With Opening Day happening across the Minor League yesterday, I figured it would be good to take a look at what Giants fans could expect from the teams in the Giants organization. I'm going to start with the lower levels first and move my way up. Since the Arizona Rookie League, the Northwest League and Dominican Summer League don't start until later in the season, I'm going to start with the Giants' Sally team, the Augusta Green Jackets.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Green Jackets, as they got off to a slow start in 2011. They finished the first half 31-39, good for fifth place in the Southern Division. However, a couple of roster moves and some better play sparked them in the second half, as they finished with the best record in the Southern Division after the break at 39-29. While they still finished behind the Savannah Sand Gants (the Mets organization) in the overall standings, the 70-68 record was still a promising end for a team that had its share of struggles in the beginning of the year.
The Green Jackets relied on their pitching as they finished sixth best in the league in runs allowed per game at 4.43 and fourth in ERA at 3.70. Shawn Sanford, Stan Rogers and Mike Kickham provided good production at the top of the rotation, as they each threw over 100 innings and posted ERA numbers of 2.55, 2.91, and 4.11, respectively. Seth Rosin proved to be an excellent spot starter for the Green Jackets, as he struck out 93 batters in 89 innings pitched while posting an ERA of 3.34 and a WHIP of 1.25. The bullpen also got a bounce back season from Edward Concepcion, who struck out 62 batters in 52.1 IP. While Concepcion still sports control issues (his K/BB ratio was 1.72), the performance was a nice sign for a prospect whose stock took a serious drop in 2010.
Offensively, Augusta struggled to score runs, as they finished fifth-worst in the Sally in runs scored per game at 4.43 and fourth-worst in OPS at .693. Despite the lackluster team showing, the Green Jackets did have some position players who made solid contributions during the 2011 season.
Though overshadowed by Chris Dominguez since college (they both were third basemen from the University of Louisville), Adam Duvall had a breakout year, posting a .285/.385/.527 slash with a team leading .917 OPS and 22 home runs. Outfielder Ryan Lollis also had a solid 80-game stint before he made the move to San Jose, as he posted a slash of .314/.393/.422 with an OPS of .816. While he struggled at the end of the year to post a pedestrian .650 OPS, Carlos Willoughby was a catalyst for the most part at the top of the order, as he showed a patient approach at the plate (.343 OBP, 0.73 BB/K ratio) and some speed on the basepaths (a team-high 33 stolen bases). Though he is repeating the year in Augusta, Willoughby is somebody to keep an eye on, especially to start the year.
Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for at the Plate?
The outfield will be intriguing as Chuckie Jones, Brett Krill and Shawn Payne will look to be the regular starting outfield during the 2012 season. Jones is a super-athlete with plus power, arm strength and speed tools (a lot of scouts have made Matt Kemp comparisons because of his background), but he has struggled to make contact over the course of his Minor League career (61 percent contact rate in Salem Keizer a year ago). Krill was a low-round pick in the Giants' 2010 Draft (25th round), but he is coming off a sensational campaign with the Volcanoes where he put up a slash of .304/.350/.488 along with six home runs and four stolen bases in 226 plate appearances. Payne is a toolsy-outfielder who has "Fred Lewis" potential, as he sports a patient approach at the plate, and good speed and instincts on the basepaths (though he doesn't sport a lot of raw power, as he hit no home runs a year ago). Payne put up a slash of .306/.431/.394 and stole 21 bases on 27 attempts in 195 plate appearances in the NWL last year.
In addition to Willoughby, shortstop Kelby Tomlinson will be an infielder to watch out for this year in Augusta. Baseball America rated Tomlinson with the best speed tool set and the best athleticism out of any Giants draft pick in the 2011 draft (the Giants selected him in the 12th round). Tomlinson however is not just all tools, as he roped pitching in the Arizona Rookie League last year. He posted a slash of .357/.417/.543 in 156 plate appearances. While he doesn't sport "home run power", Tomlinson has showed a strong ability to stretch out hits, as he hit 10 doubles, 5 triples and two home runs in the AZL. He does have to improve his concentration in the field if he wants to continue to stick at shortstop (10 errors, .924 fielding percentage last year), but scouts note that he has the tools and potential to be an above-average defensive shortstop as he moves up the system.
Who Should Giants Fans Watch Out for on the Mound?
The strength of the Green Jackets' roster is in the rotation, as there will be many arms to watch out for in Augusta in 2012. The roster is filled with projectable, high-ceiling arms who not only could be impact prospects in the Giants system, but could help make this Green Jackets team competitive in the Sally Southern conference.
In terms of starting pitching, Clayton Blackburn, Kyle Crick and Adalberto Mejia will anchor the top of the rotation. Blackburn started on Opening Day for the Jackets and performed well as he struck out six and walked zero while allowing four hits in 4.2 innings pitched. Blackburn is a big (six-foot, three-inches, 220 pounds) powerful arm that showed impeccable command in the Arizona Rookie League as an 18 year old. Crick also shares a similar profile to Blackburn, as he is a powerful prep arm out of Texas who was the Giants' supplemental round pick in the 2011 draft. Crick has more control and command issues than Blackburn at this point in his career (he walked eight and allowed nine hits in seven innings pitched in the Arizona Rookie League last year), but he is only 19 years old, was rated more highly by scouts than Blackburn out of high school, and still has a lot of time for development on the mound.
Mejia is a big surprise to make the Green Jackets roster, as many figured Joan Gregorio would be starting the year in Augusta instead of Mejia. However, though this is Mejia's first exposure Stateside, he was absolutely dominant in the Dominican Summer League in 2011. He struck out 71 and walked only eight batters in 76 innings pitched, and he finished the year with the DSL Giants with a 5-2 record and 1.42 ERA. It'll be interesting to see how Mejia fares in the Sally as a raw 18-year-old (he'll turn 19 in June) out of the Dominican, but he has the size (six-foot, three-inches and 195 pounds) and skills to project as a good starting pitching prospect not only this year, but for years to come.
Some sleepers in the Giants' pitching rotation are Demondre Arnold, Bryce Bandilla and Chris Marlowe, all picks in the Giants' 2011 draft. Arnold is a raw right hander out of junior college, but scouts have noted his impressive stuff and his strong performance last year in the Arizona Rookie League bullpen. In 26.2 IP, Arnold struck out 32 batters, allowed 16 hits and 8 walks as a nineteen year old. While he is expected to be in the Green Jackets bullpen, his excellent command and strikeout ability should make him a solid late innings option for the Green Jackets in 2012.
Bandilla and Marlowe are college prospects who come out of Arizona and Oklahoma State, respectively. While control has been an issue for them in their college careers, they have excellent stuff and strikeout potential, and could be fast risers in the Giants system, especially if they stay in the pen. Marlowe could compete for the setup or closer's position with Arnold, while Bandilla could be the first left-handed pitcher out of the pen in the late innings. While they didn't get much playing time after signing (Bandilla didn't play while Marlowe threw only three innings in the AZL; he did strike out five in three innings of work though), they do offer some upside and will be interesting arms to watch. If they do well, don't be surprised to see a second half promotion for both of these guys in the second half of the year.
What Should We Expect from the Green Jackets in 2012?
The Green Jackets have a solid pitching staff that could carry them, especially in the beginning of the year. While the offense has some interesting players with strong tools (Jones, especially), I would be surprised to see the Green Jackets surpass their offensive production from a year ago, especially with their main run producer, Duvall, now playing in San Jose. However, if Willoughby can have a year that was more similar to his first half and not his second half, than the Green Jackets might be able to muster enough offense, especially with a pitching staff that sports so much potential. I don't know if Augusta will be able to compete for a Sally title, but they certainly have the potential to be a dark horse, especially if guys like Jones and Tomlinson can back up their prospect hype with solid seasons at the plate in the Sally.