Giants

Crawford, Brown among Giants prospects in AFL

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Crawford, Brown among Giants prospects in AFL

The prestigious Arizona Fall League is something of a finishing school for future big leaguers, with each team comprised of top prospects from five different organizations. If you haven't been there, it's a Bucket Lister for the die-hard baseball fan; an antidote to the increasingly crowded and expensive spring training experience. In fact, the AFL is exactly what spring training used to be: an opportunity for fans to get up close and personal with not just players but the game itself. Rare is the AFL game, each of them played in one of the desert's many spring training venues, that gets more than a couple hundred fans.

A detailed history of the league shows that matriculation from the AFL to the Majors is the rule rather than the exception, so when your team sends one of its youngsters to the Valley of the Sun, you can be sure thathis progress is worth tracking. Henceforth is a look at the budding stars who represent the Giants in the AFL, which runs through mid-November.
Scottsdale Scorpions
With a roster also populated by prospects from the Angels, Phillies, Red Sox and Nationals, the Scorpions have an impressive following among transplants from around the country, and they have the most hyped player in league history in Washington phenom Bryce Harper. Giants prospects have the benefit of comfort in that the Scorpions' home games are played at Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco's spring training home. The three biggest names among Giants prospects in the AFL are clear: shortstop Brandon Crawford, who spent considerable time in The Show as a rookie this season; Gary Brown, a center fielder who spent the year at Single-A San Jose and earned a trip to the All-Star Futures Game; and Joe Panik, a 20-year-old shortstop drafted in the first round out of St. John's University this summer. Crawford, who has a terrific glove but has quite a bit to prove offensively, is off to a hot start in Arizona, batting .360 through six games for the Scorpions (as of Wednesday). Brown, expected to man center field for the Giants as early as 2013, was the California League player of the year but hasn't been as impressive early in the AFL, batting .229 through eight games. Panik, who batted .341 in 69 games for short-season Single-A Salem Keizer after signing this summer, had six hits in his first 30 at-bats for a .200 batting average for the Scorps. The rest of the Giants prospects playing for the Scorpions are pitchers.
-- Seth Rosin, a 22-year-old righty reliever, went 2-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 39 games at Single-A Augusta in 2011 and has a 3.00 ERA in three games for Scottsdale in the AFL. He was a fourth-round pick in 2010.

-- Austin Fleet, a 24-year-old righty, went 9-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 32 games, including six starts, at three minor-league levels in 2011. He was drafted in the 16th round in 2010 and is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four AFL appearances.

-- Daryl Maday, a 26-year-old righty starter, was a 30th-rounder in 2006 who went 4-12 with a 4.75 ERA while splitting time this season at Triple-A Fresno and Double-A Richmond. He is 1-1 with a 5.14 in two starts in the AFL.

-- Stephen Harrold, a 22-year-old righty reliever, went 5-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 57 games at San Jose (38 games) and Richmond this season. A 12th-round pick in 2010, he is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in five AFL outings.

Through Tuesday, the Scorpions were 4-8 on the year, 5 12 games behind the AFL East-leading Salt River Rafters, which features prospects from the Tigers, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies and Diamondbacks.

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence walked into the dugout 30 minutes before Tuesday’s game, slid his bat into the rack, and smiled. 

“I’m hitting leadoff tonight,” he said, noting that it’s a spot for speedsters. 

On this night, it was a spot that was slowed down. Pence kept the bat steady on a couple of big swings that led the Giants to a 4-3 win. He accompanied that with a home run jog that was one of the comedic highlights in a season sorely lacking them. 

Pence’s fifth-inning blast to dead center was the go-ahead shot at the time, and Pence made his usual quick trip around first and second. When he approached third, he was confronted by a strange sight. Johnny Cueto, who had singled, turned and held his hand up. The two hit the bag a few feet apart, and Cueto practically walked home. He took 13 seconds to go the final 90 feet, and Pence — once nicknamed Full Throttle by his manager — had no choice but to follow in a power-walk of his own. 

“I was like, ‘I’m not the starting pitcher.’ They expend a lot of energy — every pitch is like a sprint,” Pence said. “You’ve got to take it easy if they tell you to take it easy.”

Pence has 218 career homers. He said this was the slowest jog of his career, and that’s exactly what Cueto wanted. 

“Obviously I was very happy when he hit the home run, and I just kept telling him to go ahead and slow down and enjoy the homer, because you're always running so fast,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. 

The home run power-walk was a funny moment, but it was also instructive. Pence brings the same energy and enjoyable attitude every day. In Cueto, his neighbor in the clubhouse, he has found a similar player. He said he’s hopeful that Cueto returns next season — as is expected — and noted that it’s a positive trait to have fun in this kind of season. 

“That’s imperative and it’s extremely important to keep that passion,” Pence said. “It’s not just about the standings. We love competing.”

Cueto showed his own fire by getting a lead into the seventh despite a soaring early pitch count. When Hunter Strickland coughed it up in the eighth, the Giants bounced right back. Pence ended the night with a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded. That capped a big night for him, one that left him smiling from start to finish. 

“It’s always a good time when you’re hitting a homer,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s why Cueto forced him to soak it all in.

Giants lineup: Two righties back in for opener against Rockies

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USATSI

Giants lineup: Two righties back in for opener against Rockies

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Rockies-Giants coverage begins at 6pm with Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming right here.

After dealing with back spasms over the weekend, Hunter Pence is back in the lineup Tuesday against the Rockies.

Colorado Rockies:
1. Charlie Blackmon (L) CF
2. DJ LeMahieu (R) 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez (L) RF
4. Nolan Arenado (R) 3B
5. Gerardo Parra (L) LF
6. Trevor Story (R) SS
7. Ian Desmond (R) 1B
8. Jonathan Lucroy (R) C
9. German Marquez (R) P

San Francisco Giants:
1. Hunter Pence (R) RF
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Denard Span (L) CF
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Jarrett Parker (L) LF
7. Pablo Sandoval (S) 1B
8. Ryder Jones (L) 3B
9. Johnny Cueto (R) RHP