02 March 2010

The Giants and Steve Johnson

Last December we explained why it made complete sense why Steve Johnson was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft and why he was likely to return to the Orioles. Today, I'd like to explore Johnson's potential for sticking with the Giants this season. First off, the Giants will carry seven arms in their pen. Five are essentially locks to being the season. They include the closer Brian Wilson, whom many compare favorably to Jonathan Broxton. He has a live arm and was successful in the role last year for the Giants. Their set up also return. Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo also had solid years and are definites. In middle relief, Brandon Medders solidified his role last year and Dan Runzler emerged as the minor league Giants pitcher of the year as well as being fairly unhittable in his short time in the Majors last year.

This leaves two slots open for Steve Johnson to fill: middle relief or long relief. With both Runzler and Affeldt as southpaws, Johnson's righthandedness should not impede him. It also helps that his role is one in which very little is expected. Merkin Valdez and Joe Martinez/Ryan Sandowski held down the middle relief and long relief/swingman roles, respectively. Of those players, only Joe Martinez remains. What also works for Johnson is that Giants personnel are very positive about Johnson after watching him for several seasons in the Dodgers' system.

After the jump, Johnson's competition for these two positions and what this may mean for the Orioles.

Todd Wellemeyer, RHRP (has started in the past)
Wellemeyer is a non-roster invite to the Giants camp. He came up as a reliever in the Cubs system. After winding up in St. Louis in midway through 2007, he proceeded to pitch quite effectively as a starter for a year and a half. He kept his strikeouts above 6 per 9 and did well to limit walks. That fell apart last year as he missed awfully few bats. Wellemeyer is something that the Giants brass are known to love . . . veterans. He has pitched for many years and has shown a great degree of competence. Todd Wellemeyer is basically Steve Johnson seven or so years from now.

Joe Martinez, RHRP (has started in the past)
Martinez filled the role of swingman and long relief last year. He did not do well posting a 7.50 ERA over 30 innings. Unless he shows some promise, he most likely will be sent down to AAA and be the first brought up. Based on my math, he should have 2 options left.

Kevin Pucetas, LHP (starter in minors)
Pucetas has rather average pitches, but was shown to pitch quite effectively in low and hi A ball. Last year, the Giants chose to skip him over AA and he proceeded to be rather ineffective at AAA Fresno. A conservative organization would allow him another year to start at Fresno. If the Giants think they are close to the playoffs, they might prefer having another left handed option in the pen. I'd be doubtful that he could start in the Majors with his repertoire.

Waldis Joaquin, RHRP
Joaquin threw 10.2 innings at the Major league level and showed that he could miss bats (10.1 k/9) and strike zones (5.9 bb/9). He tasted the Majors last year after dominating AAA for 8 innings. That may have been an aberration.

Guillermo Mota, RHRP
Mota just signed as an NRI and would be considered for the middle relief position. He is a veteran who has pitched as a closer and setup man. It is the typical M.O. for the Giants organization to employ a player like Mota in the pen. His peripherals have been slightly shaky the past two seasons, but he has been an integral part for the Dodgers and Brewers bullpens. I would be surprised if he did not wind up being the 6th man in the pen.

I doubt any of the non-roster invites will put up much competition to these guys. NRIs: Denny Bautista, Santiago Casilla, Rafael Cova, Steven Edlefsen, Eric Hacker, Osiris Matos, Tony Pena Jr., Felix Romero, Dan Turpen, Craig Whitaker, Craig Clark, and Clayton Tanner.

Who is likely to get the middle relief role?
1. Mota
2. Joaquin
3. Wellemeyer
4. Johnson

Who is likely to get the long relief role?
1. Wellemeyer
2. Martinez
3. Johnson
4. Bautista

I find it near impossible for him to win the last middle relief slot. I find there to be some chance he could stick on in the long relief role. My bet is that Mota and Wellemeyer wind up in these two slots. The Giants tend to embrace veterans and might be reluctant in giving slots for a rookie to hide and take his lumps. I do think the Giants value him and believe they will be looking to trade for him.

What is Steve Johnson worth and what do the Orioles need?
John Sickels rates Steve Johnson as a C+ prospect (all Sickels grades links here AL - NL). In return the Orioles would probably receive a prospect with a similar grade. Areas of organizational need for the Orioles would be second base, short stop, and left-handed relief. The following players fit that criteria:

2B Nick Noonan (C+) - Noonan has his supporters and is thought to be more valued in the Giants front office than elsewhere in baseball. It remains to be seen if they would entertain a straight trade for Johnson. Last season saw Noonan as a 20yo in HiA. Poor contact skills, good plate discipline, average power, below average speed, and very good base running. He seems to be a very smart player. He is a kind of prospect who could break out in the next season or two. He would slot in at AA and compete with Ryan Adams. Both profile as offensive 2B, but Noonan has much more speed. Noonan is an NRI this year.

LHSP Aaron King (C+) - King has a powerful arm and would be shoehorned into a tight starting rotation in Frederick. It might be more realistic though to begin shifting him toward being a potential dominant bullpen arm. The hope would be that pitching from the stretch and focusing on his low 90s sinker. His mechanics are a bit of a mess, so I doubt he will be valued by many as a starter.

LHSP Clayton Tanner (C+) - Tanner is similar to Johnson in that he is a lefty that is better known for pitchability than how impressive his actual pitches are. After repeating HiA and getting hit much harder the second time through (1hr in 2008 vs 18hr in 2009), he still managed to do pretty well. His soft spot was right handers hitting him hard. His FIP against lefties was 3.04, while it was 5.11 against righties. Only one lefties hit a home run off him. He will probably start in AA, but is beginning to look like someone who will eventually be shifted to a LOOGY role.

SS Ehire Adrianza (C) - His raw tools are very solid. His glove is excellent. He has an athletic body that can probably put on another 10-15 pounds. He also has shown very good plate discipline. At 19, he held his own quite well in loA with a 258/333/327 line. His contact rate is not good and I doubt he will develop much power. That said, a young SS with a solid glove and good discipline is a rare find.

SS Brandon Crawford (C) - Crawford, as you many remember, was our 4th round selection in the 2008 shadow draft we ran in real time. His glove is solid and compares rather well with Adrianza's. Both should be MLB quality in their defense. His bat? Back in 2008 we wrote this:

Dating back to the Cape, he has been pressing rather than letting his game flow naturally. As his struggled continued, he pressed harder -- regularly lunging at pitches and frequently showing signs of frustration. He has demonstrated a potential for plus-power, but he'll have to improve his contact rate to realize it.

In HiA, Crawford was either excellent or was no match for the pitching at that level. He broke out with a 371/445/600 line in 105 at bats showing off very good power. He was then promoted to AA and struggled. He struck out 25% of the time. Had difficulty earning walks. He did show some gap power (ISO - .107), but nothing very extraordinary. It would probably benefit him repeating AA. He needs to show better plate discipline and a better contact rate. In the Baltimore system, he will be having to share time with Pedro Florimon, Jr., whom the Orioles seem to favor.

Who would I want?
1. Ehire Adrianza
2. Nick Noonan
3. Brandon Crawford
4. Aaron King
5. Clayton Tanner

I think the Giants would probably look to move Crawford or King from that group.

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