The Giants know pitching.
San Francisco rode the backs of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum (all home-grown Giants’ hurlers) to World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. During those championship runs, their pitching staff sported an MLB-best 3.36 ERA in 2010, and a 3.68 mark in 2013 (seventh-best in the league).
Like I said, they know pitching.
While the top-end of their farm system has been somewhat depleted during their recent stretch of success, there’s a group of gifted young arms in the low-minors who could make up another championship caliber rotation in a few years.
Kyle Crick has the highest ceiling of the group, throwing a power fastball and whiteout slider to the tune of 98 strikeouts in just 68.2 innings (1.57 ERA) for High-A San Jose last season. While command was an issue for the 22-year old, few pitchers in the minors have the depth of plus pitches Crick can throw. If he can smooth out some of the inconsistencies in his delivery, the Giants have a future frontline starter making his way through AA-Richmond this season.
A few more names who could be pitching for the Flying Squirrels this season are Clayton Blackburn, Martin Agosta and Ty Blach. While none of the three really have elite, knock-you-off-your-seat stuff, they all have quality arsenals and throw with superlative command. The trio combined for a 3.38 ERA in 2013, while surrendering just 24 home runs in 354 innings pitched. Blackburn and Blach are near-locks to break camp with the Squirrels after dominating the California League a season ago, and I think Agosta (who obliterated South Atlantic League hitting to the tune of 109 strikeouts and just 57 hits allowed in 91.2 innings) has shown enough to make the jump as well.
One arm who could be skipping Richmond altogether is Dominican Republic signee Adalberto Mejia, who made the jump from High-A San Jose straight to AAA Fresno for a spot start late in 2013 (five innings, five hits, two wiffs and two earned runs). While five innings is hardly a leg to stand on, its possible that he and Edwin Escobar (who claimed a 2.67 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 54 Southern League innings last season) could make the Pacific Coast rounds in 2014. Both are seen as solid, middle-of-the rotation arms who can be a little too fly-ball dependent. However, if there’s a home field to have that problem, you can do a lot worse than AT&T Park.
The Giants have a few higher-ceiling guys marinating down in the low minors as well. Kendry Flores and Keury Mella are both works in progress and two of the highest potential arms in the organization. Flores signed with the Giants as a 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic, and has spent the last four years in short-season ball before finally making a successful Sally league debut in 2013 (2.73 ERA and 137 K in 141.2 innings pitched). Much of this was attributed to a velocity uptick in his fastball, which went from topping out in the low-90′s to comfortably sitting around 95 mph as a starter. If it’s legit, he could move quickly through the system. Mella’s, on the other hand, is legit. He throws a two-seamer that works around 92-93 and a four-seamer that hits 96 regularly with late life. His progression as a starter likely hinders on curveball development. That fastball combination could carry him a long way through the minors (a la Tony Cingrani), but if his curve becomes a plus offering Mella could rival Crick as the top arm in the system.