It has been said the toughest jump for any minor league baseball player is when he moves from the single A level to the double A level, and for the Flying Squirrels, that makes them one of the biggest proving grounds in the sport. If players can come to the Diamond and succeed, or improve noticeably, their odds of making the major leagues get much better.
The San Francisco Giants have a very good history of promoting their young players up through their minor league system. Out of the 25 players on the roster for their most recent World Series title in 2014, 8 had played in Richmond on their way to the big leagues.
Last summer, the Squirrels were stumbling through what could have been a forgettable season, mired in last place several games below .500. At the end of June, the Giants called up three players from single A and they helped turn the rest of the season around.
Chris Shaw, C.J. Hinojosa and Steven Duggar made the jump look easy, even though it's anything but.
"You just try to go in and make certain adjustments" Duggar said. "There's obviously better pitching but Shaw, C.J. and I, I thought we handled it relatively well."
"The speed of the game goes up when you do" Hinojosa added. "Everyone goes through slumps but it's how long you let that happen."
Can three players make that much of a difference? The Squirrels were 29-50 before those three were called up, and 33-29 for the rest of the season. Duggar had the best numbers of the three, hitting .321 in Richmond with 35 runs scored in 60 games. Shaw belted 5 homers over the second half of the season and Hinojosa scored 27 runs in 57 games. They injected life into the lineup that had been previously missing.
"I think we needed something to boost the morale on the team" said third baseman Ryder Jones. "We were struggling a little bit. Those guys came in, did a good job and impressed some people."
All three are good candidates to begin the upcoming series in Richmond, and none have a full season yet at the AA level, so there's still work to be done.
"Every season is different" Duggar said. "If I do go back (to Richmond) it will be exciting to (already) know certain ballparks and teams that we deal with."
"I don't run well" Hinojosa added. "But if you hit the ball in the gap, you don't really need to, right?"