San Francisco Giants' Top 10 Prospects Season Preview
Although the San Francisco Giants head into another season with very little immediate help on the way from the farm system, there is reason for hope.
Several high-caliber starting pitching prospects are expected to either start of finish the season in Double-A, while it's not out of the question that one or two could reach the major leagues at some point in 2014. It's quite possible that the 2015 staff will include a fourth homegrown starting pitcher to go along with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
As far as position players go, there aren't any Buster Poseys or Pablo Sandovals on the horizon. But some of the team's higher-profile draftees from the past few years, including former first-round pick Gary Brown, could be ready to contribute at the big league level in the near future.
With that said, here's a look at the top 10 prospects in the organization—we'll use B/R's MLB Prospects Lead Writer Mike Rosenbaum's 2014 prospect rankings as a starting point and adjust the list throughout the season—and preview their upcoming season.
10. Martin Agosta, RHP
Ticketed for High-A San Jose in the hitter-friendly California League, the 22-year-old Agosta has a much more daunting task ahead of him after he dominated at the Low-A level in 2013 (2.06 ERA, 91.2 IP 57 H, 43 BB, 109 K).
If he succeeds, there's a chance he can reach Double-A by the second half of the season, and that's when we'll really start to find out if the former second-round draft pick out of St. Mary's can be a big league starter, reliever or none of the above.
9. Ty Blach, LHP
His impressive 18 walks-to-117 strikeouts ratio in 130 High-A innings last season is an indicator of Blach's well-above-average command. With a repertoire that is far from overpowering, though, he'll have much less room for error in Double-A and, of course, as he continues up the ladder.
If he continues to show an ability to mix up his pitches and hit his spots, though, he could find a home in the back of the Giants' rotation within a season or two.
8. Heath Hembree, RHP
Hembree appeared to be on the fast track after being taken in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. It didn't happen, however, as his services weren't needed because of the Giants' consistently strong major league bullpen.
But after an impressive big league debut last September (7.2 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 12 K), it was a near certainty that the 25-year-old would break camp with the Giants in 2014. He had allowed one run and one hit in four innings and was well on his way to earning a spot. Surprisingly, he was sent back to the minors once again.
He's now set to begin his third season with Triple-A Fresno, although he could be the first reliever in line should the Giants need help.
With closer Sergio Romo set to become a free agent after the season, Hembree still has plenty of time to prove he can be the successor. The Giants haven't shown much faith in him thus far, though, which makes that possibility seem less likely than it has been in the past.
7. Mac Williamson, OF
After posting an .879 OPS with 25 homers in 136 games for High-A San Jose, Williamson's real test will come in 2014 with Double-A Richmond, where the future big leaguers can be further separated from those who benefited from playing in one of the most hitter-friendly leagues in baseball.
Keep in mind that former Giants prospect Roger Kieschnick, who was designated for assignment a few days ago, posted an .876 OPS with 23 homers in High-A back in 2009. Five years later, his big league opportunities are beginning to fade.
Depending on how his season goes, the 23-year-old Williamson, who is a 6'5" corner outfielder, is very likely to skyrocket up the prospect rankings or take a nose dive. It's hard to see him falling in between.
6. Clayton Blackburn, RHP
Blackburn, the Giants' 16th-round pick in the 2011 draft, passed his High-A Cal League test with flying colors, posting a 3.65 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 and 9.3 K/9 as a 20-year-old. Now he'll move on to bigger challenges with Double-A Richmond, where he'll try to prove he's got more than the back-of-the-rotation profile he's been given by many scouts.
The Giants would be ecstatic, however, if he proves that he can be a No. 4 starter capable of 200 innings per season. A strong season in Double-A could put him in line to be a leading candidate for what could be one open rotation spot in 2015.
5. Christian Arroyo, SS
Arroyo's bat looks legit. It's just not the caliber of Javier Baez or Xander Bogaerts, meaning it might not be able to play at any position on the diamond. Baez or Bogaerts, two of the top shortstop prospects in baseball, have the hitting ability to put up above-average numbers from any position on the field.
Should Arroyo's defense, which comes with many concerns, not show improvement over the next season or two, his stock would decline greatly unless his hitting tool develops beyond expectations. If he makes strides, however, the 18-year-old could be one of the top two or three prospects in the organization next offseason.
4. Adalberto Mejia, LHP
Mejia's strong showing in 16 High-A starts last season (3.31 ERA, 87 IP, 75 H, 23 BB, 89 K) likely wasn't enough to get him to Double-A just yet. But that speaks more to the organization's pitching depth at that level.
Hitters at that level certainly won't be happy to see the 20-year-old Mejia, a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of solid secondary offerings, back for another go-round. A chain reaction caused by any pitching prospect movement from Double-A to Triple-A or the majors, however, would very likely result in Mejia's arrival in Double-A.
3. Chris Stratton, RHP
Stratton was taken with the Giants' 22nd pick in the 2012 draft and has put up very solid numbers since (3.22 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 8.4 K/9 in 148.1 innings between Low-A and short-season A-ball). Things can take a quick turn for the worse in 2014, though.
If the 6'3" right-hander has a poor season for High-A San Jose, he'd enter next offseason as a 24-year-old—his birthday is in August—who has yet to earn his way to the upper minors. He'll need to have a solid season just to remain on the prospect radar.
2. Edwin Escobar, LHP
The lone starting pitching prospect to log innings in a major league spring game this month, Escobar has likely established himself as "next in line" for the major league rotation, at least in terms of those not considered temporary fill-ins currently in the big league bullpen (Yusmeiro Petit, David Huff).
While the 21-year-old lefty struggled in his last outing, giving up four earned runs in 2.2 innings, he had impressed in his first three games of the spring (6 IP, ER, H, 4 BB, K) after a solid 2013 season in which he posted a 2.80 ERA between Double-A and High-A.
Ticketed for Triple-A to begin the 2014 season, Escobar is only one step away from joining a pitching staff that has limited options should Ryan Vogelsong continue to struggle as he did in 2013 and again this spring.
1. Kyle Crick, RHP
Madison Bumgarner. Matt Cain. Tim Lincecum. All were first-round picks of the Giants and top prospects. All three have done great things as big leaguers. Kyle Crick is also a former first-round pick. He's their top prospect and easily one of the top 50 minor leaguers in the game.
So how quickly can the 21-year-old Crick join Bumgarner, Cain and Lincecum? Considering he made only 14 starts in High-A last season, it's hard to see it happening in 2014.
Or is it?
Capable of dominating as he did in his High-A stint (1.57 ERA, 68.2 IP, 48 H, 39 BB, 95 K) and 15.2 innings during the Arizona Fall League (5 ER, 9 H, 11 BB, 24 K), Crick can move quickly once he puts it all together. Expect more strides to be made in 2014 with an anticipated arrival time in the majors of early 2015.