Prior to playing on the biggest stage in professional baseball almost all ball players must take the long bus rides, live off late-night fast food runs and toil in the near obscurity that can be minor league baseball. For some players on the 2012 playoff clubs those memories are a little fresher than for others. With work well underway on the 2012-13 Top 15 Prospects lists at FanGraphs – due to begin in early November – I thought it might be fun to look back and see what I wrote about those players during the previous three annual prospect reviews. Below are excerpts from what was originally written.
The San Francisco Giants organization has received some key contributions from its system at key positions over the past three years, including catcher, shortstop and starting pitching. The club probably could have benefited even more if a little faith and commitment had been shown to some of its young players, such as Brandon Belt.
Buster Posey, Catcher: After suffering the well-documented and severe leg injury in 2011, Posey bounced back with what could quite possibly be a MVP season in the National League. He is arguably the most important part of the starting lineup and it’s hard to believe that he was once (almost, kind of, sort of) blocked by Bengie Molina.
2010 (Ranked 1st overall): If all goes as expected, Posey’s minor-league stay was a short one. The catcher really has little left to prove in the minors after just one full season…His hope of playing everyday in 2010 as the Giants’ primary catcher was dealt a blow this past off-season when the club re-signed veteran backstop Bengie Molina, but there is talk that he’ll see playing time all over the diamond, thanks to his solid athleticism. I’ve said it before, but count me down as someone who doesn’t like the idea. As a college convert to the position, Posey needs experience behind the dish to help iron out his receiving- and game-calling skills.
Madison Bumgarner, Left-Handed Starter: Bumgarner is, at times, one of the best young arms in the game. However, he is once again dealing with mysterious dips in velocity that have plagued him from almost the moment the ink dried on his first pro contract.
2010 (Ranked 2nd overall): The lefty has lost some velocity from his prep days, but it hasn’t bothered him much in pro ball. He held his own in double-A last season by allowing just 80 hits in 107.0 innings of work…At the age of just 20, Bumgarner is probably not ready to be an impact pitcher at the MLB level just yet. However, don’t be too concerned about the lesser velocity unless it keeps leaking; it’s possible that he’s sacrificing miles per hour for movement and/or control.
Brandon Crawford, Shortstop: Crawford is a good example of a solid college product that dominated inexperienced pitching in the low minors despite questions from scouts about the overall strength of his offensive game. As he approached the majors, though, it became more and more clear that those concerns were warranted, although he offers enough defensive value to be an everyday big league infielder.
2010 (Ranked 6th overall): Crawford is an interesting prospect because people either love him (and see him as a regular big league contributor) or they hate him (and see him as a big league utility player at best). Not really known for his bat in college, Crawford had a lot of success in the lower minors… Crawford may not hit for a high average in the majors, but he could… play above-average defense. At worst, I see him developing into former Blue Jay and Cub Alex Gonzalez.
2011 (Ranked 9th overall): Crawford struggled offensively and produced a triple-slash line of .241/.337/.375 in 342 plate appearances. Strikeouts are one of his biggest weaknesses, posting a strikeout rate of 26.5 K%… Despite his limitations, his work at shortstop could earn him a regular gig at the MLB level but his ceiling could be that of Adam Everett or perhaps J.J. Hardy with less power.
Brandon Belt, First baseman/Outfielder: San Francisco’s minor league coaching staff did an excellent job in helping Belt tweak his swing when he turned pro and it paid immediate dividends. Unfortunately, inconsistent playing time has hampered his develop to a degree – and he still strikes out too much and seems to be caught between hitting for average or power.
2011 (Ranked 1st overall): Belt was a steal as a fifth round pick out of the University of Texas in 2009. He didn’t make his pro debut until 2010 but the left-handed hitter absolutely exploded – despite the lack of experience – and rose to triple-A… Belt’s success in pro ball can be linked to mechanical adjustments at the plate. He has a wide, well-balanced stance at the plate.
Hector Sanchez, Catcher: Sanchez was one of my favorite sleeper prospects when he was in the minors and he was thrown onto the fast track in during the 2011 season. He reached the majors with just 153 at-bats above A-ball but it may have hurt is offensive game as his walk and strikeout rates have taken unfortunate turns in the negative directions as he utilizes an aggressive approach at the plate.
2011 (Ranked 8th overall): Sanchez probably didn’t make many Top 10 lists despite a solid 2010 season, but he has solid potential and plays a key position in an organization that doesn’t have a ton of depth at the position (beyond Buster Posey, of course). Sanchez has offensive potential and is improving defensively… Behind the plate, he shows a solid arm and calls an OK game. His receiving skills, though, need a lot of work. He also needs to focus on his conditioning, as he played out of shape in 2010 and had trouble getting down to block balls.
2012 (Ranked 4th overall): When Sanchez appeared on my pre-2011 Top 10 list for the Giants a few people ordered me straight jackets. In hindsight now, the catcher had the breakout season that I was expecting… It’s somewhat impressive that Sanchez was able to hold his own at both triple-A and the Majors despite skipping over double-A completely….It’s not hard to envision Sanchez having a career similar to current free agent Jose Molina. The prospect doesn’t appear to have a huge ceiling but he could develop into a decent regular (if his conditioning allows) or a solid platoon player. He has youth on his side but does not appear to type of player that is going to age well so he’ll have to peak early.