Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Big Six Prospects

I've tried in prior years to discuss prospects, and so again I'm trying.  I honestly don't think more than 6 prospects at any time is ever going to make the majors, and Christy Mathewson was nicknamed the Big Six (after a famous fire engine company in NYC), so I've named it in his honor in my blog posts so far.

But in recent seasons, more than six were interesting, and so I would at least mention ones who looked interesting to me in some way (honorable mentions).  And I've never liked the format of combining by some combination of closeness, or potential impact, so I'm going to break them up in this post.  Also, I'll mention interesting players for both pitching and hitting.

ogc thoughts

FYI:   I tried to finish this before the season started, but was unable to get it done in time.  I had Gary Brown in there and will leave him in there even though he's no longer with the club, as I still think he has some potential and can still make it.  Clearly, the Giants disagree.  And Duffy I thought would be sent down to AAA, and so I've updated his section.  I also still believe in Adrianza being able to develop into a major league asset, but the Giants decided to take a risk and DFA him.  But they just got him back, so hope is still alive!  I was hoping nobody was willing to give him a 25-man roster spot, and that worked out.  

What do I know about prospects?  I'm no expert like the various bloggers out there who can look at prospects and tell how good they are, like Shankbone, DrB, Cove Chatter, Giants Potential, or FLA-Giants and Roger (on MCC).  I, like I often do, fall in-between the experts and the regular fan, knowing more than the regular fan but not as much as the experts do.

What I do know comes from my experience looking at prospects and from the studies published in the Baseball Forecaster published by BaseballHQ.com.   It is very hard to tell who will make it.  The industry experts are often wrong, but mostly on-target, hence why they can keep on doing that job.

One qualification that is a strong indicator of the tough road ahead is not being young for a league.  My study and a number of studies on Beyond the Box Score showed that if a prospect want to have any great hope of making the majors and doing something, they are usually young for the league.  The road is long and hard for prospects who are league average age or older, but not impossible, as Matt Duffy showed.  But generally, most of our prospect in my history of following them have been in this category, trying and failing to beat the gauntlet of the minor leagues.

There are a few key metrics I like to look at.  For hitters, I look at a good strikeout rate and a good walk rate, for a good BB/K ratio, as well as a good batting line, especially for his age.  For pitchers, I like to see a great K/BB then look for a very high (above 10.0 K/9 ideally) strikeout rate.  Because, as the methodology Major League Equivalency showed, you have to translate minor league stats downward to adjust for the rise in difficulty from AA to AAA to MLB.   You have to have great numbers the lower you go, so that when they are adjusted downward for difficulty, they are still good.  That's why you want great K/BB for pitchers (above 3.0) and great BB/K (much above 1.0) for hitters.  I also use OBPxSLG for hitters to get a better sense of who the better hitters are, since that is the proper tool to be used (OPS is just an easy to calc shorthand that has become the standard, but sometimes does not tell the whole story for a hitter;  OPS penalizes hitters who have higher OBP but less power, and so I do include OBPxSLG in my bag of tricks to catch when that happens).

Then I mix in information I get from on-line sources, as well as books like Baseball America and Minor League Baseball Analyst.  And I like to use my gut.  Then out pop my opinions and thoughts, as I've captured below.  Don't take my word for everything, but consider it another informed voice out there for you to consider, and make your own judgement.

2015 Impact Big Six

These are the guys I think could have the biggest impact in 2015.
  1. Tyler Beede:  Here's how I see the starting pitching playing out in 2015.  I think the starting 5 of Bumgarner, Hudson, Cain, Peavy, and Lincecum will make it to mid-season.  But, like Lincecum in his first full pro season, I think Beede will do well enough to force his way into the majors, but with seven starters in the majors, only if one of the five are not performing in some way, and only sometimes mid-season, for he would have to prove himself first in the minors.  That's why I put him first, because I think he could be a starter for us at some point after the All-Star break, I see him jumping over Vogelsong and Petit into the rotation if there is any opportunity.  Something generally happens, whether injury or lack of performance (just see what has happened already, Cain on the DL, Peavy close to getting on the DL, Vogie just getting killed), and that crack could let him in.
  2. Andrew Susac:  As most prospect sites note, he would probably start as catcher for a number of teams in the majors right now.   As I've been writing, I think it could make sense to have Posey and Susac share two starting positions on the field, catcher and 1B.  Now that Sandoval is no longer in the picture, perhaps 3B instead, since Bochy once said that Posey could play there when his catching days are over.  But I have no idea if Susac can handle 3B, he has played C since an early age.  But most catchers seem to end up playing some 1B and others have played 3B.  Baseball America noted his athleticism in his profile (in their great book) so there is that too.

    Honestly, I don't really expect any of these prospects to go up and have a huge impact (wrote this before Duffy was placed on 25-man, but still, he's only a utility guy right now and not expected to be more), but you never know with injuries or poor performance.  Beede I got first because, one, I think he will do very well, enough to push to the majors ahead of Vogelsong in the rotation depth chart, but only if an SP struggles, which I don't expect, or get injured, which I also don't expect, and yet, they are pitchers so you never know.  Susac I have second because catching is a dangerous position, and thus you never know with Posey and Hanchez.  
  3. Matt Duffy:   Obviously, making the team, he can affect the team in many ways in 2015, probably more than the guys above, but when I did this rank I saw him going down to AAA first then forcing his way up at some point.  He just did it sooner.  I see him being Zobrist-like eventually, as well as work on his 3B fielding in practice (and probably see OF play too).  And he might get a starting opportunity somewhere, many ways it can happen.  Perhaps Panik has a sophomore slump.  Perhaps Crawford has another nagging injury.  Or same with Ishikawa, should he struggle mightily (though I think he has longer rope than the others though, he has a longer track record, and brings LH power off the bench).   Because there are so many roles Duffy might play, but mostly as a utility guy, I placed him third, but given that he made the opening day roster, he'll probably end up having the most impact among these prospects in 2015 on the Giants, as I don't see the two above getting to start, but if they do, they should beat him out in terms of impact, unless he becomes a PH extraordinaire, in which case I would be wrong.
  4. Hunter Strickland:   We have a lot of great relievers, our Core Four of Affeldt, Romo, Casilla, and Lopez, but they are all getting older and old (36, 32, 34, 37, respectively).  And Machi (33) and Kontos (30) aren't that young anymore either.   Decline or injury could come to any of them this season, it is just a fact of aging, and having a pitcher of Strickland's caliber cooling his jets in AAA (but still learning, as his playoffs showed he still has some to do), ready to contribute is always great.

    I mean, wow, in 2014, while mostly in AA, he had a 12.8 K/9 and 13.8 K/BB (yes, that is no typo, as above 3.0 K/BB is considered good).   Those are numbers like Bumgarner had in High School, except Strickland did it in AA.  This is why the Giants chose to protect him on their 40-man roster even though he was recovering from TJS at the time and why they have said that he is future closer material.  Those were insane numbers, and some time in AAA should help him get the kinks out that hurt him in the playoffs.  I don't expect any of the relievers to get injured or have a poor season, so I don't expect Strickland up during the main regular season, but maybe he pitches well enough that the Giants trade the reliever who wins the last spot (either Machi or Kontos) in order to bring him up, after all, he's 26 YO and the clock is ticking on his body and arm.
  5. Steve Okert:  Look at his stats, 12.1 K/9, 4.18 K/BB, and already in AA.  Looks poised to be 2015's version of Derek Law (who probably would have made this list without his TJS).  As noted for Strickland, the bullpen is old, and it is brilliant to have a pitcher of his caliber at AAA, ready to jump in as needed.  And he is only 23 YO, whereas Strickland is 26 YO.  I only expect him to come up if Affeldt or Lopez DLs, and he probably comes up in September.  The Giants love having three lefties in the bullpen, so I can see him taking a playoff roster spot over Vogelsong or the last reliever (Machi or Kontos).  I see him eventually taking over Affeldt's role in the pen as the closer for the closer.  The Giants have been genius in having basically a duo-closer (really trio-closer) dynamic with Affeldt coming in and shutting things down in high leverage situations.    
  6. Cody Hall:  ZiPS, one of the few projection systems to do MLEs for minor leaguers, actually had Hall as the highest WAR among the prospects, if he played a full season.  I don't see him making it into a playoff roster, but he should be up in September and have a nice month, like Strickland in 2014.  But with all the old dudes in the bullpen, it don't hurt to have so many relievers in the minors ready to jump up and contribute.  Plus, they make good trading chips too, sometimes, as 2015 is Hall's 27 YO season.
Honorable Mentions:

Derek Law:  As I noted above, he would be in the above list if he wasn't recovering from TJS.  Or heck, on the MLB team this spring, battling with Machi and Kontos for the last spot in the bullpen.  However, not all TJS are successful and he's not ready yet, so I put him here.  But so far so good in spring training for him.  He should be returning to regular play this season and adds to the reinforcements the Giants could potentially bring up to the bullpen, just in case.  Then there are starting pitchers who could also chip in, like Crick, Black, Blackburn, Mella, Ysla, and others.  I think we are covered for Armageddon in the bullpen.  

Mac Williamson:  He is also recovering from TJS, and like Law, won't re-enter regular full-season play until sometime mid-season.  But like Hall, he is about as ready as could be, and this injury does not affect his hitting at all, which is a major reason he's on this list.  With Pagan a regular on the DL during his career, and both Pence and Aoki 32 YO, the Giants might need OF reinforcements again from the minors, as they have throughout much of this dynasty.   Mac is expected to shine brightly in AA in 2015, and could, like Sandoval and Duffy before him, make the jump from AA to the majors, if necessary.  

Clayton Blackburn:  I think other rankings would put Blach ahead of Blackburn, but I'm not sure why.  Sure, Blach is a lefty and had a lower ERA in the same AA league, but what I see is Blackburn had much better K/9 and K/BB while also younger than Blach and he has some good velocity as well, when he needs it.  And as I'll go into greater depth below regarding Blackburn, I think he's more talented than most prospect raters think.  For example, Callis of MLB.com had Blackburn 11th among prospects, BP 9th, and most had him in the middle (4/5/6).

As you can see below, I place him 3rd in terms of potential.  Part of that is all the usual rankings are blending closeness of impact with potential, whereas I broke the two up.  Still, Crick is #1 on many lists.  My gut really likes Blackburn, and as long-term readers know, I like to listen to my gut.  But with so many pitchers ahead of him in 2015 - Vogelsong, Petit, Heston (getting a lot of good notice this spring, plus added weight and velocity), and probably Beede, Blach, and maybe Crick plus all the relievers - it is not likely that we will see much of Blackburn in 2015, except maybe an appearance or three in September.  Still, you never know, and hence why I wanted to HM him.

Long Term Potential Impact Big Six

These are the guys I see with the most potential in the farm system.  They might not necessarily reach this potential, which is why other rankings will put them lower, but that is why I prefer to split 
  1. Tyler Beede:  Projected to be a #2 starter by some.  I wasn't sure where to put him initially.  Most rate Crick above Beede, but if you look across all of them, the two of them are rated about the same overall.   Here are my thoughts as to why I put him higher.

    Like Crick, he has a pitcher's body, It is pretty rare to be drafted twice in the Top 20-ish.  Of course, a lot of that has to do with most Top 20 picks sign and don't put themselves through the draft twice.  But still, he developed some while in college, enough to progress to be drafted higher, getting both a college education as well as getting more bonus money.  Before the 2014 season, he was rated a Top 5 college player for the draft, but his poor season dropped him to the Giants.  This reminded me of the Giants drafting Crawford, who was rated highly (first rounder) before the season, but fell to the Giants in round 4.  Then Beede's stats in the minors, while SSS to the extreme, reminded me of Lincecum's debut, not as great but still pretty good, and at younger age.

    My gut says that he's got the stuff to make the Giants as an ace.  He is rated to have 3 plus pitches, in particular his 92-97 MPH fastball (which gets up to 99), but also a power curveball.  And now he added a two-seamer that will help him get more grounders, as well as a cutter.  He is rated down because of his inability to repeat delivery which leads to his habit of losing control, but that sounds like the problem Bumgarner had coming in to the Giants, and Tidrow was able to help him figure things out.

    And reports out this spring noted that they have changed his repertoire already.  As noted above, they added the two-seamer to help him get more grounders, while retaining his four-seamer for some high heat strikeouts and pop-ups.  He is also showing off a new cutter.  And similarly to Lincecum, people forget that in college, Tim walked a ton of batters, but, while not good in the majors, he's not wildly out of control, especially given his high strikeout rates until last season, as high strikeouts makes walks more palatable, as long as the pitcher maintains a high K/BB ratio.  The Giants must have done something to help Lincecum and presumably is doing the same for Beede.  Indeed, the reporting is that "The mechanical inconsistency is there, but so is the opportunity to overcome it with further development and refinement."  His athleticism and agility should help him overcome these issues eventually (per the report).  BA notes that if he solves this, he could front a rotation some day.  I agree. 
  2. Kyle Crick:  Also projected by some to be a #2 starter.  He's big and strong, can get his fastball up to 98 MPH and can consistently throw in the mid-90's easily.  He strikes batters out easily but loses his command enough to worry people.

    Here's what I see that others don't mention or account for:  when he's on, he not only piles up strikeouts but don't walk many, which is the holy grail for pitchers.  In nearly half his starts in 2014, his K/BB was 2.5 or higher.   Similarly in 2013 where he also had 5 starts in double digits even though his pitch count was limited, and in those starts he had 52 strikeouts and only 9 walks, almost 6 K/BB!  If he can do that, he can be Bumgarner good, ace-level, with high K/9 and high K/BB.  Throw in a few wild games (can't always tame the beast), and he'll still be pretty good.

    People forget that he didn't start to focus on pitching until he was a senior in high school in 2011, and so he is still learning his pitching mechanics when guys his age learned it while in high school.  And remember, he was only 21 YO in 2014 in a league where the average hitter was 24.7 YO.   He could be a monster ace in the majors if he can put everything together.  I view him and Beede being potentially co-aces of the staff of the future, joining Bumgarner who has been the ace in recent seasons, and I think can still get even better.  Bumgarner is one of those who just get better and better.
  3. Clayton Blackburn:  As noted, seems like most experts don't think much of Blackburn.  One comparison is Joe Blanton, and it seems like he's viewed a future middle rotation guy.  But look at his numbers:  as a 21 YO (very young for AA) he had a 8.6 K/9, which is OK but not great, and 4.70 K/BB, which is great, considering the average hitter is 3 to 4 years older than him (and with that much more experience).  He was in the top 10 in K/BB (youngest), and the nearest 21 YO to him had a 3.50 K/BB.

    There is a variety of opinions regarding what he is capable of in velocity.  I view him as a Cain-lite type pitcher:  wise beyond his years, and knows that velocity is not be all and end all, so he doesn't show unless he needs to.  That would explain why some say they see his velocity while others don't, if Clayton is only using it when he needs it, a scout might not even see it in the game he scouted.  So I see a bit of Cain in him in that he appears capable of ratcheting up his velocity when necessary so we might see an uptick in his velocity range when he reaches the majors and need to hump it up more.  And I think he might be suffering a bit of what Cain did in his early years, Cain was repeatedly told that he didn't need to fear MLB hitters as much as he did, he had a lot of stuff to get batters out, and though he could hump it up, he frequently would nibble when he could have shut the batter down with his live fastball and this stuff.  Getting to come to the major league camp this year has taught Stratton some MLB tips from vets like Peavy, so I have no doubt Blackburn got some lessons as well.

    I think he could be a future #2 starter, and in all probability, will outperform Crick in the majors, just because of all the uncertainty regarding Crick's command, but if we are looking at potential, have to give it to Crick right now.  Still, if all these guys reach their potential (and while great, we still have the recent memory of Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert to remind us that sometimes prospects don't work out as a group), we could be looking at a staff of aces with Bumgarner, Beede, Crick, and Blackburn (plus Cain will probably still be around, maybe Lincecum too).  If one of the three work out to join Bumgarner as an ace, I would take that.  
  4. Andrew Susac:  Most experts already think he's a MLB-caliber starting catcher already.  Hard to beat that in terms of potential impact.  Yet, an ace level starting pitcher would trump an average starting catcher.  And even more important to the Giants because the Giants need to figure out a way to keep Posey behind the plate without tiring him out for the playoffs.  As I've been pushing for, a transition period where Posey and Susac share two starting positions (C and either 1B or 3B), so that Posey can play as many games as catcher as well as another position without affecting the lineup much, would be ideal.  Susac enables that to happen if he can play either 1B or 3B.  However, he's been a catcher for much of his amateur career (and trained hard in his teens to become a good catcher), so I'm not sure how realistic 3B is, but 1B should be doable, some catchers end up there later in their careers.  
  5. Hunter Strickland:  Giants have already said that he's future closer material.  He showed that in AA last season and in the majors in September.  Closers are pretty darn important and he probably would be higher if Susac/Posey don't just make so much sense.  Plus, he's getting kind of old (26 YO season in 2015).  
  6. Gustavo Cabrera:  Before basically cutting off his right hand when falling through glass, Cabrera was considered a potential 5-tool athlete.  Plus, plus speed coupled with raw power, and he has a strong arm.  And he could play CF well defensively.  His main question mark was whether he could hit well or not, but he has "electric bat speed" according to MLB.com's Jim Callis.

    He appears to be recovering well from his injuries and was already playing in instructional league at the end of last season.   While the injury cost him a season of development, he's still only 19 YO.  His speed is his most obvious asset, which should enable him to wreak havoc on the basepaths and to catch up to a lot of balls in the OF.  He has a strong right arm so he could play CF or RF equally well.  He has above-average raw power that should become playable, from what I understand.  Hitting is his biggest question mark, as there are worries about his long swing and his aggressiveness, but even there it is not a huge negative at the moment.  
Honorable Mentions:

Derek Law:   He was rated ahead of Strickland last spring training, and Law, in his short pro career, has numbers in his career like Strickland did in 2014.  In 2013, he had 13.8 K/9 and 8.5 K/BB.  If Strickland falters in any way, we got Law as a replacement.  And Law, even with TJS road bump, is only 24 YO for the 2015 season.  I see him as being closer-worthy in terms of ability, which fits in with the Giants strategy by having Romo, Casilla, and Affeldt around, even when they had Wilson as the closer.  Luckily, they all bought into the plan, not everybody's ego can handle losing the closer role, as both Casilla and Romo did, and really Affeldt has pitched well enough to be closer (and Bochy briefly included him as part of the committee once upon a time) and yet is OK being the closer before the closer.  But as his role in Game 7 showed, he's the one Bochy entrusted to settle things down enough for Bumgarner to come in.  

Steven Okert:   Whereas we have the Core Four aging, we have the trio of Strickland, Law, and Okert looking like they will come to the fore in the next couple of seasons and be part of the new Core Four, whoever they might end up being comprised of.  As I noted above, he looks ready to come up this season and be a good addition to the bullpen.

Daniel Carbonell:  I debated between Mac Williamson and Carbonell but decided to go with Carbonell for a few reasons.  One, people like Williamson (I do too) and he hit .318/.420/.506/.926 in Advanced A-ball at age 23, playing RF, and Carbonell hit .344/.390/.538/.928 in the same league, same age, but playing a premium position, CF, albeit, SSS since he only played 21 games there.  With plus plus speed, he had 19 SB and 7 CS, which was pretty good but he needs to improve a little more to be considered a good base stealer.  An 82% contact rate was OK, but given he was old for the league at 23, not that good either.  But the league average was 78% so at least he was above average.   In any case, as a CF, there is a lower offensive hurdle for MLB relevance than for a corner OF and thus the nod to Carbonell.  But I think Williamson has a better chance of making the majors this season, even coming in mid-season, as he's done more in the minors than Carbonell has.

Further Thoughts:

Two names that come up that I thought I would address here are Keury Mella and Luis Ysla.  I know these are two names popping up on ranked lists, in particular Mella is in some Top 5's and I know I was one of the first to mention Ysla before last season, as his name came up as interesting when I looked at our prospects stats and analysis (plus MLB.com ranked him 10th, BA ranked him 21st, showing the dichotomy of opinions, as the others are in-between, though closer to MLB.com than BA).

As I noted above, I provide a mix of analysis and reading about prospects.  When I ranked all the prospects, neither Mella's nor Ysla's stats were as impressive as the ones I've discussed above and below.  I look for a combination of command (K/BB and K%-BB%) and dominance (very high K/9, ideally over 10 K/9, and especially over 13 K/9).  Both had neither.

Now, Mella was young for the league, so there is that.  But he was tied for 40th in the league in K/9, 10th for players 20 YO and younger.  His K/BB was much higher ranked, 12th in the league, and a strong 2nd place among players 20 YO and younger.  I guess I could make an exception for him, he was pretty close to 9 K/9 which is the lowest I go, and it is not like I don't think there is potential there, but I really like the prospects above more, in terms of potential.

In addition, not every observer is sold on Mella being a starter in the long run.  He missed time last season due to a sore rotator cuff.  And some believe there is stress on his shoulder from his delivery, so this could be a long-term thing.  Furthermore, he really only has one good (albeit, really great) pitch, a fastball that reaches mid-90's frequently, as his breaking pitches are still works in progress, and though there is potential, there are also concerns as well, that he could end up a reliever.  And as a reliever, he wouldn't match up with either Law or Okert.  But some think that he could have three plus pitches and be a mid-rotation starter, which is better, but if Beede, Blackburn, and Crick turn out the way I hope, we have greater needs in replacing our aging Core Four bullpen, and hence why the relievers are ranked over him.  I guess my potential ranking takes some aspect of team need into account, I didn't realize that until now.

Similarly with Ysla.  He also has a fastball that can get into the mid-90's, but that is very rare for lefties like Luis.  My big "but" for him right now is that he was old (roughly average) for the Sally League last season and yet did not dominate that much, though he did have a very low ERA.  And maybe he can be one of those who can keep his HR/9 low, but that's something he'll have to prove out with more good performances.  But he was tied for 73th in K/BB and tied for 45th in K/9, and neither is very good.

But he could be a great Loogy.  He dominated LHH, .562 OPS vs. LHH, .717 vs. RHH, which is slightly above average for the league, which is .710, so he's slightly below average in handling RHH.  He will need to improve some on RHH if he hopes to make the majors.  And, as I care for, he was average aged for the league.  He is averaged aged again in the California League, and probably needs to jump to AA this mid-season to get me to move him up the ranks, whereas Mella I would keep an eye on (I would put him below, but I wanted to use those to highlight players who probably are not being mentioned regularly).

The Giants clearly hope to develop his secondary pitches, which some think has good potential, but in additions to my concerns about age, some also wonder about his delivery, whether he can hold up as a starter, and the combo of those concerns could lead to a future as a Loogy, and while he could be good as a reliever, right now he would fall behind Okert.  But apparently his stuff is good, he has developed his secondary pitches enough that people project him in the majors easily, but not necessarily as a starter.

Similarly, I like Christian Arroyo as well, but not as much as the guys above, in terms of potential.  He'll probably be in the mode of a Joe Panik-type, maybe a little more power, but less walks, but roughly the same type of value overall.   Some people got down on him for his hiccup in Augusta last season, but he's young and been young for the leagues he's been in.  And, to be fair to prospect rankers, he was ranked from 4th to 10th, so they did not get down on his either, so I'm referring more to people's comments I recall seeing.  Also, he might have been battling an injury there that could have been hindering him in Augusta, but not once he was healthy and in Salem-Keizer

People see first rounder and expect star performance, but as my draft study showed, that there is a huge difference between prospects drafted earlier in the first round and those in the last third, as Arroyo was.   His level of talent player (and many felt that he was a huge overdraft) do not tend to rise to the majors without hiccups, there will be issues and obstacles on their way up.  And he did fine with Salem-Keiser, once he got his problems worked out, whatever they were.  Plus, he was rewarded for his hard work and performance with an aggressive promotion to San Jose for this season, where he has done well so far in a handful of games.  I think he can be a similar player to Joe Panik, playing 2B, 3B, or SS (probably in that order), and hitting nicely.  

Big Six Interesting Hitters

These are hitters who are not high on any prospect list I've seen, but caught my eye in the lower minors.  I supplemented the stats I got for them with info from other sources which I linked.  
  1. Kelvin Beltre:  The right-handed hitter did real nicely in Dominican rookie league last season, and was only 17 YO (average hitter was 18.3 years average pitcher 18.9; so he was almost two years younger than the pitchers there).  Beltre hit .235/.430/.441/.871, making good contact at 84% and had twice as many walks as strikeouts.  He also slugged 3 homers in 68 AB, 23 AB/HR, in a league where 6 homers get you into the league leadership (he only played about half a season for some reason).  He also had 7 SB (though 4 CS).  And while it's not the best metric, scored 21 runs in 93 PA, helped by the 22 walks (in 22 games!).  He played mostly SS and a couple of games at 3B.  MLB.com ranked him 28th and worries that he won't stick at SS because of average speed and quickness, necessitating a move to 3B.  They did note his bat speed, raw power, and plate discipline, however, you don't pay a prospect $650K for nothing.  BA did not rank him at all, but listed him third in depth at SS, behind Duffy and Adrianza.  A middle infielder who shows good batting discipline plus some good power is always very interesting to me, especially since he did this handicapped by his youth, though tempered by SSS and a possible move to 3B.  And he's got great numbers, albeit in a rookie league, and hence why he's interesting and not in a list above.
  2. Mikey Edie:  Another right-handed performer for our Dominican rookie league team, Edie was only 16 YO and hit .298/.424/.383/.807 with 84% contact rate and good 0.73 BB/K ratio.  He had 14 SB but 8 CS.   Being a CF, his speed will be put to good use there, and a nice bat helps his chances in a premium position.  Baseball America liked his excellent speed and athleticism, but noted that his bat and baseball sense was raw.  He was also a highly ranked international signing by another site (neither, however, made BA's Top 30 list), considered a 5-tool prospect who has the intangibles the Giants like, in that he succeeded in international competition, something the Giants liked about Christian Arroyo.   He was considered likely to stick in CF while also becoming a 20-20 player, that nice combo of power and speed.  Edie seems to have more cred than Beltre, but I really loved that Beltre walked so much more than struck out, that's always something that sticks out to me.
  3. Austin Slater:  The 2014 8th round pick did well in his first taste of pro ball.  At 21 YO, he was slightly young for the league, but basically the same, but still he hit .347/.417/.449/.866 in 132 PA, with 86% contact rate and roughly 60% BB/K, which is OK but not good.  He led the league in hitting with his .347 batting average, though.  An occasional CF but mostly RF, he also showed a little speed and base running savvy, stealing 7 bags while only getting caught once.

    Reading over his MLB.com profile (he was ranked 29th), he strikes me as someone in the mode of Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Christian Arroyo, maybe even Nick Noonan, nothing really special in any particular area, other than hitting, but they have baseball smarts, make good contact, maybe also walk some as well, along with OK defense, a solid overall package with nothing really good, but nothing really bad either.  I guess if John Barr has any type he likes to draft, it is this particular all around goodness packaged with a good hit tool and preternatural vet savvy that belie their youth.  
  4. Skyler Ewing:  The right-handed power hitter (6th round pick of 2014) hit .291/.417/.473/.889 with 8 homers in 182 AB (23 AB/HR) with a 85% contact rate (average contact rate in Northwest League is only 76%) and 1.29 BB/K (a great ratio, especially compared to NWL's 0.44).  At 21 YO, he's slightly below average in age, just like Slater, but he did very well with his batting discipline which is a great sign that he has a good eye and bat.  

    And for both Slater and Ewing, their batting line looks even better compared to the league average of .256/.334/.370/.704, which is pretty low.  Ewing and Slater tied for 5th in OBP with .417.  Skyler was 11th overall for SLG but 6th among those 21 and younger.   And 6th overall in OPS (Slater was 10th).  He was tied for 7th in HR, but maybe only 3 had better AB/HR among those who were among the HR leaders.  And both Slater and Ewing were in top 3-5 in OBPxSLG, the true metric measuring a hitter's run value (OPS is the easier way to calc that is close, but not the real thing).   If he weren't a 1B, I might have rated him above Slater.  In any case, he's got great batting discipline, lets see if he can handle the pitching in higher levels in a full season league, it can always be that a hitter gets some luck involved.  But a 1.29 BB/K ratio shows a real good eye and talent that should play at higher levels.
  5. Tyler Horan:  The mainly rightfielder was with Augusta and San Jose, and after a good but not great four months with Augusta, the lefty went to San Jose and totally raked for a month, hitting .321/.376/.670/1.046, with 10 homers in 106 ABs (11 AB/HR, elite ratio, but SSS;  but he had 25 AB/HR in Augusta, which was good).  Those homers helped him to an elite 349 ISO.  And he has a little speed, with 15 SB (but 8 CS shows stealing bases is not a skill) and 6 triples for the season, plus he played CF in 9 games.  However, his contact rate was a meager 71% and he only had a 0.29 BB/K ratio, which was not good either.  Still, power like this does not grow on trees, so he's a good one to keep an eye on, that is the usual tradeoff for strikeouts.  And at age 23, he was league average, where the average was .270/.340/.426/.767 and the contact rate was low overall too, at 77%, so his contact rate is as horrible as I thought it was (standard for good has been 85%, I probably should start checking for league comparisons going forward).
  6. Mecky Coronado:  Another young performer for our Dominican rookie team, only 17 YO, the right-hander hit .289/.393/.413/.806 with 83% contact rate and an OK 0.71 BB/K ratio.   He played a couple of games as C, but 2 out of 40 isn't that significant unless he becomes a utility guy, but he appears to be defensively challenged, as he played 35 games as DH.   I would have ranked him higher if not for that, but his bat is very interesting, but we'll have to see if a position will come to him or not.
Big Six Interesting Pitching

These are pitchers who are probably not high on any prospect list, but whose numbers caught my eye in the lower minors.  
  1. Stetson Woods:  Stetson (great name) was roughly 1.5 years younger than the other pitchers in the rookie league.  Still, the tall (6' 8") RHP  racked up a 11.2 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 for a great 5.00 K/BB ratio.  A better way of examining a pitcher is looking at his K%-B% and Stetson had a stellar  
  2. Victor Conception:  He was basically 2 years younger than the other pitchers in the DSL, and still had a 3.18 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 for a great 5.00 K/BB ratio.  
  3. Dylan Brooks:  He had a 3.18 ERA with 11.9 K/BB and 3.00 K/BB.  I like to see very high K-rate, and he was very young for the league as well, almost 2.5 years younger.  
  4. Jose Morel:  He was old for the league at 20 YO, but had sub-2 ERA (very extreme, very good) the past two seasons in the DSL, showing good control with only 2.6 BB/9 last season, and a little dominating with a 9.5 K/9, for a very good 3.67 K/BB ratio.  And between the two seasons, a roughly 9 K/9 and 5.2 K/BB ratio, both very good.  
  5. Conor Kaden:  Conor was roughly averaged age and delivered a 10.7 K/9 and 3.29 K/BB.  
  6. Reymi Rodriquez:  Reymi was average aged for the league, but had a 3.20 ERA last season with 9.9 K/9 and 2.80 K/BB.  But that was close to what he did in the previous season, 9.5 K/9 and 2.13 K/BB, so that suggests that there something to his repeated goodness in the league, along with a slight improvement in the K/BB ratio.  His control was much improved, getting it under 4.  
Big Six Don't You Forget About Me

These are prospects I would remind people to not forget about.  A key thing that Baseball Forecaster emphasizes that I agree with is that once a prospect shows a skill, he "keeps" that skill, that is, the way I raed it, some combination of situations allowed the prospect to show that skill, so then the goal for the team and the player is to find a way to repeat that skill consistently enough to become a major leaguer.
  1. Chris Stratton:  For all the complaining about Stratton as a prospect, he has actually done OK as a prospect, just not "first round" good.  So while he's not been living up to his hype, it is not like he's been like Gary Brown has been doing, not performing, either.  I would also remind people that he's probably still recovering from the concussion he suffered soon after signing with the Giants.  That affects the brain, and got to affect his play on the field, leading to some tentativeness in some regards.  In addition, he was in AA ball at age 23, and did OK, which is good, though small samples.

    The good news this spring is that he's building off an uptick in velocity that he had at the end of the 2014 season.  MLB.com reported:  "The kid can command the ball on both sides of the plate, and he has good secondary pitches," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.  Romo also liked him too, noting, "He's not going to overpower you, but that breaking-ball combo he's got going on seems like it can be effective up here." J.J. Cooper of Baseball America noted in his Giants top prospect chat: "No where close to giving up on him. He’s just not what you would expect from a first-round pick. He’s ended up being a nibbler looking for weak contact. If you’re looking for signs of hope his velocity did tick up in the second half a little."

    He's enjoying his first spring training in the major league camp, and been buddying up with Peavy and getting tips from the vet.   “I talk to (Jake) Peavy the most,” he said. “We talk about baseball and going after hitters. He tells me not to give them too much credit.” Peavy has urged Stratton to elevate his fastball more often. “You focus so much on throwing the ball down that you forget about elevating,” Stratton said.  This is very similar to what I recall hearing about Cain's training for the majors, learning not to give the hitters too much credit, and trusting your stuff, as well as elevating.
  2. Gary Brown:  While I understand the downside of Gary Brown, I would like to point out that he's considered elite as a defender in the OF, even in CF.  So I see him as the replacement for Blanco when the White Shark gets too expensive for the Giants to keep, except that Brown is not as good offensiveness, but probably better defensively, and thus while he won't be as good overall, he can still provide some good value on the bench, through defense and speed on the bases.

    And I still like Brown's bat.  He has some funk to his mechanics that he's learning to change, and I would note that in college, he went through similar learning pains before figuring out how to hit at an elite level in his junior season, so while I would go as far as saying that he could be elite in the majors, I don't see why he can't be similar to Blanco's production during the same age range that Blanco has delivered for us, age 28 YO and older:  as he delivers a lot of HBP, leading to higher OBP coupled with OK walk rate, and some hitting, like Blanco's roughly:  .250/.330/.350/.680 batting line seems possible to me.  But with his DFA and claim by the Cards, he's no longer with the team, but I wanted to leave this in here.  
  3. Chuckie Jones:   Classic prospect like Adrianza who gets forgotten about because he's always so much younger than the league he's playing in.  Though I will admit that Chuckie is running out of time in terms of doing something as a MLB starter, but in 2014, he showed power and speed, reaching double digits in homers and SB for the second year in a roll.  His problem is one that most hitters have:  he just strikes out way too much.  150 last season.

    Still, he had his best hitting line since his first season, .256/.326/.404/.730.   He was just short of average offensively, while being nearly two years younger than the league.  And career highs of 15 homers and 17 SB (albeit, horrible CS%).   And at every level, he has walked at a high enough rate to get his OBP respectable, so he could be one of those Three True Outcomes hitter who can provide that type of value in the majors.  He will probably repeat at San Jose, and this is the year he needs to break out some to keep the prospect light flickering.  However, getting suspended for 50 games for a drug of abuse (probably weed) is not a good start for a continuation of his comeback.
  4. Chris Heston:   Here I thought he would be the first to be released, but yet he's still here while Kickham and Brown are not.  They must have really liked what they saw in his one start last season, as well as what he did in Fresno.  Heston was 12-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 28 starts for AAA Fresno.  In addition, bolstered by his MLB experience, he added weight during the off-season, 20 pounds which coaches and players noticed, which added to his velocity.

    However, he's working against an uphill battle.  He is not considered to have even one average pitch, and the extra velocity wasn't noted to be that significant that I could see.  Though still, if he was working 86-89 MPH before, he's at least 87-90 MPH now (and Fangraphs rated him 87-91 and sometimes 92).  The key for him is that he is able to mix and match and keep batters off balanced, which is the goal, and was called "Hesto Presto" by an announcer for his ability to pull out a double-play grounder.  

    Heston had an great spring where in five appearances (two of which were starts), he went 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA. He struck out 10 and walked one in 15 innings, good for a 6.0 K/9 and 10.0 K/BB, which are good.  And I should have put him higher, he has been great in his two starts thus far.  Would be hard to send him down if he continues to pitch this well, but they have no space anyway on the 25-man for another pitcher.  And he definitely deserves to be on the 2015 Impact list somewhere as well, so I missed there as well, so far.
  5. Josh Osich:   Health and injuries always seems to get in his way.  But when he was drafted, he was a left-handed pitcher throwing 97 MPH, which is very unique, and an asset to keep and develop, so you put up with his prior poor health history and see what he can do.  He was a starter in school but the Giants have wisely used him as a reliever - which he stated in an interview is where he belongs - given his health issues, and yet he still comes up injured.

    He had a bad season in 2014, but prior to that, had done well for the most part, look at his K/9 and K/BB, both were good at every level he pitched at, suggesting that he pitched with his injury before finally getting shut down.  And that seems to hold true, his numbers were horrible to start the season, then he was shut down for a month, and these were his stats to finish the season:  15 appearances, 19.2 IP, 5.9 H/9, 1.83 ERA (3.20 RA), 3.2 BB/9, 6.9 K/9, 2.14 K/BB, .191/.276/.279/.556 batting line given up.  Very nice!

    But health always seem to get in his way, like it did for Francisco Liriano, both before we traded him and afterward with the Twins (he singlehanded ruined the Twins chances with Mauer and Morneau during their prime of youth by either being injured or performing poorly or both (2007-2009, 2011-12; he only had one good overall season for them, in 2010, and basically was just a below average pitcher for them overall, when they were counting on an ace that he appeared to be in 2006, he was their Michigan J. Frog).  Luckily we got Okert, and Ysla could end up a reliever, so Osich could just be a very handy Loogy weapon that we have but can't rely on consistently  
  6. Rafael Rodriguez:  He has been a very raw prospect, with 5-tool expectations thrown at him early on, and he showed some nice skills in the Dominican rookie league.  He has not done as well in the States and lower minor leagues.  But 2014 was significantly different, he got his contact rate up to 88% which is much higher than the league's 78%.  And hit .269 vs. the league average of .261.  However, his walk rate is much lower, and his power has not kicked in.   

    So there is still some hope, I think.  If the power he showed before starts to kick in - remember, he's still only 22 YO for the season - in the next two seasons, that should bump up his walks as well as improve on his ISO and SLG.   If he can bump up his BABIP from the high 200's, as it has been in recent seasons, back solidly into the 300's, as it was early in his pro career, his batting line will start to look decent for a prospect, in the 800's.  Being young for a league makes it harder to shine via shiny performance stats, so as he catches up in age, he might catch up in performance.  Still, it's an uphill climb, but he has performed well before in spots and if he can get it together, it could be pretty good.
Honorable Mention

Ehire Adrianza:  I wasn't going to have any here, but with Brown gone, thought I would make a plug for Adrianza, who made it through waivers (nobody wanted to give him a 25-man roster spot) and was placed in AAA Sacramento by the Giants.  I think he has demonstrated good discipline with his bat and it will help his development to spend a full season working on his batting in AAA.  He can make good contact while also drawing walks (had 8 walks and 7 strikeouts this spring, which was good), and shows the occasional bit of power.  And, of course, his great SS defense is good as well.  I have been hoping that he could be a Blanco-type utility player on the bench, except in the infield:  not good enough to start regularly, but gets a high enough OBP to be useful offensively as well as provide superlative fielding at SS and other positions.  I assume the Giants will keep him in AAA all season then put him back on the 40-man just before the Rule 5 Draft, then probably use him as MI utility next season in place of Arias, who provides plus defense only at 3B, and hasn't been good offensively the past two seasons.

14 comments:

  1. Susac,Posey,and Mcgehee(Duffy if need be)can play 1B.
    Duffy looks really solid at 3B defensively.

    This makes Belt our biggest trade piece.

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    1. I wouldn't trade Belt unless we are getting a huge package for him.

      There is much to love. He has power, can play LF as well as 1B, and is good all around, and a nice guy. Plus he writes a pretty good blog!

      Not sure why anyone would trade him, we need all the good bats in the lineup that we can get, as this bad stretch we are in is showing. Unless we are getting a sure ace level pitcher, I would not trade him at all, there is just too much risk in trading (see Giants history of trading away good players, Cepeda, Perry, Bobby Bonds, Kingman, George Foster, Jack Clark, and others) away a proven player for prospects or even other proven players.

      If Susac suddenly look like he can hit 30 HR like Belt, then I might consider it, but I don't see it, and our lineup needs that power. Plus, following my plan, we keep Belt in the lineup and add Susac's power to the lineup, making that much more potent.

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    2. Plus, if Aoki keeps on looking great leading off for us, I would be OK with trading Pagan in the second half, a la Molina in 2010, in order to bring up Susac to start at 1B (assuming he's hitting well) and move Belt to LF. I would be OK with replacing Pagan's bat with Susac, less of a problem if Susac don't deliver, whereas losing Belt could be disastrous for our offense.

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  2. Replies
    1. Sorry, should have led with that instead of putting it at the end, my apologies.

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  3. Sorry, I missed your comment about Brown leaving. Apologies. He did leave I see, and you nailed it of course.

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    1. Not sure what I nailed, other than confusing you! :^D No worries.

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  4. Give yourself some credit, this is a serious piece of work. More credit than I get for reading it, over several breaks, in sections, and of course out of order. This is some good stuff.

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    1. Hey, thank you and thanks for reading, I try my best.

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  5. Oh, should mention that I was totally wrong about Williamson, he's already playing and hitting well: Richmond, .333/.429/.458/.887, but no homers yet, 3 doubles out of 8 hits, still striking out too much, 6 in 24 AB or 75% contact rate. Let's see how well he is doing after the homers start kicking in, maybe he's still a bit tentative and not fully back yet, where he's relying on muscle memory.

    I should also note another guy in Richmond now, Stephen Johnson. He's been a big strikeout guy the past two seasons, but been a little old for top prospect basis, but young enough to keep an eye on, particularly when he's getting double digit K/9's. SSS to the extreme, with only 2 appearances and 4.0 IP, but 9 K's and 1 BB in 4 IP is eye-catching and worth of mention, just due to the extremeness of that. Seems like he picked up a new effective pitch this off-season and it is paying off in spades. At 24 YO, he is slightly young for AA, so that is great, so he's another interesting prospect to keep an eye on, and probably someone who should have contended more for HM on potential and immediate impact.

    Just adds to the conga line of relievers the Giants are developing in the minors, the pot is getting ready to boil in our farm system, we could have a handful of guys ready to dominate (and that's really all you can say when guys are deep into double digits in strike rate and very high in K/BB).

    Lastly, a shoutout to Kelby Tomlinson. He is basically average aged for the league, so tough road, but nearing where he was when he first turned pro, only 3 K's in 25 AB, plus 5 walks, great numbers, but obviously SSS to the extreme. Still, keep an eye out on him.

    Good times for the Giants farm system. Maybe not as good as when it had Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey in the system, but a lot more depth, and while most will not be stars, we don't need starts, we need solid average players who can complement our stars, and those develop at a better rate than stars do. And before, it was more of a struggle to find a prospect to talk about, but in recent years, there is always players you would like to mention but can't for lack of space (or in my case, really, time... :).

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    1. Since I looked at Richmond, here's a quickie on San Jose.

      Martin Agosta had a nice start in terms of walks and strikeouts, but just gave up a ton of hits. Still, more importantly he was able to strike out a lot, which he couldn't do last season And he didn't walk many. But he gave up a LOT of hits, and while MLB pitchers are able to keep BABIP down to the league mean, not all minor leaguers are able to do it, so this is a reminder of last season when he gave up a lot of hits. Hopefully in his next starts, the hits go down and the walk and strikeouts stay about the same.

      Beede has a nice K/BB of 2.50 but unsustainable low K/9 of 4.8. I assume this is because he is still working on integrating the new pitches he learned this spring into his repertoire.

      Among hitters, Arroyo, RafRod, and Ryder Jones are doing well in SSS.

      Arroyo is hitting .321/.367/.679/1.045 with 2 HR in 28 AB, but with 10 K's and only 2 BB. That's too much K's, hopefully he can keep up the hitting while dropping the K's.

      RarRod is hitting .421/.421/.526/.947 with only 2 K's in 19 AB. No walks either, though, as seen by the BA and OBP.

      Ryder is hitting .364/.348/.500/.848 with 1 HR in 22 AB, and 4 K's and no walks.

      Unfortunately, Horan and Slater have been struggling so far, striking out a bit too much. But that is a problem in this league and in the San Jose home park, where hitters strike out more than other leagues, but generally it is a strong hitters league, so the strong hitter above has that caveat.

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    2. I was checking out AAA and wow, Braulio Lara!

      Only two starts, but 9.2 IP, only 1 walk but 14 K's! And the shocker is that he has been wild his whole career and even last season, 4.8 BB/9. He's at 0.9 BB/9 right now!

      The 14 hits suck, so hopefully that's just bad BABIP, which at .481, it is just horribly bad BABIP, lucky he struck out all those guys and didn't walk many.

      How do the Giants find these pitchers and how do they get them fixed up so quickly?!? It is not like it works with everyone, Runzler and others ended up AAAA relievers, and Crick is still working things out. But Casilla, Vogelsong, Petit, Strickland, now Lara (so far, and extreme SSS, so I guess I should wait until June to get really excited, but those numbers are so far out there I can help but be excited now).

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  6. OGC, sorry I am just catching this! What a tremendous, all-encompassing look at the farm system. For someone who claims he isn't an "expert" on Giants prospects, you sure could have fooled me here!

    I was hesitant to go too high on Beede in preseason, but his early results with the new 92-94 mph "sinker" are very encouraging. I think he could zoom to AA rather quickly this summer. From there, as we know, anything can happen.

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    1. No worries, thanks for reading and for your compliment!

      Yeah, you'll learn as you get more experienced with blogging and trying to provide expert opinion that you need to push yourself sometimes to go high sometimes when it feels right, but maybe not all the signs point to the right. I truly believe in gut feeling, and my gut felt really good reading about Beede this spring training.

      I mean, he obviously can strike out guys, he has the stuff for it. But if you can add to that the ability to generate crappy contact, as Lincecum loves to call it, while being able to shut the batter down with a strikeout when the situation (RISP) calls for it, you got a heck of a pitcher.

      Reminds me a bit of Cain. Cain has always had strikeout stuff (and some good velocity too boot), but his teacher, a former pro, taught him all he needed to know to be a crafty righty, and if anything, he didn't trust his stuff and velocity all that much early in his career, the vets (and perhaps Morris was the one who finally got through to him, because that is when Cain started getting to ace level) had to convince him of that.

      Setting a high bar for Beede, but I think that is what he can become if he works at it. And looking at his history, he is a hard worker, got a good head on his shoulder, so I'm very hopeful that he can put it all together very quickly, and could be relied upon in the majors if necessary.

      I mean, he won't be an ace immediately, but I think that should we need to dip into the minors again mid-season, he'll probably be as good and ready a choice as any of the others, maybe best, since Crick I would rather promote one level at a time, Blackburn is getting injured too often for my tastes (and perhaps that is why the Giants reportedly included him in a trade offer with the Astros), and Blach, while nice, is barely striking out anybody in AAA, and it would only get worse in the majors. And Stratton is still too up and down (and too wild) to even consider at this point, he's at risk of falling off the prospect radar with his performance.

      Delete

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