Ranking the SF Giants' 10 Most Untouchable Prospects
The Giants' first title was pure joy and relief as the team had never won it all in San Francisco, since their arrival in 1958. This year, the feeling was more about total excitement and fun, as the Giants staved off six elimination games, three each against the Reds and Cardinals.
By defeating the Rangers four-games-to-one in 2010, then sweeping the Tigers this year, the Giants proved they are a quality team and a top-flight organization. No longer can the naysayers claim the Giants' victories were a fluke.
One of the critical factors to the Giants' good fortune is the influx of home-grown players coming up through the system in the past few years. With the high cost of acquiring free agents, the only way to bolster your roster and maintain some semblance of salary control, is by developing your own young players.
Looking at the main contributors in 2012, we see several home-grown players, such as Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. In addition, pitchers Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson grew up in the Giants' organization.
Let's look at the next crop of top Giants' prospects and see who we may see making an impact in San Francisco at some point in the near future. None of these players is "untouchable", but what minor league player really is?
Honorable Mention: Ricky Oropesa, First Base
Ricky Oropesa was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2011 draft. he played three years of college baseball at USC and displayed excellent power and the ability to drive in runs.
Oropesa is a potential slugger and stands 6'3" tall and weighs in at 225 lbs.. At only 22 years of age, Oropesa will continue to grow stronger, as his body matures.
In 2012, Oropesa played in San Jose, the Giants' high-A affiliate. He hit .263 with 16 home runs and 98 RBI, in 518 at-bats. The Giants are excited about the potential for Oropesa to develop into a solid power bat, but he must become more consistent at the plate and cut down on his strike outs.
Oropesa struck out 150 times in those 518 at-bats, which is one every 3.45 at-bats. This needs to improve. He is also off to a slow start in the Arizona Fall League, where he's hitting just .233 in 46 at-bats, albeit a small sample size. He does have two home runs and six RBI.
Oropesa will most likely play the 2013 season with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Giants' AA team. This is more of a pitchers league, so it will be very interesting to track the progress Oropesa makes this coming season.
10) Brett Bochy, Pitcher
This is no joke. Brett Bochy, the son of Giants' manager Bruce Bochy is doing quite well in the Giants' minor league system. He is a relief pitcher with a fastball in the low 90's and a good slider.
In 2011, Bochy pitched his first full professional season with San Jose. In 2012, he pitched at the AA level in Richmond. He also has 14 saves for the Flying Squirrels.
In 53.1 innings of work, Bochy allowed only 29 hits and 18 walks. Over that same period, Bochy had 69 strikeouts. His ERA was 2.53 and he had an outstanding WHIP of 0.881.
Bochy will likely be in Fresno for the upcoming 2013 season. He'll get a chance to close games and really solidify his status as a top Giants' prospect.
9) Martin Agosta, Pitcher
Martin Agosta was the Giants' second round pick in the 2012 draft. He played for St. Mary's College, which is only a few minutes across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. Agosta grew up a Giants' fan, so for him, this opportunity is a dream come true.
Agosta has a good fastball in the low-mid 90's and has good command and movement on that pitch. He also is improving his change-up and curve ball.
He appeared in only five games this year for the Giants' rookie league affiliate in Arizona. He threw 10.2 innings and struck out 19 batters.
Although he's only 21 years of age, Agosta seems older because he commands his pitches better than most pitchers his age and he also seems to have a plan in mind of how to attack the opposing hitter. We will see a lot more of him in 2013.
8) Adam Duvall, Third Base
Adam Duvall completed his third year with the Giants' organization, in 2012. He had his best season to date and has emerged as the Giants' best power hitting threat in the minors.
Duvall played with the Giants' high-A affiliate in San Jose and belted 30 home runs in 534 at-bats. Although he hit just .258 and struck out 116 times, he also drove in 100 RBI. Duvall needs to do a better job of putting the ball in play, as he struck out 116 times
Perhaps the biggest obstacle holding Duvall back is his fielding. He made 29 errors in 352 chances for San Jose, as a third baseman. His fielding percentage of .918 is far too low to be a Major League player.
Duvall has big-time power in his bat, but unless he can improve his fielding, he will struggle to make it. He is a possible DH, so he may be on the move to the American League in a trade, if his defense does not improve.
7) Chris Heston, Pitcher
Chris Heston compiled a fine year in 2012. He threw 148.2 innings, allowing 124 hits and 40 walks. He struck out 135 batters and had an ERA of 2.24 and WHIP of 1.103.
Heston does not have overpowering stuff, but he possesses good command and is a tough competitor. He will be 25 years of age early in the 2013 season. It's time for Heston to take the next step in his development.
6) Joe Panik, Shortstop, Second Base
With Brandon Crawford making it to the Major Leagues last season and establishing himself as the Giants' shortstop for the foreseeable future, Joe Panik is likely to move to second base, if he makes it to the big leagues.
The Giants do not have much in the way of middle infield prospects in their minor league system, so Panik is their best hope, even though he just played A-ball in San Jose, this past season.
Panik had a solid season, hitting .297, with seven home runs, 76 RBI and 93 runs scored. Panik's OBP was .368 and I was impressed that he had more walks, 58, than strike outs, 54. His performance will undoubtedly warrant a promotion to Richmond, the Giants' AA affiliate.
Panik has not had as much success in the Arizona Fall League, as he is hitting just .205 in 78 at-bats. At best, Panik is probably at least two years away from playing in San Francisco.
5) Clayton Blackburn, Pitcher
Clayton Blackburn was selected by the Giants in the 16th round of the 2011 amateur draft. At only 19 years of age, Blackburn showed a lot of promise this past season, his second in the Giants' organization. He played in Augusta, one of the Giants' A-ball affiliates.
Blackburn started 22 games and threw 131.1 innings, allowing only 116 hits. What was amazing was the control this youngster posessed, as he walked only 18 batters, while striking out 143.
Blackburn's ERA of 2.54 and WHIP of 1.020 were both very good. The young pitcher will likely open the 2013 season in high-A ball at San Jose. He will be just 20 years old, so the Giants won't rush him.
4) Chris Stratton, Pitcher
The San Francisco Giants made Chris Stratton their top pick in the 2012 amateur draft. At 6'3" and only 186 lbs., Stratton will fill out and get a lot stronger, as his body matures.
Stratton did pitch for the Giants' Salem-Keizer ballclub, in a brief cameo. In 16.1 innings of work, he struck out 16 batters. He did allow 10 walks, however, which is too high.
The Giants liked Stratton's arm as he throws a fastball in the low-to-mid 90's. He also throws two breaking pitches, a good slider, which is probably his best pitch, and a curve ball.
Stratton played his collegiate ball at Mississippi State and was the 2012 Southeastern Conference's pitcher of the year. Although Stratton may begin the 2013 season in Augusta, I expect him to be moved to San Jose at some point next year.
3) Heath Hembree, Pitcher
At this time last year, Heath Hembree was arguably the top rated minor league player in the Giants' system. He was on the fast track to the Majors, but his season was cut short by arm trouble.
With the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno, Hembree threw 38 innings, allowing 29 hits and 20 walks. He struck out 36 batters, but his ERA of 4.74 and WHIP of 1.289 were the highest of his career.
An elbow strain ended Hembree's season in July, although he did not need surgery, which was the good news. he is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League and looks to be back on track. In nine innings of work, Hembree has struck out 12 hitters and opponents are hitting just .229 off him.
Hembree came close to making the Giants' opening day roster last spring, but has taken a step back with the injury. He will need to prove himself in Fresno again in the coming season and also decrease his bases-on-balls. If Hembree does well, he could be a mid-season call up.
2) Kyle Crick, Pitcher
Kyle Crick has a bright future with the Giants. He was their top pick in the 2011 amateur draft and is still only 19 years old.
Crick pitched at Augusta this past season, throwing 111.1 innings and allowing only 75 hits. He did issue 67 walks which is too high. This number must improve if he is to make it to San Francisco.
What excited the Giants' brass the most is Crick's power fastball, which he throws in the mid-90's. He also has a curve, which needs improvement. Crick needs to develop a third pitch as he tends to rely primarily on just these two pitches.
Nevertheless, Crick was impressive as he struck out 128 batters, had an ERA of 2.51 and WHIP of 1.275. The WHIP number will improve, once Crick gains better command of the strike-zone.
Crick will turn 20 years of age at the end of November, so he has time to improve his command and develop that third pitch in his arsenal.
1) Gary Brown, Outfielder
Gary Brown was selected in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft. He has advanced steadily through the Giants' system, playing in 2012 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, in Double-A ball.
Brown is a fine defensive outfielder and possesses excellent speed. If his offensive game continues to develop, he is projected to be a lead-off hitter for the Giants, most likely in 2014.
With Richmond, in 538 at-bats, Brown hit .279, with seven home runs, 42 RBI and 73 runs scored. He started slowly but came on as the season progressed. Brown also had 33 steals, but was caught an alarming 18 times. He will need to learn how to get a better jump in order to utilize his speed effectively.
Brown's OBP was .347 and he had an OPS of .731. These numbers pale in comparison to 2011, when he had an OPB of .407 and WHIP of .925, while in San Jose.
In the Arizona Fall League, Brown is hitting .313, but the sample size is small, with only 64 at-bats. Brown is a main reason why the Giants do not want to shell out big money and give a long-term contract for a free agent center fielder. However, I need to see more from Brown offensively, before I consider him Major League ready.
Defensively, Brown is ready for the big leagues, but the Giants would like him to have a dominating year in 2013, offensively. I expect Brown to open the season in Fresno, but he could also be back in Richmond, for more seasoning.
Will Any of These Players Make an Impact with the Giants in 2013?
The San Francisco Giants have received major contributions from their farm system over the past few years. With Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, the Giants feature four of their eight starting position players as home-grown talent.
However, where the Giants have had the most success, is with their pitching. GM Brian Sabean and top scout Dick Tidrow, a former pitcher himself, have hit on several big league arms. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo all came up through the Giants' minor league system.
I do not expect any of the position players I featured in this report to make an impact with the Giants in 2013. The player with the best chance of seeing meaningful action in San Francisco is probably Heath Hembree. If he proves that his arm is healthy, he could join the Giants' bullpen at some point in the coming season.
2013 is not the critical year these prospects need to make it. I believe that 2014 is vital, as the Giants could need as many as three starting pitchers. Barry Zito will be bought out following 2013, Tim Lincecum's contract will have expired and Ryan Vogelsong will be 37 years old. In addition, Brian Wilson has to be considered a question mark.
Pitching can be extremely problematical and very expensive to acquire via free agency. The Giants have largely built the core of their pitching staff from within and that strategy has proven to be a good one.
This winter will be very interesting as Sabean needs to acquire a center fielder and second baseman, although it appears the Giants have a good shot at signing Marco Scutaro. If the Giants can stay healthy, they will have another great chance to make a postseason run in 2013.