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.