FRESNO, Calif. - The Fresno Grizzlies, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have announced their initial roster for the 2014 season. The club will take on the Las Vegas 51s for Opening Day tonight at 7:05 p.m. at Cashman Field and will return home to Chukchansi Park on April 11th for the Home Opener vs. Las Vegas.
The Grizzlies roster will have seven of the Giant's Top 30 Prospects, according to Baseball America. Left-handed pitcher Edwin Escobar, who finished last season with Double-A Richmond, enters the season ranked by Baseball America as the Giants No. 2 Prospect. He is joined on the team by top prospects RHP Heath Hembree (No. 7), infielder Joe Panik (No. 9), catcher Andrew Susac (No. 11), outfielder Gary Brown (No. 19), LHP Mike Kickham (No. 20), and RHP Erik Cordier (No. 30).
The starting rotation will include left-handed pitchers Mike Kickham and Edwin Escobar and right-handed pitchers Mitch Lively, Chris Heston, and Jason Berken. Lively led the 2013 Grizzlies in IP (124.0) and tied with Kickham (Giants No. 20 Prospect) for the team lead in starts (20). Escobar (No. 2 Prospect) combined to go 8-8 with a 2.80 ERA (40 ER/128.2 IP) with 146 strikeouts over 26 games (24 starts) between High-A San Jose and Richmond. The La Guaira, Venezuelan native is related to professional baseball players RHP Kelvim Escobar, INF Alcides Escobar and Yankees minor league RHP Jose Campos. Heston made 19 starts last season for the club, highlighted by a complete-game shutout on June 13th vs. Tucson. Berken joins the Giants organization after spending 2013 with the Chicago White Sox Triple-A affiliate (Charlotte). Last season, he tied for second in the International League in wins (12), ranked third in IP (161.0), and tied for third in games started (27).
The bullpen will consist of right-handed pitchers Cordier, Hembree, Brett Bochy, Jake Dunning, George Kontos, Rafael Dolis, and lefthanders Dan Runzler and Dontrelle Willis. Cordier (Giants No. 30 Prospect) spent last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate and posted an 11.0 strikeout-per-9.0 IP ratio in a career-high 44 appearances. Hembree established a Grizzlies single-season saves record (31) in 2013, led the team in appearances (54) and made his Major League debut for the Giants on September 3 at San Diego. Bochy begins his second straight season with Fresno after posting a 3.99 ERA (25 ER/56.1 IP) in 45 relief appearances. Dunning posted a career-low 1.49 ERA (8 ER/48.1 IP) in 34 games with Fresno before receiving his first Major League call up and making his debut on June 16 at Atlanta. Kontos spent the majority of 2013 with the Giants, going 2-2 with a 4.39 ERA (27 ER/55.1 IP) and 47 strikeouts over 52 appearances. Dolis split the season between Triple-A Iowa and the Chicago Cubs before having his season cut short due to a right forearm strain that placed him on the 60-day disabled list in late May. The 26-year-old right-hander did not allow a run in five appearances (5.0) with the Cubs in 2013. Runzler, who has spent parts of four seasons on the Giants roster (2009-12), placed second on the Grizzlies in relief appearances (51) last season. Willis, the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star (2003, 2005), is on his second stint with the Grizzlies (also 2010) after spending the last few seasons with the Los Angeles Angels (2013), Baltimore Orioles (2012), and Cincinnati Reds (2011) organizations.
Notable position players include two top prospects who spent 2013 at Richmond. Infielder Joe Panik (Giants No. 9 Prospect) and catcher Andrew Susac (No. 11) will make their Triple-A debuts. Panik finished last season first in the Eastern League in second baseman fielding percentage (.987) and second in games played (137). Susac was named to the EL mid-season All-Star team in 2013 and placed second among EL qualifiers by throwing out 40% (31-77) of would-be base stealers.
Tyler LaTorre and Guillermo Quiroz will serve as the backup catchers to Susac. Quiroz began last season as the primary backup to Buster Posey and also saw action in 14 games with the Grizzlies. LaTorre has seen action in 100 games with the Grizzlies over the past three seasons.
Playing alongside Panik in the infield will be Tony Abreu, Juan Ciriaco, Chris Dominguez, Adam Duvall, and Mark Minicozzi. Abreu appeared in 53 games for the Giants last season, batting .268 (37-138) with two homers and 14 RBIs. The 29-year-old Dominican Republic native hit a scorching .338 (22-65) over a brief stint with Fresno (22 games). Ciriaco, a utility player, only appeared in 61 games between Richmond and Fresno last year, but saw action at second base, third, shortstop and left field. Dominguez led the 2013 Grizzlies in hits (137) and total bases (216), ranked second in RBI (65), and placed third in home runs (15). Duvall has spent full seasons at short-season Salem Keizer, Low-A Augusta, High-A San Jose, and Richmond over the past four years. He led the California League in home runs (30) in 2012 and followed up with 17 homers at Richmond in 2013 despite missing a month due to a left-thumb injury. Minicozzi begins his first season at the Triple-A level after spending last year with Richmond. The 31-year-old corner infielder and outfielder led the Eastern League with a .309 (137-443) batting average last season.
Outfielders Gary Brown, Tyler Colvin, and Darren Ford round out the initial roster. Brown (Giants' No. 19 Prospect) spent a full season with the Grizzlies last year and led the Pacific Coast League in games played (137) and at-bats (558). Colvin, who spent the last two seasons with the Colorado Rockies organization, has clubbed 47 big league homers over five seasons (2009-13). Ford returns to the Giants organization after playing the last two seasons with Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners affiliate) and Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates affiliate).
Rafael Dolis, Tyler LaTorre, and Dontrelle Willis have been placed on the disabled list this morning, leaving 24 active players on the Fresno Grizzlies roster.
Bob Mariano returns for his third consecutive season as manager of the Grizzlies. He enters his 10th straight season with the Giants organization and 35th overall in professional baseball. New hitting coach Andy Skeels and new pitching coach Dwight Bernard join Mariano, while LJ Petra will serve as athletic trainer and Brad Lawson as strength and conditioning coach.
RHP Berken, Jason
RHP Bochy, Brett
RHP Cordier, Erik
RHP Dolis, Rafael*
RHP Dunning, Jake
LHP Escobar, Edwin
RHP Hembree, Heath
RHP Heston, Chris
LHP Kickham, Mike
RHP Kontos, George
RHP Lively, Mitch
RHP Reifer, Adam
LHP Runzler, Dan
RHP Tobin, Mason
LHP Willis, Dontrelle*
Bold represents player who is on the San Francisco Giants 40-man roster
* Disabled List