Notes From The Coast: Giants Search For Keepers Among Young Talent

Image credit: Farhan Zaidi (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Getty Images)

Introducing our bi-monthly look at the latest baseball news and happenings on the West Coast.

The Giants hold their second consecutive top-10 draft pick this June and, if the very early results are any indication, may be headed for another one next summer as well.

While a core of veterans remains in San Francisco—Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval are the six current players who were members of the 2014 World Series roster—an underlying subplot of the Giants’ season is finding out which young players are keepers for the future.

Outfielder Steven Duggar, righthanded reliever Reyes Moronta and Rule 5 lefthander Travis Bergen are the only players on the Giants roster born in 1993 or later. Moronta, whose upper-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider has resulted in a a 2.44 ERA over 77 career appearances, is the only one to date who has firmly staked his claim to be a part of the club’s future.

“He did that last year,” manager Bruce Bochy said during the Giants’ season-opening series in San Diego. “He’s great to have in those middle innings when you need to stop a rally. He’s a nice weapon. He’s comfortable coming in with men on base. Really, he could fit any role. He’d be a great setup guy, and I think he could be a great closer.”

While Moronta has established himself as a keeper, Duggar’s future is more clouded. His baserunning and defense in center field have long been lauded, but opposing scouts long considered him a second-division regular or backup due to questions about his breaking-ball recognition and ability to make adjustments. Duggar hit .255/.305/.385 with a 30 percent strikeout rate through his first 46 major league games, and on Tuesday the Giants acquired center fielder Kevin Pillar from the Blue Jays.

Bergen, meanwhile, has been limited to one batter in each of his first two big league appearances.

Identifying young talent worth keeping will be critical to the Giants’ ability to return to contention. They have the oldest roster in baseball, and their three players born in 1993 or later compares unfavorably with the rest of the division.

The Dodgers (6), Rockies (6) and Padres (11) all have at least twice as many such players, while the D-backs have five. Those players include young standouts Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Joey Lucchesi and Franmil Reyes, as well as top prospects Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack, Francisco Mejia, Alex Verdugo, Jon Duplantier and Garrett Hampson in the majors.

The Giants currently don’t have any obvious candidates in that tier, and only two of their top 10 prospects have played a game above Class A.

The Giants last had three consecutive top-10 picks in 1984-86 and selected Alan Cockrell (No. 9, 1984), Will Clark (No. 2, 1985) and Matt Williams (No. 3, 1986). The latter two, combined with some savvy trades, helped the Giants get back to the postseason by 1987 and the World Series by 1989.

Catcher Joey Bart, the No. 2 overall selection last year, looks like a hit early, but more picks—and the ensuing years of development—are still to come in order to replicate that quick turnaround.

As such, for now the Giants are looking for the few young players they have beyond Moronta to show they deserve to be a part of the organization’s future.

“Like anybody, you just want to see these guys develop up here,” Bochy said. “Not just as a player but how they carry themselves as a major leaguer. That’s all we’re looking for.”

Javy Guerra Moving To The Mound

After years of struggling at the plate, Javy Guerra is moving to the mound.

The Padres have converted Guerra from shortstop to pitcher for the upcoming season, a move first reported by

Guerra, 23, ranked as the Padres’ No. 1 prospect in 2016 after he came over from the Red Sox in the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston. Guerra hit under .225 at each minor league stop in the Padres’ system while showing a chronic lack of pitch recognition, but the Padres still moved him up the system and he briefly reached the majors last year.

Guerra’s best tool has long been his arm, and after years of struggling at the plate with little sign of improvement, the Padres made the switch this spring. According to organization sources, Guerra was throwing 96-100 mph over the plate in his first bullpen sessions at the Padres’ complex in Arizona.

Guerra will open the season at high Class A Lake Elsinore.

Destination: Santa Barbara

High-level evaluators, including scouting directors and crosscheckers, have been pouring in to see UC Santa Barbara in recent weeks. Gargantuan lefthanders Ben Brecht and Jack Dashwood are the primary reasons why.

The 6-foot-7 Brecht, a 36th-round pick of the Orioles out of high school in 2016, is 5-0, 3.54 and averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings as the Gauchos’ Friday starter. He’s shown a fastball up to 93 mph and an advanced feel to pitch.

Dashwood, who stands 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, is 4-0, 2.21 and averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings while flashing a fastball up to 92 mph and impressive moxie.

While neither has eye-popping velocity, the duo’s size, lefthandedness and feel to pitch have piqued evaluators’ interest. After a considerable number of scouting supervisors watched Brecht and Dashwood pitch at Cal State Fullerton last weekend, more are scheduled to fly in this weekend for UCSB’s upcoming home series against Stephen F. Austin.

Closer Chris Lincoln, outfielders Tommy Jew and Armani Smith, catcher Eric Yang and shortstop Andrew Martinez are other Gauchos drawing draft interest as well.

Temecula Rising

In a down year across the board for the Southern California high school talent, two players from Temecula, Calif., are popping up to enhance the crop.

Great Oak HS shortstop Zach Arnold and Chaparral HS righthander Trevor Hinkel have increasingly drawn the attention of evaluators recently.

Hinkel, a 6-foot-1 righthander, has been working 90-93 mph and touching 94 mph with his fastball and holding his velocity deep into starts. He’s flashed an average slider, holds runners well and is showing improved athleticism. He is committed to Pepperdine.

Arnold, an Oregon commit, is hitting for average and power against top-level high school competition in the area while showing the body and tools for shortstop.

Arnold had multiple scouts stay back to watch him at the Boras Classic last week, while Hinkel is moving up boards as high as the fifth round.

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