Every year during the early days of spring training, we see the media fawn over lovable minor league veterans who are fighting the odds to try to gain spots on the big-league roster. Last year, in the San Francisco Giants’ case, the player was Brock Bond. The year before, it was Gregor Blanco. Obviously, things worked out better for Blanco than for Bond, as Blanco now has a World Series ring and is an established member of the big-league club, while Bond fell out of favor with the organization and is now chasing his dreams in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league camp.
This year, that player is 31-year-old journeyman Mark Minicozzi, who has a story so spectacular that it has been featured by national news websites such as Yahoo!. While his tale may give fans the warm fuzzies, he’s created enough buzz during the early days of spring training to make it worth wondering whether he’ll end up more closely following the path of Bond or Blanco.
A player who Minicozzi actually compares very favorably to is former Giant Brett Pill, who departed the organization this offseason to pursue a playing opportunity in Korea. Minicozzi initially entered the Giants organization a year before Pill, and though he was on a slower track, he experienced more success than Pill in the lower minors before a string of injuries temporarily derailed his career.
After returning to Double-A in 2012, Minicozzi came close to equaling Pill’s 2009 Double-A production, though he didn’t reach Pill’s homer total since he played in 58 fewer games. He posted a .284/.356/.436 slash line, compared with Pill’s .298/.348/.480. While Pill hit 11 more homers than Minicozzi, he was playing in a slightly smaller ballpark and had 245 extra at-bats.
While spending the full season at Richmond in 2013 (in the Eastern League, traditionally considered to be very pitcher-friendly), Minicozzi exceeded Pill’s career Triple-A average of .309 and OBP of .400, both of which are dominant for their respective leagues. Though his power numbers don’t quite stack up, Minicozzi hit a respectable 10 homers during 2013.
The similarities don’t stop there. Since he has gotten back into the Giants system, Minicozzi’s best defensive position has been first base, just like Pill’s was. Both players, however, got experience playing second base, third base, and left field during their careers in the upper minors. Ironically, the organization’s uneasiness with plugging the husky Minicozzi in at second may be one of the primary things that holds him back, just as it was an issue for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Pill, despite the fact that he had a .977 fielding percentage at the position in Triple-A.
While Minicozzi is older than Pill was at the height of his minor-league dominance, he’s in a position to take over his role this season. While Pill’s major-league experience wasn’t too glamorous—a .233 career average, mostly spread over pinch-hitting opportunities and spotty playing time at first base—at least he got the opportunity to be a big-league contributor and win a World Series ring, which is probably more than Minicozzi ever dreamed of back when he was playing in independent ball three years ago.
If Minicozzi continues this intriguing production, he should get regular playing time at Triple-A once camp breaks, and like Pill in previous seasons, he should be one of the first call-up candidates should the Giants have an injury that opens up a spot on their bench.