A bit of personal news, first. My wife and I moved to Sacramento on Sunday, which was convenient timing considering Sacramento River Cats media day took place the following day. Needless to say, I'll be covering the River Cats pretty heavily this season.
An open clubhouse provided a relaxed environment to chat with any of the 30 players present on Monday at Raley Field. Surprising to no one, right-hander Tyler Beede was the most popular player, followed by infielder Christian Arroyo. Both men are of course the consensus top-two prospects in the organization.
I spoke first with former No. 1 prospect Kyle Crick, who laughed and pointed to the other side of the clubhouse when I prefaced our discussion with the purpose of my blog. "The prospects are other there," he said, smiling.
GP: Has the organization given you any word as to what role you'll be filling this season? Starting pitcher or reliever?
Crick: "I believe that the approach they're going to take will be experimental because I haven't heard too much about roles and whatnot. I'll just say, if I'm on the mound, I'll be doing okay."
GP: Anything new you're working on this year? Any pitches you're trying to refine?
Crick: "Anything new? Not necessarily. Just consistently getting ahead and staying ahead."
GP: The last couple years probably haven't been the most encouraging for you. What have you learned during that time?
Crick: "I think that's what those last couple years were there for; kind of to learn from. One of those humbling experiences. Spent some time in Double-A and got a chance to see a lot of stuff. Lot of good baseball, bad baseball. But I'd say it all happened for a reason. Kind of brings you to where you are at this point. Moving forward is the biggest thing. Just continuing to move forward.
GP: And now you're here in Triple-A for the first time. You pretty excited about this?
Crick: "I am. It's much different than Double-A already. Feels different. The clubhouse is fantastic. The difference is extremely noticeable."
Next I caught another starting pitcher who recently moved into more of a reliever role, former Cal Poly star Chase Johnson, who is also making his Triple-A debut in 2017.
GP: How's the move to a reliever been for you?
Johnson: "It's been good. I was a reliever in college so it wasn't a foreign thing to me. But it had been a while so it was a little difficult getting back in that routine after starting."
GP: You were a closer your final year at Cal Poly, so you're used to tough situations. Have you seen your style of pitching change since getting back into relieving? Maybe seen your fastball velocity increase?
Johnson: "Yeah I think my fastball velo went up a little bit. So it totally changes how you pitch. You're throwing harder so it changes how you attack hitters. And I threw more offspeed because when you're starting, you want to hide some of that stuff until later in the game."
GP: So what else are you throwing these days?
Johnson: "My best secondary is probably the slider, and I throw a changeup, too, to lefties. It's a box changeup."
GP: How have the first few days in Triple-A been?
Johnson: "It feels great. I'm glad to be healthy. I'm glad to be here. The organization obviously likes me if they wanted to move me up so it's a good thing."
GP: Tell me about your injury troubles last year.
GP: "I think the big thing was just the change in routine. Going from pitching once a week to pitching back-to-back days. It was just difficult to get my arm ready for that. I had a little forearm thing but that was it. I'm feeling good now."
After the crowds cleared, of which included a local hip-hop radio station, I was finally able to catch up with Tyler Beede. Last I had heard, the Giants' top prospect was utilizing two different types of changeups, depending on whether the hitter was left-handed or right-handed. So I had to ask right away.
GP: I heard you've been throwing two changeups, basically one to each side of the plate. You still do that?
Beede: "I really just throw a two-seam changeup. I did, at that time, try to incorporate a four-seam changeup because when I was throwing my four-seam [fastball] I just wanted it to be something hitters didn't recognize as easily when I went to my changeup. And now that I throw a sinker, because back then I didn't throw one, it allows that changeup to be less recognizable."
GP: Tell me about that sinker. That's something you started really working on the last few years, right?
Beede: "Yeah so in the 2015 season, after the AZL, I incorporated a sinker and a cutter just to give hitters a different look and allow me to throw more ground balls to be more efficient. Since 2015, I've tried to bring the four-seam back into the equation, throw it a little harder, and just be the pitcher I am now."
GP: And that's been your M.O. since then, just pitching to contact and being as efficient as possible. And with the amount of pitches you throw, that's certainly something you can accomplish if you do it right. So it must be fun being here in Triple-A for the first time with a lot of guys who you played with in Richmond. Enjoying it?
Beede: "Yeah we came in Saturday night. It's cool. Whenever you get a chance to play with guys that you're familiar playing with and you continue to build that chemistry, it just helps at that next level, whether we play together in San Francisco or not. I think just building relationships, on and off the field, it helps. I think this organization prides itself in bringing guys up at the same time, allowing us to build off of each other and develop at the same time. So it's cool to play with [Christian] Arroyo, Ryder [Jones], and even play with some of the new guys. It's going to be a fun season."
GP: I heard you mention the food to another reporter. You must've dove right into the food scene here. What's your favorite spot so far?
Beede: "Last night we went to this place called Paesanos. I'm Italian so I love all Italian food and I'm the kind of guy who will try to scope out the best one. I love Mexican food, too. So aside from when we cook at home, me and my fiancé, we try to go out and scope out the best food spots. And that's one of our favorites even just after the first few days."
Lastly, I wandered over to an enormous Joan Gregorio, who is still listed at a laughably low 180 pounds, even on the Giants' official 40-man roster. He was proud to tell me how much weight he had put on over the last few years.
GP: So you got your first look at Sacramento last year. What was challenging for you pitching in Triple-A for the first time?
Gregorio: "It was different. Different guys. You're working more. I'm here and we're working hard for the next level."
GP: And now being here again, how are you looking to progress forward?
Gregorio: "Different work, and my talent is good. But I need to keep working hard. It's much different than Double-A."
GP: Watching you pitch, it's clear that you have a little sink in your fastball. That's crucial. You get a lot of ground balls with that. And your slider looked really good last season, as well. Are you happy with where those two pitches are?
Gregorio: "Yeah. From last year, I've watched the games. I get the ground balls and throwing my breaking ball, it's my best second pitch."
GP: Based on some earlier photos, it's pretty clear you're much bigger than back in 2014. How much weight and muscle have you put on since then?
Gregorio: "Right now, I am 260. Before I was 180 or 190."
GP: You were in big league camp this year. How was that?
Gregorio: "It was good. One more year in spring training. The community, the guys, how to pitch, working. It helps me for the next level."
GP: Did you enjoy time with any players in particular?
Gregorio: "Cueto. Cueto is my friend. He told me how you do it here. How to pitch, how to work. It helped me."
While finishing up talking to Crick, submariner Tyler Rogers was sitting beside him glued to his phone so we asked what he was watching. Tyler's twin brother Taylor made the Minnesota Twins' opening-day roster, and their first game was in the fifth inning at the time.
So while Tyler, a twin, waited for his other half to get into a Twins' game, Crick chimed in and said, "You know, he's not the only twin on the club." Turns out Crick is a twin, too.
"Fraternal," Crick said. "I look like my mom and he looks like my dad."
It was truly and overload of twins.
— For the latest on #SFGiants minor leaguers, follow @Giant_Potential on Twitter