The 2010 minor league regular season is now over (pending the start of the Arizona Fall League season some weeks in the future), so it’s as good a time as any to tell you what the Giants’ minor league troops did this year.
The Fresno Grizzlies finished 75-69, good enough for second in the four team PCL Pacific South Division, four games back of the first place Sacramento River Cats, the A’s top farm club.
The Position Players
The Grizzlies’ top prospect going forward is 1Bman Brandon Belt. After tearing up the A+ California League (.383 batting average, 1.121 OPS in 77 games) and the AA Eastern League (.337 BA and 1.036 in 46 games), Belt cooled off considerably in a 13-game cup of coffee at AAA Fresno to close out the 2010 season.
Even so, Belt continued to impress. While he hit only .229 (11 for 48), he hit four doubles, four home runs and drew 13 walks, so he finished his AAA stint with an excellent .956 OPS.
Across the three levels, Belt hit .356 with a .455 on-base percentage, a 1.076 OPS and 76 extra base hits. You really can’t ask for anything more from a 22 year old in his first professional season.
My feeling is that Belt and the Giants will be best served by having him play the first 60 games of the 2011 season at Fresno, but he doesn’t have to improve much at all on his 2010 performance to be a major league player.
After Belt, however, Giants’ prospects at AAA are slim pickings.
Jesus Guzman had a fine season, hitting .321 with an .886 OPS. Unfortunately, Guzman turns 27 next June, and he didn’t improve at all from 2009, when he hit .321 with an .885 OPS.
Guzman might earn his way to the majors in 2011, but he’d probably be better served looking for a Japanese team to give him a shot, because I think he’ll never be quite good enough to be a major league player.
3Bman Ryan Rohlinger hit .311 with a .392 OBP and an .869 OPS in a season limited by injuries and a good stretch sitting on San Francisco’s bench at the major league level, but he turns 27 in October. Eugenio Velez hit .302 with a .353 OBP and a .792 OPS, but he turns 29 next May.
You may be noticing a trend: the Grizzlies have a lot of decent players too old to amount to prospects. Brett Pill, Ben Copeland, Tyler Graham and Joe Borchard all had commendable seasons, but none looks a player who will ever do anything significant at the major league level.
Players who might yet have major league careers are middle infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Brock Bond and catcher Steve Holm.
Burriss turns 26 next January. He hit .282 with an adequate .334 OBP. He could still have a career as a major league back-up middle infielder.
Brock Bond is a great example of what the Giants like and don’t like in their prospects. The Giants like minor leaguers with tools, rather than minor leaguers who actually perform.
Bond has limited physical talents and probably doesn’t play a major league caliber second base. However, he has one skill that is the single most important offensive skill: the ability to get on base.
After leading the Eastern League in on-base percentage in 2009, Bond got off to a great start and up through about the All Star Break, he was hitting right around .300 with a OBP over .400 at the AAA level. He cooled after that, and his batting average fell to .285 and his OBP to .397.
Bond’s OBP was good enough for 8th best in the Pacific Coast League, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the Giants from demoting him to AA Richmond for the last two weeks of the minor league season.
There are a lot of things Brock probably can’t do, but the Giants don’t properly value what he can do. In spite of the fact that Bond was the only Grizzly with enough plate appearances to appear among the top 20 PCL players in on-base percentage, he couldn’t keep his job.
One has to think that if a team that values on-base percentage (like the Oakland A’s) is paying attention, they could obtain Bond this off-season for a box of cracker jack. Even if Bond can’t play major league D at second base, there has to be somewhere a player, who only turns 25 two days from now and who has posted a .429 OBP in the Eastern League in 2009 and a .397 OBP in the PCL in 2010, could play at the major league level and still contribute.
Steve Holm turns 31 in October and his .725 2010 OPS isn’t particularly impressive, but given his past major league experience, he could still surface as a major league back-up catcher again.
Former sandwich pick Jackson Williams had another brutal year with the bat (.204 batting average and .629 OPS, split between AA and AAA), but at age 24, he could still be a major league catcher if he can ever learn how to hit.