Sunday, October 14, 2007
On a blog response, I believe on Trent Rosecrans' soon-to-be short-lived blog (lament, lament), I saw someone raise the point, "Did the Giants or Cubs really have any good prospects that Dusty Baker didn't play?" That's a valid point. Was there really some hotshot that Dusty was keeping out of the lineup? Luckily, now that baseball-reference.com has minor league stats, we can investigate this question.
Baker first became manager of the Giants in 1993. He took over a team that had lost 90 games for Roger Craig the year before, and won 103 games, one game short of the West division title. The biggest change in the big-league team's lineup was adding Barry Bonds as a free agent, and as he replaced Mike Felder that was a pretty big step up that didn't have much to do with Baker. Otherwise, Baker stayed with the same lineup, including 23-year old Royce Clayton at shortstop and 25-year old Darren Lewis in center field, both easily categorized as defensive specialists and speed guys. Baker also got 20-win seasons out of holdover starters Bill Swift and John Burkett. Burkett was lucky with run support, and also had some arm troubles the next year, though he would come through them. For Swift, that was far more than he had ever pitched before, and he was never the same pitcher afterward. But, Swift was 31, and there's no way to know what his arm had left anyway. Baker also focused on 24-year old Rod Beck as the closer, and got a big year.
The Giants' high minor league teams in 1993 showed no hot prospects. The best player for AAA Phoenix was probably OF Steve Hosey, but he was not burning up the PCL or anything. The most interesting pitcher was probably 21-year old Salomon Torres, 14-8 with a 3.16 ERA split between AA and AAA. Torres also got eight major league starts, going 3-5. Torres never was really able to establish himself as a major league pitcher until going to the bullpen in his early 30s with Pittsburgh. AA Shreveport didn't really have anyone of note.
In 1994, the Giants dropped below .500. Will Clark left as a free agent, and was replaced by Todd Benzinger. 2B Robby Thompson had injury troubles, and was replaced by John Patterson. Dave Martinez started edging out Willie McGee. The pitching struggled, as Burkett faded, Swift got hurt, and Torres struggled, although youngster William Van Landingham was 8-2. Van Landingham had followed up a good 1993 in Class A ball with a strong start in AA in 1994, and got promoted quickly to fill the rotation holes.
Phoenix's best player was probably 1B J.R. Phillips, who hit 27 homers and batted .300, but the Giants stayed with the .265-hitting Benzinger. Catcher Brent Cookson hit .324 in 62 games for Shreveport, but didn't get a big league call.
The 1995 Giants were below .500 again. Mark Carreon took over 1B, Robby Thompson was back at 2B, and Glenallen Hill took over RF. J.R. Phillips got 231 AB, but hit .195. The pitching struggled again, and the bullpen fell apart. Phoenix' best player was OF Mark Leonard, but he was 30. Better prospects were Marvin Benard, a 25-year old OF who hit .301, and Rich Aurilia, 23, who hit .279 at Phoenix after batting .327 at Shreveport. Bill Mueller, 24-year old third baseman, hit .309 for Shreveport and .297 for Phoenix, though with no power. The pitching was pretty barren. Shreveport had a strong season, and besides Mueller and Aurilia in the first half boasted Jacob Cruz, a 22-year old OF who hit .297 with 13 HR. 2B Jay Canizaro, 21, batted .293. Some pitchers had success, but none stood out.
The Giants lost 94 games in 1996, but Aurilia got worked in as starting shortstop, and Mueller started getting playing time as well, edging in for Matt Williams at third. Shawon Dunston also came on board, mostly this year as a shortstop. Marvin Benard took over the CF job. Steve Scarsone, at 30 not young but a minor league veteran, got a shot at the 2B job. Finding pitching was still a challenge, but some young arms were getting a shot.
At this point we can fairly say that any young player who deserved a chance to play was getting it. Rich Aurilia was getting playing time, Bill Mueller was getting some chances, young pitchers were pitching. Two promising arms appeared in AA: Keith Foulke and Bobby Howry, at this point both starters. In our next segment, we will take up the success of 1997 with a division championship and see if things change in SF management.
posted by Shawn at 10:37 PM