Continuing on with my list of the Giants’ top 60 prospects as we move toward 2014 Spring Training, you can find Part I of this series here:
13. Jake Dunning (25 years old in 2014, RHP). Dunning broke through in a big way in 2013. After posting a 4.10 ERA in relief at AA Richmond at age 23 in 2012, Dunning was almost unhittable at AAA Fresno in 2013, ultimately posting a 1.49 ERA with 44 Ks in 48.1 innings pitched at the highest minor league level.
That performance got Dunning promoted to the Giants for two months in mid-season and again for the month of September, where he recorded a 2.84 ERA in 29 relief appearances. His major league pitching line was 25 IP, 20 hits, two HRs and 11 BBs allowed and 16 Ks. I consider Dunning still a prospect because of his age and the fact that he’s not guaranteed a major league roster spot at the start of 2014, although he’ll obviously get a good look during this year’s Spring Training.
It’s worth noting that Dunning was a 33rd round draft pick out of college in 2009, so he’s wildly exceeded expectations to date. The point, I guess, is that professional performance is ultimately much more important than a player’s original draft pedigree, even if teams tend to favor the players they initially drafted high.
14. Heath Hembree (25, RHP). The Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2010, Hembree had a mixed year at AAA Fresno, his second at this level, posting a 4.07 ERA but striking out 63 batters in 55.1 relief innings. However, after he was promoted to the major league club in September, he allowed no runs in nine relief appearances and struck out 12 while walking only two in 7.2 innings pitched.
Hembree should probably be ranked above Dunning, with whom he’ll be competing for a major league bullpen spot in 2014, because Hembree probably has a better arm and a better body type. However, Dunning certainly accomplished more in 2013.
15. Nick Noonan (25, 2B). The 32nd overall selection in the 2007 Draft, Noonan’s 2013 was both good and bad. On the good side, Noonan spent much of his summer in San Francisco, making major league money and getting to experience being on a major league team. On the bad side, he mostly rode the pine, playing mainly as a late inning defensive replacement and losing valuable playing time.
Noonan had a fine season at AAA Fresno in 2012, getting 541 plate appearances and recording a .347 on-base percentage. In 2013, he got only 299 plate appearances (188 in Fresno, 111 in San Francisco), and he didn’t hit well in either place. Noonan is now on the cusp of being a prospect and getting old, but he could get major playing time in San Francisco this upcoming season if 38 year old Marco Scutaro gets hurt.
16. Derek Law (23, RHP). Derek Law, a former 9th round draft pick, had a terrific year roughly split between Class A Augusta and Class A+ San Jose. He recorded a 2.31 ERA on the season with a sensational pitching line of 66.1 IP, 51 hits, two HRs and 12 walks allowed, while striking out 102. Law also turned heads with a fantastic performance in the Arizona Fall League, allowing only a single unearned run in 11 relief appearances totaling 12.1 IP, striking out 16 and walking six. Law would rank higher on this list, but for the fact he hasn’t pitched above the Class A+ level yet.
17. Joan Gregorio (22, RHP). Another one of the many fine young arms the Giants have at the full-season A level, Gregorio went 6-3 with a 4.00 ERA, but 84 Ks and only 17 BBs in 69.2 innings pitched for the Augusta GreenJackets. However, oblique muscle and blister problems limited Gregorio to only 13 starts in 2013, only one of which occurred after August 1st.
Another of the Giants’ many former Dominican bonus babies, the concern with Gregorio is his body type. He’s listed as 6’7″ but only 180 lbs. That’s mighty thin.
18. Mac Williamson (23, RF). The Giants’ 3rd round draft pick in 2012, Williamson had a fine season at Class A+ San Jose in his first full season of professional baseball. He slugged 25 homers with an overall batting line of .292/.375/.504 and even stole 10 bases in 11 attempts. We’ll see how he does in the high minors next year, but he’s right on course so far.
19. Steve Okert (22, LHP). The Giants’ 4th round draft pick in 2012, Okert had a strong season at age 21 at Class A Augusta. He posted a 2.97 ERA with 59 Ks and 24 BBs in 60.1 IP.
20-22. Ian Gardeck (23, RHP); Stephen Johnson (23, RHP); and Mason McVay (23; LHP). Three more fine young arms who pitched for class A Augusta in 2013. Gardeck (3.21 ERA, 66K/56IP), Johnson (3.61 ERA, 71K/52.1 IP), and McVay (4.12 ERA, 75 K/67.1 IP) were not particularly young or especially effective for this level and this pitchers’ park, but they all have great strikeout stuff, which is what you like to see in your young pitchers. They’re also look to have big, strong pitchers’ bodies.
The Giants aren’t kidding when they brag they’ve got as much pitching depth at the A level of any team in baseball.
23. Ryder Jones (20, 3B). The Giants’ 2nd round draft pick last June, his selection was a shocker, particurly when the Giants gave him full slot money, since most analysts didn’t have him going before the 5th or 6th rounds. Clearly, the Giants saw in Jones something few, if anyone else, did.
Jones rewarded the Giants for their faith in him with a strong first season in the Rookie Arizona League, posting a batting line of .317/.394/.400 in 37 games. His defense at third base was pretty poor, however, and he didn’t show any speed, stealing no bases and hitting no triples in limited playing time.
I am probably rating Jones too high, given limited playing sample in a Rookie league, but at least he’s proved he can hit a little as a professional.
24. Gustavo Cabrera (18, CF). Cabrera was one of the top international prospects in 2012, and the Giants gave him a big $1.3 million signing bonus. He was completely over-matched at first as a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, but he finished the season strong, batting .333 with a 1.100 OPS in his last ten games. For the season as a whole, he batted .247/.379/.360 with 21 steals in 28 attempts.
Cabrera would rank higher, but he suffered what Baseball America calls a “gruesome” wrist injury in late October 2013. The report is that he slipped and put his right hand through either a glass table or a glass window nearly severing his hand at the wrist.
His chances of returning from the injury as an elite prospect are anyone’s guess. Some sources suggest he will miss all of the 2014 season or could be through entirely, while others suggest he may be sufficiently healed to begin play in the Rookie Arizona League, which starts its season next June.
I’m beginning to think that projecting 17 year olds as top prospects is too much wishful thinking. Too many things can happen between when they start play in the Dominican Summer League and when/if they eventually make it to the majors.
Besides Cabrera’s wrist injury, the Giants will be losing their next best 2012 Latin prospect Nathanael Javier (the Giants gave him a $475,000 signing bonus) for nearly a full short-season after he tested positive for steroids this off-season. I’m also sure you remember Angel Villalona, another Latin super-prospect, whose professional career took a two-year detour due to murder charges back in the Dominican Republic. He’s still in the Giants’ system and still a prospect, but not like he was back in 2009.
Last year I selected shortstop Hengerber Medina as my 14th best prospect heading into the 2013 season, based on a terrific 2012 season in the Dominican Summer League at age 17. Back in the DSL in 2013 and a year older, Medina was even worse than he had been good the year before. I don’t know what happened to Medina (the change in performance is so great it’s hard to make sense of, particularly since he was healthy enough to play in more games in 2013), but I do know that I have to be more careful in the future about trumpeting the future careers of teenagers playing in the DSL. They have a long time to work their way up through the system, and onto future lists of the Giants’ top prospects.