The Giants organization does not have a particularly deep minor league system, but it has some of the best pitching prospects in the game, as well as some intriguing players signed out of Latin America. The club also has had some very solid drafts in the past two seasons, which has really aided the system. Most of higher-ceiling players are below Double-A, though.
Travis Ishikawa has the opportunity to win the club’s starting first base gig this spring, despite an inconsistent track record in the minors. Ishikawa, 25, hit 27 home runs while playing at three levels in 2008, including 33 games in the Majors. In 95 at-bats, Ishikawa hit .274/.337/.432 with an ISO of .158. He also struck out 27 times (28.4 K%) and walked nine times (8.7 BB%). His big season came after two straight years of disappointment, so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from him in 2009. Ishikawa cannot hit left-handers, so he’s a platoon player at best and a late-game replacement in the field thanks to his stellar defensive skills.
The crown jewel of the system, and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Madison Bumgarner had a dominating first full year in the minors after being a first round draft pick out of high school in 2007. The left-hander probably could/should have been promoted to High-A ball in the second half of the year, but the Giants played it cautious with him and he could move quicker this season and see Double-A by the end of the year. Last season in A-ball, Bumgarner posted a 1.46 ERA (1.71 FIP) with 111 hits allowed in 141.2 innings. He also posted rates of 1.33 BB/9 and 10.42 K/9. Bumgarner was especially good in the final month of the season when he allowed a batting average against of .186 and posted a strikeout rate of 13.36 K/9. He has a plus fastball that can touch 97 mph, and he’s still working on his average-at-best secondary pitches: a breaking ball that is morphing into more of a slider, and a change-up.
Tim Alderson is another impressive pitching prospect, who was also drafted out of high school in 2007. Alderson was so advanced for a prep player, in fact, that the Giants jumped him all the way to High-A ball for his first full pro season (which is almost unheard of these days). Despite the challenge, the right-hander did not skip a beat and he allowed 125 hits in 145.1 innings, with a 2.79 ERA (2.64 FIP). Alderson showed his plus command and control by posting a walk rate of 2.11 BB/9 and also had a strikeout rate of 7.68 K/9. He has an 88-92 mph fastball, a plus curveball and a developing change-up.
Scott Barnes was a 2008 draft pick out of college who has shown an advanced feel for pitching and he played at three levels in 2008, including A-ball. The left-hander posted a 1.38 ERA in six starts at that level and allowed just 15 hits in 32.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 1.93 BB/9 and 11.30 K/9. Barnes is not as dominating as his numbers would suggest and he pitches in the upper 80s, but can touch 92 mph. He has a plus change-up and a developing curveball.
Angel Villalona has been the club’s best hitting prospect since signing for a huge bonus out of the Dominican Republic. The 18-year-old is at 230 pounds and has already played himself off of third base (to first base) so conditioning is his biggest concern. However, his bat has massive potential and he hit 17 home runs as a 19 year old in A-ball last season. Overall, he posted a line of .263/.312/.435 in 464 at-bats. Villalona’s offensive undoing could be his lack of patience, as he took only 18 free passes (3.7 BB%) in 2008.
Buster Posey was the club’s top draft pick in 2008 and the athletic catcher could reach the Majors within two years despite playing in only 10 regular season games after signing. He also played in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league and hit .338/.405/.392. The biggest offensive question about Posey is his power, and he has hit just one home run in 111 pro at-bats. He should hit for a high average. Defensively, Posey is still learning the position and needs to work on all facets of catching but his plus arm strength (He’s been a pitcher and shortstop) will help.
Nick Noonan was another top pick out of high school from the 2007 draft. The second baseman had a solid first full season in A-ball and hit .279/.315/.415 with 29 stolen bases in 499 at-bats. Noonan has been very successful on the base paths in his young career, having successfully stolen 47 bases in 54 attempts. He does need some polish at the plate after posting rates of 4.4 BB% and 19.6 K%.
Conor Gillaspie was the first 2008 draft pick to reach the Majors for the Giants, but he should open 2009 in High-A ball – or possibly Double-A. He draws comparisons to former Giants third baseman Bill Mueller, as someone who can hit for a solid average but may top out around 15 home runs. Gillaspie appeared in just 32 games (at three levels) after signing but also showed a good eye at the plate. Defensively, he will need to work to stay at third base.
Rafael Rodriguez was signed recently out of Latin America for more than $2 million and should make his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside in 2010. The 16-year-old outfielder is already 6’5” and has massive power, plus speed, and a powerful arm.
Ehire Adrianza, 19, was signed out of Venezuela in 2007 and impressed just about everyone who saw him play the field in 2008. The switch hitter was slowed by injuries in 2008 and appeared in just 18 games, but he could open 2009 in A-ball. He’s a long-term project who has Gold Glove potential at shortstop.
Up Next: The San Diego Padres