Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Holy Trinity - Part I - Touring the Minors

by SonDog

The last weekend of April is possibly my favorite time of the sports year. The NBA playoffs are in full swing, the baseball season has a month under its proverbial belt and the grade-A crap shoot known as the NFL draft takes place. To put it another way, the Sacramento Kings are in the midts of a playoff series with San Antonio, the San Francisco Giants are starting to figure out what type of team they have and the San Francisco 49ers are just trying not to royally screw up by blowing another top draft pick. (Side Note: While the San Jose Sharks are doing well in the playoffs, my thoughts on the NHL still reside somewhere between "whatever" and "I don't really care.")
With this in mind, I felt compelled to talk about all three teams with a wholly unscientific and ridiculously un-qualified review of the state of each's union. I'll start with the Giants
Those of you who know me well know that I thoroughly enjoy keeping an eye on the minor leagues. One of my favorite aspects of Spring Training is watching the younger players to gauge what the future may hold in the post-Bonds era. While in past years the Giants leaned towards aging veterans to fill out their roster, that tendency changed a bit last year with the emergence of home-grown talent like Lance Niekro, Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, Scott Munter, Jeremy Accardo and Jason Ellison. Already this season we've seen the Giants turn to their farm system with Brian Wilson and Kevin Frandsen. As of Sunday, 3/4 of the Giants' infield (Niekro, Frandsen, Feliz) were raised on the Giants' farm.

Today's report hopefully will tell you one of two things: A) I absolutely need to get a life, or B) the Giants' farm system has some help on the way if needed.:

(AAA) Fresno Grizzlies: You may remember OF Adam Shabala from a brief call-up at the end of last season, but you may be surprised to hear what he's doing this season. Through the first 21 games, Shabala is hitting .420 with 15 RBI, an OBP over .500 and a SLG% near .600 at a new position... 3B. I don't know how his defense is coming along, but the left-handed hitter's game is reminiscent of Geoff Blum. With the Giants' glut of OF prospects in the minors, the 28-year-old Shabala was lost in a numbers game. But if he can take to 3B defensively, there may be opportunity, especially in light of Pedro Feliz's continued struggles at the plate. This isn't to say Shabala is a star in the making, but he might be able to help if an injury to Feliz should occur.

Former starter Merkin Valdez is the cream of the reliever's crop. The highly-touted 24-year-old (who touched 100mph in Spring Training) is taking to closing quite nicely. In 9 games (9.2 innings), Valdez has a 2.79 ERA with 9 K's. However, he has allowed 8 hits and 6 walks.

Merkin Valdez has had a successful transition to the bullpen

The other name to watch out for is Eric Threets, who has made a super comeback. Threets has been in the Giants' system for years. At 20. the lefty could throw 100mph. However, Threets battled control issues similar to Rick Ankiel's over the last three years. Here's hoping the 24-year-old has figured the problems out. In 9 games (11.2 innings), Threets has an ERA of 3.09 with 8 strikeouts. More impressive is that he's only allowed 11 baserunners in his 11.2 innings (0.94 WHIP).

(AA) Connecticut Defenders: As of May 1, Jonathan Sanchez has to be considered the top long-term prospect in the San Francisco system. Sanchez impressed everybody in Spring Training and he continues to impress so far in Connecticut. The 23-year-old lefty began the season as a starter, and did quite well (0.54 ERA in three starts). However, the Giants have shifted the hard-throwing lefty (mid-90's fastball) to the bullpen in the last two weeks, possibly as a way to expedite his path to the big leagues. It's worked well to this point and Saturday night he pitched 1.1 innings, striking out all 4 batters. In 19 innings this season, he has 31 strikeouts against only 6 walks and 10 hits. I am surprised they're moving him to the bullpen, but maybe the Giants envision him as a lefty-version of the 2002 Francisco Rodriguez (dominant after coming up from AA ball). I just hope they don't end up trading him for a loud-mouthed catcher, a la Francisco Liriano.

Jonathan Sanchez was the star of the Giants' system in April

The Giants' two best outfield prospects are off to decent starts. 22-year-olds Nate Shierholtz and Eddy Martinez-Esteve are hitting .301 and .293 respectively.

(A) San Jose Giants -- The star of the junior Giants' squad is 23-year-old Nick Pereira. In four starts (24 innings), Pereira has allowed only 13 hits and 4 walks (0.71 WHIP). His 1.13 ERA is second in the California League. With his advanced age, Pereira could soon see a promotion to AA or even AAA.

Top-5 Major League Ready Prospects as of May 1:
1) Kevin Frandsen- 2B (on MLB roster while Ray Durham sits on the DL)
2) Brian Wilson- bullpen (on MLB roster - placed on DL after first game, oblique strain)
3) Merkin Valdez - bullpen
4) Jonathan Sanchez - bullpen
5) Adam Shabala - 3B/OF

Others to watch: Fred Lewis, CF/LF, AAA (.365 AVG, .450 OBP, .596 SLG%, missed six games with hamstring injury), Pat Misch, LP, AA (24 innings, 1.13 ERA - did the same thing last year before bombing in Fresno), Chris Begg, RP, AA (34.1 innings, 2.08 ERA, only 2 walks against 22 strikeouts - 26-years-old).

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