San Francisco Giants: Stock Up, Stock Down for Top 10 Prospects for Week 2
In just the second week of the season, we've already got some movers and shakers on the San Francisco Giants' top-10 prospect list.
Clayton Blackburn had another stellar start for High-A San Jose to take over the top spot from teammate Kyle Crick, who just isn't throwing enough strikes to be the No. 1 prospect in the system right now. Chris Stratton—the Giants' first-round pick last year—had an outstanding start at Low-A Augusta to calm any fears about his recovery from a head injury suffered late last season.
At Double-A Richmond, catcher Andrew Susac has opened some eyes with a scorching hot start. Meanwhile, top hitting prospects Joe Panik and Gary Brown continue to struggle against the better pitching of the upper minors.
Here's the Week 2 stock watch for the Giants' top prospects.
1. Clayton Blackburn
2013 stats: 2 starts, 1-0 W-L, 0.82 ERA, 11.0 IP, 5 H, 1 W, 12 SO
Clayton Blackburn had another outstanding start in the second week of the season for the High-A San Jose Giants. He allowed just three hits, one walk and one run over six innings while striking out six.
He's walked only 22 hitters in 175.2 career minor league innings, good for a rate of 1.1 walks per nine innings pitched (W/9). That's elite control—particularly for a kid who just turned 20 years old.
Kyle Crick has been ranked higher than Blackburn on most prospect-ranking lists because he has better stuff. However, Blackburn has emerged as the more polished pitcher, thus far, in San Jose.
Stock Watch: Up
2. Kyle Crick
2013 Stats: 2 games, 0-1 W-L, 1.17 ERA, 7.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R (1 ER), 7 W, 9 SO
Kyle Crick has yet to make it out of the fourth inning in his two starts at San Jose. He's walking a better per inning this season, and he now has a career walk-rate of 5.9 per nine innings pitched.
He clearly has the stuff to miss bats as seen by his nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings pitched this season and the 128 hitters he struck out in 111.1 innings last year. However, he's going to have to start attacking the strike zone with more consistency to maintain his status as a future front-line pitcher for the Giants.
Stock Watch: Down
3. Chris Stratton
2013 Stats: 2 games, 1-0 W-L, 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 7 H, 3 W, 10 SO
After allowing six hits and only striking out three in his debut at Low-A Augusta, Chris Stratton bounced back in his second start of the season. He struck out seven in five innings of work while allowing only one hit, two walks and no runs.
Stratton made strides in his second start of the season after showing some rust in his first start. After his first start of the season, Stratton told David Lee of The August Chronicle,
My fastball command wasn’t really there, and I had to flip a few curves and sliders to get through it...The fastball had good life, but I had trouble locating it and left some up. I just have to work on keeping the ball down in the future.
Stratton's stat line his second start suggests that the adjustment was made. Stratton should tear through Augusta and begin his march toward the big leagues this season now that he appears to be fully recovered from last year's injury.
Stock Watch: Up
4. Mac Williamson
2013 Stats: .250/.351/.563 (BA/OBP/SLG), .914 OPS, 2 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B
Mac Williamson got off to a scorching hot start to the season at San Jose, but has cooled off since missing two games with an injury. He's in the midst of a 2-for-14 slump since returning to action.
Even with the recent slump, there's a lot to like about Williamson. He has legitimate power, good speed and some patience.
Last Thursday night, I got my first chance to see Williamson in action. He struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt in his second at-bat. However, in his next two plate appearances, he made the adjustment and laid off breaking balls in the dirt and got better pitches to hit as a result. That ability to make in-game adjustments will serve Williamson well as he advances through the system.
Even though he went 0-for-3 Thursday night, I was impressed with his swing. He has excellent bat speed through the zone, and he complements that by showing pretty good patience at the plate. His combination of size (6'5" and 240 pounds), speed, power and discipline make him the most exciting position player in the system.
Stock Watch: Up
5. Edwin Escobar
2013 Stats: 2 games, 0-0 W-L, 1.80 ERA, 10 IP, 7 H, 1 W, 11 SO
Edwin Escobar is a starting pitching prospect who has been somewhat overlooked in a system loaded with rotation prospects. He was very impressive in his appearance last Thursday night in San Jose.
His fastball also seems faster than the radar gun indicates because he short-arms the ball a little bit. His arm action gives him some deception and allows the ball to sneak up on hitters.
He reminds me a lot of Jonathan Sanchez, but with much better control. If Sanchez had been blessed with Escobar's control, he would have been a No. 2 starter in the big leagues. Unfortunately, he could never get the ball over the plate enough to be a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Escobar's release point, arm action, velocity and repertoire all mirror that of Sanchez. He also seems to battle his emotions on the mound. After he allowed two bloop hits, he appeared visibly angry on the mound. He started to overthrow his fastball, which led to location mistakes out over the plate.
Escobar will turn 21 years old later this month. He has an excellent three-pitch mix and outstanding control of his arsenal. By the end of this season, his name will be much more familiar to the rest of the baseball world.
Stock Watch: Up
6. Andrew Susac
2013 Stats: .346/.433/.731, 1.164 OPS, 2 HR, 4 2B
Andrew Susac has been a prospect whose results have not matched the hype until his promotion to Double-A Richmond. After hitting just .244/.351/.380 at San Jose last year, he's opened this season on fire, despite facing tougher competition.
Double-A is the true test for prospects. The lower levels of the minor leagues can lead to some inflated stat lines, particularly for players with collegiate experience. Triple-A is often a place for big league teams to store veteran players who never quite made it. Double-A is where the best talent in the minor leagues typically resides.
That makes Susac's hot start worth watching. Marc Hulet of FanGraphs ranked Susac as the Giants ninth best prospect in the offseason. He noted in his writeup that Susac's poor results last season could have been influenced by his recovery from a broken hamate bone suffered in his final season at Oregon State:
Although his 2012 numbers might have you thinking otherwise, Susac is an offensive-minded catching prospect with the potential to develop average defensive skills. He shows good gap power to all fields and has pull home run power.
He hit just nine homers last year but suffered a broken hamate bone in his junior year of college so it’s possible the injury continued to hamper him at least earlier in the year.
Susac appears to be making good on his considerable talent now that he's fully healthy.
Stock Watch: Up
7. Joe Panik
2013 Stats: .217/.294/.283, .577 OPS, 0 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B
Joe Panik is off to a slow start at Double-A Richmond.
He also got off to a slow start at San Jose last year, but showed improvement as the season went on. At 22 years old, he's young for his level, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him get better as the season moves along.
Panik continues to show good discipline at the plate. He's walked five times against just three strikeouts in 46 plate appearances, thus far, in 2013. He's now walked 91 times compared to just 82 strikeouts in his minor league career.
Panik has good discipline and bat-to-ball skills, but he needs to improve the quality of his contact. When I saw him in spring training this year, his swing was very linear, and he tended to slap at the ball rather than drive through it.
He needs to start hitting the ball with more authority to prove that he can become the Giants' second baseman of the future. Right now, he's hitting more like a future utility guy than a starter.
Stock Watch: Down
8. Gary Brown
2013 Stats: .205/.255/.341, .596 OPS, 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B
A .255 on-base percentage and a 2-10 walk-to-strikeout ratio is not going to get it done out of the leadoff spot. Brown has also been caught stealing in both of his stolen-base attempts this season.
Brown's speed is his best tool. However, he hasn't been able to use that speed to his advantage since tearing up High-A San Jose two years ago.
Brown—the Giants' first-round draft pick in 2010—hit .336/.407/.519 with 53 steals in 2011. Last year at Double-A Richmond, he hit just .279/.347/.385, and his stolen-base total dropped to 33. He's off to a slow start to this season, despite the move to a more hitter-friendly environment.
If Brown doesn't start to prove that he can hit in the upper levels of the minor leagues and that he can use his speed to steal bases, his future will be as a fourth outfielder. With Angel Pagan entrenched in center field in San Francisco for the next four years, Brown will have to show improved results in the near future to start to force the Giants' hand.
Stock Watch: Down
9. Chris Heston
2013 Stats: 2 games, 2-0, 4.50 ERA, 12 IP, 13 H, 2 W, 16 SO
Chris Heston had another decent start at Triple-A Fresno last week. He went six innings, allowed six hits, just one walk, three runs and struck out seven. However, the long ball was a problem as he allowed two more home runs after allowing one in his first start.
Heston was having a hard time getting the ball down in spring training for the Giants as well. As a sinker-ball pitcher, he needs to get the ball down around the knees in order to succeed. With a fastball that sits in the high-80s, he doesn't have the stuff to succeed pitching at the top of the strike zone.
With Tim Lincecum struggling in his first three starts of the season, Heston could create competition in the Giants' rotation if he continues to pitch effectively. The Giants may not feel compelled to stick with Lincecum in the rotation if Heston proves that he's ready to pitch in the big leagues.
Stock Watch: Even
10. Heath Hembree
2013 stats: 5 games, 3 saves, 1.80 ERA, 5 IP, 5 H, 1 W, 3 K
Giants' manager Bruce Bochy said last week that Heath Hembree will be counted to help San Francisco at some this season, per Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. Pavlovic wrote,
Heath Hembree is off to a nice start in Triple-A after coming on strong at the end of spring training. Has Hembree turned a corner?
'Oh, no question,' Bochy said. 'He had a setback with the injury last year but it looks like he’s really grown and matured as a pitcher. Our hope is that at some point this year, if we need help, he’s going to be ready.'
Lefties are hitting .429 off of Hembree to open the season. That's one area that he'll need to work on before he gets the call to the big leagues.
Developing a third pitch to keep lefties off his fastball-slider combination would help Hembree get to the big leagues faster and potentially become the Giants' closer of the future.
Stock Watch: Even
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