Buster Posey was the Giants rookie sensation in 2010.
Who will be the next Giants sensation to break into the Major Leagues and make a big impact?
Last year gave us Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, two of the top young players in baseball. We have already seen a glimpse of what Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford can do, so let's take a look at the Giants' other top prospects.
Heath Hembree has emerged in 2011 as the top closer candidate in the minor leagues for the Giants.
He started the season in San Jose with the Giants' single A affiliate, where he put up some outstanding numbers. In 26 games, Hembree threw 24.2 innings, allowing only 16 hits and striking out 44. His ERA of 0.73 and WHIP of 1.135 were equally impressive.
At 6' 4", Hembree is a big, strong right-handed pitcher with a power arm. He also collected 21 saves as the closer for San Jose.
Hembree was recently promoted to the Giants' AA team in Richmond. Selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, he is making a quick move up the ladder for the Giants. At 22 years of age, the future is bright for Hembree. I expect to see him pitching late in games for San Francisco within the next couple of years.
Chris Dominguez is a corner infielder with some pop in his bat. Playing mostly third base in the minors, Dominguez is the heir apparent to that spot in San Francisco, if the Giants decide to move Pablo Sandoval to first base.
Dominguez was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft and is 24 years old. He could also be a valuable trading chip if the Giants feel Sandoval and Brandon Belt will be their corner infielders of the future. His defense does need some improvement.
In low A ball, playing a full season for Augusta in 2010, Dominguez hit 21 homers and drove in 101 runs, while hitting .272.
Dominguez began the 2011 season in San Jose, where he hit .291 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 258 at bats. Like Heath Hembree, Dominguez was just promoted to the Giants' AA team in Richmond.
Zach Wheeler was a first-round pick by the Giants in the 2009 draft. He is beginning to show the promise the Giants were hoping for when they drafted him No. 6 overall.
The 21-year-old Wheeler has a power arm and is improving his command of his breaking pitches. He is in his second full season with the Giants organization.
Wheeler is currently playing for San Jose and throwing the ball well. He has logged 60.2 innings, allowing only 45 hits, while striking out 68. He has a record of 6-2 and a solid ERA of 3.26. His WHIP of 1.286 could be even better if he can cut down on the number of walks he allows, currently at 33.
The Giants project that Wheeler can be a middle of the rotation starter within a couple of years.
Eric Surkamp is a left-handed starting pitcher currently playing for the Giants AA affiliate in Richmond. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
Surkamp has impressed this year and taken a big step forward in the eyes of the Giants brass. He currently sports a 1.88 ERA and 1.200 WHIP. Surkamp has struck out 80 batters over his 71.2 innings of work.
It is the emergence of pitchers like Wheeler and Surkamp that will make Jonathan Sanchez expendable. Sanchez is due for a big raise in 2012 and can become a free agent in 2013. With the resources the Giants have, they will focus their attention on locking up Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum before Sanchez.
Gary Brown was the Giants' first-round selection in the 2010 draft. He is in his first full season with the Giants organization, currently playing in San Jose.
Brown has outstanding speed and is a very polished player already this early in his career. He is currently batting .328 with six home runs and 47 RBI in 287 at bats. His OBP of .398 is outstanding and Brown projects as a lead off hitter for the Giants.
Brown has stolen 32 bases, although he's been thrown out 14 times. He needs to improve on that percentage.
Defensively, Brown covers a lot of ground in center field. He has good instincts to match his excellent speed.
The Giants have two aging center fielders in Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand. Torres is 33 years old and Rowand will be 34 later this season. I believe there is a very strong likelihood that Gary Brown will be batting leadoff and starting in center field within a year or two.
GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy
A few short years ago, the San Francisco Giants had arguably the weakest minor league system in baseball. Very few players came up through the system and made any impact for the Giants.
General Manager Brian Sabean has done an excellent job rebuilding the Giants' farm system and it is now beginning to pay off. All five of the Giants starting pitchers, sans Barry Zito, are home grown, as is closer Brian Wilson.
The Giants are also beginning to see top position player prospects emerge. In 2008, Pablo Sandoval emerged as a young star. Last year saw Buster Posey burst on the scene and help lead the Giants to their first World Series title in San Francisco.
Brandon Belt was supposed to be the impact player this year, but a slow start briefly derailed him and he was sent back to the minors. When he returned from Triple-A Fresno, the Giants were looking for Belt to begin hitting the ball with authority.
Unfortunately, Belt was hit on the wrist and suffered a hairline fracture. He is due to return in two or three weeks. If he gets on track, he can make a significant impact on the lackluster Giant offense.
The Giants have strengthened their minor league system and now have potential Major League players developing. In addition, there are more decent prospects in the system which be traded, which can also pay big dividends.