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Top 10 Prospects of 2014: San Francisco Giants

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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

Kyle Crick left Thursday's game with a strained oblique.

Source: Ken Weisenberger/MiLB.com

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

Source: Oregon State

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

Heath Hembree - Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants

Source: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

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.

About This Empire Soldier: Nick is DSE’s SF Giants Insider. He’ll be keeping you up to date with both the Major and Minor league affiliates for the Giants, and how they’ll help you win your fantasy league. Follow him and ask any/all Fantasy Baseball questions @DSE_Nick

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • A's fan January 29, 2014, 3:07 pm

    Very nice article Nich!

  • Cove Chatter January 29, 2014, 4:42 pm

    Nice work, Nick. The Giants are definitely pitching-rich in the minors right now, and I think this group of arms is going to surprise a lot of people in the baseball in the next few years. When Keith Law is ranking this system 25th overall, it’s obvious that some folks out there don’t see much talent. While Crick is certainly the only projected high impact player right now, it’s very hard to ignore what the rest of these guys are doing. And when you see 3 lefties like Escobar, Mejia and Ty Blach (who I would probably have in the top 8 right now) throwing low 90’s with excellent control, it’s hard for me not to think this system is a bit underrated right now. The 2013 San Jose rotation of Crick, Blackburn, Escobar, Mejia and Blach certainly have all the attention right now (all 5 were ranked in Baseball America’s Cal League Top 20), the group that’s filling their spots in SJ this summer aren’t too shabby either. Of the guys not mentioned here, I’d definitely keep my eye on Kendry Flores and Joan Gregorio. Both of those arms could end up passing Stratton and Agosta, in my opinion.

    The hitting is certainly lighter. But if Susac can stay healthy, I think he’ll be very productive in Fresno. I, like you, think he’s got “MLB starter” capabilities, both offensively and defensively. Williamson has a big test, but if he can manage to keep his head above water in Richmond and get through to Fresno next year, I’ll be just fine with it. Anything extra at the plate will be icing on the cake, but I do believe his power will play in AA as well. Arroyo is so young, but when your bat is being compared to Buster Posey’s (by Andrew Baggarly) at 18 years old, we may have only scratched the surface on this kid’s potential. Like you say, we’ll get a better idea in the next couple of years, but he could be a special hitter.

    Good list, great insights. Nice work.

  • Nick Valasco January 29, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Thanks for the comment Cove! I agree that this system is a bit underrated right now. They may not have a slew of studs ready to play this year, but they do have a lot of talent that should be ready to be solid contributors in the next few years. Blach and Flores were definitely tough to leave off the list. If they continue to pitch well and improve upon last year I may regret leaving them off. As I said, the difference between guys 4-12 or even 15 or so is very close. I am holding out hope Stratton is the pitcher everyone thought he was when he was drafted. I loved going to San Jose games last year for that reason exactly, the rotation was a ton of fun to watch!

    Hitting wise, you can definitely tell how much I still like Susac. Really hoping he has a strong year wherever he ends up playing. And Mac may just end up being that other corner outfielder the Giants were looking for. Not going to be an all star, but with solid defense and the added pop they have been looking for in their lineup he may have an impact. And with Arroyo it is so tough to tell when they are that young. It was tough to rank him so high when he’s just 18 and we haven’t seen him play much. He did show enough in his brief stint in the Arizona Fall League for me to be excited to see what he can do as he progresses and begins to fill out.

  • Yes You Cain! January 29, 2014, 10:32 pm

    Awesome article Nick. I agree with all of your rankings and appreciate the really good info on all of these prospects. From a fantasy standpoint, what do you think about Panik and Brown making impacts? Do they still have a shot? I know they both have had pretty down years, but position-wise, the big league team has some serious holes that they could fill if they have a bounce back year (with Scutaro being quite old and Morse being Morse).

  • Nick Valasco January 30, 2014, 12:03 am

    Thanks for the comment. Panik really struggled last year with the move to AA. With a player who does not project to have much power or speed, he needs to keep up a good average to be of value at 2B. He only hit .257 last year (though bad luck may have been slightly a factor with a BABIP at .285). If he can find a little luck again and hit around .280-.290, he may look very Scutaro-like in a few years.

    Brown, on the other hand, still has his plus speed and solid defense in CF to consider. Scouts say he may need to re-work his swing and approach to be successful enough to reach the Majors as a starter. With a poor BB% and average, he wasn’t able to get on base enough last year to put his speed to use. Scouts have also noted that his speed looks much better in the outfield, than on the base paths, so that is something else he may need to work on. If he is willing to make some big adjustments and work hard, however, his tools could very well translate to the Major league level in a year or two.

  • ogc (@obsgiantscompul) January 30, 2014, 3:37 pm

    I think Panik had some bad luck in 2013. If he bounces back to his career BABIP, that adds 27 points to his batting average, putting him back around the .270-.280 range for BA, and a great .360 OBP. But his OPS would probably still be lite, around .750 OPS or lower.

    But his peripherals were great again in 2013, showing his great ability to get walks while not striking out so much. Baseball Forecaster notes that hitters with BB/K of 1.0 (where Panik is about for his MiLB career) has averaged hitting .280-.290 in the majors, and that of hitters over 1.0, 51% of them end up hitting over .300 BA and only 9% under .250. And guys with his combination of walking and strikeouts hit somewhere in the .280-.300 range. So that is his potential, if he can continue to keep on walking and striking out at his career rates, once he reaches the MLB.

    And he has basically done that at each level he has played at in the minors. He struck out more in the EL, so that is a bit of a warning sign, but I’m willing to chalk that up to how hitters might lose their patience hitting in a pitcher’s league like this, and confidence, hitting in a league that suppresses extra-base hits. I think Scutaro is a good comp.

    Brown has already re-worked his swing last season and hopefully he will burn it into muscle memory during the off-season. I’ve given up on him being an elite base-stealer, but I think the Giants have great coaches at the MLB level, as both Randy Winn and Hunter Pence both went from OK (or even poor) base stealers to great ones (in terms of SB% and a good number) while with the Giants, so I’m hoping he can do that when he makes the majors.

    But yeah, he’s a project, I expect him at minimum to take over the Blanco role in a year or two, learn some more stuff, then hopefully can be our starting CF in another year or two after that. If he can handle the bat this season, I can see him getting to start in CF in 2015, pushing Pagan to LF, where he’s OK offensively but his defense will be so good that he can be an above average player based just on his defense.

    • Nick Valasco January 30, 2014, 9:31 pm

      Thanks for the comment OGC. I definitely agree that if Panik continues along his development path, he can be a solid 2B starter some day. His approach and tools really remind me of a Scutaro like player as you said. And I’m sure the Giants would be thrilled if he developed into that kind of player. The only problem, with this being an article based on fantasy value, is his lack of other tools. He has a good chance to provide a nice BA, but without any real speed, or power, his upside to fantasy owners is likely limited to two categories.

      Brown, on the other hand, I agree is more tricky. With the speed he has shown he is already capable of being an above-average defensive CF. The problem I’ve seen so far Brown is that he has always struck out too much, and not walked enough for what you want in a leadoff type hitter. I would actually have LESS faith in him had he not had a decent year in the pitcher friendly Eastern League in 2012. Hopefully as he continues to work on his swing, he can work on his plate approach, and once again be the leadoff hitter the Giants thought they were drafting. I don’t think he’ll ever be the .300, 50 SB type guy, but I could see .280, 25-30 SB in his future.

      Again, with both of these guys, they JUST missed the top 10, and a case can be made for both being up there. From a fantasy standpoint, I just liked the upside (and trusted) a few others just a bit more.