and has an ERA of 2.59 and a WHIP of 0.74. While he isn't exactly a high volume strikeout guy (20 strikeouts), he has shown excellent control (only four walks). As for Hembree, he punches out guys in bunches (22 strikeouts in 12 IP), and the reports on his stuff are promising (Perfect Game USA rated him as one of the 3-4 hardest throwers in his draft class). There are some minor walk issues (he has six walks), but you got to like Hembree's combo of stuff and ability to make bitters miss.
Augusta Green Jackets, 12-20 going into May 11th
- Much like the Flying Squirrels, the Green Jackets are off to a rough start. They are the third-oldest team in the Sally, but they have the fourth-worst offense (4.56 R/G) and second worst pitching (5.97) on a runs per game scored and allowed basis. Safe to say, while Richmond may be better than their record indicates (their pythagorean W-L is 16-16), you can't exactly make the same argument for the Green Jackets. The high R/G allowed is surprising since the Sally tends to favor pitchers (4.90 R/G league average). That being said, it might just be a product of a down year in terms of pitching talent in Augusta or just a sign of early ineffectiveness from Green Jacket pitchers. (Let's hope for the latter.)
- Rafael Rodriguez isn't showing much power in the Sally (.681 OPS; .351 slugging), but his averages are climbing (.286 batting average) and he doesn't look totally overwhelmed in Single A, which is a good sign considering he's four years younger than the average player on the Green Jackets roster, and three years younger than the average Sally player (he's 18 years old). With his tools and athleticism, Rodriguez certainly is an enticing prospect, though it'll probably take him a little longer to blossom as a player simply because he is so young and so early in his development.
- Edward Concepcion's stat line doesn't look great (4.60 ERA, 10.3 H/9, 8.6 BB/9, 2.11 WHIP), but take away a disastrous May 2nd outing against Lexington and he actually doesn't look too bad. Against the Legends, he allowed five hits, two walks and seven runs in 1.2 IP. In the last two outings against Altoona following the Lexington meltdown, he struck out three batters in two innings of work and allowed no walks and only one hit combined. Concepcion's control continues to be an issue that is holding him back (6.5 BB/9 in 63.1 IP with the Volcanoes), but he was able to keep it under control in the Dominican Summer League (3.4 BB/9 in three seasons in the DR) and in Rookie League (4.2 BB/9 in 2009). Additionally, he seems prone to having massively bad meltdown appearances, which in turn, kill his overall numbers. If you look at his game logs this year and last year, you'll see what I mean. On a positive note though, he is known for having a plus fastball (He was hitting 97 MPH according to reports in the Arizona Rookie League), and he can miss bats (9.6 K/9 since coming stateside in 2009). It would be nice to see him bounce back in 2011 after a down year in the Northwest League in 2010. After all, he was a C+ graded prospect according to Baseball Intellect last year, and hopefully he can somewhat recapture that ranking with a good campaign in the Sally.