Evaluating the Development of the SF Giants' Top 5 Prospects
The San Francisco Giants have some good, young talent in their minor league system. Unfortunately, most of their top prospects are a year or two away from being ready to make the jump to the majors.
The lifeblood of the Giants over recent years has been the development of their home-grown talent. Several current Giants have advanced through their minor league system and are now playing key roles in San Francisco.
The Giants have four starters among their position players who came up through the system, including Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford.
The pitchers have been even more integral to the Giants' success. Home-grown talent includes Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo.
Building from within enables the Giants to indoctrinate their young talent to the way they want the game to be played. In addition, promoting young players gives the Giants much better control over their salary structure.
In today's market, acquiring players via the free-agent market is very costly. It is much more beneficial for the Giants to develop their own players through the system and retain control over those players for several years.
Let's take a look at five of the Giants' top prospects and evaluate their development this year.
All stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
No. 5: Andrew Susac
Andrew Susac was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 amateur draft. He is the Giants' top catching prospect and his success could ultimately provide the impetus for Buster Posey's move to first base.
Susac is currently playing in Richmond, the Giants' Double-A affiliate, where he has been improving his defensive skills. He is also learning how to call games and work with his pitchers.
Susac has impressed the Giants with his arm and throwing ability. He has thrown out 31 of 77 runners attempting to steal on him for a very good ratio.
Offensively, Susac still has a lot of room for improvement. He is only hitting .256, although his OBP is a solid .362 with a very good OPS of .820.
In 262 at-bats, Susac has 12 home runs and 46 RBI. Those are decent, though unspectacular, numbers for a catching prospect.
The main area where Susac needs to improve is his propensity for striking out. Susac has struck out 68 times, totaling over one-fourth of his at-bats. He must improve his ability to put the ball in play more consistently.
Susac will likely be promoted to the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno for the 2014 campaign. He is a year away from a serious look at the majors, but if he can continue to improve, especially with his bat, he has a good chance to make it.
No. 4: Joe Panik
The San Francisco Giants selected Joe Panik with the 29th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft.
Originally a shortstop, Panik has been working at second base this season. He projects as a second baseman since his arm is not considered a cannon. The Giants already have a fine young shortstop in Brandon Crawford. It makes perfect sense for Panik to move to second base.
Playing in Richmond, Panik has been adequate, but has not stood out. In 452 at-bats, Panik has a batting average of .265 with four home runs and 49 RBI.
Panik has a respectable OBP of .340, but his OPS of .700 is a bit low. This is his third season in the Giants' organization and his batting average has declined every year as the level of play increases around him.
Panik is likely at least a couple years away from being ready for the majors, but that's only if he can improve his offensive production.
No. 3: Gary Brown
Once considered the Giants' top prospect among position players, Gary Brown has seen his stock fall.
The Giants selected Brown in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft. It was thought that he could be a dynamic leadoff hitter and outstanding defensive player in center field.
In 2012, Brown had a mediocre season at Double-A Richmond. He started slowly, but came on late in the year to finish with a batting average of .279, seven home runs, 42 RBI and 73 runs scored. He stole 33 bases, but was caught 18 times.
Brown was promoted the Giants' Triple-A affiliate at Fresno to start the 2013 season, but he has not impressed there. If anything, he has regressed on offense.
In 479 at-bats, Brown is hitting only .230, with a terrible OBP of .287. Brown has 12 home runs, 46 RBI and has scored 72 runs. He has stolen 13 bases, but has been thrown out 10 times. These are not the numbers of a competent leadoff hitter.
Defensively, Brown has also struggled. He has nine errors so far, compared to only five for his prior two seasons combined.
The Giants had hoped that Brown would be ready in time for the 2014 season, but he seems a long way off. At this stage of his career, Brown needs to again establish himself as a top prospect for the Giants, but he appears to be at least a year away from the majors, at best.
No. 2: Clayton Blackburn
Clayton Blackburn has opened some eyes within the Giants organization this year.
Originally drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 amateur draft, Blackburn is having a fine year with the Giants' Single-A affiliate in San Jose.
In 20 starts this year, Blackburn has thrown 117 innings, allowed 97 hits and 28 walks while striking out 119 batters. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is outstanding, as Blackburn has an ERA of 3.62 and WHIP of 1.068.
It's easy to see Blackburn as a fourth or fifth starting pitcher with the Giants at some point down the road. He has a good fastball in the low 90's to go with an improving curve and changeup.
Blackburn will likely move up to Richmond in 2014 and is probably a couple years away from the majors.
No. 1: Kyle Crick
Kyle Crick was a first-round selection in the 2011 amateur draft. He has an explosive fastball and is developing his secondary pitches.
Like Blackburn, Crick is currently pitching in San Jose. In 11 starts there, Crick has thrown 52.2 innings, allowing 38 hits. He has walked 32 while striking out 69. It is the ability to strike out hitters that is the most impressive thing about Crick, although he does need to cut down on his walks.
Crick has an ERA of 1.78, which is extremely good for a starter, but his WHIP of 1.382 is higher than it should be due to all the walks.
His relatively high WHIP is combined with a low ERA. meaning that Crick is able to get the big outs when he needs them. Usually, those clutch outs are by way of the strikeout, enabling Crick to pitch out of trouble.
Crick will learn how to pitch to contact as he matures because his pitch count often soars too early in games. Nevertheless, he has the best stuff among the Giants' starting pitching prospects.
Although he's still at least a couple of years away, the Giants have a good one in Crick.