by Charlie O. Mallonee
The Sacramento River Cats are the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. A Triple-A team serves two purposes for a major league franchise:
- It is the place where the major team stashes its backup players they may need if injuries or poor performance require an immediate roster change without having to make a trade or having to go to the waiver wire.
- Triple-A is the highest rung on the minor league ladder. It is where the final determinations are made whether a player can or cannot make it in “the show”. Being promoted to Triple-A is no guarantee of making a major league roster before your career is over. Triple-A can also be the end of a very long road for a player.
The River Cats play in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Divison along with the Fresno Grizzlies (Astros), Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners) and Reno Aces (D-Backs). There are four divisions and 16 teams in the PCL. The other Triple-A association is the International League which is comprised of 14 teams.
The Pacific Coast League has traditionally been known for high batting averages and inflated Earned Run Averages. This is due in part to the fact that many of the teams play at higher altitudes or in weather conditions where the ball tends to carry farther. Player personnel directors have always had to hope that pitchers ERA’s would improve over their Triple-A stats and expect that hitters batting averages would be at least 50 to 100-points less in the majors than they were in the PCL.
The Giants called up three players from Sacramento on Saturday. Because of the doubleheader on Saturday, San Francisco was able to expand the roster to 26 for Saturday only. RHP Derek Law from the River Cats was called up to cover that special spot.
The Giants had to place second baseman Joe Panik on the 10-day disabled list due to a left thumb strain. San Francisco selected the contract of Alen Hanson from Sacramento to take Panik’s place on the roster.
Right fielder Mac Williamson has been put on the seven-day disabled list because of a possible concussion. River Cats outfielder Austin Slater received the temporary promotion to the MLB.
Sacramento can also be a rehab location
Giants outfielder Hunter Pence went on the 10-day disabled list on April 20 with a right thumb sprain. Pence was batting just .172 when he went on the DL, but the Giants would certainly be happy to have a player with his experience and leadership ability back with the club as soon as possible because Pence will not stay below the “Mendoza Line” much longer.
Pence played in Sacramento on Friday night on a rehab assignment. He played in right field and went 0-3 at the plate striking out twice but Pence did score the first run of the game for the River Cats. Pence reached first base on a throwing error in the bottom of the first inning and ultimately came home to score. Sacramento won the game downing Reno 6-4. It was the River Cats third consecutive win.
River Cats current situation
Sacramento is 10-11 so far in the month of April and is in third-place in the PCL Pacific North. They are 4.5 games back of division-leading Fresno. The River Cats are 5-4 at home and 5-7 on the road. They are 5-5 in their last 10-games and have won three games in a row.
It is important to keep in mind that winning games, divisions and league championships is not the number goal for a Triple-A franchise. The number one goal is player development followed closely by keeping backup players for the “big club” in shape and ready to go at a moments notice.
The Giants would we very happy to see the River Cats fighting for the PCL championship because it would mean their prospects are playing great baseball and their backup players are not needed in the majors because the major league stars are not getting injured. That is a perfect scenario that seldom exists as the Giants have already demonstrated this season.
Who to watch in Sacramento
The key prospects to watch in SAC are:
- OF/1B – Chris Shaw – he is not on the 40-man roster. Currently, Shaw is playing left field which makes sense with Brandon Belt having a career year at first base. He is batting .247 with an on-base percentage of .310. Shaw has hit five home runs and has posted 15 RBI in 19 games. He is rated the number two prospect in the Giants minor league system.
- OF – Steven Duggar – another player who is not on the 40-man roster. Duggar is playing outfield and leading off for the River Cats. He is currently hitting .274 with a .354 on-base percentage. Duggar has walked nine times and has three steals. He has one home run, six RBI and has scored 14 runs in 18 games. Duggar is the number three rated Giants minor league player.
- RHP – Tyler Beede – this player is on the Giants 40-man roster. Maybe no other minor league player in the Giants system has been talked more about than Beede. Drafted in the first-round in 2014, Giants fans have been expecting him to join the starting rotation almost every year. There was much anticipation that Beede might be brought up last season but control issues and a season-ending groin injury put that idea to an end. He did make two starts this season for San Francisco recording a no-decision in the first start and a loss in the second start. Beede is 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts with the River Cats since being sent back to Triple-A. He is ranked the number four best prospect in the system.
- OF – Austin Slater – has been called up to the Giants because Pence and Williamson are on the DL. In 14 games with the River Cats, Slater was hitting .358 with a .435 OBP. He posted one home run, eight doubles, and 13 RBI. Slater scored 13 runs. He is rated the number five player in the system.
- LHP – Andrew Suarez – he is a member of the 40-man roster. Suarez did get a start with the Giants vs Arizona and was hung with the loss. He has made three starts for SAC and has a 2-0 record with a 1.08 ERA. Suarez has struck out 16 hitters, walked 7 and has a WHIP of 1.02. He listed as the number 10 prospect. Keep your eye on this pitcher.
- LHP – D.J. Snelten – another member of the 40-man roster. This 6-foot-6 lefty is making the transition to becoming a reliever. Snelten has made six appearances for Sacramento and has a record of 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in 9.0 innings of work. He has allowed just six hits (no home runs), walked five, struck out seven with a 1.22 WHIP. He is listed as the 27th best minor league player in the Giants system.
There will be many moves to come
With April just coming to a close, there are many more moves involving the Sacramento River Cats to made during the 2018 season. More players will travel west to San Francisco. Some players will travel east to SAC. Other player players will get promoted from Richmond and will go from being a Flying Squirrel to being a River Cat.
Watch for weekly updates, special features, and updates as needed as Sports Radio Service keeps you informed on the happenings down on the farm in Sacramento.