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The 2011 squad in San Jose definitely has the most potential of the four levels.
Peppered with high draft picks at every position, the Giants have a legitimate chance to 3-Peat the California League. Pitchers will have to make adjustments in the live ballparks they will see across the state, but what may be a pitcher’s hurdle is a hitter’s dream. This team has speed, power, defense, pitching, and a shut down bullpen.
The Giants have announced they will go with a 6 man rotation including 2009 1st round draft pick Zack Wheeler, lefty Kelvin Marte, ECU product Chris Heston, San Jose alumnus Craig Westcott, pitcher convert Jake Dunning, & 2007 1st rounder Michael Main.
After Belt’s promotion, Wheeler claims the top spot in San Francisco’s farm system. Zack had a shortened season in Augusta last year due to a fingernail crack, but still escaped the south with a .500 record and amassing 70Ks in 58IP. No doubt, his fastball is live (mid 90’s) and he supports it with a slider/change combo. He’ll rack up the strikeouts, but will have to work to induce ground balls to stay effective. Drafted out of high school, Wheeler’s potential is still sky high.
Heston has always been on my “watch list” because I like his approach to hitters. He’s a pitch to contact, location driven finesse type of arm but can induce swings and misses. His record has been upside down due to run support but the peripheral stats are still relatively strong. With the offensive barrage he’s certainly to have behind him I look for him to bounce back.
Marte had a one game stint in San Jose last year and got hit around to the tune of 6 earned in 3.2 IP including 5 walks. He’s had success at every level in the org so far, and is a lefty that works the whole zone, just needs to keep the pitch count down and pound the fastball in for strikes instead of trying to chip away.
Westcott returns to the league that he dominated. After struggling in AA Richmond I am surprised to see him back in San Jose as I thought he would get a full season and fresh start in the Eastern League considering his age, but he can only make the rotation that much stronger.
Dunning is a farm project after being converted to pitcher from short stop. I remember his first outings and practice as a pitcher in AZ and it was surprising to see how hard he could throw out of the gates. Low to Mid 90’s fastball with a slider and change. The project continues as he has primarily been a reliever but is making the transition to starter.
Main is part of the “haul” we got for Bengie Molina and thus played a part in our World Series championship (addition by substraction).
The catching tandem of Tommy Joseph and Hector Sanchez stay promoted together and will split time behind the plate as well as the occasional 1B duty for playing time.
Joseph is a RH power bat that despite having a low BA last year still thumped 16 HR. He’s gotta cut down on the strikeouts after posting 116 but his tools will translate in to higher numbers across the board in San Jose. His arm is a cannon. Drafted out of high school he also is still very young and you can expect to see him shoot through the ranks.
Sanchez reminds me of a switch hitting Bengie Molina, but in a good way. His stance is reminiscent of Big Money and has the drive and jump off the bat as Bengie did. He’s got power but I expect that to grow as he progresses. A great receiver also with a plus arm, he is surprisingly agile for his size. On the flip side he is also similar to Pablo in the category of weight being a potential concern in the future.
The infield is highlighted by Chris Dominguez, Ryan Cavan, Carter Jurica, Nick Liles, and Luke Anders.
Dominguez is a masher at the plate. San Jose would be wise to invest in a tape measure because I can see Chris launching in California. Defensively he has a plus arm as noted in last year’s preview. He will be a great middle of the order RBI source.
Cavan is the player that I believe will have the biggest gain in San Jose. He reminds me of Dustin Pedroia in that he has a surprising amount of power for his size, can hit for average, and is a slick defender. A switch hitter, he shows power from both sides. His swing is somewhat “lunging forward” but I think it helps him front load his leg to provide pop. Local kid from the peninsula could be a fan favorite.
Jurica a high 2010 draft pick had struggles in short season ball after a long college season, it will be interesting to see how he translates to a full season after a couple months of rest.
Anders had a great first full season in Augusta last year showing some power potential but amassed a ton of strikeouts.
The Bay Area gets it’s first chance to see last year’s top two draft picks in Gary Brown and Jarrett Parker roam the outfield at muni. They are joined by last year standout Wendell Fairley.
Brown is as described. Incredibly fast, great defender, skilled with the bat, and has some power despite scouting reports. I have been nothing but impressed from what Brown has put together this spring. As you may remember, he had a great AB to eventually hit a walkoff single against the hated ones which has endeared him to the general Giants populous already. More than that little victory, Giants fans should be excited to watch him work. A perfect lead off man he peppers the ball to all fields and can lay one down if you aren’t paying attention. Once he gets on look for him to be put in motion. His swing is a little big but he’s going to put on a show in the CAL.
Parker has gone under the radar as far as hype since he hasn’t made a professional debut yet but he too has all the tools for success as a major league outfielder. A CF in college I see him as moving to RF to allow for Brown. Good range and glove I believe his move to right should be made with ease. I actually really like his swing. Some scouts have said there is too much arm in there, but he’s shown it works. He will open some eyes.
Fairley will start the year back in San Jose after having a very successful 2010. For a left fielder he lacks the power you’d like to see from the position but he could turn out to be a hit machine.
The bullpen is solidified by last year’s standout Jose Casilla.
Casilla had a terrific 2010 in Augusta locking down games to the tune of 1.16 ERA. A sinking fastball keeps hitters on top. He also kind of has a “okajima” head movement where upon delivery he ends up looking away from the plate sometimes.
The breakout pitcher to watch is Heath Hembree. This guy is nasty. I’ve watched him pitch in the AZL, instructs and ST and his fastball is live, up to 99 on the gun. Not a tone of innings logged last year but check out this line.
A late edition to the squad will be Mike Kickham. A minor blister setback in spring will push his SJ debut, but he’s looked dirty in the limited action I’ve seen from this year’s ST. Rumors have been that they will be stretching him out to start but for now we’ll list him in the bullpen.
The theme of the year for the Low A Augusta Greenjackets will be “show me.” The majority of the roster hasn’t played a full season of professional baseball. This year will prove to be the opportunity these young players have been waiting for to show their skills can translate to higher level.
Loaded with players that have excelled at the lower ranks of competition, Augusta proves to be the furnace with which they will experience the heat, both figuratively in play and literally in temperature.
The starting staff is highlighted by 2010 4th round draft pick Seth Rosin. Seth was assigned to short season Salem-Keizer last year but only pitched a combined 11 innings with one start due to workload. A star at Minnesota, Rosin has a power arm with a mid 90’s fastball and his breaking pitches have a significant drop in velocity to low 80’s possibly high 70’s. Pitching in Augusta’s humidity and that ballpark can only help his stats.
After Rosin, I would anticipate the remaining starters to be Edwin Escobar, Austin Fleet, Justin Schumer, and Taylor Rogers.
Escobar was acquired in a trade from the Rangers for Ben Snyder a year ago. Although his record and ERA last year in Salem wasn’t anything special, Escobar has raw tools to be a solid left handed starting option considering alternatives. When locked in he can be effective (over a K/IP) but he has been prone to lose control after starts.
Fleet was the breakout talent of the Rookie League last year. Great command and he attacks the zone allowing only 8 walks and 65 Ks in 51IP he is the arm to watch on the squad in terms of translation to better competition.
Schumer has been a pleasant surprise in his limited game action. A non-draft sign, he’s proven to be effective as a pitch to contact type.
While I haven’t been able to confirm the catchers on the roster I am almost certain Daniel Burkhart and Jeff Arnold will be in Georgia.
Burkhart has impressed me out here in the desert. Great pop and noticeable power he brings a legitimate bat to the mask. Behind the plate, he’s looked great. A seasoned college catcher he has the experience of calling his own games.
Arnold on the other hand is the speed to Burkhart’s punch. A great combination of contact and speed proves to be an asset for his position. He’s also got a great batter’s eye and control, refraining from chasing pitches and hitting for the situation. A fluid swing with not a ton of power. Defensively, a great glove.
Dominican star and AZL standout Carlos Willoughby makes his affiliate debut surrounded by 1B convert Ryan Scoma, and 3B Adam Duvall.
Willoughby turned heads in the AZL with not only his performance but his speed on the bases. 23SB in 45 games, it is definitely a weapon which should slate him for the lead off or 2 spot. Not a ton of pop but solid contact, I’d like to see him hit more to the gaps. More than able with the glove at 2B, he also has great range.
Scoma took the NWL by storm at the beginning of last season but tailed off after the hot start. His move to 1B will definitely be a learning experience watching him field in ST but the bat may make up for the defensive learning curve.
Duvall, a 2B in college and most of last year, will be moved to the hot corner. Defensively he also will need to refine the transition but like Scoma his bat should play nicely in the SAL. He has a nice swing to watch, stays on the top of the ball with a big follow through. If he can capitalize on the alleys you could see a nice spike in production over last year. Doubles are the name of the game in Augusta.
Lastly, the other player to pay attention to is Josh Mazzola. He is making a 2nd appearance in Augusta after having a season ending injury last year in San Jose. He has been moved all over the diamond in ST and it is unclear as to where he will play but Josh knows how to be successful in the SAL. An RBI machine two years ago, I expect him to bounce back to form and be promoted.
Rafael Rodriguez joins the outfield and gets a chance to live up to the hype that has surrounded his young career. Only 18 years old, Rodriguez has the tools at the plate that scouts dream of, big body type to fill in, already a ton of pop, and solid contact but his skills with the glove are something to be desired. Having had the chance to watch most of his professional tenure, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw until this spring. Rodriguez was stinging the ball, fixing his loopy uppercut swing to a more compact version in my eyes. Still very very raw, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against the conditions and pitching after a disappointing stint in the NWL.
Sundrendy Windster, Chris Lofton, and Devin Harris round up the outfield.
Jacob Dunnington is my pick to be a standout player in Augusta. Signed out of high school he destroyed the AZL with a .63 ERA and 14.1 K/9.
Other additions that could make an impression are Shawn Sanford, Stephen Harrold, and Gaspar Santiago.