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.
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.
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.