Giants

Why Giants pitcher prospect Sean Hjelle stood out to Ryan Vogelsong

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Ali Thanawalla

Why Giants pitcher prospect Sean Hjelle stood out to Ryan Vogelsong

SAN FRANCISCO -- A couple of years ago, the Giants sent Ryan Vogelsong to San Jose to help Madison Bumgarner evaluate one of the first rehab starts of his career. Vogelsong also shows up at big league camp in spring training and occasionally joins the Giants for short stints at Oracle Park. 

The longtime fan favorite is now a valued instructor and mentor, but where he really has made a difference is in the minor leagues. Giants prospects rave about spending time with Vogelsong in San Jose, Richmond or Sacramento, and Shaun Anderson, Logan Webb and Tyler Beede are among the pitchers Vogelsong has worked with the last couple of seasons. 

This year, Vogelsong spent time with the top three affiliates and got to work closely with a pitcher who could be part of the next wave to hit Oracle Park.

Sean Hjelle was the organization's second-round draft pick in 2018, and reached Double-A by the end of his first full professional season. On this week's episode of The Giants Insider Podcast, Vogelsong explained what he likes about the 6-foot-11 right-hander. 

"He's actually very easy mechanically because he's very athletic for how tall he is and his feet are very quick, and he has a very good sense of his body for being so long," Vogelsong said. "He has a very good delivery, too. It's actually pretty compact for how tall he is. There's not a whole lot to talk about in his delivery. That's why he's in Double-A already.

"He has the ability to throw the ball where he wants to a lot, he commands the strike zone, he's able to throw off-speed pitches in hitters' counts for strikes. He's on the track. Now it's just mentality, preparation, executing when things are going in a bad way."

Pitchers Hjelle's size typically have difficulty repeating their mechanics, but Hjelle walked just 2.3 batters per nine innings in 28 starts last season. The 22-year-old had a 2.66 ERA in Augusta and 2.78 ERA in San Jose before taking some lumps in Richmond, where he posted a 6.04 ERA in five starts. 

Hjelle is the organization's sixth-best prospect and second-best pitching prospect (after Webb), according to MLB Pipeline. He should start next season back in Double-A, but a quick promotion to Triple-A Sacramento wouldn't be a surprise. At either spot, Hjelle should get more time working with Vogelsong, who has tried to help young pitchers take the right mentality to the mound. 

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"Sometimes the biggest fault with Hjelle is he cares too much. I know that's weird to hear, but this guy wears a game and everything on his sleeves like a lot of us did," Vogelsong said. "But he lets it engulf him too much. Once he matures a little bit and figures out that part of it, you're going to see him pretty quickly, I think."

On the podcast, Vogelsong also gave his thoughts on Webb, Anderson and Beede, and told stories about his time with Bruce Bochy and Madison Bumgarner. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here.

Ex-Giant Javier Lopez recalls vivid details about facing Barry Bonds

Ex-Giant Javier Lopez recalls vivid details about facing Barry Bonds

It took more than a decade, but in 2015, Chase Utley finally got a hit off of Javier Lopez. In their 24th matchup, Utley hit a ball off Lopez's spikes and it rolled into left field, allowing Utley to reach second.

"He asked me to sign the ball while he was staring at me at second base," Lopez said. "We had a little laugh about it."

Their first matchup came all the way back in 2004, when Utley was with the Phillies and Lopez was in his second big-league season with the Rockies. Utley hit into a double play, and it never got any easier. He finished his career with one hit in 23 at-bats against Lopez, with 13 of those outs coming on the ground.

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Lopez said Utley was his favorite matchup among contemporaries. But over his entire career, the moment that really stood out in a left-on-left matchup came against a fellow Giant. Lopez soaked up Barry Bonds highlights while coming through the minors and got to face Bonds in his second month in the big leagues. 

Former Giant Bobby Estalella -- Lopez said the massive catcher's nickname was Chestalella -- was behind the plate for the Rockies and came running out to the mound when Bonds walked up. 

"I think he could tell my heart was beating through my jersey. He was like, 'Alright, calm down, just stay with me the entire time. We're going to throw breaking balls, the slower the better, because he cannot stay back. He's a tremendous hitter but he struggles with that pitch,'" Lopez recalled. "I was like, 'Whatever you put down I'm going to throw.' I remember I threw a fastball and they called it a ball and I'm walking back to the mound, I lick my fingers, I'm rubbing the ball, and Barry Bonds has not left the box. That was his thing, standing in there and just kind of wiggling his bat. I was like, 'Oh boy, here we go.'"

Lopez threw a couple of sliders and got a strike Bonds didn't like. Then he tried a fastball up-and-in and watched as Bonds pulled a missile foul. First baseman Todd Helton looked at him with a clear signal in his eyes: Don't throw that pitch again. Lopez went back to his sweeping breaking ball and Bonds swung through it and headed back to the dugout. Lopez watched him go. 

"I'm staring at Barry Bonds not because I'm some cool stud," he said. "I'm just like, 'That's Barry Bonds and I just got him out."

They faced off nine more times before Bonds retired, with the home run king picking up a double and two singles, but no bombs. Lopez struck Bonds out three times overall, something that naturally came up years later when they were both affiliated with the Giants. He recalled telling Bonds he had punched him out three times. Bonds asked how many times he homered and was told it never happened. 

"That's because you threw that sidearm cheating stuff," he replied. 

Lopez had his own legendary Giants career and is now one of the team's broadcasters. Bonds works for the team as an advisor and spends time with players in spring training. Lopez said the two still laugh about their matchups whenever they get together. 

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"He's such a great player," Lopez said. "Just to know that he's a small chapter in my book, my strikeout book -- it's a very short book -- but it's nice that he's got a page in it."

For more from Lopez on his big league memories, the current MLB proposal to the Players Association and his excellent walk-up songs, you can download the Giants Insider Podcast here or stream it here: 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Field to Table: Garlic fries recipe for making Oracle Park treat from home

Field to Table: Garlic fries recipe for making Oracle Park treat from home

There's nothing like the smell of garlic fries that greets you when you walk into Oracle Park.

With Giants baseball on indefinite hiatus due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, what better way to pass the time than make garlic fries at home?

NBC Sports Bay Area has teamed up with Wine.com 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 debut show of "Field to Table."

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

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