Merkin Ahoy! 

The Baseball America Prospect Report (which you should subscribe to if you don't already) tells us this morning that Merkin Valdez has made his 2004 debut at single-A San Jose, so it's as good a time as any to wander amongst the Giants' farm statistics and muse a while upon them.

With 5 1/3 innings, 6 Ks, no walks and only two hits, Valdez last night showed why everyone has been eager for his return, and why the Giants were extra-careful when he contracted "tendonitis" (whatever that means) this spring. Valdez joins Matt Cain, the Giants' other top pitching prospect, in San Jose, for what should be a nasty one-two punch. Cain's numbers:

1.94 ERA / 55.2 IP / 47 H / 16 BB / 62 K / 4 HRs

[[THURS 6/3 UPDATE: Cain pitched last night; 2 hits, 1 walk and 14 strikeouts in 7 innings.]]

If all goes well, both should be in double-A Norwich by year's end. This is a welcome sign, as the Giants' AAA starting pitchers in the post-Foppert/Williams/Ainsworth era seems to have hit a wall. The top two, Kevin Correia and Noah Lowry, are posting mediocre numbers and Ryan Jensen still looks terrible. (In relief, David Aardsma after a couple stints in the bigs in which he looked not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, is posting similar numbers at Fresno: low ERA, but so-so peripherals that indicate he needs more time. With his stuff he should be blowing guys away. But he walks too many, especially for someone tagged as a future closer.)

Meanwhile at Norwich, two starting pitchers that have gotten little to no ink are quietly having good seasons.

- Lefty Pat Mitsch in 60 innings has struck out 45, allowed 51 hits and only 12 walks. That's damn good. A few more K's and he'd be close to elite status.
- Brad Hennessey, a former first-round draft pick who missed a lot of time because of a tumor in his back, is, um, back. In nearly 60 innings, he's struck out 33, with 54 hits and 19 walks. Those aren't great peripheral numbers, but it seems he's been getting stronger as the season progresses, so check back in a couple months.

It's most likely that if the Giants make a big trade soon, Cain or Valdez would be bait. I"m sure Sabean would prefer to trade Mitsch or Hennessey or one of the AAA guys (except Aardsma), but with all the ink Cain and Valdez have recently received, their trade value is probably as high as a single-A guy's value could be.

On the position side, Tony Torcato and Todd Linden are looking more and more like punch-and-judys, .300 hitters with some to little plate discipline and little to no power. Interesting how Lance Niekro has jumped from single-A to triple-A and started crushing the ball, even while missing the first few weeks with the ankle injury he suffered in spring training. If he keeps on like he's doing for a full year at Fresno (.333/.375/.689 in 45 at-bats, a very small sample size), he could compete for the first-base job next year.

Damon Minor, who's had some great, patient at-bats but not much success since returning to the Giants, isn't the only veteran farmhand who had a resurgence at Fresno this year. Cody Ransom made the Giants out of spring training and went 1 for 12 with 4 Ks. It seemed his last chance; he was sent down, no one else wanted him and he cleared waivers. Lifetime .250 minor league hitter (if I remember correctly), lots of Ks... he goes back down and starts lighting up the Pacific Coast League.

He's hitting .328/.411/.641, with a Bondsian 10 homers in 128 at-bats. He's also shown a keen eye for the first time in his career: 17 BBs and only 28 Ks. Still, I'm not too excited. It doesn't jibe with his track record, and every lifetime AAA guy has a long hot streak or two. But ever the optimist, I'm thinking maybe Cody's finally put it together. Even if he can be a 10-HR, .330 OBP/.400 SLG guy in the bigs, that'll be plenty, and certainly an improvement over Neifi Perez. Of course, Sabean will soon announce a two-year contract extension for Perez at $3 mil per year plus an $4.2 M option that kicks in when Neifi pops up his 40th bunt attempt in 2005. Hoping for a Ransom Revival is moot.

Speaking of minor league hot streaks: low single-A third baseman Nate Schierholtz bats lefty and is raking the ball: 14 homers and a .637 SLG in 190 ABs. The only caution flag is a low walk rate, 15 so far, which means his plate discipline may be exploitable by better pitchers. But he's also very young, so keep your fingers crossed. He may be the best positional prospect the Giants have had since the late 1980s.


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