San Francisco Giants: Power Ranking Top 15 Prospects
The San Francisco Giants have had a Top 5 to Top 10 farm system depending on who was ranking the prospects in recent years. The Giants have already benefited significantly from their focus on development and drafting with players like Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo having led them to a World Series title. All of these players were products of the Giants farm system.
This success at the big league level comes with a price, it depletes the minor league system of top prospects. While the Giants are flush with young stars and rising stars, there are some players who remain in the developmental stages of their careers in the Giants system, some of whom are knocking on the AT&T Park clubhouse door as we speak.
The following is my ranking of the top 15 prospects in the San Francisco Giants farm system heading into the 2012 season.
15: 1B Angel Villalona
Yes, that Angel Villalona. Just a few months ago the thought of this one time can't miss prospect remaining in the Giants minor league system was absurd. Then came this news.
I must say, it came as a complete shock to me. Wether he is guilty and paid his way out of it, or he is wealthy and was framed as part of an extortion plot I don't know and at this point I don't care. I believe that the Giants care enough about their image post-Barry Bonds that they would steer clear of too much controversy, which is the main reason why I thought Villalona would never play for the Giants again.
Villalona is suddenly a big question mark when he used to be considered can't miss. He is a natural talent and I suspect that his baseball skills will return to him fairly quickly. His weight had become a topic for discussion before his legal troubles began, so that will be something to watch as well.
Villalona last played organized baseball in the Giants farm system in 2009 in High A San Jose. He hit .267/.306/.397/.704 in an injury shortened season. He is still only 21 years old, turning 22 in August of 2012.
This will be a critical year in determining what his future in the Giants organization will be.
14: LHP Eric Surkamp
Eric Surkamp caught the Giants attention in 2011 with some pretty spectacular numbers posted in High A and AA. Before his call up to San Francisco in late August 2011, Surkamp had posted an ERA of 1.94, a WHIP of 1.07 and a K/9 rate of 10.3. When the Giants needed a fifth starter in August, he was the man.
Surkamp finished 2011 having started six games for San Francisco, pitching 26 innings in those starts. His numbers were far from his minor league stats as he posted 5.74/1.83/4.4 numbers in San Francisco.
Surkamp is a light throwing left handed pitcher who relies on command and utilizing the corners to his advantage. When he has to come across the plate, he is very vulnerable. Surkamp is very similar in style to Kirk Rueter, the Giants hope that he has Rueter's competitive drive in him too.
Surkamp will need some more time in the minor leagues, most likely AAA where he can work on consistency to command. He is going to find that in the big leagues, you have to establish yourself as a strike thrower before you start to get the corners called strikes consistently. This may prove to be a lesson that comes with some significant growing pains.
13: RF Roger Kieschnick
Roger Kieschnick may very well be entering his final season as a prospect. He will be entering his fourth season of Minor League baseball and will be turning 25 on January 12, 2012.
Kieschnick completed his second full season at AA Richmond in 2011 where he posted a batting line of .255/.307/.429/.737 after a 2010 season where he only played in 60 games due to injury posting a line of .251/.305./368/.673.
His 2011 season was a slight improvement in a league that is notorious for holding hitter's numbers down.
Kieschnick most likely will spend the majority of the 2012 season at AAA Fresno where his numbers should improve significantly due to the PCL's reputation as a hitters league. The Giants will want to see consistency and plate discipline from him in addition to better overall offensive stats. Kieschnick is going to have to improve on his walk to strike out ratio which stands at one walk for every 3.4 strikeouts over his three year minor league career.
12: C Tommy Joseph
Tommy Joseph spent the entire 2011 season at High A San Jose lodging 514 at bats. Joseph posted decent numbers; .270/.317/.471/.787 in his second year of professional baseball.
Joseph will turn 21 in July 2012 and will most likely spend 2012 in AA Richmond. If he does play in Richmond, the Giants' front office will watch closely how he responds to playing in a pitchers friendly league after spending 2011 in a hitter friendly league.
Joseph has posted a .991 fielding percentage in two seasons at catcher making 12 errors in 1310 chances. His game calling skills have been praised internally for his age, he will need to show constant improvement in this area as he progresses.
If the Giants end up deciding that they want to have Hector Sanchez in San Francisco as a back up to Buster Posey in 2012, Joseph could skip AA and jump straight to AAA.
Joseph projects to develop power as he matures and develops as a hitter.
11: SS Ehire Adrianza
Giants shortstop prospect Ehire Adrianza has been in the Giants minor league system since he was 16 years old. In August of 2012, Adrianza will turn 23, he may very well be entering a do or die season in 2012.
Adrianza split the 2011 season between Low A Augusta and High A San Jose, after starting the season late due to surgery to repair a torn tendon in his hand, an injury he sustained while stealing a base.
Adrianza had 143 at bats in Augusta where he hit .231/.315/.378/.692 and 230 at bats in San Jose where he hit .300/.375/.470/.845.
Adrianza will most likely start 2012 in AA Richmond and will do well to get himself off to a fast start that he can maintain through the year. The Giants will be looking to fill the shortstop position through free agency as their ideal scenario is to have Brandon Crawford spend one full year at AAA Fresno.
If the Giants do end up with Crawford in San Francisco out of necessity, as was the case in 2011 or because he forces the issue, Adrianza may find himself in AAA. Where ever he is assigned, Adrianza needs a full season of proving he he can hit consistently while improving on his career fielding percentage at shortstop of .959.
10: 3B Chris Dominguez
Chris Dominguez will play the 2012 season as a 25 year old, his fourth season of professional baseball. The powerful third baseman split 2011 between High A San Jose and AA Richmond. Dominguez' stats followed the trend that most do when going from San Jose to Richmond, they significantly declined.
Dominguez had 258 at bats in San Jose where he hit .291/.337/.465/.802 and he compiled 295 at bats in Richmond hitting .244/.272/.403/.675.
Because of his age, Dominguez may find himself at AAA Fresno in 2012, especially if the Giants keep a guy like Conor Gillaspie in San Francisco as a utility player. Otherwise, Dominguez will start the season in Richmond and will have to show some improvement in all of the numbers cited above in addition to cutting down on his strike outs and drawing more walks. In 2011, Dominguez struck out 78 times while drawing 9 walks.
9: 3B/Utility Conor Gillaspie
Conor Gillaspie was chosen by the Giants in the same draft as Buster Posey, he was their second pick of that draft, in the supplemental round. He will be entering his fifth season in the organization and turned some heads with his bat in the few chances he got at the big league level in 2011.
Gillaspie has a sweet, consistent left handed swing that translates well to hitting at the big league level. Gillaspie was drafted out of Whicita State as a third baseman, but he has sort of floated around defensively in the last two years as the Giants tried to determine where he fits in their future plans.
Gillaspie has spent the majority of his minor league defensive time at third base where he owns a pretty bad fielding percentage of .939 in 957 chances. His bat is ready for at least a utility role, but his glove may hold him back.
If Gillaspie can show significant improvement in his defense, he is a candidate to earn a spot on the 25 man roster out of spring training, if not he might find himself back at AAA again or he could be a chip for Brian Sabean to use while trying to improve his team via a trade.
8: 2B Charlie Culberson
Charlie Culberson is entering his sixth season in the Giants organization and will be 23 for the 2012 season. Culberson spent the 2011 season at AA Richmond posting a hitting line of .259/.293/.382/.675. Like most young hitters he has to work on his walks and strikeouts as he walked 22 times in 2011 while striking out 129 times in 553 at bats, roughly once every 4 at bats.
Culberson's 2012 assignment may depend on where the Giants feel Joe Panik is in his development. If they want Panik to start the year at AA, Culberson may find himself play a less familiar position at AA or at AAA. Wherever he lands, 2012 will be a critical year for Culberson, he'll need to show the Giants that he is ready to take a significant step in his own development or he could risk being passed over by other players.
7: C Hector Sanchez
Hector Sanchez started the 2011 season at Class High A San Jose with little to no chance of playing for San Francisco in 2011. His defensive skills seemingly lacked polish and his bat wasn't ready. He also had the small problem of the incumbent at his position of catcher in SF, Buster Posey.
We all know what happened and Hector Sanchez ended up one of the benefactors of the available playing time.
Sanchez is a switch hitting catcher with a fairly consistent swing from both sides of the plate. His significant criticism coming in to 2011 was that he was weak defensively and had to learn how to call a game.
Sanchez was first moved to AAA Fresno where the Giants' minor league catching guru, Steve Decker is the manager. Sanchez obviously benefited from working with Decker because once he was given the opportunity to catch some game for San Francisco, he quickly developed a rapport with one of the best staffs in both leagues. Sanchez ended up catching a Tim Lincecum game after which Lincecum gushed about his battery mate for the day.
Sanchez is still young, he'll be 22 for the 2012 season. He will most likely start the season at AAA but there is a scenario where I can see the Giants feeling like they might want to make him Posey's back up, especially at the start of the season.
If they decide that they want to ease Posey back into the rigors of catching and have him play first base two or maybe even three times a week to start the season, it might make sense to have the other games caught by Sanchez who is a far better hitter that Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart combined. His defense also seemed to improve as he caught more innings.
Sanchez is a legitimate catching prospect and he will give the Giants options over the next couple of years.
6: SS Brandon Crawford
Brandon Crawford can play defense. No one in the league can argue that point. Crawford made a few mistakes, especially early on but he improved on them each time and is just a lot of fun to watch at the shortstop position.
Crawford made an instant splash with his bat in 2011, hitting a grand slam in Milwaukee in his first big league game for his first big league hit. Once the league figured out his weakness, he spent the rest of the year struggling to get his batting average over .200.
Crawford showed signs of having a very good approach at the plate and that he can be a disciplined hitter. Both very good signs. Crawford tinkered a little bit with his stance and the way he attacks the pitch toward the end of the season and he ended up hitting .318 over the final three weeks of the year, bringing his season average up to .204.
Crawford has continued his good hitting in the Arizona Fall League where he has been hitting around .340. Crawford has the glove, he needs to show that his bat is ready. If he can do that, the Giants might finally be able to solidify a position that has been in a constant state of flux since Rich Aurilia left.
5: 2B/SS Joe Panik
Joe Panik was the Giants' first round pick in the 2011 MLB draft. Panik was drafted as a shortstop but the Giants have been looking at him as a second baseman in his brief time in their organization.
Panik logged 270 at bats for the Class Low A Salem-Kaizer Giants affiliate after he quickly signed with the team after the draft. Panik showed all Giants fans why their team had drafted him posting phenomenal stats, hitting .341/.401/.467/.868 at Salem-Kaizer.
The Giants were so intrigued by his performance, they assigned him to the Arizona Fall League to get an understanding of how he would do competing against a higher caliber of prospect. He hasn't fared nearly as well and has been described as showing signs of fatigue.
It is going to be very interesting to see where the Giants place him to start the 2012 season. My guess is that he will start at San Jose, but that he will not be there very long. I am anxious to see what he can do at Richmond once the Giants feel he is ready to play there. Then again, he could skip that level all together as the Giants have done with other top prospects and end up a short drive up 99 from the big club by the end of the year.
4: RF Francisco Peguero
Francisco Peguero is one of the few legitimate power hitting prospects in the Giants' farm system. Peguero will turn 24 in June 2012 and is entering his seventh season in the Giants organization.
Peguero, who was mentioned in 2011 trade deadline rumors, spent 2011 at AA Richmond after 16 games at High A San Jose. Peguero opened many eyes in the Giants' front office when he hit .309/.318/.446/.763 in 285 at bats in the pitching dominant Eastern League.
Peguero will likely play 2012 in AAA Fresno where we should expect to see him lighting up the stat sheet if his Eastern League performance is any indication. If that is the case, he could make his San Francisco debut at some point in 2012.
3: Closer Heath Hembree
The Giants have a budding closer in their minor league system by the name of Heath Hembree. Hembree will be 23 in 2012 and it may be the year that he makes his Major League debut.
Hembree split the 2011 season between San Jose and Richmond posting a .186 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP while striking out 13.2 batters per nine innings pitched.
Hembree was dominant in 2011, he should start the 2012 season at AAA Fresno and will be waiting in the wings if San Francisco needs bullpen help.
2: 1B/OF Brandon Belt
Giants fans are very familiar with Brandon Belt, in fact they love him. Belt started off 2011 on a serious high note as the starting first baseman out of spring training. Things didn't exactly go as planned and he lost confidence and ended up back at AAA pretty quickly.
Belt tore the cover off the ball in Fresno and seemed ready to make everyone forget his early season struggles when he suffered a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch.
Once healthy, Belt bounced between Fresno and San Francisco a bit until he finally got consistent playing time in August and he took advantage of it.
Belt has a somewhat awkward swing but it generates serious power to all fields. Belt still falls into the trap of being too selective, thinking too much at the plate which resulted in some very frustrating called third strikes in 2011.
Belt is playing in the Dominican League this winter and I think he will benefit greatly from that experience. I believe that Belt will be in San Francisco to stay in 2012 and will have a very big offensive year, if he stays healthy.
1: CF Gary Brown
What needs to be said about Gary Brown that Giants fans haven't already heard. Probably not much, but here are some numbers to chew on: .336/.407/.519/.925 and 53 stolen bases. To say that he dominated the league with San Jose in 2011 is a serious understatement.
Brown is the center-fielder/lead off man of the future and that future is not too far off. A good indication of the Giants' plans for Brown will be what they do with the center-field and lead off roles on the team during the offseason.
I expect that the Giants will look for a one year stop gap in center-field or even attempt to go with Andres Torres again. If this is their approach, I would fully expect Brown to start the season in AAA Fresno with at the very least a September call up when rosters expand.
Brown is a very special player and could force the team's hand much the way Buster Posey did in 2010. The Giants will not rush him just to rush him and once he's in San Francisco, he'll be here to stay. Giants' fans should be very excited about Gary Brown and they'll know why soon enough.