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


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

June 7, 2011

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.

Rewind: With another close loss, clock is ticking for Kings in 2016-17

Rewind: With another close loss, clock is ticking for Kings in 2016-17

SACRAMENTO -- Carmelo Anthony missed a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining in the Kings-Knicks game Friday evening at Golden 1 Center. DeMarcus Cousins, like he had done most of the night, gobbled up the rebound. The Kings All-Star big took a couple of dribbles and then launched a majestic 52-foot shot that was right on target.

Instead of sliding through the net to force overtime, the shot caught front iron and careened off the rim. Cousins fell to the floor, acting out the despair that so many Kings fans in attendance felt. Kings lost by a final of 103-100.

The plan was laid out by coach Dave Joerger in the first week of training camp. First learn to how compete and then learn how to win. It was always going to be a process, but after another tough loss, this time on their home floor, the Sacramento Kings are becoming the poster child for “close, but no cigar.”

“We didn’t make a shot in the last minute, minute ten seconds,” Joerger said following the game. “It’s nobody’s fault. Nobody’s trying to miss. We executed and got where we wanted.”

Sacramento got the stops they needed, although they still gave up a few tough offensive rebounds down the stretch. The game came down to their inability to finish on the offensive side of the ball.

Down one with 21.9 seconds remaining, Cousins cut through two Knick defenders and stood all alone at the basket. His two-footer somehow rolled off the rim and into the hands of the Knicks.  

With 3.9 seconds remaining and Sacramento trailing by 103-100, Rudy Gay missed a contested 3-pointer that would have tied the game. Again, no one tries to miss a game-tying shot.

You can’t ask for much more if you are Joerger. His best two players had the ball in their hands repeatedly down the stretch. They even had open looks, but sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce the way you need it to.

“It’s tough - frustrating loss,” veteran Omri Casspi said following the game. “Basically it comes down to down the stretch, making plays and knocking down shots. I felt like we had good shots, we’ve just got to make them.”

Sacramento shot just 7-of-21 from the field (33.3 percent) in the fourth quarter, but the ball movement stopped late in the fourth, especially when Ty Lawson left the game at the 5:19 mark.

The Kings did a nice job of defending the Knicks down the stretch, but it always comes down to a missed layup, a slow rotation or an offensive rebound by the opposition that does them in.

“We competed throughout the whole night, it’s just small mistakes,” Cousins said following the loss. “We’ve got to correct those or we’re going to continue to lose close games.”

The clock is ticking for Sacramento. With the loss, they have now lost four of their last five and sit at 8-14 on the season. Their schedule to-date was considered the second toughest in the NBA and it doesn’t get any easier Saturday night when they travel to Utah to take on the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Darren Collison said. “We can’t sit there and say that we’re going to figure it out and lose these games because the West is not going to wait for us. We’ve got to be able to play - play the right way.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Kings. They see improvement, but they just can’t seem to get over the hump. They have been within in striking distance late in games in each of their last four losses, but the process of finishing games has been a difficult one.

“I think we’re in a good place, we’ve just got to continue to grow, keep our heads up, stay positive,” Cousins said. “I think we’ll be fine. Hate to say it, but it’s a learning curve.”

Sacramento will be tested on what they learned against the Knicks when they face a well rested, but injury riddled Jazz team that plays extremely hard under coach Quin Snyder.

Three takeaways: Labanc creating offense for Sharks

Three takeaways: Labanc creating offense for Sharks

ANAHEIM – The Sharks dropped their second in a row in regulation on Friday in Anaheim, as the Ducks moved into first place in the suddenly tight Pacific. What were the three biggest takeaways from the game? Here we go…

1 – Getting down early…again

The Sharks were surely aware that a good start was key against the Ducks, who have given up the fewest third period goals in the NHL (15). It didn’t happen, and Anaheim seized a 2-0 lead 15 minutes into the game. It was similar to what happened against Ottawa on Wednesday, when the Senators scored two goals in the first eight minutes and went on to a 4-2 win.

The Sharks managed to fight back and tie it with a strong second period, but they may have used up their energy tanks by the time the third period started, and the Ducks took back the momentum – and the two points.

“I think anybody in this league, let alone Anaheim in their home barn, it’s tough to come back,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We did a good job fighting back. It was just unfortunate that they got that one there with about five minutes left.”

Headed into Saturday’s game with Carolina, the Sharks are 11-4-0 when scoring first, and 4-7-1 when allowing the first goal.

2 – Labanc creating offense

Rookie Kevin Labanc was all around the puck even before his goal made it 2-2 in the second period. With three goals, he now has more than Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney, in about half the games.

Does Labanc feel he can help fill the offensive void with so many players failing to produce?

“Everybody here can score goals. It’s just a matter of opportunities and getting the right bounces,” Labanc said. 

“Some guys just don’t have the right bounces going their way. We’ve just got to stay positive. I’m doing everything that I can to do what’s right for the team and to win the game. Whether it be scoring goals, blocking shots, I’ve just got to do my job and play the right way.”

You have to think Labanc is on the cusp on staying with the Sharks for the season, and with so many players just not getting it done on the scoresheet, perhaps it’s time some of his former Barracuda teammates join him on the NHL roster.

3 – Snakebitten Pavelski

Once again, Joe Pavelski had some great chances that he couldn’t cash in on, just like against Ottawa. There’s certainly no reason to worry about Pavelski's play, but had he been able to finish his opportunities against the Senators and Ducks, the Sharks could have at least gotten a point in the standings in each.

“We had some good looks. Myself, I had a bunch. Have to start putting it in the net,” Pavelski said. 

“It’s frustrating when you know a goal could change the game like that and you’re missing some good opportunities. [Have to] keep working for the next chance.”