SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants will never sign a player just because he has Bay Area roots, or draft a kid just because he attended a local high school. But as they rebuild the organization, team executives have talked about the fact that one thing they would like to do if possible is add a bit more local flavor.
They would like more Bay Area products in the organization, and so it was fortuitous that a slugger they fell in love with in the draft, Hunter Bishop, was available with the No. 10 pick on Monday. Bishop is from Palo Alto, and as he came to the realization this week that he would be playing for an organization he grew up rooting for, another lifelong Giants fan took a big step towards accomplishing his dream.
Left-hander Conner Menez, a Hollister native, was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A and should make his River Cats debut on Sunday. The 24-year-old could be the next young pitcher to get an audition on a team that already has Tyler Beede and Shaun Anderson in the rotation. The latter promotion caught Menez's eye.
"I watch every one of his starts," he said of Anderson, his friend and spring training roommate.
If Menez does what he did in Double-A, he might watch some of Anderson's rookie year from the same dugout. Menez has always piled up strikeouts in the minors, but an uptick in command led to an 11-start run in Richmond that opened eyes. Menez had a 2.72 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, striking out 70 and allowing just 37 hits in 59 2/3 innings.
Menez averaged 11.4 strikeouts-per-nine last season but had four walks-per-nine. This season, he has dropped that rate to three walks-per-nine, with an emphasis on hitting a third of the plate at a time.
"The thing that's helped has been to have my catchers set up on thirds of the plate until I get to two strikes, and then once I get to two strikes I can expand a little bit on the zone, and I think that has helped me lock in a little bit," he said. "Last year I was trying to be a little too fine with my pitches. But with my movement, the ball will go to a corner when I'm thinking about thirds of the plate and trying to get ahead on hitters."
Menez has focused on getting strike one since spending a few weeks in camp with big league pitching coaches who made that a point of emphasis, and he generally has mowed through Double-A lineups. He has a fastball that sits in the lows 90s but can tick higher, and it jumps on hitters because of the extension Menez gets with his delivery.
Menez was a non-roster invitee this spring, spending time in a clubhouse he grew up dreaming about. He went to plenty of games as a kid and played his high school championship at San Jose Muni, where he later pitched for the High-A club that's based an hour from his hometown. As he sat in the dugout before a Double-A game last weekend, Menez ticked off the names of players he grew up cheering for: Barry Bonds, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, etc.
"It was pretty cool to get drafted by this team," he said. "It was a really cool experience this spring. Seeing older guys that I grew up watching on TV, it was really cool to be able to talk to them."
If he carries his Double-A success over to Triple-A, he soon may find himself playing alongside a couple of them.