Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ten Prospects to Watch

This is not necessarily a list of the top 10 Giants' prospects. I'd probably consider most of them to be in the top 10, but it's more a list of guys that really intrigue me. Maybe Eric Surkamp is a little too high, maybe Heath Hembree shouldn't be on the list, and where the hell is Ehire Adrianza? I don't necessarily expect a ton of people to agree with me. But the draft is near, I'm thinking about prospects, and I wanted to write about some who are exciting me. Also of note: I decided not to include Brandon Belt because we already know he's Will Clark 2.0.

1. Zack Wheeler

Wheeler in the top spot doesn't need much explanation. As the Giants' top pick in the 2009 draft, he came in with the normal amount of hype a No. 6 overall pick usually gets and hasn't really done anything to make people skeptical. His first year in the minors was a bit of a disappointment, starting only 13 games and pitching 58.2 innings because of a finger injury. But coming into the year, many believed he was due for a breakout. Keith law scouted him and wrote this report in the offseason. Just the other day, Adam Foster of was at Wheeler's start and was clearly impressed. Just check out his tweets from that day or look for his write-up on the start in the next couple of days. So far this season, Wheeler has a 3.66 ERA with 41 Ks in 32 IP. That's a K/9 of 11.5 and his K/BB ratio of 3.15, compared to last year's 1.84, is also encouraging. It's hard not to get excited about a top pitching prospect and all the reports suggest that Wheeler has legitimate No. 1 potential. Hopefully he can keep it up and earn a midseason promotion to Double-A.

2. Gary Brown

I hated the Gary Brown pick. A speedy centerfielder with supposedly no power or patience at the patience, and little upside? Ugh. But Brown's early results are hard to ignore. His stat line 36 games into the year is .367/.445/.513/.958. That on base percentage and slugging percentage seem to defy the knocks on him coming out of the draft. He'll never hit many home runs, but he has the potential to hit loads of doubles and triples into the gaps with his speed. That speed also helps Brown play excellent defense. As an advanced college hitter, dominating Single-A doesn't say much, but he should earn a Double-A promotion at some point this year if he keeps hitting like this. Considering how I originally felt about the pick, I'm pretty happy with how he's turned out so far.

3. Eric Surkamp

Surkamp probably has no business being No. 3 on a team's prospect list. His absolute ceiling is probably a No. 4 starter and he might be overachieving just a bit right now. But this list is of prospects who intrigue me. A guy who leads the minors in strikeouts and does it with an 89 mph fastball intrigues me big time. Although I've never seen him pitch, supposedly he's been able to striekout 56 batters in 38.1 innings with very good secondary stuff. That's probably pretty obvious because an 89 mph fastball isn't gonna miss any bats, but hey, it's still impressive. I mean his K/9 is 13.1! And he is unable to throw harder than 90 MPH!!! It's not like this is some fluke, either. In his 3 previous years in the minors, Surkamp never had a K/9 below 9.6. And his ERA is 1.88. Don't discount the fact that the Giants have someone above Single-A that could actually be a decent MLB starter someday. That is extremely important and makes Surkamp even more valuable than he'd normally be. Maybe it's because I have a soft spot for guys who can succeed with pitching rather than raw velocity, but I'm extremely excited to see how he develops.

4. Charlie Culberson

Culberson has had a somewhat rough start to the year, but he stays pretty high on this list due to his breakout year in 2010 and generally positive reviews from scouts after his AFL dominance. The Eastern League, a notoriously terrible league for hitters, has not treated Culberson well so far, obvious when you look at his .293/.333/.387/.720 line. He is not walking or slugging nearly enough. He's still young (22) and it's his first year in Double-A, so I'm not too worried. There is cause for concern, however, when you consider that 2010 was Culberson's only successful year in the minors so far. But scouts like Keith Law and Jason Grey of ESPN liked the swing and a 2B who can hit is always a nice prospect. So, here's to hoping 2010 wasn't a fluke.

5. Thomas Neal

It's always been a bit hard to analyze Thomas Neal, as most scouts seem to think he'll be nothing more than a solid regular, and Giants fans constantly overrate him. Most of the reason Neal is high on this list is because he's probably the closest thing to a powerful, patient hitter in the Giants' minor league system. Neal has had some impressive numbers (mainly his 1.010 OPS in 2009), convincing many fans that he was a legitimate top prospect. In 2010, after a promotion to Double-A, Neal finished with a .799 OPS, which isn't terrible in the Eastern League especially considering he started to heat up towards the end of the year, but it's not particularly special either. Add in the fact that he's only played 12 games in Fresno this season because of injuries (always an issue for Neal), and it's still hard to know what he can become. Seeing as I don't claim to be any kind of expert, I do defer to the opinions of scouts, and they haven't fully bought into Neal. But he is still just 23 and has always had power and patience at the plate. I want to believe, but I think we need Neal to play some more this year in order to judge him as a prospect. At the very least, he should be a serviceable major leaguer.

6. Francisco Peguero

Even worse than Neal having played just 12 games this year, Peguero has played in none. Knee surgery has kept him off the field so far, but Peguero's solid 2010 season (.329/.358/.488/.846) means he remains as one of the Giants' top prospects. There are a few concerns with Peguero, though. He's not extremely young, as a 22 (almost 23) year old who hasn't yet played a game above Single-A. Also, Peguero is very much a hacker. He drew just 18 walks all of last season, which means he'll always have to hit for a high average to be a factor on offense. Maybe he will continue to hit for high average, but prospects with no patience always make me nervous. Peguero is also extremely fast and has decent power. He certainly comes with questions but is also a very interesting prospect.

7. Jarrett Parker

If you don't know much about the Giants' minor league system, you may not even know who Jarrett Parker is. Well, he was actually the Giants' second round pick in the 2010 draft, and he's starting to show signs of becoming a good outfield prospect. Parker struggled early on, but has started to heat up in May, currently hitting .265/.386/.444/.830. The biggest plus is that downright sexy walk rate. You can see from the large difference between his AVG and OBP, that he walks a LOT. I love patience and you see so many young prospects who don't have it, so it's refreshing. I mean he's already walked more times (20) than Peguero did all last year (18). Right now he is striking out way too much (32 times in 31 games), but he is improving. Gobroks, who knows a ton about the draft and prospects in general (you can follow him on Twitter @Gobroks) actually thought Parker was a better prospect than Gary Brown at the time of the draft. That's an indication that he has a good amount of potential. Hopefully he builds on his May success.

8. Heath Hembree

Hembree is a relief pitching prospect in Single-A, so it might seem odd that he's on the list. But he interests me because he's someone with a lot of velocity on his fastball who could potentially move fast through the system and become a shutdown pitcher in the bullpen for the major league team for a while. Hembree, a fifth round pick in 2010, has had a lot of early success as San Jose's closer. 25 strikeouts in 15 innings and a 0.60 ERA is always nice, but it's not a huge sample size. Hembree did strikeout 22 batters in 11 innings in Rookie Ball last year, so his success isn't too unexpected. Mainly, Hembree has been mostly unhittable during the early part of his career, and I consider him to be the top relief pitching prospect in the system.

9. Ryan Verdugo

Verdugo is another guy rated highly because he's a SP prospect in Double-A, who's having success. What makes him even more intriguing is that up until this year he's been a reliever, but the Giants started his transition to a SP during the Arizona Fall League. So far, the results have been good. In 6 starts, Verdugo has a 3.03 ERA with 31 Ks in 29.2 innings. Not a large sample size at all, but Verdugo has always had good stuff and showed as much during the AFL. There's reason for optimism, and if he could give the Giants another SP prospect in the upper minors, that's huge.

10. Brandon Crawford

The Giants badly need a SS. Miguel Tejada sucks. Fontenot isn't the long-term either. Rarely are there good free agent options. In my mind, Brandon Crawford is the best shortstop option in the Giants' system. Crawford has always been great defensively and is probably major-league ready there right now. But his offense needs to progress. That seems to be a theme with Giants SS prospects, actually. It's why I rate Crawford ahead of Adrianza; I don't believe in Adrianza's offense at all and I believe in Crawford's a little bit. Crawford's problem is that he keeps getting injured. Just recently he's started rehabbing in Single-A and is soon scheduled to start his season in AAA. He's always been able to draw walks, so if he was able to hit for average just a bit more and play very good defense, he could be a pretty valuable major leaguer.

Feel free to comment with your disagreements, as I'm sure there are many. Also, on a semi-related note: the draft is coming up, so I hope to have some draft profiles, or at the very least a draft preview, so keep an eye out.


  1. I think this is a good list, and I don't have much disagreements here to be honest. I really like Culberson and Peguero. Culberson has been the Flying Squirrels' best hitter this year and he's putting up a good statline despite the Eastern League being a pitcher's league. Peguero has a ton of five tool talent, and I think he really showcased a lot of potential in San Jose (though the Cal League tends to favor hitters, I still think Peguero's statline was good even for the Cal League).

    Crawford's very interesting because like you said, he's struggled through injury over his career. I was actually very encouraged by his season in Richmond until he got hurt. He showed a much better plate approach and better BB/K ratios in comparison to his tenure in San Jose and Connecticut (the Double-A affiliate at the time) in 2009. His MLE (major league equivalents) weren't impressive (226/303/347/650 in terms of avg, OBP, Slg, OPS), so I think going with a temp solution at SS was the right call (though I wish it was somebody else than Tejada). However, if he can have a good year in Fresno, and continue to sport the solid BB/K ratio he showed in Richmond with the power he displayed in San Jose, then he could compete for the position in 2012 because defensively he's already an upgrade over Tejada.

  2. After I researched Gary Brown, I loved the pick. People talked about his lack of patience, but if you looked at his whole college experience, including Cape Cod, one could see that he walked when he wasn't that good a hitter in that environment, he was just all about getting on base and using his speed. If he couldn't do it by hits, he would do it by hits.

    And contrary to the thinking of many, a hit is worth way more than a walk, particularly when for power.

    And that was the other thing, people said he had no power, but his ISO in the Big West league was the highest in the past 8 seasons, even better than Evan Longoria's great season. So I didn't quite believe that, I thought that his speed gained him a lot of singles and singles stretched to doubles, and doubles stretched to triples, giving him more "power" in terms of ISO.

    I am glad he is proving all the doubters wrong and look forward to him hitting in AA.

    And I agree, good list. Hard to argue, I might put RafRod on the list over Parker, but I don't really know much about him, so I could be wrong there.