I’ve finally reached the end of the NRI series with this piece on the Giants.
Fittingly, San Francisco kicks off the preseason tomorrow, as they face the Diamondbacks at 2:05 ET. So this piece, and the series as a whole, is done just before we have actual games to digest. Enjoy my brief bits on these nine notable NRIs, and let’s get to some baseball tomorrow!
1B Brandon Belt–Belt will be one of the biggest stories of San Francisco camp as he attempts to win the team’s first base job. There’s little need to introduce him to Giants fans; he’s been talked about for quite awhile now, and most (including me) have him as one of the twenty best prospects in baseball. He tore his way through three levels last year; while he doesn’t have a whole lot of AAA experience, his bat should be able to play now, and he’s a plus defender at first base.
1B/OF Brad Eldred–Eldred’s got a big bat too, but he’s 30 years old and has never been able to keep his strikeout rates reasonable. He had big numbers in AAA Colorado Springs last season (.264/.327/.566 with 30 homers) and he’s athletic for his gargantuan size, but he’s got a career 39.6% K rate in the majors, and he doesn’t even walk much. He’s a nice power bat off the bench against lefties, but that’s not something every team needs to use a roster spot on.
RHP Waldis Joaquin–Joaquin’s one of the hardest throwers you’ll find, although his heater took a bit of a hit in 2010. He’s never had much in the way of command, and injuries limited him for most of 2010. If he’s back in form throwing 96-97 again, he can be an impact reliever…as long as the ball is in the strike zone. Just 24, he’s got plenty of time to hone his craft–I doubt we’ve seen the last of him.
RHP Shane Loux–The complete opposite of Joaquin, Loux is a groundballer who almost never strikes anybody out but almost never walks anybody either. He posted a 62/16 K/BB in 108 innings for the Astros’ AAA affiliate last year. Loux last appeared in the big leagues as a swingman for the Angels in 2009, and while he didn’t pitch particularly well, he was solidly above replacement level–it’s hard not to be if you get grounders and don’t walk anybody. He’s mainly a one-pitch guy with his low-90’s sinker, but it works well enough for him to contribute.
RHP Guillermo Mota–Now 37, Mota still sits at 94 mph, although he doesn’t have the feel for his killer changeup that he once did. For all of his velocity and high-leverage roles, he really hasn’t done much great work in half a decade, which is why he’s just an NRI this spring. His slider has replaced the changeup as his go-to offspeed pitch fairly well, though, so he’s still a decent sixth-inning guy. Like Loux and Joaquin, he could definitely contribute in 2010.
C Chris Stewart–Stewart’s a catcher with a rocket arm (he’s shown a low-90’s fastball in rare pitching appearances) that allows him to gun down tons of runners. He’s never been too much of a hitter, but he makes contact, and his .248/.337/.395 line with the Padres’ AAA affiliate wasn’t too terrible in 2010. He could be a decent backup catcher due to his defense, but fits best as a third catcher waiting in Triple-A if an injury strikes.
LHP Ryan Verdugo–Verdugo spent the offseason transitioning to a starting role, where he worked in the Arizona Fall League. Soon to be 24, he put up some crazy strikeout numbers in Low-A and High-A last year, but his walk totals were rather high, and he doesn’t have fantastic stuff, so he could fit better as a starter long-term. In that role, he can calm down a bit and focus more on throwing strikes, which is important since he probably won’t be striking out thirteen batters per nine innings in the big leagues. He’s a fast-rising prospect, though, and someone to watch.
RHP Ryan Vogelsong–Vogelsong is back with the team for whom he debuted in 2000. He owns a career 5.86 MLB ERA and hasn’t seen the bigs since 2006, but something clicked for the big righty last year, as he struck out 110 batters in 95 1/3 innings as a Triple-A swingman. He also walked 62, though. If this whiff-inducing ability is for real, perhaps the 33-year-old can get another chance–his flyballing ways won’t hurt him in San Francisco.
LHP Matt Yourkin–Yourkin was a solid starter for the Giants’ AAA team last year in his first year in that role. It’s odd for a pitcher to get moved to starting at age 28, but…whatever works, I suppose. He acquitted himself well, with a 110/39 K/BB in 136 innings. He’s just a finesse lefty, and San Francisco’s got a crowded rotation picture, but he could join the pitching staff in some capacity in case of injury, and there’s no reason he can’t perform adequately if called upon.