Seven San Francisco Giants minor leaguers were selected on Tuesday to participate in the Arizona Fall League, beginning play October 7 in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Three relief pitchers, two infielders, one outfielder, and one starting pitcher representing the Giants will join the Scottsdale Scorpions — playing at the Giants' spring training home at Scottsdale Stadium — for a 32-game season showcasing each team's top talent.
Each of the six Arizona Fall League teams consist of seven players from five different teams, making up a 35-man roster. Every major-league club is told by Major League Baseball to submit a "priority player," usually a position player. That player will expect to play four times a week. For San Francisco, last year's priority player was Andrew Susac, who went on to lead the league in on-base percentage at a .507 mark.
This year's priority player, says Giants assistant general manger and vice president Bobby Evans, is shortstop Matt Duffy.
Evans said the Giants submitted Duffy as a priority shortstop, but because another team also submitted their priority shortstop, both players will get work in at second base, as well.
Here are the seven players headed to Scottsdale in October, featuring commentary from Evans.
SS, Matt Duffy
Duffy shockingly became the first Giants' minor league player to reach the majors from the 2012 draft — a class that featured top collegiate players Chris Stratton, Martin Agosta, and Mac Williamson — when he was recalled to San Francisco from Richmond on August 1. Duffy, an 18th-round pick from Long Beach State, had a remarkable 2014 season playing for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, collecting 122 hits in 97 games. His at-bats were productive throughout the year as he drew 42 walks, struck out just 15.8 percent of the time, and drove in 62 runs. His .332 batting average still leads the Eastern League.
LHP, Steven Okert
Like Duffy, Steven Okert is from the 2012 draft class. Selected in the fourth round out of the Unviersity of Oklahoma, Okert received a promotion to Richmond following nearly three months of domination in the California League. He became the primary closer, eventually saving 19 games for San Jose to go along with a 1.53 ERA and a 13.8 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio. Okert, a left-hander, cross-steps a bit and comes at hitters with a low, three-quarter release. When I saw him make his San Jose debut, he featured a fastball in the 93-96 range and countered with a sharp slider in the low-80s.
Check out his lefty/righty splits. Not a huge difference, but I think he'll make a name for himself on a big league roster one day in a Javier Lopez-type role.
RHP, Hunter Strickland
Hunter Strickland pitched in his first game since fully recovering from Tommy John surgery on May 20 with the San Jose Giants — the team Strickland shoved with in 2013 before being shut down. After being promoted quickly to Double-A, Strickland has absolutely dominated Eastern League hitters. He has 46 strikeouts in 34.2 innings with the Flying Squirrels and hasn't allowed a walk since June 25, which is a streak that spans 22 appearances. In that same stretch, he's given up just two earned runs.
Considering the Giants have him on the 40-man roster, there's a good chance Strickland could be utilized in the big-league bullpen come September. But with the Flying Squirrels close to clinching a playoff berth, it's possible Strickland might wind up in San Francisco one or two weeks into September.
Evans: "He couldn't have necessarily done anything different for us than what he did in terms of preparation and then taking the ball, with the schedule we gave him where he was on a day and off a day, and that's kind of how we rolled with him initially out of his [Tommy John surgery] rehab. As you can imagine, pitchers … the timing of their rehab is an exhaustive period. Having come through a 12-month rehab, he's exhausted. So in some ways, pitchers who finish their rehab at the start of spring training are at a disadvantage because they're about to go 18 straight months, and that's a bit challenging. In his case, he finished his rehab in May and so he didn't have to endure another seven months, one of spring training and six more of baseball. But he is a candidate to be talked about for September. Whether he gets that call or not is not to be determined at this point. It'll be determined shortly. You have to balance how he feels, how tired he is from the rehab process, and how much more he can take on. But his role at a big-league level at some point is going to have to be a process of evolving into a late-inning role. I wouldn't put him in a late-inning role out of the shoot but I would make him work for it. How late he pitches in the game will really be determined by the manager, the pitching coach, and how well he pitches. He's got the stuff to pitch extremely late in the game."
RHP, Clayton Blackburn
Coming off two of his best starts of his minor league career is Giants No. 7 prospect Clayton Blackburn, who will represent the team in Scottsdale as a starting pitcher. On August 16 against Portland, Blackburn tied his career high in strikeouts with 11 in a scoreless, eight-inning gem in which he allowed only three hits and no walks.
This polished Oklahoma high-school product will get much needed work after losing more than a month with a disabled list-stint spanning from May 19 to June 24 because of a ribcage injury. He's had a stellar 2014 season, posting a 2.64 ERA in 16 starts and averaging only two walks per nine innings.
Blackburn, along with left-hander Ty Blach, could be candidates for a major-league starting rotation job at some point in 2015.
INF, Blake Miller
The Giants used their second infield spot on breakout performer Blake Miller, who after being drafted in the 25th round just last year has already found himself in a Double-A uniform, and becoming a huge contributor, no less. Miller has collected 26 hits in 21 games since being moved to Richmond, and this is all coming off a spectacular four months with the San Jose Giants where the Oregon native posted a .299/.354/.453 line in 96 games. Though it has been more than three weeks since he left San Jose, his 73 RBIs are still tied for the team lead.
When I spoke with Evans on Monday, he mentioned he would be picking a utility infielder to send to Arizona, and this is that guy. Miller has been incredibly versatile since being drafted in 2013, playing all four infield positions at least 20 times in his 158 minor-league games. Miller has played second base most (67) and shortstop second most (40), and most recently has been playing a majority of second base for Richmond as he essentially replaced Matt Duffy who had begun to play second frequently.
CF, Daniel Carbonell
This one comes as a no-brainer. Daniel Carbonell's public stock has risen significantly since the club moved him from the Arizona League to the California League, where he has since batted a respectable .286/342/.457 in 16 games. With Carbonell only having 26 total games in 2014 under his belt, sending him to the Arizona Fall League makes perfect sense as it also allows him to face some of the top pitching talent in the minors, giving the organization a better idea of his capabilities.
RHP, Erik Cordier
I don't know a ton about Erik Cordier. From what I've heard, he is Heath Hembree with a better breaking ball. He throws mid-to-upper-90s as well as a good, sharp slider. He's been solid this season in the Fresno Grizzlies bullpen, striking out 67 in 51.1 innings with a 3.68 ERA. He's a former second-round pick of the Kansas City Royals back in 2004, and has never pitched in a major-league game. He's been bouncing around Double-A and Triple-A since 2010 when he was called up to the Gwinnett Braves. At 28-years-old, maybe he becomes some sort of Jean Machi-esque late bloomer?
For the entire Scottsdale Scorpions roster, as well as their schedule, click here.