Seven players who suited up for the San Jose Giants during the 2013 season, including co-team MVP's Ty Blach and Mac Williamson, received invitations to major league spring training this week. Catcher Jeff Arnold and pitchers Clayton Blackburn, Jose Casilla, Kyle Crick and Derek Law were also extended non-roster invitations to San Francisco's big league camp.
It's highly unlikely that any of these players will be considered for spots on San Francisco's opening day roster as none have played above the Class-A advanced level. However, the experience of participating in major league camp and seeing action in a handful of exhibition games provides a great opportunity to make a positive impression within the organization. Pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 14 with all other position players scheduled to report on February 18. The Giants' first spring training game is set for February 26 versus the Oakland Athletics.
Five of the seven non-roster invitees from San Jose's 2013 squad are pitchers, including three members of the Giants' talented starting rotation. Blach led the California League in ERA last season at 2.90 to go with a stellar 12-4 record. The left-hander, who made his professional debut with San Jose last year after a fifth-round selection in the 2012 draft, walked just 18 hitters compared to 117 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings. A midseason and postseason California League All-Star, Blach allowed two earned runs or fewer in 17 out of his 22 appearances. Blach's 12 wins were tied for first among all Giants minor leaguers in 2013.
Blackburn fashioned the fourth-best ERA in the California League last season at 3.65 over 23 starts. The right-hander logged a 7-5 record and struck out 138 batters while issuing just 35 walks in 133 innings. Blackburn led the San Jose staff in innings pitched and strikeouts last year.
Crick recovered from an early-season oblique injury to post a spectacular 1.57 ERA and a 3-1 record in 14 starts with San Jose. Regarded as the #1 prospect in the entire organization, the 21-year old right-hander struck out a whopping 95 batters in only 68 2/3 innings last season. Crick surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 13 out of his 14 starts with the Giants and reached double-digits in strikeouts on five occasions.
In all likelihood, the trio of Blach, Blackburn and Crick will anchor the starting rotation for the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels at the beginning of the 2014 season. All three will be making their first appearances in major league camp.
Casilla and Law were members of the San Jose bullpen last season. Casilla bounced back last year after missing most of 2011 and all of 2012 due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery. The right-hander was a workhorse out of the Giants 'pen making 43 appearances (second on the team). He compiled a 3.22 ERA with five saves and had the top groundout rate on the pitching staff. Casilla, the younger brother of San Francisco reliever Santiago, was on the 40-man roster prior to suffering his elbow injury in 2011.
Law burst onto the scene last year providing outstanding work as San Jose's closer during the second half of the season before an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League. Law joined the Giants from Augusta (Class A) in early-July and immediately became the club's top reliever. In 22 games out of the San Jose bullpen, he posted a 2.10 ERA and was a perfect 11-for-11 in save chances. Law struck out 45 batters in 25 2/3 innings while remarkably issuing only one walk. He then continued his banner year in the high-profile Arizona Fall League boasting a perfect 0.00 ERA over 12 1/3 innings spanning 11 relief appearances.
Williamson had the top all-around year offensively for San Jose in 2013 and was rewarded with an invitation to big league camp. The former third round draft pick clubbed 25 home runs with the Giants to rank tied for third on the team's single-season list. Williamson led San Jose in home runs, RBI's (89), slugging percentage (.504) and on-base percentage (.375) while ranking second in doubles (31). He finished the campaign with a .292 batting average, including a .331 mark after the All-Star break. Williamson enters 2014 as arguably the top outfield prospect in the Giants system.
Finally, Arnold receives his first big league camp invite after a solid all-around year in the California League. The anchor of last season's San Jose team defensively, Arnold was the primary catcher of a Giants staff that led the California League in ERA and strikeouts. Offensively, he hit .251 while posting career-high totals of 26 doubles, 13 home runs and 61 RBI's.
Williamson and Arnold are expected to open the 2014 season in Richmond.
Other former San Jose Giants extended non-roster invitations include pitchers Chris Heston, Mitch Lively and Dan Runzler, catcher Andrew Susac and infielders Chris Dominguez, Mark Minicozzi and Joe Panik. Susac and Panik, a pair of 2012 San Jose Giants, are considered the best prospects among this group. They both participated in big league camp last spring before spending all of 2013 in Richmond.
Of the 26 total non-roster invitees, 14 have once played for the San Jose Giants.
All players on the 40-man roster will also open the spring in big league camp. That includes new additions to the 40-man roster this offseason in former SJ Giants Gary Brown, Adam Duvall and Hunter Strickland. 2013 San Jose standout Edwin Escobar, another member of the 40-man roster, will also be in major league camp. With Escobar, Blach, Blackburn and Crick, four members from last year's San Jose starting rotation will begin spring training in big league camp.
As of now, San Francisco is set to open camp next month with 65 players (39 players currently on the 40-man roster + the 26 non-roster invitees). As spring training progresses, players will be sent to minor league camp before the Giants set their 25-man opening day roster in advance of their first game on March 31.