Giants Minor League Preview

Today is Opening Day for all of the Giants’ full-season minor league affiliates, so I wanted to run through the rosters of each of the teams and highlight a few players to watch on each team. The four full-season affiliates are: AAA Fresno Grizzlies, AA Richmond Flying Squirrels, high-A San Jose Giants, A Augusta Greenjackets. We’ll start with Fresno.

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Chukchansi Park in Fresno, CAFresno Grizzlies:

Last year’s record: 74-70, 3rd in South Division

Manager: Bob Mariano

Roster: Click here.

Players to watch: P Chris Heston, P Mike Kickham, P Heath Hembree, OF Gary Brown, OF Francisco Peguero, OF Roger Kieschnick

Notes: This is the most prospect-packed Fresno team in years. Recently, the team has been used as sort of a holding area for depth and rehab assignments, so to see four players in the organization’s top-10 prospects is somewhat unusual. The pitching rotation will feature 24-year-olds Chris Heston and Mike Kickham. Heston, a AA All-Star last year, posted a 2.24 ERA in 148.2 innings last year in Richmond. His best pitch is a low-90s sinker that he uses to generate a ton of ground balls. Kickham, a lefty, features a low- to mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, but has had some control problems in the past. The two are the Giants’ first line of defense if an injury should fell on of the starters in San Francisco.

The lineup is headed up by Gary Brown, who scuffled a little bit last year in Richmond on his way to a .731 OPS. One big thing to watch with him is his baserunning – he was caught stealing 19 times last year against only 33 steals. Another player to keep an eye on is 3B Juan Perez. He’s played outfield exclusively since 2009, but with a crowded outfield in Fresno he’ll be giving it a shot at 3B. The outfield will indeed be crowded, with Brown in center, Francisco Peguero in right, and Roger Kieschnick in left. Minor league free agent – and spring training standout – Cole Gillespie will also see time in the outfield in addition to DH.

The Grizzlies’ season kicks off tonight against the Tacoma Rainiers at 7:15 PM. Yusmiero Petit gets the start.

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Richmond Flying Squirrels:

Last year’s record: 70-71, fourth in the Western Division

Manager: Dave Machemer

Roster: Click here.

Players to watch: C Andrew Susac, 1B Ricky Oropesa, 2B Joe Panik, SS Ehire Adrianza, 3B Adam Duvall

Notes: The infield is pretty much the only reason for prospect-watchers to get excited about Richmond this year. Minor-league lifers populate the pitching staff and the outfield, but the infield features two of the Giants’ best hitting prospects in Panik and Susac and three more intriguing prospects in Oropesa, Adrianza, and Duvall. Joe Panik, the organization’s first round pick in 2011, begins his full-time transition to second base this year. Andrew Susac had a down year in San Jose last year, but a strong spring has renewed confidence in his future potential. Oropesa, the organization’s 3rd-round pick in 2011, also had a bit of a down year in San Jose last year, but his raw power makes him worth watching. Adrianza is a defensive wizard even surpassing Brandon Crawford, but needs to prove he can hack it on offense. He’s returning to Richmond after having spent last year there as well. Finally, Duvall hit 30 home runs in San Jose last year but only hit .258. He’ll need to prove two things this year: 1) that he can actually hit, and that last year wasn’t a California League mirage and 2) that he can adequately handle the defensive responsibilities at third base.

Richmond’s season kicks off tonight at 6:35 PM EDT. Craig Westcott gets the start against the New Britain Rock Cats.

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San Jose Giants:

Last season’s record: 75-65, finished 2nd in both the first half and the second half in the North Division

Manager: Andy Skeels

Roster: Click here.

Players to watch: P Clayton Blackburn, P Kyle Crick, P Adalberto Mejia, 1B Angel Villalona, OF Mac Williamson

Notes: San Jose’s starting rotation is probably the most prospect-laden position on any affiliate in the Giants organization. The rotation features four top-15 prospects in Crick, Blackburn, Mijia, and Edwin Escobar, and a pair of interesting sleepers in Christopher Marlowe and Ty Blach. Kyle Crick is the Giants’ only representative on Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list, coming in at #66. There’s not a lot to get excited about in the bullpen or the infield (other than perhaps returning former top prospect Angel Villalona), but the outfield features a couple interesting prospects in Mac Williamson and Shawn Payne. Williamson, the organization’s 3rd-round pick last year, hitting .322 and slugging .588 in 144 plate appearances after signing. He should continue to mash in hitting-friendly San Jose, but I’m interested to see if he can keep his strikeouts down, which was a big problem for him in college. Sleeper prospect Shawn Payne hit .309/.413/.430 in Augusta last year, while also stealing 53 bases against only 3 caught stealing. He offers an intriguing package of tools, and I’m excited to see if he can continue his OBP- and speed-fueled game in the California League.

San Jose’s season kicks off tonight at 7:00 PM PDT. Clayton Blackburn starts against the Visalia Rawhide.

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Augusta GreenJackets:

Last season: 65-74, finished sixth in first half, third in second half

Manager: Mike Goff

Roster: Click here.

Players to watch: P Chris Stratton, P Martin Agosta

Notes: While there may not be a whole lot of prominent prospects on the Augusta team this year, there are a few interesting sleepers to keep an eye on. Chris Stratton, the organization’s first round pick last year, will start the year in Augusta. It’s a bit of a surprise – he was widely expected to start the year in San Jose – but a short tune-up in Augusta isn’t a big deal, especially considering his season was cut short last year by a concussion suffered when he was hit in the head by a line drive during batting practice. Martin Agosta needs to prove he has the stuff to be a starter going forward, and I expect he’ll be spending more time in Augusta than Stratton. The rotation also features a couple of interesting sleepers in Kendry Flores and Joan Gregorio. Gregorio especially is a guy who could take a big leap forward and jump into the organization’s top prospects by this time next year. The lineup doesn’t feature any top prospects but does have a couple of interesting sleepers in second baseman Travious Relaford and outfielder Tyler Hollick.

Martin Agosta gets the Opening Day start for the Greenjackets tonight at 7:05 PM EDT against the Lexington Legends.

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