Clayton Blackburn: pitching with a purpose

San Jose’s Clayton Blackburn has been on a lot of fans’ radar recently. The 20-year-old righty, known for an overpowering curveball, was recently named the California League Pitcher of the Week.

Clayton Blackburn tells you to deal with it. (Jen Mac Ramos)

Clayton Blackburn tells you to deal with it. (Jen Mac Ramos)

For Blackburn, a rough start to the second half has only lead to adjustments — ones that have helped him in his outings. His first start in the second half was at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark, a very hitter-friendly place, lasting only 3.2 innings and giving up eight runs, of which only six were earned. After working with San Jose’s pitching coach, Mike Couchee, Blackburn has been pitching at least six innings in his outings.

“I’d say they put a big focus on pitching [in San Jose],” Blackburn said. “They’re really focusing on us developing as guys that can pitch in tough places.” Continue reading

Gary Brown isn’t ready

This Giants team is a mess. That much is obvious. They’re 11-24 since June 1st, nine games under .500 and 6.5 games out of first in the NL West. They’ve been hurt by injuries and ineffectiveness. The pitching has actually rebounded from a dreadful start to be somewhat respectable, but they can’t hit at all.

The outfield has been of particular concern. The outlook is bleak for Pagan  returning this season, and the team has had to plug that hole by playing Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres a lot more than they’d like, particularly Torres. Now, Torres is a hero in SF, and rightfully so, after his 2010 season, but this year he looks…well, he looks like a 35-year-old. He can’t hit righties at all (.571 OPS this year), and he’s looked shaky on defense. To help Torres out, the following players have constituted a sort of revolving door of fifth outfielders: Francisco Peguero, Juan Perez, Cole Gillespie, and now Kensuke Tanaka. In addition, the team signed Jeff Francoeur and assigned him to Fresno; he’ll be up within the week.

The purpose of this post isn’t to talk about the various pluses and minuses of the players named above, nor is it to propose a solution to the left field problem. It is to make a simple point: Gary Brown is not the answer. Gary Brown is not ready.

I’ve seen some rumblings around the internet that the Giants should call up “top prospect” Gary Brown to be the next option, either in left or in center (pushing Blanco to left). This is a bad idea. Gary Brown is, right now, not a viable option for playing time in San Francisco.

There are two big reasons for this: one, Gary Brown isn’t that good right now, and two, Gary Brown is still a prospect.

First, Gary Brown has had an up-and-down year in AAA. His April was dreadful (.535 OPS) and his May, while better, was still pretty bad (.692 OPS). Sometime in early June Brown sat down with Fresno hitting coach Russ Morman and Giants’ coordinator of minor league instruction Shane Turner, and whatever they talked about worked. He’s hit .285/.335/.536 in 164 PA since June 1st. 8 of his 11 home runs this year have come since the start of June. These are all good things. That being said he has a 38-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio since June 1st, and a 91-to-23 ratio overall this season. He’s striking out a lot – even when he’s hitting the ball well – and he’d certainly continue to do that in SF.

He also isn’t hitting righties. This year he’s .240/.298/.409 against them, and for his career he hasn’t been much better. Torres also isn’t hitting righties – making a Torres/Brown platoon rather ineffective – and this is the sort of thing he should work on in Fresno.

It’s worth pointing out as well that all of the players I mentioned above , the cast of characters that have paraded in and out of the fifth-outfield spot, has performed better in Fresno than Brown. Brown’s .723 OPS in Fresno is lower than Tanaka’s (.786), Gillespie’s (.816), Perez’s (.838), and Peguero’s (.762), as well as Roger Kieschnick’s (.816) who may also get a shot sometime between now and September.

Which leads me to my second point: Gary Brown is still a prospect. Sure, the prospect sheen of 2012, when he was Baseball America’s #38 overall prospect, has faded, but he’s still a 24-year-old in his third professional season. He’s a developing player who still has a lot of developing to go. Developing doesn’t happen at the end of the bench in San Francisco, it happens by getting four or five plate appearances per day in Fresno.

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. Continue reading

Kyle Crick returns from the disabled list

On Friday night, San Jose Giants starter Kyle Crick made his first start after nearly two months on the disabled list.

Kyle Crick pitches against the Stockton Ports. (Jen Mac Ramos)

Kyle Crick pitches against the Stockton Ports. (Jen Mac Ramos)

Though his pitch count was limited, he struck out 10 in four innings of work, walking three and only giving up three hits.

“It felt good,” Crick said of his outing. “Had a good command for the zone.”

Crick’s last start before his stint on the DL was Apr. 18 before being sidelined with an oblique injury.

After his Jun. 21 start, Crick said that his oblique was okay and that his arm was fresh.

The radar gun at Banner Island Ballpark had read his fastball velocity touching the mid-90s at times, with his curveball being at around 78 MPH.

“I felt it was on,” Crick said. “I had it down in the zone, didn’t leave too many up. As long as I can do that, I can get some people out.”

Though his first start back was a success, improvement doesn’t stop there for the top prospect. Crick said he feels that he can always get better with his pitches, namely a changeup he has been working on since last year. Continue reading

San Jose Giants clinch First Half Division Championship

San Jose clinches. (Jen Mac Ramos)

San Jose clinches. (Jen Mac Ramos)

San Jose Giants at Visalia Rawhide started out with an Eric Surkamp rehab start.

I’m trying to think of more things to say about Surkamp’s start, but it was hard to really focus when you’re sitting behind home plate in the first row of the grandstand level, right where there’s a walkway and people wouldn’t sit down. I could tell that Surkamp will still need some more time rehabbing, since his 3 1/3 innings of work is the longest he’s gone since returning to pitching.

In terms of control and velocity? I can’t tell you a thing. I couldn’t see a radar anywhere in the ballpark — unless I were to look at the radar guns that were being used for charting pitches — so that, in itself, was kinda tough.

The San Jose Giants eventually got the win in 10 innings, when Visalia’s Sean Jamieson couldn’t get a grounder that took a bad hop, allowing Chris Lofton to score. All-Star Josh Osich closed the game out, ensuring the first-half division championship for the Giants.

And I do not want to hear another cowbell again.

Tales From a Giant: Ty Blach

Ty Blach, the San Francisco Giants’ fifth round pick in 2012, kicked off his first full year in pro ball with the San Jose Giants, San Francisco’s high-A affiliate. The strike-throwing lefty has been experiencing success, posting a 2.73 ERA and 2.21 FIP in nine games started.

In 52.2 innings pitched, Blach has struck out 48 and only given up five walks. Having good control and throwing strikes has been a key to his success.

“One of the things I always pride myself on is throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead of hitters,” Blach said. “It just comes from executing strike one and executing every pitch one at a time.”

Blach tries not to get ahead of himself and believes that as long as he throws the strikes, the outs will come. Continue reading

Kickham To Make Big League Debut in Tuesday Start

Per the Giants’ official Twitter and the usual assortment of media folks, lefty Mike Kickham has been tapped to take over the vacated rotation spot left by Ryan Vogelsong’s injury. Kickham, who has been with Fresno so far this season, will join the team on Monday and will make his first start against the Jarrod Parker led A’s on Tuesday evening. A corresponding roster move has not yet been announced.

Kickham, a 2010 sixth round pick, is another “country strong” lefty that the Giants have tended to favor. While not a hugely overpowering pitcher, he does have average to above-average velocity with a low 90s fastball, as well as a slider that was ranked as the best in the organization by Baseball America.

Anyone who knows me knows that I was on board as soon as somebody said slider. Hopefully I’m proven right.

San Jose Giants fail to imitate San Francisco Giants

On a night where the San Francisco Giants win on a walkoff fashion against the Los Angeles Dodgers about 50 miles north, the San Jose Giants couldn’t say they did the same against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate.

A warm night at Municipal Stadium — perfect for comical baseball. (Jen Mac Ramos)

A warm night at Municipal Stadium — perfect for comical baseball. (Jen Mac Ramos)

To say that the game began smoothly would be irony. Base hits and errors littered the field through the first three innings with the Giants on defense. Though only two of the runs were charged to San Jose starter Adalberto Mejia, they quickly trailed the Quakes and weren’t able to recover. Continue reading

San Jose Giants Act Like Big Giants, Get 1-0 Win

Fresh off Lennay Kakua night, Municipal Stadium was ready for another night — or late afternoon, in this case — of baseball.

(Flickr/daver6sf)

(Flickr/daver6sf)

Ty Blach took the mound for the San Jose Giants. Blach isn’t necessarily on the the radar for most top prospect lists, but he was impressive in this outing. Continue reading

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 Continue reading