SF Giants Prospect Watch: 7 Players off to Strong Starts in 2011

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIMay 3, 2011

SF Giants Prospect Watch: 7 Players off to Strong Starts in 2011

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    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 20:  Brian Sabean, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the San Francisco Giants, watches batting practice before Game Four of the NLCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs between the Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T P
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    For fans in Pittsburgh and Seattle, this is the time of year to start examining the farm system.

    Though the season is still young, the first month has shown that their current team probably does not have what it takes to compete in September. 

    We're not pushing the panic button yet in San Francisco, but it is still interesting to check out the minor league system built by this guy, Brian Sabean. We can see who's coming up if another Giant hits the disabled list, and decide whether the 2015 Giants look any good.

    Here are seven prospects in the Giants farm system eyeing a promotion.

2B Charlie Culberson

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Charlie Culberson 384 of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during media photo day at Scottsdale Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Culberson is leading the Giants AA affiliate Richmond Flying Squirrels with a .292 average, seven doubles and a .744 OPS in his first season at the Double-A level. 

    The 22-year-old defensive whiz has been hitting along the same clip he did last year in San Jose, which bodes well for a promotion to Fresno by season's end.

    A positional change to the left side of the infield could enhance his value to the major league club, as shortstop is the most needed position for the San Francisco Giants. An in-house alternative could save the team having to pony up big time in a trade. 

SP Ryan Verdugo

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  San Francisco Giants prospect Ryan Verdugo #68 playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions pitches against the Phoenix Desert Dogs during the AZ Fall League game at Scottsdale Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Ph
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Verdugo is a 6'0" tall southpaw who just celebrated his 24th birthday.

    For the Giants Double-A affiliate, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Verdugo has amassed 20 strikeouts against only five walks. With a 1.69 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, his records currently sits at 1-0. 

    The lefty's principle problem is his inability to go deep into games. He is averaging only 5.1 innings per start, a clip that is sure to be cause for concern.

    That said, if Verdugo keeps up his current numbers, he will surely be pitching in Fresno in a matter of months.  

1B Brett Pill

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Brett Pill of the San Francisco Giants poses during media photo day on February 28, 2010 at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The other Triple-A first baseman has been lighting up the Pacific Coast League at a slightly less alarming rate than his counterpart Brandon Belt. In his 105 at-bats this season, Pill is hitting .352 with four home runs and nine doubles, with an impressive OPS of .924.

    Pill has continued getting starts at first base and hitting cleanup while Brandon Belt has been starting in left field and batting third since his demotion.

    The Belt-Pill tandem has to be intimidating for any Triple-A pitcher to face. Upon the eventual departure of veterans Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, they can anchor a murderer's row with fellow youngster Buster Posey for years to come.  

RP Steve Edlefsen

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Steve Edlefsen #65 of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during media photo day at Scottsdale Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The 25-year-old middle reliever has been the Grizzlies' most dependable arm out of the bullpen.

    He has accrued a 10:1 strikeout to walk ration in 14 innings pitched, over which he has surrendered just two earned runs. He has a 1.29 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, allowing zero home runs.

    Bruce Bochy will be happy to know that should any of his current relievers falter, the Giants have Edlefsen to step in.

CF Gary Brown

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    SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 23: Gary Brown #86 of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during media photo day at Scottsdale Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The 2010 first-round draft pick out of Cal-state Fullerton has been putting together a nice freshman season in High-A San Jose. Projected as a speedy center fielder with power potential, Brown is living up to his scouting report. 

    In 96 at-bats, Brown is hitting .333 with two doubles, two triples and a homer, good for a .845 OPS. He has accumulated 17 steals, which is the same amount as all his teammates combined.

    He has also been thrown out six times, incidentally also the exact same amount as all his teammates combined.

    Brown looks to be an exciting player two or three years removed from the big leagues. It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle him and similarly-built outfielder Darren Ford, who currently holds a spot on the active roster.    

SP Zach Wheeler

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    San Francisco's 2009 first-round pick has hit a groove in San Jose.

    Only 20 years old, the 6' 3" starting pitcher has a mid-90s fastball with a curveball and a changeup. He is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 0.98 WHIP for the San Jose Giants in 21.1 innings pitched.

    Wheeler also has struck out 27 batters against only six walks, showing an immense improvement over the horrendous 5.8 BB/9 he posted last season. 

    Like Verdugo, Wheeler is averaging a mere 5.1 innings per start so far in 2011. But given his youth and electric stuff, there are plenty of reasons to believe Wheeler will soon be pitching his way to Double-A Richmond.

1B/OF Brandon Belt

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 17:  Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants at bat during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 17, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 6-5 in the twelft
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    No surprises here. The opening day first baseman, who was recently sent down to Fresno, has been destroying Tripe A pitching since his demotion.

    No, that doesn't quite do it justice. Belt is absolutely obliterating opposing pitchers. 

    In his nine games, he is 15 for 29 with two homers and four doubles, good for a .517 average and .862 slugging percentage. 

    His eight walks have lifted his on-base percentage to an absurd .622, and his OPS to an other-worldly 1.484.

    Add to that three stolen bases and not a single caught stealing or error.

    Brandon Belt is getting on base, hitting for power, and not making many mistakes, the three things the Giants sorely need right now, and which will earn him a trip back to the show sooner rather than later.