Augusta Aces Primed For Jump To San Jose
By Joe Ritzo
The 2013 North Division champion San Jose Giants season will be remembered most by the outstanding work of a prospect-laden starting rotation. But San Francisco’s Class A Advanced affiliate was not the only Giants farm team that enjoyed great success on the mound this year. The Augusta GreenJackets, behind several standout starting pitchers, posted an outstanding 3.42 team ERA in leading the club to a South Atlantic League-best 82-55 overall record. Now looking forward, it’s the 2014 San Jose Giants that could benefit from another wave of top prospect arms that will make the jump from Class-A Augusta to the California League.
2012 first round draft pick Chris Stratton, a former SEC Pitcher of the Year while at Mississippi State University, was the headline starter for the GreenJackets entering the campaign. And while Stratton had a solid season, it was actually 2012 second rounder Martin Agosta and emerging top prospect Kendry Flores that led the way.
Agosta, a native of Sacramento and product of Saint Mary’s College, was limited to just four starts after July 5 due to a pair of stints on the disabled list. When he was healthy though, there was not a more dominant pitcher on the staff, if not the league. In 18 starts overall, the right-hander fashioned a 2.06 ERA to go with a 9-3 record. He averaged well over a strikeout per inning pitched (109 SO in 91 2/3 IP) while limiting the opposition to a paltry .180 batting average. Agosta allowed two runs or fewer in 16 out of his 18 starts and had seven appearances with no runs surrendered. He was also one of the starting pitchers in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game last June.
Agosta features a low 90’s fastball that reportedly he can run up to 95 MPH. He doesn’t have a lot of size for a starting pitcher (listed at 6’1”, 180 lbs), but assuming full health next spring (he missed time last July/August due to a blister and some arm fatigue), he should be one of the anchors of a talented San Jose rotation.
Flores entered 2013 high on potential, but was coming off of back-to-back pedestrian seasons with Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League (5.06 ERA in 2011, 4.46 ERA in 2012). The right-hander though started this year fast with Augusta and never let up ending the season as one of the top starters in the South Atlantic League.
Overall in 22 starts, Flores compiled a 2.73 ERA to go with a 10-6 record. He struck out 137 batters in 141 2/3 innings while issuing only 17 walks all season. Flores finished the year ranked first in the league in WHIP (0.92), second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts and fifth in ERA. He posted a remarkable 79-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio after the All-Star break and had 13 starts overall with one or no earned runs allowed. Four times in the second half he recorded double-digit strikeout totals, including a 15 K, zero walk effort over eight innings on August 21.
Flores may not have the electric stuff of a Kyle Crick, but with a low 90’s fastball, developing offspeed pitches and outstanding control, expectations will be high in 2014 after his banner year in Augusta.Now to Stratton. There was much speculation last spring that he would start 2013 in San Jose, but in the end, the right-hander never saw the California League. Instead, it was a full campaign with Augusta where, in many years, Stratton’s season statistically would have made him the ace of the GreenJackets starting rotation. That was not the case thanks to the numbers put forth by Agosta and Flores, but with a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, a plus slider and a first round pedigree, there’s no question that Stratton will enter next season ranked as one of the top prospects in the San Francisco organization.
In 22 starts this year, Stratton posted a solid 3.27 ERA to go with a 9-3 record. He amassed 123 strikeouts compared to 47 walks in 132 innings and gave up just five home runs. The right-hander enjoyed more success at home (2.66 ERA) compared to on the road (4.06). A .276 opponents batting average after the All-Star break indicates Stratton wasn’t particularly dominating, but now with a year of pro ball under his belt, the hope will certainly be that the former first round pick takes a big step forward in 2014.
A fourth starting pitcher from Augusta that likely will earn a promotion to San Jose is lanky 6’7” right-hander Joan Gregorio. Staying healthy was often the biggest issue for Gregorio as he missed substantial time during the first half due to an oblique injury while a blister problem later in the year also forced a stint on the DL. Overall, Gregorio was limited to just 13 starts in Augusta this season compiling a 6-3 record with a 4.00 ERA. Like Agosta, Gregorio averaged well over a strikeout per inning (84 SO in 69 2/3 IP). He also issued only 17 walks all year while giving up just three home runs.
Gregorio showed flashes of dominance throughout the season. He had a 1.42 ERA in four starts to begin the year before going on the DL for the first time. On July 18 – just prior to his second DL stint – he fired seven no-hit innings with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Gregorio is known for a low 90’s fastball that can reach 94 or 95 with developing offspeed pitches. He’s yet another Giants starting pitching prospect with seemingly unlimited potential.
There will undoubtedly be multiple spots to fill in the San Jose rotation as likely all of the stars from the 2013 group are headed to the upper levels of the farm system. Whether all four of these starters from Augusta will find themselves playing at Municipal Stadium next April remains to be seen as injuries or a surprising promotion to Double-A for one or two could change the forecast. Meanwhile, there are other arms from this year’s GreenJackets staff, not to mention some intriguing possibilities from Short-Season Salem-Keizer, that are candidates to make the jump to San Jose as well. The most successful Giants teams over the last decade have all been built on quality starting pitching and the 2014 edition could be no different with the impressive talent expected to ascend through the ranks.