The San Francisco Giants have won two of the past four World Series. Both of those championship teams have been chock full of homegrown talent out of their farm system. While San Francisco has been known for drafting and developing great pitching recently (think Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo), there has certainly been no shortage of impact bats to come up as well (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Pablo Sandoval to name a few). The 2014 prospect offering may look a little less than overwhelming, but it is due partly to the fact that many of the Giants recent high draft picks are already making an impact as noted above, while others have been traded to fuel playoff runs in recent years (we’re looking at you Zack Wheeler).
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Also to note, these rankings are influenced by the fact that we are looking at fantasy baseball prospects specifically. A guy who promises to be a defensive stud but unlikely to be an impact offensive player, is not valued as highly here. The top three are pretty set in stone for me, whereas #’s 4-10 are far more difficult to gauge and an argument can be made for each of these guys to move up or down. Let’s take a look at which young players could be helping both the San Francisco Giants, and you, to a title in the coming years.
1. Kyle Crick – P
Crick, drafted in the first round by the Giants in 2011 out of High School, is the consensus top prospect in the Giants farm system right now and should be on pretty much everyone’s top 100 list. Picture your typical 6’4”, 220 lb Texan flame-thrower and you probably have a good idea of what to expect from Kyle Crick. With a fastball sitting at 93-96 mph deep into games, and a plus slider that is a great swing and miss pitch, it is no wonder scouts love him. At 21 years old, Crick still has time to develop as the Giants will not want to rush him. This should let him work on his command issues (5.34 BB/9 last year), while also continuing to work on secondary pitches including his change-up. Last year he was held to 84 innings pitched in the Minors due to a few injuries, but impressed in that short time with a 1.81 ERA and a great 12.70 K/9 ratio. He will likely open the year in AA, and could see the Majors as early as 2015, with a ceiling of a potential ace or #2 starter.
2. Edwin Escobar – P
The Venezuelan is the second of the talented young arms that make up this list. He may not have the same rough stuff as Crick, but can keep batters off balance with three good pitches in his fastball, curve, and change-up. In splitting last year between High-A and AA, Escobar turned heads with a 2.80 ERA, 10.21 K/9, and a nice 2.10 BB/9. Escobar has clearly shown good control, but could use time to work on his command. Escobar is likely to also start in AA, though with an impressive spring training could end up in AAA, and could be making an impact as soon as 2015. He does not project to have the ceiling that Crick does, but the floor is higher with Escobar likely to slot in as a strong 3rd starter.
3. Adalberto Mejia – P
Mejia is a pitcher similar to Escobar only one year younger. He does not possess dominating stuff either, but has three pitches he is comfortable throwing in any count. Without truly elite stuff, he can get into trouble when his command wavers, and must focus on keeping the ball lower in the strike zone consistently if he wants continued success. He was only able to pitch 109 innings last year due to injury, so it will be interesting to see how he fares this year, as I expect him to open in AA. While he may take a little longer to polish his repertoire than Escobar, he has a similar projection as a mid-rotation type guy. Expect to see him in the majors by 2016 at the earliest.
4. Andrew Susac – C
Susac is the first hitter to crack the list, and a player I am much higher on than most are. Andrew is a strong defensive catcher, good enough to be an everyday catcher at the Major league level, which really helps his fantasy projection value. While he only hit .256 at AA last year, a keen eye at the plate (13.9 BB%) and improving power (12 HR in 310 PA), led to a respectable wRC+ of 129. He tore the cover off the ball in the Arizona Fall League, and will look to continue that approach as he starts the season. As Susac continues to improve, I can envision a solid starting catcher with a modest average, but 10-15 HR potential. And he may be ready to arrive in the Majors right at the time the Giants are looking to transition Posey more to first base.
5. Christian Arroyo – SS
Arroyo was drafted in the first round by the Giants out of High School in Florida. Only 18, Arroyo has shown surprisingly polished hitting for one so young. While his defense is solid, he may not pan out to be the elite defender most managers are looking for at SS, and may have to transition to 2B. Arroyo also does not have plus speed or power, and will likely have to put up a stellar average, which he seems more than capable of doing, to contribute. That being said, with his first taste of pro ball in the Arizona Fall League, Arroyo came out strong to a tune of a .326/.388/.511. Arroyo currently projects as a solid starting SS or 2B in the Majors, but the 4 years or so until he likely makes it there will tell a lot more.
6. Clayton Blackburn – P
And here we are again, back to the strong depth of San Francisco’s prospects, the pitching. Blackburn spent 2013 in San Jose at the high-A level, and pitched well to an ERA of 3.65 and a K/9 of 9.34. At only 20 years old, and in a very hitter friendly league, those numbers are nothing to scoff at. His pitching repertoire is not elite, but his combo of a command of the ball in the lower half of the strike zone and a smart pitching mindset may pan out to be. He should start the year in AA and face a stern test throughout this season. Another big arm at 6’4”, 225 lbs, Blackburn projects to be a back of the rotation innings eater, just don’t expect him there until 2017 or so.
7. Chris Stratton – P
It may be surprising that a 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft could fall this low in the organizational rankings. That is what happens, however, when you spend the year at low-A ball at the age of 22 (old for the league) and fail to significantly impress. It’s not that his numbers last year were bad (3.27 ERA, 8.39 K/9), but that scouts had fallen out of love with his raw stuff. He showed a repertoire of 3 decent pitches (fastball, slider change), decent control, and command that needed more work. He will look to improve upon that this year and show why scouts were originally pegging him as a top of the rotation guy. I, however, would not be comfortable assuming him to be anything more than another back end of the rotation starter right now. Stratton could start at high-A or AA, and hope to be in a major league rotation by 2016.
8. Mac Williamson – OF
Mac really turned heads last year when he played well in high-A and started drawing some interest. His power has been impressive as he cranked out 25 HRs last year, but it was his .375 OBP than was unexpected, carried by a surprising .292 average. His power should hold up as he advances up the ranks, but it is tough to imagine his other numbers are sustainable as he continues to face better pitching. Even with a lower average, Mac has the tools (a plus arm) and athleticism to be a potential starting RF. If Mac continues to hit the improved pitching he likely faces this year in AA, he may continue to slid up the prospect rankings.
9. Heath Hembree – P
Just the fact that a reliever is on the top 10 rankings should tell you how much I think of Heath Hembree. A prospect really has to project to be a very good closer or elite set-up man to warrant a spot, and that is what Hembree does. Spending most of the year as the closer for the Giants AAA affiliate, before getting a late call up to the Show, Hembree was solid in recording 31 saves with a 10.25 K/9. Your prototypical big, strong fastball/slider relief specialist, Heath has good control, and a surprisingly improved command. At 24, he does not have much left to prove in the minors, and has a good chance to start of the year in the Majors with a middle relief role, with an eye on setting up or closing in the near future.
10. Martin Agosta – P
Agosta did not pitch as much as he would have liked to in 2013 due to injuries, but he was great when he did. He may have been a bit old for low-A at 22, but he dominated with a 2.06 ERA, and 10.70 K/9, despite a high 4.22 BB/9. Agosta does have command issues that need to be worked on, but he has the kind of stuff that you love to chance it on. I see two paths Agosta’s future could be heading towards. He can continue to improve his secondary pitches and has the ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter. Or he could focus on strengthening a few pitches and be a strong reliever. The impact he has on your fantasy team could depend on which path he veers towards. Agosta is likely to pitch in high-A this year, and will look to stay healthy and strengthen his arm. His ETA in the majors also depends on his role, with an early 2016 bullpen spot, or a 2017 rotation candidate.