Getting to Know Your San Francisco Giants’ 2012 Non-Roster Invitees
By Ashley Varela
Last September, that magical part of the season when non-contending teams throw their young prospects into the big leagues, I remember seeing flurries of excitement on Twitter over up-and-coming stars like Gary Brown and Joe Panik. As one of those fans who limits her perspective to the major leagues and is mildly annoyed at having to learn new faces (even very talented new faces), I didn’t pay much attention to their contributions.
Sometime during this offseason, however, I realized that I need to familiarize myself with the farm system of talented players waiting to break through to AT&T Park in 2012. I want to be one of those fans who squeals over guys like Joaquin Arias and Nick Noonan when they are called up and do crazy things like hit a walk off grand slam against Clayton Kershaw to clinch the NL West.
…shut up, that could totally happen.
Let’s start with the first five non-roster invitees: right-handers Jake Dunning, Justin Fitzgerald, Austin Fleet, Stephen Harrold, and Heath Hembree.
In 2009, Jake was drafted by the Giants in the 33rd round, and spent the past three seasons working his way up from the AZL Giants to the Class-A San Jose Giants. Last year, he accumulated a 1.45 WHIP and 3.71 FIP over 76.0 innings and 41 appearances, for a 8.41 strikeout rate and 2.84 walk rate. Although he began his career as a shortstop, some have speculated that Jake’s successful transition to relief pitching creates a strong case for him as a future setup man or closer.
Justin had remarkably similar seasons as a starter in 2010 and 2011, pitching 146.0 innings in San Jose and 146.1 innings in Richmond for 140 and 147 hits, 56 and 57 earned runs, and 116 and 111 strikeouts. His FIP decreased slightly in 2011, from 3.62 to 3.53, while his WHIP and BABIP increased to 1.38 and .316.
Austin Fleet made waves in the Arizona Fall League last autumn, where he started two games and made nine relief appearances for a 2.57 ERA and 14:3 strikeout to walk ratio. In 2011, Fleet jumped from the AZL Giants to Class-AA Richmond Flying Squirrels, playing the majority of his games in Augusta for a 3.95 FIP and 1.44 WHIP.
Harrold also shone in the AFL, ending on an impressive streak of 10 appearances and 14 innings, where he allowed only one run and struck out 14 batters. Last season, he transitioned from Augusta to San Jose, pitching 23.0 innings for a 3.74 FIP and 1.29 WHIP, with a 8.9 K/9, and 4.2 BB/9. For an in-depth look at Harrold’s numbers and pitch movement in 2011, check out Seedlings to Stars’ recent profile.
Heath split his last season between San Jose and Richmond, where his 1.74 FIP sank to 2.64, his walk rate stayed around 11%, and his strikeout rate plummeted from 43.6% to 28.8%. In Fangraphs’ Top 15 San Francisco Giants Prospects list, Marc Hulet ranks Hembree tenth. If he fixes his control issues and improves against left-handed hitters, Hulet sees Hembree stepping into Brian Wilson‘s cleats as the Giants’ future closer. At worst, he’ll take a few more seasons to develop in Double-A and Triple-A while more polished pitchers step into the spotlight.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll tackle the next five pitchers invited to Spring Training. Speaking of which, only two days remain before pitchers and catchers report!