By: Ryan Guinan
Base stealing has become quite a habit for the 2011 Fresno Grizzlies. The team has eclipsed three stolen base records this season and demonstrated they can put the pressure on the base paths. Led by the PCL’s leading base stealer Tyler Graham, this group of speedsters has not hesitated to gamble an extra 90 feet if it could mean the difference in a game.
Tyler Graham has become known for lightning quick plays on the bases. This year, he has surpassed the old franchise mark for stolen bags in a season (42) set by Calvin Murray in 1999. Graham accomplished the feat in a winning effort on July 9th to set up a walk-off hit by Justin Christian. Graham stole second, third and eventually scored the winning run. Its plays like this that can change the course of a close game and perhaps a season if the situation presents itself.
Graham’s aggressive base running has proven successful for him throughout his entire career. Heading into an eight game road trip against Iowa and Omaha, Graham was successful in 51 of his 61 attempts to swipe an extra bag. Graham currently leads the PCL in steals and has done so by leaving the rest of the pack in the dust. He holds a 13 base cushion to Esteban German of the Round Rock Express who ranks second in the league. He constantly has pushed the limit to get on base and look for an extra 90 feet that could be the difference maker.
Tyler has led this Grizzlies team to a record of their own, the franchise’s single season mark for most stolen bases by a team. They beat out the 1999 Grizzlies who had 145 thefts that season. On July 23rd, in a game against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Justin Christian stole second base to make it 146 on the year for the 2011 Grizzlies. The benchmark seemed destined to be broken after last year’s club totaled 143 stolen bases, just two shy of the old franchise record. On their way to the record, the team also recorded 10 stolen bags on April 10th against Las Vegas. This number was good enough for another Grizzlies record, most stolen bases in a game. The group was filled with the potential to overcome the team record with guys like Graham, Darren Ford, Emmanuel Burriss, and Christian. Grizzlies’ fans would expect nothing else while under the management of Steve Decker. He has been known to harass opposing pitchers with the constant threat of a base stealer. His ball club in San Jose totaled 205 bags swiped in 2008 and his Grizzlies last year compiled 143. Stealing bases is no surprise for a Decker team, but much more of an expectation.
This team has made the franchise record more of a spectacle to see as they have run wild on the bases. With the Giants ranking in the bottom of the league in run production, aggressive base running could be their answer to more runs. Fans can recall a Grizzlies September call-up last year that led to a big win against Colorado on September 1st.
In a 1-1 deadlock, Darren Ford was put into action, pinch-running for Mike Fontenot. He would go on to flash his speed that day for the go-ahead run. He didn’t hesitate one bit in his first Major League appearance. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch and than made his way home on a throwing error to third for the game-winning score, which eventually proved to be just as important as any other run that season. The Giants had to use all 162 games in order to clinch the division and a spot in the post-season, making Ford’s speed more valuable than ever for the club. The Giant’s base running threats are limited this year and their run production ranks amongst the bottom half of the league. Aggressive base running could prove to be their only hope, meaning one of the Grizzlies could be called up solely for speed purposes as Ford was last year.
The Giants are attempting to repeat their World Series performance of last year while fending off surging Arizona. San Francisco has been thriving off of one-run ballgames. If this continues to be the case, they may need to call up another speedster from Fresno. Although the Giants main need is hitting, they may look to have one man on the bench who can change the game in a foot race between him and the catcher’s arm for an extra 90 feet. If this is the case, Fresno is ready to go with numerous guys who can add their speed to a World Champion. The Grizzlies will continue to extend their records for the rest of the season and hopefully, one of them can make it up for a September call up to help make another run to the World Series.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)