Down on the Farm: Giants prospect named Eastern League All-Star Classic MVP


Down on the Farm: Giants prospect named Eastern League All-Star Classic MVP

Tim Tebow stepped to the plate and -- no, no this story is all about Luigi Rodriguez. The night after competing in the Home Run Derby, the Giants prospect crushed a go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth inning, giving the Western squad a 4-3 lead in the Eastern League All-Star Classic. 

While the game bizarrely ended in a 4-4 tie, Rodriguez took home the highest honor, being named the BUSH All-Star MVP. 

"It was a good feeling," Rodriguez told reporters after the game about his clutch home run. "I was proud of myself."

Who Rodriguez hit the home run off of and how he did it was just as impressive as the intense situation. Rodriguez, a left-handed outfielder, smacked a 1-0 inside fastball from lefty Caleb Frare and punched it the other way. Coming into the contest, Frare owned a 4-1 record with a 0.69 ERA out of the bullpen. He has only allowed one home run all year, to a right-handed hitter, and lefties only have 10 hits all season against him. 

"Left-handed hitters just don't hit him," West manager Michael Ryan said of Rodriguez's blast. "It's fun to be on this side of it this time for once. Hopefully, he can limit that a little bit when he plays against us. It's a special type of player." 

In 70 games with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, Rodriguez is batting .305 with 10 home runs, an .861 OPS, and 13 stolen bases. The 25-year-old spent the first eight years of his minor league career with the Indians before signing with the Giants in February. After the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked him the Indians' No. 5 prospect.

Back in August of 2015, he was suspended 80 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

The Flying Squirrels were also represented by shortstop Ryan Howard (0-for-2), Dan Slania (1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER), and Dillon McNamara (2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). Shaun Anderson was selected to the game but is participating in the Futures Game. Caleb Simpson missed the game due to injury and was replaced. 

Oh, and Tebow hit a double in his first at-bat before going 1-for-4 as the Eastern team's DH. 

Triple-A All-Star Game 

With Chase d'Arnaud and Steven Duggar up in the big leagues, the Giants only had one prospect in the Triple-A All-Star Game. 

Tyler Rogers was named to the game for the second straight season and didn't allow a run to score while giving up two hits in 2/3 of an inning. Rogers, 27, is 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA for the Sacramento River Cats this season. 

Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto


Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Pillar was emotional on his way out of Toronto earlier this month, and most the attention will be on the center fielder as the Giants play two with the young Blue Jays. But the trip to the Rogers Centre will be just as meaningful for another Giant, albeit in a much different way.

From the moment the Blue Jays took him in the seventh round in 2015, lefty Travis Bergen dreamed of playing in Toronto. He never even visited the city while with the organization, always stuck rehabbing or working his way through the low minors. But he'll be in the bullpen tonight, having won a job this spring and shown enough promise through his first month that the Giants have kept the Rule 5 pick around. 

"It's going to be pretty cool," Bergen said. "I guess I envisioned myself playing in the big leagues with them when I was drafted, and the opportunity that I got here (with the Giants) has been something that I never would have dreamed of."

That opportunity never came in Toronto because of injuries. Bergen pitched just 59 times in the minors before the Giants scooped him up in the December Rule 5 Draft, impressed by his eye-popping numbers and a fastball that's deceptive despite sitting around 90 mph. 

So far it looks like a solid evaluation. Bergen made the club with a big spring, and while he returns to Toronto with a 7.11 ERA, he mostly has pitched well. Bergen allowed two homers and four runs in one outing against the Nationals, but otherwise has allowed just one run since making the leap from Double-A. 

Pitching coach Curt Young said Bergen is working on a changeup in bullpen sessions, but so far he has been a two-pitch guy. He throws a good curveball 30 percent of the time and his fastball 70 percent. It's not overpowering by any means, but hitters have always had a hard time squaring it up.

"He has good arm speed and sells it well, and he gets good spin on the baseball," Young said of the fastball. "It's the true perfect elevation of a fastball. He throws it up in the zone really well."

Bergen said he hasn't gotten too deep into the analytics of why his two pitches work, preferring to focus on how to prepare as a big leaguer. He spends plenty of time learning from the veterans in the bullpen, and he singled out Mark Melancon as one player who has helped him learn how to set up hitters. 

This Giants bullpen, with veteran lefties like Will Smith and Tony Watson alongside Melancon, Sam Dyson and others, is a hell of a place for a young pitcher to learn. But that could change this summer. Smith and Watson will be trade chips, and Bergen could soon find himself in high-pressure spots with a lefty at the plate. 

For now, manager Bruce Bochy is easing him in, but he said he doesn't see Bergen as a specialist. He has the equipment to get lefties and righties out, and the Giants are more than pleased with their pick. 

"You look at what he had to go through this spring, the pressure on these guys as a Rule 5 pick," Bochy said. "You have to make the club or go back, and he performed really well. I think it says a lot about the kid and his makeup."

Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

OAKLAND – Hunter Pence spent seven seasons as a fan favorite in San Francisco, helping the Giants to World Series championships in 2012 and 2014. This week, he's back in the Bay Area as a member of the Texas Rangers.

"It always brings me good joy to be here," Pence said Monday. "I have a house in the city, so I got to sleep in that house and that was cool. It's always fun to be here."

Pence and the Rangers are in Oakland for a three-game series against the A's. The Fort Worth native signed a minor-league contract with his hometown team this offseason and made the big-league roster out of spring training. After a disappointing 2018 season with the Giants where Pence slashed just .226/.258/.332, the 36-year-old decided to completely revamp his swing. So far, it's paying off. In 11 games, Pence is slashing .281/.314/.469 with two home runs and six RBI.

"I feel somewhat like a rookie every day because, with a complete swing change, I'm learning and getting a little bit better each and every day," he said. "I'm trying to tweak and make it more consistent. But it's a lot of fun because it's new, so everything is fresh. I'm just really enjoying that process."

Pence actually played winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time this offseason to work on the swing changes. He admits it hasn't been an easy process, but he remains fully committed.

"I had to make a change," he said. "I had to get better and I had to trust the process. I made the decision. If you're going to play in this league, you have to contribute and you have to be able to help. I wouldn't want to be here unless I was able to contribute. I truly felt that this was the best opportunity to do that, to continue to do what I love."

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To Pence, the decision to rebuild his swing represented what might be his last chance to contribute at the major league level.

"I just completely bought in," Pence said. "If it wasn't meant to be, then I gave it everything I had, and whatever. But right now, it brings me a lot of joy, a lot of passion to come and play the game that I love. It's really exciting with something new. It's a fun new way to approach baseball and it feels like it helps you a lot. It works, so I feel good about it."

Pence looks back fondly on his time in the Bay Area but he's equally excited for this current opportunity to play for his hometown team.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's a lot of in both places. I'm very fortunate everywhere I've gotten to play, I've loved every city. I think every city has different uniqueness and different things to enjoy and appreciate. Both have been great opportunities. ... (San Francisco) feels like a second home for me, for sure."

Pence and the Rangers are off to a surprising 12-8 start this season. While he will always cherish the great memories he created in San Francisco, he is completely focused on the present.

"I'm super happy with all that and in love with all that," Pence said of his achievements with the Giants. "But right now, I'm fully into playing with the Rangers and giving it everything I've got. We have a really exciting young team. I'm embracing this moment right now. I may reflect when I'm done, but right now I'm in the fire."