San Jose Giants | Starting Rotation
It could be argued that the San Jose Giants had the best pitching staff in all of the California League in 2013. They most certainly had the most talent of any San Francisco farm team, led by No. 1-ranked prospect Kyle Crick. The starting rotation was so deep that when both Crick and Adalberto Mejia were injured, the likes of Austin Fleet and Kelvin Marte were able to adequately substitute, with both players finishing the year with sub-four ERAs in 23 combined starts. Now that Crick, Mejia, Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn and Edwin Escobar will assuredly receive promotions in 2014, who will fill the created void?
1. Chris Stratton
2. Martin Agosta
3. Kendry Flores
4. Joan Gregorio
The first thing you might think when you see this list is, "Who is Chris Johnson?" And then once you've googled him, you'll think, "Five right-handed pitchers in a rotation?" Well, yes. I thought long and hard about who else (more specifically which left-hander) could wind up starting the season in San Jose's starting staff, and though these are obviously just predictions, I just couldn't wrap my brain around any other possibilities. Sadly, my photo/video arsenal is just not as extensive on these five arms, considering four of the five played in Augusta, Ga. in 2013. However, a July trip up to Salem-Keizer last summer allowed me to catch a glimpse of Chris Johnson, so let's start with him.
Johnson repeated in Salem-Keizer in 2013 after struggling a year earlier in his rookie season. A 2-4 record with a 6.84 ERA in six starts and 10 other appearances gave way to remarkable improvement. Johnson led the Volcanoes staff with 15 starts, winning six of them and allowing 73 baserunners, including just eight walks, in 83 innings. Johnson attributed his improved control to ditching his four-seam fastball to focus solely on the two-seam, which he said is easier for him to locate. The two-seam topped out at 93 mph but sat between 88-91 mph when I saw him in Salem last August. He utilized a two-seam/slider combination to strike out six the night I watched him (highlights above). He also throws a curveball and a changeup. Considering Johnson's age (23 in August), his consecutive stints with short-season Salem-Keizer and his striking improvement from 2012 to 2013, my guess is that he'll receive a hefty promotion and wind up in San Jose to begin this year. At worst, he'll be pitching in Municipal Stadium by August.
Martin Agosta was selected in the second round in 2012, one round after Augusta GreenJackets teammate Chris Stratton was selected 20th overall. Agosta and Stratton both feature low-90s fastballs, and scouts even liken Agosta to Tim Lincecum, mostly just because of his 180-pound frame. Agosta shined in his first full season, winning nine games, striking out 109 batters in 91.2 innings and finishing the year with a 2.06 ERA. A nagging blister issue on his pitching finger prevented him from playing the entire year, but nonetheless a phenomenal season for the Giants No. 13-ranked prospect. Stratton finished 2013 with a 9-3 mark, just like Agosta, but had more than a run higher ERA at 3.27.
Kendry Flores and Joan Gregorio were teammates with Agosta and Stratton in 2013, with Flores flying under the radar to be probably the second most impressive starter with Augusta. In 141.2 innings, Flores allowed 130 baserunners, including a staggeringly low 17 walks. He had a 2.73 ERA and a team-leading 10 wins. Gregorio is an interesting prospect. Listed at 6'7", the Dominican Republic native looks even taller because he weights just 180 pounds — the same weight as six-foot, one-inch Martin Agosta. Gregorio was a big strikeout guy, logging 84 in 69.2 innings in 2013, and could've put together a fairly complete season but missed a third of the year due to injury.
Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to comment on the 2014 Minor League Roster Predictions page. Discussion is always good.