Results tagged ‘ Brandon Belt ’

29 Days Till Opening Day

29 Days Till Opening Day

Brandon Belt, who wore jersey number 29 with the Grizzlies in 2011, counts us down to Opening Day on April 4th at Chukchansi Park. The left-handed hitting first baseman is one of the 17 of the 25 players on the Giants’ 2012 World Series roster who has played for the Grizzlies at one point in their careers.

“Baby Giraffe,” as his nickname goes, has played in 62 career games with the Grizzlies over the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He holds a .291 batting average with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in a Grizzlies uniform.

Belt was a rapidly rising star in 2010 as he led all of the minor leagues in OPS (1.075) while also finishing 2nd in the minors in batting average (.352) and OBP (.455), 4th in RBIs (112), and 7th in slugging percentage (.620).

The 2011 season was little more rocky for the native Texan. He shuttled between San Francisco and Fresno, playing in 49 games with the Grizzlies and 63 with the Giants.

Then, in 2012, Belt became a World Series champion. Any 2011 disappointments were quickly awash.

Belt enters this year’s Spring Training with the security of the Giants starting first baseman job lined up. With the starting job in tow, Belt is 12-for-25 with 3 home runs and 6 RBIs in 8 games. Spring Training stats are moot once the season starts, but Belt is doing his part to carry plenty of momentum into the regular season.

Top Eleven of ’11

By: Noah Frank

It is officially that time of year again, when the leaves abandon their spring and summer green for shades of yellow and crimson, when the morning chill forces us to shake the dust from our sweaters and jackets, tucked away since the beginning of the baseball season. That means it is also time for everyone from VH1 to us here at Yard Work to break out our “best of” lists for the year gone by.

In that spirit, we will be rolling out our Top Eleven of ’11, the best 10+1 moments of the season past on fresnogrizzlies.com. Our crack panel has assembled what we believe to be the memories that stand above the rest, and will be releasing them every Monday-Wednesday-Friday beginning today until we reach number one. You’re sure to see some highlights from Brett Pill and Tyler Graham, but do you remember the other great games and individual moments from 2011? Will your favorite memory of the season make the list? We start things off with the season’s first game.

#11. Grizzlies Beat Weather, Las Vegas (4/7)

Opening Night was a pitcher’s duel most of the way, as Ryan Vogelsong and Brad Mills battled unseasonably cold April weather that even brought hail prior to the game. With the score 2-1 entering the bottom of the eighth, the sky opened up, bringing heavy rain with it. Both teams fought through the conditions, but the Grizzlies took advantage of the situation. Fresno plated nine runs in the inning— capped by Darren Ford’s grand slam— before the 51s could record an out, scoring an 11-1 victory to open the 2011 campaign.

#10. Pill’s Career Blast Backs Sanchez (7/27)

Brett Pill collected three hits, none bigger than his career-high 20th home run, a three-run shot in the sixth inning. That gave Jonathan Sanchez more than enough breathing room as he cruised to a 12-3 victory over Salt Lake in his first rehab start with Fresno in 2011.

#9. Team Speed: A Sign Of Things To Come (4/10)

Two nights after Emmanuel Burriss set the single-game franchise record with four stolen bases, the Grizzlies combined to swipe a mind-boggling 10 bags in one game against Las Vegas. Five different players got in on the act, with Terry Evans and Darren Ford collecting three steals apiece and Tyler Graham notching a pair in an 8-5 victory.

#8. Kung-Fu Panda Delights The Fresno Crowd (6/7)

Pablo Sandoval took no time at all to get the crowd into the game in his first rehab start, following Tyler Graham’s lone home run of the season two batters later with a two-run shot of his own as part of a seven-run second inning. Sandoval added two more RBI on the night as the Grizzlies blew out Las Vegas by a final of 12-4.

#7. Back-To-Back Is Back In Style (5/26)

The Grizzlies slugged two sets of back-to-back home runs, with Conor Gillaspie and Edgar Gonzalez turning the trick in the third inning and Brad Eldred and Jackson Williams accomplishing the feat in the eighth frame. Fresno finished with a season-high five home runs in the 8-5 victory over Oklahoma City, and would stunningly go on to hit back-to-back shots a total of nine times throughout the 2011 season.

#6. An Unlikely Sweep (6/5)

Severely short-handed following call-ups and injuries, the Grizzlies faced Las Vegas in a doubleheader on June 5th. Shane Loux turned in his best start of the season in Game One, shutting out the 51s on just three hits in a 3-0 victory. Then, in Game Two, recent A-ball addition James Simmons hit a pair of towering home runs over the batter’s eye as the Grizzlies hung on for a 5-4 victory and a sweep of the twin-bill.

#5. 7-6 on 7/6 (7/6)

Following a pair of one-run victories over rival Sacramento, the Grizzlies found themselves in a 6-4 hole entering the eighth inning in the final game of the three-game set. Fresno came back to tie the game on solo shots by Brandon Belt and Conor Gillaspie, then pushed in front for good thanks to back-to-back, two-out doubles by Thomas Neal and Max Ramirez, leading to a 7-6 victory on July 6th.

#4. Vintage Zito On Display (6/21)

Barry Zito followed a decent first rehab start with an absolutely dominating performance in his second outing at Chukchansi Park. Mixing his pitches and flashing his trademark curveball, he kept Salt Lake batters off-balance all night, with solo home runs by Brad Eldred and Darren Ford providing more than enough support. In the end, he finished off a 118-pitch, complete game, two-hit shutout of the Bees on June 21st.

#3. Graham Steals Franchise Record, Game (7/9)

Some records are set in meaningless contests, with no real impact on the outcome of the game. Tyler Graham’s single-season franchise stolen base mark was not one of those records. After leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single in a 3-3 tie against Tucson on July 9th, he stole second and third to give him 43 steals on the season, surpassing Calvin Murray’s mark of 42, set back in 1999. He sat 90 feet from home as Justin Christian lofted a fly ball to shallow center, darting home after the catch and belly-flopping into home plate ahead of the tag with the game-winning run as Fresno walked off on the Padres, 4-3.

#2. From Throwdown To Showdown (8/25)

The Taco Truck Throwdown grew from a good idea, to an explosive theme night, to a nationally recognized promotion. The Grizzlies drew a vibrant crowd of 10,287 fans on the final Thursday night of the season and beat rival Sacramento, 7-4, on August 25th. The Throwdown went on to win its 10-promotion category for Minor League Baseball Miscellaneous Promotion of the Year, giving the Grizzlies five straight years of MiLB Promo Finalists, a streak unmatched in the sport.

#1. Grizzlies Declare Independence Day (7/4)

In front of the largest crowd of the year, the Grizzlies got off to a dismal start, spotting rival Sacramento a 5-0 lead heading to the bottom of the fourth. But Fresno clawed back within 5-3, then got back-to-back home runs from rehabber Mike Fontenot and Edgar Gonzalez in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 5-5 and send it into extra innings. The Grizzlies loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks to set the stage for Gonzalez once more, who singled to center field to score Justin Christian with the game-winning run, sending the crowd of 13,455 into a frenzy and setting up what would turn out to be three consecutive one-run victories in the Highway 99 Showdown Series.

Thanks to all our fans for a great 2011, see you all on Opening Day, Friday April 13, 2012!

Baseball Hipster Heaven: The Arizona Fall League

By: Noah Frank

There is a great joke about hipsters that a friend of mine told me several years ago, back when I lived in the Bay Area.

First, the setup: “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

The answer? “Some obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.”

After the punch line, the follow-up: “If you like that joke, I’ve got a copy of it on vinyl.”

The joke is funny because it plays on hipsters’ disregard of, and disgust for, all things mainstream, their self-righteous contempt clutched to as a badge of honor to leverage themselves above the masses as connoisseurs of culture. In the last few seasons, the Arizona Fall League has taken on a life of its own, becoming the underground lounge full of up-and-coming prospects, the den where baseball hipsters, like Keith Law, sit and scout, then take to Twitter to tell the American masses about the players they will be worshiping in a few years.

The parallel between the music hipsters and the baseball hipsters didn’t fully hit me until I saw a tweet from Law pop up in the middle of a playoff game, only to be bewildered to find that it had nothing to do with this game, but rather some prospect in the AFL game he was attending that day. This is not to make any judgments of right or wrong, just to point out that clearly, at this moment, a hipster culture had been created in baseball; one in which the possible, projected future was more important than the actual, present postseason.

Ken Joyce (right) with Brock Bond and River Cats infielder Chris Carter in 2010. (Don Davis)

Needless to say, with this newfound emphasis being put on the yearly exhibition of prospects, the public’s desire for more information has grown accordingly. A strong performance in the AFL doesn’t win you a World Series, but it might put you on the cover of Baseball America, and motivate your team’s fan base to clamor for you to replace an underperforming veteran. Here at Yard Work, we wrote a couple of pieces last year showcasing the various Giants prospects coming up the ranks who we might see in Fresno, including the likes of Brandon Belt and Conor Gillaspie. We also had several offseason conversations with Jonathan Mayo— the MLB.com writer assigned to cover the minor leagues and the draft— to gain a better perspective on these prospects and on how well we could project their stellar performances in the Fall League towards future success.

This year I found, to my delight, that 2010 Grizzlies hitting coach Ken Joyce was serving as the hitting coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions, the AFL squad for which the Giants prospects play. Recent top draft picks Gary Brown and Joe Panik are joined by the likes of 2011 Grizzly and Giant Brandon Crawford on that Scottsdale squad. And because of the collective structure of the AFL, in which each team is comprised of prospects from five different organizations, they all wear the same uniform as uber prospects Bryce Harper (Nationals) and Mike Trout (Angels). I caught up with Joyce the other day to get his thoughts on all of the above.

Yard Work: Brandon Crawford is an interesting case as a guy with Major League time playing in the AFL. Is this the first time he’s played for you, and what have you been working on so far?

Ken Joyce: I’ve actually seen him before, since I had him in the instructional league last year. The biggest thing is we’ve simplified everything. A couple years ago in Double-A he was swinging the bat very well, but he got a little too technical, was trying to do too much. So we just focused on getting him in a good rhythm. He has been on fire, swinging very well against both righties and lefties. Plus, he’s kind of taken on a leadership role for these younger guys.

Brandon Crawford is known for his glove, but his bat has heated up in the AFL. (Don Davis)

YW: You also are getting an up close look at Joe Panik and Gary Brown. What are your first impressions of them?

KJ: I’m very impressed with Panik. He’s a very mature young man, a little ahead of his time. Just talking to some people in the [Giants] organization, he reminds a lot of people of [Buster] Posey in his demeanor. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting to each level as he moves along. The fact that he’s [in the AFL] shows that they think very highly of him. He hit his first home run for us today. Overall his performance hasn’t shown up in the numbers, but he’s exhausted. He’s been going pretty much for a full year straight, so it’s probably the most baseball he’s ever played in his life.

As for Gary Brown, I saw him a bit in Spring Training, but this is my first time really working with him. I think he’s fatigued a bit, too, it’s been a long year. The key for him is not getting caught up in the results. Two years ago Posey hit about .220 in this league and was in the Majors the next year. In my opinion, that is actually good for you— we’d rather have you fail here than in the big leagues. Browny’s got a very good attitude about it, he’s just been pressing a little bit mentally. But defensively, he’s as good as anybody here.

YW: What have you seen out of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, arguably the top two prospects in the game?

KJ: They are both very talented individuals, I mean their raw talent is off the charts. I think they’re dealing with some of the same issues as Browny, that it’s just been a long year for them. They’ve been better lately, though.

YW: Does it take some of the pressure off of the Giants prospects to know that guys like Harper and Trout are more in the spotlight?

KJ: It takes a little bit of pressure off our guys, but at the same time, it means more people are coming to see them play every day.

YW: Have any other guys stood out to you that maybe the general baseball public is unaware of at this point? Is there anyone to keep an eye on the next couple of years?

KJ: I’ve been real impressed with two of our catchers. Derek Norris (Nationals) has been swinging the bat real well. We saw him in Harrisburg this year where he put up some power numbers in Double-A, but the average was low. He’s made some good adjustments since then. Dan Butler (Red Sox) has also been impressive.

YW: Any other Giants prospects to look out for?

KJ: The pitchers have done a good job, Austin Fleet especially. He’s got two wins, and has given up only one run so far. Stephen Harrold has closed out a couple games for us, too. The young kids have very good arms and have done a nice job, even getting themselves out of pressure situations.

YW: Do you have other impressions from the AFL to share with the folks back at home?

KJ: It’s just a great opportunity for these guys to develop. After all, if you can’t play in front of the rovers, the farm directors, the general managers, how are you going to play in front of 40-50,000 people? As for me, I’m loving it down here. It’s been good times, working with a good staff. It’s been good to see the rovers that we see throughout the year come through.

On the Brink

By: Josh Jackson

There are many young kids in this country and other parts of the world who aspire to play professional baseball when they grow older. Unfortunately, for most of us, this fantasy is eventually smothered by the harsh realities that come with the different seasons of life. We realize that the road to becoming a professional athlete is too narrow for all dreamers to travel on. On the other hand, there are some kids who are just gifted, lucky, and put in a lot of time and hard work.  These kids eventually do get to play baseball professionally. We see them every summer at venues like Chukchansi Park in Downtown Fresno.

But the ultimate goal of every player performing in affiliated ball is to make it to The Show. Even out of all the players that are fortunate enough to have made it to a professional baseball team, a very minute portion will ever make it to the big leagues. So when 2011 Grizzlies Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchezmade their Major League debuts this season at such a young age, it was hard not to appreciate the rarity of the situation.

Hector Sanchez facing Sacramento on July 4 in Fresno

As most Grizzlies and Giants fans may know, Belt made his Major League debut on Opening Day this season. He struggled at the plate to start the year, which is very common for young hitters, and was optioned to Fresno on his 23rd birthday. Injuries to the Giants gave Sanchez his first opportunity to play in the Majors back on July 15th at the young age of 21. Most people don’t even dream of starting a career at that age and this young man started behind the plate for the defending World Series Champions. This year also marks Sanchez’ fifth year as a professional. Some simple math reveals that he was only 16 when he played his first professional baseball game.

Three-time All-star and Gold Glover Vernon Wells would know something about being on the brink of being a big time ball player at such a young age. Wells was a first-round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997 when he was just 18 years old. At the age of 21, he went from playing Single-A ball to playing in the Majors in the span of one season, just like Sanchez. Wells described what it was like to be a teenager in the minor leagues.

“It was a great experience being around the older guys and guys that have played in the big leagues,” he explained. “You play around big league ballplayers everyday and it is hard to not focus on that.”

When asked what advice he would give to Hector Sanchez on the day of his Major League debut, Wells responded, “Just relax. Just stay confident. That’s the hardest part. It’s actually much easier to hit, you can see the ball easier in these (Major League) parks. Sometimes I would go rehab at these minor league stadiums and it was so difficult to see the ball.”

Brandon Belt facing the Tucson Padres on May 6 at Chukchansi Park

Perhaps confidence and the ability to relax at the plate was something Giants top prospect Brandon Belt lacked at the beginning of the season. Being sent back-and-forth between Fresno and San Francisco did not discourage Belt, as he kept a positive attitude and a healthy work ethic that was visibly apparent to even the casual observer. His focus paid off on July 19th, when he was recalled by San Francisco to face the rival Dodgers at home. Belt had no problem seeing the ball on this night, as he turned in a 2-for-4, 3 RBI performance, which included a solo shot to right field in the second inning, his first home run at AT&T Park. His contributions lifted the Giants to a much needed, 5-3 victory. Speaking with Belt after the game, you could see it felt good for him to get passed some of his early season struggles.

“The first time I was up (with the Giants) at the beginning of the year, confidence was definitely something I lacked,” Belt explained. “I put a lot of stress and pressure on myself and it definitely showed in my play. That’s one of the main things I wanted to work on when I was in Fresno. I was able to relax and find a place where I was comfortable physically and mentally and fortunately I was able to bring it back up here.”

Belt will likely finish the season with the San Francisco Giants, and it does not appear that he will be coming back our way to Fresno anytime soon. Sanchez is currently with San Jose until rosters expand in September. After talking with him in San Francisco, Sanchez expressed his excitement on finishing the year strong and getting more opportunities down the road.

“It is amazing being where I am and having a chance to play for a big league team,” Sanchez explained. “I am excited for the future and being able to play with those guys”.

Belt and Sanchez are already breathing rare air by making it to the Major League level at such a young age. Now the focus turns to doing what Vernon Wells has done, competing at the highest level for an extended period of time. The hard work and dedication to their craft will have to be pushed to the next level if they wish to have that kind of success down the road. Having witnessed their meteoric rise through the minor league system, it is hard to put a damper on their potential.

Photo Credit: Don Davis

Junior Grizzlies Display Talents at Chukchansi Park

By: Josh Jackson

July 10, 2011

FRESNO- Fresno starter Matt Yourkin may be one of the best starters on the Grizzlies staff this season. However Sunday afternoon marked a rough day for the veteran left-hander, as he was touched up by the Junior Grizzlies at Chukchansi Park.

A multitude of the Junior Grizzlies ballplayers got in on the action for a great session of day baseball in downtown Fresno. All afternoon, balls were being peppered all over the baseball diamond from every team. One of the more notable performances came from Arturo Camarillo of the black team. Camarillo hit a monster shot off of Yourkin that went deep into center field. Camarillo’s commitment to the Junior Grizzlies is undeniable. He is up early to take the bus to and from every practice and game. It is no surprise that he is considered one of the leaders of the organization.

Jarod Aust from the Navy team also displayed some good wood on the afternoon. Aust had one of the hardest hit balls of the game, as he roped a ball hard down the third base line, driving in a couple of runs in the process. Grizzlies pitcher Shane Loux had to duck out of the way to avoid getting hit by the well-struck ball. One could clearly see that Loux was impressed by Aust’s superb contact on the swing.

Junior Grizzlies pose with Grizzlies players following a well played contest

The Junior Grizzlies showed that they could do more than just hit, as certain players made some true web gems. Infielder Will Jones flashed leather all afternoon, putting on a defensive clinic for the black team. Jones, who is normally a catcher, played the infield all game and was not hesitant to swallow up some tough ground balls. He was definitely not afraid to get dirty, diving for grounders and line drives throughout the game.

Players from the red, green and blue teams had terrific days as well. Grizzlies players such as infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Brandon Belt were seen around the diamond giving Junior Grizzlies the credit they deserved, as they congratulated players from all the teams on their winning efforts. In the end, all of the Junior Grizzlies walked away from Chukchansi Park on Sunday afternoon victorious.

More Than Just A Game

By: Josh Jackson

There are plenty of obvious factors contributing to the buzz surrounding the Fresno Grizzlies this season. Perhaps one can say that it all started last year. The 2010 campaign was one of the more successful seasons in the recent history of the franchise, and fan favorites Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were major role players in the Giants’ championship quest. Madison Bumgarner World Champion Bobblehead night drew nearly 10,000 fans to the ballpark this weekend, and the upcoming Buster Posey ROY/World Champion Bobblehead night is sure to draw a huge crowd as well.

Grizzlies and Giants fans alike are now excited to see what is in store for the organization. One of the most talked about players would be top Giants prospect Brandon Belt, who is one of the focal points of the upcoming Showtime series, The Franchise, along with Grizzlies closer Marc Kroon.

However, there are a lot of things the Grizzlies are doing to bring our community together that you may not yet be aware of.

Friday, May 20th, marked the first of two “Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” nights benefiting the Poverello House, presented by CBS 47. Poverello House is a nonprofit organization here in Fresno that has been serving the hungry and homeless since 1973. The residents of the Central Valley showed tremendous support, as over 9,000 people came out to the game. Many fans that showed up brought non-perishable food items in order to help the needy in the Fresno community and received a discount on their ticket for that nights game.

In addition, CBS 47 recently put on a food drive of their own at the station’s studio and helped the Grizzlies spread the word in the community’s effort to fight hunger. Don’t worry if you missed the first night, but make sure you join us for the second and final “Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” night on Friday, July 8th.“Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” is a great cause, but it isn’t the only beneficial event that will be held at the ballpark this weekend. The Grizzlies are teaming up with the Red Cross on Sunday, May 22nd, to increase health awareness. During the game the Red Cross will have informational videos shown about CPR training, pool safety, babysitting precautions, and what to do in the wake of a natural disaster.

As many already know, the Grizzlies make it their responsibility to have a hand in the development of young children throughout the Central Valley. The Hopes and Dreams Foundation will also join the Grizzlies on May 22nd in this mutual effort. The Hopes and Dreams Film Project helps children suffering from life-threatening illnesses, and those of active military and first responders, to find inspiration and joy through the magic of filmmaking. The Hopes and Dreams Project shot their first film, “Build a Better Fastball”, right here at Chukchansi Park this past January. The film will premiere on Wednesday, June 1st at 6:30 pm at the Sierra Vista Mall.

Sunday's game featuring Wild About Reading and the Red Cross draws large crowdTo extend the fun-packed weekend here at Chukchansi Park, the students that met the Wild About Reading challenge were invited to redeem their two free tickets on Sunday, May 22nd. Over 8,000 tickets were given to students that met Parker’s challenge of reading ten books over a five-week period. Wild About Reading is just one of the ways the Grizzlies continue to help in the development of young children in the Central Valley.

Everyone in the Grizzlies family is more than excited about baseball this summer. But the Grizzlies and their fans are even more excited to use the sport as a platform to come together for the purpose of bettering our community. Make sure to keep an eye out for more beneficial events that will coincide with great baseball down at Chukchansi Park this summer.


10-for-10: Marilyn Meadors

By: Noah Frank

Ed. Note: The 10-for-10 series is a chance for us at the Grizzlies to celebrate 10 years in Downtown Fresno by thanking 10 of our great fans. This is the first installment in the new series, which we will be running up to (and possibly through) Opening Day. If you know a deserving fan who has helped support Grizzlies baseball that you would like to nominate, simply email us at grizzliesmedia@fresnogrizzlies.com.

When I started this series, I put out a call to you, the readers, to help tell the stories of 10 fans that have helped us celebrate 10 years together in Downtown Fresno. As I asked you all for submissions, I wasn’t sure of the response I would get. As it turned out, I was deluged by nominations, with one name standing out from the rest: Marilyn Meadors.

I must confess I had really only heard of Marilyn through fellow coworkers here at Chukchansi Park, so learning more about her was a revelation as to how big a fan of the Grizzlies she really is. Once from Dinuba, Marilyn and her husband Craig now live in Clovis, just 15 minutes from the ballpark. Why the relocation?

“The Grizzlies actually were one of the reasons we moved to this area,” she said.

Marilyn and Madison

Bumgarner smiles.

When you attend as many games as Marilyn and Craig do, it’s no surprise. Marilyn is as close to a team mom as we have here in Fresno. When people talk about Minor League Baseball being a family environment, they are referring to the relationships that fans like Marilyn have with both the players and her fellow fans.

“A friend of mine said ‘you wish that everyone of those players was your son’, and it’s true,” she admits with a smile.

If the players are her sons (or grandsons), then her fellow season ticket holders are her brothers and sisters in this Grizzlies baseball family. She cited a number of different die-hard fans that have become some of her closest friends over the last decade. More than that, though, she talked about how excited she is to just come to the ballpark every day and talk to the casual fans who come to Downtown Fresno each season.

“You just meet a lot of people that you have something major in common with,” she laughed. “If you can’t talk about anything else, you can definitely talk about baseball.”

Marilyn and Parker

When you have as many baseball memories as Marilyn does, it can be hard to pick a favorite. She listed a number, but a few stood out in particular.

“The more recent one, of course, is just being able to sit and chat with Buster Posey at the meet-and-greet,” she recalled, speaking of the annual preseason event. “I did get (Madison) Bumgarner to smile,” she laughed.

I asked her what she was looking forward to the most this season, and she cited the next wave of upcoming talent, highlighted by the possibility of seeing top prospect Brandon Belt here in Fresno.

“He’s one of my Facebook friends,” she says of Belt, something that I can’t even claim. “I grabbed him while he was still young.”

Speaking of being young, Marilyn had also read the first installment of our 10-for-10 series, in which we profiled our youngest season ticket holder, 17-year-old Justin Renge. I’ll leave you with her observation, which is a great thought as we sit on the brink of another baseball season.

“I’m 67, and the young man that you interviewed is 17. I’m thinking ‘that’s a 50-year span. Isn’t that cool?’ There’s 50 years difference and yet we still have the same passion for the game of baseball. I think that’s just so much fun.”

And that, as much as than anything, is what baseball is all about.

Spring Training: Day 1 Recap

By: Noah Frank

After a flight delay, a missed connection and a rental car line that looked more like the wait for an amusement park rollercoaster, I finally stumbled into Scottsdale Stadium unfashionably late. Of course, arriving in the bottom of the second inning of a Dodger game is pretty much par for the course, just not for the Giants.

The packed house of 12,081 (a new Scottsdale Stadium record, evidently) was fairly laid-back, coming to life only for home runs from Cody Ross and Pat Burrell, and a standing ovation as Brian Wilson entered the game to pitch a 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief. The Giants
ran out a starting nine very close to what they may well showcase against these
same Dodgers on Opening Day in a couple weeks:

scottsdale_berm.JPG

Torres CF
Sanchez 2B
Huff 1B
Posey C
Tejada SS
Burrell LF
Ross RF
DeRosa 3B
Ishikawa DH
Runzler LHP

Of course, there will be no DH, and Tim Lincecum will be toeing the rubber for the defending World Champs, but otherwise it looks pretty close.

By the seventh inning, however, that Opening Day lineup was all but departed from the field, leaving something that looks a lot like what Grizzlies fans will see at Chukchansi Park on April 7th. At that point, the Giants had Jackson Williams behind the plate, Brandon Belt at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, Conor Gillaspie at third, Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Thomas Neal in left field. While that may be a projection into the future for Giants fans, it was very much a picture of the present for the Grizzlies.

Gillaspie made a nice play at the plate to gun down a runner trying to score from third on a ground ball, but later committed an error that opened the flood gates on reliever Javier Lopez, leading to a four-run inning for the Dodgers. Only one of the four runs was unearned, though, as the Dodgers turned a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 advantage. But the Giants survived a double-play ball from Williams in the ninth and compiled a two-out, two-run rally to send the crowd home happy with an 8-7 win.

Hopefully I’ll get a closer look at our future Grizzlies today as the Giants take on Texas out in Surprise. I’ll also hopefully have some audio from Steve Decker (whoI ran into while checking in to the hotel) on his thoughts so far this spring and for the upcoming season.

(Photo: Scottsdale Stadium from behind the berm in right-center field)

Prospect Watch: Thomas Neal

Prospects have always been a hot topic during Spring Training and this year is no exception. Players like Brandon Belt, Zach Wheeler, Conor Gillaspie, and Darren Ford all ring a bell to any Giants lover. During this year’s Spring Training, much has been made about the Giants top prospect, Brandon Belt, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on outfielder Thomas Neal as well.
Neal has produced consistently strong Minor League numbers that have landed him in the top seven of Baseball America‘s Giants prospects list each of the last two years. Not only has he shown a good glove in the outfield, committing just 19 errors across his five-year minor league career, but he has also shown enough pop in his bat to be a potential big leaguer.

neal.JPG

In 2009, a then 21-year-old Neal put up break through numbers that shot him up the ranks of Giants prospects. He batted .337 (160-for-475) with 67 extra-base hits in 129 games with the San Jose Giants. He also belted 22 of those out of the park and polished off the season with 90 runs batted in. These outstanding numbers nabbed Neal the 2009 San Jose Giants MVP award.
He advanced to Double-A in 2010 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, where he proceeded to post solid numbers yet again. He compiled a .291 batting average, also cleared the 40-double mark for the second straight year. His career minor league line of .296/.375/.475, has helped him rise steadily through the minor league ranks.
His overall performance in the minor league system eventually scored him a spot on the Giants 40-man roster in mid November. Neal is currently playing on Major League Spring Training with the Giants in Scottsdale, Arizona. He will more than likely end up in Fresno for the beginning of the season and has a possibility of making his Major League debut in San Francisco in 2011.
In addition to being a noted prospect, Neal has joined the Twitter trend that has exploded within the sports world recently. His username @TdaddyNeal is constantly being updated before and after (but hopefully not during) Spring Training games. Neal logs in daily to tweet about Spring Training, day-to-day life, random questions of the night and favorite quotes. He frequently interacts with fans through Twitter, which is always great for a technologically keyed-in Giants fan base.
His down-to-earth online persona has received positive attention, helping him attain a collection of over 2,200 followers, as of this article. Check into Yard Work in the near future to catch a full length interview with Thomas Neal, in the mean time feel free to start following @TdaddyNeal, as I do, for everyday updates from the prospect himself.
(Photo Credit: Real Life Studios)

Kindling The Hot Stove

By: Cody Turner

For many baseball fans, the excitement of the baseball
season doesn’t end after the World Series; it begins again. Following the
anticipation of the postseason awards, fans eagerly await the fate of some of
the key players from their organization, as well as what newcomers might become
significant contributors next spring. 

At the minor league level, while many spectators suspect a
vacant ghost town for a stadium, front office staffs across the country have
begun the diligent preparation for the six-month marathon of a season that lies
ahead. Similarly to fans, many members of the Minor League Baseball family
enthusiastically await offseason transactions, and how those moves affect which
exciting young talents they’ll get to feature come Opening Day.

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The most examined teams during the winter are often those
coming off postseason runs. The expectations of a defending champ are particularly
high, and the value of available top performers from such an organization is
increased. It’s always interesting to see how the chemistry of a championship
caliber team may be altered, especially a clubhouse that meshed as well as the
2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

In their first month since their World Series victory, a lot
has happened in the world of baseball. The activities thus far have had an
affect on multiple levels. What most don’t realize is how the re-signing of a
free agent, or loss of another, can change not just the outlook for a league or
a division, but also an entire organization from the top down.  While the elite of baseball’s top
prospects participated in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants focused on
some of their higher priority free agents in November, the fortune of the
Fresno Grizzlies’ 2011 Opening Day roster awaits.

Each time the Scottsdale Scorpions took the field in
Arizona, and every negotiation made in San Francisco shifted which developing
players Fresno fans were likely to see come April. With the young talents of
Brandon Belt, Charlie Culberson, and Conor Gillaspie making their cases for a
shot at the next level with an exceptional display of development in the AFL,
the eventual home of Giants free agents will play a crucial part where these
prospects land.  

By the end of Belt’s steady rise through the system in 2010–
culminating in the Scorpions’ AFL Championship– talks of the lefty starting the
upcoming season in San Francisco
began to surface. The small glimpse of the heaving-hitting
first baseman in Downtown Fresno at the tail end of last season left fans eager
to see the rising star lead the Grizzlies into 2011. Little did we know that
despite a championship lineup in San Francisco, Belt might end up with the
Giants without stepping foot in Chukchansi Park again.

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The immediate future of the Giants’ fifth-round selection of
the 2009 First-Year Player Draft was highly dependent on whether San Francisco
would sign Free Agent first baseman Aubrey Huff. Even after the news of the deal
that would keep Huff in orange and black
for two more seasons, the possibility
of Belt being a Giant this spring was not necessarily diminished.

Huff’s experience in the outfield, his willingness to do
whatever it takes
to help the team win, and his desire to be an everyday player
didn’t count out the possibility of Brandon Belt starting the 2011 season in a
Giants uniform. The Huff signing inched Belt closer to an assignment to Fresno,
but it wasn’t until San Francisco’s latest signing of Pat Burrell that made Belt’s
immediate future in a Grizzlies uniform seem more probable than that in a Giants
one. Nevertheless, the winter has just begun. How the next four months play out
will determine where we see Belt come Opening Day.

Similarly to the starting first base job, the rest of the
Giants infield is in question for the spring as well. The immediate decision-making
rested on the free agent status of World Series hero Juan Uribe. With the
sure-handed infielder headed to Southern California after signing with the
division-rival Dodgers
(and the Giants’ concern with the fitness of Pablo
Sandoval
), the opportunity for a young upstart from the minor league system
making an impact appeared as conceivable as ever.

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Whether the Giants looked to a more established player like
Emmanuel Burriss or Ryan Rohlinger to step up, or the fresher faces of a
Gillaspie, Culberson or a lesser-known Brandon Crawford to emerge, infield
opportunities were seemingly wide open. However, shortly after Uribe’s
departure, the Giants acquired veteran shortstop Miguel Tejada, who helped
boost San Diego in the divisional race last year.

While the return of Freddy Sanchez and Mark DeRosa to the
Giants infield, along with the attainment of Tejada and re-signing of backup
infielder Mike Fontenot will help fill some vacancies with some veteran
assurance, there are still some questions to be answered this winter. With the uncertainty of Sandoval and the increased progress and
productivity of Culberson and Gillaspie, each offseason move dramatically
impacts what baseball fans in the Central Valley can expect to see in Fresno.

The outlook for Triple-A baseball in Fresno seems bright
with the likelihood of some impressive young talent making their way though at
some point in 2011. As always though, the length at which they stay may vary.
With the recent immediate success of Rookie of the Year Buster Posey and lefty
hurler Madison Bumgarner, the urgency to see a Brandon Belt as a Giant sooner
rather than later will be astronomical.

(Ryan Rohlinger and Madison Bumgarner Photos: Don Davis; Aubrey Huff Photo: AP)

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