Minor league round-up: Fresno Grizzlies

Minor league round-up: Fresno Grizzlies
April 12, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Heath Hembree is starting the year in Fresno and will presumably close games for the Grizzlies. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Editor's note: This is the first installment of our "minor league round-up," a monthly look at the Giants minor league affiliates.

Andrew Bauer
For CSNBayArea.com

After a 74-70 2012 campaign, the Fresno Grizzlies are looking to get back to the Pacific Coast League playoffs this year. Here's a look at the biggest storylines you should be following:

- Can Kensuke Tanaka make the transition to American baseball and work his way back into the good graces of the organization after a rough spring?

- Will Gary Brown and/or Francisco Peguero take the next developmental step forward and force themselves into consideration as starting outfielders for the Giants?

- Can Roger Kieschnick put together a full, healthy season, and will that result in the call-up he would have earned last year?

- The Giants may need to replace more than one starting pitcher next season. Will Chis Heston and/or Mike Kickham crack the rotation in San Francisco at some point this season and have a strong audition?

- Can Heath Hembree return to the top-flight relief prospect he was before his injury, and when will he get his shot in San Francisco?

- Will Brock Bond (currently on 7-day DL) and his career .400+ OBP finally earn him a look with the big club, or will his positional limitations (strictly a second baseman) and a roster crunch continue to leave him on the outside looking in?

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In our first installment of the "minor league round-up," we take a detailed look at every player on the Grizzlies roster. There are nine representatives of the current 40-man roster for the parent club, with several more candidates to be added by season's end.

CATCHERS

- Jackson Williams starts at Fresno for his third straight season. The 2007 first-round compensatory pick (Jason Schmidt) is best known for his defense, but had by far his best offensive campaign last year when he posted career highs in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, and total bases.

- Johnny Monell put himself on the map with Giants fans this year with a power-filled spring training. Monell (30th round, 2007) is an offense-first catcher who is trying hard to improve his defense to gain more consideration to be called up.

INFIELDERS

- A former outfielder now at first base, Todd Linden (1st round, 2001) returns for a second season with Fresno after a six-year sojourn with four minor league systems, a Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan) team, and an Independent League team.

- Also at first base is the rehabbing Brett Pill (7th round, 2006). It remains to be seen if he is going to stay with Fresno after his rehab stint is completed, or if the Giants plan to bring him back San Francisco.

- Former NPB star Kensuke Tanaka has accepted his assignment to Fresno after a disappointing spring training and will play second base for the Grizzlies. He had a successful career in the Japanese league, with five gold gloves, good speed, and decent on-base skills.

- Converted outfielder Juan Perez (13th round, 2008) is at third base. He was originally drafted as a second baseman/outfielder, but hasn't played the infield since he played 72 games with Augusta in 2009.

- Middle infielder Carter Jurica (3rd round, 2010) makes the impressive leap from San Jose last year to play shortstop for the Grizzlies. Jurica had a slow start to his career after being drafted, but turned things around with a solid second season in the Cal League last year.

OUTFIELDERS

- Gary Brown (1st round, 2010) was named the Giants No. 2 prospect (100th overall in MLB) by MLB.com this offseason and will be the center fielder for the Grizzlies. He is already a top quality defender and has great speed, but gets caught stealing far too often. After an impressive debut in 2011 in San Jose, Brown struggled to open last season in Richmond. He had a very strong June and July to help pull his overall numbers up. Opinions are divided on Brown; some see him as a Gold Glove-caliber, prototypical leadoff hitter, others as a defensive replacement fourth outfielder.

- Francisco Peguero (International Free Agent, 2005) opened a lot of eyes with his spring training performance this year and is the left fielder. The Giants were loathe to break camp with him on the roster only to have him on the bench and get sporadic playing time, instead preferring to have him in a starting role to keep developing his game. A quality defender with a highly-rated throwing arm, he is reminiscent of Pablo Sandoval in that he will swing at non-strikes if he feels he can make contact. As a result, Peguero has an alarmingly low walk rate, at just 3.1 percent of his plate appearances in the past two years (Sandoval walked 7.7 percent during the same period).

- Roger Kieschnick (3rd round, 2008) had a very impressive beginning to his season last year and was on track to being called up to San Francisco at some point during the season before he injured his shoulder running into a wall in an attempt to catch what ended up being a walk-off home run. The right fielder had a very good debut season with a stacked 2009 San Jose club (Posey, Bumgarner, Romo, Crawford, Noonan, Runzler, Gillaspie, and Villalona were all part of that squad), but has been battling back injuries since, so the shoulder injury was another frustrating setback.

- Cole Gillespie (minor league free agent, 2013) was the main competition for Peguero in spring training. Drafted by the Brewers in 2006, Gillespie has consistently had good on-base skills with moderate power and speed. Gillespie had two short stints in 2010 and 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks before being designated for assignment last September. He was among the last cuts from the spring training roster when the Giants elected to start the season with three catchers.

- Chris Dominguez (3rd round, 2009) made the move last season from being a corner infielder to being an outfielder for Fresno. He is a high-power, low-contact player, but has one of the strongest arms in the system. A pitcher until his sophomore year in college, some speculate that he could eventually convert back to that position.

- Juan Ciriaco (Rule 5 selection, AAA, 2007 from San Diego), having played every position but catcher in his career (yes, that includes two games as a pitcher in San Jose in 2011), is more of a utility player, but is listed as an outfielder.

STARTING PITCHERS

- Yusmeiro Petit (minor league free agent, 2012) provided the Giants with depth in 2012 and started one of only two games not started by the San Francisco rotation. A former top prospect for the Mets and Marlins, he will likely spend the season in Fresno heading the rotation.

- Chris Heston (12th round, 2009) has improved with each season since being drafted. Entering his fourth full season in professional baseball, Heston has climbed the Giants' minor league ladder one level per year, but could end up in San Francisco sometime this season. After a breakout year in San Jose in 2011, Heston had an even better season last year with Richmond, winning the Pitcher of the Year award in the Eastern League. He finished with a 2.24 ERA. He is seen more as a control pitcher than one who will overwhelm you with his "stuff."

- Andrew Kown (minor league free agent, 2011) is a journeyman minor league pitcher entering his sixth season at the Triple-A level and third with the Grizzlies.

- Mike Kickham (6th round, 2010) is the only left-handed starter in the Grizzlies rotation. Kickham has made significant progress moving through the Giants minor league system since being drafted, and skipped San Jose entirely before having a solid season with Richmond last year. He has strikeout stuff, but struggles with his walk rate. His ability to improve his command will be key to whether he is called up to San Francisco as a starter or reliever -- if at all. All in all, Kickham is an intriguing prospect who could make his debut in San Francisco this year or next.

- Boof Bonser (1st round, 2000) returns to the Giants' minor league system after being part of one of the most infamous trades in Brian Sabean's tenure as the Giants GM. He has battled injuries for the past several years and had an abbreviated run with Fresno last year. Bonser returns this season to round out the rotation in Fresno and will try to get his career back on track.

RELIEF PITCHERS

- Mitch Lively (minor league free agent, 2008) was originally drafted out of CSU-Sacramento in the 16th round by the Colorado Rockies in 2007, but was released later that year. After pitching 11 games with an Independent League team in 2008, the Giants signed him to a minor league contract and he has been bouncing around the system ever since. Reaching Triple-A for the first time, Lively seemed to stick with Fresno last season and turned in solid numbers in the bullpen.

- Steve Edlefsen (16th round, 2007) was taken two picks after Lively. Edlefsen made his debut with the Giants in 2011 when Brian Wilson went on the DL with elbow inflammation and spent some time on the 2012 roster, but struggled in his time with the Giants and was designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster last season. Edlefsen has had very promising results in his past and could eventually pitch his way back to San Francisco or another MLB bullpen.

- Jean Machi (minor league free agent, 2011) spent a handful of games with the Giants in 2012, but will start the season in Fresno. Originally signed as an International Free Agent by the Phillies in 2000, Machi has spent 11 years in the minors for five different organizations.

- Ramon Ramirez (minor league free agent, 2013) should need no introduction to Giants fans. He was an integral part to the Giants bullpen in their 2010 title run and was part of the trade that brought Angel Pagan to San Francisco. After a poor season marred by injury in 2012, the Mets released Ramirez and he returned to the Giants. Although he didn't make the club out of spring training, Ramirez decided to stay with the Giants and sign a minor league deal to pitch for the Grizzlies. If he can recapture his form this season, expect to see him back in San Francisco at some point.

- Sandy Rosario (waivers, 2012) had an interesting year in 2012. Starting the year in the Marlins organization, he was claimed by the Red Sox off waivers. Just over a month later, he was designated for assignment and subsequently traded to the Athletics. Less than two weeks later, he was placed on waivers again, and claimed by the Red Sox again. Two days later he was on waivers again and claimed by the Cubs. Eight days later he was again on waivers. The Giants claimed him this time and he has finally been in one place long enough to get an apartment, or maybe even some business cards made. In his minor league career, Rosario has had some outstanding years and some mediocre ones. If he has good results in Fresno, he could find himself on his way to San Francisco at some point, as he is on the 40-man roster.

- Jake Dunning (33rd round, 2009) has steadily risen through the ranks of the organization since being drafted. He has good strikeout and walk rates. Dunning was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to avoid being selected in the Rule 5 draft, and could see some time in San Francisco this season.

- Dan Runzler (9th round, 2007) originally made a name for himself with a meteoric rise through the Giants organization in 2009 when he made stops in Augusta, San Jose, Connecticut (former home of the Richmond team), Fresno, and finally San Francisco, where he put up some impressive numbers in a handful of appearances. Unfortunately, hidden in those numbers were a high amount of walks, which have plagued him in his career. After a dislocated knee sidelined him in the middle of a good 2010 campaign, Runzler has struggled with health issues since. Runzler is still on the 40-man roster and had a better spring training than his numbers suggest, so he will likely earn a trip back to San Francisco.

- Heath Hembree (5th round, 2010) is the heir apparent at closer in San Francisco. After a very impressive showing in the Arizona Rookie League in 2010, Hembree started 2011 in San Jose, but clearly outclassed his competition. After being moved to Richmond, he didn't miss a step and finished the year with a combined ERA of 1.86 and a K/9 ratio of 13.2. Hembree started last season as the closer for the Grizzlies and it was presumed that he would just be biding his time there before eventually being called up to San Francisco. However, Hembree struggled in his time at Triple-A before being diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain in his pitching elbow. Now healthy, Hembree is starting the year once again in Fresno, and will need to work on his walk rates and staying healthy. Otherwise, he most certainly will end up in San Francisco before long.