Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Scouting Report: the San Jose Giants

The team that started the season with the Giants’ A-level affiliate in San Jose may be broken up via roster moves & promotions at any time, but man, has it been sweet so far. There are two probable and five possible future MLB All-Stars on this squad, and as many as 8 likely ML regulars. Keith Law from ESPN did a recent write-up on San Jose’s *opposition* after a recent visit (ouch, that hurt Keith!) but practically every serious reporting organization (Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, etc etc) has written jaw-dropping praise for the recent drafting & international signings done by the much-maligned San Francisco front office, as evidenced by their high A-club. Given that it’s only 10 minutes’ drive from my house & general admission = $10, I figured I’d offer a firsthand take after seeing them Sunday May 3rd & Monday May 4th

When I went to see them on Monday night, a night when San Jose will normally draw 500-1000 fans, I arrived a bit late, after the 1st half-inning, and decided to splurge $15 for a box seat instead of the $10 general admission ticket. Good choice. The stadium seats around 4000, and it was about ¾ full on a Monday night, with rain clouds in the offing. I ended up with really the best seat in the house to watch a lefty pitcher – just to the right of home plate, 5 rows back from the field. And that set the stage for…

…The Lefty
The talk this spring has been all about Madison Bumgarner, who has rocketed up the prospect charts after showing quick improvement in a slider that looks like a future out-pitch at the ML level. The fastball is fierce, reportedly at a David Price-like 94-96 mph. If MadBum’s change (he is working on it now) becomes a plus pitch, he should join Price as one of the best young LHs in years and a #1 starter.

When I saw him, the fastball sat at 93-94 and touched 97 at times. I have read that he displays “easy” velocity, and can confirm that assessment. The arm slot is around ¾ but there is a not a lot of effort in the delivery, which he repeated fairly well most of the night. The changeup was on display vs. RH on several occasions and was usually taken for a strike or called for a ball just off the plate outside/high, and came in at 77-81 mph. The concern there is that he’ll need to start it lower in the zone vs. top-level hitters or they’ll make him pay. At the A-level, when the batters were looking for a heater or maybe the slider, they were caught off guard by the changeup. He used it on at least three occasions when he was ahead in the count, 1-2 or 2-2. The slider he had working was a touch faster than the changeup at 81-83 mph. Against RHs it mostly started belt-high in the middle/outside portion of the plate, and breaks in to the batter’s back foot with good tilt. He got several swinging strikes with this pitch. He also displayed some of the toughness that has been mentioned about him, coming high & inside on an 0-2 pitch that hit the batter on the arm. This was definitely a message pitch, intended to try to get the batter off the plate so that the pitcher could own the outside on a 1-2 count. Unfortunately it backfired as the hit batsman came around to score on a SB, error on the throw (catch actually, the throw was perfect), and a sac fly, but the concept was good even if the execution was a bit lacking. I would give his control pretty high marks at this stage though command was average and needs work.

Physically MadBum looks like he can hold up well over a long season. He’s not tall, but has noticeably thick thighs that support him well on the mound. Given the relative ease of the delivery he’s probably got as good a shot at staying healthy as any young pitcher especially if he can avoid over-reliance on the slider in favor of the change.

The Righty
With all the focus on MadBum, we have to add 6’6” RH Tim Alderson to the mix as well when we talk about high-ceiling prospects on this team. He’s mainly a FB/curve pitcher though is adding a changeup as well. When I saw him, the FB was slower than it has been in the past, sitting at 89 and ranging from 88-91. Most scouting reports have it sitting at 91-92, and not having all of his velo on the FB would explain his slow start to the year. That said, the curveball he showed was outstanding all day. He seemed completely comfortable throwing the pitch in any count and broke it off on both sides of the plate at 71-74 mph, generating both called strikes & plenty of swings & misses. If the FB comes back to 91-92, we’re talking about a #2 or #3 SP, and if the changeup comes along, he could even reach #1 status. With his height, I think it’s reasonable to assume he gets 1-2 more mph in the FB as he fills out, and his command is excellent.

Great sequence to illustrate this in the 6th inning as Alderson had a 2-2 count on the batter and broke off a curve that may have missed, but if so it was by just an inch or two. Alderson was visibly upset that he didn’t get the call, to the point where I thought “Ok, he’s flustered here”. But he went right back to the pitch for a called strike three, something the batter clearly wasn’t ready for on a 3-2 count. Amazing confidence in the pitch, signaled to him by…

…The All-American, and everyone’s future All-Star backstop Buster Posey. Posey put up an OPS of over 1.000 in April, and the Florida State alum really looks the part. For a RH his swing is very smooth, and though he went 1 for 4 and 0 for 4 on the 2 days I was there, he made up for an off day at the plate by nailing a runner going to 2b on a steal attempt on day 1, and making a perfect throw on day 2 that was alligator-armed by the SS. Every throw down to 2b looked smooth and easy, no effort at all, but the ball arrived with plenty of zip. I can see him as a 2eX -2 or -3 type C, and most reports put his power in the 18-20 HR range, with a very high BA and OBP. I saw nothing to discourage that opinion. He’ll be ready for prime time very soon, a RH version of Joe Mauer, and like Mauer also a multi-sport star in HS. High ceiling but also a pretty high probability of reaching that ceiling.

The Cowboy
Providing lineup protection for Posey in the San Jose order I was surprised to find Wichita State product Conor Gillaspie. Wasn’t hard to know when he was batting though – the intro song he chose is pure Country, some cowboy song whose name I’m sure I should know but have no clue about, an affectation stemming from his alma mater no doubt. But what was interesting was to see him batting 5th when original reports on him had him as a high-average, moderate-power, use-all-fields type of hitter, a #2 guy. I heard David Bell or Bill Mueller comparisons when he was drafted, and thought “Ok, Giants can do worse”. That said, he’s a pure LH, not a SW like Mueller, and the swing & body type I saw (listed at 6’1”, 200) project to more power than I remember those two guys having. In one AB Gillaspie went down the 3B line for an IF single, showing a good ability to go with a pitch on the outside and decent speed (he forced an error on the play), and followed that up with a long RBI double off the wall in straightaway CF. In San Jose the CF sign is at 390 feet, and it was a rainy day with a breeze blowing in at 10 mph & knocking balls down. I think in most ML parks that ball has a good chance to go for a HR, and he hit it well but didn’t quite get all of it. He hit almost exactly the same ball into a much stronger wind on Day 2 of my visit and it died at the track in front of the 390 sign. From what I saw it was crushed, better contact than the double on Day 1, just hit to the wrong place at the wrong time. He has no HRs to date this year, but the park in San Jose was really favoring pitchers on this homestand. I think we’ll see a 2-range 3B with 15-20 HR power there and a chance for more if he fills out & if he learns what pitches he should pull vs. staying back on and driving to LF/CF.

The Kid
After Posey, the hitter who gets the most attention on this team is teenage 1B Angel Villalona. One look at him will tell you why he got moved off 3B. He’s huge in the midsection, from chest/belly through thighs, a miniature (and RH) version of Boog Powell, as the calves seem small by comparison. He competes well for an 18-year old in high A, and was never close to being overpowered at the plate, but like many young Latino hitters with power, it doesn’t seem plate discipline has been a part of his baseball upbringing. He’s athletic enough to stay in the field for the bulk of his career, but projects to average range at best. The power that should come will be substantial. Lots of torque in the swing, and he has the natural hand-eye coordination to make pitchers pay for mistakes.

The Longshot
Brandon Crawford was pretty much a no-name when it came to prospect reports. That is, until he played in April. Putting up an OPS of 1.053 in your 1st month of pro ball will get you noticed. The UCLA product plays SS and stands 6’1”, and hits from the left side. The knock on him is that’s he’ll swing at anything, but as long as he hits it, who are we to criticize? He got 2 hits each day I saw him, and the glove was not bad to the 2B side, though I didn’t see him tested by any balls deep in the SS/3B hole. He did short-arm the throw in to the bag from Posey that I mentioned above, but he’s a guy to keep your eye on.

The Sleeper
2B Nick Noonan got on some radar screens as a 1st round pick in the 2007 draft, but had a quiet first full year in the pros in low-A. This season in high-A he continues to build his resume. He has good speed and baserunning ability, and combines those with good bat control though less than ideal OBP so far. He looks like a #7-8 hitter in the bigs, can play SS as well as 2B, and could also eventually see some PT in the outfield. However, if the plate discipline develops, we could see a reasonable top-of-the order bat here. He should be an average to above-average defender at 2B as well.

The Nephew
Some of you may remember the occasional 2-way card, where a pitcher is used as position player on occasion, enough to receive a rating in the field. The last such guy was Brooks Kieschnick, if memory serves. Well, meet his nephew Roger. Roger is a 6’ 3” OF with a bit of power potential. He’s athletic and a decent runner, but still best suited for corner OF. His OPS is .823 so far in his 1st pro season out of Texas Tech, and he’s not young for A ball at 22, but with 3 HRs in the early going, a good summer and continued production could put him on the list for a tryout at the pro level late this year or maybe a 2010 spring training invite. He reminds me of a Travis Buck type and is likely headed for a platoon/4th OF role at the ML level unless the power really ramps up.

Right now I am just hoping the Giants decide to keep this crew together another couple of months. There is no better value in the game today than $10 or $15 to see a group of youngsters with this much promise. Great beer selection too! I definitely recommend any of the BRASS SoCal contingent to go see these guys when they're in town.

0 Swings of the bat: