February 2012

Prospect Watch: Francisco Peguero

By: Jesse Beltran

Being considered a top-10 prospect for the San Francisco Giants the past three years can be a lot of pressure on a young outfielder like Francisco Peguero. After glancing at the 23-year-old’s numbers, one would notice it has not intimidated him.

Francisco Peguero rounds the bases (Real Life Studios)

Peguero’s journey through the farm system landed him in San Jose for 122 games in the 2010 season. He posted a .329 batting average while hitting 10 home runs and a league-leading 16 triples with 40 stolen bases, which led to his selection to the Post-Season California League All-Star team.

He wasn’t just an offense force; he did work with the glove as well, only committing four errors the entire season. After a phenomenal season, it was evident that high expectations were to follow. At the start of the 2011 season, Baseball America considered him the fourth-highest prospect in the Giants organization.

The two-time Major League Spring Training invitee didn’t miss a beat when the 2011 season rolled around, beginning the year in San Jose but only for 16 games due to his consistent numbers from the previous season.

Along came the promotion to the Double-A Flying Squirrels of Richmond, where he was limited to only 71 games due to arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee. The knee injury did make a difference on the base paths. Peguero attained only eight stolen bases in Richmond and a total of 12 the entire year. His batting production continued with a consistent .309/.318/.446 line.

A player like Peguero who has an aggressive approach doesn’t draw much walks. Over his six-year career, he has batted 1,971 times and only drawn 80 walks. Due to his current approach, his slot in the lineup will be tough to figure out because he will give the team an edge from either the top or bottom part of the batting order.

A native of Nigua in the Dominican Republic, Peguero tends to go back home for the offseason for some rest and spend time with his family. However at the pace Peguero has been going through the Giants farm system, he took advantage of some extra reps during the offseason in the Dominican Winter League with the Gigantes del Cibao.

Peguero retrieves a fly ball with Richmond in 2011 (Real Life Studios)

This short league of 24 games benefited Peguero to keep his legs in shape chasing balls down in the outfield. At the plate, he slightly improved his patience with five walks in 87 at bats while batting .264 throughout the league. This improvement in walks doesn’t seem like much, but at that rate of walks per-at-bat, this calculates into him reaching his career total in walks (80) within 1,392 at-bats, instead of the 1,971 it actually took him. The Winter League experience will be a great benefit for him as he makes his way through Fresno.

Francisco Peguero has continued to work hard to achieve his dream of playing in the Major Leagues, being listed in the Top 100 Prospects at the #98 spot by MLB.com is just another feat for the young player in his journey. Striving to be ready for his call up to San Francisco, Peguero is expected to be in a Grizzlies uniform to begin the 2012 season.

Closer Shuts The Door On Career

On Sunday, February 19th, Marc Kroon made it official: he is retiring from professional baseball.

Marc Kroon chats it up with fans at Chukchansi Park (courtesy of Don Davis)

The right-handed pitcher played in 21 seasons after being drafted by the New York Mets in the second round of the 1991 First-Year Player Draft. In addition to the Mets, Kroon pitched in seven other organizations in the United States, including the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Anaheim Angels, Colorado Rockies, and, of course, the San Francisco Giants.

In 2011, Kroon notched 20 saves for the Grizzlies, which is third best in a single season for a Fresno pitcher in team history. The 20 saves, however, were only a small part of Kroon’s career.

Between 2005 and 2010, the Bronx, New York native played in the Nippon Pro Baseball league in Japan. He spent the first three seasons with the Yokohama BayStars and the final three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, registering 177 saves in Japan. For his entire career, in the U.S. and in Japan, Kroon had 266 saves.

Kroon missed most of the 2000 season and all of the 2001 and 2002 seasons with a right elbow injury. He pitched in 26 Major League games in his career compared to 396 in the minors. While the ultimate goal of any ballplayer is to play a long career in the Majors, none of this should take away from a great career for Kroon. He played for the one purpose all fans follow baseball for: the passion for the game.

Marc Kroon autographs a few items for fans before a game at Chukchansi Park (courtesy of Don Davis)

This is why Kroon resonated with so many people. Fans recognized Kroon’s love for baseball and felt a strong connection with him. Teammates were happy to share a clubhouse with Kroon because none of them doubted his desire to win as a team. With the spotlight on him in the waning moments of many victories, the closer proved to those around him he was the right person for the job night after night.

It is no wonder then that Kroon announced his retirement in true 21st century fashion by going to directly to his fans via Twitter.

Many of his followers (fans and teammates) were happy to send Marc well wishes in his new endeavors, which just reinforces the type of teammate and person Marc was throughout his career.

What’s next for Kroon? According to his Twitter account, “I’m just going to chill with the fam and spend quality time at home.”

For as much time he has spent away from his family over the years, traversing not only the United States but the world for his occupation, Kroon will no doubt take advantage of his new time with his loved ones.

The Fresno Grizzlies wish Marc the best of luck in his post-baseball career.

Prospect Watch: Heath Hembree

Heath Hembree throws hard. Really hard. And with that kind of velocity, and stats to back up to one’s effectiveness, a baseball player gets noticed

Richard Heath Hembree has quickly risen through the San Francisco Giants farm system. This weekend, when pitchers and catchers report, the just-turned 23-year-old will enter his first big league Spring Training. His invitation to Major League camp was somewhat expected, however, when one looks back at his 2011 season.

The 6-4 right-hander was downright stingy in the California League last year. He allowed only two runs in 24 2/3 innings pitched. He faced 101 batters and only 29 of them reached base (16 hits, 12 walks and one hit-by-pitch). He also struck out nearly half of the hitters he faced with his 44 strikeouts. Not surprisingly, Hembree was named a California League Mid-Season All-Star for his efforts, as well as being tabbed a Topps Class A All-Star after the season.

Heath Hembree pitching for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in 2011 (Real Life Studios)

In mid-June, Hembree was elevated to Double-A Richmond for the first time in his career. His Eastern League opponents batted .194 off of him in 28 games, and he struck out 34 and walked 13 in 28 2/3 innings.

As a hitter, Hembree even batted 1.000 with the Flying Squirrels. Granted, the perfect batting average stems from one hit in his only at-bat, but at least he knows when to make that one hit count. He drove in two runs with a single in the bottom of the sixth inning in the second game of a doubleheader against the Harrisburg Senators, adding the sixth and seventh runs in an eventual 7-5 Richmond win.

The two insurance runs proved to be important, too, as Hembree suffered his worst outing in his pro career when he allowed four runs in the following inning. Hembree recovered nicely for the remainder of the season, though, as he allowed only two earned runs in his final 16 2/3 innings.

For the entire 2011 season, Hembree led all of Minor League Baseball with 38 saves to go along with his 1-1 record, 1.86 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.

Hembree locks in on his opponent (Real Life Studios)

So where did Hembree come from?

The Spartanburg, South Carolina native was drafted by the Giants out of the College of Charleston in the fifth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Hembree attended Spartanburg Methodist Junior College before pitching for one season with the College of Charleston Cougars. He also attended the University of South Carolina in 2008.

He made his professional debut with the Arizona Rookie League Giants in 2010, and he sort of pitched well. All he did was allow nine hits – only one for extra-bases – in 11 innings. Of the 41 batters he faced, Hembree struck out 22 of them and walked none.

While the Giants pitching staff has not been much of a question mark over the last couple of seasons, it is nice to have the security blanket of a Heath Hembree in the farm system. Arms like Hembree will only support the expectations of Giants fans that they have each and every year when it comes to San Francisco pitchers. With the benefit of time to develop here in Fresno, Hembree will be making his stamp in the Major Leagues soon enough.

Hembree is also on Twitter. Follow him @HeathHembree.

Following Up With Casey Bond

Casey Bond hit a home run in his first at-bat when it comes to acting in a major film. Portraying former Major League pitcher Chad Bradford, Bond was among a cast and crew that has been nominated for six Academy Awards for their work on the movie, “Moneyball.”

The Grizzlies first talked to Bond before the movie was released, but with the award season in full throttle, Bond was nice enough to take the time to discuss what is new since the movie debut.

(He also spoke with MiLB.com blogger buddy Ben Hill here.)

Casey Bond as Chad Bradford

Casey Bond on the set of "Moneyball," portraying former Oakland A's pitcher Chad Bradford.

Yard Work: We ended the last post wondering what the future may bring for you. So, what is new?

Casey Bond: So far 2012 has had a great start with all these awards. I am auditioning for some small things and working on producing an independent film. Producing is a part of industry that I wanted to dive into as it will allow me to take ownership of the work. I will be able to act and produce in a piece that is pretty close to me.

YW: How did you find out “Moneyball” was nominated for six Oscars?

CB: I knew the day they would be released but not the exact time. So, I woke up to text messages, emails and Twitter messages from all sorts of people telling me about the great news.

We heard all the Oscar buzz and with the momentum from the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, we were eager to learn about the nominations. I can’t even describe, though, how it feels. It’s a great start and I could not be more thankful.

YW: Have you heard from Chad Bradford to see what he thought about your performance acting as him?

CB: I have not met Chad in person, but I did first talk to him a couple of weeks prior to filming. I contacted a mutual friend and said, “You are not going to believe this, but is there any way I can get [Chad Bradford’s] phone number and talk to him?”

He also ended up calling me right after he saw the movie and said, “Man, great job.” I was encouraged to hear him say I did well.

Chad ended up being just a great guy and so willing with his time. I’m representing a real person, and it is very important for me to talk to him. Next time I am in Jackson, Mississippi [Bradford’s hometown], I plan on meeting up with him.

YW:What is going through your head when you watch yourself on the big screen in a baseball movie after growing up dreaming of playing in the big leagues one day?

Casey Bond

Former Giants farmhand Casey Bond, now currently an actor, awaits a pitch in a Minor League game (Bill Mitchell).

CB: Anytime you put hard work into something and see the result and others encourage you, it is awesome. We got our first taste of an audience reaction at the Toronto Film Festival. After the film ended, we received a standing ovation, which was phenomenal. Ever since the movie came out, I have talked to people I haven’t heard from in a long time. All the words of encouragement made this process that much more special.

YW: What are some similarities between being a professional baseball player and being an actor?

CB: The biggest thing is the mental preparation. It directly translates from athletics to the acting world. Auditions can be very spur of the moment, like opportunities or plays in baseball. Baseball is a game filled with failures, such as getting one hit in your four at-bats, and acting has its own failures as well. Not succeeding on the baseball field on a given day created a mental strength.

YW: Who has been your biggest influence in your new career?

CB: It comes down to great parents. They have been great supporters. Another important person has been my first college coach, Brian Schoop, at Birmingham-Southern College. First of all, our team was not just a team, but brothers. Coach Schoop established that family-like culture, and it brought another kind of strength to you. We learned how to face adversity together, and I draw upon my experiences from Birmingham-Southern often.

If you would like to learn more about what Casey is up to, check out his website at www.thecaseybond.com (caseybond.com was already taken). Or you can follow him on Twitter (@CaseyBond) and check out his Facebook page.