Q: The Grizzlies have a new manager this year in Bob Mariano, but he’s a guy familiar with the Giants organization. From what you know about him, what will he bring to the Grizzlies this year?
A: Well, obviously a very strong understanding of the various hitters, since he was serving as the minor league coordinator of hitting instructon, he has seen every homegrown hitter in the Giants’ chain. So obviously the guys coming up from San Jose and Richmond, as well as the guys who have been in Fresno for the past couple of years, he knows all of those guys and has worked with them first-hand.
Q: From the time you have spent with him, how do you feel his personality will mesh with the Grizzlies this year?
A: I think quite well. It helps when you have a guy who has already been in the system. He knows them, and the players know Bob. Sometimes you have a guy that might have been promoted from a much lower level [in the minors] to triple-A, maybe a guy who doesn’t have much experience with older players, but Bob knows everybody.
Bob has also been a manager at the triple-A level in the Brewers system when they had a team in Tucson about 15 years ago. Bob has worked with players at all levels, so he knows that players will be different at triple-A than they would be at single-A. It helps that all of these guys know him.
Q: Looking at the team last year, they had a pretty rough start, but ultimately balanced right around .500 in the last two months. From what you saw, what was the reason for that?
A: The team seemed to win a lot when Brandon Belt was in the lineup.
Triple-A is just so hit-and-miss. Obviously the goal is to see guys get to the big leagues and not be in triple-A very long. And if you’re winning and a guy gets called up, well that’s the point, to see guys get called up.
But I think the starting pitching was good last year. Matt Yourkin, Shane Loux, Andrew Kown, all guys who will be back this year. All were double digits, or at least close to it, in victories. Loux was right near the top of the league in innings pitched. Yourkin led the PCL in strikeouts. So that obviously had a lot to do with it. Daniel Otero came later in the year, maybe around July, and closed a lot of games. So you can look at all of those guys, as well as the contributions of Belt and Brett Pill.
Q: Talking about Brett Pill, at 27 he isn’t exactly what would conventionally be called a prospect, but he still had a breakout season last year. What are his chances of sticking with the Giants right out of spring training, or is he ticketed for a return to Fresno?
A: I think Brett has a good chance of being with the big club. He’s hit well this spring, and obviously came up last September and did not disappoint. He’s a guy that the Giants are trying to develop a little more, playing some third base, playing some left field, and he’s a guy who can come in and spell Aubrey Huff in a defensive situation late in the game. He can come off the bench as a right-handed batter, or use that to start against lefties. Right now, Brandon Belt is the one who needs the at-bats, but I think there is a decent chance that Pill could be in San Francisco.
Q: Speaking of Belt, when he was up in San Francisco last season, his power was able to carry over, but his average did not. From what you saw in Fresno, what were some of the things that made him a successful triple-A hitter that he wasn’t able to carry over to the majors?
A: Belt’s a guy who gets really locked in at the plate. He has a really good eye and isn’t a guy who is just going to go up there and take hasty swings and say, ‘Hey, I have to go up here and hit a home run every time.’ His approach is to wait for his pitch and make the pitcher work, and if he draws a walk, he draws a walk.
There are times he’ll take a called third strike, but he has a patient eye. That’s one thing I really noticed about him was plate discipline.
Q: When you look at him as a hitter, where would he rank on a list of guys that you’ve seen come through Fresno?
A: It’s tough to say because there have been a lot of guys with a lot of upside who can hit the ball a long way and have good discipline -- but he’s certainly up there. Last year it was tough for him because he kept going up and down [between Fresno and San Francisco]. This year, since he’s already been through it, I don’t want to say he wasn’t relaxed last year, but I think going into another year of not avoiding Fresno, something he didn’t do out of the gate last year. And maybe he’ll think that if he has to start in Fresno, that’s fine, and concentrate on that, and if he does well here, the big leagues aren’t that far away.
Q: When you look at Conor Gillaspie, he had a chance to spend all year in Fresno and performed well, and was decent in a late-season call-up, but at third base he’s obviously blocked by Pablo Sandoval. So looking ahead to this year, is he a guy who the Giants would want to send back down to Fresno to continue to develop, or is he a guy who they want in the major league lineup as soon as possible?
A: I think right now he needs to get at-bats in the minor leagues -- not that he didn’t last year. But, as you mentioned, he’s blocked right now and he doesn’t really play another position. Last year they had him a little bit at first base and in left field for two or three games, but he’s a third baseman, and a good defensive third baseman. Right now, Gillaspie’s only 24 but Pablo is the guy at third. And who knows, maybe they’ll get Gillaspie at another position, but I don’t know that right now. I’d have to think right now that he’ll be back in Fresno.
Q: When you look at the organization as a whole, the Giants have been incredibly successful at developing talent, particularly at pitcher. What is it that makes the Giants so good at churning out homegrown players who are successful in the majors?
A: You just have to go back to the drafts they’ve had. They have a great scouting department and excellent instructors. It all started when they drafted Tim Lincecum, and then Bumgarner got drafted, and then Posey got drafted. Those were the three centerpiece homegrown guys when they won the World Series.
I think it’s just to scout well and know what your needs are, and you can never have enough good pitching.
Posey isn’t a great player, he is a special player, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they won the World Series when he was on the ball club.
Q: When looking at the Giants top prospects for this year, they have a couple of interesting guys, namely Gary Brown and Tommy Joseph, have you gotten a chance to see them perform this spring and is there any indication where they will start the season?
A: They’ll both likely be at double-A Richmond. Tommy Joseph is a power hitting catcher who can spray the ball to all fields, but I don’t know too much about him defensively. I honestly haven’t seen a lot of him, but he has made a real good impression in spring training. I understand it’s just spring training, but for a kid who is 20 years old that’s a positive sign. He’s really built like a catcher, but with catchers, as you move up the chain, you have to learn how to call games, but hitting wise, he had 22 home runs playing against older competition. People say the best pitching is at double-A, so we’ll see what he can do there with the bat.
Gary Brown has a ton of speed, a ton of enthusiasm and the numbers he put up in San Jose were staggering. He might be a little ahead [of Joseph] in the sense that he’s 21 years old and played college ball. Right now, I would say that playing at double-A is right within his age range.
Q: Looking ahead to the Grizzlies this season, as you mentioned it is always difficult for triple-A teams because it is that stop-gap between the majors. But, that being said, what is the outlook for the team this year?
A: I think a lot of guys will be back repeating triple-A, which isn’t always the best thing. But at the same time the Giants need to keep these guys in the system. You have a guy in Tyler Graham coming back who had 60 steals last year and set the Grizzlies’ all-time single season record. You have the three pitchers coming back in Loux, Yourkin and Kown. And Eric Hacker, who won 16 games with Fresno two years ago and was signed by the Giants in the offseason. He’ll be back in Fresno. There’s going to be a lot of experience.
You’ll have a lot of guys back in the lineup. Conor Gillaspie will be back at third, and then Brandon Belt at first if he doesn’t break camp with the Giants. You’ll have a lot of veteran leadership, so I think it’ll be a pretty good club.
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