Fresno Grizzlies | Starting Rotation
On the heels of probably the easiest Giants minor league starting rotation to predict comes the Fresno Grizzlies — a hodgepodge of prospects, used-to-be prospects and Dontrelle Willises — where the promotion conveyer belt hits a brick wall. There are truly so many possibilities here, so let's take a stab.
Everything here is interesting. Mike Kickham could be seen as a long reliever in the future considering his successes in a Giants uniform during the first inning. Kickham didn't seem like the same person after the opening frame, however. But he has shown he can be an effective starting pitcher at the minor league level so considering he has just one year in Fresno under his belt, chances are high-to-a-lock that he'll lead the rotation in 2014.
The Missouri native throws a low-90s four-seam fastball but his offspeed — a changeup and a sweeping curveball — are clearly his best offerings as long as he keeps them low in the zone. He got shellacked when he hung offspeed in the majors.
Edwin Escobar pitched his last 10 starts of the year with the Flying Squirrels, and pitching them well, one might think the Giants' No. 10-ranked prospect would crack Fresno's rotation. Escobar lowered his ERA, opposing batting average and won two more games in Richmond than San Jose. With sub-three ERAs in both locations, Escobar was a star in 2013, and MLB Pipeline rewarded him a few weeks ago naming him a Top-100 prospect in the league. My guess is Escobar — who throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a two-seamer with sink, a changeup and a slider — will begin 2014 in Fresno be San Francisco's "sixth starter." Regardless of where and when he pitches, I think he's a top candidate to sneak into a big league uniform. He's this year's Eric Surkamp, if you will.
Chris Heston was released during the 2013 season, essentially moved off the 40-man roster, as part of the transaction that allowed Jeff Francoeur to join the team. But now he's back after not being claimed off waivers late last season. Though Heston struggled for a good chunk of 2013, I think it's a bit too early for the organization to give up on the 25-year old. But I do think his leash is short. Opposing hitters batted .301 off him last year. It really just depends on Spring Training. If he disappoints and management prefers a guy like Erik Cordier or Jason Berken (both will be at big league camp after being signed in the offseaon) then Heston (who isn't on 40-man roster) won't last.
Mitch Lively started his first minor league game in 2013, taking the mound 20 times as a starter. He wasn't amazing, but he did just win Pitcher of the Year in the Venezuelan Winter League, which warranted an invite to Giants camp. He compiled a 7-5 record with a 4.72 ERA in Fresno, a year after a 2.99 mark as a long reliever impressed enough to give him a shot as a starter. Then Lively ventured down to Central America and dominated, leading the league in ERA (1.70), WHIP (1.25) and wins (6) in ten starts. If that doesn't earn you a spot in a Triple-A rotation, I don't know what does.
Here's where things get convoluted. Jack Snodgrass made 25 starts for Class AA Richmond in 2013. He went 12-4 with a 3.70 ERA, which were good enough to place him first in the Eastern League in wins and 10th in earned run average. Gut says he goes to Fresno after that caliber of a year. But he isn't on the 40-man roster nor did he receive a major league camp invite. And in the war between Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff for the Guillermo Mota spot in the Giants bullpen, I think Petit prevails, leaving Huff to the Grizzlies where he'll provide a third left-handed starter alongside Kickham and Escobar.
Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to comment on the 2014 Minor League Roster Predictions page. Discussion is always good.