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.

[RELATED: After seven years in minors, Yaz ready to make impact]

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

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

Giants coach Justin Viele recalls Mike Yastrzemski calling MLB shot

Giants coach Justin Viele recalls Mike Yastrzemski calling MLB shot

When Giants fans look back on Mike Yastrzemski's rookie year, they surely remember the 21 homers, his successful return to Baltimore, and that magical series at Fenway Park. Justin Viele, one of Yastrzemski's new hitting coaches, watched all that from afar, recalling some conversations he had with Yastrzemski long before Giants fans knew who the outfielder was. 

Viele was taken in the 37th round out of Santa Clara in 2013 and played two seasons as an infielder in Baltimore's minor league system before getting into coaching. He was Yastrzemski's teammate and roommate, and years later they were reunited when Gabe Kapler picked the 29-year-old Viele as one of his hitting coaches on a revamped staff. 

Viele joined the Giants Insider Podcast this week and recalled the early days with Yastrzemski, which included plenty of conversations about their futures. In particular, Viele vividly remembers a trip to the beach with current Orioles Trey Mancini and Austin Wynns when they were all in the instructional league. Viele hasn't forgotten what Yastrzemski said as they rode along in the backseat of Mancini's truck. 

"I remember vividly him saying, 'I'm going to make it to the Major Leagues. I'm going to be a big league player.' And I remember just thinking, man, I cannot honestly say the same thing," Viele said, smiling. "I literally knew if I were to say it I would have just sounded so phony because I didn't truly believe that. Playing with Yaz and playing with Trey, these guys were on a different level, mentally and physically. Everything they did was just so cool to watch.

"When Yaz said that, I'm like, I know he's going to make it. Just from the conviction and way he said it I knew he was going to make it. That was a really cool memory for me."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Viele hit just .211 in two years in the minors, and he said he could tell back then how some players were just wired differently. He remembers thinking every game was the most important game of his life, while Yastrzemski and Mancini -- who hit 35 homers last year for the Orioles -- always kept an even temperament. 

"Everything was so calm," he said. "They have this focus of what they want to accomplish that day and they go play the game and the game just looks so easy, and for me it was not that way. It was really cool to watch."

Viele has forged his own path, one that's just about unprecedented in the game. He began his coaching career in 2015 and spent two years at his alma mater before coaching in rookie ball for the Dodgers, where he worked under Gabe Kapler and Farhan Zaidi. He was the hitting coach in A-ball last year and was promoted to minor league hitting coordinator before Kapler called with a surprising offer to help lead a big league staff. 

[RELATED: Zaidi encouraged by what he's seeing from Giants]

Viele has gotten into that job at a remarkably young age, which is ironically the opposite of the path Yastrzemski took. It took Yastrzemski six years in the minors to get his first shot, but he certainly made the most of it. His former roommate wasn't at all surprised to see the success on the field last year. 

"When he came up and he started doing what he was doing, I was not shocked," Viele said. "I was like, yep, I was expecting that. It was probably cool for him. The Orioles didn't bring him up at all and then he goes and does that. Hopefully they saw that -- obviously they did -- it is cool to kind of prove that yeah I can do this and I should be up here."

Field to Table: How to make Oracle Park's Crazy Crab Sandwich at home

Field to Table: How to make Oracle Park's Crazy Crab Sandwich at home

It was more than just a kooky mascot that roamed Candlestick Park and captured our hearts. It captured our taste buds as well. 

With Giants baseball on indefinite hiatus due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we wanted to bring the ballpark to you by creating the Crazy Crab Sandwich at home.

NBC Sports Bay Area has teamed up with to create the "Field to Table" cooking show, where we'll attempt to cook our favorite ballpark treats from home.

Giants studio host Kelli Johnson, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and "Shelter on Base/Triples Alley" member Anthony Garcia all attempt to make the Oracle Park delicacy from scratch in the second installment of "Field to Table."

Here's the recipe they used:

- Crabmeat (pasteurized)
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- Lemon wedges
- Sliced sourdough bread
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Sliced tomato
- Garlic (1 clove, chopped)
- Parsley (chopped)
- Salt and pepper to taste

[RELATED: How to make Oracle Park's famous garlic fries at home]

Check out the video above to see their cooking skills on display.

Receive $25 off a $100-or-more order on by using the promo code "NBCSPORTS"