San Francisco Giants: Zack Wheeler and 10 Best Prospects in the Farm System

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIJune 17, 2011

San Francisco Giants: Zack Wheeler and 10 Best Prospects in the Farm System

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    While all the focus is on the major league club, Zack Wheeler and the San Francisco Giants of the future are developing their skills in the minor leagues.

    The 2010 Giants featured a strong core of homegrown players that propelled the team to a World Series Championship.

    San Francisco looks to follow the same formula in years to come. It has a whole new crop of exciting players in the lower levels, primed to make the big leagues in the next few years.

    Here are the 10 best prospects in the San Francisco Giants system. 

10. 3B Chris Dominguez

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    Level: A+ San Jose

    Chris Dominguez is a big bruiser who can bash the ball.

    The 6'3" California native is currently batting .291/.338/.465 with a team-high 11 homers and nine doubles. He also has underrated speed, nabbing eight bases in 10 attempts.

    Like most power hitters, Dominguez strikes out way too much—73 whiffs to only 18 walks this year. 

    Dominguez has a little trouble in the field too, having made 13 errors already. 

    At 24 years old, Dominguez is older than the typical High-A player. But if he can continue to put up big numbers, he will work through the minors pretty quickly. 

9. CF Jarrett Parker

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    Jarrett Parker started out the season terribly in San Jose, hitting .211 in April. By hitting .282 in May and .320 so far in June, he has brought his numbers back up to a respectable .268/.383/.424.

    Parker also started his final year of college poorly, one in which he was hyped as a potential first rounder. He finished the season strong, though, and appears to be on a similar trajectory in his first minor league year.

    Taken in the second round of the 2010 draft, Parker has great speed which make him a top-of-the-order base-stealing threat and a superb defensive center fielder.

    He has stolen 12 bases in 14 attempts, but has made five errors in the field. Four have occurred in right field, the position he is temporarily manning because Gary Brown is playing center.

    Parker will not last in right, as he has sub-par arm strength. A move back to center or possibly to left will likely be in store for the former University of Virginia standout.  

    Parker has some holes in his swing, which dropped him out of the first round. He also strikes out about twice as often as he walks.

    However, he has continued to have excellent power to the gaps, as evidenced by his 14 doubles this year. 

    Jarrett Parker is one of the more intriguing Giants prospects, with tools to be an Andres Torres-type player. He might strike out a little too much, but he makes up for it with his extra-base hit potential.

8. SP Ryan Verdugo

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    Level: AA Richmond

    Often overshadowed by his teammate and fellow southpaw Eric Surkamp, Ryan Verdugo has quietly put together a strong 2011 season of his own.

    Verdugo is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. He has struck out 72 batters to just 24 walks in 66 innings pitched—in his first season as a starter.

    In 2010 he made 44 appearances and pitched 62.2 innings of relief, recording a 1.87 ERA. He also notched 94 strikeouts for an other-worldly 13.5 K/9, or a strikeout-and-a-half per inning.

    Verdugo is already 24 years old—a little old to be considered a top prospect. But he can strike out batters like nobody's business and has put up solid numbers as both a starter and reliever.

7. LF Thomas Neal

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    Level: AAA Fresno

    Thomas Neal has seen his playing time increase dramatically now that Brandon Belt and Darren Ford aren't clogging up space in the outfield.

    The 23 year old is hitting .319/.383/.457 in 116 at-bats this year, with a couple of homers and six doubles. 

    Neal had a breakout year in 2009, when he hit .337/.431/.579 with 22 homers and 41 doubles. A very positive statistic was that he struck out 98 times and walked 65 times, a great ratio for a power hitter. 

    But in Double-A last year and now in Triple-A this year, Neal has been unable to earn as many free passes, and has seen his OBP suffer as a result. 

    Neal can hit, though. He has batted .291 or better each of the past two years, and looks to continue that trend again in the hitter-friendly PCL this year. 

    Neal may never reach the potential Giants fans saw in him after his brilliant 2009 campaign, but he is nearly major-league ready and has proven he can hit for average at all levels of the minor leagues. 

6. RP Heath Hembree

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    Level: A+ San Jose

    Heath Hembree was chosen in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB draft and is currently lighting up the California League. 

    In 26 appearances, Hembree has logged 21 saves and allowed just two earned runs (0.73 ERA). He has struck out 44 batters and allowed only 12 walks, an impressive 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    Hembree is on his way to becoming the best closer in the Giants minor league system. He could conceivably be up in the big leagues for middle relief by late 2012.

5. C Hector Sanchez

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    Level: AAA Fresno

    Hector Sanchez was hitting .301 in High-A San Jose before he received a direct ticket to Fresno, presumably due to the Buster Posey injury and subsequent promotion of Chris Stewart.

    If that is the case, then the Giants believe he is the most major-league-ready prospect in the system, ahead of the more highly touted Tommy Joseph, who is hitting just .249. 

    Sanchez has done much to deserve the faith the Giants have bestowed in him. He had slugged eight homers and 13 doubles for a .511 slugging percentage, best among San Jose regulars. 

    At 5'11" and 235 lbs, Sanchez could be the second coming of Bengie Molina (5'11", 225). Unlike the former Giant, Sanchez will likely not win any gold gloves, as his defense can be a little suspect.

    But his arm strength is fantastic—he threw out 42 percent of runners in San Jose. Sanchez is only one-for-eight in Fresno, but is facing smarter and speedier runners than ever before and will need time to adjust. 

    Sanchez will likely play out the rest of the year in Fresno, potentially to his own detriment. The Giants need a good backstop waiting in the wings if Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart hits the DL.

    Sanchez will have to adjust to the higher expectations of a Triple-A catcher, but has the tools to rise to the occasion.

4. SP Eric Surkamp

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    Level: AA Richmond

    Eric Surkamp is mercilessly mowing down Double-A hitters, with a 1.88 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 72.1 innings for the Flying Squirrels.

    Surkamp has stellar peripheral numbers as well. For his minor league career, he has posted a 10.6 K/9 and 4.27 K/BB, indicating fantastic control of his pitches.

    The Giants southpaw is often overlooked because his fastball tops out at 86-88 MPH. Most scouts assume he will be unable to maintain such high strikeout rates at higher levels.

    Surkamp has so far proved his doubters wrong, locating his fastball to set up his wicked curveball. He is still racking up the strikeouts, and shows no signs of slowing down.

3. LF Francisco Peguero

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    Level: A+ San Jose

    Francisco Peguero recently returned from injury and has hit .340/.407/.491 in his 53 at-bats this year in San Jose. 

    Last year, he put up a .329/.358/.488 line with 19 doubles, 16 triples, 10 home runs and 40 stolen bases. He also has a fantastic arm in the outfield, prompting several scouts to give him the coveted "five-tool player" stamp. 

    Peguero still needs to work on his discipline, as he has accrued a career 4.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If he can develop more patience at the plate, Peguero could become a terrific leadoff man with dangerous speed and some pop.

2. SP Zack Wheeler

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    Level: A+ San Jose

    Zach Wheeler is generally regarded as San Francisco's top pitching prospect—and often considered the organization's best overall prospect. He was rated the 55th-best prospect in the nation by Baseball America. 

    With a repertoire including a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a curveball and change-up, Wheeler is projected as a front-end of the rotation starter.

    In 11 starts for San Jose this year, the Giants' 2009 first round pick is 6-2 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He has 68 strikeouts to 33 walks for a solid 2.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

    Wheeler's largest historical problem has been poor command. In 58.2 IP for Augusta last season, Wheeler posted an ugly 5.8 BB/9.

    Through his first five starts, Wheeler was looking sharp with only nine walks in 27 IP. Since, he has issued 24 free passes in 33.2 IP. His year-to-date BB/9 now sits at 4.9, an unacceptably high number.

    Wheeler's got the stuff to become an impact starter at the big league level. Luckily, he is just barely 21 years old and has time to sort out his command issues.

1. CF Gary Brown

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    Level: A+ San Jose

    Gary Brown is establishing himself as the Giants premier prospect with his play in San Jose. 

    The Giants 2010 first-round pick has posted a .333/.407/.487 line so far in 2010, with six homers and 17 doubles. 

    Brown has also swiped 32 bases in 62 games. That's more than once every other game.

    The Cal State Fullerton product is very raw in all facts of the game but has a highly unusual combination of devastating speed and instinctive contact hitting. 

    He also has surprising pop and can consistently hit the gaps for extra-base hits.

    Brown does not have a very strong arm but has excellent range in center field and has vastly improved his routes and reads off the bat.  

    Brown will progress slowly through the system as he polishes his skills. He will make it to the big leagues in the next two or three years and will be a force to be reckoned with when he arrives.