With nearly their entire World Series roster returning for the 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants have the luxury of allowing their top prospects to marinate in the minor leagues a bit longer. Frankly, it is better that way, since their farm system isn't exactly ready to pop out a slew of major league stars.
But there are a few promising players, in particular an exciting outfielder—who could be contributing to the big club sometime this season.
Here is a look at San Francisco's top prospect at each position. What this list doesn't show is the imbalance in the minor league system, which has about two promising position players, compared to nearly a dozen starting pitchers with major league potential.
Considering that the Giants have the best catcher in baseball in Buster Posey, Andrew Susac isn’t exactly being rushed through the farm system. But if Hector Sanchez’s defense doesn’t markedly improve soon, Susac could have a major league job sooner rather than later.
On the flip side, Susac—who batted .244 with 9 home runs at Single-A San Jose last season—needs to show he can handle professional pitching.
If Brandon Belt doesn’t pan out for the Giants, they’ll likely have to go outside of the organization to address first base. That’s because Ricky Oropesa—a 2011 third round pick out of USC—is the best in-house option they have.
Oropesa—who played for Single-A San Jose last season—profiles similarly to former Giants product Travis Ishikawa: They’re both left-handed hitters who stand 6’3” and weigh about 225 lbs., and both have some pop, but not enough to stabilize the middle of a major league lineup.
Wait, isn't Joe Panik a shortstop? Yes, but the Giants have begun experimenting with him at second base, which is a more likely path to San Francisco for Panik—considering that the Giants appear set at shortstop for a while with Brandon Crawford.
The Marco Scutaro re-signing doesn’t help Panik, but the 37-year-old Scutaro is not likely to maintain starter-quality production for much longer. Panik—a 2011 first-round pick with .300 batting average potential—could very well take over second base sometime in 2014.
Adam Duvall might have more exciting potential, considering the 52 home runs he has hit in the last two seasons. But those came in Single-A, and Duvall—who is already 24 years old—has not shown great all-around hitting ability.
Conor Gillaspie has no chance of challenging Pablo Sandoval, but he is major league-ready, and could develop into a Gregg Dobbs-type—a left-handed bat off the bench who can handle the hot corner.
Ehire Adrianza is most likely destined to be a defensive replacement, because his bat is not impressing anybody. In five minor league seasons, he has a .252 career average, with 15 home runs.
His 64 stolen bases suggest he has some speed to offer, but that and his glove is it.
Fortunately for the Giants, they’re happy with Brandon Crawford at shortstop.
Just think of John Bowker, and you should have a good idea of Roger Kieschnick’s potential. In other words, he can probably come up to the major leagues and provide some power off the bench, but he isn’t going to challenge for a starting spot.
Kieschnick has hit well in hitters’ leagues such as California and Pacific Coast, while struggling in the one pitchers’ league he has played in, the Eastern League. Plus, he strikes out a ton—in 222 at-bats with Fresno last season, he whiffed 68 times, or once every 3.26 at-bats.
Plus, Kieschnick just turned 26 years old, so his upside is limited.
Considered San Francisco’s offensive top prospect, Gary Brown could be in the major leagues as soon as this season.
With Angel Pagan signed for the next four years; however, Brown will likely break into the majors in left field—a position that general manager Brian Sabean is currently entrusting to a couple of fourth outfielders, Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres.
Once he arrives, Brown will be an interesting addition to the Giants lineup. He is a quality defender with the potential to hit .300 and steal 25 bases. That fits nicely with San Francisco’s style.
Much like Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero isn’t likely to become a legitimate major league starter. But it’s for different reasons.
Peguero—who has more raw talent than Kieschnick—might actually be able to hit for a decent average, as his .309 career average in the minor leagues would suggest. But he doesn’t offer much power or plate discipline. And while he is a fast runner, he has yet to prove he can be a base-stealing threat.
His greatest asset at this point is probably his defense, which could secure him a bench spot on San Francisco’s Opening Day roster.
This list is a bit askew, since most of the Giants’ minor league talent resides in this category. The organization has at least seven right-handed starters in the minor leagues who have considerable trade value.
The best of the bunch at this point is Kyle Crick, who at 6’4” and 220 lbs., overpowered Single-A opponents in his first full professional season. He must work on his control—he walked 67 batters in 111.1 innings, but he still managed a 2.51 ERA thanks to a .193 batting average against and 128 strikeouts.
Mike Kickham could be ready to start in the major leagues in the near future, so he could very well qualify for this spot. Meanwhile, Eric Surkamp is still recovering from a midsummer Tommy John surgery.
However, Surkamp was pushing his way into San Francisco’s rotation before the injury, and at 25 years old, it is safe to assume that Surkamp still has the talent to pitch effectively in the major leagues.
Considering the rehab Surkamp still has ahead of him, Kickham could pitch in the major leagues before Surkamp is ready to do so. (Surkamp did start six games for San Francisco in 2011.) But that could be a moot point, since San Francisco’s rotation will be nearly impossible to crack until 2014, when Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito could both leave as free agents.
Heath Hembree’s 2012 ERA at Triple-A Fresno is scary. In a bad way. But that is because for much of the summer, Hembree was dogged by an elbow injury. Once he recovered, Hembree again looked like San Francisco’s future closer.
While he posted a 4.84 ERA for the whole season, all the ugliness happened before his injury was diagnosed. After taking a month off to rest his elbow, he recorded a 1.90 ERA in 20 innings to end the season.
Even through his tumultuous 2012 season, Hembree still struck out nearly one batter per inning and held Triple-A batters to a .207 average. In three minor leagues seasons, he has struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings.