Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Your 2009 Giants: Big 6 Prospects

I am selecting, in honor of the Big 6 himself, Christy Mathewson, the top 6 prospects of the Giants farm system, in my estimation.  I would rather focus on the ones who are most likely to do significant damage for us up at the major league level at some point in the future, with some plus factor for doing it sooner than later. 

I normally don't do this that early, I usually do this in spring, but there is a poll going on at MCC and I had most of this written already, was basically stuck on the last pick, as I'll get into below, so I thought may as well do it now.

As far as methodology goes, I don't really care to predict the players most likely to contribute this particular season, as that usually include players who make a utility contribution; most teams do not get a significant contributor (like a new starter) from the minor leagues each season, let alone 6, 10, or 11 of them.

In years past, it would have been hard to fill out the list without people who don't really deserve to be on the list.  There would usually be a number of them who was a huge question mark on what type of contribution they will make at the major league level ever.  And that is not a knock on the Giants farm system in the past, per se, the general rule of thumb is that the farm system at any time has four players who will make a mark in the majors in their career, 2 starters, 2 utility/relievers, but the Giants were even having problems with even 2-3 who look like sure things at times.  

But 2009 is different, we have a lot of players.  And that's true even though players like Schierholtz, Sandoval, Burriss, and Velez are no longer eligible, even though none are currently starters (though Sandoval and Burriss are slotted for spots, much like Wilson was slotted for the closer spot for 2007 and did poorly enough to get sent back to the minors, let alone make the bullpen).

Here are the players I think would normally be all deserving of making the list this season if it were almost any previous season:
  • Ehire Adrianza
  • Tim Alderson
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Wendell Fairley
  • Conor Gillaspie
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • Julio Izturis
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Joe Martinez
  • Nick Noonan
  • Kevin Pucetas
  • Buster Posey
  • Rafael Rodriguez
  • Ryan Rohlinger
  • Sergio Romo
  • Hector Sanchez
  • Henry Sosa
  • Angel Villalona
That is quite a long list of prospects, we are starting to built up a lot of depth in the system and that will impact the majors over the next 2-4 seasons.   The Giants were able to accomplish this because it had a lot of high picks in 2007 to boost this up, and made a number of astute selections in 2008, as if they had high picks, in selecting Gillaspie, Kieschnick, and Crawford, players who at some point were expected to fall in the first round, some early in the first.

However, it is pretty clear for the most part who the top players are, while there are a number of players who are borderline for the list, which made the selection for the final spot difficult to come to a decision on.

2009 Big 6 Giants Prospect

Here are the Big 6 I've selected for 2009:
  1. Madison Bumgarner:  On top of how stellar he did in 2009, he suffered through 3 horrible starts before returning to his old mechanics and generating a 0.90 ERA the rest of the season.  He led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.  All at age 18, in a league where players average 22 years of age.  I don't see how they don't jump him up two levels to AA and pair him up with Alderson there in Connecticut.  As far as I'm concerned, he's ready for the majors but it won't hurt him much to have another professional season under his belt plus push the start of his career more into when the Giants have rebuilt than while still rebuilding.  For comparision, Jonathan Sanchez when he did so great in Augusta in 2005 when he was 22 years old, rose quickly to the majors in 2006, as he dominated in brief stints in AA and AAA before making the majors for good.  And his stats there was not quite as good as Bumgarner except for strikeouts, Bumgarner was better or equal by most measures:

    Sanchez pitched 125.2 IP with 122 hits, 39 walks and 166 strikeouts in A-ball at age 22 and was brought up to the majors the next season because he was so dominating.

    Bumgarner pitched 141.2 IP with 111 hits, 21 walks and 164 strikeouts in A-ball at age 18. Better H/9, BB/9, K/BB, WHIP, and ERA, plus had a lot less experience. He’s basically ready for the majors in comparison to what Sanchez did in a similar league and level.

  2. Buster Posey:  Buster would probably grab the first spot for almost any team in the majors, I think he is that good.  But Bumgarner was too dominating, much like how Lincecum was dominating when he was briefly in the minors, while Posey is still raw in terms of catching defense, that I had to make him first.  But Buster is definitely a close second, or 1B to Bumgarner's 1A.  

    He did a lot to earn such a high ranking. Winning the Golden Spike award (third in Giants history after Will Clark and Tim Lincecum; nice company indeed), among other awards established that the experts think a lot of him.  In limited play so far, he has not disappointed, hitting everywhere he has played professionally so far, fulfilling the high expectations that he is going to be an excellent hitter in the professional ranks.  The experts say that he won't have the power he showed in college but should hit 15-20 per year, which is good for a catcher.  And while he's a catcher now, he was formerly a shortstop and thus could be like a Craig Biggio, capable of playing multiple up-the-middle positions.  He would be a plus hitter at any up-the-middle position (but not a corner position, though).

    He should be assigned to AA because he did well when he was playing in the Hawaiian Winter League, which Bobby Evans compared to AA level talent, plus he is comparable to Matt Wieters who probably should have been in AA to start this past season.  In addition, the promotion of former catcher Steve Decker as the manager of Connecticut cinches that too, as Pablo Sandoval got his help in San Jose, and he should be coaching Posey full-time on learning the nuances of the catching position.  

    Like most Giants prospects, Posey will probably stay in Connecticut all season, as the Giants seem to like to keep their prospects in one spot in their first full season (unless absolutely forced, in the case of Lincecum) plus he seems to need a lot more experience behind the plate, including calling games, and learning the position.  Also, he would get to know and handle two pitchers who he'll see a lot of in the future, Bumgarner and Alderson.

  3. Angel Villalona:  Here he is, living away from home for the first time for an extended period, living in a land where he cannot communicate very well with the people around the area, only 17 years old for the season (turning 18 late in the season), which is a year younger than any other player in the league, and still hitting above the league average OPS and knocking out 17 homers, good for a tie for 12th in the league overall, plus he got better as the season went on, finally hitting .308/.362/.529/.892 with 5 HR in 104 AB (21 AB/HR; about a 30 HR per year pace) in the last month of the season, and learning a new defensive position at 1B while still taking balls at 3B during practice.   The experts talk has been that he has 30-40 HR potential, so he seems to be fulfilling that at the end of the season.

    Yet, while he was #1 last season in most rankings, he has "fallen" to #3 this season. But that is a function of the other players earning their higher rankings than reflecting poorly on Villalona. While he did disappoint early on, one can credit the newness of the situation for him, both locationally and positionally (playing 1B for first time), and he quickly found his bearing and started doing better. Still, while he did really well for a 17 year old playing against 22 year olds on average, it wasn't like he was dominating them either, at least not until the end of the season (which could have been a function of the better pitchers getting promoted as well) and certainly nothing like what Bumgarner and Posey did.  

    He will probably be promoted to Advanced A San Jose and it sounds like they will play him at 1B again. I was hoping that they at least split his time playing 1B and 3B, because supposedly he's capable of playing both right now, so that he can keep up his skills in game time situations. The good news is that he was already considered a plus defender at 3B prior to the season and perhaps the Giants are hoping to have him learn to be equally good defensively at 1B, so that he could play either position with plus defense, depending on need, once he reached the majors.
     
  4. Tim Alderson:  Only 19 years old, one of the youngest pitchers in the California League, where the average age of a player is 23 years of age, he had the 4th most strikeouts and the best ERA of any pitcher with over 16 starts or over 100 IP.  Normally that would probably rank him higher than 4th, but Bumgarner outdid him, Posey had an incredible season in college, and Villalona could be a monster in the majors and showed a strong hint of that at age 17.

    The caveat on Alderson is that his season was mostly driven by his success at home: 100.0 IP with a FIP of 2.79, .218 AVG, 0.94 WHIP, 1.35 BB/9, 8.55 K/9, and 0.18 HR/9 versus on the road: 49.0 IP with a FIP of 4.49, .266 AVG, 1.33 WHIP, 3.49 BB/9, 5.33 K/9, 0.37 HR/9. Research has shown that San Jose's Municipal Stadium has one of the worse outlier for stadiums in terms of strikeouts in all of the minor leagues, which hitters like John Bowker attested to the poor background for hitters there. This puts him behind Villalona, I believe.

    Still, he had a marvelous season, nonetheless, and will be promoted from San Jose most probably to Connecticut as I don't see the Giants feeling the need to move him up faster since he'll be only 20 for next season plus they need to overlap his prime years with our current players already up in the majors, so that he'll be ready to take over should we need to move or lose anybody, plus have his career start once we are competitors again which would extend the years we can be contenders; this same logic goes for Bumgarner as well, except that he's obviously ready for AA.

    Both will probably just move up one level at a time going forward unless either one pitches like Bumgarner did in 2008 at a higher level. If either of them is that ready, I think the Giants would make the move and trade somebody already in the rotation to bolster the lineup, most likely Sanchez.

  5. Rafael Rodriguez:  Just one phrase says it all, "5 Tools."  Well, that and $2.55M, the largest bonus ever given a Latin American hitter.   He has raw power coming out of his 6' 5", 198 pound 16 year old body.  Above average speed combined with an above average arm makes him the right future right-fielder for AT&T.  Comparisions with Vladimir Guererro and Andres Galarraga have been offered.  

    However, the Achilles Heal for this Adonis is that while he has a lot going for him, the one thing suspect with him is that some scouts are not sold on his hitting mechanics and his overall feel for hitting. That could be the weak link in an otherwise stellar package for a position player. Still, obviously, the Giants scouts think otherwise and hence the big bonus, even bigger than for Villalona and as noted, the largest given a Latin American position player ever.   Five Tools, big bonus, good comparisions, these all put him as the fifth Top prospect for the 2009 Giants.

  6. Travis Ishikawa:  This was truly the hardest one to pick for me.  A lot of players appeared worthy of this spot for one reason or another.  But Ishikawa had a monster year in 2008, an overall MLE season of .252/.331/.458/.789 with 18 HR in 421 AB (23 AB/HR) and 49 BB/88 K, which is pretty good for him.   It was even better in actual production:  .299/.377/.578/.955 with 24 HR in 405 AB (17 AB/HR) and 49 BB/81 K.   Plus, he is known for his defense.  However, he still had a weakness against LHP, hitting only .206/.333/.308/.641 in 107 AB with only 2 HR vs. .332/.394/.674/1.068 in 298 AB with 22 HR (it looks even worse in MLE).

    Still it was a monster year where he struggled greatly in April, but busted out in May and had close to a 1.000 OPS in the minors after April, with 23 HR in 321 AB (14 AB/HR). In addition, once he made the majors, he hit a nice .274/.337/.432/.769 with 3 HR in 95 AB (32 AB/HR or roughly a 20 HR season) and 100 OPS+.

    As noted, I had a hard time choosing this spot.  Ishikawa has had huge ups and downs during his minor league career and still strikes out too much for my tastes.  However, nobody in the minors had a better year out of the remaining prospects I was comparing him against.  His MLE alone was better than what most of the other position prospects did without adjustment downward to MLE in the minors.  

    Among pitchers, while a lot of pitchers did well, none of them were really considered that good a prospect, which for me meant that they really need to show that they have the ability to do well at least in AAA.  The best rated pitcher NOT above Ishikawa is Henry Sosa and he had a so-so season in only Advanced A.   Clayton Tanner is also up there but only did OK in Advanced A.  Waldis Joaquin similarly.  Nick Pereira got up to AAA but didn't do that well there.  Joe Martinez did well in AA, but he couldn't even beat 7.0 K/9 there and didn't make the Baseball America Top 30 last season.

    So Ishikawa not only outdid the rest of the prospects but has the potential to be a 25-30 HR hitter at 1B with great defense and OK to good OBP.  He's horrible against LHP but JT Snow had a long career with a similar offensive contribution plus Ishikawa profiles better as a power hitter, which I think is necessary for a left-hander to hit homers at AT&T.   Plus he made great progress in reducing his strikeouts in 2008, previously he would strike out about a third of the time (<>
Those are the 6 top prospects, in my opinion, for the Giants in 2009.

6 comments:

  1. As a huge fan of the 2008 Giants I feel we don't need to make huge changes in 2009, just continue the growth we saw from August through September. If you conclude that the horrendous home record for the first 3/4 of the season was an aberration, this team was not that far from contention in the West. So I really don't feel a big need to go sign some bats for hire this winter. But I do feel that middle relief is by far the most pressing need. Considering how deeply we tapped into the minor leagues this year, do you think anyone on your lower list will be called up for relief work, ie. Sosa, Pucetas, Martinez, Tanner, Joaquin.... I'm assuming Bumgarner and Alderson will not be called up for relief even though the David Price experiment may make it an in vogue move.

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  2. I agree with your top 4. I have AnVil above Alderson, too. Gotta love his ceiling. But a lot of people are ranking Rafael Rodriguez, and I don't really understand why. How is it fair to rank him anywhere already? He's 16 still and he hasn't played a game yet at any level, so literally everything we know about him comes from scouting reports from the scouts that watched him in the D.R. when we signed him. I think he could well be our #5, maybe even higher, prospect next year, but I wouldn't put him there until he's shown that he's deserving. I'm sure he may well be deserving of it now and that we gave him all that money for a good reason, but as of now there isn't really any proof of that.

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  3. I like your top-4 but would probably move Noonan and Gillaspie into the 5-6 spots.

    TI probably doesn't make my top-15 and Rodriguez probably squeaks in the top-10.

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  4. How does one rank any player without any professional experience boonitez?

    I assume you included the high school players in previous years. How did you rank them? HS is nothing like the pros, nothing like the majors. Royce Clayton was a power hitting SS in high school but couldn't hit for power in the pros. As a novice follower of the draft, I was crushed, I thought we had a power hitting SS of the future.

    So one reads up on what others were saying about the player in question and rank him relative to other prospects. I'll cover again what I've seen.

    Rodriguez has comparisons with Vlad and Galarraga. Sure, hype, but that plus $2.5M says that the Giants scouts sees a strong skill set that needs to develop now. That's high potential, high potential that I didn't see any other sources denigrate as an overpay or anything. If BA thought this was too much, I'm sure they would have said something.

    Here is what the Giants said about Rodriguez (http://blogs.mercurynews.com/extrabaggs/2008/07/13/giants-give-25-million-birthday-present-to-rafael-rodriguez/):

    Start Quote

    He [John Barr] agreed it was unfair to compare Rodriguez to an established big leaguer, but he called the kid a five-tool player and one of the best international free agents in this year’s class.

    Rodriguez is big — 6 foor-5 and 195 pounds — and plays an athletic right field. He has a strong arm, is a good runner and projects to hit for power.

    “I do think it’s unfair to compare him, but when I see him play, meet him and be around him, I think he will be a good major league player. … He’s a five-tool player with the makeup and work ethic to fulfill his ability,” Barr said.

    Giants special assistant Felipe Alou was probably instrumental in helping the Giants form a bond with Rodriguez. Other teams made a strong run at him, with the Cincinnati Reds reportedly offering more money. But Alou is baseball royalty in the Dominican, which had to help.

    “I haven’t seen him swing and miss yet,” Alou said. “He takes major league BP. He hits golf balls in BP. He’s a big kid and has a huge strike zone but he covers it pretty good. He can run pretty good and he tracks the ball in right field well. He’s going to get bigger and stronger.”

    End Quote

    That's probably what the scouts are worried about, that he "has a huge strike zone". I don't know how many Latin American players have huge strike zones and still did well in the majors, from Manny Sanguillen to Vladimir Guererro, so I don't know why that is a huge concern to scouts when "he covers it pretty good," and is killing the ball in batting practice.

    And look at that physical description, 6' 5", 198 pounds, kind of thin but he's going to be a monster physically once he starts working with the Giants personnel on shaping his body.

    Plus, given how well Villalona has been doing, you have to credit the Giants scouting system/process that identified him with knowing something about hitters. And if they think Rodriguez is worth even more money, that should say something, as teams are not bidding hard against each other much, both Villalona and Rodriguez reportedly turned down larger bonuses to join the Giants instead.

    BA reported that one scout said, "From a tools perspective, you're not gonna find a better kid."

    With potential like that, I couldn't ignore it, but put him behind the guys who I thought were surer things at the moment, given their professional experience.

    OK, got me curious so I found another good source of information on him here, which addresses the concerns I have discussed earlier in much greater detail, http://www.prosportsdaily.com/forums/showthread.php?p=5516927 :

    "draws universal praise for his athleticism, raw power, running ability and his projectable 6-foot-5, 198-pound frame. There is some length to the swing, but he has good bat speed with excellent raw power."

    "Bodywise, he looks like Dave Winfield," said one international scouting director. "But he's also a guy with a lot of skills." [a Hall of Fame reference]

    "Rodriguez still elicits mixed reviews from scouts who see a player with a questionable feel for hitting.

    "He needs to improve his approach," said one international scouting director. "He's a front-foot hitter who doesn't load at all in the front half. The bat is very, very questionable. He's a good fastball hitter, but the bat is very, very questionable. He's OK, but to me he's not as good as Yorman Rodriguez. He'll fill out a little bit, but I've seen him several times—there's too much risk there now."

    "Rodriguez attracts scouts with his athleticism, running 6.4 and 6.5 60-times. His speed and raw power both rate as 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale, but the hit tool has come into question.

    "He collapses his front foot and reaches for the ball, where he lunges out front," said an international scout. "Sometimes kids adjust, but you have to hope that he eventually hits the breaking pitch."

    "That guy can run," said another international scout. "He's got a good body—very lean and athletic—but he's never hit with good competition in any place I've seen him, and the best I've seen him hit against was 82-83 (mph). I'll sign him for $300,000 or $400,000, but that's it. I won't go any higher than that because he's a good batting practice guy, but even in BP he shows you a lot of flaws. He's kind of choppy and he's not consistent. In BP the ball carries, but even then you'd like to see some consistency."

    It gives me some pause, reading this, but the good news is that it sounds like he's a hard worker who has a good makeup, so I think at age 16, he can learn to not do the things the scouts above are complaining about.

    But again, while greater detail, it is not something I haven't heard before. I think his potential is huge, like Villalona, and you have to give that potential it's due.

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  5. Now I'll segue to Chris's comment.

    That's why I rank Rodriguez above Noonan and Gillaspie, potential. Noonan and Gillaspie look like they can be good players, but they aren't 5 tool players. Both lack power, but both can be hitting machines however. Defensively, though, neither are that stellar, and while Noonan look like a base stealer, Gillaspie is just a one dimensional player - he hits - but important since he can play 3B and we don't have any.

    Rodriguez can be a star and there is a lot of positives indicating that he might. Noonan, on the other hand, had a nice but not great or good season in A-ball. Yes, he's young and held his own, but there is too large a difference in potential for me not to rank Rodriguez higher at the moment.

    Gillaspie similarly. Reading his pre-draft description, the best anyone can say is that he's Bill Mueller clone. Well, Rodriguez is compared with Vlad, Winfield, and Gallarraga. Which would you rather have?

    Gillaspie might be closer to the show, but if Rodriguez is truly a good prospect, he could make the majors in 4 years, by the time he is 20. Gillaspie probably will take at least two if not three years, as he's good but there is a reason he felt into the supplementary round, teams had doubts about him. There is not a huge difference in how close either is to the majors but a huge difference in the type of player they could be in the majors.

    And as I've noted before, the odds of prospects drafted in the supplemental round being a good player is roughly 5%. So it is not like Gillaspie is that much of a sure thing either, all we can really base is on what the scouts see for him: good hitter, OK defense, that's about it, no power, no speed.

    Noonan was also a early supplemental pick too, and again he did OK in A-ball, his lack of power is a big factor in why I downgrade him below Rodriguez, a power guy at 2B is rare, but a nice hitting (not great) base-stealer, not so much.

    Ishikawa has now climbed the ladder. He has done reasonably well at every level in the minors now. Very well last season, which of course, is the most important season for evaluation now. He also did OK in the majors, with a 99 OPS+. He's ready for his major league opportunity and he's a proven masher, the question has been whether he can hit well enough.

    And people forget, he's only 25 for 2009, that's still young. He's no Utley, but for comparison, it took Utley two tries in the majors before he finally took in his third try, when he was 26 years old. He didn't hit particularly that well in AAA but he was able to make the leap and continue developing. I'll bet the D-gers now wish they would have thrown him more money when they drafted him out of high school.

    So Ishikawa has succeeded now at every level, and holding his own in the majors, albeit in a platoon situation. Noonan should be in Advanced A San Jose in 2009 and Gillaspie is probably going to be there as well (even Weiters started out in Advanced A).

    I don't need to tell you that there is a huge leap a prospect has to make to succeed in AA then another one to succeed in AAA. Ishikawa has made those leaps and now trying to figure out the majors.

    The good thing here too is that the struggles he has had before will inform him in any struggles he faces in the majors, it's not like Niekro where he basically raked at every level before struggling in the majors and never recovering. He should have the experience of dealing with slumps and not going away from what made him successful coming up.

    To boot, he's very good defensively at first, unlike Noonan and Gillaspie.

    But as I noted, it was not easy for me to make this choice for the #6. I understand why people like Noonan and Gillaspie. I've explained why I made my choice above.

    I also understand why some people leave Ishikawa off because they feel that he has as much experience as the guys who fell off the list in 2008, Burriss, Sandoval, Velez, Bowker, but he fits under the definition, and if that is really how they feel, then they would have left Cain off the list for 2006 because he had so many IP in 2005, and that, to me, would have been stupid.

    Ishikawa isn't proven and he qualifies under the definition. If they want to argue that Sandoval, Velez, Bowker, and Burris qualifies then I would understand that and they should just go ahead and chose those players instead, but the opposit, to leave Ishikawa off, is not right.

    For me, even if Ishikawa is a platoon player at 1B, he can still probably mash 20+ homers in a part-time position and fill an important spot in the lineup. That and his closeness to achieving that trumps the potential of both Noonan and Gillaspie and everyone else. But, as noted, it was very close.

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  6. Sorry Bobo, should have done you first.

    Yeah, I agree, I think I've made it clear here that I don't think the Giants have to (or should) do a lot to get ready for 2009. I think a steady reliever or two would be good as long as they don't overpay, as Chris has noted on his website.

    If we can get a good bat for the near term, that would be OK with me, thus why I'm OK with the talks about Furcal coming here (but 10 teams lining up, so don't expect him here).

    Out of the list, I would expect, besides the guys called up this season already for relief work, that Kelvin Pichardo would get his chance at some point. In addition, Pucetas, Martinez, and Pereira will probably see time in the majors in relief, and perhaps some starts, but I assume they will only start while in the minors. I would hope that Misch will have a place in the bullpen.

    We could already be set, Wilson, Hinshaw, Romo, plus maybe Taschner, Misch, Matos, Sadler, Pichardo. And a free agent or two, plus there is Justin Miller who signed recently, he could be one addition to the bullpen already.

    Bumgarner and Alderson will not see the Price experiment unless the Giants surprise everyone and make the playoffs. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one, even if they made a big signing. It would take too many career years to achieve.

    Still, if Lincecum continues pitching like he has and Cain is making the leap I see him making, as well as Sanchez, and Zito finally pitches the full season like he did at the end of the 2008 season, it won't take much of an offense to reach .500 and with the NL West so weak, .500 could be a contender.

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