Down on the Farm: Crick continues to impress as River Cats' closer

Down on the Farm: Crick continues to impress as River Cats' closer

Long before there were Giants pitching prospects like Ty Blach and Tyler Beede, Kyle Crick was the talk of the town and for good reason. 

San Francisco selected Crick with their sandwich-pick in the Compensation A Round, No. 49 overall, as a power-throwing right-handed Texas high school arm in 2011. Quickly he showed his immense potential on the mound and seemed to be on the fast track to The Show. 

In Crick’s first full season of minor league ball, he posted a 2.51 ERA to go with 128 strikeouts in 111.1 innings pitched for the Augusta GreenJackets at just 20 years old. One year later in 2013, he upped his game, pitching to the tune of a 1.57 ERA over 14 starts for the San Jose Giants and continued striking out batters at a high rate with 95 in 68.2 innings. 

But then, control issues hampered Crick, outweighing his high-90s fastball and ability to make batters whiff. He fell completely off prospect lists and saw plenty of other Giants pitchers leap him and make it to San Francisco. At one point, Crick even contemplated quitting. 

“When you are in those dark places and those tough spots, it’s hard to find the confidence,” Crick told the San Francisco Chronicle in March

Despite his struggles, the Giants’ front office still saw the potential in Crick and formed a new plan. Crick toyed with relief duties while also serving as a starter in 2015, but then started all 23 of his appearances the next year. Before the 2017 season, there was no more messing around. Crick is now a full-time reliever in Triple-A for the Sacramento River Cats, and as he’s able to rear back and fire his blazing fastball in no more than two innings at a time, he is thriving once again on the hill. 

Crick converted his fifth save of the season for the River Cats Thursday night in a 5-3 win over the Memphis Redbirds at Raley Field. With the game on the line, Crick didn’t make it easy loading the bases, but once again turned to his knack for the strikeout and struck out the side to preserve a River Cats victory. 

Over 16 games this season, all out of the bullpen, Crick is enjoying career reinventions. He owns an 0-1 record with a 3.20 ERA, his lowest since that eye-opening 2013 campaign. And Crick has struck out 28 batters in 19.2 innings pitched during the 2017 campaign. The power righty leads all Pacific Coast League relievers with his career-high 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Most importantly though, Crick’s control issues are long gone so far in his new role. 

Crick has only eight walks on the year. Just once, back on May 1, did he walk more than one batter in a game. From 2012-2016, Crick’s walks per nine innings went like so: 5.42, 5.11, 6.08, 9.43 and 5.53. As a reliever this season, that number has dropped down to a career-best 3.66. 

This is now Crick’s sixth full season in the minors and his first crack at Triple-A after three tries at Double-A. None of that matters. What does matter, is Crick’s young age of 24 and that the numbers show his confidence may finally be back.

In an age where we want everything right now, including top prospects performing in the bigs, the key to Crick’s potential may have been patience the whole time. 

Around The Horn

— Chris Shaw made his Triple-A debut for the River Cats. He went 1-for-4 including an RBI double and played left field. Here’s what Shaw had to say about his promotion: "It was exciting. That's definitely something that I was glad to hear and something that every player wants to hear. I'm getting a chance to play at the next level and get a step closer to the goal.”

— Jae-Gyun Hwang is swinging a hot bat the last two games in Sacramento. Hwang has five hits in his last nine at-bats with five RBI.

— Matt Krook, the Giants’ fourth-round pick last year, won his first game of the season in his eighth start for San Jose. The big lefty is seen as someone with huge upside but has struggled mightily with his control, walking 31 batters in 29 innings this year.

Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”