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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Giants' Top 20 Prospects for 2013: GBB Edition

Like we try and always do about this time of year, I wanted to get our version of the Giants top-20 prospect list out before spring training starts up. You'll find a lot of the names in pretty similar spots to last year, but with Gary Brown's off-year and the trade of Tommy Joseph, there has been some shuffling atop the list.

1. Kyle Crick, RHP: The toughest part of this list was picking between Blackburn and Crick for the number one spot, but I have to roll with Crick because of his off-the-charts potential. As far as pure stuff and 'strike you out' ability, the big right-hander is second to none. Giants scouts have compared him favorably to both Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, and both those guys were able to cruise through the minors quickly. Perhaps the most telling sign of his dominance though is his 1 HR allowed in 118 minor league innings thus far. The only knock on Crick is his knack for walking batters.

2. Clayton Blackburn, RHP: I seem to like this young right-hander a lot more than most scouts do. Andrew Baggarly had him 6th in his prospect list for Baseball America, but I really like the kids makeup. His winning percentage and K:BB ratio last year with Augusta stood out big time, and although he doesn't really overpower you like Crick does, his control is far more advanced. I can't wait to see how the 20 year-old does in the offensive-happy Cal League this year.

3. Chris Stratton, RHP: I really liked the selection of Stratton at pick 20 in last years draft, and I think this kid will be on the fast track to the big leagues starting in 2013. He didn't get to do much after being drafted last year as he got hurt and missed some time, but he showed hints in Salem that he'll make a smooth transition into the professional ranks. The last time the Giants selected a college arm that high in a draft was when they got Lincecum in '06 and we all saw how quickly he ascended to the big leagues.

4. Gary Brown, OF: His .279/7/42 line with 33 steals was a major fall-back from his 2011 line of .339/14/80 and 55 SB's. However, he was playing the notoriously pitcher-friendly Eastern League, and did come on strong in the second half. 2013 will be a crucial year for the 24 year-old, as he's entering that phase where it's put up or shut up time. He's going to start the year in Fresno, but in a perfect world, the Giants would love to see him force his way onto the big league roster at some point this season. His glove is polished, but I'd like to see his stolen base percentage and batting average go up a little bit.

5. Joe Panik, SS: Like with Brown, Panik had a somewhat pedestrian 2012 season. His batting average (.296) and OBP (.368) were solid, but his slugging numbers left something to be desired. After hitting 6 homers in 300 at-bats in 2011, he managed just 7 in 600 at-bats playing in the friendly confines of the California League. The 23 year-old should start the year in AA, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's moved up to AAA at some point if he's handling the bat well.

6. Heath Hembree, RHP: Hembree's injury-plagued off-year really came at a tough time for the youngster. The Giants lost Brian Wilson early in the year and probably would have brought Hembree up at some point if he were pitching better. After carrying an ERA under 2 for his first two seasons in the minors, it shot up to 4.76 as he struggled in Fresno. The silver lining here is that he wasn't fully healthy for most of last season, so hopefully he gets back on track in 2013. I'll be watching him especially closely this spring.

7. Mike Kickham, LHP: The 24 year-old lefty put together a real strong year for Richmond in 2012, and it really put him on the map. He's always had good stuff plus he's a lefty, so he's been on the radar, but he seemed to put it together in 2012 (11-10, 3.05 ERA, 137 K's in 150 innings). I'm looking for big things from him in 2013 as he should begin the year in Fresno and would be amongst the first guys looked at should the Giants need an extra starter to fill in at some point.

8. Martin Agosta, RHP: The 2nd round pick from 2012 didn't do a whole lot in the minors after being drafted, but he did show his ability to dominate with 19 K's in 10+ innings in the rookie league. He's got a little bit of Tim Lincecum in him as he's got a slender frame but can really hike up the velocity. With a good year in 2013, he could catapult into the top-5 based on his ability and long term potential.

9. Andrew Sussac, C: The 23 year-old catcher had plenty of hype after the Giants drafted him in the 2nd round in 2011, but he disappointed in his first full year as a pro. Still, he's got the skill-set, and the bat to adjust to pro ball, and it would surprise me to see him struggle with the bat again in 2013. Although he's not the athlete that Posey is, he's got a lot of similar skill-sets, and he's another guy who could find himself in the top-5 next year with a nice 2013 campaign.

10. Edwin Escobar, LHP: This guy is one of the most intriguing young arms in the Giants system. He was only 19 in 2012, and he put up some very impressive numbers in A-ball. He's got a lively fastball that sits around 91 MPH, and he's got a solid curve and change to go with it. Many who've seen more of the young lefty than I have believe his ceiling to be a mid-rotation guy, with his floor being a big league middle reliever.

11. Adalberto Mejia, LHP: Mejia is another young lefty (19 years old) with tremendous upside and is coming off a solid 2012 season. He's got above average command and stuff for his age and he rarely gives up the long ball. Between he and Escobar, the Giants have some very talented young lefties in low in their system who appear ready to really start making some noise.

12. Mac Williamson, OF: The Giants third round selection in last June's draft did nothing but impress in limited time after arriving in the organization. Between rookie ball and low-A, he managed a .321/9/32 line with a .965 OPS in just 145 at-bats. This guy has legit pop, and I think he could be in for a huge year in San Jose.

13. Roger Kieschnick, OF: Much like Hembree last season, Kieschnick got bitten by the injury bug at the worst possible time. He was tearing up AAA pitching, and would have been the Giants clear-cut choice to take Melky's roster spot had he been healthy, but he went down. In only 55 games before going down, he was hitting .295 with 15 jacks, 14 doubles and a .942 OPS. If he's healthy this spring, and the Giants want to go with 5 outfielders out of the gate, he may be first in line for that 5th spot.

14. Chris Heston, RHP: This guy has done nothing but improve each year since he became a pro, with 2012 being his big breakout year. The 24 year-old went 9-8 with a 2.24 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 148 innings in AA Richmond. Will start 2013 in AAA, and is likely the 6th starter on the organizational depth chart after Barry Zito, meaning he's first in line should one of the top-5 go down with injury.

15. Francisco Peguero, OF: We saw a small sample of Peguero after Melky Cabrera's suspension in August, and although he didn't particularly stick out, he showed he can handle the glove and has some good wheels. I think he needs some more time in Fresno to fine-tune some things, but the 24 year-old very much in the mix for one of the remaining bench spots on the 25-man roster.

16. Josh Osich, LHP: Osich is intriguing for a number of reasons. He's a big lefty who hits the upper 90's with his heater, was dominant in college and has already overcome Tommy John surgery. He was used mostly as a starter in school at Oregon State, where he threw a no-hitter. With his history of being a starter and his ability to go multiple innings in relief, he reminds me a bit of Jeremy Affeldt, and I think he's going to be a plus big league reliever in the very near future (so long as he keeps that left arm healthy of course).

17. Adam Duvall, 2B: Duvall was one of the most talked about prospects in the Giants system in 2012, as he led the whole organization with 30 long balls to go with 100 RBI in high-A ball. He'll enter 2013 at 24 years of age, and after his success in 2012, the Giants will let his play dictate how quickly he advances. I would be surprised if he's not in AAA early in 2013 and earn an eventual September call-up.

18. Stephen Johnson, RHP: The 22 year-old flamethrower makes the list without having thrown but 19 innings as a pro, and the reason why, he can hit triple digits with that fastball of his. So long as he can harness it, and polish up his secondary pitches, he's got future set-up man, or possibly even closer, written all over him.

19. Brett Bochy, RHP: The younger Bochy really reminds me a lot of Sergio Romo. Both are ridiculously effective without being terribly overpowering. Then there's also the late-bloomer aspect to both. Brett will be 26 in August, but he's only had two minor league years under his belt. He's been dominant in those two though, and I think he's shown he's more than prepared for AAA and extremely close to being big league ready.

20. Gustavo Cabrera, OF: To round things out, I had to go with the guy with perhaps the most raw talent in the organization. The Giants signed the 17 year-old last summer as he was rated by BA as baseball's the top international prospect. He's drawn comparisons to Justin Upton, and he's going to have plenty of time to piece everything together as the Giants can afford to bring him along slowly.

Honorable Mention: Ehire Adrianza-SS; Bryce Bandilla-LHP, Nick Noonan-IF; Ricky Oropesa-1B; Chris Marlowe-RHP; Eric Surkamp-LHP; Steven Okert-LHP; Angel Villalona-1B
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Giants Notes: Pence, Posey and the WBC

The Giants probably could have done with the offseason ending in mid-December, as they really haven't doen much since. However, with Spring Training just over 2 weeks out, and players still waiting for 2013 contracts, I expect things to start picking up in this final phase of the offseason.

One thing I was curiously waiting for all offseason was to see what kind of money the Giants' top two arbitration eligibles would get, and we got the answer a few days ago when Buster Posey and Hunter Pence each inked their 2013 contracts. That leaves only Sergio Romo and Joaquin Arias as the last two guys without a deal for 2013 (though both are expected to avoid arbitration). For Buster to get that high of a figure with basically just one full major league season under his belt tells you plenty of how much the Giants value this kid and he's got to be grateful to SF for showing the willingness to go that high. The Giants goal is to get this guy signed to a long-term deal, and although it may not happen before the season starts, I think it's something we'll see by next winter. The guy who protects Buster in the lineup, Hunter Pence, got a little bit higher of a figure than I was anticipating as well. I guessed $12.5M but he'll be up closer to $14M in 2013. I know he was a nice presence in the playoffs and fit in tremendously well with this team, but that money has got to get the Giants some better production in 2013. I do expect that to be the case too. This is Hunter's walk year, and he's got to envision this season as the one that really could make his career.

Elsewhere, most of the Giants news this month has been about Pablo Sandoval's minor health scare in the Domincan Republic as well as Sergio Romo's issue with the Las Vegas airport. As far as Romo's little spat is concerned, I don't really consider it an issue in the least and don't really feel the need to discuss it further. Pablo's situation, however, could play a factor into whether he decides to play for the Dominican in the upcoming WBC, or whether he'll withdraw from the even and focus on getting in shape in Giants' camp. I personally would like to see him come in early to Scottsdalle and work his tail off like he did before the 2011 season and avoid the WBC at all costs. The expectations are going to be huge for Panda this year, I know mine are, and if this is the year he can stay in shape and avoid those nagging DL stints, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a career year out of the Panda. He's got legit protetion in Posey and Pence, and he's got the table setters in front of him with Scutaro and Pagan, so Panda is going to have a large say in whether the Giants offense thrives or not. We saw how well he played in October and how he we able to carry the team at certain points. I expect a lot more of that in 2013.

As for the other Giants expected to take part in the World Baseball Classic, Ryan Vogelsong has agreed to be part of the US squad, Marco Scutaro is expected to suit up for his native Dominican Republic team and Angel Pagan will play for Puerto Rico. Also, over half the Giants bullpen will take part in the tournament with Sergio Romo pitching for Mexico, Javy Lopez for Puerto Rico, Santiago Casilla for the DR, Jeremy Affeldt for the US and Jose Mijares for Venezuela. The one name that I'm looking most forward to watching compete from the Giants' oranization though is prospect Clayton Tanner. The right-handed pitcher solidified his spot amongst the Giants premiere prospects with a great 2012 season, and was named to the Italian team as a projected starter.
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Giants Add Infielder, Looking at Brandon Lyon

Continuing the trend they've used throughout most the offseason, the Giants added a couple more players to minor league deals this week who will go to Scottsdale next month to compete for one of the final roster spaces.

With just a month to go before the pitchers and catchers report to spring training, Brian Sabean and co. are putting the final touches onto the roster that will defend a World Series title in 2013. If you've read out last few posts here, you know where I stand as far as wanting this team to add another proven player or two to really round things out (right-handed outfield bat and proven late-inning reliever), but instead, they've been piling up guys on minor league deals. The latest of which, is a semi-intriguing infielder from Japan who should be very much in the mix for the open infield/utility role that Ryan Theriot filled in 2012. 31 year-old Kensuke Tanaka is a 13-year veteran in the Japanese Pacific League where he was a staple at 2nd base for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He's got the reputation as a sound defensive player with above average speed, his two best attributes. Although he has very little home run power, he hit .335 in 2010, was hurt most of 2011, then hit .300 last season. As things currently stand, after Joaquin Arias, Hector Sanchez and Andres Torres, the Giants are trying to fill two more bench spots, and because of his experience, defense and baserunning abilities, he could win a spot with a solid showing at the plate in Arizona.

The Giants also added another reliever, Mason Tobin, to the plethora of arms they've already given minor league deals to. Within the last month, the Giants have added 7 relievers to minor league deals with an invitation to spring training. I know you can never have too much pitching in baseball, but all this attention on the bullpen tells me they aren't quite 100% confident in how things currently line up. They are returning the same group that won it for them in 2012, but they did lose one key component in Guillermo Mota and are still unsure how Sergio Romo will hold up for a full season in the closers role. With Brian Wilson gaining more and more interest from other teams (most notably the New York Mets), it appears less likely he'll be returning to San Francisco. As far as any potential major league caliber free-agent relievers are concerned, the only name I've seen linked the Giants the last few weeks is Brandon Lyon. I'm intrigued by Lyon due to the fact he's coming off a very strong year and because he's had success closing out games in the past. In 2010, he went 20/22 in save opportunities while posting a 3.12 ERA and giving up just two long balls in 78 innings of work. After missing most of 2011 due to injury, he returned strong in 2012 again, posting a 3.10 ERA with 68 K's in 61 innings.

The Giants haven't shown much interest in many major league free agents this whole offseason, so it is a bit refreshing to see them in on a guy like Lyon. I've always been impressed with the big righty when he's been healthy and his last two full seasons have shown why. I know Santiago Casilla can close in a pinch, but he showed last year he's at his best in the 7th and 8th. I'd have no problem letting Lyon fill in for Romo in the ninth when needed and one of the major reasons is because the guy just does not surrender the long ball. A 1-2 year deal at about $3-4M per would be just fine with me, and would legitimately upgrade this bullpen in my opinion.
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Friday, January 04, 2013

Giants Content with Current Roster

Perhaps the biggest signature of the Giants' 2012 season was the team chemistry they had on their roster for that World Series run. So much so that Brian Sabean made it a priority to keep the status quo, and it's showed in the way they've approached this offseason.

Aside from re-signing some of their own key components from 2012, the Giants have been as quiet as a mouse in terms of acquiring talent from outside sources. The only guy who projects to be on the 25 man roster who wasn't with the team in 2012 is Andres Torres, but other than that, they'll be relying on the same recipe for success to repeat itself in 2013. Now, on one hand, I'm extremely happy the team found a way to keep guys like Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan and Jeremy Affeldt in San Francisco for the next few years, but on the other, I keep thinking of ways they could improve themselves for 2013. I know they didn't need to make a big splash for a Josh Hamilton or Zack Grienke, but this team did have some flaws in 2012 that I felt could have been addressed this offseason. I've talked about the need for another right-handed bat in the outfield many times, but solidifying the bullpen and shoring up their backup infield spots should have been higher priorities as well, in my opinion. Torres helps fill some of the outfield void, but his bat has really disappeared the last year and a half and if he and Blanco don't hit, it'll leave this team searching for help again by mid-season. Not that they have gaping holes necessarily, but they have spots they could improve upon and apparently don't feel the urgency to do so.

Again though, it's the same team that did win it all just a few months back, so it's tough to argue with the decisions Brian Sabean and company have made. I just see them adding these minor league relievers like Scott Proctor and then see a guy like Jason Frasor sign for $1.5 million and wonder why the Giants weren't more actively pursuing Frasor rather than settling on someone who hasn't been successful in the bigs in half a decade. The bullpen is the one spot where I was expecting them to bring in some outside help this winter, especially after non-tendering Brian Wilson, but that hasn't been the case. It makes me wonder whether the Giants may still have intentions on bringing Wilson, who says he's getting close to signing with someone, back for 2013. I've stated a few times here since he became a free agent that this is still the best spot for him next season. He is expected to be ready to go by April, and although he may not be ready to return to his closer role right away, if he proves himself early on, you'd have to believe the Giants would have no problem putting him back in the 9th inning when he became ready. They have the closer-by-committee deal set-up again heading into this year, and although it did work out for them in 2012, they're a Sergio Romo elbow strain (or arrest), or a Jeremy Affeldt rotator cuff injury away from being suddenly shorthanded at the back end of their pen.

After their win in 2010, the Giants made it a priority to return the same group of guys for 2011 and things didn't work out so well. I know this team has a different make-up, and is a lot younger with more upside, but even world champs tend to make improvements and tweaks to their roster to optimize their team. Hopefully the expected improvements from guys like Belt and Crawford, plus a rebound year from Timmy will be the only improvements they need, cause they don't really have the minor league depth to make those key in-season trades like they did last year.

Coming Up: We haven't been posting quite as frequently here in recent weeks, due largely in part to the teams in-activity, but also because I was flat out swamped during the holidays this year. That said, we should get back to our typical schedule of 2-3 posts per week shortly though, and I appreciate all the readers who continue to visit and contribute to our site. We also have a few Matt Cain Perfect Game Commemorative DVD's left to give away to our readers, and if your interested, please e-mail us with your thought on the Giants offseason so far, and whether or not your content with this returning roster and/or who else you'd like to see Sabean pursue.
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