Monday, January 10, 2011

TEAM #26 – San Francisco Giants

Brandon Belt was one of 2010’s biggest risers

The Giants are a system that ranks quite a bit below last season (TEAM #9 – San Francisco Giants), due to a fantastic Major League debut by Buster Posey and the solid graduation of Madison Bumgarner. This has left a system that is extremely thin after the top. Things would have been worse if not for the surprising performance of Brandon Belt in 2010, that saw him vault from outside of the Top 500 to inside the Top 50. But that doesn’t help the tremendous fall off in this system after their first three. While there remains significant depth at all levels of the system, what is lacking are high ceiling prospects. One noticeable area of decline has come in the area of signing Latin American talent, where the Giants had been one of the Major’s most aggressive teams and have now not signed a high profile player from the area since 2008. This is likely to show up more over the next two to three years.

While it is difficult to criticize a front office that just produced a World Series champion, we remain ardent critics of current trends—most strongly the mishandling of Buster Posey in early 2009/early 2010 and the resigning of Bengie Molina, in lieu of a corner outfielder—both of which left the Giants a mere two game cushion for making the 2010 playoffs. While yes, they still made the playoffs, these were horrible miscalculations. Moving into this season, Sabean has once again over-valued marginal offensive players. The projected starting outfield of Ross-Torres-DeRosa is likely the weakest in the game. Aubrey Huff is barely a marginal first baseman, and an infield with Sandoval at third and Tejeda at short will be one of the worst fielding infields in baseball. This means the Giants will once again be an extremely one dimensional team. Although their starting rotation remains one of baseball’s best, there is little in the way of depth available at either the Major or Minor League level should injuries occur. We would like to believe that Sabean is comfortable with the situation because he plans on using Belt at either first base or left field, but after watching how Posey was dealt with to begin 2010, this seems barely plausible. Most any other prospect with a chance of contributing in 2011 appears to be of the ‘low ceiling’ variety and doesn’t provide great optimism. From our perspective, Sabean has missed a prime opportunity to shore up his offense, thereby buying time for a Minor League talent infusion.

Don’t misunderstand, the rotation is exceptional and, with the exception of Barry Zito, relatively young. As long as it remains healthy the Giants will be contenders. The problem is that we see little of significant talent on the horizon. While we are huge believers in Belt and see potential in Wheeler in Brown, the remainder of the system is mediocre at best.

Best Pick from 2010 – Posey and Bumgarner were easy one/two picks last season, so we had to dig down a bit and come up with a surprise. We will make this call our pick of Jorge Bucardo at #15 last year—as he was not even on the radar for most places.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Take your pick…We had Kiescnick at #7 heading into the year and he was a huge disappointment, but not having Brandon Belt appear until #35 (#948 overall)—obviously we were not alone here—was about as big an oversight as we had on any player last year.

Grade A

1) Brandon Belt, 1B (2010 Performance Scores– Power 78; Discipline 47; First Base Rate 76; Speed 59)

No player improved more from the end of 2009 to the end of 2010 than did Belt, as the Giants rebuilt his swing, standing him more upright and turned him into one of the Minor League’s most consistent hitters. It’s not that Belt was an unknown coming out of the University of Texas, as he finished the 2009 NCAA season with a Top 30 Performance score, it was just that his swing mechanics left serious questions about his power ability and his defense was going to relegate him to a position where power was required. We should have known better, however, than to rank him as low as we did. That said, Belt put together what was arguably the most productive offensive season in the minors in 2010, with a 1.037 OPS across three levels—earning him the #2 Performance Score in the California League (CAL) and the #3 Performance Score in the Eastern League. Belt demonstrated plus power and contact skills, with a solid ability to hit to the opposite field with authority. Defensively, Belt is a decent athlete that should be capable of above average defense at first base or adequate left field defense. There is little in the way of speed here, and with only a single year of the new mechanics we worry a bit about his late season tendency to be a bit anxious—as he did whiff in 25% of his plate appearances between AAA and the AZFL. At a slight 6’5”, Belt has the potential to turn into a solid middle of the order hitting machine. Count us among the believers, as we expect the Giants will start Belt at AAA for the first two months before turning over either left field or first base to him on a permanent basis.

Grade A-

2) Gary Brown, OF

Brown has the classic boom or bust type of profile, as he finished the spring college season with the #8 Performance score that led him to being selected as the #24 overall pick this summer, but still doesn’t demonstrate enough patience at the plate to instill confidence in his ‘certainty’. Brown is athletically gifted, with plus-plus speed. While he hasn’t demonstrated a propensity for the home run, his other power stats portend at least average power and contact skills. Defensively he has an adequate arm and the ability to cover vast amounts of ground, which should make him an ideal center fielder. The ceiling on Brown is that of one of the games most exciting players with the ability to ignite an offense from the top of the order. However, he remains far from a sure thing. Our guess is that we like him a bit better than most. Expect the Giants to challenge him with a placement in the CAL. He could move rapidly, and seeing him in San Francisco in 2012 is certainly within the range of outcomes.

3) Zack Wheeler, RHP (2010– Dominance 71; Control 21; HRrate 77; Stamina 41)

We had Wheeler as the fourth best prep pitcher available in the 2009 draft and little has changed to alter that perspective. Because of where he was drafted (6th overall), the expectations were high for him entering 2010 and therefore his solid season (13th best Performance Score in the SAL) looks a bit disappointing. Given the proper context, we see Wheeler as a 20yo that fanned 10.8 batters per 9IP in the South Atlantic League, while showing a significant propensity to keep the ball on the ground. Command remains his biggest challenge, and should not be overlooked. However, given his age and lack of experience we will give him at least another season to show progress in this area. Wheeler has the upside of a solid Major League #2. While he will have to improve his command to reach it, we like his expected developmental curve. Wheeler will likely begin 2011 in the CAL. His repertoire is polished, so if he learns to control his offerings he could move rapidly.

Grade B

4) Charlie Culberson, 2B (2010– Power 61; Discipline 59; First Base Rate 45; Speed 79)

Things in the Giants’ system fall off quite a bit at this point and an argument could be made for any of about five players here. We however like the improvement shown by Culberson this year and with go with the player with the arrow pointing upward. Culberson was a supplemental first round pick in 2007, so it isn’t as though he comes without pedigree. However his skill set reads like a mutt from the dog pound, as he has marginal defensive skills, average power, average contact skills, below average plate discipline and average middle infield speed. What he does possess that is first rate is baseball intelligence and desire. Much of the gains this year can be attributed to a strikeout rate that dipped to 18%. Culberson isn’t a high ceiling player, but we can envision him as a Marcus Giles type second baseman. He will take his game to AA in 2011. It won’t be an easy path, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him in San Francisco in 2012.

5) Thomas Neal, LF (2010– Power 56; Discipline 62; First Base Rate 54; Speed 65)

One of the reasons that it was so easy to have Culberson at #4, is that his ‘warts’ or so less glaring then the other contenders. Neal for example is a ‘nice’ prospect that entered 2010 as the Giants #4 prospect—following a breakout 2009 campaign. He possesses average power, average contact, average plate discipline and average speed (for a LF/1B type). But defensively he is limited to likely LF or 1B, and average skills for those positions don’t typically lead to a whole lot. Neal still managed to post a Top #20 Performance Score in the Eastern League (ESL), and has gradually cut down his strikeout rate to under 18% in 2010. This all portends an upside of perhaps an everyday starting left-fielder. Our guess is that he ends up more likely a 4th outfielder/ platoon type player when all is said and done. In any case, he is headed for the PCL in 2011 and could reach San Francisco as early as mid-year.

6) Rafael Rodriguez, OF (2010– Power 54; Discipline 68; First Base Rate 54; Speed 48)

Rodriguez is one of the few remaining players with ‘ceiling’ left on this list. One of the top international signings from 2008, Rodriguez took a step backwards in 2010, as he was overmatched in the Northwest League (NWL) and his Arizona circuit performance was no better than his 2009 work there. Still, as only an 18yo, his AZL performance was good enough to earn him the #5 Performance Score in the league and solid enough that he shouldn’t fall too far down the list. Rodriguez has a muscular build that foretells above-average power. Though he has yet to really show it in game situations, his plate approach is significantly advanced for his age. While the development curve is substantial, the skill set still foreshadows future promise. For that reason we wouldn’t be surprised to see Rodriguez return to the NWL in 2011 and put together a breakout season—there is just too much talent here.

7) Jorge Bucardo, RHP (2010– Dominance 42; Control 50; HRrate 67; Stamina 73)

We are sure that our ranking of Bucardo is higher than most—just as it was when he came in at #15 on our list last year. But what are we to do with a pitcher that played 2010 as a 20yo and posted the #10 Performance Score in the SAL—after posting a #4 score in 2009 (NWL) and a #5 score in 2008 (AZL)? The consistency of what he has done is an indicator of future success. The scouts won’t love him, as his fastball is a solid ‘heavy’ type offering that induces substantial ground balls but doesn’t overpower hitters. His secondary offerings still appear to be fringe-average offerings—leading many to speculate his future is out of the pen, but he has demonstrated excellent pitchability and holds his velocity deep into games, so we wouldn’t lean that direction just yet. What Bucardo has shown is an upside that could result in a solid mid-rotation starter. Still relatively slight, it would not surprise us to see his fastball move up another notch or so. If that happens, few lists will ignore him next season.

8) Ehire Adrianza, SS (2010– Power 32; Discipline 60; First Base Rate 59; Speed 76)

Having briefly appeared in the PCL as a 19yo in 2008, Adrianza is often overlooked because his progress offensively has not been able to keep up with his significant defensive abilities. Fear not though, as Adrianza is progressing pretty much as would be expected, as the 21yo posted a Top 15 Performance Score in the CAL in 2010. Adrianza has virtually no power, and still strikes out too often (18%) for the rest of his profile, but has shown the ability to take a walk and make adequate contact. But Adrianza’s value lies in his plus speed, excellent lateral movement, soft hands and a strong arm, that enable him to man the shortstop position like few in the Minor’s can. Because of that, he is a near certainty to find himself in a Big League uniform at some point. The question is whether or not he will hit enough to nail down an everyday job, or whether he will be a defensive backup. We see him no worse than a Cesar Izturis type. 2011 should provide us with a clearer picture, as Adrianza will take his considerable glove to the ESL.

9) Francisco Peguero, CF (2010– Power 43; Discipline 66; First Base Rate 55; Speed 74)

One player that we have not been able to embrace to the same level as have others is Peguero. Our guess is that his ability to make contact and plus speed (40 SBs in 2010) indicate a skill set that others envision playing well as he moves up the ladder. Or perhaps they have bought into the excessive hype that permeates the Giant organization for him. What we can tell you is that in the six stops that we have graded during his professional career (#84 in 2006-DSL; #62 in 2007-DSL; #15 in 2008-NWL; #46 in 2008-SAL; #33 in 2009-SAL; #27 in 2010-CAL) his Performance ranking has averaged #44. Those aren’t results that provide us with optimism. We do like Peguero’s quick bat, ability to make contact, plus speed and solid defensive abilities. If we were convinced that his rather stocky 6’0” build would allow him to permanently stay in center we might be a bit more convinced. However, we believe that his build will not mature well, forcing an eventual move to right field. Peguero doesn’t have the requisite power skills to be enamored with him as an OF corner. His Dominican Winter League performance this offseason was highly disappointing, and we are guarded against his chances to repeat his power numbers from the CAL when he moves to the ESL in 2011. The Giants believe we will see Peguero in San Francisco no later than 2012. While we won’t ignore his significant skills, we remain skeptical.

10) Jarrett Parker, OF

Parker entered the 2010 collegiate season as a likely late first/sandwich round pick. As the year went on his stock consistently dropped. If it hadn’t been for a torrid finish who knows how far he would have fallen. As it was, he finished with a Performance Score outside of the Top 50 and a projected draft rating by us that barely had him in the second round, which is just about where the Giants tabbed him. While scouts love his athleticism, his long swing gives pause as to his ability to make consistent contact as a pro. Admittedly, Parker is a bit of a ‘wildcard’ pick here. The organization doesn’t have enough high ceiling prospects to overlook the potential of a possibly athletic center fielder with plus power (his upside) and he definitely enters 2011 more highly regarded than Brandon Belt was the same time last year. The Giants had tremendous success working with Belt’s swing mechanics and if they are able to make similar strides with Parker’s this will be much too low of a grade.

11) Edwin Escobar, LHP (2010– Dominance 57; Control 23; HRrate 31; Stamina 69)

The Giants obtained Escobar from the Rangers at the beginning of the 2010 season when the Rangers decided to hang on to Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder. We questioned the move at the time, as Snyder wasn’t a Top 50 prospect for us in the weaker Giant organization, while Escobar checked in at #21 on our 2010 Texas list. We like the move even less now. While there are plenty of things regarding Escobar to remain skeptical about—namely the amount of projection that remains in his thick 6’0 frame, or his 2010 struggles with control, he is one of the few high-upside pitchers in the system beyond Wheeler. He followed up a #2 Performance Score in the AZL in 2009, with a #2 score in the NWL this past season. He won’t turn 19yo until after the season starts, but will be making his full-season debut in the SAL and already possesses a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus curve. For us, it all comes together as a possible breakout candidate in 2011—although Escobar’s command will be a critical developmental indicator. The ceiling is that of a solid #2/#3 Big League starter.

12) Eric Surkamp, LHP (2010– Dominance 73; Control 71; HRrate 69; Stamina 75)

Likely the opposite of Escobar, Surkamp often gets overlooked because he is a low-ceiling, high-floor type. The prototypical ‘finesse’ left he pitches more with deception than power, Surkamp posted the #9 Performance Score in the CAL in 2010. He has all the markings of a ‘heady’ mid-rotation starter, as he commands his repertoire well and keeps the ball down—yielding few home runs. The negatives lie in the fact that his fastball is only a low-80s offering and at 23yo, he has yet to pitch above Hi-A. 2011 will be key for Surkamp, as he will need to touch two circuits if he is likely to retain this type of ranking.

Other Top 300 Considerations – 13) Tommy Joseph, C.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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