San Francisco Giants Minor League Update: Fresno Grizzlies

We are well into the 2012 season, and I’ve been remiss in not writing about the boys down on the farm.

As I write this, 60 games into the Pacific Coast League season, the AAA Fresno Grizzlies are a terrific 38-22.  The top hitters this year are 25 year old right fielder Roger Kieschnick and 32 year old left fielder Justin Christian.

Kieschnick was the Giants’ 3rd round pick (82nd overall) in 2008.  He had a fine year at A+ San Jose in 2009 and a solid year at AA Richmond last year.

This year Roger is hitting a ton.  His 1.012 OPS is currently third highest in the PCL, behind Cubs’ 1B prospect Anthony Rizzo, who’s waiting for the parent club to move Brian LaHair, which will likely happen by the trade deadline, and 4-A slugger Randy Ruiz, who’s back after slugging it out in Japan for two years and is playing in Reno, a great place to hit.

Kieschnick is already 25 and strikes out too much, but he’s major league worthy right now.  Unfortunately for him, there’s no spot on the San Fran roster for him.  [Also, Roger fractured his left shoulder running into an outfield wall on May 29 and hasn’t returned to the Grizzlies’ line up as of early July 2012.]

Justin Christian, who is 32 years old, has developed into a 4-A star and should consider signing with a Japanese team.  He started his professional career at age 23 in the independent-A Frontier League, and he has gradually developed into a fine AAA player.  Unfortunately, he’s just too old to get a real shot in the majors unless a couple of people get hurt at the same time.

Justin had significant cups of coffee with the Yankees in 2008 and last September with the Giants, and played reasonably well.  He’s had enough MLB experience now for an NPB team to take notice, and I could see him playing well there.

Christian has a .438 OBP so far this year, after posting a .376 OBP last year split between AA Richmond and AAA Fresno.  Christian actually hit much better at AAA last year than at AA.  It’s not as strange as it might seem, when you remember that Richmond in the Eastern League is a terrible place to hit and Fresno in the PCL is a great place to hit.

Christian stole 54 bases in 59 attempts in the minors last year (but only 3 out of 5 after his September call-up), but he’s only stolen 9 out of 14 this season.  Now that he’s 32, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be the base-stealing threat he’s been up through last season, although it’s clear he still runs well enough to be a useful pinch-runner at the major league level.

Conor Gillaspie has a .336 batting average and .856 OPS as I write this, but Charlie Culberson has gone stone-cold since being promoted to the Giants on May 13th.  Gillaspie turns 25 on July 18, which means he’s starting to get a little long in the tooth for a prospect.  While Culberson is still only 23 this year, his career minor league .313 OBP and .694 OPS just don’t impress me.

Gillaspie and Culberson were both sandwich picks, and the Giants had high hopes for both of them, but I don’t see either developing into a major league star, although it’s still not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Another sandwich pick Nick Noonan is quietly hitting .302 (his OPS is only .769) as the Grizzlies’ shortstop.  He’s also only 23 this year.  Like Culberson, he’s been slow to develop with the bat.  However, if the fact that he’s playing SS at Fresno while Culberson is playing 2B means that Noonan’s defense is better, he’s got a better shot to develop into a major league regular.  The rest of the 2012 season is the most important period of their professional careers to date.

A player I’ve had my eye on for awhile, Brock Bond, is having a strong come-back year after being hurt most of 2011.  Bond got my attention when he had a tremendous year with the bat in 2009 at AA Connecticut (Norwich).  Like Richmond, Connecticut was an extremely difficult place to hit, but Bond hit .333 with a .429 OBP there as a 23 year old middle infielder, both numbers leading the pitcher-friendly Eastern League that season (his 93 runs scored in only 450 ABs was second best in the league).

Brock hit extremely well at Fresno the first half of 2010, but slumped badly in the second half and was sent back to AA.  Bond was a 24th round draft pick, and I suspect his defense at 2B isn’t major league caliber.  At any rate, the Giants never seemed to consider him a real prospect.

In 30 games with the Grizzlies this year, he’s hitting .381 with a .464 OBP and a .949 OPS.  He’s now 26, and the Giants probably aren’t going to show him any love any time soon.  However, when you hit like this as a middle infielder at the AAA level, someone should stand up and take notice.

Among the pitchers, the big story is starter Eric Hacker.  You may remember that the Giants called him up for a spot start in late April.  He gave up three runs, all earned, in six IP and struck out seven.

Eric is now 9-1 with a 3.03 ERA at Fresno.  After he was sent back to Fresno, he got hammered in his first start back allowing nine earned runs in 4.2 IP.  Take out that start, and he’s 9-0 with a 1.98 ERA.  It doesn’t get much better than that in the PCL.  Like Kieschnick in the outfield, however, the Giants presently have no need for another starting pitcher.

George Kontos, the reliever the Giants acquired from the Yankees for catcher Chris Stewart this past off-season, has a 1.71 ERA with a pitching line of 31.2 IP, 24 hits and 7 BBs allowed and 26 Ks.  It’s time for him to get his major league shot.

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2 Comments on “San Francisco Giants Minor League Update: Fresno Grizzlies”

  1. Burly Says:

    6/9/12: George Kontos was called up today as Steve Edlefsen and Brett Pill were optioned back to Fresno.

  2. Burly Says:

    6/11/12: I somehow failed to mention Yusmeiro Petit in the post above. He has a 3.21 ERA in 12 starts with a line of 67.1 IP, 73 hits and 16 walks allowed and 60 Ks. He has not allowed an earned run (one unearned run) in his last three starts.


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