San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part I: 1-12

As we approach the start of Spring Training 2014, it feels like a good time to give a run-down of the Giants’ top 60 prospects, as I see them.  I’m only including prospects who have actually played in a professional league so far, so no Latin American bonus babies the Giants signed last July (you can find out who they were here).  Here goes:

1.  Joe Panik (age 23 in 2014, 2B).  I picked Joe Panik, the 29th player selected overall in the 2011 Draft, as my top Giants’ prospect last year, and I still like him the best, if only because he’s closer to the majors than any of the Giants’ top young pitching prospects, almost all of whom haven’t reached AA ball yet.

Panik played for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the AA Eastern League last year and his offensive numbers (.257/.333/.347) were not impressive.  However, Richmond is a tough place to hit in a pitchers’ league, and Panik’s .333 on-base percentage was solid for a 22-year old middle infielder playing in AA ball for the first time.

Just as important, Panik looks at this moment like he can provide major league defense at second base and fill in at shortstop in a pinch.  Of the six 2Bmen to play at least 100 games at the position in the Eastern League this past season (all six played between 105 and 126 games at 2B, and Panik tied for second at 117, so the comparisons are fair), Panik finished first in double plays turned (73), fielding percentage (.987) and putouts + assists divided by games played (4.60).  The Indians’ Jose Ramirez and the Tigers’ Hernan Perez, who passed quickly through the Eastern League this year, look like better middle infield prospects than Panik at this moment, but the point remains that Panik acquitted himself admirably in his first season at second base.

The question now is what kind of year Panik has at AAA Fresno in 2014.  Former 1st round Draft pick Gary Brown looked pretty good after his year at Richmond in 2012, but hit a wall at Fresno last season, seriously damaging his status as a top prospect.

The advantage Panik has is that he’s a year younger than Brown was a year ago.  Panik can spend a full season at Fresno next year, and still be in a good position to establish himself as the Giants’ 2Bman at the age of 24 in 2015 (assuming Marco Scutaro isn’t still going strong).

2.  Edwin Escobar (22, LHP).  Escobar jumps from 9th on my list last year all the way up to #2 this year, as a result of a big season split between A+ San Jose and AA Richmond.  After making 14 starts and two relief appearances at San Jose in which he posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 92 in 74.2 innings pitched while walking only 17, he was promoted to AA, where he arguably pitched even better.  In ten starts for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, he posted a 2.67 ERA, struck out 54 batters in 54 IP while walking 13 and allowing fewer hits per nine innings than he did at San Jose.  He also pitched successfully in relief in the Venezuelan Winter League recently.

Whether the Giants intend to start Escobar at AA or AAA in 2014 remains to be seen.  However, he also looks like could be ready for a full-time major league job in 2015.

3.  Kyle Crick (21, RHP).  The 49th overall selection in the 2011 Draft, Crick missed some time with an oblique strain early in the 2013 season, which limited him to only 14 starts.  However, he finished the A+ California League season with a 1.57 ERA and 95 Ks in 68.2 IP.  He also pitched well, if sparingly, in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 2.87 ERA and striking out 24 batters in 15.2 IP.

Crick is still a work in progress in that his command is nowhere near major league caliber, but he’s certainly got the stuff to develop into something special.

4.  Clayton Blackburn (21, RHP).  A 16th round draft-pick out of high school in 2011, Blackburn has pitched so well in professional baseball that one has to wonder why he was drafted so late (the most likely answer is that teams may have thought he was committed to going to college).  Blackburn’s ERA jumped from 2.54 in Class A Augusta last year to 3.65 in Class A+ San Jose, because he allowed considerably more walks and home runs in 2013 than he had the year before.  Even so, in 2013 he still struck out 138 in 133 IP, allowed slightly fewer hits in slightly more innings pitched, and still walked only 35 (compared to 18 in 2012) and allowed 12 HRs (compared to three in 2012).

One gets the impression that Blackburn is still learning how to pitch, but that he has the tools and time on his side.  Also, Blackburn is the kind of big-bodied right-hander you like to see in your prospects, and he’s shown no signs of wear after his first two seasons topping 130 innings pitched.  In fact, Blackburn finished the 2013 season strong, posting a 2.40 ERA in his last ten starts.

5.  Kendry Flores (22, RHP).  Flores went 10-6 at Class A Augusta, posting a 2.73 ERA and striking out 137 batters in 141.2 IP and recording a WHIP below 1.00.  The main problem with Flores as a prospect is that he’s more slightly built (6’2″, 175 lbs) than you’d like to see.

6.  Chris Stratton (23, RHP).  The 20th overall selection in the 2012 Draft, Stratton had a 3.27 ERA with 123 Ks in 132 IP at Class A Augusta.  A good first full season of professional baseball, but not overly impressive for this level and his draft pedigree.

7.  Martin Agosta (23, RHP).  The Giants’ second round draft pick in 2012, Agosta’s relatively small stature (6’1″, 180 lbs) is a concern.  He pitched extremely well at Class A Augusta last summer, posting a 2.09 ERA with 109 Ks in 91.2 IP.  However, he made only four starts after July 5th last summer due to arm fatigue and blister problems.  He’s clearly got stuff, but can his arm handle even 130 IP a season?  We’ll have to wait and see.

8.  Christian Arroyo (19, SS).  The Giants’ first round pick (25th overall) last year, there were some questions at the time whether Arroyo was first round material.  So far, at least, he’s put those concerns to rest with a fine season in the Rookie Arizona League, batting .326/.388/.511 in 45 games and providing above-average defense at SS, at least by Rookie league standards.  He’s got a long way to go, but his start is extremely promising.

9.  Andrew Susac (24, Catcher).  The Giants’ second round draft in 2011, Susac had a fine year at AA Richmond, batting .256/.362/.458 and throwing out 40% of base stealers against him (31 nailed in 77 attempts), but was limited to only 84 games due to injuries.  However, he played 17 games in the Arizona Fall League, batting a terrific .360/.507/.480.  There is a question in some circles about whether Susac projects as a major league starter or a back-up, but he certainly looks good right now if he can just stay healthy.

10.  Adalberto Mejia (21, LHP).  A Dominican bonus baby the Giants signed before the 2011 season, a lat (back muscle) injury limited Mejia to 16 starts at A+ San Jose and one start for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies in 2013.  However, he pitched extremely well posting an overall 3.33 ERA with 91 Ks in 92 innings pitched.  He gave up quite a few gopher balls in San Jose, and he didn’t pitch well in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season (8.47 ERA in seven appearances and 17 IP), so he may well start the 2014 season back at A+ San Jose.  Given his tender age, there’s no reason for the Giants to rush him.

11.  Ehire Adrianza (24, SS).  Adrianza had a strange year in 2013.  He batted only .240/.331/.312 in 73 games at AA Richmond.  However, he was then promoted to AAA Fresno, where he hit a tremendous .310/.409/.441 in 45 games, which got him a September cup of coffee with Giants.

Adrianza has long been a slick-fielding shortstop who hasn’t hit much, but he gets on base fairly well for a middle infielder and runs well.  I think his 45 games at Fresno were a fluke — he hit only .179 in 14 games in the Venezuelan Winter League following the 2013 regular season.  However, his age and his career minor league .335 on-base percentage suggest that he could still become a major league star.  I just don’t see it happening with the Giants unless he beats out both Joe Panik and Nick Noonan for the 2B job once Marco Scutaro is done, since he isn’t likely to move Brandon Crawford off shortstop.

12.  Ty Blach (23, LHP).  The Giants’ 5th round draft pick in 2012, Blach had a terrific first year of professional baseball, going 12-4 with a 2.90 ERA and striking out 117 batters in 130.1 IP while walking only 18 at Class A+ San Jose.  He clearly knows how to pitch — the question is whether he has the stuff to continue to be successful at the AA level and above.  We should find out soon enough, since he’ll likely start the 2014 season at AA Richmond.

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13 Comments on “San Francisco Giants’ Top Prospects 2014, Part I: 1-12”

  1. Bill Vogel Says:

    While Joe Panik’s hitting numbers were not spectacular in this 330’/’402’/ 330′ AA field, in 2013 I saw him composed to come through in some clutch pressure situations. Plus, fielding off-balance major league plays (and intelligent ball) showed me that he’s got a basic major league foundation. He’s a smart and skilled player to watch.

  2. Burly Says:

    Joe Panik did not make’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball that came out late this week. The only Giants on the list were Kyle Crick at #32 and Edwin Escobar at #95.

  3. Nice list, interesting point of view regarding Panik (I like him too, but not enough to make him #1).

    FYI, Baggarly had an informative article (or was it a chat?) on Stratton a while back, explaining that Stratton had a very serious concussion in 2012 and thus he’s giving Stratton a mulligan on how he did in 2013 (and while he didn’t meet expectations given his age and draft pedigree, he at least still did well) and want to see how he does in 2014 before downgrading him, as many lists have done.

    I like Adrianza still. When he was in a league where he was close to the average age, he did well (his first pro season), walking a lot and not striking out that much, but since then he has played in leagues where he was the youngest and his numbers don’t look at good, but that’s because he was at a disadvantage age and experience-wise. While I would agree that 2013 Fresno has some fluke aspects, I would say that Richmond in 2012-13 also, because it is so hard on hitting prospects there who could get mental there, then is freed by the higher offensive environment at AAA (though others, like Brown, are further challenged there).

    I don’t know if he can beat out Panik for the starting position, but at minimum, I see him taking on a role similar to Blanco, except that he’ll be backing up 2B and SS (and probably 3B), and he might eventually hit well enough to start, a la Scutaro’s long path to regular starter. I still like Noonan too, and probably the two of them are going to be the middle MI utility guys after Arias is gone, though I don’t know if we have enough options for Noonan to do that, might have to make a decision in a season or two. Both have good bats for MI, it’s whether they can take that next step. So far so good for Adrianza in spring, though there is still a long time to go, and most teams probably don’t have a book on him yet.

    • Burly Says:

      I ranked Joe Panik so high in part because young pitchers a long way from the majors often blow their arms out before they can establish themselves as major league pitchers. As for Chris Stratton, I ranked him 6th overall last year also. I want to see him really do something in pro ball before I move him any higher, no matter what his draft pedigree. If Ehire Adrianza continues to hit fairly well at AAA Fresno this upcoming season, he could take Joaquin Arias’ super-sub job as soon as the 2014 All Star Break or trade deadline.

      • Yeah, no, I get it, I have no problem with you ranking him first, I just wouldn’t. And you did note up front that him being closer was the factor for you placing him first.

        I understand that Crick is far away, but while I like Panik to be a Scutaro type hitter eventually, Crick could be a front-line starter. And I would note that Crick has less wear and tear on his arm because he didn’t start pitching full-time until his senior year, which should help mitigate the injury bug. Plus, he should be in AA this season, and if he’s ready by the end of the season, the Giants will probably have no problem letting Vogelsong go (well, unless he has another 2011-2012 season) and letting Escobar and Crick fight it out for the rotation spot in 2015.

        And I wasn’t arguing against your ranking, sorry, I get that a lot of rankings use different criteria and that jumbles them up relative to each other. If I thought someone was really high or low, I would then point it out and give my reasoning. But I just noted that I wouldn’t. However, I didn’t have any problem with your ranking, I just wouldn’t do it.

        I just thought I would include all that information and my thoughts because any Giants fan looking at this list might not know it, and that is something to consider (though not necessarily meant to change anyone’s mind).

        Here’s another factoid: Adrianza is out of options, so the Giants can’t send him to AAA this season without running him through waivers, and I doubt he makes it through. I expect him to win the second MI spot on the bench and Abreu gets traded or released.

        Keep up the nice work.

  4. Burly Says:

    I’m surprised Adrianza is out of options already, since he’s only received one September call-up so far — it must have something to do with the fact that he’s been in the Giants’ system forever and has been on the team’s 40-man roster for years, even if he hasn’t played in the majors. At any rate, I can’t see the Giants letting him go through waivers, so his chances of making the team out of Spring Training are obviously good.

    I don’t think Kyle Crick is as far along as you do, OGC. He may well start the 2014 season at AA Richmond, but I don’t think he’ll be ready to pitch for the Giants early in 2015 unless his command takes a sudden leap forward. He was wild at A+ San Jose and wild in the Arizona Fall League last year. A late 2015 or early 2016 feels more likely, assuming Crick stays healthy.

    • Exactly, when a prospect is signed at age 16, the rules start the clock at, like, 21, even if the guy is still in A-ball, plus he got stuck in AA, where Giants position prospects seem to go to watch their bats die.

      I make my statement about Crick based on Sabean’s statement that team’s top prospects often jump from AA to the majors. True, he needs to work on his command, and a lot, but looking at his game by game stats, and from reading some articles, it seems like he has the skill to keep down the walks (there was one particularly good one, like 9-10 strikeouts and no walks), but just not the consistency, which I attribute to him still learning pitching.

      For example, look at how the Giants have jumped up pitchers like Sanchez, Runzler, and others. Runzler is as wild as they come. And I’m not saying that he’ll win the job, but I’m saying I won’t be surprised if he’s in the mix, much like Law is in the mix this season, but unlikely to make the team.

      Nice chatting with you, keep up the good work!

      • Oh, plus I left out the point that if he makes the team as the 5th starter, the Giants have been able in 2009-2012 to field a great pitching staff overall despite poor performances from the 5th starter, so they can absorb a high walk guy if they think he’s ready for the majors and is better off learning in the majors rather than in the minors, like they decided with Belt and Crawford.

      • Burly Says:

        I don’t see a pitcher making the jump directly from AA Richmond to San Francisco, unless the young pitcher pitches like the second coming of Lefty Grove or Dwight Gooden at Richmond. Richmond is a pitchers’ park, as is Class A Augusta, while A+ San Jose and AAA Fresno are hitters’ parks. That’s the reason why the Giants often jump their best hitting prospects (for example, Buster Posey) from San Jose directly to Fresno, so the hitter’s confidence doesn’t get shaken trying to hit in a bad situation in Richmond (or previously the Giants’ AA team in Norwich, Connecticut, which was also an extreme pitchers’ park). The Giants also sometimes jump pitchers directly from Augusta to their AA club for the same reason. In short, it’s much easier for a hitter who has a big year at AA Richmond to make the jump to the majors than it is for a pitcher (for example, as Pablo Sandoval did in 2008) .

        Second, as a group AA and AAA hitters, not to mention those in the majors, have much better strike zone judgment than Class A and A+ hitters do. If Crick didn’t have great walk rates in A and A+ ball, it behooves the Giants to prove Crick can consistently throw strikes to AA and AAA hitters before they rush him to the majors. Given his age, I just don’t see the Giants rushing Crick to the majors before they think he’s ready. Edwin Escobar, based on his fine pitching in half a season at AA Richmond last year, looks a lot closer to the majors than Crick does.

      • Yes, not likely, but not impossible, is what I’m saying. And nice references to Lefty and Doc.

        I’m aware of the pitching orientation of AA, particularly Norwich, which I wrote a number of blog posts on about how it really harms the Giants hitters (I was really happy they left that city). And really, Posey has been the only one of their best hitters to jump AA, both Sandoval and Belt had to go through AA experience, among others (not that they were that good, but others like Schierholtz, Niekro, Lewis, Bowker, etc.), I don’t recall any other “best hitters” who jumped AA. And I think what Posey has done in the majors validates why the Giants jumped him and not others, he was an exception.

        Yes, it behooves the Giants that Crick consistently throw strikes. That is why I noted in my second paragraph that from my knowledge of reading about Giants prospects that it appears that the ability is there (again, look at his starts and you will see some gems of command/control, about half his starts in 2013, about double the rate from 2012), but the focus/concentration has not, and that’s part of the learning he’s still going through as a pitcher, given that he never really concentrated on it until his senior year in high school. He’s also noted in recent interviews that he has learned a lot from being in spring training this season, that he’s learned more there than he has in a couple of years in the minors, that’s part of what I’m talking about.

        Yes, he has struggled in A-ball and advanced-A to throw strikes. Anyone can see that in his stats, it’s obvious. I’ve been trying to explain to you that he’s been learning to pitch, he’s getting a master’s course in pitching, and there’s a learning curve involved, so that’s why he’s been very wild, as anyone would be while trying to learn.

        Perhaps I’m overreading all this, but I’m not a uninformed homer who thinks all our prospects are the greatest, the Giants prospects have mostly not been the best, but the Giants have, I believed, understood who to give opportunity to, and who not to, and more importantly, who to keep.

        I agree that Escobar is currently closer, but barring any injury to the rotation, he’s staying in AAA in 2014, most probably, given the news out of spring training about how he’s opening eyes there. Hence why I noted that IF Crick had a good AA season, he and Escobar could be competing for a spot in 2015, as the Giants have been pretty good about allowing prospects who are ready to compete with a spot that they could win.

        And given the news I read on Crick, I think that is possible – likely, probably not – but it would not surprise me either. He took a big step in K/BB from 2012 to 2013, and if he applies his learning this spring, he should take another big step in 2014. And if it is a big enough step – again, I note that almost half his starts in 2013 were great in terms of keeping walks down while striking out a lot – the Giants will have no problem jumping him, they have done it before with other prospects when they are ready.

        And yes, at his age, they don’t need to rush him, but in numerous other cases, if the pitcher appears to have nothing else to learn, they will have no problem moving him up to the majors, they appear to understand the concept of TINSTAAP, and will move guys up if they appear ready.

      • Ooops, the reference in the parenthesis were a reference to Schierhotlz etc, not Sandoval and Belt, who are good hitters.

  5. Burly Says:

    Let’s hope for the best with Crick. He’s certainly got the stuff to advance quickly when he puts it all together.

    • Definitely! As a parting gift, here is a quote I just ran across, he gave this in an interview during AFL:

      “I think it’s just focusing on every pitch,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a mechanical flaw or anything. I think it’s just bearing down and focusing on the mitt, hitting spots and throwing everything for strikes. Not just the slider and the fastball but the changeup and the curve, too.”

      This ties in with another article on him, just recently published, where it was noted that when the Giants got on him for the walks, and I think challenged him, he had a start with 0 walks and, if I recall right, double digit K’s.

      I guess they should have challenged him in every start after that. :^)

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