San Francisco Giants: First impressions of reliever Sam Coonrod
By Jeff Young
With the several departures from the bullpen at the trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants have lost a bit of depth. This is a great opportunity for Sam Coonrod to shine.
The San Francisco Giants have given right-hander Sam Coonrod his first extended look in the majors and he is making the most of that opportunity.
The 26-year-old was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB draft out of Southern Illinois University.
Once ranked as high as the No. 6 prospect in the San Francisco system prior to the 2016 season by Baseball America, Coonrod worked almost exclusively as a starter until last year. He had a 2.81 ERA as a starter across three minor league levels between 2015 and 2016.
He was often an under-the-radar target in trade discussions, and the fact that other teams had their eye on him in trade talks speaks to what the rest of baseball thought of his potential.
However, the right-hander experienced a speed bump in his development in 2017. While pitching in Double-A, Coonrod posted a 4.69 ERA and struggled with his control. That led to him making the transition from starter to reliever. Then, during that transition, he sustained an elbow injury that eventually led to Tommy John surgery.
After a year of rehab, Coonrod burst back on to the minor league scene. In the small sample size of 11.2 innings across two minor league levels, he struck out 23 batters, and that was enough for the San Francisco Giants to add him to their 40-man roster last November.
The 26-year-old began the year in Triple-A, and his performance with the River Cats was a bit of a head-scratcher. In 32.1 innings, Coonrod posted a 6.96 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP, but it came with a 4.42 FIP. That FIP suggests that he was the victim of some poor luck and that his ERA was likely inflated as a result.
In the end, those results likely speak more to the extreme offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League than Coonrod’s pitching ability. On a positive note, he recorded 12 strikeouts per nine innings with the River Cats. So, despite his bottom-line results, the right-hander clearly showed a knack for generating strikeouts.
Since joining the MLB roster, the results have been impressive.
Prior to allowing two earned runs in an inning of work on Monday, Coonrod had a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings of work, and he yielded just three hits along the way. Not bad for a first impression. Even after Monday’s outing, he has a 2.45 ERA and a stellar .114 opponents’ batting average in 11 innings.
Put simply Coonrod has not looked like a pitcher who would have a 6.96 ERA in Triple-A.
Hitters have not looked entirely comfortable in the batter’s box when he is pitching. His fastball can reach 98-99 mph, and it has enough late movement to induce plenty of swinging strikes and weak contact.
In some ways, he has a lot in common with former San Francisco Giants top prospect and current Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Kyle Crick. Similar to Crick, Coonrod struggles with his command, but his live arm makes it easy to envision him becoming an effective MLB reliever with the potential for a high-leverage role.
Coonrod’s strong performance over a small sample no doubt played at least some small role in Farhan Zaidi feeling okay trading away a few of the team’s bullpen arms at the deadline.
If he continues to pitch like this, he will gradually climb the bullpen hierarchy.
He does not need to be the ninth-inning guy on this San Francisco Giants roster to be a key contributor, and he’s done well bridging the gap between starter and closer.