Andrew Suarez

Giants' top minor leaguers could be featured in second half of season

Giants' top minor leaguers could be featured in second half of season

SAN FRANCISCO -- Farhan Zaidi didn't give much away when he met with the media before the Giants' final game of the first half, but you could read between the lines. At one point, Zaidi spoke positively of Triple-A Sacramento's roster. 

"Looking at our Triple-A team, there's a lot of guys that are playing well and are deserving of opportunities," he said. "And that may make it easier to make a baseball move off the major league roster knowing we have someone right behind who can fill in and keep us competitive in 2019."

So yes, the Giants will continue to try to walk the tightrope, even if this latest surge -- they're just 4 1/2 out in the Wild Card standings -- continues. They'll trade some big names and get some much-needed help for future rosters, then hope that reinforcements from the minors can continue to keep this team competitive. 

That's actually been the plan much of this season. Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano are among those called up from Triple-A. Shaun Anderson and Tyler Beede have stuck in the rotation. Who could be next? Here are some names to know over the final two months:

Familiar prospects: Melvin Adon, Andrew Suarez, Aramis Garcia, Abiatal Avelino, Chris Shaw, Mike Gerber 

Some of these guys aren't necessarily prospects anymore, having gotten plenty of time in the big leagues. But they're all relatively young and on the 40-man roster, which always puts you on the radar late in the year. 

Adon sits around 100 mph, has a hard slider and opened eyes in spring training. He's posted a 2.83 ERA in Double-A with 56 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings. The 25 walks during that span are a red flag, but Adon has the stuff to get big league hitters out and should get a shot if the Giants clear out their bullpen before the deadline. 

Suarez, Garcia, Avelino and Shaw were in the big leagues last year, and all could provide depth down the stretch. Shaw is the most interesting of the bunch, having been sent to Double-A to start the year. He has a .860 OPS since returning to Triple-A with nine homers in 126 at-bats entering Friday's game. Shaw is still striking out a lot, but team officials were pleased with the way he handled the move at the start of his year and have seen improved plate discipline. 

Gerber got a long weekend in the big leagues before giving way to Mac Williamson and has continued to tear up the PCL. The outfielder has a .970 OPS and 17 homers.

The new guys: Sam Selman, Conner Menez, Zach Green

This is the most fascinating group. 

In a very tough league for pitchers, Selman has been a star reliever. The 28-year-old lefty was in the Royals' system for years but has put it all together with the Giants. Selman has a 1.64 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in 25 appearances, with an absurd 54 strikeouts in 33 innings. If the Giants trade Will Smith or Tony Watson, Selman will get his shot.

"He's something special, man," teammate Ray Black said last week. "That slider he's got is devastating. If it's a strike, guys are buckling, and if it's a ball, guys are swinging at it. It's a guaranteed strike for the kid."

Menez, 24, is next in line to follow Shaun Anderson, one of his close friends, and Tyler Beede. The lefty has 116 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings and has held hitters to a .202 average. 

Green, 25, grew up in the Sacramento area and has provided plenty of power for the River Cats. He entered Friday's action with 22 homers in 198 at-bats, and certainly is on the big league staff's radar. "You know what, he's doing what he needs to do," Bruce Bochy said recently. 

Green's problem is that, as a first baseman/third baseman, it'll be much harder to squeeze him onto the big league roster. The Giants have Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval holding it down, although Green might hit his way into an audition of some sort. 

Big league veterans: Fernando Abad, Cristhian Adames, Pat Venditte

Abad, 33, has more than 300 big league appearances and soon should be in line for more, whether in San Francisco or elsewhere. He was signed late in the offseason and has a 2.30 ERA in Triple-A. Giants people have talked him up throughout the first half. 

Adames joined the River Cats on Friday and, along with Avelino, serves as middle infield depth in the high minors. The Giants generally have taken a look at the veterans they have added in Triple-A, so he could get his shot, too.

[RELATED: What you need to know about Giants' newest depth signing] 

Venditte was the first free agent signed by Zaidi, but was DFA'd in May. He could get a second chance if the big league bullpen gets torn up.

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.

Andrew Suarez has quality start in return, will stay in Giants rotation

Andrew Suarez has quality start in return, will stay in Giants rotation

SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Suarez's return to the big leagues was very nearly overshadowed on a national scale. 

Mike Soroka, the 21-year-old right-hander on the other side, had a perfect game going before Brandon Crawford launched a solo shot in sixth just as it was getting interesting. Suarez, on the other hand, gave up a solo homer to Ronald Acuña Jr. on his first pitch back in the majors.

But the 26-year-old settled in, showing the kind of stuff that made him so dependable for long stretches of his rookie year. Against Soroka, it wasn't nearly enough. The Giants lost 4-1 in their first meeting of the year with the Braves. But Suarez did show enough that manager Bruce Bochy said he'll be in the rotation for now. 

"After that (homer) he really pitched great," Bochy said. "He did what we were hoping, kept us in the game and gave us a chance. He was a strike away from a great start."

Suarez was working quickly, sometimes in and out of trouble, through five. After the solo shot in the first, he didn't allow another run until the sixth, when he walked Nick Markakis with two outs and then hung a curve that rookie Austin Riley blasted to center. Suarez was trying to bury it in the dirt but left it up. 

"I wish I got that one back," he said. "I just left it down the middle."

Suarez was charged with three earned runs in six innings, walking four and striking out five. In recent weeks the standard hasn't been that high for Giants starters, though, and Suarez gave the staff just the 11th quality start in 46 games. Madison Bumgarner has six of the other 10, and no starter other than Bumgarner had thrown a quality start since April 24. 

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Suarez said he did not view this as an audition, but if it was, he passed. At the moment, he is in the rotation with fellow young starter Shaun Anderson and veterans Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Drew Pomeranz. That could leave the Giants with a fascinating decision to make before Tuesday's game.

They do not intend to carry 14 pitchers as they did Monday, and they may have to dump a veteran to add another infielder before Anderson takes the mound Tuesday night.