Saturday, June 4, 2011

Farm Watch: Runzler Starting, Verdugo Sizzling, Peguero Debuts, Willoughby Steady, and DSL Begins

So for this edition of the Farm Watch, I add a new wrinkle as I will recap the week's worth of Dominican Summer League games as well. I don't know what I'm going to do with the headlines when the Arizona Rookie League and Short-Season begin, but I guess I'll deal with that bridge when I come to it.

Fresno Grizzlies, 23-33 going into June 4th
  • The big story in Fresno was the promotion of Santiago Casilla and the demotion of Dan Runzler. However, while the demotion wasn't a story in itself, the subplot of Runzler being a starting pitcher with the Grizzlies was what grabbed everyone's attention. Runzler moved up quickly in the Giants system as a reliever, for in 2009, he went from Augusta all the way to the Big Leagues after dominating in the late innings in every stop in the farm system. However, the Giants are concerned about his pitch repertoire and how he has kind of plateaued a bit since his impressive callup in 2009. Runzler has only made two starts prior to this year (both rehab appearances where he only went a couple of innings) as the Giants have taken it easy with him, evidenced by the Grizzlies held him to a 40-pitch limit. He only faced eight batters on June 3rd. He walked three, but struck out two and didn't allow a hit in the limited work. The Giants are hoping Runzler can have similar success like Ryan Verdugo, who transitioned to a starter this year after being primarily used as a reliever in his minor league career.
  • Marc Kroon was put in a dilemma recently, as he had an opportunity to opt out of his contract on June 1st if he didn't make the Giants roster by this time. Kroon apparently had an offer from a Japanese team (he pitched for the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan), and considering he isn't on the 40-man roster, Kroon's opportunity to break into the Giants bullpen seems bleak. However, he decided to stay with the Grizzlies, with the hope that he could get a callup later in the year. The stay has paid off, as he has a 2.08 ERA in his last 10 appearances, with nine strikeouts in 8.2 IP.
  • With Brandon Belt gone, Thomas Neal has picked up the slack offensively for the Grizzlies. He has continued his hot hitting, as he his currently posting an OPS of 1.013 in 83 plate appearances. Neal is an athletic, toolsy outfielder who was rated the seventh best prospect in the Giants system going into 2011 according to Baseball America. Right now, he seems to be destined to stay in Fresno until the rosters expand in September, but Neal is on the right track and is an enticing player who could bring some value to the Giants roster in the near future.

Richmond Flying Squirrels, 25-29 going into June 4th
  •  The Flying Squirrels offense is continuing to struggle to score runs. How bad are they? Justin Christian, a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder is leading the team in OPS at .680. Yeah. That's some major offensive struggles. On a positive note, Christian is a nice story, as he provides a "Crash Davis-esque" presence to this Richmond roster. He went undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State and ended up playing in the Frontier League (an independent baseball league) for two years before he broke into the Minor Leagues. Christian has bounced around quite a bit in his professional career, as he has played in every level in the Yankees minor league system since 2004, and he had a brief stint with the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' Triple-A club in 2009. Christian's at-best scenario at this point would be a callup to Fresno, but his numbers aren't exactly suggesting a promotion anytime soon.
  • Remember when I said Verdugo was coming off one of his best performances of the year when he struck out 10 in 6.1 IP on May 23rd? Well, Verdugo topped that with an eight-inning, 10 strikeout performance on June 2nd. Unlike the May 23rd start though, Verdugo showed exceptional control and command as he only allowed one walk and one hit in the win. Eric Surkamp is getting all the attention in Richmond this season, but Verdugo may have the higher ceiling. He has better stuff than Surkamp, and if he can continue to show the command he showed on June 2nd, then he can certainly close that gap between himself and Surkamp soon.
  • The one guy I have paid attention to closely over the past couple of years is Sharlon Schoop. Schoop made some headlines in 2009 when he played considerable innings for the Netherlands team in the World Baseball Classic (remember, the Netherlands upset the favored Dominican Republic twice). Schoop has always had an interesting tool set as a prospect and he's capable of playing multiple positions in the field, but he just hasn't put it together at the plate. Last year, he showed flashes of progress in the Eastern League, as he hit .273 with a .673 OPS in a 199 plate appearances with the Flying Squirrels. However, he has taken a tremendous step back this year, as he is hitting only .159 with a .427 OPS in 69 plate appearances. Schoop has some talent, but it often goes unrealized, and it is unlikely that he'll ever be a serious prospect in the Giants system.

San Jose Giants,  38-17 going into June 4th
  • In addition to Pablo Sandoval making his San Jose return in a rehab stint, Francisco Peguero made his anticipated 2011 debut in a rehab stint of his own. Peguero is one of the Giants' top outfielder prospects, as he was rated the fourth best prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball America. In his first two games in 2011, Peguero has five hits in 10 at-bats. He also has three strikeouts, but if Peguero can continue to hit in this rehab stint, it will only be a matter of time before he makes the transition to the Eastern League. Last year, Peguero hit .329 with a .846 OPS in 538 plate appearances with San Jose. He also tallied 10 home runs, 16 triples, 19 doubles and 40 stolen bases. In terms of skill, he is a five-tool caliber player who is still relatively young (he's only 23). That being said, his plate approach will have to improve, as he only posted a BB/K ratio of 0.20 a year ago. Peguero doesn't strikeout very much (17.3 percent strikeout rate), but the walk rate is going to have to improve somewhat (3.3 percent last year) if he wants to continue to transition his Cal League success to the Eastern League and eventually Major League level.
  • Ryan Cavan is starting to show that he should be a prospect of note. He is not an elite prospect by any means (he was a 16th round pick in the 2009 draft), but he is quietly having a very good year as the second baseman for the SJ Giants. He is hitting .277 with an OPS of .809 and he has has six home runs, 37 RBI and seven stolen bases on eight attempts. Cavan may be benefiting from the hitter-friendly Cal League, but he did hit .283 with an .803 OPS and added 17 home runs and 79 RBI in 608 plate appearances for the Green Jackets. Thus, Cavan is a nice middle-infielder prospect who could give Charlie Culberson and Nick Noonan a run for their money. Of course, one has to see how he does in the Eastern League first. If he shows progress in Richmond either this year or next season, Cavan could be on the fast track real quick.
  • Zach Wheeler is the Giants' most dynamic pitcher, but Craig Westcott has been the most solid, as he is 7-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 60 IP. Westcott is old for the Cal League (he's 25 years old), and he doesn't have intimidating strikeout stuff (he only has a strikeout rate of 4.5). That being said, he displays good control (1.6 walk rate) and solid command (2.73 K/BB ratio), and has definitely been a boost to this Giants team that is positioned for another Cal League title.

 Augusta Green Jackets, 23-32 going into June 4th
  • Carlos Willoughby is older than most high-profile Latin American prospects (he's 22 years old and he's only been playing in the states since last year), and he doesn't possess a lot of pop (he only has a slugging percentage of .353). However, he is a solid contact hitter who has displayed a good plate approach and plenty of speed and efficiency on the basepaths. This year he is hitting .284 with a .379 OBP and .733 OPS, and he has 23 stolen bases on 28 attempts. Willoughby's tool set reminds me of Eugenio Velez, but unlike Velez, his strike zone recognition is very good. His ability to draw a walk and get on base should make up for his lack of power, and hopefully, Willoughby will continue to progress as he moves up the Giants system.
  • Adam Duvall is a big bopper. He doesn't hit for high average (his minor league average in two years is .245), and he doesn't draw walks (only 36 walks in 456 career plate appearances). However, Duvall has tremendous raw power, as he has hit 12 home runs and posted a .476 slugging percentage in 239 plate appearances this year in the Sally. Defensively, Duvall has struggled a bit at the hot corner, as he has a fielding percentage of .899 and a RF/G of 2.84. That being said, Duvall's power tool set is enticing, and could make him a bit of a sleeper prospect.
  • After giving up seven runs and five hits in a May 2nd appearance, Edward Concepcion has finally regained himself over the past month. His ERA is down to 4.23, and his strikeout rate is up to 10.1 percent. The walks are still an issue (6.8 BB/9), and he still gives up a lot of hits (9.8 H/9), but Concepcion at least has showed that he is capable of bouncing back after a rough stretch. I'm not sure if he'll be a decent prospect, especially considering he's 23 and still in Single-A. However, I like his stuff and his ability to strike batters out.

DSL Giants, 5-1 going into June 4th
  • Top Latin American signee Adalberto Mejia is off to a very good start in the DSL. A tall 18-year-old lefty, Mejia has only allowed six hits and one run in 11 IP. He has showed dominant stuff (10 strikeouts) as well as excellent control (only one walk) in his first two professional starts. It's early in the year of course, but considering he was the Opening Day starter for the DSL Giants, it's obvious that the Giants organization has a lot of confidence and hope in the pitching prospect. So far, he has not disappointed.
  • Alberto Robles is off to a sizzling start at the plate for the DSL Giants. He is hitting .348 with an .879 OPS in 27 plate appearances. He also has showed good speed (three stolen bases), though he will have to improve his jumps (he has gotten caught three times). With four walks and only three strikeouts, Robles has displayed a good plate approach early this year, and hopefully, the 20-year-old can parlay this hot start into a solid 2011 campaign.
  • The DSL Giants are 5-1 this year and have looked impressive to begin the year, especially on the pitching end. They are only allowing 1.67 R/G and they have a team ERA of 1.07, both best in the DSL. They will have to improve the hitting, as their 4.50 R/G is in the middle of the pack, but it is a small sample, and there is still plenty of games to be played in South Boca Chica for the Gigantes.

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