Around the MinorsMay 21, 2009
A Giant Future
By Marc Hulet

We've heard a lot recently about the excellent young pitching that the Giants organization is developing, and rightfully so. The team nabbed two excellent prep arms in the first round of the 2007 draft and both those players - LHP Madison Bumgarner and RHP Tim Alderson - were recently promoted to double-A Connecticut, just two small steps from the Majors.

But that's not all. The Giants organization has a plethora of young, exciting talent, which should be sustainable over the next eight to 10 seasons if the club plays its cards right. It's actually hard to believe how many good prospects there are, given the reputation that the team (and its management) had for almost laughably favoring aging veterans.

This isn't Dusty's team anymore. Or Barry's. With its electrifying mix of young hitting and pitching talent, it just might be the most dominating team in the National League for the next decade... beginning in 2010. Let's take a look at how dominating the San Francisco Giants could be even if it only fielded players originally signed/drafted by the club.

The Starting Rotation

The Ace: Tim Lincecum
Drafted: 2006 1st round (University of Washington)
Born: 6/84 (24)
Pro Experience: Four seasons
MLB Experience: Two years
Notes: The club has about four seasons remaining before Lincecum will be eligible for free agency. Barring some terrible injury, there is no season to expect that the Giants won't lock up this talent long term. Lincecum is durable (227 IP in 2008), he's a proven winner (18 wins last year) and he's dominant (10.19 K/9, 7.5 H/9 MLB career).

The No. 2: Madison Bumgarner
Drafted: 2007 1st round (North Carolina high school)
Born: 8/89 (19)
Pro Experience: 1.2 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: The kid skipped over short-season ball after being drafted and went right to A-ball. He then all but skipped over high A-ball en route to double-A at the age of 19. As an 18 year old, he led the South Atlantic League in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP. The left-hander can touch 97 mph with his plus fastball and the secondary pitches are still improving, which is a scary thought.

The No. 3: Tim Alderson
Drafted: 2007 1st round (Arizona high school)
Born: 11/88 (20)
Pro Experience: 1.4 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Alderson has a funky delivery that worries some people, but he's always been durable and he has above-average control, as well as plus command of his fastball. He skipped right over low-A ball in his first full season and was one of the best pitchers in high-A ball. Alderson threw 6.2 innings of no-hit ball in his double-A debut recently, but he was pulled because he threw too many pitches while striking out 10 batters.

The No. 4: Matt Cain
Drafted: 2002 1st round (Alabama high school)
Born: 10/84 (24)
Pro Experience: Eight seasons
MLB Experience: 3.4 seasons
Notes: A 24-year-old pitcher that has thrown 200 innings twice and struck out 186 batters in 2008 would probably be a No. 2 or 3 starter for most teams. In San Francisco, though, he projects to be the No. 3 or 4 guy in terms of overall talent and potential. Cain walks too many batters (4.50 BB/9) but he's a durable innings eater. He's signed through 2010, but the Giants organization has an option for 2011, which will take him up until his first free agency year.

The Hopefuls:
Young pitchers Scott Barnes (9/87), a 2008 draftee exceeding expectations, and Clayton Tanner (12/87), a raw Australian hurler, are amongst the names vying for the one available rotation spot.

The Bullpen

The Closer: Brian Wilson
Drafted: 2003 24th round (Louisiana State University)
Born: 3/82 (27)
Pro Experience: 4.2 seasons
MLB Experience: 2.1 years
Notes: Considering he was drafted in the 24th round, Wilson has come a long way and he's still developing as a closer despite saving 41 games last season. He's shaved almost 1 BB/9 off his walk rate and he's relying more heavily on a cutter to complement his 96 mph fastball and slider.

The Set-up Man: Henry Sosa
Signed: 2004 Dominican Republic
Born: 7/85 (24)
Pro Experience: 4.7 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Sosa has shown flashes of dominance in the minors, although he's also struggled with injuries. The right-hander is pretty much a one-pitch pitcher with a dominating mid-90s fastball. If he can improve his curve or change, he could be a closer candidate down the road. In his career, he's holding batters to a .190 average with runners in scoring position.

The Others:
Sergio Romo (3/83) doesn't have top-shelf stuff, but he knows how to use what he's got and he's quite adept at changing speeds. Waldis Joaquin (12/86) is a power pitcher with two potential plus pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a slider. Lefty Joe Paterson (5/86) is the epitome of a LOOGY; he's held left-handed batters to a .126 average and hasn't given up a home run while facing 168 batters (and striking out 67, or 13.11 K/9).

The Starting Lineup

The Catcher: Buster Posey
Drafted: 2008 1st round (Florida State University)
Born: 3/87 (22)
Pro Experience: 0.3 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Posey went from being drafted 1,496th overall out of high school by the Angels to being taken fifth overall three years later after a solid college career. His time in pro ball has not been too shabby either, as the athletic catcher has a .300 career average. Posey has been creaming lefties to the tune of a .400 average in 40 at-bats. Not many teams can boast that they have a catcher who can hit .300 with 20 homers.

The First Baseman: Angel Villalona
Signed: 2007 Dominican Republic
Born: 8/90 (18)
Pro Experience: 1.7 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Villalona has moved across the diamond from third base to first base, but his power potential is more than enough for his new position. He's also hitting .314 in high-A ball, although the right-handed hitter is struggling against southpaws with a .225 average. Villalona also struggled against lefties in 2007, so it's something to keep an eye on. If he can learn to hold his own against southpaws, he could hit 30 homers in the Majors. Think David Ortiz in his prime, if everything clicks.

The Second Baseman: Emmanuel Burriss
Drafted: 2006 supplemental 1st round (Kent State University)
Born: 1/85 (24)
Pro Experience: 2.7 seasons
MLB Experience: 1.0 years
Notes: Burriss seized the bull by the horns with an unexpected opportunity last year and he's not looking back, although he did struggle early this season and hit only .182 in April. He's batting more than .400 in May, though. The switch hitter's base-running abilities are a valuable asset to this lineup. Burriss could even slide over to shortstop, his natural position, to make room for Nick Noonan.

The Third Baseman: Pablo Sandoval
Signed: 2002 Venezuela
Born: 8/86 (22)
Pro Experience: 6.2 seasons
MLB Experience: 0.5 years
Notes: With Bengie Molina blocking him behind the plate in San Francisco, Sandoval moved to the hot corner, where he's adequate defensively. Sandoval does not appear to be moving back behind the dish any time soon with Buster Posey on the way. The Venezuelan does not have the traditional power that one expects from a third baseman, but he hits for average and is a smart player. His best position is probably first base, but he cannot compete with Angel Villalona's total package.

The Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
Drafted: 2008 4th round (UCLA)
Born: 1/87 (22)
Pro Experience: 0.3 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2008 draftees, Crawford was recently promoted to double-A along with 2007 draftees Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. After two good college seasons, he slumped in his draft year when he was unable to get comfortable at the plate and had trouble repeating his swing. San Francisco has smoothed that out for him and his bat is now playing up (.353 career average in 150 at-bats), along with his defense, which includes a plus arm.

Left-Fielder: Roger Kieschnick
Drafted: 2008 3rd round (Texas Tech University)
Born: 1/87 (22)
Pro Experience: 0.2 seasons
MLB Experience: None
Notes: Another good-looking 2008 draftee, Kieschnick is the cousin of former two-way MLB player Brooks Kieschnick (Cubs, Brewers). The younger cousin has good power and has actually hit better than expected in pro ball, including an average above .300 at high-A ball in 2009. Kieschnick just needs to play with more control at the plate and stay back on breaking balls to keep the strikeouts down to a respectable level for a slugger.

Center-Fielder: Fred Lewis
Drafted: 2002 2nd round (Southern University)
Born: 12/80 (28)
Pro Experience: 7.5 seasons
MLB Experience: 1.8 years
Notes: The oldest of the position players on this roster, Lewis was a raw college draft pick that did not earn a full-time MLB gig until he was 27. The premium athlete has the skills needed to produce 20 homers and 30-40 steals, both of which could come with time. Originally a center-fielder, he could return to the position to make room for corner outfielders with more sock in their bats.

Right-Fielder: Nate Schierholtz
Drafted: 2003 2nd round (Chabot College)
Born: 2/84 (25)
Pro Experience: 5.6 seasons
MLB Experience: 0.5 years
Notes: The outfield projects to be the weakest area on the Giants team going forward, but there is some talent nonetheless and Schierholtz can flat out hit. He is a career .300 hitter with good, raw power that does not always show up in-game - but that can come with experience. Schierholtz has a very strong arm in right field.

The Bench

Jackson Williams (5/86) may never hit more than .220-.240 at the Major League level, but his defense is more than good enough to warrant his inclusion on the roster of the future. Infielder Kevin Frandsen (5/82) was actually putting together a pretty nice career with the Giants before he missed almost all of 2008 after blowing out his Achilles tendon. Nick Noonan (5/89) was a supplemental first round pick in 2007 and is in line as the Giants' second baseman of the future. He'll have to wait his turn, though, with Burriss already holding down the fort. Outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve (7/83) was considered a top prospect at one time, but injuries and defensive inefficiencies have all but extinguished that talk. He still possesses a solid bat, though, and could be an excellent pinch hitter.


Good preview, Marc. Hard not to like the pitchers and catcher but am not all that enamored with the other players.

I don't see Sandoval playing third base for more than 2-3 years but think he has more power than he has shown thus far. He's only 22, yet is averaging 46 doubles, 6 triples (with little foot speed), and 12 home runs per 162 games. He won a HR Derby in Venezuela, dispatching countrymen Magglio Ordonez, Andres Galarraga, Bobby Abreu and Carlos Zambrano before beating Miguel Cabrera in the final round. What do you do with Sandoval and Villalona on the same NL team? There's only room for one in my judgment.

The jury is still out on Crawford. He won't hit .500 on balls in play much longer. His 11 BB and 43 SO may be more indicative of his hitting prowess (or lack thereof) than the high batting average.

The fact that Lewis is going to be 29 in December limits his upside. I think he is better suited as a fourth outfielder. In the meantime, the corner outfielders don't do all that much for me.

This is a team that is on the rise due to a change in management's attitude about the amateur draft over the past three years but unlikely to be dominant as early as 2010. In fact, as good as the front office has been on drafting and signing youngsters, it has a dismal record when it comes to signing free agents (Zito, Rowand, Renteria anyone?).

Color me skeptical.

Being married to an avid Giants fan, I am doomed to watch every available Giants game. I regret to say that I feel there is a good deal of wishful thinking in these projections.

The pitching might be as envisioned, but I saw a lot of uses of the word "if" in the descriptions. Remember how Alex Hinshaw was going to be the next peelable bananna? Meanwhile, though, the current middle relief isn't too bad: Affeldt, Valdez, even Howry (though he's old), maybe even Miller.

But the offense? Let's look at the positions.

Villalona looks less likely as time goes on--7 walks in 152 plate appearances? Power Factor under 1.5 at single-A? Thank you, but no thank you.

Emmanuel Burriss? Over 400 major-league plate appearances and no signs of major-league batting ability. Great gloves do not a winning team make.

Sandoval looks like the real deal, especially since--despite having Carney Lansford for a hitting coach--he is trying to look at more pitches. And Crawford, at least so far, looks like he, too, will be the real deal, as does Posey. Kieschnick also might pan out, but let's not overlook Thomas Neal (a lot of people do, why I am unsure).

Fred Lewis? A fair--not great--hitter, but egad, what "fielding"! Center field? In left, he can't catch a cold on a rainy day. I am one of the original and loudest advocates of the primacy of batting over fielding, but there are limits, and Mr. Lewis is beyond them; he is 28 years old yet Krukow has to continually apologize about him "still learning the game"; I haven't seen the like since the days of poor Chris Smith (who at least was a really good hitter).

I myself like Nate Schierholtz, but if the dumbos who run the organization don't give him a good, long stretch of regular playing time, I'm afraide his career--if he can salvage one from what they're doing to him--will be elsewhere, which would be a bloody shame. It is just silly to run so-so veterans like Randy Winn, who cannot by any sane evaluation be a part of this team's future and is even more useless in its present, out there while Schierholtz sits by.

But the biggest problem is not the presence or absence of talent: it is the utter inability of the organization, from top to bottom, to tell the difference. You want to know everything that's wrong with this club in just two words? Try "Eugenio Velez". Think about it . . . .

The love for Crawford, though, is in the glove, so if he can actually surpass expectation and hit .270-.280 with 10-15 homers, he could be a steal.

Maybe Sandoval goes back behind the plate, then, where he is pretty good and Buster Posey - a good athlete - goes to third? I'm sure the Giants can find a way to get the talent into the lineup. Worst case scenario, though, they have to trade one of Sandoval or Villalona to get some outfield help. I would definitely say that area is the weak spot on the team above.

Imagine if Sabean hasn't thrown all those draft picks away unnecessarily

Eric is dead on about the Giants. I suppose it made sense to run with dependable mediocre veteran performance when they were winning 90 games every year. But there's been no excuse for it over the last four loooooooooosing seasons.

Let's not kid ourselves: Fred Lewis and Brian Wilson are already not part of the future, particularly Wilson with his 4.5 BB/9. And Burriss has hit the ball out of the infield only two or three times all season - he's in Neifi territory here - and not part of the future either.

The Giants needed to rebuild for years...and now they still do. Rowand and Winn cost $19M this year and don't even put up league-average offensive numbers.

Please stop calling Clayton Tanner an Australian hurler. He grew up right here in Concord, CA. I went to elementary and junior high with the guy. He's a California kid.

Very nice review of the Giants' prospects. Most Giants fans missed out on the Giants' having 7 of their top 9 prospects down the road just an hour in San Jose to start the season. Three of them (Bumgarner, Alderson and Crawford)have already been promoted to AA, and one would think catcher Buster Posy will be, as well.

The Giants are said to want to get 300 at bats for Posey in San Jose, but with Bengie Molina eligible for free agency at the end of the season and likely seeking at least a two-year contract, Posey could well start the 2010 season as the Giants starting catcher. General manager Brian Sabean is on record as saying that Posey could be in SF before a lot of people think he will be.

The one prospect arguably overlooked here is third baseman Conor Gillaspie, the #37 overall pick in the 2008 draft. Gillaspie hasn't distinguised himself in San Jose, making four errors in one game and batting around .260 with little power, but he does have a nice K/BB ratio. Gillaspie's biggest claim to fame may be that he was the MVP in the 2007 wood bat Cape Cod summer league over many good college players, including present teammates Posey and Brandon Crawford.

Crawford has indeed been the surprise of the Giants' system, somewhat the Pablo Sandoval of this year. Unlike Sandoval, though, Crawford won't likely move from Class A to the majors before September. Crawford strikes out too much, but he is Bay Area kid who has been a Giants fan all his life, so he can't be all bad.

Sandoval is a real puzzle. No one swings at more pitches outside the strike zone -- but somehow he hits a lot of them. And he is only 22.

I think Pablo's greatest potential is behind the plate. He finished fourth and third among all minor league catchers in percentage of runners thrown out attempting to steal in the past two seasons. But Pablo packs about 240 pounds onto his 5-foot-11 frame, and the Giants are said to be concerned about his weight causing him knee problems if he plays behind the plate. Didn't seem to bother Molina though.

Sandoval just made his first error of his career at third base, and it came on a blown call by the umpire. His range is limited, but he has sure hands and a cannon arm. That becomes all the more amazing when one realizes he was born a left-hander and switched hands so he could play more positions. In addition to being a switch-thrower, Pablo is a switch-hitter who can also play a nice first base.

I think Pablo's greatest value to the Giants would be as a combination third baseman/catcher who could help keep Posey's legs fresh. A former college shortstop, Posey should have plenty of athleticism and arm to play the hot corner on occasion, as Johnny Bench used to do.

The pitching prospects are fabulous. You didn't even mention 26-year-old Jonathan Sanchez, whose ceiling may be higher than Matt Cain's. On the negative side, Sanchez has had control problems and has been highly erratic.

A pitcher I don't see having a higher ceiling than Cain is Alderson, whose fastball sat at 89-91 when I saw him pitch in the Cal League playoffs last September, and who was clocked no higher than 88 (perhaps on a slow gun)in his last start for Connecticut. Alderson has a very fine curve ball and doesn't lack for control or poise.

When I saw him pitch, I felt he was little more than a confident change up away from being big-league ready. His change up this season is said to be solid.

Bumgarner is the guy with the unlimited ceiling. I saw him make his first start for San Jose in early April, and he stat at 91-93, topping out at 94. His low three-quarters delivery gives him lots of movement, and his slider and change up aren't bad. I would have liked to see him throw them more frequently, but he was doing a great job of spotting his fastball, which seemed to be darn hard to hit. Bumgarner is still only 19 years old.

Speaking of age,I should mention 18-year-old Angel Villalona. He is hitting over .300 for San Jose, has cut down on his strikeouts and slightly improved his horrid walk rate, has more raw power than anyone on the team, and surprising to me, has a soft glove and is reasonably agile around the first base bag. Villalona is said to prefer his original position of third base and to have been taking daily ground balls at the hot corner before games last season after being switched to first.

The Giants have a lot of good prospects, and several that can play more than one position (presumably not at the same time). They seem to have the versatility to eventuallyfill their daily positions with several diffferent player combinations and alignments. And they have the pitching to be able to trade to fill a position should they need to.

And they may need to, given that Barry Zito still has a no-trade contract through 2013. Likewise, although the Giants' outfield appears to be their weakest link in the future, Aaron Rowand is under contract through 2012. In the short term, that is probably good, since Fred Lewis CAN'T play a capable center field and also won't hit enough unless he can curb his strikeout propensity. Fred's BABIP is over .400, and he's STILL hitting just .280. .250 appears to be in his future.

While the outfield seems to be the weak link of the future, that could be where the Giants make a key free agent signing or trade. Their ability to do is somewhat limited by Zito, Rowand and Edgar Renteria making a combined $39 million per season, but the Giants do have about $15 million of expiring contracts between Molina and Randy Winn.

16-year-old Rafael Rodriguez received the Giants' second-highest bonus behind only Posey, and the hope is that he could become the outfield star of the future, probably in right field.

The Giants' recent past has been dismal. Their present is modest, at best. Their future, though, looks quite bright.

Not every prospect develops. But the Giants have enough prospects -- and enough very good ones -- that they should be able to field one of baseball's best teams in the next decade.

It has been 54 years since the Giants have won the World Series. Maybe, just maybe, they will do so in the decade of the 10's.

First off, great article, you've greatly improved your research on Giants prospects, great job overall.

I was going to note the Tanner/Australia, but someone beat me. No biggee, I think you nailed most of the rest pretty well.

First off, a big miss is Jonathan Sanchez. And Pucetas should have received some recognition for what he has done so far in minors in the starting rotation. I would add Osirus Matos to the bullpen, he has been touted by some as a potential future closer.

The position players I would have also noted were Conor Gillaspie and Rafael Rodriguez, particularly Rodriguez since he got such a big bonus.

Regarding Eric Walker's comments, here are my thoughts.

Villalona is 18 years old in a league of players who are, on average 23 years old. So despite having 5 years less experience than the average player, at an age when most players are in short season or maybe A-ball Augusta, he is holding his own in the league while he is up there in homers hit.

Burriss last season had 24 strikeouts and 23 walks in 240 AB, for a great 10% strikeout rate (90% contact rate) and almost 1.00 BB/K rate, which only the best hitters do. He's had a tough season thus far, but he has a .346 OBP for his career so far and a 12.5% strikeout rate (87.5% contact rate) when the best hitters have a 15% strikeout rate or better and 0.75 BB/K, which is good. What he has been missing is hitting for power, which is something Lansford has been trying to work on with him (but not succeeding thus far). So I would say those are good signs of major league batting ability, but he still has more work to do.

I love Schierholtz too, but Randy Winn is not so-so, he's a Type-A free agent, always hits consistently in the high 700 OPS, has one of the best defense in RF (see almost any of the latest and greatest fielding stats, UZR, Plus/Minus, PMR). Still, I would love for the Giants to trade Winn and give Schierholtz an opportunity to show if he can hit for power here in the majors, which is more of what we need than what Winn can give us, as nice as it is. But, Schierholtz is still young and it's not like he's ever dominated the high majors, he has done well but not great there.

To sabernar, Sabean did not throw away that many draft picks, and even then, they were low probability of being a good player, it's like throwing away a lottery ticket once you get to the back of the first round (about 10% chance according to my research), even worse once you get into the later rounds.

To Hawerchuk, rebuilding does not mean that you jettison all your veterans, most teams when rebuilding have a core group of young prospects surrounded by veterans they have picked up along the way. Few, if any, rebuild solely with young players.

Regarding SharksRog's comment on contracts (great comment overall, BTW, as usual), it should be noted that the Giants can spend up to $100M, so $39M for 3 players won't kill them, and as noted by SharksRog, $15M frees up with Molina and Winn, plus I would also noted $6M for Roberts and $8M for Johnson, for a total around $30M. They should have a lot of room to play with this off-season, to pick up a power-hitting 1B or perhaps a LF (though Sabean has said that he's not adverse to any position, and will adjust, i.e. trade or minors, as necessary).

I agree, the 10's are looking good. Pitching and defense, as shown by studies by BP and THT, are keys to winning in the playoffs, with offense being complementary, not crucial. Using Geoffrey Moore's terms, pitching and defense are core competencies, offense is just hygiene. And the Giants look to have great pitching for at least the first half of the 10's, and generally good defense. They only need to put together the offense so that it is enough to win with our pitching and defense.

really enjoy looking back to see who made it,well done