Giants must alter evaluation approach due to changes in minor leagues

Giants must alter evaluation approach due to changes in minor leagues

SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Suarez looked up during one of his minor league starts earlier this year, saw that the Sacramento River Cats were down five runs, and thought, "We can still win this."

The thought process wasn't simply about being optimistic. It was about being realistic in the Pacific Coast League.

The league has always been offense-crazy, but this season has seen new levels of production. The PCL started using MLB balls and lineups have taken off in a league where altitude was already an issue for pitchers. Teams are averaging 5.62 runs per game and an OPS of .816, and the league-wide ERA is 5.29.

"It's a little bit like playing in Coors Field everywhere you go," Suarez said.

That can be brutal for young pitchers, a ton of fun for young hitters, and quite confusing for executives tasked with deciding which ones are worthy of making the leap to the big leagues. Organizations like to reward players who are performing in the upper minors, but how do you promote just one player when his entire team is hitting at unprecedented rates? How do you determine if a hitter's production is legitimate, or if a pitcher is really struggling?

After he called up Mac Williamson, who had a 1.215 OPS and nine homers in 82 at-bats in Triple-A, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi acknowledged that it's a tricky evaluation.

"You have to judge it, not just by looking at the numbers, but by the relative ranks," Zaidi said. "We've got guys like (Mike) Gerber and Mac who were really hitting as well as anybody in that league. So maybe it's not apples to apples with what happened in that league going back last year or the last few years in the PCL. The fact that those guys have been among the top hitters in that league, I think it lends credibility to that performance."

Williamson's stats did not translate. He hit just .118 in the big leagues with one homer (at the actual Coors Field) before the Giants designated him for assignment on Saturday. Gerber hit .323 with seven homers before his promotion, then went 1-for-15 with nine strikeouts in a brief big league cameo.

Behind those two, there are plenty more making noise.

Mike Yastrzemski, the outfielder who took Williamson's spot, had a .414 on-base percentage and 12 homers in 40 games when the Giants called him up. Austin Slater has a .453 OBP and nine homers. Zach Green is at .424 with eight homers.

Traditionally, if you have double-digit homers in a couple of minor league months, you're in line for a call, but the Giants have to be more discerning with the changes in the league (it should be noted here that big league pitchers think the MLB ball, which is now used in the minors, is juiced).

They also have to view pitchers' numbers a different way.

Tyler Beede was promoted earlier this year after posting a 1.99 ERA in five starts. He was one of just four pitchers in the league under 3.00 at the time, and Zaidi cited the difficulty of the league when discussing a need to take a look at Beede. Shaun Anderson had a 4.11 ERA when the Giants decided he was ready for the big leagues. Suarez was at 6.33 when the Giants brought him back up. The front office didn't care about the crooked numbers in the minors. Suarez also didn't care much about them.

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How do you deal with the new PCL as a pitcher?

"I don't look at box scores," Suarez said, smiling.

Watch Giants' Mike Yastrzemski hit solo home run in Fenway park debut

Watch Giants' Mike Yastrzemski hit solo home run in Fenway park debut

You couldn't have scripted it any better.

Mike Yastrzemski, playing his first game in his grandfather Carl's old stomping grounds in the series-opener between the Giants and Red Sox on Tuesday, did what his grandpa did so many times. He launched a home run over the wall at Fenway Park.

The special moment came in the top of the fourth inning, when Yastrzemski blasted a 3-1 fastball off of Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi 401 feet to dead center.

The younger Yastrzemski led off the game and received a standing ovation from the Red Sox crowd ahead of his first at-bat. He ended up striking out, but got the better of Eovaldi the next time around.

The home run increased Yastrzemski's season total to 20, giving the Giants two outfielders -- Kevin Pillar being the other -- with 20-or-more home runs for the first time since 2006 when Barry Bonds and Moises Alou accomplished the feat.

Perhaps most impressive of all, Yastrzemski's 20 homers have come in just 97 games with the Giants.

Not too shabby for a 29-year-old rookie.

Watch Giants' Mike Yastrzemski receive standing ovation at Fenway Park

Watch Giants' Mike Yastrzemski receive standing ovation at Fenway Park

Mike Yastrzemski knew his return to Boston would be a big deal for his family, but he also knew how much it would mean to Red Sox fans who grew up cheering for his grandfather, Carl. Those fans showed their appreciation Tuesday when Yastrzemski stepped to the plate to lead off for the Giants. 

Yastrzemski got a nice ovation from the locals -- and a sizable Giants contingent -- before his first professional at-bat at Fenway Park. He grew up coming to games at the park and considered himself a diehard Red Sox fan. 

Yastrzemski said before the game that he planned to take the moment in. 

"It'll be cool. I don't get wrapped up in moments very easily," he said. "I've kind of trained my whole life to block out situations and crowd noises and stuff, but I think tonight I need to take a step back and get lost in one of the moments and appreciate that and experience it and then we can get back to playing baseball."

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Yastrzemski went down swinging in his first at-bat, but it was still a successful inning for the Giants. As Yastrzemski was settling back into the dugout, Brandon Belt hit a solo shot over the Green Monster.