San Francisco Giants fans probably shouldn't expect the next Buster Posey or Madison Bumgarner to emerge from 2013's rookie crop. But the Class of 2013 should still supply some valuable role players and possibly even a starting outfielder.
Part of the problem is that the Giants don't have any blue-chip prospects. The other problem is that they will enter the new season with just about the same team that won the 2012 World Series.
The re-signings of outfielder Angel Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro, while great for the franchise, make it difficult for some of the Giants' better prospects to crack the lineup.
But over the course of a long season, stuff happens. So San Francisco will inevitably call upon some of its youngsters to step up.
Here are six prospects who could contribute to the team in 2013.
At one point, Hembree was billed as San Francisco’s closer of the future.
He still may be, though he will have to show that he is healthy after struggling through an elbow strain last season.
While he ended up with a 4.74 ERA at Triple-A Fresno in 2012, he pitched much better the further away he got from his injury. Plus, he recorded 15 saves and held opponents to a .207 batting average. So there is reason for optimism.
And there is opportunity in San Francisco, where the closer situation is not entirely settled. For now, Sergio Romo is the guy.
That isn’t a bad thing, considering how effective Romo was down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.
But if Romo falters or proves less than durable, saves could be for grabs in San Francisco. If that doesn’t happen, Hembree could at least earn a spot in the bullpen or even work his way into a setup role.
Now that Marco Scutaro has re-signed with San Francisco, Joe Panik’s path to the big club is a bit murkier.
Does he have to wait two or three years until Scutaro burns out? Or could he push Brandon Crawford to be the starting shortstop? Panik has mostly played shortstop, though he played second base in the Arizona Fall League.
Either way, Panik won’t be Major League-ready by April. Still just 22 years old, he has yet to have his first at-bat above Single-A. But if he progresses quickly at Double-A and has a successful stop at Triple-A Fresno, Panik could earn his way onto the big club as a utility infielder or as an injury replacement.
Giants fans should be excited about Panik’s future. While he doesn’t have much power, he is a savvy player who showed a knack for making contact (only 54 strikeouts in 130 games), while drawing plenty of walks (58) in Single-A in 2012.
During Pablo Sandoval’s absence last season due to a broken hamate bone, the Giants tried to fill the void several ways. One attempted solution was to call up Conor Gillaspie.
That didn’t exactly pan out, though to be fair, Gillaspie only had 20 at-bats.
Gillaspie has some decent pop, but he isn’t spectacular in any one particular way. And at 25 years old (he will turn 26 during the season), he doesn’t have much upside.
But he could earn his way to San Francisco during some point in 2013 and contribute as a utility player.
Roger Kieschnick, a left-handed outfielder who has shown power at every stop, does not appear to be a major part of San Francisco’s plans.
In fact, he has the makings of the dreaded quadruple-A label—someone who excels in the minor leagues but struggles with the leap to the major leagues.
That would put him in the Brett Pill/John Bowker category, which isn’t all bad. While Bowker is long gone, both he and Pill have offered, at the very least, a decent power bat off the bench.
Kieschnick missed much of 2012 due to injury, but in 55 Triple-A games, he posted a .980 OPS. It is worth noting, however, that the Pacific Coast League is a hitter’s paradise, and that Kieschnick struck out nearly every third at-bat.
Chris Heston’s contribution would only come if San Francisco’s rotation incurs any injuries.
So, if the Giants’ starting five prove as durable in 2013 as they were in 2012, Heston may not get that chance.
None of the starters hit the disabled list last season, and only two games were started all season by pitchers not named Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito.
Of course, that was last season. One injury-free year doesn’t guarantee another.
The other thing to consider with Heston will be how well he pitches in Triple-A. He dominated at Double-A Richmond last season with a 2.24 ERA, but that was in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League. And Heston pitched this past season at 24 years old, an advanced age for a prospect that somewhat tarnishes the performance.
While the Giants are not flush with top offensive prospects, they are high on Gary Brown.
Between his speed and impressive on-base skills, the center fielder has the makings of a decent leadoff or second hitter.
Brown has played above Double-A, yet San Francisco’s re-signing of Angel Pagan suggests that center field is out of the question in the near future. But left field is unsettled, with holdover Gregor Blanco currently slated to start there.
Brown may not be Major League-ready in April, but he could be heading to AT&T Park by midseason, either as an injury replacement or to help bolster left field.
Considering that Blanco is better suited as a fourth outfielder, Brown could force himself into the lineup before long.