Monday, September 15, 2014

Down on the Farm: AAA Fresno Grizzlies 2014 Season Review

From a Won-Lost standpoint, the Fresno Grizzlies 2014 season was a miserable failure as they finished with losing 68-76 record in last place in the PCL's Pacific Southern Division, 13 games behind the first place Reno Aces(D'Backs).  As I am sure we all know, the purpose of mission of minor league teams is not to win minor league championships, although it is nice when it happens, but rather to produce players who will eventually win championships for the affiliated MLB team.

In theory, AAA is the level where prospects polish up their game to get them ready for the difficult transition to the major leagues.  Over the past couple of decades, the trend is for the best prospects to spend very little time at the AAA level and sometimes skip it altogether.  Think of the Giants core of homegrown stars.  Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford all spent little or no time in Fresno before making their MLB debut.  AAA is a level where teams like to use players with MLB experience or multiple years of AAA experience as an extended bench.  The Giants have used it in some cases as a place to send young MLB players for short stints to work on specific weaknesses exposed at the MLB level.

For those of you who have longed to see "real prospects" play for Fresno, this year was a pleasant exception with several players climbing the ladder in an orderly fashion, moving up from AA to spend all or most of their season in Fresno.  In addition, the team featured several second year AAA players who could still reasonably considered "real prospects."  Of course, the Grizzlies also had their share of AAAA players, retreads and reclamation projects and even they generated some interest!  Let's break it down:

AAA "Rookies":

Joe Panik(2B)- .321/.382/.447.  A former first round draft pick, Panik saw his stock slip a bit in AA Richmond last year as he moved off SS to the less valuable 2B position and struggled with an early hamstring injury and a harsh hitting environment.  As we all know, Panik bounced back with a solid AAA campaign and got the mid-season callup to stabilize 2B for the Giants and has been the catalyst for the Giants stretch run to the playoffs.

Andrew Susac(Catcher)- .268/.379/.451, 10 HR.  Susac missed some time early in the season with an injury, but continued to show strong on-base skills and power.  When Hector Sanchez went down with a concussion, Susac got the call and provided valuable production as a backup catcher for the Giants down the stretch.

Adam Duvall(3B/1B)- .298/.360/.599, 27 HR.  Duvall mashed the ball for Fresno but struggled in several short stints at the MLB level.  Defensively, he is probably limited to 1B which makes it harder to get established in the majors.

Edwin Escobar(LHP)- 3-8, 5.11, 111 IP, 37 BB, 96 K's.  Escobar was considered to be the most advanced of the wave of young Giants pitching prospects and a mid-season callup did not seem unrealistic at all.  Instead, he had a disappointing inaugural AAA season and was eventually traded to the Red Sox in the Jake Peavy deal.  He has since pitched impressively for the Red Sox AAA affiliate in the International League, at least in the IL playoffs.  A couple of lessons here:  1.  Prospects can bring value to the MLB club even if they get traded out of the organization.  If the Giants make the playoffs, especially if they advance past the Wild Card game, Jake Peavy will be a big reason for that success.  2.  The PCL is crazy tough on pitchers and you can't necessarily rely on numbers to judge their readiness or the quality of their stuff.

The Repeaters:

Gary Brown(CF)- .271/.329/.394, 10 HR, 36 SB, 20 CS.  Former first round draft pick Brown has become an enigma who at times flashes the tools and skills that made him look like the Giants CF of the future a few years ago, but at other times going into extended slumps, both at the plate and the basepaths and generally appearing to stall out in his development.  He finally got a September callup and has made a few brief appearances as a defensive replacement in the OF.  At this point, his future with the organization appears to be uncertain at best.

Chris Dominguez(OF/3B/1B/SS)- .274/.307/.460, 21 HR, 21 SB.  At age 27, Chris Dominguez is no spring chicken as a prospect, but has always had intriguing plus-plus power and surprising athleticism for a guy his size.  He put up the first 20-20 season in eons for Fresno and played multiple positions including fairly long stretches at SS!  He does many things well, but does he do any one thing well enough?  Huge K rates continue to be a problem.  Another September callup who has made a couple of PH appearances.

Mike Kickham(LHP)- 8-8, 4.43, 148.1 IP, 64 BB, 131 K.  Last year Kickham looked like an up-and-comer with good stuff who would benefit greatly from a season of polishing in Fresno.  Unfortunately, his command issues did not seem to improve and even got worse as the season progressed.  Another September callup.  He got torched in Saturday's 17-0 debacle.  At this point, his career appears to be rolling back downhill.

Chris Heston(RHP)- 12-9, 3.38, 173 IP, 51 BB, 125 K's.  Heston has always put up good numbers with marginal scouting reports.  Those are pretty good numbers for the PCL.  Pitched 1 inning of shutout ball in his September callup so far.  Probably a AAAA pitcher, but may get a few cups of coffee.  #5 starter on a non-contending team is his absolute ceiling.

Austin Fleet(RHP)- 4-2, 3.95, 43.1 IP, 13 BB, 33 K.  Fleet has bounced around the minors playing wherever he is needed.  That is usually not a good sign for a future MLB career.  He pitched well enough for Fresno this year that he might get a full time starting gig there next year with a chance for an emergency start or two.  Could eventually be a long man out of the bullpen too.

Brett Bochy(RHP)- 4-4, 3.83, 54 IP, 27 BB, 47 K's.  Son of the Giants skipper, Boch Jr. does not have overwhelming stuff and probably has a ceiling as a long man out of a bullpen.  Got caught up in the 17-0 debacle in his MLB debut.

Heath Hembree(RHP)- 1-3, 3.89, 39.1 IP, 13 BB, 46 K's, 18 Saves.  Another guy who looked like he just needed a bit of polish.  Those are not bad numbers for the PCL, but he was inconsistent and reportedly failed to develop a credible secondary pitch.  Got shipped to the BoSox in the Peavy trade.  The September performances of Strickland and Cordier revealed why the Giants thought Hembree was expendable.  I expect Hembree to become a good MLB reliever, although probably not a closer.

Reclamation Projects:

Erik Cordier(RHP)- 4-3, 3.59, 52.2 IP, 31 BB, 68 K's.  Hard throwing reliever, as in triple digits!  Cordier is a TJ survivor who was added to the Pirates 40 man roster in November, 2013 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.  They then tried to sneak him through waivers in the spring and the Giants grabbed him.  Has impressed in 3 MLB appearances this September hitting triple digits with some regularity.  He would appear to have a definite future in the bullpen.  Nice scouting job by the Giants!

Mark Minicozzi(OF/1B)- .298/.400/.420, 12 HR.  A former Giants draftee and farmhand, Minicozzi spent some time out of baseball and some time in indy ball.  The Giant brought him back with a spring training invite and he darn near made the team!  Probably a minor league lifer at this point,  but could catch on as a utility player/PH with somebody.

Travis Ishikawa(1B)- .271/.329/.394, 11 HR.  Ishikawa was waived by the Brewers early in the season and refused a minor league assignment because he was blocked from playing regularly even with their AAA team.  He saw the Giants had room at 1B in Fresno so signed with them.  Got a callup to replace Brandon Belt with the concussion and has been an important contributor to the Giants stretch run.

Shuttle Riders:

Juan Perez(OF)- .316/.372/.508.  Perez can definitely play at the AAA level.  Very tough to break in as a bench player in the majors.

George Kontos- 3-3, 2.08, 47.2 IP, 11 BB, 58 K's.  Kontos has made some valuable appearances for the Giants in multiple short stints.  Will he ever stick?


Dan Runzler(LHP)- 1-5, 3.30, 46.1 IP, 36 BB, 53 K's.  Pretty good season, but still with bouts of wildness.  Released so he could pursue an opportunity in Korea.

Jose De Paula(LHP)- 4-3, 4.21, 51.1 IP, 16 BB, 41 K's.  Waiver wire pickup in the offseason.  Those are not terrible numbers.  Not sure why he was released.  Maybe got caught up in a 40 man roster numbers game?

Brett Krill(OF)- .189/.246/.226.  My favorite sleeper prospect finally hit the wall and the end of the road.

Tyler Colvin(OF)- .227/.278/.344.  Colvin made a splash early with the Giants but the just tanked.  Did not do any better in Fresno and was eventually released.  Baseball future is very cloudy for this former first round draft pick by the Cubs.

Dan Uggla(2B)- .286/.444/.429 in 7 AB's.  Uggla played 2 games for Fresno before being rushed into the breach at 2B for the Giants.  We all know how THAT turned out.  Shoulda just called up Panik.

David Huff(LHP)- 0-0, 0.00, 3 IP, 0 BB, 1 K.  Started out as a bullpen lefty/spot starter for the Giants.  Got hurt, then lost in the 40 man roster shuffle.

Javier Herrera(DH)- .273/.314/.394, 33 AB.   Put up promising numbers last year for Richmond, but apparently has too many recurring, chronic injuries to expect any kind of future MLB career.

Tony Abreu and Darren Ford also had solid seasons but it is unclear where they fit in the future.


  1. Nice rundown DrB! News is starting to stir that Sacramento has officially cut ties with the A's organization. All signs point to the Giants partnering up with the Rivercats. However, Baggs was asked about the affiliation topic in a very recent chat, and his answer was blunt and quite surprising. He didn't think there was any validity to the talk of the Giants parting ways with Fresno. So... I'm very interested to see how this all plays out. I can tell you this: if the Giants do partner up with Sac, I'll be watching Kyle Crick and the boys quite often next year!

    Speaking of the Rivercats... I went to a game against CO Springs last month, and the gentleman sitting behind us was a former (1970's) pitcher in the A's farm system. He and I got to talking, and he made a very interesting point about AAA that most people don't think about. There is absolutely no emotion at that level. It's a very business-like atmosphere, as players are simply trying not to screw up their opportunity to get to the bigs (or back to the bigs for some of them). There's very little camaraderie, unlike some of the lower levels where players come up together. Just food for thought, but thinking about it that way makes me feel even more for Gary Brown.

    As for the team this year: Mark Minicozzi deserves at least 1 MLB at bat in his career... I'm not sure if he'll get it though. I was honestly very surprised by the quick promotions of Panik and Susac, although looking back I shouldn't have been. You hit the nail on the head in saying that the Giants don't let their highly regarded prospects sit in AAA for very look. Again, further proof that guys like Hembree and now Brown were/are not part of the organization's future plans.

    Last comment here, I'm getting a bit long-winded. I'm amazed by Erik Cordier. The guy was drafted 10 years ago, and he still throws 100 with ease! That is so impressive. It also makes you wonder how a guy can go that look with that big of a fastball and not see a MLB call-up. Atlanta had him for 4 years... You'd have thought they'd at least have wanted to get him in front of some MLB hitters before they let him go. As for Pittsburgh, it's looking like they might have goofed up on this one. Not only was this his highest K/9 season of his career, but he also had his best ERA since his rookie ball days in 2006. Great find indeed!

    1. Great comments, Covechatter. Thanks for the added info and thoughts.

  2. Agreed - great insight Cove! It could explain some of the low morale Gary Brown has exhibited. Excited to see the River Cats might be coming over to the Gigantes. I know that as the A's AAA team, they always seem to put a beat down on my Tacoma Rainiers! And they should let Minicozzi get a cup at the show. It would be another class move by a class organization. And probably good karma too!

    Thanks for the AAA rundown Doc!


  3. good chance kickham and brown will be released in the offseason