The San Francisco Giants have fallen off after starting the season as one of the hottest teams in baseball, and with that has come the inevitable slumping that so often follows unsustainable hot starts.
That means it's never too early to think about potential roster moves, especially with so much of the Giants' roster based on spring training performances (here's looking at you, Brandon Hicks). With that in mind, let's take a look at which Giants minor leaguers will see time with the big league club, with some possibly being called on sooner rather than later.
Susac had a successful spring, and after skyrocketing through the minors—he reached Triple-A after just 736 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A—Susac is already off to a hot start at Fresno.
The Giants catching prospect is hitting .291 this season, but perhaps more impressively, he's maintained his good plate discipline, as evidenced by his .391 OBP. While it's admittedly early in the season, the Giants may have found themselves another big league catcher if Susac continues to develop at such a rapid pace. There's no reason he won't see time with the big league club in the latter half of the season.
Dunning proved to be a reliable reliever out of the bullpen last season, with a 2.84 ERA across 25.1 strong innings.
Assigned to the minors more due to a lack of space on the big league roster than any fault of his own, Dunning has taken the move in stride. In nine innings at Triple-A Fresno, he's allowed three runs, on just four hits. Dunning isn't quite a finished product—he still has command issues—but that's to be expected considering he was primarily a position player in college.
If any problems in the bullpen flare up this season, Dunning could see time in the majors sooner rather than later. Either way, he'll have a chance to make a contribution when rosters expand later in the season, at the very least.
Some thought Hembree would begin the season with the big league club, myself included, given his strong performance in his cup of coffee last season along with a good showing this spring. But even with his assignment to Triple-A to begin the season, Hembree is on the verge of contributing to the big league club.
Already, Hembree is showing his readiness for a promotion, firing seven shutout innings out of the bullpen at Fresno. At the very least, the Giants will have some insurance in Hembree should another one of their relievers go down with an injury.
The Giants' first-round pick in 2011, Panik posted solid numbers at his first two stops in the minors before falling off a bit at Double-A in 2013. Even so, he showed good plate discipline, and the Giants promoted him to Triple-A this season.
Thus far, that's looking like a good decision—Panik has a .289 batting average (and a .353 OBP) across 86 plate appearances. The power has been almost nonexistent—two extra-base hits, no homers—but that's nothing new. Panik's ability to reach base and play both middle infield positions is what gives him his value, especially given the Giants' lack of infield depth.
Like Susac, Escobar turned out a strong spring this year, showing the Giants higher-ups that he's nearly ready for big league action. The left-hander's final spring numbers (5.19 ERA) don't necessarily reflect how good he was at times, most notably during his start against the Dodgers (3 IP, 1 hit, 1 run).
Escobar has struggled in the early going at Triple-A Fresno, posting a 5.49 ERA across four starts, though he's walked just four batters in 19.2 innings. Control was Escobar's downfall this spring, so at the very least, it's encouraging to see him improving in that regard. He'll see time in the majors by the end of the season.
Perhaps the best-known prospect in the Giants system, for both good and bad reasons, Brown's professional baseball career has been a roller-coaster ride. He's had highs (.336/.407/.519 slash line at High-A) and lows (.231/.286/.375 at Triple-A last season). The most recent high was his promising spring this season (.350/.500/.400 slash line in 20 at-bats).
It's important to stress how early it is in the season, but even so, Brown has certainly picked up right where he left off this spring, posting a .299/.385/.429 slash line in 91 plate appearances at Fresno.
Most promising is the fact that after posting a dismal 135/33 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season, Brown has struck out 14 times against 12 walks this season. A rebound season from the Giants' former first-round pick, particularly at as high a level as Triple-A, could be one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Given the Giants' struggles with outfield depth, Brown would be a logical choice to join the big league club if he continues to put up solid numbers at Triple-A.
Abreu's lack of plate discipline will prevent him from becoming a significant impact player, but his pure hitting ability (.324 average in 1,584 career Triple-A at-bats) makes him an intriguing player nonetheless.
A solid infielder who has primarily played second base for the past two seasons, Abreu could find himself on the big league roster if Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Hicks continue to slump. Abreu put together a respectable .268 average in 138 at-bats last season, along with a .442 slugging percentage, but his inability to reach base overall (.301 OBP) was concerning. He'll be someone to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Runzler's career took a turn for the worse when he was injured mid-2010 during his first career plate appearance. He subsequently posted a 6.26 ERA the following season, and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012.
The good news is that Runzler has looked fantastic this season, allowing only one earned run in 9.2 innings at Triple-A Fresno. Now that's he's fully healthy and has the ability to legitimately compete for a spot on the big league club, Runzler should see time in the majors as a late-season addition during roster expansion.
Kontos has been a regular in the Giants pen over the past few years, including in 2012, when he posted a 2.47 ERA, but he was the odd man out this year. The assignment to Triple-A might not have pleased Kontos, but it also made plenty of sense given the right-hander's struggles last season.
As long as Kontos can improve his command in the zone, something that's easier said than done, he'll be a shoo-in for a spot on the big league club. Many of Kontos' problems last season stemmed from his tendency to leave a few too many balls up in the zone, and he surrendered seven homers in 55.1 innings, along with 60 total hits, as a result. Even so, given his experience in the majors and his proven success, Kontos already has a leg up on the competition, especially if he can revert to 2012 form.
One of the biggest disappointments of the 2013 season, Kickham pitched 28.1 disastrous innings in the majors, posting a 10.16 ERA and 1.98 WHIP, showing that he needed to spend significantly more time in the minors.
It's worth noting that Kickham spent only three years in the minors before being thrust into the majors. He has the stuff to be successful, though his command leaves something to be desired. That was an issue that flared up during Kickham's rough stint with the big league club last season, as he fell behind in counts early and often. As is the case with many of the Giants prospects, 2014 will give an indication of what type of future we can expect from Kickham.
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