2014: 79-65, second place in the Pacific Coast League, North Division
Manager: Bob Mariano (first season; 210-221 in four seasons with Triple-A Fresno)
Of note: The River Cats are now the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate after 15 seasons as the A’s top farm club.
Infielder John Bowker of Rio Americano High School and catcher Andrew Susac of Jesuit grew up Giants fans and had a taste of success with the big-league team, albeit at different times, Bowker in 2008 and Susac last season. They also took in a lot of River Cats games as kids, dreaming about what it would be like to play pro ball. Now their families will be able to watch them at Raley Field as they pursue a return to the big leagues. Susac had a promising spring derailed by injury and illness, and Bowker is eager to play again in the United States after three seasons in Japan with the Nippon Professional League.
As the A’s affiliate since moving to Sacramento in 2000, the River Cats set the standard for minor-league excellence for making the playoffs, winning championships and setting attendance records. The River Cats won 11 division titles in 15 seasons and had a host of players shuttle back and forth from Raley Field to Oakland. Affiliating with the Giants has been a huge success, according to River Cats general manager Chip Maxson and team president Jeff Savage, reflected in increased season-ticket and merchandise sales. When Giants spiritual leader Hunter Pence is ready to rehab his broken arm, he likely will do so in the outfield at Raley Field.
PLAYER TO WATCH
C ANDREW SUSAC
Height/weight: 6-1, 215
MLB experience: 35 games last season with the Giants
Last season: .273 average, eight doubles, three home runs, 19 RBIs
Comment: Susac was thrilled to get the call-up last season to play for his favorite childhood team, and he was nearly as dejected when he was optioned to the River Cats last month after illness and an injured right wrist caused him to miss 10 days during spring training. Susac is considered one of the best prospects in the Giants’ farm system, and the goal now is to get him a lot of starts behind the plate and a lot of at-bats. Susac is a natural leader and talks up his hometown as a nice place to live and a place where “fans love baseball.”
PITCHER TO WATCH
Height/weight: 6-4, 220
MLB experience: Nine regular-season games and eight playoff games last season with the Giants
Last season: 1-0, five hits, no runs, nine strikeouts and 0.00 ERA in seven inning in the regular season; 1-0, nine hits (six home runs), seven runs, eight strikeouts and 7.56 ERA in 81/3 innings in the playoffs
Comment: The hard-throwing right-hander impressed the Giants down the stretch of the regular season enough to earn a postseason roster spot, but he allowed six home runs in the playoffs, including a two-run blast to Omar Infante of Kansas City in a 7-2 loss in Game 2 of the World Series, though the Giants went on to beat the Royals in seven games. Of his role with the River Cats, Strickland said, “I’m ready to rock!”
HITTER TO WATCH
Height/weight: 6-2, 215
MLB experience: 126 games (two seasons with Atlanta, one with the A’s, 2014 with the Giants)
Last season: 71 games, 204 at-bats, .162 average, eight home runs, six doubles, 22 RBIs
Comment: A Texas native who played at Texas A&M, Hicks has shown promise in the infield and some pop at the plate, but he hasn’t hit for average. He was designated for assignment by the Giants last summer after going hitless in his last 25 at-bats. But 15 of his 33 hits were for extra bases, which is why Giants manager Bruce Bochy held onto him when the team was hit by injuries. Marco Scutaro’s return and Joe Panik’s emergence squeezed Hicks out. With the River Cats, he should get plenty of at-bats.