November 2010

Prospect Watch: Joe Paterson

By: Noah Frank

Most of our
Prospect Watch pieces focus on a player who has spent little or no time in
Fresno to this point in his career. But it seems a safe bet that 24-year-old
Joe Paterson will be a returning face to the Central Valley in 2011. Besides,
he’s such a nice guy that we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Paterson
spent the 2010 season spent shuttling back and forth between Fresno and San
Jose
, posting solid numbers in the former and excellent ones in the latter.
Largely used as a situational southpaw or LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), he
dominated lefty swingers, fanning 36 of the 112 that faced him. He also held
left-handers to a .216 batting average between the two levels. Overall he
finished 5-3 with three saves, a 3.03 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 65.1 innings
pitched, earning a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

Since
arriving in Scottsdale, the congenial Oregonian made it look more like his
Single-A stomping grounds, holding opponents scoreless in nine of his 10
appearances. He struck out 

at least one batter in every outing, compiling 17
against just four walks in 11.0 innings pitched. He continues to dominate
lefties, allowing just two hits while striking out 11 of the 21 left-handed
batters he faced.

Perhaps the
most encouraging number in that bunch– small sample size aside– is that he had
just a single walk through his first nine appearances. If there was a knock on
Paterson in the times he struggled with Fresno this past season, it was that he
issued too many free passes and dug himself into his own holes. He walked 24 in
54.1 innings with the Grizzlies (4.0 BB/9.0 IP) including five multi-walk
outings in his first 20 appearances. But he has fanned 50 while walking just 12
since then, in 40.1 innings between Fresno and Scottsdale.

Much like
fellow bullpen lefty Geno Espineli, Paterson steps well across his body with
his right plant foot as he delivers the ball, his throwing arm sweeping at a
flat angle out towards first base. This means he actually is releasing the ball
behind a left-handed hitter as he digs into the batter’s box. That allows
Paterson to keep the hitter off-balance and set them up, bailing out on inside
fastballs, then chasing frisbee sliders that float off the plate outside. All
of that has led to a career record of 20-12 with a 2.63 ERA (67 ER/229.0 IP)
and a 9.8 K/9.0 IP rate.

It has been
said that if you can throw left-handed and have a pulse that there is a place
for you in baseball. Joe Paterson can do much more than just that, and is well
on his way to a spot in the Giants bullpen in the next couple of years. More
than likely, though, JoePa (as his teammates affectionately refer to him) will
begin the 2011 campaign with fellow Oregon State alum, College World Series Champion,
and future subject of Prospect Watch, Tyler Graham, right here in Fresno.

(Photo Credit: Don Davis)

Legends Of The Fall

By: Noah Frank

The Arizona Fall League will wrap up this Saturday, as the Scottsdale Scorpions take on the Peoria Javelinas for the league title at 12pm PST on MLB Network. Most of the national media attention paid to the Scorpions when the roster was announced was to the Washington Nationals‘ uber-prospect, Bryce Harper. Now, if you know anything about the Giants prospects participating in the AFL, you may be asking yourself “Isn’t Scottsdale the Giants’ team?” The answer to that is simple: Yes, and no.

See, this is how the AFL works. The prospects from the 30 Major League teams are divided up into six, five-team squads. The Giants are grouped with the Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and, as mentioned before, the Nationals. San Francisco has a total of seven prospects on the roster, none of them with the same kind of branding as baseball’s answer to LeBron James. But while Harper has certainly helped, living up to the hype so far (in a very small sample size), it has been the trio of Giants hitters that have keyed Scottsdale’s run to the championship game.

belt.jpg

Past features of our Prospect Watch series Charlie Culberson and Brandon Belt share the league lead in doubles (11) and triples (5), respectively, earning them some national attention. Meanwhile, Conor Gillaspie has had his best showing as a professional to date, batting over .300 while sharing the league lead in home runs (5). Belt’s line, though, has been the most eye-catching so far at .372/.427/.616 (AVG, OBP, SLG), as he tries to put a cherry on top of his magnificent 2010 campaign with another championship.

The Giants have stocked the team with a few arms as well, lending 2009 Grizzly Dan Runzler and 2010 Grizzly Joe Paterson as well as lower level prospects Jason Stoffel and Ryan Verdugo (interestingly, all but Stoffel are southpaws). This is just the beginning of a whole new campaign for Runzler who, after making the Majors in ’09, was injured this season and may now being groomed for a move into the starting rotation. With the starting five in San Francisco as stable as any in the Majors, it would not be a surprise to see Runzler begin 2011 back in Fresno as he adjusts to his new role. Paterson is likely to return as well, and Grizzlies fans may get a look at Verdugo, who struck out 94 batters in just 62.2 innings while going 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA this season between Augusta and San Jose.

While the AFL is a great way for Giants fans to get a sneak preview of the players that will end up in San Francisco in a couple years, it’s an even better way to see those who will be in Fresno next year. So check out the game on MLB Network at noon on Saturday. It’s your last chance to see some of this top talent until Grizzlies Opening Day on Thursday, April 7th, 2011.

(Photo of Brandon Belt courtesy of Joe Pun/AZGiants.com)

The Once And Future King

By: Noah Frank

As a kid
growing up, I remember watching Patrick Roy, goalie for the Colorado Avalanche,
and reflecting upon his last name. Having learned French at an early age, I
recognized his last name as being close to the French word for “king” (roi),
hence his nickname: King Patrick. The rabid baseball fan that I am, I always
saw the same thing whenever the Rookies of the Year were announced in the
acronym for the award: ROY. So this season, when the Giants’ Twitter fan site
@SF_Giants began their ROYPosey hashtag push, I could think of only one thing:

King Posey.

That was a
far cry from my first impression of the young man carrying the burden of all 

the hopes of a long-suffering fan base. I first met Buster Posey at our annual Hot
Stove Dinner
, last February 4th. On a brisk Thursday night in
downtown Fresno, he strolled into 

the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. Clad in
a modest dress shirt and slacks, no tie, a modest sport coat and a closely cropped haircut,
he might as well have been a member of the military on leave. I have stood next
to some of the most imposing legends of the modern era: Randy Johnson, Roger poseyhotstove.jpgClemens, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi. This kid did not have that same striking
presence as legends like those. He was just that- a kid.

Standing
behind the row of speakers who were seated up on stage that night, I could see
his hands shake under the table as he addressed the crowd. His even, mild tone
was much softer than that of his fellow athletes that night, retired Major
Leaguers Dave Dravecky, Steve Decker and Mark Gardner. One could forgive a
young man in his early 20s for not having the same composure as those twice his
age, much less those with public speaking and minor league managerial
experience. But this was supposed to be the chosen one, not only the offensive
savior but also the overseer of the talented young pitching staff expected to
help push the Giants into contention for a World Championship.

Two months
later came the blitz of a highly anticipated media day and an even bigger
Opening Day. Joining Posey on the media rounds was an even younger, even
greener prospect, fireballer Madison Bumgarner. By now Posey seemed more
comfortable, perhaps more at ease and back in his element wearing a jersey and
cleats instead of street clothes. I guided Bumgarner, Decker and him through
the row of television cameras lining the terrace behind the right-field seats.
He handled himself capably, and with a walk-off win in front of nearly 14,000
fans that night
, the questions that followed were mostly softballs.

The team’s record-setting start certainly helped as well, as the Grizzlies stormed out to
a 32-16 start with Posey on the team. As anyone who works in baseball knows,
though, the season is long and tiresome, and certainly has its ups and downs.
The Giants were off to a good start as well, but questions about their offense
lingered. Suddenly, they dropped five straight, culminating in a weekend sweep
at the hands of the cross-town rival Oakland Athletics
in which they managed just a
single run total, dropping their record to 22-21 on May 23rd. Posey
responded the next day, an off-day for the Giants, by going 4-for-4 against the Memphis Redbirds.

The constant
media pressure will begin to grate on anyone as the season progresses, especially
when you have to answer the same question over and over: “Why aren’t you in San
Francisco yet?” Ever the even-keeled diplomat in front of the camera, he gave
all the right answers. But after that Oakland series, the cries could be heard
all the way from San Francisco. The local beat writer asked me what I thought
the chances were of Posey still 

being a Grizzly when the team returned from its
next road trip, an eight-game swing 

Bumgarner Posey.jpgthrough Salt Lake City and Las Vegas that
would not return them to the Central Valley until June 5th.

“90
percent,” I remember saying. Oops.

That Friday
night the Grizzlies polished off an 8-0 pasting of the Salt Lake Bees to open
that trip, with Posey going 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI to back
Madison Bumgarner’s 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball. Life was about as
splendid as it could be for a Grizzlies fan, sitting 10.5 games up in first place. About an hour later I received a
text from the Giants’ V.P. of Baseball Operations that Buster was being called
up the next day.

In addition
to being sad about losing Buster from our lineup, I was more worried what the
pressure of a media market the size of San Francisco’s, combined with all the
national attention focused on him, would do to his calm, collected demeanor.
What would happen if he didn’t get off to a good start? How much patience would
an antsy fan base be willing to show for this 23-year-old with just 172 games
of minor league experience?

SI-World-Series-2010.jpgWell, when
you go 3-for-4 with three RBI in your first game, it takes a bit of the
pressure off. Another three-hit game the next day and a record-setting July
later on cemented his place in baseball history as the first Giant to claim
Rookie of the Year honors in 35 years.

Sure, the
expectation was there. Sure, he was named the top prospect in the system, fifth
overall in the minors by Baseball America before the season. But this? All of
this? With a World Series title to boot? I guess that this is what people mean
when they say they have watched someone grow up in front of their very eyes.

I wonder
sometimes how it feels from Buster’s perspective. It must all seem a bit
surreal, like some winding, lucid dream. Judging by how many orange-clad fans
stormed the streets of San Francisco for the victory parade, there are a lot of
people hoping he never wakes up.

(Photo Credit for first two photos: Don Davis; Credit for final photo: Sports Illustrated)

Grizzlies Alumni Report: Matt Cain


Who: Matt Cain
When He Was a Grizzly: Made 26 appearances, all starts, during the 2005 campaign.
Fresno Highlights:
?       Led the PCL and established a Grizzlies franchise record with 176 strikeouts in his
                only season with the team.
? Held opponents to a .218 batting average in 2005, lowest amongst PCL starting
                pitchers.
? Won his last five decisions of the ’05 season, dating back to July 16th.
? Led the Fresno pitching staff by recording 10 of the team’s 68 wins.
? Recorded a season-high 11 punchouts in only 5.0 innings of work on July 28th, 2005.

Matt Cain.jpg

Where He Went From Here: Cain made his Major League debut at just 20 years of age on August 29, 2005 with the San Francisco Giants against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. 
Where He is Now: 2010 marked Matt’s fifth full season with the San Francisco Giants after starting his big league career late in 2005. 
Career Highlights:
? Pitched a complete game in only his third start with the Giants, yielding a single run on two hits while recording eight strikeouts in a win at home against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 2005.
? Led San Francisco pitchers with 13 wins in his first full season in 2006.
? Earned a win in six straight starts and seven straight decisions from May 7-June 14, 2009.  
? Was the longest-tenured Giant on the roster during the club’s 2010 Championship run.
? Did not allow an earned run in 21.1 innings over three postseason starts for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

Prospect Watch: Charlie Culberson

By: Noah Frank

Every year,
as the bulk of the baseball watching populous turns its collective attention to
the playoffs– culminating in the Fall Classic– a handful of experts pack their
bags and head to Arizona. No, they are not flying south for the winter, though
the mild temperatures are certainly the reason that their destination is
situated where it is. These scouts and writers are headed to the Arizona Fall League, a post-season
prospect showcase of the best the minors has to offer. At first glance, this
was not somewhere one would expect to find Charlie
Culberson
.

culberson.jpg

Not only was
Culberson not among the top 30 prospects in the Giants’ system entering 2010,
according to Baseball America, he wasn’t even listed on the organizational
depth chart at second base, making his only appearance in their prospect
handbook as the fourth-string third baseman.

It’s funny
how quickly a professional baseball player can put his name on the map these
days. Let’s just say that whole anonymity thing isn’t going to last into next
year’s edition.

A career
.249 hitter with just a .312 on-base percentage through his first three
professional seasons, Culberson– still just 21– spent the year at High-A San Jose. After a lackluster April that
saw him hit just .212, he stormed out to bat .326 in May and a cool .400 in the
month of June. His overall average reached a season-high of .329 in late June,
but would tumble downwards in the second half, coinciding with the promotion of
top prospect and fellow right-side infielder Brandon Belt to Double-A Richmond.

Culberson
still finished the year at .290/.340/.457 with 28 doubles and 16 home runs, his
best season yet as a professional. The Giants liked what they saw enough to
give him a shot in the AFL, a talent-rich prospect zoo where he would be thoroughly
tested.

Even with
his improvements this year, nobody could have expected what Culberson
delivered. He hit safely in his first dozen games, batting .472 (25-for-53)
with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 15 runs scored and nine RBI. He
racked up eight multi-hit games over that stretch, including four of three or
more hits. As of November 5th he had settled down to a .417 average,
but still leads the league in hits (30), doubles (10), and extra-base hits
(14), while ranking second in slugging percentage (.694) and total bases (50).
Never mind that he’s doing all of this against the best competition available.

Culberson
may still have Brock Bond above him
on the organizational depth chart at second base, but he has likely passed Nick Noonan and may well see some time
in Fresno this year. A sandwich pick out of high school back in 2007, it has
taken Culberson a little while to achieve his potential. But with Belt flanking
him at first base, the Giants have a lot to be excited about in the future of
the right side of the infield.

(Photo Credit: Mills Fitzner)

Smaller Stadium, Enhanced Experience

For many natives of Fresno, it comes as quite a shock when they meet people who relocate to the Central Valley from preconceived “nicer” areas. Speaking from the perspective of a Bay Area boy, my response to many when they initially find out where it is I’m originally from is simple: “Fresno has its advantages”. 
As a young adult fresh out of high school, I was eager to take on the responsibilities and freedom that came with leaving the nest. Luckily for me, I was drawn to Fresno through opportunities of higher education. Little did I know that after just over six years in what I now consider home, there would be so many positives to outweigh any disadvantages.
Growing up, baseball was always top of mind. At first thought, moving three hours east to the Valley was only going to put distance between myself and the sport and teams I lived for growing up. With more consideration, the travel was actually going to be more of a baseball blessing than a letdown. 
Like most people in Fresno I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to watch young talented ballplayers before they advanced to the Majors, but took for granted how fortunate I really was. To this day I kick myself for not catching every game in April of 2007. After seeing the career that young Tim Lincecum has put together thus far from the comfort of my unenthusiastic living room, I can only imagine what Chukchansi Park was like as the dominant right hander mowed down opposing hitters in the PCL.
Following the first of back-to-back Cy Young Awards for Big Time Timmy Jim in 2008, I was certain I wouldn’t let another opportunity like that come through Fresno without being a part of it. Even though the circumstances were dramatically in my favor, I made sure I soaked up every bit of the Giants’ most recent highly anticipated prospects to come through Fresno. With Buster Posey breaking into Triple-A midway through the 2009 season, and starting the 2010 season with Madison Bumgarner, we were showered with the gift of future standouts in our own backyard.
Posey.jpg
What some people don’t realize is hat there are always other chances to see future household names, even before they show signs of stardom. A prime example from my experience in Downtown Fresno is the rise of Brian Wilson. After seeing Wilson grind through three seasons with the Grizzlies, he suddenly compiled a record-setting number of saves in San Francisco in the same amount of time he spent in Fresno. While he was just another arm in the bullpen for the Grizzlies from ’05-’07, now he’s captured the attention of millions who “Fear the Beard“.
Although it’s been recognized by some, there are still way too many Fresnans who are unaware of just how much connection the Central Valley had to the 2010 World Series. Not only did the Giants fill a 25-man roster with 15 players who wore a Grizzlies jersey at some point in there career, they were led to a Championship title by a majority of former Fresno Grizzlies.
There still may be several folks who will ask the clueless, “Wait, Matt Cain played in Fresno?” or “Buster Posey was here for two months this season?” questions. However, it would be my guess that the San Francisco Giants’ remarkable run to a World Championship, which sparked an incredible support from communities throughout Northern California, will be many peoples’ equivalent to the Tim Lincecum experience I had just a few short seasons ago. 
Whether a fan of baseball, an admirer of professional athletes, or just someone who wants to be a part of something special, the lesson here is simply not to let the future Giants like Brandon Belt, Darren Ford and Zack Wheeler breeze through Fresno without the chance to watch them play. Staying informed and involved will enhance the big league experiences you’ll encounter down the road.
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