The San Francisco Giants System

Image source: mlb.com.

My system recaps got a bit sidetracked with all of the NRI stuff I did the past couple of weeks, but I’ve still got to look at the NL West systems, so it’s time for me to get back up to speed with these.

I’ll lead off the NL West recaps with a look at the farm system of the reigning champion Giants.

System Overview:

Giants GM Brian Sabean takes a lot of heat for being veteran-oriented and struggling to develop young talent. The current state of this system doesn’t completely refute such concerns, but it’s not like there’s nothing here.

I’m as much on the Brandon Belt bandwagon as anybody else, but I have to admit that there’s no other hitter in this system who looks like an 80% bet to be an MLB regular. That said, there are a lot of guys with a decent chance to contribute offensively, particularly in the outfield. I find the Giants’ primary middle infield prospects (Ehire Adrianza, Charlie Culberson, Brandon Crawford) to all be somewhat overrated, but let’s not overlook catcher Hector Sanchez and third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

The pitching is a bit of a mixed bag. Zack Wheeler hasn’t been that great, but the Giants boast two very underrated lefty prospects in Eric Surkamp and Edwin Escobar. Those three are pretty much it for high-upside starters, though, as the talent falls off quite dramatically thereafter. The two relievers I’ll be listing here are quite intriguing, though.

Overall, I’m not a huge fan; only Belt, Surkamp, Wheeler, and Escobar jump out to me as impact prospects, and even there, all three arms have some questions (Surkamp’s velocity, Wheeler’s control, Escobar’s inexperience). Beyond those four, there’s a really nice amount of depth, but nobody who really looks like an exciting prospect–there’s really a bunch of guys who look like backups, utility guys, back-of-the-rotation starters, and relievers. It’s certainly possible that some (particularly young outfielders Gary Brown and Jarrett Parker) take steps forward in 2011 and push this system back up, but until then, it fails to really excite me.

Catcher: Hector Sanchez. Sanchez was overshadowed by his younger Low-A teammate Tommy Joseph, but the 21-year-old switch-hitter has much better control of the strike zone than Joseph, and he’s more polished defensively. Sanchez doesn’t have a great body at 5’11″ and a generous 235, but he moves decently behind the plate, and his good arm gunned down 38% of runners last year. He’s a contact hitter with some gap power who hit .274/.336/.398 in Low-A as a 20-year-old last year. Look out for him; it’s not often that you find solid defensive catchers who can hit decently from both sides of the plate.

Upside: 8.1, Downside: 3.5

First base: Brandon Belt. Belt came in as the #19 prospect on my Top 100, easily the #1 prospect in San Francisco’s system:

Belt was a 2009 5th-rounder who was looked at as a sort of plus defensive 1B Doug Mientkiewicz type. After one year, it looks like he pairs that excellent defense with one of the most potent bats in the minors. Dropped straight into High-A for his first pro experience, the 22-year-old hit a whopping .381/.491/.626. Double-A pitching also struggled with Belt, who promptly hit .337/.413/.623 after being promoted. He continued to hit well in Triple-A late in the year (.229/.393/.563). With his 23-homer season, Belt showed a lot more pop than anyone expected, and he took a ton of walks while keeping his strikeout level reasonable. He even stole 22 bases. Belt could be the rare first baseman who contributes in all facets of the game—think Derrek Lee in his prime.

Upside: 9.6, Downside: 6.8

Second base: Charlie Culberson. Many like Culberson more than I. First, the positive: He hit .290/.340/.457 with 16 homers in High-A last year at age 21. The bad news, however: It was the Cal League, and his defense at second isn’t great. Culberson did hit .366/.394/.561 in fall ball, but the 22/5 K/BB in 21 games wasn’t good, and if it weren’t for an absurd performance against lefties (15-for-20; .750/.750/1.350), his line wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as good. He never hit much in Low-A and still doesn’t have a good approach, so I’m tentatively calling the 2010 breakout a Cal League outlier. He’s got a lot to prove still, but Culberson will win believers if he can handle the tougher Eastern League in 2011 while improving his defense.

Upside: 7.8, Downside: 4.2

Shortstop: Ehire Adrianza. Adrianza is a defense-oriented shortstop who hit just .256/.333/.348 in the Cal League last year. He was just 20 for most of the season, however, and he did control the strike zone better than Culberson. At his age, he has time to develop his offensive game, but the going could be rough for him in the EL this season. He’ll need to show some sort of line-drive ability to warrant an everyday spot at the big league level, but his defense should at least give Adrianza a utility job.

Upside: 8.1, Downside: 4.6

Third base: Conor Gillaspie. Gillaspie famously played for the Giants the same year he was drafted–2008–and while he’s basically disappeared from view since his token 1-for-5 in eight games that season, he’s still a decent prospect at age 23. Gillaspie spent 2010 in Double-A, batting .287/.335/.420 in a pitcher’s environment and showing very solid contact skills. His AFL line was also quite impressive–.306/.350/.597 with as many homers as strikeouts. Gillaspie’s a solid defensive third baseman as well. He makes such frequent contact that he doesn’t walk as much as one would like, and he’ll need to turn up the power a notch, but he could turn into a viable starter at third base, not that the Giants need one right now.

Upside: 8.0, Downside: 5.0

Outfielder #1: Gary Brown. Brown was the 24th pick in last year’s draft, and nobody’s quite sure what to make of him. The outfielder is gifted with extremely impressive speed and plays excellent defense in center field. However, he’s already 22, has just twelve games of pro experience, and has yet to display much plate discipline or power. He didn’t get off to much of a start in those 12 games, hitting just .159/.296/.227. He’s got nice potential, and if Brown hits much, he’ll be a solid center fielder, but he really could be anything from Carlos Gomez to Shane Victorino.

Upside: 8.7, Downside: 3.4

Outfielder #2: Jarrett Parker. Parker has yet to play in a professional game, but also holds nice promise. The 21-year-old was selected 50 picks after Brown–74th overall–last year. Like Brown, he’s a plus defender in center field who boasts excellent speed on the basepaths. Like Brown, his hitting ability lags behind his athletic ability, and Parker isn’t a guy who’s going to be putting up 20-HR seasons in the majors. We’ll know more about him as a professional once he gets into game action.

Upside: 8.3, Downside: 2.5

Outfielder #3: Thomas Neal. Unlike Brown and Parker, Neal is a seasoned professional who will be opening 2011 in Triple-A. Also unlike the two outfielders above him, Neal’s calling card is his bat. He took a big nosedive in Double-A last year, hitting just .291/.359/.440 after dominating the Cal League in 2009 (.337/.431/.579). He does make solid contact for a slugger, and he’s a reasonably athletic left fielder, but Neal’s going to need to hit more than twelve homers in a season to avoid being just another Triple-A guy with some platoon possibilities. 2011 will be a big year for Neal, who turns 24 in August.

Upside: 8.3, Downside: 5.7

Starting Pitcher #1: Eric Surkamp. The other Giant on my Top 100, Surkamp snuck in at #94:

Surkamp proved to be the rare pitcher who excelled in the Cal League, whiffing 108 and walking 22 in 101 1/3 innings and posting a 3.11 ERA.

A deceptive lefty with pristine command, Surkamp works with a fastball around 90, a plus curveball, and a solid changeup. He looks to be a mid-rotation rock, and if his deception works in the majors, he could turn into a nice #2 starter. A hip injury kept the 23-year-old from pitching in August and likely kept him from debuting in Double-A in 2010, which would have given him an opportunity to move up the list.

Upside: 8.8, Downside: 5.5

Starting Pitcher #2: Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was a top draft pick in 2009, going sixth overall. He validated that to a degree in his pro debut, whiffing 70 batters and allowing no homers in 58 2/3 innings while showing an excellent sinker/changeup combination. On the downside, however, he walked 38 batters, including 24 lefties in 19 2/3 innings. He needs refine his slurve and learn to control all of his pitches better, or else he’ll probably wind up as a groundballing setup man. He’s still very young, so he’s got time, but of the top 10 picks in 2009, only Donavan Tate and Matt Hobgood have had more problems thus far.

Upside: 9.1, Downside: 3.5

Starting Pitcher #3: Edwin Escobar. Escobar’s rarely discussed, even by Giants fans, but he’s worth looking at. The lefthander struck out 69 batters in 63 innings in the Northwest League last year, even though he was just 18 years old. At that age, he’s far from a finished product–Escobar also walked 40 batters, uncorked seven wild pitches, and issued four balks. Still, few pitchers of his age can step in and succeed in the Northwest League–he had the seventh-highest strikeout rate among NWL starters, and only two of the six above him were 20 or younger. A relative of both Kelvim Escobar and Alcides Escobar, Edwin sits in the 90-92 mph range, and while he’s not particularly big, scouts think he could add a bit more. He’s also got a developing breaking ball. Escobar should spend the entirety of 2011 in Low-A, even though he’s just turning 19 in late April, and he’s definitely a guy who can shoot up prospect lists with a good showing this year.

Upside: 8.9, Downside: 2.5

Starting Pitcher #4: Jorge Bucardo. Bucardo’s a solid but unspectacular prospect who’s a clear notch below Surkamp’s dependability and the promise of Wheeler and Escobar. His big skill is his ability to induce ground balls with a low-90′s sinker, but beyond that, everything else is somewhat in question, as Bucardo’s offspeed offerings aren’t particularly good and he doesn’t get that many whiffs, even in A-ball. Just 21, he looks like a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater or solid reliever down the line.

Upside: 8.0, Downside: 4.0

Starting Pitcher #5: Michael Main. It’s been an up-and-down career for Main, who’s battled a number of injuries and posted some high ERAs. Still, he’s got nice stuff, and he solved the Cal League at age 21 with the Rangers organization this year, posting a 72/21 K/BB and 3.45 ERA. After a trade to the Giants, he threw 13 2/3 awful Double-A innings and was shut down for the year at the end of July, a worrisome trend after his abbreviated 2009 (which featured a 6.83 ERA in High-A). He’s starting 2011 in Double-A at age 22, and Main still has a decent enough fastball/curveball combination, but he’s got to show some consistency to start moving back up prospect lists.

Upside: 8.1, Downside: 3.8

Relief Pitcher #1: Jose Casilla. Casilla shut down Low-A last year with a devastating sinker, allowing no homers in 54 1/3 innings. Between Casilla, Bucardo, and Wheeler, I’d imagine the infield defense there got quite the workout! Like Bucardo, Casilla doesn’t get too many strikeouts, which probably precludes him from being an elite MLB reliever. He’s got excellent control of his sinker-slider combination, though, so he’s a relatively polished prospect who looks like a good bet to contribute. Chad Qualls is a good comparison.

Upside: 8.6, Downside: 4.1

Relief Pitcher #2: Heath Hembree. Hembree was the Giants’ fifth-round pick in 2010, and he promptly struck out 22 batters, with no walks, in 11 innings of Rookie ball. Not a bad debut, eh? He’s got a huge fastball in the mid-90′s, so as long as it’s in the zone, he’s going to have success. He’s also got an upper-80′s cutter that saws off lefties. Hembree’s got far more upside than Casilla, but a history of inconsistency in college means he’ll need to prove himself for more than 11 innings to really shoot up prospect lists.

Upside: 9.0, Downside: 2.6

Topics: Brandon Belt, Charlie Culberson, Conor Gillaspie, Edwin Escobar, Ehire Adrianza, Eric Surkamp, Gary Brown, Heath Hembree, Hector Sanchez, Jarrett Parker, Jorge Bucardo, Jose Casilla, Michael Main, San Francisco Giants, Thomas Neal, Zack Wheeler

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