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Top 15 Prospects: San Francisco Giants

The Giants organization under General Manager Brian Sabean is known for fielding veteran big league ball clubs, with the occasional influx of high-level talent like catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The club went all-in in 2011 with the trade of top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for aging outfielder Carlos Beltran. Sadly, the team did not even make the playoffs and will now have to watch New York develop a killer 1-2 punch at the top of its starting rotation with Wheeler and Matt Harvey.

The organization played it relatively “safe” in the 2011 amateur draft with a high number of college players taken but it did gamble on some higher ceiling, larger bonus college picks with question marks, such as C Andrew Susac, LHP Josh Osich, and RHP Ray Black. The Giants’ Top 15 prospect list features a high number of ’11 draft picks due to a lack of minor league depth and because the scouting staff make some intriguing selections.

1. Gary Brown | CF
BORN: Sept. 28, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons (Reached A+ in ’11)
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, Cal State Fullerton (24th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th

SCOUTING REPORT: I’ve been a little more conservative on my rankings of Brown than a lot of people but I’m starting to warm up to him. With that said, I’m not reading too much into his stats in 2011 because he played in a potent offensive league. Double-A will be a huge test of his talent. Brown’s best tool is his game-changing speed, which ranks as a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also shows above-average bat speed but his offensive game – which should be built around his foot speed – is hindered by his over-aggressive nature. Defensively, he has the tools to be a plus defender, but he’s still learning center field after bouncing around the field in college.

YEAR IN REVIEW: As mentioned, Brown’s ’11 season has a big ol’ asterisk beside it due to the league he was playing in and the odd decision not to challenge him with a mid-season promotion to double-A. Even so, you cannot scoff at a .411 wOBA and he showcased his blazing speed with 53 steals. He did get nabbed 19 times to he’s got a little bit of work to do in terms of success rate. The most encouraging number for me was the strikeout rate of just 12.1%. If he can get his walk rate (7.2%) up above 10% then he will be that much more dangerous.

YEAR AHEAD: Brown will face a stiff test at double-A in 2012 but he has the tools to succeed – he just needs some polish. He’s flashed some power in his career, both in college and in ’11 with a .182 ISO, but his game needs to revolve around his strongest tool. If everything goes well at double-A, Brown could see the Majors by July.

CAREER OUTLOOK: A lot of fast players with occasional pop have fallen prey to the allure of swinging for the fences. If Brown can avoid the temptation and work on “the little things,” then he will no doubt succeed as the Giants’ leadoff hitter and center-fielder of the future. Andres Torres is by no means a road block to playing time but the club will also have to avoid the temptation to commit too much money and too many years to veteran outfielders either on the open market or via the trade front.

2. Joe Panik | SS
BORN: Oct. 30, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Advanced Rookie)
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, St. John’s U (29th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Panik can hit. The middle infielder has proven it both in college and in his brief pro career. His hit tool has the potential to rank as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale, due to his solid bat speed, controlled swing and the ability to keep the barrel of the bat through the strike zone. Panik doesn’t possess much home-run power but he generates solid left-handed gap power. He stole 13 bases in his pro debut but he’s a plus base runner with average speed. Panik played shortstop in college but he’s likely to move to the right side of the infield down the road due to an average-at-best arm. He has good hands and decent foot work so he could excel at the position.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Panik signed quickly and got 69 games of pro experience under his belt, as well as development time in the Arizona Fall League (although his bat wilted after a long season). Assigned to the short-season Northwest League after turning pro, the infielder hit .341 (.354 BABIP) in 270 at-bats. Panik showed an excellent eye at the plate with a 9.2% walk rate and an 8.2% strikeout rate. If he can keep similar ratios moving upwards, he’ll be an excellent No. 2 hitter.

YEAR AHEAD: Because of his strong start in the Northwest League, his time in the AFL, and his draft pedigree, Panik could begin the 2012 season in high-A ball. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the infielder reach the Majors sometime in 2013. With an eye to his future role as a No. 2 hitter, look for him to work on small-ball aspects of the game such as bunting and situational hitting.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Panik will be in the Majors before too long but he possesses a limited ceiling. I have little doubt that he’ll be a valuable big league player but in the mold of former Pirates/Angels infielder Johnny Ray. He could be a perfect complement to some of the other young players already on the big league roster, such as Posey and Brandon Belt.

3. Tommy Joseph | C
BORN: July 16, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Arizona HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Catching is a strength of the organization and the club is already set at the position for years to come with Buster Posey behind the dish. Despite that fact, you can never have too much of a good thing, as the club learned last season when the young leader was struck down for much of the year by a nasty home plate collision. Joseph, a former second round pick out of high school, flashes above-average power and could eventually have a 60 grade placed on his pop. His approach at the plate, though, needs work. He is too aggressive for his own good and will struggle to hit for average as a result. On the plus side, he does a decent job of making contact for a player with a big swing. Behind the plate, Joseph shows a strong arm but he struggles with his receiving and mobility.

YEAR IN REVIEW: After a somewhat disappointing pro debut in 2010 (although he received some credit for making his pro debut in full season ball as a teenager), Joseph showed improvements with the wood. He shaved 6% off his strikeout rate while seeing his power output increase with an ISO rate just shy of .200. He also raised his batting average 30 points to a more respectable .268.

YEAR AHEAD: Joseph, like Brown, will receive a big test in 2012 with a move to double-A. The catching prospect will look to maintain a batting average above .250 while keeping his strikeout rate below 20%. He also needs to show improvements in the aggressive approach that lead to a 5.2% walk rate and too many swings at pitcher’s pitches. Expect some early season struggles and don’t be surprised if the young hitter has to repeat double-A – he has plenty of time to work on his game (He’s still just 20 years old).

CAREER OUTLOOK: There has been some talk of moving him to first base but Joseph’s value would take a big hit. He’s much more valuable to the organization as a part-time catcher and occasional first baseman, similar to Mike Napoli – although I don’t see the prospect’s bat developing as far. Joseph could be an excellent complement to Posey behind the plate and Belt at first base.

4. Hector Sanchez | C
BORN: Nov. 17, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons (AAA/MLB)
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

SCOUTING REPORT: There weren’t many, if any, prospects in the Giants system that had bigger breakouts in 2011 than Sanchez. The portly catcher went from A-ball backstop to big leaguer in less than three months. He has the potential to be an average to slightly-above-average offensive catcher with above-average defense. Sanchez does a nice job of erasing base runners and is a solid receiver but he needs to do a better job of blocking balls and his game calling is improving.

YEAR IN REVIEW: 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 (which makes up for whiffing on Jorge Bucardo). 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. Interestingly, he showed better patience at the upper levels (7.7 and 8.8% walk rates) than in high-A ball (4.8%). He also significantly trimmed his strikeout rate between high-A and double-A (21.5 to 13.1%) but he may have gotten a little ‘homer happy’ in the potent California League, as the triple-A rates were closer to his career norms.

YEAR AHEAD: Sanchez will have to watch his conditioning in 2012 to avoiding giving The Panda a run for his money in the belt size department. He’ll likely open the season in triple-A and should be the first player recalled in the event of an injury to Buster Posey or his backup. It would probably be in Sanchez’ best interests to spend much of the year in triple-A working on developing the finer aspects of his game; he was rushed badly in ’11 out of necessity.

CAREER OUTLOOK: 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.

5. Ehire Adrianza | SS
BORN: Aug. 21, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

SCOUTING REPORT: Adrianza is a glove-first shortstop that could eventually produce some Gold Gloves at the MLB level, assuming he can hit enough to reach The Show. He is a fluid fielder with excellent range and a strong arm. There is no doubt that he can stick at the position. At the plate, he may struggle to be a 30 or 40 hitter (on the 20-80 scale) at the MLB level unless he makes the necessary adjustments, which includes shortening his stroke.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The shortstop prospect got off to a delayed start in 2011 thanks to surgery for a hand injury. He was eased back into the flow of things with a short assignment to low-A ball and later moved up to high-A where he took a liking to the favorable hitting environment. Adrianza hit .300 but he was aided by a .361 BABIP. Although he has just average speed, the Venezuelan nabbed 33 bases in 2010 but that number dropped to just eight last season.

YEAR AHEAD: Adrianza needs to embrace his strengths – and weaknesses – and learn to use the whole field and do the little things that make up for the lack of a premium bat. He needs to trim his strikeout rates (17.6% at high-A in ’11) and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him begin the 2012 season in high-A once again. He should reach double-A at some point in the year if he’s healthy.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Adrianza is never going to offer a huge offensive output but he could hit well enough to warrant regular playing time to take advantage of his slick glove. The betting man, though, would probably put his money down on a future prediction that sees Adrianza coming off the bench in the late innings to provide defensive stability at shortstop, second base and perhaps even the hot corner.

6. Andrew Susac | C
BORN: March 22, 1990
EXPERIENCE: College
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, Oregon State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: The addition of Susac to the organization further strengthens the Giants’ catching depth. He is a potentially-average defender behind the plate with a strong arm and a reputation for shutting down the running game. His receiving and game calling both need polish. At the plate, he doesn’t currently project as a hitter that will provide much of a batting average but he has the chance to hit for above-average power as he matures.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Susac missed about a month of his college season due to a broken hamate bone and that may have cost him first round consideration but he still signed an above-slot contract. He signed late and was unable to get his feet wet in pro ball during the 2011 season.

YEAR AHEAD: He will likely open the ’12 season in low-A ball. With experience hitting with wood bats from his time spent in the Cape Cod League in 2010, Susac should face an easy adjustment and it’s his defense that should require the most attention.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Susac probably won’t be a fast riser through the system and will likely take it one level at a time. Luckily, there is plenty of depth ahead of him so the organization can be patient and allow him to iron out the wrinkles in his game. Once he reaches the Majors, expect his to be an average big league catcher in the mold of Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy.

7. Josh Osich | LHP
BORN: Sept. 3, 1988
EXPERIENCE: College
ACQUIRED: 2011 6th round, Oregon State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: A seventh round pick of the Angels in 2010 (while recovering from Tommy John surgery), Osich gambled and improved his draft stock by one round in ’11. He had the potential to go much higher in the draft – even in the supplemental first round – but health concerns caused him to slide. He signed an above-slot deal is a smart gamble by the organization. The southpaw flashes an above-average fastball and is slider has plus potential.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The lefty did not pitch after signing but that was probably a good thing because he threw a career high 76.2 innings at Oregon State and worked out of the starting rotation for the first time in his collegiate career. He also missed the entire 2010 season due to injury and threw a total of 51 innings in his first two college seasons.

YEAR AHEAD: Osich may get an easier introduction to pro ball with an assignment to low-A ball to begin the 2012 season but he could probably handle an assignment to high-A. Job No. 1 in the year ahead will be to prove his durability and avoid the disabled list. If he can do just that, Osich could be in the Majors at some point in 2013 or 2014.

CAREER OUTLOOK: There might be some temptation to try him in the starting rotation but he could move quickly as a two-pitch reliever. Osich has the ceiling to be a high-leverage reliever at the MLB level. As a starter he has to potential of a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

8. Francisco Peguero | OF
BORN: June 1, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons (AA)
ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

SCOUTING REPORT: Peguero is an interesting player. He’s always hit for a high average but he’s also produced very high BABIPs, which he’s been able to consistently maintain throughout the past four seasons. He has speed on his side, which helps him beat out more infield hits than the average player. Peguero hasn’t shown much in-game power but scouts feel there is home-run potential that has yet to be tapped into. His overly-aggressive approach leads to low walk rates and he’s eventually going to have to learn to be more selective. He has the chance to be a plus defender at the MLB level in center or right field.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Peguero’s season was interrupted by injury. Even so, he tallied 285 at-bats in double-A and hit .309. His walk rate of 1.7% was the lowest of his career but he kept his strikeouts under control for the most part (15.2%). After stealing 40 bases in 2010, Peguero nabbed just eight in double-A but he improved his success rate immensely. He was likely slowed by his early-season knee injury. The outfielder is playing winter ball during the off-season, which will help him make up for the lost at-bats due to time spent on the disabled list.

YEAR AHEAD: Depending on how aggressive the organization wants to be with Peguero, he may return to double-A to try and work on slowing his game down a bit. It would not be shocking to see him make his MLB debut in 2012, especially with the Giants’ outfield in a state of flux.

CAREER OUTLOOK: With Gary Brown eventually ticketed for center field in San Francisco, Peguero’s raw power needs to develop sooner rather than later if he’s going to nail down the right field job. If it doesn’t, though, he could end up being a valuable fourth outfielder who sees a fair bit of playing time due to his speed and strong defense.

9. Eric Surkamp | LHP
BORN: July 16, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons (AA/MLB)
ACQUIRED: 2008 6th round, North Carolina State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 11th

SCOUTING REPORT: Surkamp once again produced stellar minor league numbers in 2011 but he still has yet to quiet the concerns that filter up from the scouts. The pitcher has average stuff at best and gets by on command and control of his entire repertoire, as well as smart pitching. He features an 86-90 mph fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. His success is based on his ability to locate the heater and keep his pitches down in the strike zone.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The southpaw made his long-awaited (at least for diehard Giants fans) MLB debut in 2011 and the results were… mixed. Surkamp displayed a potentially-plus changeup but he struggled to command the remainder of his repertoire on a consistent basis. While in the minors, Surkamp made easy work of double-A with a 2.37 FIP and a strikeout rate of 10.43 K/9.

YEAR AHEAD: Surkamp will likely battle Barry Zito for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. If he loses the challenge, expect the young lefty to continue to hone his craft in triple-A while awaiting an injury or an implosion from Zito or Ryan Vogelsong. Now that the club has traded some of its depth with the swap of Jonathan Sanchez for outfield depth in the form of Melky Cabrera, Surkamp could become an important arm at the bottom of the rotation.

CAREER OUTLOOK: For Surkamp to be a useful pitcher in the Major Leagues, he’s going to have to command his fastball better than he did in his first taste of The Show. On the plus side, it was rarely an issue for him in the minors so it might be a case of needing to trust his stuff and getting the butterflies out of the way. He should have a number of solid years in the Majors as a No. 4 or 5 starter but could eventually work his way to the bullpen as a long reliever or middle man.

10. Heath Hembree | RHP
BORN: Jan. 13, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons (AA)
ACQUIRED: 2010 5th round, College of Charleston
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Hembree is a big, strong pitcher who is still learning his craft after receiving limited opportunity to throw while playing for a small college program. His control continues to be his biggest weakness but, when he finds the plate, he can over-power hitters with his mid-to-high-90s fastball. Hembree also features a potentially-plus slider and a developing changeup. He has the makings of a high-leverage reliever if he can find a way to get left-handed batters out on a consistent basis.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Despite his limited amateur success as a pitcher, Hembree has moved through the minor league system rather quickly. He split the 2011 season between high-A and double-A but produced a walk rate of +4.00 BB/9 at each level. He’s also an extreme fly-ball pitcher.

YEAR AHEAD: Hembree could open 2012 in triple-A if the organization wants to continue to be aggressive with him. The added pressure of pitching against lineups stacked with hitters with big league experience could force him to smooth out the rougher edges of his game. As with a lot of other players in the Top 10, Hembree could make his MLB debut in the coming year and would likely be eased in with middle relief work.

CAREER OUTLOOK: If he reaches his full potential, Hembree could be Brian Wilson‘s successor for saves in San Francisco. If his control does not improve enough or he can’t find a way to solve his issues with left-handed hitters, the right-hander could settle into an eighth inning gig.

The Next Five

11. Kyle Crick, RHP: The only prep player nabbed in the first seven rounds of the 2011 draft, Crick is a raw, hard-throwing Texas product that will probably need a fair bit of development time. He has a very high ceiling, though, with the potential to throw in the mid-to-upper 90s with a pair of good breaking balls.

12. Clayton Blackburn, RHP: Taken in the 16th round out of an Oklahoma high school, Blackburn was given an over-slot contract worth $150,000. He had a stellar debut with a 2.72 FIP (1.08 ERA) in 33.1 rookie innings. He showed above-average control (0.81 BB/9) and throws a heavy fastball in the low 90s.

13. Ricky Oropesa, 1B: Oropesa has been a top amateur player since his high school days but his game has always been pretty one dimensional hitter. He has massive left-handed power but struggles to make consistent contact. Oropesa played third base in college and has a 70 arm but his lack of range and quickness will force him to first base in pro ball.

14. Joan Gregorio, RHP: If you’re looking for a breakout candidate for 2012, look no further than Gregorio. The right-hander stands 6’7” but is just 180 lbs. Once he adds some muscle to his slender frame he could see his fastball sit in the mid-90s on a more consistent basis; the teenager currently sits 89-90 but has touched 92-93 mph. For a tall pitcher, he also shows the ability to work the lower half of the strike zone and induce a decent number of ground-ball outs.

15. Chris Marlowe, RHP: Drafted by the Jays in 2010, Marlowe spurned the organization’s advances and transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he continued his bullpen dominance. A smaller right-hander, he lacks control and has some effort to his delivery. On the plus side, he showcases two potentially-plus pitches with a mid-90s fastball and biting curveball.

SLEEPER ALERT: Seth Rosin, RHP: If you’re a rival executive talking trade with the Giants this winter you’ll want to ask for Rosin as a throw in to any deal. The right-hander features an 88-93 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. He’s made easy work of pro ball so far. He has a big, strong frame at 6’5” 240 lbs and has shown the ability to both start and relieve, while producing both strong strikeout rates and good ground-ball numbers. Despite spending the entire 2011 season in low-A (for no good reason), the club challenged the right-hander with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League and he’s more than held his own. As a pitcher from a northern state (Minnesota) he could be a late-bloomer.