Sunday, May 29, 2011

Farm Watch: Roster Turnover Hurts Grizzlies, San Jose and Richmond Climbing, Kickham off to "Kicking" Start

It's been a while, but I figured it was time to do a "Farm Watch" update. Here's a look on how things are going with the Giants minor league affiliates.

Fresno Grizzlies, 22-28 heading into May 29th
  • The Grizzlies have had a lot of roster turnover lately. Emmanuel Burriss, Chris Stewart and Brandon Belt all got callups the past week, and Ryan Rohlinger and Henry Sosa were designated for assignment. All the roster change has clearly had an effect on the Grizzlies, as they have lost seven of their last 10 games. The biggest problem for the Grizzlies has been a punch-less offense, which has only averaged 4.76 R/G, fifth worst in the PCL. With catalysts like Burriss and Belt gone, the Grizzlies will depend even more on Brett Pill, Travis Ishikawa, Conor Gillaspie and Thomas Neal for offensive production.
  • Speaking of Neal, he has just come off the disabled list, and he's back on track. He hit a home run on May 27th, and yesterday, he went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a stolen base. Neal is currently hitting .358 with a .951 OPS and two home runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases on five attempts. He has drawn only two walks in 57 plate appearances, but he has only struck out seven times, and his contact rate remains solid at 87 percent. Granted, this is a short sample, and one has to wonder how Neal will perform over the long course of the PCL season. Nonetheless, considering Neal has been floating under the radar this year with all the Brandon Belt hype, it would be nice to see Neal have a solid year in Fresno.
  • One of the "bigger than people realize" stories of this latest wave of transactions has to be Henry Sosa being designated for assignment. The Giants protected Sosa from the Rule 5 Draft by adding him to the 40-man roster last year, and unfortunately, it seems like it may not have been worth it. Rule 5 draftee Joe Paterson is performing solidly with the Diamondbacks, as he has 11 strikeouts in 11.2 IP and has only allowed seven hits and one earned run. As for Sosa, he imploded in Fresno this year, as he allowed 39 hits and 30 runs in 23.1 IP, good for a 10.41 ERA. Sosa hasn't seemed to recover from the injuries that have plagued him in 2008 and 2009. His K/9 rate has significantly dropped since it was 9.3 in 2008 with San Jose, and his H/9 has climbed from 7.6 to 8.8 to 15.0 the past three years. I imagine some team is going to claim Sosa, just because he was such a decorated prospect a few years ago, so this is probably the end of Sosa's time in the Giants organization.
  • He probably is going to spend the year in Fresno unless some more injuries happen (completely possible considering how things are going now), but Brad Eldred is making some noise for the Grizzlies offensively. At six-foot, six inches, and 270 pounds, Eldred is a lumbering outfielder that probably wouldn't do well defensively in AT&T Park's big dimensions. However, he has showed some skill with the bat, as he is hitting .301 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and an OPS of .971. Eldred was formerly in the Pirates and Rockies systems before being non-tendered by Colorado last year, and he has brought some pop to a Grizzlies offense that desperately needs it. Eldred isn't exactly a prospect, as he is 30 years old and currently in his seventh season in professional ball, but he looks to be an interesting bat that could help the Grizzlies this season.

Richmond Flying Squirrels, 24-24 heading into May 29th.
  • The Squirrels have finally reached the .500 mark, and seem to be making strides, as they are only 2.5 games back behind the Harrisburg Senators (the Nationals' Double-A affiliate). The key to the Flying Squirrels' success has been the pitching, as they are allowing only 3.52 R/G and are posting a team ERA of 2.85, both best in the Eastern League. The starting rotation has been studly, as Eric Surkamp, Ryan Verdugo and Justin Fitzgerald have carried the staff, posting ERAs of 1.53, 2.93 and 3.14, respectively. Clayton Tanner has struggled a bit, as he is sporting an ERA of 4.84, but his K/BB ratio at 2.29 is better than Fitzgerald (1.22), so it is possible that Tanner is going through a bad stretch. With the offense a bit inconsistent (Richmond's 3.73 R/G is third-worst in the EL), so the pitching is going to have to carry the Flying Squirrels if they want to make a run for the division title.
  • Kind of amazing, but the Flying Squirrels have two pitchers in Double-A who were pitching for the Giants in 2008. Osiris Matos and Alex Hinshaw have struggled immensely with control and command problems since 2009, and now they are down in the Eastern League trying to figure things out. Hinshaw has always had great strikeout stuff (career 11.1 K/9 in the minors), but he has never been able to figure out his walk problems (career 6.3 BB/9 in the minors). As for Matos, he has been solid this year in Richmond (8.33 K/BB ratio, 2.23 ERA in 32.1 IP), but at the same time, he is 26 years old and he pitched the last two years in Triple-A. He may get an opportunity to pitch in the PCL later this year, but at the same time, you wonder if Matos will be anything more than a career minor-league pitcher.
  • After a slow start, Roger Kieschnick is starting to pick things up at the plate. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .316 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBI. He also has two stolen bases and five walks, and is posting a .922 OPS during this recent stretch. The strikeouts are still there, as he has had 10 strikeouts over the 10 game span. Nonetheless, it's nice to see some improvement from Kieschnick, who had a disastrous season ago as he struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness. With an offense that is being carried by Charlie Culberson right now, the Flying Squirrels need Kieschnick's bat to be competitive, and right now, he's on the right track.

San Jose Giants, 34-15 heading into May 29th.
  • After getting off to a hot start with the bat, Chris Dominguez has cooled off in his last 10 games. He is hitting .237 with zero home runs, two RBI and has 12 strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He does have six walks in this time span, but considering he hit nine home runs in his first 38 games, the power dip is a bit concerning. It could be just a bad stretch, and considering the environment of the California League, it could be just a matter of time before Dominguez starts showcasing his home run stroke again in San Jose. That being said, at 24 years old, Dominguez isn't exactly young for the Cal League, and thus, if he wants to keep his high status as a prospect, he needs to continue to display his power tools.
  • Another guy that has cooled off dramatically is Wendell Fairley, as he is posting a .557 OPS in his last ten games. Fairley has always been good in terms of his strike zone recognition, as he is posting an OBP of .358 and a BB/K ratio of 0.61. However, he has never displayed much power in the minors, as his slugging percentage this year (.350) would be a career high. Since this is Fairley's second go-around in the Cal League, a lot of progress was expected for the first round draft pick in 2011. And, even though he is performing better at the plate than a year ago, there hasn't been enough significant progress this year to show that Fairley is a serious prospect in the Giants system.
  • While Fairley has floundered, one outfielder that has come on strong is first-year player Jarrett Parker. He is posting a .792 OPS in his last ten games, and has seven RBI, seven walks and three stolen bases to boot. Parker sports an .808 OPS total for the year, and is hitting .264 in 193 plate appearances with four home runs and 24 RBI. Parker could be better in terms of cutting down his strikeouts (he has a strikeout percentage of 28 percent), but considering this is his first year of professional ball and he is only 22 years old, the progress he has shown is comforting. Of course, we have seen first year players do well in High-A, only to fall back to earth in the transition to Double-A (case in point: Kieschnick), but at the same time, Parker is an interesting prospect with some interesting tools who could do well with more at-bats as a professional.

Augusta Green Jackets,  20-29 heading into May 29th.
  • It was expected that Ehire Adrianza would start out the year in Richmond until an injury forced him on the Disabled List to begin the year. In Augusta though, Adrianza has struggled once again at the plate, as he is hitting .176 with a .586 OPS in 62 plate appearances. Adrianza has still showed good plate discipline (0.67 BB/K ratio), but as noted before, he has struggled to hit for much power or average in his minor league career. Defensively, nobody can doubt that Adrianza is the best fielding infielder in the Giants system. However, with Brandon Crawford making his debut with the Giants this weekend, there is a little bit of pressure on Adrianza to perform. He needs to show what he can do at a higher level so the Giants brass can figure out what to do with him and how much value he has as a prospect. With the slow start in the Sally, Adrianza certainly isn't making things easy for Giants management.
  • In his first full year in the minors, Mike Kickham is off to a good start. He is posting a 1.80 ERA and has 18 strikeouts and only three walks in three starts and 15 innings pitched. A sixth-round pick out of Missouri State a year ago, Kickham was rated the 16th best prospect in the Giants system by Baseball America in their 2011 Prospect Handbook. Kickham, according to Baseball America, has a good fastball that touches 94 MPH, and has a plus slider and a hard breaking ball. There definitely is some promise with Kickham, as he seems to be a polished college arm that could move up quickly if he continues to display the solid stuff and command that he showed in his first three starts with the Green Jackets.
  • Another interesting arm in the Green Jackets' pitching staff is Stephen Harrold, who has been stellar out of the Augusta pen. He is posting an ERA of 1.48 in 24.1 IP and he has 22 strikeouts and a K/BB ratio of 2.75. A 12th round pick out of UNC-Wilmington, Harrold isn't exactly a heralded arm (he wasn't on the radar of any prospect analysts' Giants list), but he has shown good command, and control in the Sally this year. He also did have a solid year in Salem-Keizer a year ago where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP. For a team that doesn't hit well (the Green Jackets' .236 batting average is last in the league, and their 4.45 R/G is second-to-last), Harrold is a valuable asset to this Green Jackets team. As a prospect though, we'll have to just wait and see how he'll progress over the year, but I like what he has displayed with his command and control in his first two years in the minors.

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