With any baseball team, how it will look in the future is almost as important as how it looks in the present. For Giants fans the scenario looks pretty rosy on both aspects. A farm system that was once the butt of numerous jokes has blossomed before our very eyes.
A string of strong drafts and trades for prospects have helped to cultivate a system of young players that have made the rest of Major League Baseball sit up and take notice.
Along with developing players to eventually take over at AT&T Park, winning games down at the lower levels is a major plus also. I firmly believe that winning games serves as a major attribute to developing players, especially when they play on teams that are playoff bound.
No, it may not quite be the thrill of an October race but it will only help to serve their development when their time comes to take the national stage in October.
Without further ado, here is where the minor league affiliates stand as of today.
Fresno Grizzlies (63-53, Second in PCL Pacific South Division)
Fresno got a major jolt of star power on July 14 when Buster Posey was called up after ripping through the California league. He is not only helping with the bat, but is also proving to be a leader on the field, getting more out of a pitching staff that was merely treading water.
Consider this, the Grizzlies are 18-8 since Posey came to town, which sounds a lot like a prospect from last year who changed the culture of each team he played for (hint: he goes by Panda).
Even with the usual suspects like John Bowker, Jesus Guzman, Kevin Frandsen, and so forth, Ryan Rohlinger has been playing well as of late (.293 AVG-14 HR-70 RBI). Also keep an eye on Ramon Ortiz (5-3, 2.49 ERA), Steve Edlefsen (3-0. 1.23), and Kevin Pucetas (10-3, 3.74) who have earned a chance at a September call-up.
Connecticut Defenders (66-48, EAS Northern Division Leader)
This team has been thriving under manager Steve Decker, who was in San Jose just last season. Second baseman Brock Bond is currently leading the Eastern League in hitting at a .348 clip, and 1B Brett Pill is leading the team with 14 HR & 88 RBI.
Two of the more notable prospects are also sharpening their skills in Connecticut. Shortstop Brandon Crawford has fallen off a little bit since playing in San Jose his first month, but has rebounded nicely hitting .257.
Of course, the countdown for a Madison Bumgarner appearance by the Bay is in full force and with good reason. His numbers are stellar (7-1, 2.11) but he also has some great starters around him also such as Jesse English (7-6, 3.62), and Henry Sosa (6-0, 2.36; 60-Day DL).
The bullpen even has some stellar players as well such as converted starter Ben Snyder (3-3, 1.98, 71 K's in 72.2 IP), Joe Paterson (4-5, 2.04, 57 K's in 53 IP), Dan Otero (19 SV's, 1.19), and Dan Runzler. Runzler already tore through Augusta and San Jose with sub-1.00 ERA's in both stops and has the stuff to suggest he'll be coming out of the pen at AT&T soon.
San Jose Giants (32-12 2nd Half, 74-40 Overall, First Half North Division Champions)
It's easy to forget that this team had Posey, Crawford, Bumgarner, and Alderson all in the same clubhouse. Nevertheless this team is extremely talented.
Thomas Neal is in the top five in hitting with a .339 AVG and showing some great power with 18 HR. Roger Kieschnick even has an outside shot at 100 RBIs for the season, as he currently stands at 89 and leads the team with 21 HR.
Angel Villalona landed on the DL over a month ago with a leg injury, but the team continues to chug along. Craig Clark has taken over as staff ace and the numbers show it (14-2, 2.72), and Clayton Tanner has been very solid for them (9-6, 3.23).
Kyle Nicholson has been called up from Augusta and has done well in his first two starts, giving the rotation a shot in the arm. It's also safe to say that Daniel Turpen is the closer for this team (3-1, 1.38) and Wilmin Rodriguez is a good set-up man for him also (3-0, 2.23). We may see this team hoist another California League Championship flag at the end of the year.
Augusta GreenJackets (25-17 2nd Half, 60-51 Overall, Defending League Champions)
Finally, we have probably some of the youngest prospects of the bunch. This is where Giants fans first heard of Villalona and Bumgarner, and yet they are still having another solid season.
In looking to defend their league championship from last year, Josh Mazzola has been the leading hitter of the bunch to this point (.270 AVG-13 HR-82 RBI).
However, fans need to be concerned about the development of 2007 first-round pick Wendell Fairley (.249 AVG-3 HR-39 RBI). If he doesn't get his act together, he may get saddled with a bust label, a disappointing factor considering the Giants' recent success in drafts.
As far as their pitching staff goes, there is not one real standout to take note of, but collectively they are doing quite well keeping the GreenJackets in the thick of the playoff chase.
All told, this could be a great year for the Giants farm system with two championship contenders in tow.
While a World Series title may be a few years down the road from now, keeping an eye on the success of the minor league clubs can provide a type of barometer for what fans can expect to come over the next few years. The long-term future looks bright, as it always should be.