Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Your 2011 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.

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.

And, frankly, most people who do these sort of stuff focus a significant amount of their ranking on whether a player is able to make the majors that season or not.  So, to be a little different, I try to focus more on the future potential rather than closeness to the majors, partly because that is the fun of prospect watching, part because I don't observe any of the prospects on the field, as others do.

What I do provide is my thoughts and analysis after reading through various available sources of information regarding the Giants prospects, including all the lists out there (which was captured quite nicely by Crazy Crabbers here).  And, as noted, I lean more towards potential than closeness to the majors.

And to add to the Crabber's bounty, here is the Minor League Baseball Analyst's Top 15:

  1. Brandon Belt, 1B
  2. Zack Wheeler, RHP
  3. Francisco Peguero, OF
  4. Gary Brown, OF
  5. Thomas Neal, OF
  6. Charlie Culberson, 2B
  7. Tommy Joseph, C
  8. Jarrett Parker, OF
  9. Brandon Crawford, SS
  10. Jose Casilla, RHP
  11. Chuckie Jones, OF
  12. Ehire Adrianza, SS
  13. Michael Main, RHP
  14. Heath Hembree, RHP
  15. Chris Dominguez, 3B

I love reading the Minor League Baseball Analyst, whole-heartedly recommend it.

2011 Giants Big 6 Prospects

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 2011 is different again, just like 2009 and 2010, and we have a lot of players. 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. And 2009 had a number of excellent early picks in Wheeler, Joseph, Dominguez, and Stoffel.  And 2010 had a number of excellent picks in Brown, Parker, Rosin, Hembree, Kickham, Chuckie Jones,

This year, it was pretty clear who the top 2 were but like last season, there were a lot of prospects who could make one of the four three spots, and I will list them in an honorable mention section.

Here are the Big 6 I've selected for 2011:
  1. Brandon Belt:  He is the best by far, has a lot of potential plus he's basically in the majors sooner than later.  His story is well known:  Giants overdraft in Round 5 where many thought closer to Round 10, the former pitcher had his swing reworked suing new video tool leading to him leading the minors in a number of stats across the three levels he played in 2010, including AAA.  Showing surprising stolen-base prowess to go with power, he used the whole field while being disciplined enough to take walks at high rates.  Some have called him a left-handed Buster Posey and Will Clark said that Belt has a better swing than he did.  Should be in the heart of the Giants lineup for most of this decade, the Decade of the Giants, hitting for good (20-25 HR) power and average (plus high OBP), probably in the #5 spot (Sandoval, Posey, Belt).
  2. Zack Wheeler:  He is the best pitcher by far, in a system left almost barren by quick promotions of pitchers in recent seasons.  He would be more highly ranked on most Top 100 overall prospect lists if he did not miss half the season due to a torn fingernail; yet, still, many ranked him roughly in the 50-75 range in their Top 100 list.  High strikeout rates due to mid-to-high 90's heater, he also got an extremely high percentage of ground balls.  He also has a good slider and power curveball.  Good mechanics seals the deal, he's a potential #1 starter.  Belt only beats him out because Belt is SOOO close to making the majors.  
  3. Gary Brown:  With speed to challenge anyone - he reportedly can get to 1B (as RHB) as fast as the best LHB - he can get to many balls in CF that other cannot.  This also helps in elevating his BABIP plus is handy for stealing bases with abandon.  Most analysts said that he's plus plus in defense in CF but that his jittery batting stance scared off most teams despite him leading the Big West in OPS, not just last year, but over the past seven seasons, which included Evan Longoria's breakout season (his ISO also beat out Longoria too).  The major negative that anyone can throw at him is his lack of walks in 2010 in college, but they are ignoring his high walk totals when he was not that good a hitter his first season on college and the walks he got, albeit small samples, but still a significant percentage, in pro ball in 2010:  he had 6 walks in only 54 PA, that's 11%, which is good.  He's my guy to watch for 2011, I think he will prove that he knows how to take walks plus do all the other stuff the experts say he can, and if so, he can rise fast, like Belt in 2010 and Sandoval in 2008, and be pushing for the majors by season's end.
  4. Francisco Peguero:  I've never been impressed with him but the major prospect services have, so I have paid attention to him.  Baseball America says that he has the best blend of power and speed in the Giants system.  He has plus plus speed, which helps him provide plus plus defense.  With Brown around, he's probably headed for RF, which he has played in the minors.  Doesn't walk a lot, but like Sandoval coming up the minors, he has kept his strikeout rate down low against pitchers much older than he is, so that bodes well for him climbing up to the majors.  His coverage of the plate has been very good, as he exhibits good bat speed.  He'll be in AA in 2011, most likely, but could be pushing for the majors by season's end with another good season.
  5. Heath Hembree:  Reported 100 MPH in college, the Giants fixed up something with the RHP's delivery and he went from walking 18 in 29 IP in college to outright dominating in the Arizona League, striking out 22 in only 11 IP, but more importantly, 0, zero, nil, nada, walks.  BA says that he profiles as a premium closer and that is what I'm thinking too.  Brian Wilson won't last forever nor stay here forever, so Hembree would be someone we could groom to take over in 2-3 seasons, should Wilson not be around at that point.  At worse, Hembree could be a shutdown set-up guy, which can be almost equally valuable sometimes.  
  6. Rafael Rodriguez:  He is on this list because he's a true 5-tool talent.  As much as people want to complain about his 2010 season, that was his 17 YO season, and it would be too much to expect him to dominate out of the chute, especially since he's playing against much older guys, most 2-4 years older than he is (and more experienced).  Yet, his strikeout rate is not that high, around 19%, which means a contact rate of 81% when you ideally want to see the batter at 85% or above.  That should come with time and experience.  His power too.  Meanwhile, he's learning the nuances of fielding and with his strong arm and his speed, he probably could play any of the OF positions when he reaches the majors.  He's expected to make his full season debut in 2011 in low-A Augusta.
Now I can see people scratching their head about the last two.  Again, I lean towards potential and not closeness to the majors.  If the majors were valued more in this ranking a lot of other players would have been in the mix, for as noted, the Giants have been doing well in stocking the farm with players with potential in recent drafts and they are rising up close to the majors soon.  They will be my honorary mentions, basically in order.

Honorary Mentions
  • Nick Noonan:  He didn't break out like I thought he would last season, but he was hampered by recurring hamstring problems.  Also, they redid his batting mechanics, using the same video system they used to redo Belt's and the results were very positive:  he started driving the ball and generating better bat speed.  The Giants are talking about moving him back to SS, and if he can field decently there, his offense would carry the day. I think he's someone to keep a close eye on, as well as Brown, they could be pushing on the majors by season end, even if he ends up back at 2B, I think he's on the verge of putting it together as a batter.  Probably repeats AA, but could join bottleneck in AAA by season's end, on merit.
  • Ehire Adrianza:  In the past decade, he probably would have made the list, but the team's system is deepening, as I noted.  He reportedly could field SS in the majors now but his offense is what he needs to improve on.  Still, people need to remember, he was only 20 YO last season in a league of 22-24 YO pitchers, and yet he still held his own with the bat, 20% strikeouts/80% contact rate: remember, San Jose's background ups strikeout rate for hitters.  And he gets a good amount of walks too and flashes the speed to use them to steal bases.  He's probably going to repeat in SJ, particularly if Noonan is at SS in AA.
  • Brandon Crawford:  Also with major league ready defense at SS, like Ehire, he just strikes out way too much.  Breaking his hand didn't help either.  Maybe he'll try out the new video system and take a leap, like Belt and Noonan.  Should be SS in AAA for 2011.  
  • Tommy Joseph:  Probably best power-hitting prospect and he did not disappoint, 16 HR in 436 AB as 18 YO in low-A Augusta, but struck out a lot too with few walks.  C but a lot to learn and scouts felt 1B was his eventual position. 
  • Thomas Neal:  The projection systems love him, think he can be solid regular starting OF this season in majors.  He took slight step back in 2010, but I blame EL for sapping his power, which was his plus tool, much like how Ishikawa suffered there (and Crawford, for that matter).  I think he'll be better in AAA playing LF, where he'll probably be in 2011.  
  • Eric Surkamp:  He's healthy and looking to continue where he left off:  leading Giants minor leaguers in strikeouts again.  Got to love anyone with more than 1 K per inning and K/BB of almost 5, but since he's doing it as a polished pitcher, and not via one or two great knockout/strikeout pitch, he'll have to prove it at every level, like Pucetas.  I would expect him to start in AA and to move fast to AAA, he could be our 6th starter alternative by then if he continues to dominate like this.  
  • Charlie Culberson:  Breakout season, finally (and remember, only 21 YO in 2010), continued doing well in AFL.  Now he has to repeat, probably plays 2B in AA, but very exciting burst of power, would be great to have at 2B (or maybe even 3B, where he played in 2009).
  • Chuckie Jones:  Had great start to pro career with an offensive explosion but 61 strikeouts in 165 AB is a huge question mark.  Still, hit very well as 17 YO in AZL, 2-4 years younger and less experienced, so I would cut him huge slack on the strikeouts for now.  Huge power potential, idolized Pujols growing up, grew up in area, St. Louis was ready to draft in next round.  That's why better for teams to overdraft players they like than risk losing to another team.
  • Jarrett Parker:  5 tool potential put him high on some Giants prospect lists.  Nice package overall, still have to see more, as he had a down season in college in 2010.
There are many other prospects who I would normally at least produce a blurb on, but I've been busy lately and don't have time. DrB has a very good list at his site, and just continue reading all the stuff he followed that up with, lots of great info there.

As I noted before, the sad fact about prospects is that the vast majority will fail to become a major leaguer at any point, and an even smaller percentage ever become the starters we all love and follow.   That's part of the reason I keep my list to 6, it is just so hard to make the majors as a starter that the Top 6 typically are those who make it.  Still, part of the fun of prospect hounding is when prospects like Jonathan Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Brandon Belt, rise up the system fast and make the majors.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know who will make that rise, you have to monitor and observe and hope for the best.

Sad Story of Angel:  Continued

Unfortunately, sometimes real life intrudes on our revelry.  Angel Villalona, who probably would have made the list somewhere this season, if not for his murder charge, is still being prosecuted for the murder that he was accused of doing.  His visa has been revoked and I believe he was able to post bail and stay out of jail, living with his family, while the preparations for the trial continues.

Until there is a gun with his fingerprints on it, I don't see how he will get convicted, as there are as many people saying he shot the fatal shot as there are people who swear to his innocence because he was near them when the firing happened.  Too many people on both sides for the truth to be exposed in the courtroom.

The odd thing is that if he is able to be found not guilty, assuming the trial is over sometime this year, he'll still be only 21 YO for next season and probably would be OK in San Jose, eventually, once he goes through instructional league to get back into baseball shape.  However, given how fat he got previously as a pro, I would fear that he has gain a tremendous amount of weight while sitting around in jail and now at home.


  1. Hey, thanks for the shout out, OGC!

    The depth in the Giants system is really amazing. My list has high ceiling prospects like Leonardo Fuentes and Marvin Barrios all the way down in the 40's just because they are so low in the minors. The Giants aren't just drafting well at the top of the draft, but are finding very nice prospects down in the draft too and are continuing to add international talent as late as last week.

    The future is bright!

  2. Hey, you deserve it!

    Yeah, the depth is amazing compared to how it used to be, I'm very gratified and excited about the future too!

    Speaking of which, the Giants recently signed two Dominicans (you probably noted it already on your site, but for my readers), LHP Adalberto Mejia for $350,000 and RHP Simon Mercedes for $400,000. BA's blog had details here: http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2011/03/giants-sign-dominican-lefty-for-350000/

    17 YO Mejia is 6'3", 190 lbs, sits at 87-90 and has a nice changeup.

    MLB has details on Mercedes: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110205&content_id=16581026

    18 YO Mercedes works in low 90's. I guess he got more because he pitched in the Dominican Prospect League's All-Star game in February. Did nicely too, 3 K's in 2 IP.

    That's $750K in roughly 3 months of 2011, versus the $849K that the Giants spent in all of 2010. That was good for 27th, only the Angels, White Sox, and D-gers spent less (and they spent way less).

    The flip side is that the Giants were big spenders previously, spending $2.1M on Angel Villalona in 2006 and $2.55M on Rafael Rodriguez in 2008. And they did spend big on Posey $6.2M in 2008 and Wheeler $3.3M in 2009.



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