Farm Focus: Pill may be Giants' remedy at 1st

Farm Focus: Pill may be Giants' remedy at 1st
June 8, 2011, 2:11 am
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June 7, 2011
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Rael Enteen
CSNBayArea.comIn the 1990s and early 2000s, the Giants blueprint forsuccess involved a lot of roster construction via trades and free agency. The 2002 World Series team, for instance, was led by playerslike Barry Bonds (free agent), Jeff Kent (trade) and Jason Schmidt (trade).Eight years later, when the 2010 team did what the 2002 squad couldnt, the roster was predominantly homegrown, with many players drafted and developed by the organization.
Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria allmade their contributions, but it was Tim Lincecum (1st round, 2006draft), Buster Posey (1st round, 2008), Matt Cain (1stround, 2002), Madison Bumgarner (1st round, 2007) and Brian Wilson(24th round, 2003) that brought the city of San Francisco itsfirst World Series championship.The recent success drafting and developing players can beattributed to Giants scouting director John Barr and senior vice president ofbaseball operations Bobby Evans, among others.URBAN: With Barr, Giants in good shape for MLB draft
Last season, the Giants called up Posey in late May to help boost an anemicoffense. There was no injury, simply a need for a new bat. This year, theGiants havent been so lucky. A team that headed into spring training with impressivedepth has been bitten by the injury bug, forcing call ups for players thatcould use more seasoning in the minors.Now even the call ups are getting hurt -- Brandon Belt andDarren Ford are both on the disabled list -- forcing the Giants to dig even deeper and testtheir minor league depth.Line of the Year: Brett Pill in Triple-A:.289 AVG, 29 R, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 13 2B,2714 KBBPills raw numbers may not be as impressive as some othersin the Giants farm system, but hes off to a fast start in Fresno and the teams need for first basemenmakes Pill an intriguing prospect.Technically, the Giants only have one true first baseman on their activeroster. Aubrey Huff, despite his struggles, is the obvious starter in San Francisco. But withBelt recovering from a fractured wrist, Bruce Bochy has had to useManny Burriss at first late in a game, even though the slight middle infielder neverplayed there during his minor league career.Burriss was clearly an emergency solution, not a long-termoption at first base, making someone like Pill a prime candidate for a callup.Drafted by the Giants in the seventh round of the 2006 amateur draft, Pill hada breakout season in 2009 with the then-Double-A affiliate ConnecticutDefenders, racking up 109 RBIs, jacking 19 home runs and finishing the seasonjust under .300. But Pill saw his average dip to .275 at Triple-A in 2010 andhis home run and RBI numbers took a hit as well.Ithink that consistency has been a concern after having such a great year atDouble-A, coming up to the Triple-A level and struggling last year really sethim back, VP of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. Making sure every atbat is a quality at bat, those are things that every guy is working on down there.WhileEvans expressed an interest in Pill developing more with the Grizzlies,injuries may force the Giants to call on him earlier than theyd like to.Ithink that basically Brett has to prove himself to be a big league player andhopefully an everyday big league player, but its a tall order, Evans said. Beingable to adjust to quality pitching and being able to hit the ball hard time andtime again and produce is a challenge and obviously this year is a bounce backyear for him and it looks good. Besideshis offensive production, Pill has been tested with a position change to secondbase. He has played 28 games there, compared to 30 at first base and four as adesignated hitter. But the move was made more because of a logjam at first in Fresno than a plan to putPill at second long term, according to Evans. Idont think thats going to be an easy transition for him on a long-term futurebasis but its always helpful for a player to be able to play at other places,Evans said. I think hes done well over there. I dont know if Id be preparedto commit to him as a long-term solution at second. I think that the primarygoal of that was to get him every day at bats.
Pill has seen his numbers drop off a bit thanks to a slow May, but his batting line remains strong. While he wouldn't get every day at bats at the big league level, injuries may force the Giants to promote him regardless.
In the Spotlight: ZachWheeler was the Giants first-round pick, No. 6 overall, in the 2009 draft andbecause he was selected straight out of high school, he is a long way from acall to The Show. However, his numbers with the San Jose Giants back up hisbilling as the teams top prospect and suggest a promotion may be in hisfuture. Evans isnt so sure.Imalways more conservative, Evans said. Yes you want to put a guy in a placewhere hes going to get challenged but at the same time I think that theresplenty of challenge there in the Cal League. Hes a guy that as he continues topitch well and gets challenged and puts up numbers, the pace of his developmentwill take care of itself and will kind of be dictated to us as he shows himselfready to move on.Wheeleris 5-2 with a 3.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, all solid, but thenumber that isnt ideal is his walk rate of 4.53 per nine inningspitched.Ithink he could improve on that as experience comes, Evans said. I think hewill be making adjustments. I think thats an area that he will grow andimprove and thats just part of the natural progression of developing a youngarm.Underthe Radar: The Giants possess one of the best closers in the game atthe big-league level, but they may have his successor waiting in the wings in San Jose. Heath Hembree,the teams fifth round pick in 2010, has an ERA under 1.00 for the secondstraight year, has saved 18 San Jose Giants wins and has 38 strikeouts in 20.2innings.Hembreehas shown us a lot as a closer type, Evans said. He clearly has shown us earlyin his career his ability to finish games, but that can change depending on notonly his development but also what the need is at the big leaguelevel.Whatever role Hembree grows into, he will make a lot of opposing batters swing and miss. Evans doesnt seethat changing as Hembree advances through the Giants minor leaguesystem.Hesgot such a high velocity fastball that I wouldnt be surprised that some ofthat carries through to the higher levels, Evans said. Youve got a goodhitting league in the Cal League; odds are as he mixes in more breaking stuffin the future he may strike out more than that for all I know.Triple-A Update: In Fresno,the Grizzlies are just 25-34, partially because theyve lost some of their mostdependable players to the Giants. Belt, who raked in Triple-A, is now on themajor league disabled list and Burriss got the call after hitting .361 with theGrizzlies. Top prospect Thomas Neal is hitting .357 and Showtime star MarcKroon has a 2.82 ERA and 13 saves.
Double-AUpdate: The Richmond Flying Squirrels are 27-29 and struggling onoffense, with no player boasting a batting average above .275 and the team hitting just .227overall. The Squirrels do lead the Eastern League with a team ERA of 2.77, however. Themost promising name on the Double-A pitching roster is Eric Surkamp, theGiants sixth round pick in 2008, who has a 1.92 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 65.2innings.Single-AUpdate: The San Jose Giants went on a 12-game win streak to close outMay and have jumped out to a big lead over the Bakersfield Blaze in the NorthDivision of the Cal League. Other than strong performances from Wheeler andHembree, the Giants have seen 2010 first-round pick Gary Brown break out in abig way. Brown is batting over .350 with 45 RBI and 31 steals in 56 games.Health Report: Ehire Adrianza, the Giants' top shortstopprospect now that Brandon Crawford is in the big leagues, missed the start of theseason following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Adrianza, a21-year-old from Venezuela, returned on May 14 to play for the Low-A AugustaGreenjackets and the results so far have not been pretty. Through 22 games,Adrianza is hitting .207 with 23 strikeouts in 87 at bats.
Rael Enteen is a Web Producer with Comcast SportsNet. He will be producing monthly minor league reports on both the Giants and A's. Look for the next A's edition in two weeks. Follow him on Twitter @RaelEnteenCSN.