Catching Up With The Minors – The Halfway Point

Full-season minor league teams play about 140 games each season, and the teams just passed the halfway point – 70 games – last week, so I thought it’d be good to check in with each team and see how the season is going, both in terms of wins and losses and player development. We’re only talking full-season affiliates here, so short season Salem-Keizer and rookie-level Arizona won’t be discussed.

All stats and records through Sunday, June 24th.

AAA Fresno Grizzlies: 36-42, 394 runs scored, 451 runs allowed.

What’s gone right: the hitters. The team has a composite .278/.336/.447 line, which is above-average even in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League. Gary Brown has been on a tear recently, hitting .308/.357/.606 in June. That hot streak has brought his season line up to .244/.304/.422 – not great, but it’s looking up. Juan Perez had an .857 OPS before getting the call-up, and lefty Roger Kieschnick has a .274/.331/.520 line. He could be next in line for a call up, but he does have a 25% K-rate, so if he does make it to SF this year expect a lot of strikeouts. Another player who may be hitting his way to SF is Johnny Monell, who’s sporting a .318/.382/.598 line in 238 PA. He’s without a position, however, so his role in SF would likely be reduced to RH bench bat. Still, for a team lacking in RH power, he might be a better option than Brett Pill.

What’s gone wrong: the pitching. Oh, the pitching. Seven different pitchers have made at least 4 starts for the Grizzlies, and the lowest ERA from that group is Shane Loux at 4.09 – and he’s out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The two pitchers in the rotation with some prospecty sheen on them – Chris Heston and Mike Kickham – have struggled, with ERAs of 5.30 and 4.81, respectively. Both are giving up more than a hit per inning, and neither has particularly encouraging peripheral stats, either. In the bullpen, you have Heath Hembree, who’s sporting a 5.58 ERA but has decent peripherals, except 6 home runs allowed in 30.2 IP. Why George Kontos continues to toil away in Fresno while the big league team carries Sandy Rosario and Jake Dunning is a mystery to me, but that’s perhaps a different post.

AA Richmond Flying Squirrels: 36-37, 318 runs scored, 316 runs allowed.

What’s gone right: Of the prospects in Richmond – there aren’t many – we’ve seen good seasons from Andrew Susac and Adam Duvall. Susac has hit .273/.381/.483, he’s walking 14% of the time while keeping his strikeout rate at a respectable 22%, and he’s hitting for power. He has some work to do behind the plate, but his season thus far might be the most impressive of any of the team’s top 15 prospects. Adam Duvall, who began the year right on the cusp of that top-15 group, missed a decent chunk of the first half to injury, but has put up a .268/.331/.510 line in 173 plate appearances. Other than those guys, the top performers for the Flying Squirrels are all older, org-filler types. Javier Herrera, age 28, has an .889 OPS, 30-year-old Mark Minicozzi has an .917 OPS. On the pitching side, there’s just not a lot to get excited about. I don’t think any person on the Richmond pitching staff will make a top-30 prospects list at the end of the year.

What’s gone wrong: Well, we have to start with Joe Panik. After a decent start – he had an .833 OPS in April – it’s been all downhill for Panik, who’s hit .220/.316/.305 since May 1st (206 PA). He’s had a .233 BABIP in that time frame, so bad luck certainly is in play here, but the fact of the matter is it’s been an extremely disappointing first half for the guy many saw as the Giants’ top position-player prospect going into the year. Additionally, concerns over his power have only been exacerbated this year, as he’s got an ISO of only .095.

High-A San Jose Giants: 46-28, 349 runs scored, 311 runs allowed.

What’s gone right: The SJ Giants are the most successful Giants affiliate this year, having already clinched a spot in the playoffs by winning the California League first half title. Despite injuries to top prospects Kyle Crick and Adalberto Mejia, the pitching has been phenomenal, led by 2012 5th round pick Ty Blach, who’s sporting a 2.64 ERA and a 7.88 K/BB ratio. Clayton Blackburn has a 4.80 ERA but his peripheral stats look good and his FIP shows it, coming in a 3.40. Edwin Escobar, a lefty out of Venezuela, has really broken out this year, striking out over 30% of the batters he faces with a 5.21 K/BB ratio. The bullpen has been just as dominant. Bryce Bandilla and Josh Osich have been lights out in the bullpen, with K-rates of 42% and 31%, respectively. Perhaps even more encouragingly, neither is showing a large platoon split even though both are left-handed.

What’s gone wrong: There just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about on the position-player side of things. One-time top prospect Angel Villalona is hitting for power, but that’s about all he’s doing – he’s got a .285 OBP. The only position player on the team who has a shot at top-15 status is right fielder Mac Williamson. He’s hitting .253/.340/.418 – as blah of a line as you ever saw. You’ve got a couple of org guys having career years – Jeff Arnold and Devin Harris, come on down! – but in general it’s been a successful season for the Little Giants.

Low-A Augusta Greenjackets: 40-33, 311 runs scored, 287 runs allowed.

What’s gone right: Pitching, pitching, pitching (stop me if this sounds familiar). Kendry Flores leads the staff with a 2.72 ERA and a 5.23 K/BB in 76 IP, 2012 top draft picks Chris Stratton and Martin Agosta have performed well, each striking out more than a batter per inning, and 21-year-old Joan Gregorio has a 7.0 K/BB ratio in 7 starts. In the bullpen, the team has seen good performances from Derek Law, Tyler Mizenko, Steven Okert, and Ian Gardeck.

What’s gone wrong: The offense has been pretty atrocious this year, wracking up a .640 OPS as a team. Mitch Delfino was a South Atlantic League All-Star despite a .695 OPS. The only regular with an OPS over .700 is shortstop Matthew Duffy, who’s actually got an .826 OPS. On the plus side, no one on this squad was really expected to do much anyway, so it’s nothing to get worried about.

Moving forward: I’d like to see a few guys get moved up, especially on the pitching side. Bullpen aces like Osich, Bandilla, and Mizenko should probably move up a level and test their stuff against better competition. In addition, I’d like to see Stratton and Agosta in the California League, but where do you find space for them in the loaded San Jose rotation? My guess is that Stratton might see San Jose but in all likelihood Agosta is in Augusta all season.

On the hitting side, Joe Panik really needs to find his hitting stroke again. He’s rapidly heading toward the “utility infielder” ceiling that I dreaded when he was drafted. Andrew Susac is hitting well, but I can’t shake the feeling that he could be trade bait for some reinforcements at the major league level. Also, it’d be nice if Gary Brown can keep hitting and regain some of the prospect sheen he lost at the beginning of the season.

Overall, it’s been an up-and-down season for the Giants’ minor league affiliates so far. Here’s to the second half of the season!

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