SF Giants: 10 Top Minor-League Prospects to Trade or Develop
The San Francisco Giants are reigning world champions, and with their outstanding pitching staff, they have a great chance to make another run at it in 2011.
Giants' general manager Brian Sabean will need to weigh the pros and cons of making midseason deals to bolster the team. During the 2010 season, several players came to the Giants and made a big difference in their championship run.
These players included minor-league phenom Buster Posey, who arrived in late May and went on to become the NL Rookie of the Year.
As Posey proved he could play in the majors, Bengie Molina was traded to Texas for reliever Chris Ray, who gave the Giants a shot in the arm when others were hurt.
The Giants also acquired Cody Ross off waivers and Pat Burrell off the scrap heap, after he was unloaded by Tampa Bay. Both Ross and Burrell played key roles for the Giants. Ross was the MVP of the NLCS and Burrell hit 18 home runs in only 289 at-bats.
Utility infielder Mike Fontenot was acquired from the Cubs. He was valuable coming off the bench to spell Freddy Sanchez and also provided some key pinch hits.
Two additional trades made very positive impacts. Reliever Ramon Ramirez was acquired from Boston and pitched 27 innings over the remainder of the regular season with an ERA of 0.67.
Left-handed reliever Javier Lopez, acquired from Pittsburgh, became the top lefty out of the pen for the Giants. He threw 19 innings over the rest of the regular season with an ERA of 1.42. Lopez continued his mastery in the postseason. He threw 5.2 innings over nine appearances and gave up just one earned run.
As we near the trade deadline, Brian Sabean will be closely evaluating the Giants' minor-league system. He will need to determine who he really wants to keep and who he might be willing to use as trade bait.
Let's look at 10 top minor-league prospects in the Giants farm system, and take a realistic view of who will likely stay and who are the most likely candidates to be traded.
10) Alex Hinshaw, Relief Pitcher
At one point, Alex Hinshaw was one of the top minor league pitching prospects in the Giants' organization. He has a powerful arm and as a lefty out of the bullpen, he is a valuable commodity.
Hinshaw pitched in the majors with the Giants in 2008 and 2009. He has outstanding stuff, as his 49 strikeouts in 45.2 innings will attest.
One might think a left-handed relief pitcher who can be that dominant would be a fixture in the Giants bullpen for many years. Unfortunately for Hinshaw, he seems to have fallen out of favor.
The main issue with Hinshaw is his command of the strike zone. In those 45.2 innings, he walked 36 batters. This equates to roughly seven walks per nine innings, clearly an unacceptable number. This also inflates his WHIP ratio to 1.686.
Hinshaw spent 2010 in the minors with the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. He again showed flashes of brilliance, striking out 65 hitters in only 56 innings. However, he was painfully inconsistent, as he walked 40.
This season, Hinshaw opened in Double-A Richmond, then moved up to Fresno. He has thrown a total of 12.1 innings and been very ineffective. Hinshaw has allowed 17 hits and 12 walks. His ERA has ballooned to 8.03 and his WHIP is a dreadful 2.351.
Hinshaw continues to tease, however, as he has struck out 12 batters in those 12.1 innings.
There may be a team that thinks it can harness the powerful arm Hinshaw owns. If he can ever learn to command the strike zone, he will be a very good Major League Baseball pitcher.
It seems as though other pitchers have passed him by and Hinshaw may have worn out his welcome with the Giants. He is someone who will be trade bait and could be moved if the right deal presents itself.
9) Conor Gillaspie, Third Base
Conor Gillaspie was a late first-round pick in the 2008 draft. The third-base prospect was compared to former Giants third baseman Bill Mueller. The Giants expected Gillaspie to be a solid fielder and line-drive hitter who would develop more power as he matured.
Gillaspie is entering his fourth season of professional baseball and still has not developed much power. In 2009, with the San Jose Giants, the team's Single-A affiliate, Gillaspie hit only four home runs in 469 at-bats. His 67 RBI were respectable.
Last year, Gillaspie was moved to Double-A Richmond and in 491 at-bats, hit eight home runs and again tallied 67 RBI.
Gillaspie has maintained a solid batting average at each level and is a career .285 minor-league hitter. After a tough year defensively at San Jose, Gillaspie's defense has improved and is solid thus far in 2011.
Gillaspie is now playing at Triple-A Fresno and his offensive projections are similar to what he's produced in the past couple of seasons. This makes Gillaspie a nice player, but not someone you can expect to be a star in the majors.
At 23 years old, Gillaspie still has some time to improve. His track record has been decent, but not spectacular. He is a marginal Major League Baseball prospect at a position where you like to have more offensive punch.
The Giants currently have Pablo Sandoval at third base who is just 24 years old. If Sandoval can keep his weight down, he should be the Giants' third baseman for the foreseeable future.
In addition, another important thing to consider is Buster Posey. The Giants will likely move him to a corner infield spot in a few years to prolong his career and help him avoid injury. Posey played shortstop in college, so a move to third base would not be that difficult for him.
The Giants have better options than Gillaspie at third base and he is expendable.
8) Thomas Neal, Outfielder
At one point, Thomas Neal was considered the top outfield prospect in the Giants' minor-league system. He was on the fast track to playing Major League Baseball, but has seen his progress delayed by the glut of outfielders in the Giants' system.
It's more likely Neal could get a chance to prove himself at the big-league level in 2012, when the Giants no longer have Pat Burrell, or in 2013 when Aaron Rowand will be gone.
Center-fielder Andres Torres is also 33 years old and there's a significant question about his long-term future with the Giants. Torres is on a one-year contract, so he's year-to-year at this point.
In addition, Aubrey Huff's two-year contract will be up following the 2012 season, which could open the first-base job for Brandon Belt. If the Giants retain Huff or decide to move Buster Posey to first base, Belt would compete with Neal for one of the outfield spots.
Neal does have significant upside as his 2009 stats bear out. In Single-A ball with the San Jose Giants, Neal hit .337 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI. He also had a gaudy OPS at 1.010.
In 2010, while at Double-A Richmond, Neal had a decent year, although he was a far cry from 2009. He hit .291 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI.
Neal has not played much thus far in 2011, with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. He has only 39 at bats, so it's far too early to make any judgements about this season.
Neal is in jeopardy of being eclipsed on the minor-league prospect pecking order by fellow outfielders Gary Brown and Francisco Peguero. Belt has already moved way ahead of him.
The Giants would like to hold on to Neal, as he could potentially make a big impact in 2013. However, if he is a key to a Jose Reyes deal, Neal will be moved.
7) Ehire Adrianza, Shortstop
Ehire Adrianza was signed out of Venezuela by the Giants and joined their organization when he was only 16 years old. He has been in the Giants' system for six years, but is still only 21 years of age.
The start of Adrianza's 2011 season was delayed due to injury and he's just now rounding into form. He's currently playing at the Giants' Low Single-A affiliate in Augusta.
Adrianza has a good glove and excellent speed. The only question is whether he can hit well enough to make it in the majors.
Adrianza is 6'1", but listed at 165 pounds, so he has not filled out yet. His offensive skills should develop as he develops physically.
Even though Adrianza has been in the organization for six years, it's still too early to make a determination about this kid. He and Brandon Crawford, another shortstop, are in the same boat, with Crawford a couple of years ahead of Adrianza.
The Giants would like to keep Adrianza to see how he develops, but he's still a long way away from being Major League Baseball-ready. This being the case, it is possible we could see him traded at some point.
If the Giants make a serious run at Jose Reyes, the Mets may want a young shortstop they can develop, in addition to the pitching they will undoubtedly demand. Adrianza would fill this requirement.
6) Brandon Crawford, Shortstop
Over the past two seasons, Brandon Crawford has bounced between Single A and Double A. There is no question about his fielding ability, but the only issue is his offense.
Crawford is an excellent fielder and his glove is Major League Baseball caliber. What has held the 24-year-old back is his hitting. He has a career batting average of .268 in the minors, although he is hitting .296 early on with San Jose this year.
The fact he is in San Jose instead of Triple-A Fresno also worries me. He will need to start moving up the ladder quickly, or he could be destined to be a career minor-league player, just not quite good enough to make the majors.
This is a crucial year for Crawford to re-establish himself as one of the top prospects for San Francisco. Crawford has never displayed much power, so it appears as though his offensive game may be limited.
If the Giants have to make a choice between Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, I think it will be Crawford who moves on. Adrianza is younger, has more speed and far greater upside.
5) Gary Brown, Outfielder
Gary Brown was the Giants' first-round pick last year. He is playing his first full season with the organization, currently with San Jose, the Giants' High Single-A club.
Brown is a good defensive outfielder and has tremendous speed. He has already stolen 28 bases in 44 games. The Giants envision Brown as their center fielder of the future and prototypical lead-off man. He is hitting .378 this year, with an OBP of .451. This is exactly what the Giants were hoping for.
Brown is not expected to supply a lot of power, but he surprisingly has five home runs and 35 RBI in only 188 at-bats, mostly from the leadoff position.
I do not expect general manager Brian Sabean to include Brown in any deals this summer, as he has been very impressive, and one thing you can't teach is speed.
4) Tommy Joseph, Catcher
Tommy Joseph impressed the Giants' brass this spring. He showed good maturity behind the plate, called a good game and was very solid defensively. He definitely opened some eyes.
Joseph looks like the best young catcher in the Giants' farm system and he's not even 20 years old yet. The Giants would like him to improve his hitting and, if he can, he will be on the fast track to Major League Baseball.
In 2010, Joseph's first season of pro ball, he played with Augusta at the Low Single-A level. Joseph displayed good power with 16 home runs and 68 RBI. On the flip side, he hit only .236 and struck out a very high 116 times in 436 at-bats.
Joseph was promoted to the High Single-A level in San Jose to start the 2011 season. He has played well defensively, but his offense still needs improvement. Joseph is currently batting only .214. His ratio of strikeouts per at bat is still alarmingly high. Joseph has struck out 40 times in 173 at bats.
The Giants are very concerned with the health of Buster Posey, as he has been taking a pounding behind the plate. They do not want to lose Posey's offense or shorten his career. Posey could be moving to another position within two or three years.
If Joseph can improve his offense over the next couple of years, he will be in line to take over behind the plate, as Posey likely moves to first or third base.
I strongly doubt that Joseph will be included in any trade at this stage. He could be the Giants' catcher of the future.
3) Francisco Peguero, Outfielder
Francisco Peguero will be 23 years old on June 1. He will be playing in his sixth year of pro ball when he returns from injury later this season.
Peguero has looked very good in his past two seasons. In 2009, he hit a combined .353 with a home run, 46 RBI and 22 stolen bases for the Giants' Single-A affiliates, Salem-Keizer and Augusta.
In 2010, Peguero played in San Jose and hit .329 with 10 home runs and 77 RBI. He continued to show good speed, stealing 40 bases, although he was caught stealing 22 times.
Peguero is a bright prospect for the Giants, but his 2011 season has been delayed due to a knee injury and resultant surgery. Peguero is due back soon and if he comes back strong, he will jump right back into the mix as a top outfield prospect for the Giants.
Due to the injury, Peguero probably is not trade bait at this time, nor would the Giants want to unload a talent like him anyway.
2) Zack Wheeler, Starting Pitcher
Zack Wheeler was drafted by the Giants in the first round—sixth overall—of the 2009 amateur draft. He is the top young pitcher in the Giants' farm system and could ultimately be the next young star in the rotation.
Wheeler possesses a low-to-mid 90s fastball and has learned how to use the two-seam and four-seam grips. He also has a good slider with a lot of downward bite. Wheeler needs to develop more off-speed stuff, as his changeup has a ways to go before it's Major League Baseball caliber.
At Augusta in 2010, Wheeler threw 58.2 innings and struck out an impressive 70 batters. The only real blemish is that he walked 38 hitters over that span of innings.
Wheeler was moved up to San Jose to begin the 2011 season and has thrown 41.2 innings thus far. He has given up only 33 hits over this period and struck out 50.
His control is still something that needs to be worked on, as he has allowed 24 bases on balls over this span. Wheeler needs to improve on this, as nearly six walks per nine innings is way too high.
Wheeler is the type of pitcher who will be coveted by many teams. The Giants are not likely to trade him unless they can get Jose Reyes and are confident they will be able to re-sign Reyes to a long-term deal. Barring that scenario, Wheeler will remain a Giant.
1) Brandon Belt, Outfielder/First Base
Brandon Belt is the top, young position player currently in the Giants' minor-league system. He is an outstanding athlete and can play both first base and the outfield.
In 2010, Belt burst onto the scene. He started the season in Single-A, moved to Double-A then to Triple-A, all in the same year.
In Single-A ball at San Jose, Belt hit .383 with 10 home runs and 62 RBI. Then at Double-A Richmond, Belt hit .337 with nine home runs and 40 RBI. Belt then moved to the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno and had only 48 at bats, hitting .229 with four home runs and 10 RBI.
Belt's combined totals amounted to a .352 batting average. He slugged 22 home runs and accumulated 112 RBI. He also had 22 stolen bases, another measure of his athleticism.
Belt began the 2011 season in the majors with San Francisco. He struggled early on and started to press. He hit only .192 in 52 at-bats before he was sent down to Fresno for more seasoning and to regain his stroke.
In Fresno, Belt has once again started to shine. He is currently hitting .351 with four home runs and 21 RBI in only 94 at-bats. Belt has also been honing his skills in the outfield and I expect him to rejoin the Giants in the summer.
Belt is the top prospect in the organization and the Giants will not trade him.
The Time Is Now for the Giants
The Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco last year. It took 52 long years for the Giants to win it all in "The City."
With their strong young pitching staff, the time is now for the Giants to try and win more titles. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and closer Brian Wilson are in the prime of their careers.
San Francisco GM Brian Sabean and owner Bill Neukom are well aware of this and will try to make the moves necessary to give manager Bruce Bochy the chance to repeat as world champions.