Down on the Farm: Key changes see Giants prospect Suarez star for River Cats

Sacramento River Cats

Down on the Farm: Key changes see Giants prospect Suarez star for River Cats

Coming to Triple-A Sacramento from Double-A Richmond can be a tough transition for Giants pitching prospects. After going 4-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts with the Flying Squirrels, Andrew Suarez became a River Cat in the Pacific Coast League, a pitcher’s nightmare. 

“Eastern League had really good hitting as well, but these guys are really advanced,” Suarez said on the biggest difference from Double-A to Triple-A. “You can't have the same sequence with them because they'll know what's going on. And some of the parks here, the ball just flies.”

Through his first six starts with Sacramento, Suarez was 3-3 but owned a 4.98 ERA. Starting July 22, Suarez began dealing, dropping his ERA in each of his next eight starts. The biggest change came from being all ears with veteran catcher Tim Federowicz. 

“Fed was catching me one game and he told me I should use my four-seam (fastball) more with two strikes,” Suarez explains. “I've been doing that and it's actually helped my curveball more to get more swing and misses.” 

Suarez has seen a huge spike in success with his curveball simply using it more often. There hasn’t been any change in grip or arm angle. Instead, the lefty’s confidence keeps rising from repetition. 

Prior to the 2017 season, he hardly even threw the pitch. 

“The catchers love it here though,” Suarez said. “I throw it a lot here and it's actually helped me a lot. I'm getting a better feel for it.” 

On the mound, Suarez’s mindset has always been to pound the zone. Between the two levels he has issued 41 walks this season and wants to limit that number. But, the Giants have challenged Suarez to keep the ball more off the plate in two-strike situations. 

As of late, he’s taken that to heart and has been rewarded for doing so. 

“I'm not really afraid to challenge hitters. I get criticized all the time that I throw too many strikes,” Suarez says. “I think they just want me to extend the zone. 

“I think that's why I haven't been giving up too many hits lately and getting more strikeouts.”

In his latest start Monday, Suarez allowed one earned run over five innings. Since his promotion, Suarez is now 6-5 with a 3.19 ERA in 14 appearances — 12 starts — for Sacramento. With one start left in the 2017 season, San Francisco isn’t even on his mind yet.

“Hopefully I can carry this momentum over into next year and spring training and just see what happens,” Suarez said on his future with the Giants.

With new posting system reportedly agreed to, Giants can soon chase Ohtani


With new posting system reportedly agreed to, Giants can soon chase Ohtani

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Giants continue to wait for a resolution to the Giancarlo Stanton chase, they may soon find themselves bidding on another superstar talent they have long coveted. 

According to multiple reports, Major League Baseball, the Players Association, and the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization agreed to a new posting system that should allow Shohei Ohtani to be made available in about 10 days. Joel Sherman of the NY Post reported that MLB owners must ratify the agreement next Friday and Ohtani would then be posted that day or the following day. 

The Giants have made no secret of their desire to jump feet-first into that process, and general manager Bobby Evans and assistant GM Jeremy Shelley visited Japan in September to scout Ohtani, a potential two-way star. Ohtani wants to be a starter and a hitter in the big leagues, as he was in Japan, and after watching tape of the 23-year-old, Bruce Bochy said he would be on board. 

"He's good," Bochy said after a game at Dodger Stadium late in the season. "I absolutely would play him every day."

There has been little clarity over the past two months as MLB teams have waited for the negotiations to play out. Per Sherman, there will be new posting rules in future years but Ohtani will operate under the old system. That limits the Giants to a $300,000 bonus because they went over their spending limit in 2015, but club officials don't believe that will disqualify them. Very little is known about Ohtani's preferences, but by coming to the United States in 2017, he is potentially forfeiting a $200 million deal as a free agent. That alone is enough to validate the fact that the Giants can safely chase Ohtani, knowing that the signing bonus won't be a deal breaker.

MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions


MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions

ATLANTA -- The Braves lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball on Tuesday for circumventing international signing rules from 2015-17.

Former Atlanta special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, was suspended from baseball for one year by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Sanctions imposed by Manfred will leave the Braves unable to bargain at full strength for a top Latin American prospect until 2021.

Manfred said MLB's investigation determined the Braves moved international signing bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016.

Other "high-value" players the Braves will lose include Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario, Abrahan Gutierrez, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Pena, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto and Guillermo Zuniga.

Three more international signees - Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre - were declared free agents. The team's contract with prospect Ji-Hwan Bae, which was not yet final, was disapproved. Finally, the Braves were banned from signing prospect Robert Puason in the 2019-20 signing period.

The 13 players will be free to negotiate as free agents with other teams.

Also, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 draft as punishment for offering "impermissible benefits" to an unnamed draft pick in an effort to convince him to sign for a lower bonus.

The investigation showed the players signed by the Braves in 2016-17 would have been unavailable if the team had not circumvented the rules by moving bonus pool money.

Manfred said stripping the Braves of the 13 players was not sufficient punishment. He said "additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the club for the violations committed by its employees."

Therefore, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. Also, the team's international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.

The Braves already cannot give an international signing bonus of more than $300,000 for 2017-18 and 2018-19 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pools under baseball's previous labor contract.

And there is still more discipline to be handed down.

Manfred said he intends "to discipline other Braves international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct."

Coppolella was forced to resign after the season. Former team president John Hart was moved to a senior adviser role when a new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, was hired on Nov. 13. Hart left the team on Friday.

"The senior baseball operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves," Manfred said. He also said the Braves "cooperated throughout the investigation."

Coppolella did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The Braves braced fans for the sanctions when team chairman Terry McGuirk apologized to fans "on behalf of the entire Braves family" for the rules violations at the news conference to introduce Anthopoulos.

The Braves said in a statement released Tuesday they "understand and accept the decision regarding the penalties that have been handed down.

"As we expressed last week, our organization has not lived up to the standard our fans expect from us and that we expect from ourselves. For that, we apologize. We are instituting the changes necessary to prevent this from ever happening again and remain excited about the future of Braves baseball."

Manfred said he is confident the Braves management team led by McGuirk, Anthopoulos and vice chairman John Schuerholz "have and will put in place procedures to ensure that this type of conduct never occurs again and which will allow the club to emerge from this difficult period as the strong and respected franchise that it has always been."

The Braves are not the first team to be found guilty of violating rules in signing international players.

In 2016, the Boston Red Sox lost five players and were banned from signing international amateur free agents for one year as punishment for rules violations on signing bonuses.