Chase Johnson Deals for San Jose

Tim Hudson and Andrew Susac were supposed to be the main attractions last night at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Turns out a Giants prospect was ready to steal the show. Huddy made his first rehab appearance, allowing only one hit and striking out two over a clean 2.2 shutout innings. Susac spent the whole night behind the dish and went 2-4 with a HR at the plate. In reality, it was a good night for both rehabbing big leaguers. But Chase Johnson, who would have been the regular starting pitcher, entered the game in the 4th and had easily the most dominant pitching performance by a Giants farmhand this season.

During his 6 innings of relief last night, Johnson allowed only 3 hits, walked one batter, and kept Lancaster off the bases with 14 strikeouts! This from a guy who had never struck out more than 9 in his professional career. Just a week after profiling another “Johnson” in the San Jose rotation (newbie right-hander Jordan), Chase Johnson’s already rising stock now appears to be soaring.

Remember, Chase was the Giants 3rd round pick in 2013. He was essentially a money-saving pick who signed under slot and allowed some flexibility for the two prep hitters drafted before him, Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones. At the time of the draft, Johnson was a little used reliever at Cal Poly who could run his fastball up to 97 in short spurts. He started some during his freshman season, was moved to full-time closer as a sophomore, and ultimately lost the job (for unknown reasons) to Reed Reiley during his final year in college. He made only 15 appearances as a junior, but the Giants love their hard-throwing college relievers, and were all over him that June. I profiled him that summer as he was transitioned immediately into a starting role in the organization.

Later that summer (2013), then Baseball Prospectus writer Jason Cole posted some video of Johnson in an instructional league game that caught my eye. This was an eye-opener for me, as Chase showed a solid low-90’s fastball, a diving curve and a pretty good changeup. When Baseball America named him a top 10 prospect in the Northwest League that summer, it became pretty apparent that there was some real potential in that right arm.

After an inconsistent season as a full-time starter in Augusta last year (110 IP, 4.57, 40 BB, 94 K), Johnson has flourished in San Jose in 2015. One thing he’s been able to do his entire professional career is induce groundballs, which he’s done this season to a (career low, but still impressive) tune of 1.61 groundout to air out rate per MiLB.com. Now, he’s combining the ability to get those grounders with an overpowering mid-90’s fastball. The same guy who was topping out at 94 or 95 as a starter is now running his heater up to 97-98 at times, and has been doing it nearly all season for the Giants.

Over his last 10 outings – including last night’s relief appearance – Johnson is 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA over 56.1 innings. He owns a 63/18 K/BB rate during that span. For the season, his K/9 is now at an even 9.0 (111 K in 111 IP). His ERA has been dwindling all year, and is now down to 2.43. He’s also not allowing many baserunners, as his WHIP has crept down to 1.16. For a guy who just made it into the MLB.com’s recently-released Giants top 30 prospects list, I think there’s serious some re-evaluating going on here.For me, Johnson is clearly a top 10 prospect in the organization at this point.

Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes the guys who get all the press don’t show the results, while the guys with the results don’t get near the amount of press. Chase Johnson has shown the stuff this year; It’s about time he starts getting the press.

Prospect Watch: A New Arm to Follow

Madison Bumgarner is being enshrined into the Augusta Greenjackets Hall of Fame. MadBum absolutely demolished the South Atlantic League (SALLY) as a flame-throwing 19 year old in 2008. It was that dude, and that performance, which I credit today for hooking me on minor league baseball and prospecting. Before Bumgarner, I literally had never seen a minor league boxscore.

That was seven summers ago, and I’ve been checking MiLB’s boxscores nearly every day since. Since starting this blog, I’ve watched countless video of Giants prospects, whether through Youtube or MiLB.tv more recently. Prospecting is a lot of Google searching, scouring the comments section of websites, and digging up old reports and profiles that 98% of baseball fans could care less about. But for me these days (thanks to a weak internet connection), it’s still mostly checking boxscores.

Yes, sifting through boxscores can feel a little tedious after a while. But the longer you do it, the more you really start to understand what a “wow” performance really looks like. And with the amount of prospect information and scouting that’s available via Twitter these days, “scouting a boxscore” is taking on a bit more meaning.

All that being said, there’s a new name to follow in the organization.

Jordan Johnson is a right-handed pitcher the Giants selected in the 23rd round of last summer’s (2014) draft. I wrote an extensive review of that Gigantes class, and here’s what I had to say about Johnson at the time: “Pitchability righty who obviously had some sort of major injury that kept him out for nearly two full seasons. Originally from Elk Grove, drafted by the Rockies (42nd round) coming out of high school.”

Turns out that major injury was elbow-related, as he reportedly had Tommy John surgery. He returned for his junior season, but his season really wasn’t one that jumps out at you. 72.2 IP, 4.33 ERA, 15 BB and 39 K. So the Giants plucked him in the late rounds and gave him just 3 appearances in the AZL for the rest of the summer.

Jordan Johnson. Who is this guy?! Credit; MiLB.com

Jordan Johnson. Who is this guy?! Credit; MiLB.com

Sometime in the past calendar year, it appears that Johnson woke up one day and started throwing the best stuff of his life. The 21 year-old righty (who at 6-3, 175 I envision looking a bit like Matt Duffy on a mound) returned to the AZL where made 7 starts. He worked his pitch count up methodically with each new start, and peaked with a 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K outing on July 17. I don’t care who you are or when you were drafted, performances like that in professional ball make people take notice… and the organization did.

10 days later, Johnson is in Salem-Keizer where he’d make his one and only start. Just a few days after that, a spot opens up in the San Jose rotation with the trade of power arm Keury Mella, and guess who gets the first show? Jordan Johnson. Now, I’ve been following these things long enough to know that when the Giants return a college draftee to the AZL, it’s usually not a good thing. But when they jump the same player to the Cal League after only one game in short-season A-ball, that’s something worth taking notice of.

So what’s the deal with this Jordan Johnson? Well, he went out in his San Jose debut and was pretty dominant against Modesto. 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. Yeah, I’d say that’s how you want to show up and announce your presence. When you combine all three of his stops this summer, you’ve got a 2.12 ERA over 34 IP, with 46 K and only 2 BB. Dang!

This is all good and well, but anybody can have one great start in High-A ball. There’s got to me something more here, right? Well yes, there actually is. According to SJ broadcaster Joe Ritzo and independent Twitter scout Chris Kusiolek, Johnson was throwing some major cheddar in Modesto last night. He sat 93-96 most of the night and reportedly even touched 98. 98! Ritzo added that he was throwing a plus changeup as well, and retired 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced. Wait, this guy was drafted WHEN?! Apparently the Giants MiLB pitching coordinator (Bert Bradley I believe) was in attendance. I’d have to think Johnson left one heck of an impression.

Ok, it’s never a great idea to base your opinions on one performance, regardless of the level. Considering Jose Reyes, the last right-hander I got excited about this season, has racked up a 7+ ERA in San Jose since crushing the SALLY in the first month of the season, there’s certainly reason to take caution here. But Reyes is 24, had been in the org since 2010, and really hadn’t ever shown much. Johnson is 21 with much less professional experience. And again, he hucked a 98 mph fastball last night. All I know is, I’ve seen & heard enough to be very intrigued by this guy. Safe to say I’ll be tuning in the next time Jordan Johnson steps on a pitching mound.

Updating Joe Panik and Matt Duffy’s Scouting Grades

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. It’s always interesting to look back on a player’s scouting reports, grades, etc. It’s downright fun to do it when those players are turning heads and surprising the heck out of people all over MLB. So what do you say we rethink those grades for Panik & Duffy, two of the sweetest-swinging young players in the Giants lineup?

Joe Panik has now played over a full season’s worth of games in his MLB career, hitting a cool .307/.361/.411 in 710 PA. This season he’s at .309/.374/.443 with 25 2B and 7 HR. His season K% is 9.9, BB% is 8.8. His 2015 season adjusted to 650 PA (per Baseball-Ref) is .309, 41 2B, 11 HR, 58 RBI, 61 BB & 70 K. Pretty nice, huh?

The Duff Man has played 124 career MLB games (coming into today), and has logged a .299/.337/.439 slash with 9 HR in those 412 PA. He’s played 3/4 of those games in 2015, hitting .304/.343/.462 with 17 2B and 9 HR. He walks 4.3% of the time, strikes out in 17.3%. His HR% this year is 2.6. He’s also literally one of the most valuable rookies in all of baseball this season, making folks forget about a certain Panda pretty darn quickly.

So, how did the scouting reports read before these two were breakout MLB players? Obviously there was a lot more information readily available for Panik, who was considered a potential supplemental pick in the 2011 draft. Reports on Duffy were pretty sparse before he torched the Eastern League last season. I did find some prospect grades though, which I have included with a few old quotes from this site and others around the web.

(more…)

Giants Trade Mella & Duvall for Mike Leake

Mike Leake, your newest SF Giant.

Mike Leake, your newest SF Giant.

Just when we started to wonder if the Giants were going to fall silent at the deadline (amid lots of promising dialogue from Bobby Evans, Brian Sabean & even Bruce Bochy), the talks heated up quickly last night and landed them Reds righty Mike Leake. Here are a few thoughts on the deal.

I absolutely love this deal for the Giants. No, Leake is not Cole Hamels, who the Giants apparently made a strong push for. No, Leake is not David Price, who realistically probably had very little chance of becoming a Giant anyway. To me though, Leake is a guy to get excited about in his own right. He’s a 6 year MLB vet and he’s only 27. How many players can you say that about? Sure, he’s technically a rental player, but we’ve heard all about him growing up a Giants fan, and Baggs made it pretty apparent the Giants have wanted him for a while. If Leake has success over the next two months in San Francisco (I believe he will), it seems very realistic to me that he’ll be a Giant for the next 5 years.

I said last week this season reminded me of 2012 in that the Giants seemed a a piece short of having a very good club (they needed a hitter in 2012, starting pitcher this year). I suggested Jeff Samardzija, a solid player who’d never earned a long-term contract, as a possible trade-and-extend candidate. Turns out Mike Leake was the guy, and I’d love it if he decided to stay with us for a while.

A couple more notes on Leake. He’s a sinkerballer who should give the Giants gold-glove caliber infield plenty of opportunities to show off. His numbers don’t jump out at you at first glance, but you have to remember he’s spent his whole career in the most lively yard outside of Colorado. This season alone, he’s a 2.28 pitcher on the road, as opposed to 4.93 at home. Think he’s excited about coming to AT&T Park? He’s durable, he’s consistent, and he was good enough that he didn’t spend a SINGLE DAY in the minors. He was a top 10 pick and an absolute legend at Arizona State. Oh, and he can hit! Yeah, I guess you could say I’m excited to bring him in.

The Giants parted with Keury Mella and Adam Duvall, and I’ve seen some frustration about giving up Mella. As someone who’s followed (and really liked) Mella since his first days coming over from the DSL, I’ll give you my take. I think Mella is a solid prospect. If I hadn’t been so high on Kyle Crick last year, I would have rated Mella #1 in the system, just as MLB.com did a few days ago.

To me, Mella is not the top prospect in this system at this point, despite what people read online. It’s obvious the Giants value Tyler Beede higher, and I wager they put guys like Christian Arroyo and Mac Williamson right up there as untouchable types for them as well. Would I have rather seen another pitcher dealt than Mella? Of course. Mella is an MLB arm. He always has been for me. But his delivery isn’t clean, he’s had some shoulder scares, and his results have been a bit inconsistent for someone with a 96 mph sinker in A-ball. I wish him well, but I can’t confidently project him as a pitcher who will have a better career than Mike Leake at this point.

A few people have suggested to me that Adam Duvall should have started for the Giants. I don’t see it that way. They definitely gave him an opportunity to show what he could do as a 3B (a very quick look, no doubt), but they decided he wasn’t fit to play the position. So he’s purely a 1B in their eyes. While he just may have more raw power than Brandon Belt, his defense and ability to put the ball in play certainly can’t match up to Belt. Personally, I’m surprised the Reds took Duvall in this deal, as they’ve already got franchise players at both infield corners.

If Duvall can find a way to get some playing time in Cincy, he should love hitting in that park. I saw his power firsthand just two nights ago, and it’s real. I would love to see him get a chance to DH for a rebuilding AL club, but for now he’ll try to catch on with the Reds. There were no plans for him in SF, so hopefully this move is better for him in the long run.

Again, I really love this deal for the Giants, who have made so many “ho-hum” deadline deals that have turned to gold in the past few years. Despite Leake not being in the same class as Price & Hamels, I think his impact on this club could be tremendous over the next couple months. I’m thrilled Evans bolstered the rotation, and I can’t wait for Leake to put the jersey on. Obviously I wish Mella and Duvall all the best.

Thanks for reading, and go Giants!

A Cool Moment for a Blogger and Some Notes from Raley Field

It was a scorcher in the valley yesterday (110 in Chico), but that didn’t keep me from having a very cool experience at Raley Field in Sacramento. Mac Williamson has been one of my favorite players in this organization for a few years, so I was nervous as all get-out when I saw him signing autographs by the LF wall (just down from our seats). I walked down and introduced myself, and had the most rewarding moment of my blogging tenure when he recognized Cove Chatter. He thanked me for my positive writing, and I told him I was excited to see him play. That was about 5 minutes after we entered the yard, and my night was officially made.

I’m not someone who started a blog seeking fortune, fame & all that other junk. Not even for one second. This is and always has been a hobby for me (though the future Mrs. Cove Chatter may disagree completely). I love Giants baseball, and following the prospects coming up through the system. I never dreamed of the connections I’d make in two short years while doing this, and getting to meet and be recognized by a pretty dang good player (and even better person) in this organization was a humbling experience for me. That kind of thing makes all of this worth it.

Anyway, I thought I’d mention a few notable performances from the game, which was a good one for the Rivercats.

Clayton Blackburn was the undoubted player of the game. He allowed only 6 baserunners over 7 shoutout innings. Though his fastball was primarily 87-89, that 70 mph curve really is a putaway pitch for him. You could clearly see how much break it had from our seats in LF. Blackburn had 5 K in all. He stole the show in the 3rd though when he put a charge into one that sailed over 400 feet to dead center. I would guess that was his first career HR as a professional, and it was a beauty. A nice night for the young righty, whose ERA dropped to 3.50 in the mighty PCL.

Michael Broadway is going to help the Giants again this season, I’m almost sure of it. He worked a clean (but filthy) 9th inning last night, K’ing the side with a 96-98 FB and a diving slider. I can’t remember now, but threw the slider for strike three to at least two of the batters, and I want to say he did for the final out as well. Just an impressive performance from Broadway.

Raley Field in Sacramento

Raley Field in Sacramento

Adam Duvall turned on a ball in the 2nd and hit an absolute moonshot just inside the LF foul pole. It was one of those homers that stayed in the air so long that people were almost stunned as they watched it fly. Man does that guy have some power. He also made a really nice pick on a throw in the dirt from Frandsen late in the game.

Everth Cabrera didn’t look very comfortable in CF, but his speed sure can impact a game. He misplayed a ball that sailed over his head in the early innings, but made up some major ground while chasing another one down later in the game. He also had two hits from the leadoff spot, stole a base and was called out on another attempted steal (though it looked like he may have been safe). Hopefully he has cleaned up his off-field issues, and I could really see the Giants swapping Adrianza out for him down the road.

Kelby Tomlinson, the player I’d really like to see get a call up, beat out an infield single and later made solid contact on a sac fly in the 7th inning. He also had an error on a dropped catch at 2B (he was the SS), but admittedly I didn’t see the play.

Mac was 1-4 in his return from a short DL stint. He roped a ball nearly to the wall in dead center for an out in his final AB, but I was most impressed with the arm he showed off in RF, forcing a runner who I initially thought would have scored easily back back to 3B. And finally, if you happen to read this Mac, it was really great to meet you!

July 29: Deadline Deal Looming?

Welcome back to Cove Chatter, “The Original.” I’ve found that sometimes the grass really isn’t always greener, and will be working to switch back over to WordPress permanently. Why? To be frank, I really couldn’t stand Weebly. It seems like a great place to market a product or advertise a business, but it’s truly not blogger-friendly. Guess I should have checked into that a little more before I made the change last winter. I really do apologize for the jumping around, and hope that a few folks will follow me back to the original site. I’m thinking I will delete the Weebly Cove Chatter eventually to cut confusion. I really loved the Disqus commenting forums

Bobby Evans, trade deadline texting extraordinaire?  (Jason Grohoske)

Bobby Evans, trade deadline texting extraordinaire? (Jason Grohoske)

on the other site, but in general it just became too much of a hassle to keep everything updated. I’m ready to simplify things & get back to some fun Giants blogging. So, if you’re reading this, welcome back!

Ok, so we’re two days out from the trade deadline. Folks, I think it could be a long, stressful couple of days. Why? Right now, the stars just don’t seem to be aligning for Evans & company to land the big fish they apparently are seeking. To me, the only move that really makes sense for this team at the moment is trading for a starting pitcher… preferably a very good one.

Here’s what I know about this time of year: For starter’s, there’s a lot of big talk. People often forget this, but the landscape is changing for MLB GM’s. In this day of younger, more tech-savvy front office types, I often wonder how many phone conversations actually take place. My guess is there’s a lot more text & email conversations going on, and I think that hurts certain organizations (namely this one). Bobby Evans seems to be a bit more media/PR friendly than Sabean is/was, so maybe he fits in better with the crowd. I don’t know, but I do get the feeling that teams like the Phillies are doing their usual dancing and prancing around, asking for every team’s top 6 prospects. The Giants don’t have a package to entice Philly? Until I hear some actual names and offers, I’m going to believe that’s a load of garbage. The Phillies just want the moon.

The Giants have plenty of trade chips. Susac, Beede, Arroyo, Mella, Williamson, Crick, Mejia, Osich, Okert, Chase Johnson, Coonrod, Blach, Blackburn, Tomlinson, Slater, Cole… There are some future big leaguers, and some solid players on that list. Sure, the front office may not want to give up some of these guys, but they certainly have the pieces to land a player like Hamels… unless, of course, the Phillies keep playing games and upping the offer.

In short, I’m not holding my breath for a Hamels trade unless something drastically changes. And that’s a bummer, because he really is one of the only impact arms that makes sense. David Price? Yes, I’d LOVE to have him, but I’d give him about a 5% chance of re-signing in the offseason. He’s getting huge money on the open market, and there’s no way I’m sending the Tigers a boat of players for that. If I thought he would stay in SF, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But that’s just not the case in my opinion.

So, what else is out there? Are the White Sox trading Samardzija? I’d still take him despite his impending free agency. To me, Shark seems most like a 2012 Hunter Pence – an above average player who’s never signed a big contract, might love playing in SF, and be willing to lock in for the next 5 years. That’s what you’re banking on when you make a deal for a rental player.

Mike Leake? Another rental, but a guy who apparently loves San Francisco (which loves him back, we’ve heard). He gets knocked for being just a “mid-rotation” starter, but the guy just puts up solid performances. If you can’t land a big fish, I don’t see anything wrong with grabbing a guy like Leake. He’s durable & mostly dependable, and he’d sure make for a better option than Tim Hudson down the stretch.

I’ll summarize by saying I do believe the Giants need to bolster their pitching staff in order to keep this run going. They’ve got the pieces, they’ve got financial flexibility (as the media keeps reminding us), and they’ve got a tremendous young lineup. This team, as it stands, is very streaky… I don’t doubt they’ll play themselves right back to .500 in the next month if they don’t find an upgrade. If they do, however, I think the sky is the limit for these 2015 Giants. Thanks for reading, cross your fingers, and stay tuned.

Cove Chatter is Moving!

NEW COVE CHATTER LINK

As my second offseason as a blogger rolls along, I’m finding that my blogging style is changing. Frankly, I just don’t have the time to push out post after post, as I was able to this time last year. For that reason and a few others, I have decided to start up a new blog page with another host site. I really think the new site will allow for much more flexibility and creativity on my part, while also being a bit more user-friendly for you.

I realize that this site is visited frequently by some (myself included!) as a reference page for quite a few different Giants prospects. Don’t worry; I will NOT be terminating this page. I still plan to check in on old articles and use this page as a resource for the foreseeable future, and frankly, I’m not ready to cut ties with the original Cove Chatter. Someday, when I have become completely comfortable with my new site, and I determine that most of the posts on this page are becoming irrelevant, I may link the “Covechatter.com” name to the new page. For now though, I will simply post a link to the “new” Cove Chatter below.

Thank you for all of your support throughout this wild ride. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this offseason unfolds, and I can’t wait to unveil a totally revamped Cove Chatter 100 prospect rankings for the upcoming year. Please, come on over to the new site and leave me some feedback… but also, don’t be afraid to peruse around here from time to time as well. Go Giants!

NEW COVE CHATTER LINK

What’s New in the AFL?

And you thought baseball season was over… For some reason, I actually find it easier to post during the offseason. Maybe it’s because things aren’t as fast paced as they are during the spring and summer.

Anyway, MLB.com’s Jim Callis released a nice article on Clayton Blackburn today, so I figured this would be an appropriate time to make a quick check-in on Giants prospects in the AFL. Fortunately, Callis has done most of the leg-work here. His piece has quotes from Blackburn and a scouting blurb on each of the guys the Giants have out in Arizona right now. There’s even a video with Callis and Mayo chatting about Blackburn and Steven Okert. Pretty nice work from the MLB Pipeline guys here.

Overall, it’s been pretty quiet on the Giants prospect front this fall (most of the big names were helping bring home another ring for the big club). There really isn’t much to speak about at all on the offensive side, which is a bit of a bummer since I had high hopes for Daniel Carbonell. The trio of Carbonell, Blake Miller and Kelby Tomlinson has been pretty quiet in the desert so far.

Most of the noise has been made on the pitching side, as Okert has been dominant out of the pen for Scottsdale. Okert came on huge this year after a so-so campaign in Augusta. According to Callis, he profiles more as a lefty specialist in the majors, but I’d think another big year in 2015 could change some minds. Either way, guys like that don’t get a ton of hype… but the numbers have been impressive for the former 4th rounder this fall.

Blackburn, who should be a member of the inaugural Giants-affililated Sacramento Rivercats squad next April, has had a quiet fall himself. He’s been working out of the bullpen, taking things slow. But Callis reports that he’s trying to refine his arsenal with a slider and splitter (sounds like more of a split-change), which he hopes to partner up with his big hook. That is exciting news to me. Like most Giants prospects, Clayton will never get the big press. But he might just be one of the most polished young righties in all the minors right now, and if he can add a few more tools to his belt, he may well be ready to contribute in SF some time next year.

Folks jumped off the Blackburn bandwagon after two rough months in San Jose last season. Those folks missed out on the great turnaround he had in the second half of that season. This kid has taken a back seat to Kyle Crick in the organization, but all he has done is pitch beyond his years since the day he turned pro.

Here’s the link to the Callis article. I definitely recommend you give it a quick read. I’m attempting to post the video on this page, but this site has been giving me all kinds of problems in regards to video links lately. If it doesn’t work, there are two nice Giants-related AFL videos embedded in the MLB.com article.

Hope you’re all enjoying your start to the offseason. With all the postseason hoopla this month, Giants minor league content has been almost nonexistent. But I promise I’m still on the lookout for any updates, and I will certainly keep you all in the loop when I find them. Thanks for reading.

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