Prospect Stock Watch: San Francisco Giants

The author attended a Double-A Eastern League game on Sunday between the Richmond Flying Squirrels (a San Francisco affiliate) and New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto) in Manchester, NH (box). What follows is a brief examination of two Giants prospects from same.

Adam Duvall, 3B

The author had no intention of more closely examining — had, in fact, scarcely heard of — third-base prospect Adam Duvall prior to Sunday’s game. And yet, one finds his name here in bold type, suggesting that something of that sort is in the offing.

An 11th-round selection by the Giants out of Louisville in 2010, Duvall is most notable probably for having recorded 30 home runs last season (in 598 plate appearances) at High-A San Jose. One doesn’t hit 30 home runs without some sort of menace in his bat, but there’s a longish list of players who’ve posted similar totals in the California League and then drifted off into obscurity upon graduating to the high minors.

It’s to Duvall’s credit that he’s posted nearly as impressive home-run rates both at Class-A Sally League affiliate Augusta (which park features a home-run park factor of 66 for right-handed batters) and now with Richmond (which club’s home park features a right-handed home-run factor of 96 relative to a league which itself traditionally has a low-ish run environment). It’s equally to Duvall’s credit that he’s managed to record those promising home-run rates while actually making progressively more contact as he’s ascended minor-league levels — a trend captured by this highly sophisticated graph:

Duvall Strikeout Rate Graph New

Duvall’s first plate appearance of the game, against very promising Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman, perhaps illustrates why the third baseman’s rates have improved, during which at-bat he saw five pitches — including a pair of fastballs for strikes, but on the outside corner — and had worked the count full before swinging even once. When he did swing, it was on a fastball that had more of the plate, and Duvall sent the pitch to right-center (i.e. the opposite) field for a line-drive double.

Physically, Duvall has little projection left. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he’s rather thick in the torso already, suggesting that any additional mass would be problematic for his quickness, etc. While on the old side for Double-A, the 24-year-old is still likely a few years shy of physical maturity, which is probably why FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet expressed concerns this past offseason about Duvall’s ability to stay at third base even in the short term.

During the course of this particular game, at least, Duvall’s play suggested that concerns about his defense might be overstated. Twice — in the second inning, with New Hampshire first baseman Kevin Ahrens batting, and also in the third, off the bat of catcher Jack Murphy — Duvall fielded hard-hit grounders down the third-base line at full length, brought himself to his feet quickly, and made strong and accurate throws across the diamond for outs. Spectacular-looking plays aren’t always objectively good ones, of course: every fielder has a “zone,” so to speak, on the outer margins of his range where plays will appear extraordinary — but these were illustrative in that they exhibited, in Duvall, an athleticism not immediately indicated by his body type.

Joe Panik, MIF

After having been selected by San Francisco out of St. John’s at 29th overall in the 2011 draft, Panik has now produced three nearly identical seasons so far, recording walk rates in the 9-10% range, strikeout rates of 8-10%, and isolated power figures of about .090-.130.

Because he’s always been on the young side for his levels*, and because he’s preserved his rates at each of those levels, it’s perhaps not entirely irresponsible to suggest that Panik, now 22, might be capable of the same thing in the majors in, say, his age-24 or -25 season.

*The average age among Eastern League batters, for example, is 24.4 years this season.

“What sort of major-leaguer would that be?” one wonders. Within the last 10 years, four players have recorded seasons matching those same criteria, as follow:

Name Team Season PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP wRC+ Def WAR WAR600*
Maicer Izturis Angels 2006 399 9.5% 8.8% .293 .365 .412 .119 .313 106 -1.1 1.9 2.9
Alex Cora Dodgers 2004 484 9.7% 8.5% .264 .364 .380 .116 .272 98 5.7 1.9 2.4
Casey Kotchman – – – 2009 431 9.0% 9.7% .268 .339 .382 .114 .283 90 1.5 0.9 1.3
Kenny Lofton Yankees 2004 313 9.9% 8.6% .275 .346 .395 .120 .292 96 -6.8 0.4 0.8
Average – – – – – – 407 9.5% 8.9% .275 .354 .392 .117 .290 98 -0.2 1.3 1.9

*WAR per 600 plate appearances.

Note that the defensive figure here (Def) isn’t merely UZR, but also includes WAR’s positional adjustment. For a shortstop, that’s +7.5 runs over the course of the season; for second basemen, it’s +2.5 runs. Alex Cora‘s +5.7 defensive runs over 484 plate appearances is probably indicative of what an average shortstop would produce over that same number of PAs. Casey Kotchman‘s defensive total of +1.5 runs over 431 plate appearances is similar to what an average second baseman would record over Kotchman’s 431 PAs.

So, in part, Panik’s future value will depend on his defensive home. The general consensus — and the present author has no reason to contradict it — is that Panik is reliable, if limited, at shortstop, and might be more appropriate at second base. The Giants seem to feel similarly: after playing shortstop exclusively in 2011 and 2012, Panik has now started approximately 80% of his games with Richmond at second base. A fringe shortstop/slightly above-average second baseman is probably worth, say, +5.0 runs over the course of a season.

Much of the rest of Panik’s value will depend — as it does for many players with a high-contact approach — on his BABIP. As one will note within the table above, Alex Cora’s .272 BABIP in 2004 produced only a .264 batting average; Maicer Izturis‘s .313 mark in in 2006, a .293 batting average. Speculating on a batter’s true-talent BABIP is likely beyond the expertise of the present author; however, if one assumes something like the average of the four player-seasons listed here, then, ultimately, an almost precisely average hitter (98 wRC+) is what emerges.

What one finds here, then — by means of massive speculation, it should be noted — is a player in Panik who, in about 2015, might record something like a major-league-average batting line while recording something slightly above average in terms of a defensive contribution. Omitting other (probably very important) factors, what that produces is something like a two-to-three win player.

Note: the reader might have some interest in an interview with Joe Panik conducted by the author and published in these pages on Monday.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.