Archive for January 2014

Yuniesky Betancourt Is Taking His Talents to Japan

January 29, 2014

The Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s NPB have reportedly reached an agreement with long-time major leaguer Yuniesky Betancourt for 2014.  It is an interesting and likely expensive (at least by NPB standards) move by Orix which is looking to make a splash after losing star foreign player Dae-ho “Big Boy” Lee to the much wealthier SoftBank Hawks.

Betancourt is pretty much the ultimate anti-Money Ball player.  The sabermatricians just hate him.  He’s the kind of player who was once common in major league baseball but has largely disappeared in the last two decades as the value of comprehensive statistical analysis has become accepted throughout MLB.

To some eyewitnesses, Betancourt’s talents seemed fairly obvious.  He hits for a good average and has good power for a shortstop.  However, he walks less often than just about any player of the last generation who has been an every-day player for more than five seasons.  He has speed, but is not a good base runner, having stolen 30 bases in his career in 60 attempts.  On defense, he makes just enough flashy plays to disguise the fact that his defense is well below major league average.

Betancourt has played in at least 134 games in seven of his nine major league seasons, yet fangraphs values his career contributions as worth negative $7.0 million compared to what his teams would have gotten from a replacement level player, i.e., someone off the team’s bench or out of the minor leagues.  That’s pretty bad, and not so easy to do, since players as bad as Betancourt usually don’t stick in the majors as long as he has.

All that being said, I’m not entirely certain that Orix’s decision to sign Betancourt is as bad or inexplicable as the decisions by the Royals and the Brewers (twice each, no less) to sign him the last few seasons.  Betancourt has a career .261 major league batting average, and NPB teams still love batting average the way major league teams did 30 or 40 years ago.  Also, Betancourt does have some power, which could really blossom in Japan’s small ballparks against an overall inferior level of pitching.

Still, Betancourt’s .595 OPS for Milwaukee last season was particularly bad even for him.  Given his exceedingly modest peak value to begin with, one has to wonder whether he’ll be one of those players whose performance falls off a cliff at age 32, the age which Betancourt turns in only three days.

San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part V: 49-60

January 28, 2014

Concluding my list of the San Francisco Giants’ top 60 prospects as we head toward Spring Training 2014, you can here find Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV:

49.  Ydwin Villegas (23 years old in 2014, SS).  Villegas is a Venezuelan middle infielder the Giants have moved around their farm system in a paripatetic manner the last three seasons.  He had a strong 2009 season in the Rookie Arizona League at age 18, but since then the Giants have at times promoted him all the way up to AAA Fresno for parts of the 2010 through 2012 seasons.  I assume the Giants have done so because his defense is good and he’s been filling a hole when someone else got hurt, promoted or cut.

This quick rise through the farm system hasn’t been good for him in terms of playing time or developing as a hitter, although he did hit .274/.336/.349 in 39 games and 116 plate appearances at Fresno last season.  He definitely looks like he’s got some talent and could develop into something if he were given consistent at-bats somewhere.

50.  Brett Bochy (26, RHP).  Manager Bruce Bochy’s son, Brett has a good arm but turns 27 next August.  He recorded a 3.99 ERA in relief for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies last year, striking out 57 batters and walking only 16 in 56.1 innings pitched.  Brett doesn’t have to improve a whole lot at Fresno in 2014 to get a shot with the Giants at some point during the upcoming season.

51.  Jose Valdez (25, RHP).  An enormous (6’7″, 250 lbs) right-hander, Valdez has a terrific arm but still can’t throw strikes consistently.  He’s struck out 383 batters in 333.1 career minor league innings, and he struck out 53 batters at 56 innings at Class AA Richmond last year.  However, he also walked 48 batters and gave up 64 hits (but only two home runs), leaving him with an ugly 5.46 ERA.  Could amount to something if he ever learns how to throw strikes.

52.  Brian Ragira (22, 1B/OF).  The Giants’ fourth round draft pick last June out of Stanford, Ragira batted .275/.372/.401 in 54 minor league games, seven in the Rookie Arizona League and 47 at Class A- Salem-Keizer.  Don’t know if he’ll ever hit enough for the positions he plays to make it to the majors.

53.  Randy Ortiz (21, CF/RF).  In 48 games at Class A- Salem-Keizer in 2013, Ortiz batted .253/.341/.32o and stole 16 bases in 19 attempts.

54.  Alberto Robles (23, SS/2B).  In 62 games a Class A Augusta, Robles batted .304/.360/.387 and stole 13 bases in 20 attempts.  Robles didn’t join the GreenJackets until May 31st and then had to work his way into the starting line-up, which is why he only played in 62 games.

55.  Mitchell Delfino (23, 3B).  A 2oth round draft pick out of Cal in 2012, Delfino was the Augusta GreenJackets’ starting 3Bman all season and played pretty well, batting .270/.324/.413 in 122 games.  He’s definitely a long-shot, but he played well enough this past season to move up to A+ San Jose in 2014.

56.  Tyler Mizenko (24, RHP).  At Class A Augusta at age 23, Mizenko posted a 2.75 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 52.1 relief innings pitched.

57 & 58.  Juan Perez (27, CF); Roger Kieschnick (27, RF).  Perez and Kieschnick are both now 27 years old, which puts them right at the cusp of still being considered prospects, at least as far as I’m concerned.  However, both got their first major league experience last season, and there’s at least a reasonable possibility that they could get significant playing time with the Giants at some time during the 2014 season.  Kieschnick is the better hitting prospect, but Perez is more likely to have a significant major league career since he provides much more defensive value.

59.  Cody Hall (26, RHP).  Drafted as a college senior out of a small school, Hall has consistently pitched well in his three years in the Giants’ system.  Last year, roughly split between Class A+ San Jose and AA Richmond, Hall posted an overall 1.80 ERA with a pitching line of 60 IP, 32 hits, six HRs and 15 walks allowed, and 75 Ks.  That’s just terrific.  Needless to say, the main thing working against Hall is his age.

60.  Chris Gloor (27, LHP).  A huge left-hander (6’6″, 255 lbs), Gloor was the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels’ best starter in 2013, at least until Edwin Escobar was promoted from Class A+ San Jose in mid-season.  Gloor went 9-7 with a 4.03 ERA and struck out 121 batters while walking only 41 in 156.1 innings pitched.

San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part IV: 37-48

January 27, 2014

Continuing on with my list of the Giants’ 60 top prospects as we approach the start of Spring Training 2014, you can here find Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.

37.  Carter Jurica (25 years old in 2014, SS).  The Giants’ 3rd pick in 2010, he jumped from A+ San Jose in 2012 directly to AAA Fresno in 2013, and his offense suffered accordingly.  He hit only .249/.329/.319.  However, he’s still relatively young and doesn’t need to improve his hitting a whole lot to be a useful back-up middle infielder at the major league level.

38.  Josh Osich (25, LHP).  A big left-hander the Giants selected in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft despite having undergone Tommy John surgery in college, Osich had a 2.45 ERA in 34 relief appearances for the A+ San Jose Giants and a 4.85 ERA in 20 relief appearances for the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels.  In total, he struck out 76 batters in 70 innings pitched while walking only 22.

39.  Chris Johnson (22, RHP).  A 17th round draft pick in 2012, he was the Class A- Salem-Keizer Volcanoes’ top starter in his second go-round in the Northwest League.  He went 6-3 with a 2.49 ERA, 78 Ks in 83 innings pitched and a WHIP below 1.00.

40.  Joe Kurrasch (23, LHP).  In a season roughly split between A- Salem-Keizer and A Augusta, Kurrasch combined to strikeout 57 batters in 59.1 IP (12 starts, four relief appearances) and record an ERA of 3.64.  Strangely, he pitched much better in Augusta than he did at short-season Salem-Keizer.

41-43.  Charles Jones (21, RF); Tyler Hollick (21, CF); and Shilo McCall (20; LF).  Three very young, toolsy outfielders.  None was particularly impressive in 2013: Jones batted .236/.321/.371, struck out too much, and stole 12 bases in 20 attempts in 128 games at Class A Augusta; Hollick batted .262/.374/.338 and stole 20 bases in 25 attempts in 63 games at A- Salem-Keizer, but didn’t hit a lick during a 15-game stint at Augusta; and McCall batted .235/.330/.398 in 55 games at Salem-Keizer.  However, each was among the youngest players on their respective teams and at times flashed their potential up-side.  Keep an eye on them, as at least one will probably amount to something some day.

44.  Johneshwy Fargas (19, CF).  The Giants’ 11th round selection last June, Fargas hit .299/.393/.351 in 30 games in the Rookie Arizona League last summer.

45.  Keury Mella (20, RHP).  After a fine year at age 18 in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, Mella pitched just as well in the Rookie Arizona League this year, recording a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched, striking out 41 and walking only 11.  Other pitchers put up similar numbers at this level last year, but they’re all at least a year older.

46.  Reymi Rodriguez (19, RHP).  Rodriguez is the pitcher whose 2013 season in the Dominican Summer League impresses me most, at least when you also take age into account.  He went 7-1 with a 1.36 ERA and a pitching line of 46.1 IP, 24 hits, zero HRs and 23 walk allowed, and 49 Ks.

47.  Ricky Oropesa (24, 1B).  The Giants’ 3rd round draft pick in 2011 out of USC, Oropesa hit well in the first half of the 2013 season at Class A+ San Jose, but he was completely over-matched in his first stab at the AA Eastern League in the second half.  For the season, he batted .249/.311/.388, which just doesn’t cut it for a 1Bman.

48.  Rando Moreno (22, 2B).  In 41 games, 28 in the Rookie Arizona League and 13 in the Class A Sally League, Moreno batted .344/.396/.464, terrific for a middle infielder.  He also stole 12 bases in 18 attempts.  He will presumably start 2014 back at Class A Augusta, and we’ll find out whether his 2013 performance was just a fluke based on a small sample size.

San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part III: 25-36

January 26, 2014

Continuing on with my list of the Giants’ top 60 prospects as we approach Spring Training 2014, you can here find Part I and Part II of this series:

25.  Michael Kickham (25 years old in 2014, LHP).  The Giants’ sixth round draft pick back in 2010, Kickham had a solid year at AAA Fresno at age 24, recording a 4.31 ERA in 20 starts and striking out 90 batters in 110.2 innings pitched.  Command remains a problem for Kickham, and this played out in five different trials he received from the Giants in 2013.

Kickham apparently elected to miss out over the plate to major league hitters rather than walk them.  While he walked only 10 batters in 28.2 major league innings pitched, he allowed 46 hits including eight home runs, resulting in an incredibly ugly 10.16 ERA.  There was at least one positive aspect of Kickham’s time in the National League, aside from the experience gained — he struck out 29 major leaguer batters, showing he has the stuff to get big league hitters out if he can improve the location of his pitches.

26.  Gary Brown (25, CF).  The 24th overall selection in the 2010 Draft, Brown’s prospect stock collapsed with a lost season at AAA Fresno.  After dominating the Class A+ California League in 2011 and more than holding his own in the Class AA Eastern League in 2012, Brown didn’t hit at all at Fresno, a hitters’ park in a hitters’ league.  He batted only .231/.286/.375 in 137 games.  He struck out a lot, walked little and stole only 17 bases in 28 attempts.

Now that Brown is 25 years old, his days as an elite prospect are almost certainly over.  The question is whether he can put this lost season behind him and get back on track to becoming a major league player in some capacity in the future.  His past performance suggests he’s a better hitter than he showed in 2013.  Also, he appears capable of playing at least major league average defense in center field (Baseball America ranked Brown’s outfield defense as best in the Giants’ minor league system before the 2013 season) and his throwing arm is tremendous (43 outfield assists over the last three seasons).

27.  Eric Surkamp (26, LHP).  The Giants’ sixth round draft pick back in 2008, Surkamp turns 27 next July, so he’s getting old to be a prospect.  As you may recall, Surkamp looked poised to become a major league pitcher at the end of 2011, but elbow problems ultimately resulting in Tommy John surgery in mid-2012 cost him a year.  Once rehabilitation was completed, he pitched extremely well at AAA Fresno last year, going 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA with 54 Ks and only 20 BBs in 71.1 IP across 11 starts.  Surkamp was briefly called up in late July for a single start in which he was bombed, but that was only the fourth start into his comeback.

Surkamp goes into Spring Training 2014 with at least some chance of beating out Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit for the Giants’ fifth starting slot going into the 2014 season, since neither of the latter two pitchers is without their own question marks.

28.  Bryce Bandilla (24, LHP).  A big left-hander the Giants selected in the 4th round of the 2011 Draft, Bandilla has electric stuff but not much command.  He struck out 72 and walked 25 in 44.1 relief innings at Class A+ San Jose last season.  If he can find his command, he could move through the system very quickly.

29.  Chase Johnson (22, RHP).  The Giants’ third round draft pick last June, Johnson pitched mostly at Class A- Salem-Keizer in 2013.  His 3.88 ERA for the season wasn’t impressive, but his 44 strikeouts and only 13 walks allowed in 46.1 innings pitched look good.

30.  Adam Duvall (25, 3B).  A legitimate power threat, Duvall blasted 17 HRs in 385 at-bats at AA Richmond a year after hitting 30 HRs in the California League.  He finished the 2013 regular season with a batting line of .252/.320/.465, and in 37 games in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season he put up similar numbers (.297/.327/490).  On defense at the hot corner, Duvall appears to have good range, but still makes a lot of errors.

If Duvall can put together a big year on both sides of the ball at AAA Fresno in 2014, he may have a shot at the Giants’ 3B job in 2015 if they elect not to re-sign Pablo Sandoval.  The thing that hurts him obviously is his age.

31.  Angel Villalona (23, 1B). Despite losing two full seasons to murder charges in the Dominican Republic and subsequent visa problems, former bonus baby Angel Villalona remains a prospect due to his still tender age and his great power.  In a season roughly split between A+ San Jose and AA Richmond, Villalona hit 22 HRs in 480 at-bats.  Villalona walks very little and didn’t hit for average in 2013, leaving him with a dreadful .276 on-base percentage.  Villalona could easily develop into a major league player if he can improve his plate discipline, but it remains to be seen whether he can do so.

32.  Jacob Dunnington (23, RHP).  A scrawny right-hander (6’2″, 160 lbs) with a very live arm (190 Ks in 139.1 minor league innings pitched), Dunnington’s problem is his inability to stay healthy.  Injuries limited him to only 14 appearances and 20 IP in 2013 after making only 24 appearances and 25.1 IP in 2012.  He struck out 29 in those 20 innings, but didn’t pitch again after August 11th.

33.  Matt Duffy (23, SS).  An 18th round draft pick out of Long Beach State in 2012, Duffy established himself as a legitimate prospect with a fine season at the A level.  He was the best hitter on the 2013 Augusta GreenJackets, batting .307/.405/.418 in 78 games.  He was then promoted to A+ San Jose, where he batted .292/.342/.509 in 26 games.  His ability to continue playing shortstop as he moves up remains to be seen, as does his ability to hit once he reaches AA ball.

34.  Jarrett Parker (25, RF).  The Giants’ 2nd round draft pick in 2010, Parker is a toolsy player who has too many holes in his game to be an elite prospect.  He batted .245/.355/.430 at AA Richmond last year at age 24 but struck out 161 times in 524 plate appearances, which is just way too often.  He’s fast, but not an effective base stealer succeeding only 13 times in 24 attempts.  The best thing to be said about Parker is that his right field defense looks to have been terrific last year (13 assists and 2.10 putouts+assists/game).  My guess is that by the time Parker harnesses his raw skills, he’ll be too old to have a major league career and his best opportunities will be in Asia.

35.  Jesus Galindo (23, CF).  In his second season at Class A Augusta in 2013, Galindo hit .273/.342/.322 and stole 48 bases in 54 attempts in only 89 games, making him far and away the best base stealing threat in the Giants’ system.  He seems to have a center fielder’s range, so with his ability to get on base and steal bases, he’s definitely got a future.

36.  Phil McCormick (25, LHP).  A former 31st round draft pick out of college, perhaps because he’s small (6’1″, 184 lbs), McCormick has been an effective left-handed reliever since starting in the Giants’ system in 2011.  Last season at AA Richmond, he struck out 57 batters in 56.2 IP.  However, his ERA was a relatively high 3.97 because he also walked 34 batters.

San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part II: 13-24

January 26, 2014

Continuing on with my list of the Giants’ top 60 prospects as we move toward 2014 Spring Training, you can find Part I of this series here:

13.  Jake Dunning (25 years old in 2014, RHP).  Dunning broke through in a big way in 2013.  After posting a 4.10 ERA in relief at AA Richmond at age 23 in 2012, Dunning was almost unhittable at AAA Fresno in 2013, ultimately posting a 1.49 ERA with 44 Ks in 48.1 innings pitched at the highest minor league level.

That performance got Dunning promoted to the Giants for two months in mid-season and again for the month of September, where he recorded a 2.84 ERA in 29 relief appearances.  His major league pitching line was 25 IP, 20 hits, two HRs and 11 BBs allowed and 16 Ks.  I consider Dunning still a prospect because of his age and the fact that he’s not guaranteed a major league roster spot at the start of 2014, although he’ll obviously get a good look during this year’s Spring Training.

It’s worth noting that Dunning was a 33rd round draft pick out of college in 2009, so he’s wildly exceeded expectations to date.  The point, I guess, is that professional performance is ultimately much more important than a player’s original draft pedigree, even if teams tend to favor the players they initially drafted high.

14.  Heath Hembree (25, RHP).  The Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2010, Hembree had a mixed year at AAA Fresno, his second at this level, posting a 4.07 ERA but striking out 63 batters in 55.1 relief innings.  However, after he was promoted to the major league club in September, he allowed no runs in nine relief appearances and struck out 12 while walking only two in 7.2 innings pitched.

Hembree should probably be ranked above Dunning, with whom he’ll be competing for a major league bullpen spot in 2014, because Hembree probably has a better arm and a better body type.  However, Dunning certainly accomplished more in 2013.

15.  Nick Noonan (25, 2B).  The 32nd overall selection in the 2007 Draft, Noonan’s 2013 was both good and bad.  On the good side, Noonan spent much of his summer in San Francisco, making major league money and getting to experience being on a major league team.  On the bad side, he mostly rode the pine, playing mainly as a late inning defensive replacement and losing valuable playing time.

Noonan had a fine season at AAA Fresno in 2012, getting 541 plate appearances and recording a .347 on-base percentage.  In 2013, he got only 299 plate appearances (188 in Fresno, 111 in San Francisco), and he didn’t hit well in either place.  Noonan is now on the cusp of being a prospect and getting old, but he could get major playing time in San Francisco this upcoming season if 38 year old Marco Scutaro gets hurt.

16.  Derek Law (23, RHP).  Derek Law, a former 9th round draft pick, had a terrific year roughly split between Class A Augusta and Class A+ San Jose.  He recorded a 2.31 ERA on the season with a sensational pitching line of 66.1 IP, 51 hits, two HRs and 12 walks allowed, while striking out 102.  Law also turned heads with a fantastic performance in the Arizona Fall League, allowing only a single unearned run in 11 relief appearances totaling 12.1 IP, striking out 16 and walking six.  Law would rank higher on this list, but for the fact he hasn’t pitched above the Class A+ level yet.

17.  Joan Gregorio (22, RHP).  Another one of the many fine young arms the Giants have at the full-season A level, Gregorio went 6-3 with a 4.00 ERA, but 84 Ks and only 17 BBs in 69.2 innings pitched for the Augusta GreenJackets.  However, oblique muscle and blister problems limited Gregorio to only 13 starts in 2013, only one of which occurred after August 1st.

Another of the Giants’ many former Dominican bonus babies, the concern with Gregorio is his body type.  He’s listed as 6’7″ but only 180 lbs.  That’s mighty thin.

18.  Mac Williamson (23, RF).  The Giants’ 3rd round draft pick in 2012, Williamson had a fine season at Class A+ San Jose in his first full season of professional baseball.  He slugged 25 homers with an overall batting line of .292/.375/.504 and even stole 10 bases in 11 attempts.  We’ll see how he does in the high minors next year, but he’s right on course so far.

19.  Steve Okert (22, LHP).  The Giants’ 4th round draft pick in 2012, Okert had a strong season at age 21 at Class A Augusta. He posted a 2.97 ERA with 59 Ks and 24 BBs in 60.1 IP.

20-22.  Ian Gardeck (23, RHP); Stephen Johnson (23, RHP); and Mason McVay (23; LHP).  Three more fine young arms who pitched for class A Augusta in 2013.  Gardeck (3.21 ERA, 66K/56IP), Johnson (3.61 ERA, 71K/52.1 IP), and McVay (4.12 ERA, 75 K/67.1 IP) were not particularly young or especially effective for this level and this pitchers’ park, but they all have great strikeout stuff, which is what you like to see in your young pitchers.  They’re also look to have big, strong pitchers’ bodies.

The Giants aren’t kidding when they brag they’ve got as much pitching depth at the A level of any team in baseball.

23.  Ryder Jones (20, 3B).  The Giants’ 2nd round draft pick last June, his selection was a shocker, particurly when the Giants gave him full slot money, since most analysts didn’t have him going before the 5th or 6th rounds.  Clearly, the Giants saw in Jones something few, if anyone else, did.

Jones rewarded the Giants for their faith in him with a strong first season in the Rookie Arizona League, posting a batting line of .317/.394/.400 in 37 games.  His defense at third base was pretty poor, however, and he didn’t show any speed, stealing no bases and hitting no triples in limited playing time.

I am probably rating Jones too high, given limited playing sample in a Rookie league, but at least he’s proved he can hit a little as a professional.

24.  Gustavo Cabrera (18, CF).  Cabrera was one of the top international prospects in 2012, and the Giants gave him a big $1.3 million signing bonus.  He was completely over-matched at first as a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, but he finished the season strong, batting .333 with a 1.100 OPS in his last ten games.  For the season as a whole, he batted .247/.379/.360 with 21 steals in 28 attempts.

Cabrera would rank higher, but he suffered what Baseball America calls a “gruesome” wrist injury in late October 2013.  The report is that he slipped and put his right hand through either a glass table or a glass window nearly severing his hand at the wrist.

His chances of returning from the injury as an elite prospect are anyone’s guess.  Some sources suggest he will miss all of the 2014 season or could be through entirely, while others suggest he may be sufficiently healed to begin play in the Rookie Arizona League, which starts its season next June.

I’m beginning to think that projecting 17 year olds as top prospects is too much wishful thinking.  Too many things can happen between when they start play in the Dominican Summer League and when/if they eventually make it to the majors.

Besides Cabrera’s wrist injury, the Giants will be losing their next best 2012 Latin prospect Nathanael Javier (the Giants gave him a $475,000 signing bonus) for nearly a full short-season after he tested positive for steroids this off-season.  I’m also sure you remember Angel Villalona, another Latin super-prospect, whose professional career took a two-year detour due to murder charges back in the Dominican Republic.  He’s still in the Giants’ system and still a prospect, but not like he was back in 2009.

Last year I selected shortstop Hengerber Medina as my 14th best prospect heading into the 2013 season, based on a terrific 2012 season in the Dominican Summer League at age 17.  Back in the DSL in 2013 and a year older, Medina was even worse than he had been good the year before.  I don’t know what happened to Medina (the change in performance is so great it’s hard to make sense of, particularly since he was healthy enough to play in more games in 2013), but I do know that I have to be more careful in the future about trumpeting the future careers of teenagers playing in the DSL.  They have a long time to work their way up through the system, and onto future lists of the Giants’ top prospects.

San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part I: 1-12

January 25, 2014

As we approach the start of Spring Training 2014, it feels like a good time to give a run-down of the Giants’ top 60 prospects, as I see them.  I’m only including prospects who have actually played in a professional league so far, so no Latin American bonus babies the Giants signed last July (you can find out who they were here).  Here goes:

1.  Joe Panik (age 23 in 2014, 2B).  I picked Joe Panik, the 29th player selected overall in the 2011 Draft, as my top Giants’ prospect last year, and I still like him the best, if only because he’s closer to the majors than any of the Giants’ top young pitching prospects, almost all of whom haven’t reached AA ball yet.

Panik played for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the AA Eastern League last year and his offensive numbers (.257/.333/.347) were not impressive.  However, Richmond is a tough place to hit in a pitchers’ league, and Panik’s .333 on-base percentage was solid for a 22-year old middle infielder playing in AA ball for the first time.

Just as important, Panik looks at this moment like he can provide major league defense at second base and fill in at shortstop in a pinch.  Of the six 2Bmen to play at least 100 games at the position in the Eastern League this past season (all six played between 105 and 126 games at 2B, and Panik tied for second at 117, so the comparisons are fair), Panik finished first in double plays turned (73), fielding percentage (.987) and putouts + assists divided by games played (4.60).  The Indians’ Jose Ramirez and the Tigers’ Hernan Perez, who passed quickly through the Eastern League this year, look like better middle infield prospects than Panik at this moment, but the point remains that Panik acquitted himself admirably in his first season at second base.

The question now is what kind of year Panik has at AAA Fresno in 2014.  Former 1st round Draft pick Gary Brown looked pretty good after his year at Richmond in 2012, but hit a wall at Fresno last season, seriously damaging his status as a top prospect.

The advantage Panik has is that he’s a year younger than Brown was a year ago.  Panik can spend a full season at Fresno next year, and still be in a good position to establish himself as the Giants’ 2Bman at the age of 24 in 2015 (assuming Marco Scutaro isn’t still going strong).

2.  Edwin Escobar (22, LHP).  Escobar jumps from 9th on my list last year all the way up to #2 this year, as a result of a big season split between A+ San Jose and AA Richmond.  After making 14 starts and two relief appearances at San Jose in which he posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 92 in 74.2 innings pitched while walking only 17, he was promoted to AA, where he arguably pitched even better.  In ten starts for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, he posted a 2.67 ERA, struck out 54 batters in 54 IP while walking 13 and allowing fewer hits per nine innings than he did at San Jose.  He also pitched successfully in relief in the Venezuelan Winter League recently.

Whether the Giants intend to start Escobar at AA or AAA in 2014 remains to be seen.  However, he also looks like could be ready for a full-time major league job in 2015.

3.  Kyle Crick (21, RHP).  The 49th overall selection in the 2011 Draft, Crick missed some time with an oblique strain early in the 2013 season, which limited him to only 14 starts.  However, he finished the A+ California League season with a 1.57 ERA and 95 Ks in 68.2 IP.  He also pitched well, if sparingly, in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 2.87 ERA and striking out 24 batters in 15.2 IP.

Crick is still a work in progress in that his command is nowhere near major league caliber, but he’s certainly got the stuff to develop into something special.

4.  Clayton Blackburn (21, RHP).  A 16th round draft-pick out of high school in 2011, Blackburn has pitched so well in professional baseball that one has to wonder why he was drafted so late (the most likely answer is that teams may have thought he was committed to going to college).  Blackburn’s ERA jumped from 2.54 in Class A Augusta last year to 3.65 in Class A+ San Jose, because he allowed considerably more walks and home runs in 2013 than he had the year before.  Even so, in 2013 he still struck out 138 in 133 IP, allowed slightly fewer hits in slightly more innings pitched, and still walked only 35 (compared to 18 in 2012) and allowed 12 HRs (compared to three in 2012).

One gets the impression that Blackburn is still learning how to pitch, but that he has the tools and time on his side.  Also, Blackburn is the kind of big-bodied right-hander you like to see in your prospects, and he’s shown no signs of wear after his first two seasons topping 130 innings pitched.  In fact, Blackburn finished the 2013 season strong, posting a 2.40 ERA in his last ten starts.

5.  Kendry Flores (22, RHP).  Flores went 10-6 at Class A Augusta, posting a 2.73 ERA and striking out 137 batters in 141.2 IP and recording a WHIP below 1.00.  The main problem with Flores as a prospect is that he’s more slightly built (6’2″, 175 lbs) than you’d like to see.

6.  Chris Stratton (23, RHP).  The 20th overall selection in the 2012 Draft, Stratton had a 3.27 ERA with 123 Ks in 132 IP at Class A Augusta.  A good first full season of professional baseball, but not overly impressive for this level and his draft pedigree.

7.  Martin Agosta (23, RHP).  The Giants’ second round draft pick in 2012, Agosta’s relatively small stature (6’1″, 180 lbs) is a concern.  He pitched extremely well at Class A Augusta last summer, posting a 2.09 ERA with 109 Ks in 91.2 IP.  However, he made only four starts after July 5th last summer due to arm fatigue and blister problems.  He’s clearly got stuff, but can his arm handle even 130 IP a season?  We’ll have to wait and see.

8.  Christian Arroyo (19, SS).  The Giants’ first round pick (25th overall) last year, there were some questions at the time whether Arroyo was first round material.  So far, at least, he’s put those concerns to rest with a fine season in the Rookie Arizona League, batting .326/.388/.511 in 45 games and providing above-average defense at SS, at least by Rookie league standards.  He’s got a long way to go, but his start is extremely promising.

9.  Andrew Susac (24, Catcher).  The Giants’ second round draft in 2011, Susac had a fine year at AA Richmond, batting .256/.362/.458 and throwing out 40% of base stealers against him (31 nailed in 77 attempts), but was limited to only 84 games due to injuries.  However, he played 17 games in the Arizona Fall League, batting a terrific .360/.507/.480.  There is a question in some circles about whether Susac projects as a major league starter or a back-up, but he certainly looks good right now if he can just stay healthy.

10.  Adalberto Mejia (21, LHP).  A Dominican bonus baby the Giants signed before the 2011 season, a lat (back muscle) injury limited Mejia to 16 starts at A+ San Jose and one start for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies in 2013.  However, he pitched extremely well posting an overall 3.33 ERA with 91 Ks in 92 innings pitched.  He gave up quite a few gopher balls in San Jose, and he didn’t pitch well in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season (8.47 ERA in seven appearances and 17 IP), so he may well start the 2014 season back at A+ San Jose.  Given his tender age, there’s no reason for the Giants to rush him.

11.  Ehire Adrianza (24, SS).  Adrianza had a strange year in 2013.  He batted only .240/.331/.312 in 73 games at AA Richmond.  However, he was then promoted to AAA Fresno, where he hit a tremendous .310/.409/.441 in 45 games, which got him a September cup of coffee with Giants.

Adrianza has long been a slick-fielding shortstop who hasn’t hit much, but he gets on base fairly well for a middle infielder and runs well.  I think his 45 games at Fresno were a fluke — he hit only .179 in 14 games in the Venezuelan Winter League following the 2013 regular season.  However, his age and his career minor league .335 on-base percentage suggest that he could still become a major league star.  I just don’t see it happening with the Giants unless he beats out both Joe Panik and Nick Noonan for the 2B job once Marco Scutaro is done, since he isn’t likely to move Brandon Crawford off shortstop.

12.  Ty Blach (23, LHP).  The Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2012, Blach had a terrific first year of professional baseball, going 12-4 with a 2.90 ERA and striking out 117 batters in 130.1 IP while walking only 18 at Class A+ San Jose.  He clearly knows how to pitch — the question is whether he has the stuff to continue to be successful at the AA level and above.  We should find out soon enough, since he’ll likely start the 2014 season at AA Richmond.

New York Yankees to Sign Masahiro Tanaka for $155 Million

January 22, 2014

The great Masahiro Tanaka derby is apparently over with the Yankees the winner.  No surprise there, as the Yankees were the favorite from the start because of their dire need for another starter and their resources to pay for one.  The only question really was whether the Yankees liked Tanaka enough and were willing to forego their stated goal of staying under the $189 million salary cap in 2014.

Tanaka has reportedly received a whopping seven-year $155 million deal which pays him $22 million a year until year seven when he gets $23 million.  It gets even better for Tanaka because the contract reportedly contains an opt-out clause after the fourth season.

I’ve said a number of times that I think it’s a mistake for teams to give players opt-outs on contracts this size, most recently here.  Opt-outs mean that almost always the teams giving them will ultimately be on the hook for multiple seasons in which the player provides little performance for a huge amount of salary.

The Yankees’ thinking is obvious, however.  The opt-out clause almost certainly meant that the Yankees’ contract offer blew every other team’s offer out of the water.  The Dodgers and Cubs may have offered similar money and years as the Yankees, but if they did, I doubt they included a fourth-year opt-out.

Pitch worse than hoped for and Tanaka collects his $155 million.  Pitch as well as hoped for and Tanaka can opt out before his age 29 season and sign another, potentially larger deal.  It’s all sunshine and daffodils for Tanaka.  At least, the Yankees can afford it.

The Tanaka contract is expected to put the Yankees well over the $189 million salary cap in 2014.  The team will have to pay in 50% percentage of the amount of the overage into the revenue sharing fund.

Big deal — the Yankees make so much money when they field a contender, they can well afford a little revenue sharing, and the Bombers sorely needed the top pitcher on this year’s free agent market in order to compete next season.

Still, I wonder whether the opt-out clause was really necessary given that the years and dollar total had to be competitive with whatever anyone else was offering.  The Yankees had a number of other advantages in the hunt for Tanaka (the reputation the Yankees enjoy in Japan, a consistently competitive team, the fact that Tanaka can get pointers from Hiroki Kuroda, and a substantial Japanese-speaking community that Tanaka’s wife wanted) so it seems unlikely the Yankees had to blow Tanaka away to get his signature on a contract.

As a final aside, the owners of the Rakuten Golden Eagles must be crying in their sake or Asahi Dry right now.  The new $20 million posting fee cap must have cost them at least $60 million, just an enormous amount of money for one of the Nippon Professional Baseball’s smaller market franchises.

KBO’s Hanwha Eagles to Sign Andrew Albers

January 21, 2014 today reports that South Korea’s Hanwha Eagles are likely to sign former Minnesota Twin Andrew Albers to a one-year deal for around $1 million if a buy-out can be reached with the Twins.  What is interesting about this deal is that Albers looks very much like a player who was just about to break through as a major league player.

Last year as a 27 year old rookie (Albers, a Canadian, had been signed with the Twins at age 25 out of the Independent-A Canadian American Association in 2011 but then progressed through the minors fairly quickly), Albers went 2-5 with a very respectable 4.05 ERA in ten starts and 60 innings pitched for the Twins.

Not many players this close to establishing themselves as major league players are willing to jump to South Korea’s KBO.  However, even if Albers made the major leagues out of Spring Training in 2014, he’d likely have made only half the money he’ll make in South Korea this year if/when a deal with Hanwha is finalized.

Also, Albers didn’t pitch as well for the Twins as his ERA suggests.  His run average was 5.10, and he struck out only 25 (but walked only six) in his 60 major league innings.  Albers was fantastic in his first two major league starts but had only two quality starts in his final eight.  However, his numbers at AAA Rochester were terrific (11-5 record, 2.86 ERA, 116 Ks in 132.1 IP, and a K/BBs ratio slightly over 3.6).

Albers’ choice is ultimately a sensible one, given his age and the fact that competition was going to be particularly intense for the Twins’ fifth rotation spot, after the Twins signed free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to big deals this off-season.

Meanwhile, the Hanwha Eagles are flush with money after receiving a $25 million posting fee for Hyun-jin Ryu a year ago, KBO salaries are strongly escalating this off-season, and the Eagles are looking to improve their talent base after finishing dead last in the 9-team KBO Champions League last season.

In my mind, this is the way the relationship between MLB, Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO should work.  A player like Albers potentially has more value to a KBO team than he does to an MLB team, while only MLB can meet the salary demands of a player with Ryu’s talent.  Ideally, players should go where they can make the most money and help their teams the most in the process.

One of the ironies of Albers’ move to the KBO is that the Twins may well use the likely $1 million transfer fee they receive from the Hanwha Eagles to sign former KBO ace Suk-min Yoon, who is still waiting to receive the MLB contract he desires.  The Minnesota Twins the major league team most often cited in media reports as interested in Yoon.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2014

January 20, 2014

[This article has been moved here.]


Are the Atlanta Braves Really Going to Arbitration with Kimbrel, Heyward and Freeman?

January 19, 2014

According to, the Braves are on the record stating that now that they have exchanged salary arbitration numbers with young stars Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, they won’t do any more negotiating and will instead go to hearing on all three.  For the record Kimbrel is proposing $9 million while the Braves are proposing $6.55 million, Heyward is $5.5 million vs. $5.2 million, and Freeman is $5.75 million vs. $4.5 million.

The Braves are a self-proclaimed “file and trial” team, meaning that once arbitration numbers are exchanged, they cease negotiating and go to salary arbitration hearing.  The theory behind this strategy is that it forces player agents to get real about the salary numbers they ask for in negotiations, rather than submitting a sky-high salary arbitration number and then trying to split the difference with the team’s number before the arbitration hearing.

The strategy makes a certain amount of sense, but not when you are talking about players as young and potentially great as these three. They are the young nucleus of the Braves’ team, and they are going to hit free agency while still in the primes of their respective careers.  Nothing alienates a young player quite as much as going to an arbitration hearing and listening to his team state all the bad things about his performance they can think of to get the arbitrator to pick the team’s number.

In Kimbrel’s case, there is a $2.45 million difference, which is enough to go to arbitration over.  However, I can’t see the Braves having any argument other than the fact that $9 million is simply too much to pay any closer with only a little over three seasons in the majors.

What are the Braves going to argue — sure he posted a 1.01 ERA and 1.21 ERA the last two seasons and saved 92 ballgames, but he didn’t pitch in even 70 games or 70 innings in either of those seasons.  And his strikeout rate went from ridiculously good in in 2011 and 2012 to only exceptionally good in 2013.  There just isn’t much to knock in Kimbrel’s record to date.

The $300,000 difference between Heyward’s figure and the Braves’ figure veritably screams for the parties to split the difference.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, because if the Braves give Heyward $5.35 million, Freddie Freeman has a good argument he should get the same (Freeman has a year’s less experience, but he had a much better 2013 campaign than Heyward did), which is way more than midpoint between the Braves’ and Freeman’s exchanged figures.

If the Braves have any sense, they’ll either withdraw their “file and trial” stance or try to work out multi-year deals with all three that take them up at least to their free agent eligibility.  Their potential value over the long term is simply too great to risk alienating these budding superstars over several hundred thousand dollars now.