Minor League Previews: PCL Pacific Northern

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Mar 9, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Edwin Escobar (82) pitches the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Fresno Grizzlies

Parent Club: San Francisco Giants

Ever since Barry Bonds “retired” the Giants have been a team that has thrived on pitching, and their system appears to be following that model still. The team in Fresno features some of that excellent pitching, but it also features some decent position prospects as well, making the Grizzlies a rare well-rounded team in the PCL.

Pitching

Before diving into the prospects, the Fresno Grizzlies just might have the most interesting pitcher in the PCL. They have a lefty pitcher that once won 22 games but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011. This pitcher is none other than Dontrelle Willis, who looks to resurrect his career in the pitcher friendly park by the bay.

The staff includes three youngsters that could have long big league futures in Edwin Escobar, Heath Hembree, and Mike Kickham. Escobar may be the only one of the three that doesn’t have an upper 90s fastball, but he probably has the brightest future. His fastball does work 92-93 MPH with pinpoint control to go along with a sweeping slider and solid change.

Hembree and Kickham both made their big league debuts in 2013 with very different results. Hembree is a pure reliever and likely closer of the future, he pitched eight innings in nine outings while allowing no runs and striking out 12. Kickham’s debut was not one to write home about. He started three games and appeared in nine more, while putting up an ERA of 10.16 and a WHIP of almost 2.

Later in the season the Grizzlies should also roll out Kyle Crick and Aldalberto Mejia, making Fresno a destination to watch good pitching.

Batting

Gary Brown is back in Triple-A and has become a real question mark after seeming to be the center fielder of the future after an incredible High-A season in 2011. His offense has declined significantly in the two seasons since, and his struggles against right-handed pitchers leave his most likely future the center fielder on the short side of a platoon.

After showing an excellent approach at the plate in the Arizona Fall League that allowed him to lead the league in OBP, Andrew Susac heads to Triple-A where he hopes his strong arm and raw power can land him the back-up gig to Buster Posey, and maybe even allow Posey to spend more time at first base with Susac behind the dish. He may have the upside of a very good big league regular, but Giants will be happy if he turns into a guy that can produce enough to keep the face of the franchise fresh.

Joe Panik will never be an All-Star, nor will he wow anyone with any of his natural tools, but he is a scrappy baseball player. He has improved defensively after being moved from short to second, and he has flashes of the ability to hit for a decent average with gap power. Panik could serve as a productive bench player as early as this season so long as he can prove he can stop the trend of back-to-back declines in his offensive numbers.

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