After Ryan Vogelsong's disappointing 2013 season, due in large part to little offseason rest, why would the Giants allow prize prospect Edwin Escobar to pitch winter league baseball? His stats there clearly reflect that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a far cry from his regular-season figures, a sure indication of a tired arm.
-- Ray G., Gettysburg, Pa.
Don't worry about Escobar, ranked as San Francisco's No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com. The Giants regard the 21-year-old left-hander highly and won't do anything to jeopardize his welfare. I doubt he'll pitch anymore in winter ball, for instance. Escobar totaled 128 2/3 regular-season innings in 2013 and, as of last weekend, had accumulated 26 more for the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League. That suited the Giants, who requested a 25-inning limit for Escobar. The additional work shouldn't harm him, considering he totaled 130 2/3 innings in 2012 and an annual increase of about 30-40 innings is about right for pitching prospects.
Escobar's strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was 54-13 in the regular season and 19-13 with Lara, indeed could haved signaled a tired arm. It also might have reflected the upgraded quality of hitters who Escobar faced in Venezuela. They're probably more polished than his California and Eastern League foes. Escobar allowed just one home run in Venezuela, suggesting that he refrained from feeding hitters fat pitches. He also probably skirted the strike zone to avoid opponents' power.
While I appreciate the Giants' penchant to draft and develop great pitching, why is it so difficult to find power hitters to draft? The free-agent market value on power hitters is way overvalued, so it seems we either continue to platoon or develop from within. Are there any hopes for players down on the farm? Can Angel Villalona ever learn to hit a curveball? No offense to Buster Posey, Hunter Pence or the Panda, but we need a bat in the lineup that strikes home-run fear among opposing pitchers to protect our group of solid hitters.
-- Jason P., El Paso, Texas
As long as amateurs use aluminum bats, their home run totals often will look deceiving. That's why scouts place considerable emphasis on the performances of budding ballplayers in organizations such as the Cape Cod League, where wood bats are used. But hitters in those leagues might face a succession of pitchers who aren't at their sharpest. And, unfortunately, a scout must always wonder whether a prospect is using some sort of performance-enhancing substance. Judging power hitters is exceedingly difficult.
Villalona's only 23 and still lacks game experience; don't give up on him yet. Aside from him, the Giants' top power-hitting prospect is outfielder Mac Williamson, also 23, who hit 25 home runs while batting .292 for Class A San Jose last season.
If Jeff Kent gets voted into the Hall of Fame as he deserves, do you see him going in as a Giant?
-- Philip W., Sparks, Nev.
That's virtually certain. The Hall of Fame selects which logo shall adorn the cap of an inductee's plaque by determining where he made his most significant impact, if he played with multiple teams. For Kent, the Hall's choice has to be the Giants. Though he performed for six teams during his 17-year career, he spent more time with the Giants (900 of 2,298 games) than with any other club. The Dodgers (521 games) were a distant second. Moreover, Kent had his best years as a Giant. He batted .297, averaged 29 homers and 115 RBIs annually and recorded a .903 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) from 1997-2002 with San Francisco. He also won the 2000 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
If baseball is a game of statistics, then why doesn't Brett Pill start against right-handed pitching, too? His Triple-A stats scream, "Let him play!"
-- Joe F., Newport, Calif.
This e-mail is included as a public service, in case anybody preoccupied by the holidays missed the Giants' Dec. 21 announcement that they sold Pill to the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Association.
As Joe indicated, Pill thrived equally against left- and right-handed pitching, at least with Triple-A Fresno last season. He hit .344 off both. Sure, Pill's numbers dwindled during his Major League stints from 2011-13. But he never received a genuine chance to display his skills on the Major League level. Some talent evaluators believe that most players will prove what they're worth over a stretch of 100 at-bats. Pill never received that opportunity. Instead of signing Jeff Francoeur last July and giving him 63 plate appearances in 22 games, mostly as a left fielder, the Giants should have reserved that playing time for Pill. I'm not predicting that Pill will become Mike Trout in Korea. But the sense here is that the Giants jettisoned Pill without fully discovering what they had in him.