Around the MinorsJune 24, 2008
Giant Steps
By Marc Hulet

It is easy to knock the San Francisco Giants organization for being unable to produce a productive, everyday position player in... well, let's just say years. But a quick glance at the minor league system shows that there are some very impressive numbers being put up by some intriguing pitching prospects. And the scouting reports even back up some of those numbers, while also raising some question marks for others.

Prospects or Suspects?

Madison Bumgarner, Left-hander
Augusts GreenJackets | Low-A ball
Age: 18
School: North Carolina high school
Status: Prospect

Only 18 years of age, Madison Bumgarner is arguably the Giants most promising pitching prospect. The 6-4 left-hander currently sports a 1.77 ERA in 71.1 innings and has allowed just 58 hits. Even more impressive is the walk total: 11, with 84 strikeouts. To find a flaw in this 2007 first round pick (10th overall) would be nitpicking, but it would likely be his almost 1.00 ground out to fly out ratio. Oh, and for those of you who might be thinking the Sally League hitters might catch up to Bumgarner, hitters have scored just four earned runs in his last 10 starts (including three of those in a two-game stretch). It might be time for him to visit San Jose.

Tim Alderson, Right-hander
San Jose Giants | High-A ball
Age: 19
School: Arizona high school
Status: Prospect

On the surface, Tim Alderson's numbers are not as impressive as Bumgarner's, but you have to keep in mind that the prospect is pitching in High-A ball, having skipped over Low A-ball entirely. Alderson was available to the Giants with the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 draft because there were enough teams worried about his mechanics to make him slide. But hey, people were somewhat critical of a guy named Tim Lincecum too. In 79.1 innings this year, Alderson has allowed just 75 hits, along with 25 walks. He has struck out 65 batters. Left-handers are hitting .293 against him, compared to righties at .203. Regardless, the Giants are ridiculously wealthy with young pitching.

Adam Cowart, Right-hander
Connecticut Defenders | Double-A
Age: 24
School: Kansas State University
Status: Suspect

You cannot argue with Adam Cowart's success, which includes a career 2.28 ERA in 324.1 innings. He also has allowed just 285 hits. Unfortunately, Cowart has struck out only 184 batters, which underlines concerns about his fringe stuff. The sidearmer has a mid-80s fastball but plus command and control. He could very well have a career in the majors, but it will likely come as a middle reliever. His ERA is reasonable, but Cowart has allowed 100 hits in 81.2 innings (a .306 batting average against).

Joseph Martinez, Right-hander
Connecticut Defenders | Double-A
Age: 25
School: Boston College
Status: Suspect

Joseph Martinez is another right-handed pitcher in the system who has outstanding numbers but average stuff. His high-80s fastball and OK secondary pitches have been good enough to strike out batters at a rate of 7.52 in his career. The 2005 12th round pick is passing the Double-A test with flying colors and could be a No.4 or 5 starter at the Major League level. He currently has an ERA below 2.00 and has allowed just 68 hits in 78 innings and has struck out 51 batters.

Ben Snyder, Left-hander
San Jose Giants | High-A ball
Age: 22
School: Ball State University
Status: Undecided

The 2006 fourth round pick is your classic lefty... Ben Snyder has a mid- to high-80s fastball with a good change-up and an OK breaking ball. He has done nothing but succeed in pro ball, unlike his brother (and former first round pick Brian Snyder). Snyder won 16 games last year in Low A-ball but should have been promoted mid-season because he was obviously better than the competition. He currently has a 2.00 ERA in 85.2 innings and has allowed just 79 hits. He has allowed 18 walks and 73 strikeouts. Snyder is probably due for another promotion.

Henry Sosa, Right-hander
San Jose Giants | High-A ball
Age: 22
School: Dominican Republic school
Status: Prospect

Henry Sosa dials his fastball up to the mid- to high-90s and has a power curve ball that has improved over time. He made a name for himself last season when he began the year in Low A-ball and posted an ERA of 0.73 in 13 games and 10 starts. He allowed only 30 hits in more than 60 innings. Sosa moved up to High-A ball for the second half of 2007 and was OK. He had off-season knee surgery and returned to High-A San Jose in 2008. Sosa appeared for the first time on May 25 and has made just six starts. So far, Sosa has a 1.55 ERA and has allowed just 22 hits in 29 innings. He has 32 strikeouts and has walked just seven batters.

We have looked at six of the Giants' interesting pitching prospects and all of them could very well pitch in the Major Leagues with varying levels of success. Bumgarner, Alderson, and Sosa appear to be the most promising of the six. The future on the mound looks bright for the Giants organization.


Ugh... Sabean's regime has always shown a proclivity for aquiring arms with the intent to trade them for hitting, but it is the hitting that he trades for that brings about question marks. Joe Nathan AND Francisco Liriano for AJ Pierzynski? Besides Villalona who is still roughly 3 years off, (I know I am being generous) are there any hitters on the horizon that might be more than utility infielders or fourth outfielders.

What are your thoughts on Nathan "Nate" Culp, a LHP in the Padres organization (Class A Advanced)?

He's carrying a fairly high WHIP (1.39), but he's almost four-to-one in Ks to BB. I find him interesting simply because lefty hitters are killing him but he's dominating right-handers. I wonder what would happen if the 23-year-old LHP could figure out left-handers?

Angel Villalona is really struggling lately -- complete with lots of strikeouts. The last I saw he was hitting just .228. Then again, he IS still just 17.

Corner outfielder Nate Schierholtz has hit around .300 at Fresno each of the past two seasons and hit a soft .304 in 112 at bats with the parent club in 2007. Nate's stated goal has been to have the patience to wait for more pitches he can drive -- and he is hitting with some power and finally beginning to draw walks at a semi-acceptable clip.

Nate likely could hit in the .280-.300 range in the bigs right now, although he won't become more than an average outfield hitter unless he achieves his goal to a significant degree. Don't totally bet against him. Nate cut his high strikeout rate nearly in half while moving from Class A to the majors in two seasons.

Second baseman Nick Noonan is hitting .300 in his second season, now playing Low A ball. When he was drafted out of high school with the 32nd overall pick last year, he was compared by some scouts to Chase Utley, albeit with less power. The Giants are said to believe Nick can become an All-Star.

Potential five-tool outfielder Wendell Fairley was drafted three slots ahead of Noonan but just began playing for the Rookie League Arizona Giants. I heard he got off to an horrendous start, with five strikeouts and no hits in six at bats. Amazingly, he still had two RBI's in his first two games, with a bases loaded walk and a sacrifice fly. Fairley has what looks to me like a smooth swing, but he is considered to be as raw as steak tartare.

#5 overall draft pick Buster Posey led the NCAA in about every key hitting category this year, and #37 overall pick Conor Gillaspie led the wood-bat Cape Cod League in hitting last summer and was voted its MVP (over Posey and many other good college hitters).

The Giants are also apparently about to sign another 16-year-old hitting phenom from the Dominican for $2.5 million as soon as the youngster reaches his U.S. driving birthday.

Oh, and catcher/first baseman Pablo Sandoval was just promoted from Class A to AA after hitting in the .350's with power at San Jose.

The Giants have their best young hitting since the days of Will Clark, Matt Williams and Robby Thompson, although the gap of almost two decades has been alarmingly close to a black hole.

People get all hopped up over the lack of position players but, like most sports, which are the teams that win the most, the most often? It is the teams that can keep the score low, the one with the good to great defense. The Giants have an embarrassment of riches on the pitching side.

Then you just need just enough offense. To have an average offense, we probably need about 2-3 good hitters, balanced by 2-3 below average hitters, and the rest average or so.

We already have one good cornerstone hitter in Rowand. Molina has been good as well, but I'm not counting on him long-term. But with Posey, hopefully, on the team, I think the Giants are set with two above average hitters at C and CF.

Thus far, Fred Lewis appears to be grabbing the brass ring and running with it, so he could be #3, but he could be exposed once he hits against LHP full-time. Schierholtz is the future RF, and I think he could be near or at average there.

Bowker has been around average playing 1B, but that could sink with starting play as he has been platooning with Aurilia. Villalona casts his shadow here as a potentially plus plus hitter, though he is far away from reaching that yet.

The Giants could platoon, but that would be a lot of duplication, having a RHH platoon in LF, RF, and 1B. Perhaps Horwitz can platoon across those positions, he doesn't really do defense that well, but sure can hit the ball.

Then we got some below average hitters. Durham should be gone soon, leaving Frandsen, Castillo, and Denker as the candidates there. I think between them they can be below average but Noonan looks to be at least average eventually if he can reach his Utley comparisons. At SS, Burriss has been slightly below average and we don't really have anyone even as promising at that. At 3B, Castillo, Rohlinger, and Frandsen probably battle there too, maybe Denker too. Below average but Gillaspie sounds like a potential average 3B.

Looks like we got 2-3 good hitters, 2-3 below average hitters and the rest average. Plus potential to get better via Villalona and Gillaspie.

Assuming their pitching holds up, they should eventually at least match the Padre's 4.11 runs allowed last season, best in the league last season. To win 90 games with that RA, you need to average 4.60 runs. That's roughly what Chicago averaged last season. And they had 2-3 good hitters, 2 below average hitters, and the rest average.

Are they there yet? No. But 2010 looks like the year it should turn around, maybe 2011 at the latest.

Go sox!