Eyes on Chris Heston

776024.jpg

Eyes on Chris Heston

The San Francisco Giants are known for drafting and developing All-Star caliber pitchers.

Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain were all drafted by the Giants and continue to dominate at the major league level. With Erik Surkamp on the disabled list with elbow issues, the Giants have very little depth within the organization when it comes to starting pitchers. The club even signed former Detroit Tigers starter Brad Penny as a backup plan just in case someone were to get injured or Lincecum needed to skip a start to reboot.

Look no further Giants fans; right-handed pitcher Chris Heston is absolutely destroying Eastern League hitters for Double-A Richmond this season.

It was announced Tuesday that Heston was named Eastern League Player of the Week for the week of May 27th. In that week, Heston made two starts for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, striking out 20 batters while allowing just one run to score in 14 innings of work. On Sunday, he struck out a career-high 11 batters in just six innings of work. It is always an honor to get anything like that, Heston said. There are a lot of good pitchers out here in this league so to know you are taken into consideration for a weekly honor like that is always good.

The 24-year old currently has the lowest ERA in all of Minor League Baseball with a 0.70 earned run average. He has allowed just nine runs to score in 64.2 innings of work. He is holding opponents to a pathetic .194 batting average and has struck out 59 batters while only walking 15. He is 5-2 in ten Double-A starts and hasnt allowed more than two runs to score in a game this season.

The right-hander works with four pitches - a sinker, a slider, a change-up and a curve ball. I have given the team a chance to win every time I go out and that is kind of what you are going for, Heston said. I feel like I am where I want to be right now.

The Florida native was drafted by the Giants in the 12th round of the 2009 first year player draft out of East Carolina University. He made his professional debut with the AZL Giants that same year, going 1-5 with a 4.11 ERA in 11 games. In 2010, he was promoted to Low-A Augusta, where he encountered some trouble. In his first full season, he went 5-13 with 3.75 ERA in 26 games.

RELATED: Chris Hestons Stats

Despite a rough start to his career, Heston turned a new leaf in 2011, going 12-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 24 games for High-A San Jose. Heston said that learning how to throw a sinker and adapting to the demanding schedule of being a professional baseball player helped him settle in after struggling in his first full season. He went on to be named a mid-season All-Star and was awarded California League Pitcher of the Week for the week of May 16th, 2011. He struck 131 batters and only issued 40 walks in 151.1 innings.

If he continues to dominate the Eastern League and whittle his ERA down to nothing he could find himself in Triple-A Fresno this season or better yet AT&T Park. Heston feels like he is ready to compete at the major league level right now.

I feel like you have to have that mindset regardless of what is going on, Heston said. That is really why we are all playing the game right now anyways. I could definitely compete at that major league level.

Until that day comes, he is working on staying sharp, focused and hitting his spots in Double-A Richmond. Heston is scheduled to make his next start for the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Friday, June 1st against the Detroit Tigers Double-A affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves. I try not to look to far into what level I am at, Heston said. I just go out there and try to do the same thing, control the strike zone and try not to let them make contact.
Ellen Ward is a Fresno Grizzlies contributor for CSN Bay Area. Follow the @FresnoForecast on Twitter for updates.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."