What We Learned from MiLB: Week Four

I continue to steal from Dave Cameron’s review format below. Here’s what seems clear after a month of minor league action:

Brandon Belt likes wood.

What a coup it was when the Texas Longhorns managed to convince Brandon Belt to come to Austin, rather than sign with the Atlanta Braves, following his freshman season at San Jacinto Junior College. Belt was considered one of the top JuCo transfers in the nation, a big left-handed slugger that could double as a power southpaw out of the bullpen. However, in two seasons with Texas, Belt never took the jump that scouts and coaches alike expected. Yes, his junior season he still sported a .329/.429/.532 batting line, but by college first base standards, this is hardly other-worldly.

Given his build, his potential, his batting practice showings, Belt still showed enough to be drafted in the fifth round last season by the San Francisco Giants. Assigned to San Jose of the California League for his professional debut, Belt has been a revelation since moving to wood bats. He is one of four hitters in the minors batting .400, he leads the minors with a .510 on-base percentage, and his .640 slugging ranks 14th. Belt has essentially been platooned with the SJ Giants — he only has 8 AB against LHP — but is showing patience, bat control and gap power that make him a real prospect.

In 75 at-bats through 24 games, Belt has just 8 strikeouts against 17 walks. He has 12 extra-base hits, and has even managed seven steals. This is what Augie Garrido and the Texas staff thought they were getting when Belt arrived in Austin, but Belt is showing the rare skill to have more comfort with wood than aluminum. He is a real prospect, and looks to be a great pick by San Francisco.

Derek Holland should be in the Majors.

The Rangers are experiencing a wild change in fortune this season, as, for the first time in who-knows-how-long, the pitching staff (121 ERA+) is currently outpacing the offensive output (82 OPS+). I don’t know how long this will last — Justin Smoak hasn’t hit his stride, Nelson Cruz is on the shelf — but it’s clear that with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and even Rich Harden, the Texas staff is the best it has been in awhile. And yet, it could be better.

We have written before on this site about Derek Holland‘s misfortune last season — a 6.12 ERA vs. a 4.38 xFIP. And when Holland suffered an injury in Spring Training, it became pretty clear that he had earned a ticket back to Triple-A. But now through six minor league starts, it seems silly for him to be wasting time with minor league hitters. Through 38.2 innings, Holland has allowed one home run, 7 walks and struck out 37 batters (0.93 ERA). He is ready.

When the realization hits that Scott Feldman isn’t good, or that Holland is better than Matt Harrison, I don’t know. But locked in a dogfight division, the Rangers would be best served finding clarity about their best pitching staff soon.

The Giants farm system just wins, baby.

More a fun tidbit than a telling statistic, I do think it’s noteworthy that the San Francisco Giants four minor league affiliates are a combined 61-42, two games better in the standings than any other Major League team. This is not indicative, nor should it be a factor, of any farm system rankings (the Mets are second), but I do think the 21 point advantage the Giants have in winning percentage over their competition is noteworthy.

The Low-A Augusta Greenjackets are 16-11, and have received a team-leading five home runs from catcher Tommy Joseph, and 2009 first-round pick Zack Wheeler‘s last two starts have been great: 9.2 innings, 6 hits, 0 ER, 6 walks, 13 strikeouts. I’ve mentioned Belt’s contributions to the 13-11 San Jose Giants, who have another college bloomer in former NC State ace Eric Surkamp, who continues to be brilliant in all three FIP categories.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Giants new Double-A affiliate, are 15-11 despite little contributions from actual prospects: Thomas Neal (.235/.324/.357), Brandon Crawford (.224/.324/.353) or Roger Kieschnick (.284/.324/.337). Leading the charge are the 17-9 Fresno Grizzlies,armed with Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, but getting their biggest contributions from good ol’ Joe Borchard, hitting .360/.455/.640.

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13 Responses to “What We Learned from MiLB: Week Four”

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  1. Gilbert says:

    Guys like Belt and Smoak seem like cartoony baseball names that should have been characters in “The Natural”. Now if only he could have hit well enough to make the bigs…

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  2. Matt B. says:

    Any rationale for why Holland was lifted after 5 IPs (8 K’s) and a reasonable pitch count? Just saving him usage wise? He has looked extremely polished thus far in AAA, would love to see him back in the show.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      If the boys at Newberg Report can’t figure it out, then I have no chance. But I agree with their assessment, that given his previous start, there isn’t a lot of value gained by sending him back out.

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      • Matt B. says:

        Agreed, I read that report and hoped somebody might have an answer/quote by now? Makes sense, they aren’t trying to make him the AAA MVP with gaudy stats, just prep him for the majors and instill confidence. Seems it is working.

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    • SurfinYouSay says:

      Jon Daniels was asked about this and said that since Holland threw so many pitches in his previous start (118 iirc) that they didn’t want him to exceed 90 pitches this time out.

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  3. Jon says:

    Belt isn’t being platooned, SJ has just not seen many lefties so far. The few he’s seen he’s mostly taken walks against them. He’s played and started in every game so far.

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  4. Dave says:

    Belt isn’t being platooned. The SJ Giants just haven’t faced many lefties. Those 8 ABs are in addition to 5 BBs vs. LHP, so he has 13 PA against them.

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  5. joser says:

    The Rangers may indeed be locked in a dogfight division, but it’s four dogs trying to gum each other to death.

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  6. Edwincnelson says:

    I’m not sure how fair it is saying Feldman is just bad. His 53% strand rate and .324 BABIP probably indicate he’s not this bad. In addition, his xFIP last year wasn’t totally out of whack with his real ERA or FIP so…

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      His xFIP last year was 4.49. His xFIP this year is 5.24. Neither is particularly good. Derek Holland is head and shoulders better than Feldman. That’s all I’m trying to say.

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  7. EDogg1438 says:

    Does Belt have a really strange batting stance?

    IIRC there was a College World Series game featuring Texas and Belt that I watched, and he seemed to have a really odd stance for a player with his size and power potential. Seemed like it was hampering his power potential. He showed a really good eye though. Just wondering if he is still using that odd approach, or if they changed his mechanics at all…

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