The Giants were starting to look tired. Their offense had sputtered as they were swept in a three-game series at home. In the finale, they got 8 hits but were unable to plate a single runner, losing 3-0. They hit only 1-for-22 with runners in scoring position throughout the series. The Giants had been dominant in the first half, but so far in August, they were 3-6. Luckily, things were about to turn around. On August 11, the bats caught fire. The Giants scored 10 runs in the first two innings. They won with a final score of 15-4. All nine starters had at least one hit, racking up 20 hits total. The Giants followed that up with an 8-2 win on Friday, a 16-3 win on Saturday, and a 7-5 win in the tenth inning on Sunday to complete the four-game sweep. They scored 46 runs on 66 hits, with 15 long flies during the series.
If that doesn’t sound like the San Francisco Giants’ offense to you, you are right. Those impressive scores belong to the San Jose Giants, Advanced-A affiliate of the World Champ Giants. “The Little Giants” have a much stronger offense than the big-league team, and they have a better record as well. Overall, San Jose is 79-41, amounting to a .658 winning percentage. The Giants ended the first half with a 51-19 record (.729), clinching a playoff spot. If they can win it all this year, they will set a California League record with 3 consecutive championships.
As of Monday, five current San Jose Giants have 10 or more home runs (Tommy Joseph, 18; Luke Anders, 11; Jarrett Parker, 11; Gary Brown, 10, Ryan Cavan, 10). Only 2 major-league Giants belong in that category (Sandoval, 14; Huff, 11). Jose Flores has the lowest batting average for a San Jose position player at .225. The big-league Giants have 5 current position players with a lower average than Flores (Belt, .224; Whiteside, .219; Stewart, .214; Fontenot, .213, DeRosa, .150). Of course, averages are inflated in the minors, especially in the lower levels. The pitching tends not to be as challenging, and fielding is often not quite up to snuff. A pitch is more likely to be left over the plate, and a bloop into the outfield is more likely to find grass. Errors are more often the rule than the exception. This may not lead to the cleanest baseball, but San Francisco hasn’t played that cleanly either. The SF Giants have made 83 errors, placing them 11th in fielding percentage in the National League. Despite their apparent power at the plate, the San Jose Giants are not leading the league offensively. They rank sixth of the 10 California League teams in average, fifth in homers, and seventh in on-base percentage. Still, the Giants have dominated most opponents throughout the season. They have done it partially from the plate, but also from the mound.
It should be no surprise that the San Francisco Giants, a team built on pitching, has a throng of arms developing in the farm system. San Jose ranks first in the league in ERA (3.51), second in WHIP (1.31, after Stockton’s 1.30), first in saves (42) and first in shutouts (13; 5 teams are tied for second place with 4). The Giants, like their big-league counterpart, sent four pitchers (three starters and a closer) and one position player to the All-Star Game, the most of any team in the league. Two of these All-Stars are no longer on the team. Starter Zack Wheeler was traded to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. Closer Heath Hembree was promoted to Double-A Richmond in mid-June. Still on the San Jose roster are All-Stars Kelvin Marte and Craig Westcott. Marte owns a 10-6 record with a 3.29 ERA (4th in the league among qualifiers) and a 1.35 WHIP. Craig Westcott is 13-3 with a 3.02 ERA (2nd in the league) and a league-leading WHIP of 1.13.
Center fielder Gary Brown was the sole San Jose Giants’ position player at the California League All-Star Game. He also started in the Futures Game, which features each major league ball club’s top prospects, the players expected to make the bigs. Brown was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2010 draft, 24th overall. He was previously drafted by the A’s in the 12th round of the 2007 draft, but he chose to play ball at Cal State Fullerton instead. Brown is tearing up the California League. The young ballplayer is batting .323 with 27 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers and 66 RBI. He finished Saturday’s game a double shy of the cycle, going 4-for-6. Brown bats leadoff, and he generally finds a way to get on base. He leads current SJ Giants with a .393 OBP. He’s tied for third on the team with 39 walks, a stat which could be improved, but he ranks first on the team with 19 hit-by-pitches. (Tommy Joseph ranks second with 7.) Brown has plus-plus speed. He has stolen 45 bags, ranked second in the league. He could probably beat Darren Ford in a foot race. Anyone who is familiar with “The Bullet” knows what a difference speed makes in a game. Brown is also a quality center fielder. In 101 games for San Jose this year, he has made only 3 errors, securing a .987 fielding percentage. Brown leads the team with 13 outfield assists. Gary Brown is an all-around excellent ballplayer.
There is a lot of buzz around Gary Brown and his future. His statistics and overall ability suggest that he will not be stuck in Single-A for long. As a high-ranked prospect and former first-round draft pick, Brown’s name was thrown around by baseball commentators as possible trade bait before the MLB trade deadline. San Francisco likely could have landed a quality major league player in exchange for Brown. The fact that he is still a Giant means that the front office has confidence in his future with the franchise. Brown himself has stated in several interviews that he is not concerning himself with advancing through the minor league system. He is still in his first year of professional baseball, first playing in the Arizona League in late August 2010. Everything is still fresh and new for him, and he approaches the sport with the enthusiasm of a tee-ball player, genuinely enjoying himself. Brown hasn’t quite developed a game face yet. He can often be seen smiling and laughing inside the dugout, and even occasionally on the field. That’s not to say that he doesn’t take his job seriously. He views each passing day as an opportunity to improve. He will undoubtedly make it to the show one day, but he is not in a hurry to get there. Nonetheless, Brown will likely start the 2012 season higher up the food chain. He might get bumped up to Double-A Richmond (Virginia). It is possible that the organization will want to fast-track him, skipping Double-A altogether and sending Brown to Triple-A Fresno. Giants fans should root for the latter choice so they will have more opportunities to see him play. Just watching Brown run is worth the price of admission.
Gary Brown is hardly the only talented player on the San Jose roster. Tommy Joseph has been very impressive with the bat. He was just named Cal League Player of the Week. Over the four-game series against Lancaster, he went 12–for-20 with 5 home runs. On Saturday alone, Joseph went 5-for-6 with 2 homers and 4 RBI. The catcher, who turned 20 in July, is batting .269 and leading the team with 18 big flies. He needs some work defensively. In 78 games behind the plate, he has 4 errors, 11 passed balls, and has thrown out 38% of would-be base stealers. Some defensive weakness is acceptable in Single-A. Joseph is here to learn, and he will only get better.
When the big-league Giants’ torture becomes too much to handle, the Little Giants can generally pick you up. In the Advanced-A California League, no lead is insurmountable and no pitcher untouchable. The San Jose Giants are the best professional team in the state; their record is ranked near the top of all minor league teams at all levels. They can’t win every game, but you always feel like their chances are good. The season ends in early September, followed by the playoffs. San Jose is looking to make history with a third consecutive Cal League championship. This also may be your last chance to see Gary Brown for a while, so make plans to see this fantastic Giants team while you can.