The list of non-roster invitees for any major league team is interesting. A mixture of young talent trying to make a name for themselves and veterans looking for another shot in the bigs as spring training gets underway.
This season is no different for the San Francisco Giants.
There are those veterans who are brought in to see if they have anything left in the tank. But there are also the players that will be appearing on the 40-man roster within the next few years—the next wave of young talent that will appear on every scout's prospect rankings before the season begins.
Almost all of the position players invited to spring training are prospects. Some may not be rated as high as others, but, either way, they are in camp with the big club.
Thomas Neal, Outfielder
Of the 23 non-roster invitees in camp with the Giants this spring, Neal is definitely the headliner of the group.
Much like Buster Posey a year ago, Neal enters his first big league camp with a whole lot of expectations. Neal is the best hitter in the system not named Posey. His ability to hit to all fields just shows how good of a hitter he is despite missing a full season of baseball two years ago due to shoulder surgery.
Speaking of being healthy, Neal was exactly that for the first time in three years, Neal was 100 percent—and his numbers reflect that. Returning to full health allowed Neal to have one of the biggest breakout seasons in all of the minors.
He’s coming off a huge year at High-A San Jose where he hit .337 with with 22 home runs and 90 RBI. Neal also lead the California league in on-base percentage (.431) and ranked fourth in slugging (.579). Teaming with Posey and fellow non-roster invitee Roger Kieschnick, the Little Giants had one of the best 3-4-5 trios in the minors.
With Pablo Sandoval already one of the best young hitters in the game and Posey on the cusp, Neal will be looked at as the next hitter to come out of the Giants' system to make a big-time impact.
The 2010 season is certainly an important one for Neal as he tries to repeat his tremendous 2009 numbers in the hitter-friendly Cal League while also making the biggest jump in the minors from High-A to Double-A.
Ehire Adrianza, Shortstop
Adrianza burst onto the prospect scene when Baseball America tabbed him as the Giants’ No. 6 prospect entering the 2009 season.
Just 20 years old, Adrianza’s calling card is his glove—drawing raves from Omar Vizquel when the former Giant was rehabbing in Arizona two years ago. His soft hands and plus-plus range allows him to get to just about anything at short.
Adrianza’s bat is still developing. His 2009 stats at Low-A Augusta won’t blow your mind (.258/.333/.327). He doesn't have a lot of power—only two home runs and 15 doubles.
Some scouts believe that his bat will develop into something that will contribute something once he reaches the majors, some don't, and that is why the opinions on Adrianza are pretty split.
Adrianza will be playing his home games just down the road in San Jose come 2010. He is still a few years away, and seeing as the bat still needs a lot of work, that is only a good thing.
Brandon Crawford, Shortstop
Much like Adrianza, Crawford can pick it at short.
However, it was his bat making all the headlines through the first month of the season as he crushed California League pitching.
The Giants aggressively promoted Crawford to Double-A Connecticut with Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. He didn’t maintain the kind of success that earned him the promotion, struggling against better quality pitching in the Eastern League.
Crawford’s final line with the Defenders of .258/.294/.365 (101-for-392) did nothing to silence those who questioned his bat. Contact issues are his biggest concern as he continues to move up in the system.
He rebounded well when he went with Posey and Neal to the Arizona Fall League, hitting .312 with two homers and 12 RBI in 20 games. He did strike out 22 times in those 20 games, but he also drew 12 walks—which is just eight fewer than he did in 108 games with Connecticut.
Nick Noonan, Second Baseman
Coming into the 2009 season, Noonan was the last member of the Giants’ big five atop the prospect rankings.
However, the first half of 2009 was a struggle for Noonan as he struggled to adjust to California League pitchers who were either two, three, or even four years older than him. His .242 average before the break made him almost as much of a disappointment as anybody in the system.
Noonan rebounded with a solid second half, though. He continued to improve his walk rate as the season went on. His on-base percentage went up from .308 in the first half to .353 after the break. He also raised his OPS 120 points in the second half of the season.
Noonan's drop out of the top 10 in some prospect rankings, like Baseball America's, have less to do with the quality of season he had in 2009 and more with the system getting better overall talent toward the top.
He is still regarded as the second baseman of the future in San Francisco. And at age 20, he still has a lot of time and room to improve.
Hector Sanchez, Catcher
When you’re a catcher in the same system as Posey, you’re probably not going to get a whole lot of attention.
That is exactly what has happened with Sanchez.
He is known more for his defense than his bat. He's a very good receiver, is solid blocking balls, and has an above-average arm—leading the Arizona Rookie League after throwing out 45 percent of would-be base stealers.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t hit. In 117 at-bats in the AZL, Sanchez hit .299 with one home run, 22 RBI, and a .403 on-base percentage. He also walked almost as many times (16) as he struck out (21).
For a 19-year-old making his debut in America, that’s not bad at all.
Now 20, Sanchez is still a ways away from making an impact with the big club. He will be the youngest player in camp, and he is far from done developing physically. With more muscle comes more power at the plate and, for a catcher, the ability to hold up over the course of the season.
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