San Francisco Giants: Full Overview of Giants Farm System and Prospects for 2013
Kyle Crick is one of the few bright spots for the Giants after years of trades. Courtesy of Augusta Green Jackets, MiLB.com
The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series, so there are not a lot of bad things that can be said about this franchise right now.
In fact, the few flaws the franchise has had over the last handful of years all get wiped away when one looks deep into AT&T Park and sees those two championship flags flying high overhead.
Even looking at their farm system right now, which is not nearly as strong as it used to be thanks to a series of trades over the last three years, general manager Brian Sabean can't be blamed for doing what he has done because the results on the field have been so great.
Granted, some of those trades have not paid off. Sending Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran in 2011 looks like it will turn out to be a disastrous deal, but in the context of when it was made, it was understandable.
The farm system is going through a rebuilding process, though the big league team is still strong enough on paper to be one of the best in the National League. The margin for error is small, though, because reinforcements are not on the way this season.
Here is a full look at the Giants' farm system, top prospects, breakout candidates and potential big league contributors in 2013.
Note: All ages and stats courtesy of MiLB.com, unless otherwise noted.
Best of the Best Prospect List
Chris Stratton should move quickly through the system thanks to a solid four-pitch arsenal. Courtesy of Mississippi State University (h/t MiLB.com)
No. 1 Kyle Crick, Starting Pitcher
23 G (22 starts), 7-6, 111.1 IP, 75 H, 39 R (31 ER), 1 HR, 67 BB, 128 K (Low-A)
Crick is another one of those high-upside electric arms whom the Giants always seem to be churning out. His future stuff could end up being better than Matt Cain's and Madison Bumgarner's, though he is obviously a long way from reaching that territory.
Everything right now starts with Crick's fastball, which is an easy plus pitch and could turn into more when he learns to become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower.
Andy Baggarly of Baseball America (subscribers only) wrote that Crick's curveball was voted the best breaking ball by South Atlantic League managers last season.
The command and changeup are both below average right now, but Crick played all of last season at age 19 and struck out more than a hitter per inning because his stuff was so good. Improvement is coming, and when it does, he could be one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball next year.
No. 2 Clayton Blackburn, Starting Pitcher
22 G (22 starts), 8-4, 131.1 IP, 116 H, 47 R (37 ER), 3 HR, 18 BB, 143 K (High-A)
After Crick, there are a lot of players in the system without much potential or risk. One of the few players who does still possess good upside is Clayton Blackburn, whose stuff and command could make him a solid No. 3 starter.
Blackburn doesn't overpower hitters with raw stuff like Crick does. He has an above-average fastball, but because he locates it so well, it plays better than it looks. His changeup has great shape, and he is confident when he throws it, which is not something a lot of 20-year-old pitchers can say.
The Giants tend to move their pitchers along quickly, so don't be shocked to see Blackburn take a jump this season if he gets off to a hot start.
No. 3 Gary Brown, Outfielder
134 G, .279/.347/.385, 150 H, 32 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 40 BB, 87 K, 33 SB (Double-A)
Brown has been on the radar for Giants fans for two years. He had a breakout 2011 season, when he hit .336/.407/.519 and looked like one of the best center field prospects in baseball, even though he was a polished college hitter in High-A.
Last season was probably more indicative of what Brown's skills will be at the big league level. His best and only tool remains his speed, which allows him to play center field and look the part of a leadoff hitter.
However, he doesn't walk enough and has little power to speak of. The margin of error for him to succeed is so small that it is hard to see him as an average everyday player at the big league level right now.
Even the speed aspect doesn't help Brown on the bases, as he was 33-for-51 in stolen base attempts last season. Don't sell him completely down the river yet, but the ceiling looks a lot lower now than it did one year ago.
No. 4 Chris Stratton, Starting Pitcher
8 G (5 starts), 0-1, 16.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R (5 ER), 1 HR, 10 BB, 16 K (Short Season)
The Giants' first-round pick in 2012, Stratton made himself one of the better college pitchers in the country last year by showing a much better feel for all of his pitches and presence on the mound at Mississippi State.
Since Stratton doesn't have dynamic stuff--his fastball is an above-average offering that will sit around 91-93--his vast assortment of pitches and ability to sequence them to keep opposing hitters off-balance is what will carry him to the big leagues.
Already polished when he was drafted, Stratton could be a fast mover in the minors and make his debut sometime in 2014.
No. 5 Heath Hembree, Relief Pitcher
5 G, 5 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 7 K (High-A)
39 G, 1-1, 15 Saves, 38 IP, 29 H, 24 R (20 ER), 2 HR, 20 BB, 36 K (Triple-A)
An inconsistent start, as well as an elbow strain in the middle of the season, prevented Hembree from putting up eye-popping numbers in 2012.
But by the end of the year—especially in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 12, walked just three and gave up eight hits in nine innings—Hembree looked like his old self, and he isn't far away from being in the big league bullpen.
Hembree has the power arsenal to pitch in the back of the bullpen. He has a fastball that sits in the high 90s, and he complements it with a knockout slider that will miss a ton of bats at the next level.
Command and consistency will determine what Hembree's ultimate role is, but it would not be a shock to see him closing games in San Francisco by the end of this season.
State of the System
Heath Hembree looks like the Giants' closer of the future. Courtesy of Cliff Welch, MiLB.com
Looking at what the Giants have done as far as trades and graduations in the last three years, it should come as no surprise that the farm system is in a down period right now.
As the team went on this run of two championships in the last three years, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were among the key players brought up by the Giants to contribute to those triumphs.
In addition to those players still with the Giants, the team has dealt Zack Wheeler and Tommy Joseph in high-profile trades the last two seasons to try to bolster their roster for postseason runs.
Another problem facing the farm system right now is the regression of talents like Gary Brown, who was walking a tightrope anyway because his offensive profile was so limited. There is still talent that can contribute at the big league level, but there are not a lot of high-ceiling players.
But again, when a team wins two championships in three years, it can get away with having a farm system that needs a lot of work. Credit the work of the development staff and front office for making this franchise so successful over the years.
It is going to take some time to build things up again, but the Giants have more than earned trust and respect from everyone around the game.
Impact Prospect for 2013
Courtesy of Don Davis (h/t MiLB.com)
Trying to pinpoint an impact prospect for the Giants in 2013 is a little difficult because the main areas of weakness on this team don't have immediate replacements waiting in the wings down in the minors.
The best bet is for a need to arise in the bullpen, allowing Heath Hembree to get a call to the show after he threw 38 innings at Triple-A Fresno last season. He was hardly dominant after moving up from High-A, though, posting a 4.74 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 20 walks.
Hembree's stuff will play at the big league level. His fastball is that of a prototypical late-inning reliever, sitting in the mid 90s.
His slider will determine how soon he gets to the big leagues and how effective he is once he gets there. It has hard, sharp tilt when it is on, but he tends to lose the feel for it, and hitters can sit on the fastball.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com noted that Hembree's improved performance during Arizona Fall League action in October and November has likely helped his stock heading into 2013.
Since relief pitching is always in demand, don't be shocked to see Hembree be the first player to get the call from the Giants when a need arises.
Breakout Prospect for 2013
Adalberto Mejia looks the part of a solid big league starter. Will he take the next step in 2013? Courtesy of Kevin Hill, MiLB.com
Adalberto Mejia had a terrific full-season debut for the Giants in 2012. He pitched at low Class A Augusta and posted a 3.97 ERA in 30 games (14 starts) over 106.2 innings, with 122 hits, 79 strikeouts and 21 walks.
Those are not eye-popping numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but for a player who didn't turn 19 until June in his first full season of professional baseball, they are really quite impressive.
In addition to the stats, Mejia's arsenal shows a lot of promise entering the 2013 season. He has an ideal pitcher's frame at 6'3", 200 pounds. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, with an average fastball, but his changeup and slider are both ahead of the developmental curve.
The best asset that Mejia has, as Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com notes, is "advanced feel for pitching and ability to throw strikes." The ceiling isn't huge for Mejia, but he looks, with a few adjustments and improvements, like a solid No. 3 starter in the making.
What 2013 Means for the Giants
Andrew Susac was one of the best catchers in the 2011 draft when the Giants took him in the second round. Courtesy of Tony Medina, San Jose Giants
While most teams will be interested to see how their high-upside talent comes along, the Giants will be content if they can see some of their low-risk players develop as expected.
Obviously, Kyle Crick has the most upside and is closest to realizing it. But beyond him, monitoring the performance of Gary Brown, Chris Stratton, Adalberto Mejia, Joe Panik, Heath Hembree and others will determine how successful this season is for the Giants' development.
This is a franchise that is still in the midst of its window for championship seasons, so nothing that happens in the minors figures to have much of an impact on how good or bad the Giants' 2013 season is.
However, should the need arise for them to make a trade at the deadline, this could be one time when they have to avoid making the big move, either because they just don't have the talent to pull off a deal, or because they want to keep their farm system moving forward without subtracting from it again.