San Francisco Giants: Assessing Top 16 Prospects Down on the Farm
We are about a third of the way through the 2011 campaign and the San Francisco Giants are in first place in the National League West, despite the devastating loss of catcher Buster Posey.
Based on the amount of one-run contests and last-inning heroics, the casual fan is likely to be flabbergasted when they open up the sports page to see the orange and black atop the standings, but that is torture in its truest form.
Up in the show, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the rest of the S.F. misfits are holding things down. Meanwhile down on the farm, players are quietly blossoming, attempting to work their way up the major league ladder.
Unless you’ve been trapped inside the huge baseball glove behind the left field bleachers at AT&T Park, or are being held hostage in Lou Seal’s harbor lair, you know Brandon Belt is San Francisco’s top prospect. While he may be the only can’t-miss, head-turning player the Giants have in their farm system at this point, there are plenty of notables making noise this season and others on talent prognosticators’ lists failing to live up to the hype.
Here is a list of talented ballplayers to keep an eye on for better or worse.
Hector Sanchez, Catcher (Advanced-A San Jose)
Sanchez is a typical example of what have you done for me lately. He didn't show much in his previous four seasons in the organization, but then again the non-drafted Venezuela native was just 17 when he strapped on his first pair of cleats in the states.
This season he appears to be growing up, blasting eight homers, three of which came in one game, while hitting .296 in 36 games for San Jose. He is on pace for career highs in strikeouts, but who really cares? Chicks dig the long ball.
Adam Duvall, Third Base (Class-A Augusta)
A 2010 11th-round pick, Duvall has shown great promise this year, leading the entire organization in home runs with 12. (Yes, unfortunately including the big league level, but you already knew that.)
At low-A, Duvall still has a long road ahead of him, but it is always a great sign to see success so quickly from a recent draftee. It is possible, though, he could just be sick of playing in the humidity of Augusta and will do anything for a promotion to San Jose.
Tommy Joseph, Catcher (Class-A Advanced San Jose)
At only age 19, it would be unfair to be too critical of this youngster’s play so far, but after hitting .290 with 16 homers in low-A Salem-Keizer in 2010, I would’ve liked to see more of an instant impact this year. He has yet to adjust to his 2011 promotion, batting just .210 with 42 strikeouts through 45 games with San Jose.
Naturally, now that Posey has been lost for the year, one is looking to see who are potential replacements in the system. Unfortunately, despite Joseph being the organization’s top catching prospect, he‘ll need a lot more time to develop.
Ehire Adrianza, Shortstop (Class-A Augusta)
Sure the Venezuela native has an amazing glove and can run like the wind, but in this age of the shortstop who has pop, I’m just not buying what scouts are selling with Ehire. He is still very young, but he's yet to hit above .260 on any minor league level with at least 100 at-bats.
Luckily, Major League Baseball writers get paid a whole lot more than I do, and have him slated sixth on the Giants list according to MLB.com‘s organizational top prospects, so let's hope they are correct.
A thumb injury placed him on the disabled list to start the season, but he was recently activated. Despite his lack of delivering on the hype, he will, however, be the shortstop of the future. (I’m sarcastically winking as I say this, as if I‘m a magician nodding to a little girl in the audience giving away that the rabbit was in my hat the whole time, and not behind an onlooker's ear where I'm about to pull it from.)
It’s not you Ehire, it’s me.
Chris Dominguez, Third Base (Advanced-A San Jose)
A 2009 third-rounder, Dominguez thrived in his first season in one spot, bashing 21 homers and driving in 101 last year in low-A Augusta. His 133 strikeouts leave a little to be desired, but if he can reduce those and start taking a few more free passes, he should see himself shoot up the organizational ranks.
If not, San Francisco will have their own version of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds.
Brett Pill, First Base (Triple-A Fresno)
Pill has played consistently well in his last few seasons down on the minors, only to see Brandon Belt hop over him in the positional rankings. He clubbed 19 homers, and drove in 109 RBI, with an OPS of .828 in 2009 in Double-A Connecticut, then followed that up with 16 homers and 84 RBI at next level in Fresno in 2010.
This season he's hitting .305 with six homers and 34 RBI, yet he remains nothing more than a Brandon Belt placebo. Get it? Pill? Placebo? Pretty good, eh?
Look for Pill to get dealt in a trade sometime this summer, or hire Tonya Harding to put a scorpion in Belt’s sliding pants when he’s not looking. That will be the only way Pill will get FDA approval for over the counter use. OK, I’ve got to stop.
Ryan Verdugo, Left-Handed Picher (Double-A Richmond)
Between Augusta and San Jose last season, this southpaw was dazzling, striking out 94 hitters, primarily in relief. In 2011, he not only found himself with a nice promotion to Richmond, but also in the starting rotation.
He has made a decent transition, logging a 3.07 ERA while striking out 44 in eight starts. He appears to be more valuable as a left-handed reliever, but this season has shown his versatility.
Tyler Graham, Outfield (Triple-A Fresno)
Graham has wicked speed, swiping close to 30 bags in each of his previous seasons. The only problem is he has never really hit until last year, when he logged a .343 average with Triple-A Fresno.
Generally, hitters don’t get too much credit for hitting in the Pacific Coast League, so it is tough to judge. If Graham has finally put it together, he could make just enough noise to offer up as trade bait come July. He already has 21 steals in just 43 games this season.
Eric Surkamp, Left-Handed Pitcher (Double-A Richmond)
The 23-year-old former sixth-round pick has welcomed his promotion to Double-A Richmond this season. The 2010 California League All-Star has 66 strikeouts in nine starts thus far, and a paltry ERA of 1.53.
Surkamp doesn’t get much attention on prospect lists, but then again I don’t get much attention either, and I too was drafted in the sixth round…in a recent kickball league draft that is. He doesn’t throw in the upper 90s, have a spray-painted beard or throw with a kooky windup, but he gets batters out. (Alright, you got me. I was ashamedly drafted in the 21st round in kickball.)
Francisco Peguero, Outfield (Disabled List)
This high-flying 2010 California League All-Star had a spectacular campaign last year, batting .329 with 78 runs, 77 RBI and 10 home runs, while swiping 40 bags.
His power isn't quite where it would need to be to anoint him as a five-tool player, however, it is clear there are definitely a few tools in his belt that could help him eventually develop into a major league masterpiece.
This season, Peguero and his toolbox are on the shelf with a knee injury, so he may have some free time if you need some new light fixtures installed in your at-home man cave.
Thomas Neal, Outfield (Triple-A Fresno)
Neal's statistics don't jump off the page at you, but they don't shrink in font size either. He has quietly put together a pleasantly consistent minor league career, showing improvement and advancing a level each season.
Annoying injuries have limited his at-bats this year, but he is batting .333 in Triple-A Fresno and could be the next outfielder called up to the big leagues.
Some say his name has played a role in his delayed call-up, but that can’t be confirmed at this point. Queue the snazzy walk up music. Now batting, Tom Neal? I can just see myself turning to my friends, perplexed as he is introduced. “Who is up? Is it Tom or Neal? I’ve really got to stop searching the stands for chicks in between batters; I’m totally lost."
The best public address announcer in the game couldn’t do much with that one. Unless Neal becomes an award-winning author littering book stores with best-sellers, the two first name thing just isn’t working for me.
Brandon Crawford, Shortstop (Majors)
A local Bay Area product, many experts have touted Crawford as the shortstop of the future, but the UCLA graduate has yet to hit more than 10 homers at any major league level, despite his promise of power.
Crawford made his major league debut Friday night in Milwaukee and proceeded to collect his first hit, which happened to be a grand slam. OK experts, I’ll buy from you.
He does, however, have a hankering for strikeouts, whiffing over 200 times in just about as many games in his short minor league career.
An injured finger derailed his plan to start 2011 in Triple-A Fresno, and instead he ended up in Class-A Advanced San Jose to begin the year. But, who can really blame him? Fresno ranked an overwhelmingly undesirable 128th on California's 2010 Well-Being Index. San Jose? 12th. Enough said.
He was hitting a generous .322 in San Jose in 14 games, before his promotion to the big club.
Charlie Culberson, Second Base (Double-A Richmond)
Ranked ninth on MLB.com’s top 10 second base prospects, Culberson broke out the power stick in 2010, clubbing 16 homers in Advanced A San Jose, eclipsing his previous career high of three. For those of you at home without an abacus, that is a whopping 533 percent increase!
2011 has started out well with Culberson batting at a .294 clip in Double-A Richmond, but he's hit only one home run so far. Now now, put that abacus away.
Zack Wheeler, Right-Handed Pitcher (Advanced-A San Jose)
Wheeler hasn't made any statisticians drool on their scorebooks so far, but this hard-throwing sixth overall pick from 2009 is anticipated to be all that and bag of garlic fries.
His 50 strikeouts in 41 innings this year in San Jose show he's got the stuff, so it is just a matter of when, not if, this prized prospect can develop into the major leaguer he is destined to be.
Gary Brown (Advanced-A San Jose)
Twenty-eight stolen bases in a season for any player shows some significant speed. Twenty-eight stolen bases for a player after 47 games signals parallel comparisons to a West African cheetah.
Add a .365 batting average and 44 runs, 36 RBI and five homers, and an OPS of .974 and you've got a 2010 first-round pick that is going places. At age 22, Brown won't be in the big leagues anytime soon, but the SoCal product should see some time in Double-A Richmond before season's end. From there, the sky's the limit.
Rumor has it, Brown actually tied an antelope at a Cal State Fullerton track meet in the 100-meter dash, but that can be neither confirmed nor denied by any humans or wildebeests who were supposedly looking on.
Brandon Belt, First Base (Majors)
This list wouldn't be complete without the 23rd-ranked prospect in the league according to MLB.com. Belt sizzled in spring training and made the Opening Day club, only to find himself back in Fresno for more seasoning before again getting the call to the big league club this week.
In about 100 at-bats in Fresno, Belt was crushing the ball, hitting .337 with four homers and 21 RBI.
Time will tell which one of these youngsters make it up through the ranks and have successful careers, which get traded or which get trapped in a web of minor league baseball abyss, but for the first time in a long time, the team may actually have some promising young hitters. The future could be bright or it could be a dark cloud of undelivered potential, but that is the fun of tracking these potential stars.