Andrew Suarez

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

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USATSI

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

SAN FRANCISCO — The “hot stove” seemed to finally get going Wednesday morning when several reporters tweeted that Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole was headed to Houston. 

Would that lead to free agent starters signing deals they had in hand? Would the Pirates finally tear it down and trade Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison, too? Would the Giants be on the other end of a McCutchen deal?

Well … none of the above. Cole hasn’t been traded, at least as of this posting, and the offseason remains as quiet as ever. 

But, there are still Giants topics to go over, so here’s another round of Q&A as we wait for real moves. Thanks to everyone who reached out on Twitter and Facebook, and as a reminder, you can ask your questions here on Twitter or here on Facebook and I’ll get to them in these mailbag pieces or on the podcast. 

What is Kelby’s role? Can’t they groom him for center field and put him in the leadoff spot? — Frankie Jai Barker, via Facebook. 

Kelby Tomlinson has played parts of three seasons in the big leagues and the staff has simply never really viewed him as a starter. It’s a bit weird when you look at his career splits: he has a .280/.347/.352 slash line as a starter and a .292/.359/.348 line off the bench. I mean, he is what he is, an average-dependent player with intriguing speed and little power, but that’s a nice piece on a team without much depth. 

Tomlinson is blocked at every infield spot, and to answer this specific question, the Giants don’t believe that he can really transition to the outfield.

At the same time, I watched this front office and coaching staff put Aaron Hill in left field at the end of his career. I watched Travis Ishikawa move out there. I watched Ryan Theriot take fly balls. I have no idea why Tomlinson got just two starts in the outfield on a 98-loss team. The most underrated failure of the 2017 season is that the Giants saw practically no development at the big league level. A lot of that had to do prospects getting hurt, but the staff certainly missed an opportunity to experiment a bit with guys like Tomlinson or Chris Shaw, who I still believe should have gotten September at-bats.

Steve Young retired after his fourth concussion in three years. Brandon Belt is in that ballpark. Has he or the team given retirement a thought? — Patrick Connolly, via Facebook

Belt’s concussion in August was his third in the last four seasons and fourth in eight years when you include a really bad one he suffered while playing at the University of Texas. There was concern when this latest one happened and I’m sure Belt and the team still have concerns, but in talking to Belt and team officials, I’ve never heard a hint of retirement talk. In September, when he admitted his season was over, Belt said he was focused on 2018, and added that none of the doctors he has seen have told him he should stop playing. 

“There are always going to be some questions about whether this has some long-term effects, and hopefully it doesn’t,” Belt told me. “But right now it’s not going to keep me from playing baseball … It’s not like I’m repeatedly banging my head against something. If that was the case, it might affect me more in the long term. This is more sporadic and the hits aren’t too terrible. Once I get over these concussions, they tell me that I won’t have to worry about them anymore.”

For the sake of Belt and his family, you hope that that’s true. This is different than football in that Belt doesn’t really have any other collisions that have gone undiagnosed, and there’s no reason to think he’ll take another blow to the head. As I always say when people call him injury prone, people just need to stop throwing baseballs at Belt and he’ll be fine. Hopefully that’s the case for the rest of his career.

Why would the Giants pursue either a free agent (Bruce) or a rental player (McCutchen), rather than try to get a player that they would have more control over the next few years? I would think that the allure of having a stable lineup would be better than the volatility of the market. — Eric Quertermous, via Facebook. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would have walked away from the Winter Meetings with Marcell Ozuna, or they would be at the front of the line for Christian Yelich, or they would have a deal ready for Jackie Bradley Jr. Unfortunately, they live in a world where they just don’t have very many prospects that appeal to other teams. The Marlins made it clear that the Giants didn’t have enough to get Ozuna, who would have solved a ton of their problems, and there’s no way they can outbid others for Yelich, who is 26 years old and owed just $44.5 million over the next four years. 

This is why Brian Sabean has said that he doesn’t want to give up draft picks (second and fifth rounders) for a player like Lorenzo Cain, and it’s why I believe strongly that they need to stick to those guns, no matter how weird this offseason gets. To compete as this core ages, they’ll need a better farm system so they can be more competitive on the trade market. 

Or, a more ideal situation: Start developing homegrown stars again and then lock those guys up. That’s light years more efficient than their recent run of spending hundreds of millions in free agency. 

With Matt Moore gone, is Ty Blach back in the rotation? Stratton, Beede, Suarez or get a vet starter to round out the top five? — @Jeff_Henig

After the Moore trade, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with Bruce Bochy in September. I asked him if Chris Stratton was legit and if he would be the No. 5 starter in 2018. “I think he’s more than that,” Bochy said. He always viewed Stratton as more than a swing guy, and I would expect the right-hander to open the year as the No. 4 starter. The Giants have been hesitant to say much about Blach’s role before he gets to spring training, but my gut says he’s headed for the bullpen as another lefty/long reliever. As I wrote in an earlier mailbag, don’t overlook Andrew Suarez in the race for the No. 5 spot, but my guess is that the Giants will sign a veteran to a minor league deal, and that he will win the job in Scottsdale. That’s what they do. 

Alex, wondering if Eduardo Nuñez is still available? Would definitely prefer to see Nuñez over Pablo Sandoval. — Mark Hanes, via Facebook. 

Mark, I’m sure the rest of the fan base agrees, and Nuñez is still looking for a job. Ken Rosenthal wrote recently that some established big leaguers have started to ask their agents if they’ll have to take minor league deals, and if Nuñez is sitting there in a month and looking at nothing but cheap one-year offers, I would absolutely make the call. He would be perfect as super-utility backup, and man, this team sure could use more guys with energy. I’ve got to think that eventually someone will give him $4-5 million or so, and the Giants would be better served using that kind of money on their bullpen, but who knows … this continues to be the weirdest offseason in recent memory. 

Tim Federowicz's scouting report on the Giants' young pitchers

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AP

Tim Federowicz's scouting report on the Giants' young pitchers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Federowicz has spent nearly a decade in professional ball and he entered this year with nearly 700 innings behind the plate in the big leagues. That made Federowicz a nice depth piece this spring, and when Buster Posey and Nick Hundley stayed healthy most of the first five months, the profile made the 30-year-old a valuable addition for Triple-A Sacramento. 

Federowicz played 77 games for the River Cats and spent most of the season serving as their starting catcher. He helped develop some of the organization's most advanced pitching prospects, so recently I asked him for scouting reports on a few guys we may see next year and one we have seen plenty of in recent weeks ... 

Chris Stratton (5.11 ERA in Triple-A, 4.07 ERA in the big leagues): "He had quite a few outings like this down there where he was (going deep into games) and you see that with guys that have good out pitches. Those types of guys don't have to end up throwing a lot of pitches to get guys out. With him, it's kind of strike one, strike two, curveball for strike three, so it's a little bit easier to go deeper into games with that out pitch ... He definitely has a sneaky fastball with good cut on it. He has a good sinker to go with it, too. It's just a good mix and you don't really know which way (the fastball) is going to go. When he's really throwing it well, the ball really planes out well. A lot of guys' fastballs will sort of drop towards the end but his kind of planes out."

Right-hander Tyler Beede (4.79 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 83 strikeouts in 109 innings, 3.57 ERA in his final month): "He has great stuff. He started strong and had a little bit of a rough stretch in the middle, but he was actually pitching really well when he had that unfortunate (groin) injury. He's got good movement on the fastball and he'll four-seam, two-seam, with a curveball and a changeup that was coming along nicely. We made a point to use (the changeup) more and there's also a cutter. He's pretty unique. Sometimes you see righties with a really good slider but he's got the pretty good curveball. He's definitely got the stuff to get guys out here. It's just a matter of getting more experience. Guys like him, they've just got to pitch and experience stuff, and he did that a little bit with a rough patch where he was walking batters. His fastball was moving a little too much and he had to make the adjustment and get back to throwing strikes. He did, and he was able to put it all together towards the end." 

Left-hander Andrew Suarez (3.55 ERA in Triple-A, 3.30 ERA across two levels, 80 strikeouts in 88 2/3 Triple-A innings): “He’s got a good fastball and real sharp slider that’s short and has good depth. He’s got a good feel for pitching, too. He has the stuff to definitely get guys out here. He could get guys out right now with what I’ve seen down there, but it’s all about timing with some of the young guys.” 

Asked for a sleeper prospect, Federowicz picked Tyler Rogers, a submarine-style right-hander who had a 2.37 ERA: “I really like him. He just gets guys out. He doesn’t throw very hard — about 85 (mph), but his 85 plays a lot harder than that and he’s got good command of his fastball. I’ve faced plenty of submarine guys but his ball moves different than any I’ve ever seen. It’s just real sharp and downward, nothing side to side. It’s just straight down and sometimes it’ll cut a little bit to the lefties. It’s pretty impressive and he’s able to get it to the corners.”

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

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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.