Minors : : General
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top Prospects: San Francisco Giants

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Tony Medina

General Manager: Brian Sabean
Minor League Director: Fred Stanley
Scouting Director: John Barr

AAA:Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League) 65-79
AA:Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern League) 76-66
Hi A: San Jose Giants (California League) 90-50
Low A: Augusta Green Jackets (South Atlantic League) 70-68
Rookie Adv.: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Northwest League) 34-42
Rookie:AZL Giants (Arizona League) 41-15
Dominican:DSL Giants (Dominican Summer League) 35-32

System Overview

The Giants hardly came crashing down from their 2010 World Series Championship level in 2011. They won only six fewer games (86-76) last year than in 2010 during the regular season and stayed on the fringes of National League West race long enough that they felt that they had to give up their top minor league pitching prospect in RHP Zach Wheeler to acquire OF Carlos Beltran at the trading deadline. But from the moment young star catcher Buster Posey was seriously injured in a violent home plate collision, it seemed that the Giants season lost some of its luster and hope.

The more tangible reason why the Giants 2011 season was disappointing was that their offense was simply horrible. It’s well known that Pac Bell Stadium is one of the most challenging parks in Major League Baseball to score runs at, but the 2011 Giants scored only 570 runs, last in the National League and a full 127 runs less than what they scored in 2010. San Francisco will never lead the NL in scoring but realistically have to finish in the middle of the pack, as they did in 2010 when they were ninth in the league in runs scored, to have a chance to win 90 games.

On the flip side, the Giants renowned pitching staff was even better in 2011 than they were in their World Series Championship season, posting a 3.20 team ERA (vs. 3.36 in 2010) and getting especially stellar work from one of the most durable and dependable starting rotations in baseball.

The offense can’t help to be better in 2012. Not only will Posey be returning to the lineup, perhaps with some first base mixed in, but so will former NL batting champion 2B Freddy Sanchez, who only played in 60 games after suffering a season ending shoulder injury shortly after Posey went down. The Giants also acquired centerfielders Melky Cabrera from the Royals and Angel Pagan from the Mets in offseason deals, although the unintended effect of those trades may be to limit the number of at bats that 1B/OF Brandon Belt receives.

The Giants scouting and player development department seems to be well aware of the organization’s need to be better offensively moving into the future. They have drafted mature and accomplished hitters, especially at premium positions, aggressively over the past couple of drafts and these players should start making an impact at the Major League level over the next couple of years.

One area that San Francisco appears to be shallow in as an organization at the present is upper level starting pitching prospects. That area has been overlooked over the past three years as Giants starting pitchers have been virtually injury free and there has been little need to identify a sixth or seventh potential starting pitcher over the course of the season.

2011 Draft

The Giants have a reputation as being on the conservative side when it comes to the draft, but that really isn’t the case when you look at it carefully. They have no problem drafting high school pitchers at the top of the draft (with great success), and have gone over slot on many occasions to get a deal done at various points throughout the draft. The one thing they almost never do, though, is draft a high school position player in the top five rounds. Although the last player they spent such a pick on, C Tommy Joseph in 2009 (second round) has proven to be a wise choice thus far.

Perhaps in recognition of the difficult hitting conditions in their home park, San Francisco has made a concerted effort in the last three drafts to pick college hitters in the top five rounds. They’ve picked eight such players during that time, plus high school slugger Joseph, with a good return on investment thus far. 1B/OF Brandon Belt has already reached the big leagues, while five others, including top prospects OF Gary Brown and IF Joe Panik, are ranked among the organization's top ten prospects.

Panik, who played at St. John’s and is a native Northeasterner, definitely looks like a keeper as the 29
th pick in 2011. Some questioned whether he had the raw physical tools to be a first round pick, but he has quickly shown that he has perhaps the two most important tools; he can hit and he can play the game. While Panik’s Northwest League MVP honor was impressive, perhaps even more noteworthy was his ability to stand out in the much more advanced Arizona Fall League (.323-3-14).

The Giants have had so much success in picking high school pitchers that they should require themselves to invest in one per year at the top of the draft. Texas RHP Kyle Crick, the 49
th overall pick, is less polished that other drafts such as LHP Madison Bumgarner or RHP Zack Wheeler, but has the arm strength to be a top of the line starter down the road.

If the draft had been held in the middle of the spring, C Andrew Susac, the Giants second round pick out of Oregon State, would have been a near lock to be a first rounder. A broken hamate bone in his left wrist sidelined Susac, and the Giants benefitted from Susac perhaps coming back too soon and not showing the bat speed and power he’d displayed early in the season. The Northern California native, who grew up as a huge Giants fan, received nearly as large a signing bonus ($1.1M vs. $1.16M) as first round choice Panik.

Third round pick 1B/3B Ricky Oropesa represents another shot at finding a Brandon Belt type talent. The left handed hitter has huge power but often underachieved at USC in college, just as Belt did at Texas.

Where the Giants draft might go from being very strong at first glance to a Grade A type of draft in a couple of years can be found in their picks from the fourth to the seventh rounds. The common theme that LHP Bryce Bandilla, RHP Chris Marlowe, LHP Josh Osich and RHP Ray Black share is hard to miss: Each of them has a top of the line power arm capable of throwing mid 90s heat on a regular basis. Of course, none would have been available if it were for issues with control (Bandilla, Black), injury history (Osich, Black) or size (Marlowe). But if only one of these strong-armed pitchers reaches their potential, the Giants have scored big, and if two find their ceiling, it’s an impact draft.

The Giants later round sleeper pick appears to be Oklahoma high school right hander Clayton Blackburn. The 16
th round pick was not well known prior to the draft but dominated the Arizona League (3-1, 1.08, 16 hits in 33 innings) with steady low 90s stuff and a surprisingly advanced idea how to pitch.

Top 10 Prospects

1. OF Gary Brown
Baseball-reference player profile

It’s rare that a first round pick, and especially a college player from a top program, almost immediately exceeds expectations as a professional, but Brown did that over his first full season as a Giant. He was considered the top speed player in the 2010 draft when the Giants picked him with the 24
th overall pick out of Cal State Fullerton, but has shown himself to be much more than a speedy centerfielder.

Brown hit the ball with some authority as a collegian (.438-6-41 in 50 games in 2010, with 34 extra-base hits) but that wasn’t projected to continue as a professional. Instead, Brown has hardly missed a beat. He hit 34 doubles, 13 triples and 14 home runs while driving in 80 runs from his leadoff spot for San Jose in 2011. Throw in his 53 stolen bases and Brown gets himself into scoring position by himself far more often than the average leadoff hitter.

Brown’s only drawback as a leadoff hitter is his aggressiveness, which is likely something that the Giants will just have to come to accept as part of his overall package. He attacks pitches early in the count and his ability to square up almost any pitch contributes to his low walk totals (44 in 2011, only 9 in 249 plate appearances at Cal State Fullerton in 2010) just as much as his aggressiveness.

Although Brown’s arm strength doesn’t stand out, he has a chance to be a well above average Major League centerfielder due to his speed and instincts.

San Francisco has shown little hesitation in moving quality position prospects (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt) up the ladder quickly and jumping them directly from AA to the Major Leagues. If Brown continues to produce in 2012 at close to the same level as he did in 2011, he could be playing centerfield for the Giants sooner rather than later.

2. IF Joe PanikBaseball-reference player profile

Many scouts and analysts were a bit surprised when the Giants picked Panik with the 29
th overall selection, but Panik’s initial pro season was a huge success. He signed immediately, which enabled him to get in a full season in the Northwest League, where he was named the circuit’s Most Valuable Player (.341-6-54/.846 OPS, 28 BB:25 K’s). Panik also stood out in the Arizona Fall League against more experienced players.

The skepticism about Panik stems from that his best tool is his left handed bat, and that neither his running speed nor arm strength, usually staples for middle infield prospects, is anything more than fringy big league average. Of course, having a tool and having the ability to use it are two completely different things, and Panik has already shown that he is likely to max out his tools due to his advanced skills both offensively and defensively. He’ll likely play shortstop as far up the Giants ladder as possible, especially given that the team has no obvious long-term player to fill that position, but the reality is that he will probably shift over to second base at some point in the future.

3. C Andrew SusacBaseball-reference player profile

Susac looked like a potential mid first round pick and the top college catcher in the country for the first month of the 2011 season. He then suffered a broken hamate bone in his wrist, rushed his post-surgery rehab and returned before he had regained his strength. While common sense would dictate that Susac be given a free pass for his late season struggles, that wasn’t the case, and in combination with his leverage as a draft eligible sophomore, Susac slid in the draft.

The Giants definitely have a chance to be the beneficiaries. They drew the line at Susac receiving a higher bonus than first round pick Joe Panik, but could have found themselves their catcher of the future. Susac has a well rounded set of tools and game skills. He’s always been considered a high level receiver defensively and the growth in his prospect status and ceiling has come with increased power and consistency as a hitter. His hitting style from the right side is unconventional, as Susac has much more drift into contact than a normal hitter, but he keeps his hands back well on off speed pitches and the extra weight shift maximizes his raw bat speed.

4. C Tommy JosephBaseball-reference player profile

Joseph and fellow top prospect Andrew Susac were part of the extremely deep and talented 2009 class of high school catchers, although Joseph was seen as a fringe member of the elite group due to the widespread belief that he would eventually move out from behind the plate for defensive reasons. Joseph, the Giants second round pick in 2009, is now seen as a very strong defensive catcher, having made great improvement across the board in all phases of the game.

Where the Giants should be worrying a bit about Joseph is actually what his offensive ceiling is at the Major League level. There is no question that he has plus power potential, especially in the context of being a catcher, and his counting numbers as a 20-year old in Hi A were outstanding (.270-22-95). But like many of the Giants big league hitters (.304 team on base percentage), Joseph has a complete aversion to working counts and has only walked 55 times in over 1,000 minor league plate appearances. Players with low batting averages who take few walks are rarely even average big league performers.

5. RHP Heath HembreeBaseball-reference player profile

Hembree established himself as one of the top relief prospects in the game in 2011 and led all of minor league baseball with 38 saves after splitting the season between Hi A and AA (1-1, 38 saves, 68 K’s in 54 IP). He has the classic power reliever’s combination of a mid 90s fastball and a hard slider and has pitched in the relief role exclusively since high school, so there isn’t any speculation that he might be given a shot at a starting role in the future. His slider will have to take a step forward to be considered a closer quality pitch in the future, but Hembree’s make up for the role and his velocity have already been established.

6. LHP Eric SurkampBaseball-reference player profile

Surkamp was the pitcher the Giants called up in late August when their ultra-durable big league rotation had a hole after Jonathan Sanchez was hurt. Like many young pitchers making their big league debuts, Surkamp tried to pitch differently to Major League hitters than what made him successful in the minors, and walked an uncharacteristic 17 hitters in 26 innings (2-2, 5.74) in six big league starts.

Prior to that, Surkamp had been dominating in three plus seasons in the minors after being the Giants sixth round pick out of North Carolina State in 2008. Despite having hip surgery in 2010, Surkamp had rung up a 26-13 minor league record and struck out 470 hitters in only 398 innings. His fastball velocity is only fringe average, but he has a plus curveball that is his strike out pitch and a change up that grades out as above average as well.

7. RHP Kyle CrickBaseball-reference player profile

The Giants rarely select high school pitchers at the top of the draft but have had significant success when they do, as Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler are three standout examples. Crick was not a household name before the Giants picked him with the 49
th overall pick in 2011, but he was one of the fastest risers in that draft class during the spring. He has a low mileage power arm with a fastball capable of reaching the 95-97 mph area at times and a big sweeping slider that is his strikeout pitch. Crick likely won’t move through the Giants system as fast as the three high schoolers mentioned above, but he has the arm and the pitches to become that type of prospect.

8. 3B Conor GillaspieBaseball-reference player profile

The Giants first round pick in 2008 made his Major League debut that same year as part of his signing contract, a move that may have raised expectations higher than what was realistic for the Wichita State product. Gillaspie hasn’t developed the power that the Giants have hoped for yet, but has become a polished left handed hitter with gap power and an advanced command of the strike zone, a rarity among Giants players. He’s also a sure handed third baseman, although he isn’t likely to supplant Pablo Sandoval in the San Francisco lineup at that position.

9. OF Jarrett ParkerBaseball-reference player profile

The 6-4/210 Parker has some of the best tools in the Giants system, with the type of left handed power potential that could enable him to hit in the middle of a big league lineup, enough speed to steal 20-plus bases and perhaps the ability to play centerfield. Like another toolsy Giants outfielder, Francisco Peguero, the question will be how much contact Parker will be able to make at the upper levels. The Giants knew Parker was strikeout prone when they drafted him in the second round in 2010, as he struck out 180 times in three seasons at Virginia. But he either walked or struck out (74 BB’s:144 Ks) 218 times in 571 plate appearances in the South Atlantic League in 2010, a worrisome number with three levels above him before the big leagues.

10. RHP Seth RosinBaseball-reference player profile

Rosin was the Giants fourth round pick out of Minnesota in 2010 and enjoyed a solid if unspectacular full season debut in the South Atlantic League in 2011 while swinging between the bullpen and the starting rotation. He’s on the Giants top 10 list because of the Arizona Fall League, however, where the big 6-5/235 right hander touched 98 mph at a time of the year when most players in their first full season are feeling gassed rather than throwing gas. Rosin’s big challenge entering pro ball was finding more movement on his very straight 92-94 mph fastball, but movement becomes less important in the upper 90s.

Others in the Conversation: SS Ehire Adrianza, , RHP Brett Bochy, RHP Joan Gregorio, RHP Chris Marlowe, LHP Aldalberto Mejia, OF Francisco Peguero, C Hector Sanchez

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