Monday, May 30, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Joe Ross, RHP, and Josh Osich, LHP

We're winding down toward the MLB Rule 4 Draft, and as expected, Mock Drafts continue to pop up. Let's take a look at two draft prospects who are being rumored to go to the 29th slot in the 2011 Draft.

Joe Ross, RHP, Bishop O'Dowd HS

John Sickels in his latest mock draft has Ross going to the Giants slot. Ross is the younger brother of former top A's prospect and pitcher Tyson Ross, and much like his older brother, the younger Ross has an enticing arm and physical build for a pitcher.

At six-foot, two-inches and 190 pounds, Ross isn't as big as his older brother (who's six-foot, five-inches and 215 pounds), but he has a lot more room for growth and is a lot earlier in his development. Tyson didn't get drafted until after his collegiate tenure at Cal-Berkley. As for Joe, he is expected to go anywhere from the late first to supplemental round as a graduating high school senior. So, while Tyson was a little bit more developed as a pitcher when he was drafted in 2008, Joe may have more upside and ceiling than his older brother.

The one thing they do share in common is that they both have live arms and good stuff. Joe, according to MLB Draft Guide, throws his fastball in the 91-94 MPH range, and he has a "slider with plus potential." Ross does have a changeup, but according to reports, it is still a work in progress.

Mechanically, Ross throws from a three-quarter arm slot and his long limbs and athletic build adds to the deception of his delivery. Furthermore, according to MLB Draft Guide, he has showed good control in high school and is consistent with his delivery, a nice sign that he may be able to make the transition to professional quickly if he signs out of high school.

Currently, Ross is committed to go to UCLA, and head coach John Savage raves about Ross' potential. Savage said this about the Bay-Area pitcher:

”Joe is the best right-handed pitching prospect in California. He has a very athletic delivery and a fastball that explodes at the plate. We look forward to watching Joe compete for a weekend job right away at UCLA. His potential as a pitcher is unlimited.”

Of course, you never know about a coach's praise. He is a recruit of Savage, and I'm sure he wants him to sign, so the praise is probably to be expected. Nonetheless, Ross has all the tools to be a good Major League pitcher, and it's obvious that barring injury, he can develop when he breaks into the minor leagues. Of course, considering his age and where he is at in his development, Ross is going to need some time to develop, as is usually the case with pitchers drafted out of high school.

In terms of where he is now, Ross isn't exactly impressive in comparison to other pitching prospects out of high school currently eligible for this year's draft. MLB Draft Insider graded his fastball a 45, his breaking stuff and changeup a 40, and his control and command a 40. However, while it currently isn't impressive, they are positive that he can grow and develop, as his fastball potential is a 55, his breaking stuff a 50 and his control/command a 55. MLB Draft Insider was especially optimistic about his mechanics, as that seems to be the strongest part of his game, as they rated his mechanics currently a 50 with 60 potential.

Ross is a good story because he's a Bay Area kid and a familiar name amongst Bay Area baseball circles. Furthermore, if the Giants draft him, they must really like him, because they don't have to go far to scout him (Bishop O'Dowd is in located in Oakland). With a baseball family pedigree, a live arm, and a need to upgrade the pitching depth in the minors, the Giants would seem to be a prime fit for Ross.

Josh Osich, LHP, Oregon State

Baseball America has Osich going to the Giants in their latest mock draft, and he is a live-armed lefty out of Oregon State who comes with some red flags. Last year, he was shut down for the year in 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. However, Osich this year has come back with a fury, with his most notable performance being a no-hitter against UCLA on May 1st.

The big story of his no-hitter was that it came in a duel against UCLA ace Trevor Bauer. For those who don't know, Bauer is one of the top pitchers in the country, and is projected to go in the Top-15 of this year's draft.

Despite the injury concerns, Osich has the size and stuff to become a legitimate Major League pitcher. At six-foot, three-inches and 225 pounds, Osich is a hoss with an intimidating presence on the mound. According to MLB Draft Guide, he throws a mid-90's fastball with an above average changeup. He is also starting to throw his breaking ball again, which he waned off of to protect himself after Tommy John surgery.

John Klima of Baseball Beginnings was very positive about him in his scouting report, and felt that despite his injuries, he was still a player that would fly off the boards, especially after all the buzz generated from his no-hitter against the Bruins, a pretty quality baseball program. Here is what Klima said in his scouting report:

"I first saw him in Palm Springs in 2009 he threw 97. In this look he sat 92-93 with a bump to 94. The velocity isn’t what it used to be, but it will be enough. He’s throwing from a mid 3/4 slot and sometimes drags his arm, which isn’t my favorite for any pitcher, but teams will look past that to get the left-handed power while they can get it. He’s still downhill enough to make it work, especially in this look, where his fastball was getting late cut into right-handed hitters. His second weapon for right-handers is a 80-82 change, both straight and with occasional sink, and he had good feel on this. There’s not a lot left to dream on here with this boy. He’s close to physical maturity and he won’t throw any harder, so you can expect him to be fast tracked."

In comparison to Ross and other high school pitchers in this draft, Osich doesn't have that much of a ceiling. That is clear in his scouting reports according to MLB Draft Insider, as he only has a 50 potential in terms of his changeup and control/command, and a 55 potential in terms of mechanics and delivery and breaking stuff. The highest rated aspect of his game may be his fastball though, as MLB Draft Insider rated his fastball a 65. This is entirely possible, as he is coming off Tommy John, and before, reports had him clocked in the 97 MPH range.

Osich looks to be a polished left-hander with back of the rotation potential, but perhaps could find some solidity in the bullpen down the road. If the Giants want a guy that can advance through the system quickly, Osich may be their guy, as he has a lot less room to develop in comparison to Ross. I'm not thrilled about the injury history or his mechanics, but history has showed that pitchers have rebounded nicely after Tommy John, and the Giants pitching staff in the minors has done well in terms of working with pitchers with mechanics issues (Zack Wheeler being the biggest example).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dominican Summer League Begins 2011 Season

The Dominican Summer League is on its way, as the DSL Giants defeated the DSL Cubs by the score of 2-0. As someone who has an interest in international baseball, the beginning of the DSL is a very exciting time and adds a whole new flavor to the minor league baseball season as well as this blog.

First off, from now on, that means the DSL is going to be covered in the periodic Farm Watch updates. Furthermore, we also will be looking at prospects that currently are on the DSL roster. The DSL Giants are coming off a successful campaign from a year ago, as they won the South Boca Chica division with a 46-25 record, and they also won DSL championship as well, beating the DSL Twins, three games to zero.

For those who don't know, the DSL consists of players who aren't eligible in the draft, but are usually free agent signings. Most of the players are of Latin American heritage, though you do occasionally see some European baseball prospects playing in the DSL from time to time. While there is no age limit in the DSL, most of the players are anywhere from the age of 16-21, so it is a developmental league, similar to the Arizona Summer League, which is catered to Rookies who are just drafted.

There are 33 teams in the DSL, with two teams belonging to the New York Yankees and Mets each. This is not surprising since those two organizations have a lot of money, and thus, have the luxury of investing a lot of money into their Latin American developmental teams. That being said, you're seeing some teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics who are making a lot of strides in terms of investing more into their Latin American talent and also the facilities of their DSL teams.

As for the Giants, they have some returning talent, as Juan Nova, Marvin Barrios, Franklin Noel, and Ariel Hernandez are the pitchers of note that return from last year's championship pitching staff. In terms of the offense, Leonardo Fuentes, Victor Feliz, Gabriel Cornier, Luis Vazquez and Fernando Pujedas are some of the hitters that contributed to the DSL Giants in 2010.

In terms of new, promising talent, the big guy to watch is Adalberto Mejia, a recent Giants signee who started on Opening Day and threw five scoreless innings and struck out five while only allowing two hits and one walk. Some other new guys to watch are Carlos Cartagena, Randy Ortiz, Noel Diaz, Shurendell Mujica, and Julio Pena. Ortiz had a good showing on Opening Day, as he had two hits, stole a base and scored two runs, while Mujica had two hits including a double and a RBI.

Overall, it'll be interesting see if any guys emerge from the DSL this year. Some recent prospects who have graduated from the DSL and are in the Giants system are Francisco Peguero, Carlos Willoughby, Rafael Rodriguez, Ehire Adrianza, Ydwin Villegas, Jose Casilla, Jorge Bucardo, and Kendry Flores. It'll be interesting to see if the DSL squad this year can produce any prospects of those caliber after the 2011 year has concluded.

Farm Watch: Roster Turnover Hurts Grizzlies, San Jose and Richmond Climbing, Kickham off to "Kicking" Start

It's been a while, but I figured it was time to do a "Farm Watch" update. Here's a look on how things are going with the Giants minor league affiliates.

Fresno Grizzlies, 22-28 heading into May 29th
  • The Grizzlies have had a lot of roster turnover lately. Emmanuel Burriss, Chris Stewart and Brandon Belt all got callups the past week, and Ryan Rohlinger and Henry Sosa were designated for assignment. All the roster change has clearly had an effect on the Grizzlies, as they have lost seven of their last 10 games. The biggest problem for the Grizzlies has been a punch-less offense, which has only averaged 4.76 R/G, fifth worst in the PCL. With catalysts like Burriss and Belt gone, the Grizzlies will depend even more on Brett Pill, Travis Ishikawa, Conor Gillaspie and Thomas Neal for offensive production.
  • Speaking of Neal, he has just come off the disabled list, and he's back on track. He hit a home run on May 27th, and yesterday, he went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a stolen base. Neal is currently hitting .358 with a .951 OPS and two home runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases on five attempts. He has drawn only two walks in 57 plate appearances, but he has only struck out seven times, and his contact rate remains solid at 87 percent. Granted, this is a short sample, and one has to wonder how Neal will perform over the long course of the PCL season. Nonetheless, considering Neal has been floating under the radar this year with all the Brandon Belt hype, it would be nice to see Neal have a solid year in Fresno.
  • One of the "bigger than people realize" stories of this latest wave of transactions has to be Henry Sosa being designated for assignment. The Giants protected Sosa from the Rule 5 Draft by adding him to the 40-man roster last year, and unfortunately, it seems like it may not have been worth it. Rule 5 draftee Joe Paterson is performing solidly with the Diamondbacks, as he has 11 strikeouts in 11.2 IP and has only allowed seven hits and one earned run. As for Sosa, he imploded in Fresno this year, as he allowed 39 hits and 30 runs in 23.1 IP, good for a 10.41 ERA. Sosa hasn't seemed to recover from the injuries that have plagued him in 2008 and 2009. His K/9 rate has significantly dropped since it was 9.3 in 2008 with San Jose, and his H/9 has climbed from 7.6 to 8.8 to 15.0 the past three years. I imagine some team is going to claim Sosa, just because he was such a decorated prospect a few years ago, so this is probably the end of Sosa's time in the Giants organization.
  • He probably is going to spend the year in Fresno unless some more injuries happen (completely possible considering how things are going now), but Brad Eldred is making some noise for the Grizzlies offensively. At six-foot, six inches, and 270 pounds, Eldred is a lumbering outfielder that probably wouldn't do well defensively in AT&T Park's big dimensions. However, he has showed some skill with the bat, as he is hitting .301 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and an OPS of .971. Eldred was formerly in the Pirates and Rockies systems before being non-tendered by Colorado last year, and he has brought some pop to a Grizzlies offense that desperately needs it. Eldred isn't exactly a prospect, as he is 30 years old and currently in his seventh season in professional ball, but he looks to be an interesting bat that could help the Grizzlies this season.

Richmond Flying Squirrels, 24-24 heading into May 29th.
  • The Squirrels have finally reached the .500 mark, and seem to be making strides, as they are only 2.5 games back behind the Harrisburg Senators (the Nationals' Double-A affiliate). The key to the Flying Squirrels' success has been the pitching, as they are allowing only 3.52 R/G and are posting a team ERA of 2.85, both best in the Eastern League. The starting rotation has been studly, as Eric Surkamp, Ryan Verdugo and Justin Fitzgerald have carried the staff, posting ERAs of 1.53, 2.93 and 3.14, respectively. Clayton Tanner has struggled a bit, as he is sporting an ERA of 4.84, but his K/BB ratio at 2.29 is better than Fitzgerald (1.22), so it is possible that Tanner is going through a bad stretch. With the offense a bit inconsistent (Richmond's 3.73 R/G is third-worst in the EL), so the pitching is going to have to carry the Flying Squirrels if they want to make a run for the division title.
  • Kind of amazing, but the Flying Squirrels have two pitchers in Double-A who were pitching for the Giants in 2008. Osiris Matos and Alex Hinshaw have struggled immensely with control and command problems since 2009, and now they are down in the Eastern League trying to figure things out. Hinshaw has always had great strikeout stuff (career 11.1 K/9 in the minors), but he has never been able to figure out his walk problems (career 6.3 BB/9 in the minors). As for Matos, he has been solid this year in Richmond (8.33 K/BB ratio, 2.23 ERA in 32.1 IP), but at the same time, he is 26 years old and he pitched the last two years in Triple-A. He may get an opportunity to pitch in the PCL later this year, but at the same time, you wonder if Matos will be anything more than a career minor-league pitcher.
  • After a slow start, Roger Kieschnick is starting to pick things up at the plate. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .316 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBI. He also has two stolen bases and five walks, and is posting a .922 OPS during this recent stretch. The strikeouts are still there, as he has had 10 strikeouts over the 10 game span. Nonetheless, it's nice to see some improvement from Kieschnick, who had a disastrous season ago as he struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness. With an offense that is being carried by Charlie Culberson right now, the Flying Squirrels need Kieschnick's bat to be competitive, and right now, he's on the right track.

San Jose Giants, 34-15 heading into May 29th.
  • After getting off to a hot start with the bat, Chris Dominguez has cooled off in his last 10 games. He is hitting .237 with zero home runs, two RBI and has 12 strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He does have six walks in this time span, but considering he hit nine home runs in his first 38 games, the power dip is a bit concerning. It could be just a bad stretch, and considering the environment of the California League, it could be just a matter of time before Dominguez starts showcasing his home run stroke again in San Jose. That being said, at 24 years old, Dominguez isn't exactly young for the Cal League, and thus, if he wants to keep his high status as a prospect, he needs to continue to display his power tools.
  • Another guy that has cooled off dramatically is Wendell Fairley, as he is posting a .557 OPS in his last ten games. Fairley has always been good in terms of his strike zone recognition, as he is posting an OBP of .358 and a BB/K ratio of 0.61. However, he has never displayed much power in the minors, as his slugging percentage this year (.350) would be a career high. Since this is Fairley's second go-around in the Cal League, a lot of progress was expected for the first round draft pick in 2011. And, even though he is performing better at the plate than a year ago, there hasn't been enough significant progress this year to show that Fairley is a serious prospect in the Giants system.
  • While Fairley has floundered, one outfielder that has come on strong is first-year player Jarrett Parker. He is posting a .792 OPS in his last ten games, and has seven RBI, seven walks and three stolen bases to boot. Parker sports an .808 OPS total for the year, and is hitting .264 in 193 plate appearances with four home runs and 24 RBI. Parker could be better in terms of cutting down his strikeouts (he has a strikeout percentage of 28 percent), but considering this is his first year of professional ball and he is only 22 years old, the progress he has shown is comforting. Of course, we have seen first year players do well in High-A, only to fall back to earth in the transition to Double-A (case in point: Kieschnick), but at the same time, Parker is an interesting prospect with some interesting tools who could do well with more at-bats as a professional.

Augusta Green Jackets,  20-29 heading into May 29th.
  • It was expected that Ehire Adrianza would start out the year in Richmond until an injury forced him on the Disabled List to begin the year. In Augusta though, Adrianza has struggled once again at the plate, as he is hitting .176 with a .586 OPS in 62 plate appearances. Adrianza has still showed good plate discipline (0.67 BB/K ratio), but as noted before, he has struggled to hit for much power or average in his minor league career. Defensively, nobody can doubt that Adrianza is the best fielding infielder in the Giants system. However, with Brandon Crawford making his debut with the Giants this weekend, there is a little bit of pressure on Adrianza to perform. He needs to show what he can do at a higher level so the Giants brass can figure out what to do with him and how much value he has as a prospect. With the slow start in the Sally, Adrianza certainly isn't making things easy for Giants management.
  • In his first full year in the minors, Mike Kickham is off to a good start. He is posting a 1.80 ERA and has 18 strikeouts and only three walks in three starts and 15 innings pitched. A sixth-round pick out of Missouri State a year ago, Kickham was rated the 16th best prospect in the Giants system by Baseball America in their 2011 Prospect Handbook. Kickham, according to Baseball America, has a good fastball that touches 94 MPH, and has a plus slider and a hard breaking ball. There definitely is some promise with Kickham, as he seems to be a polished college arm that could move up quickly if he continues to display the solid stuff and command that he showed in his first three starts with the Green Jackets.
  • Another interesting arm in the Green Jackets' pitching staff is Stephen Harrold, who has been stellar out of the Augusta pen. He is posting an ERA of 1.48 in 24.1 IP and he has 22 strikeouts and a K/BB ratio of 2.75. A 12th round pick out of UNC-Wilmington, Harrold isn't exactly a heralded arm (he wasn't on the radar of any prospect analysts' Giants list), but he has shown good command, and control in the Sally this year. He also did have a solid year in Salem-Keizer a year ago where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP. For a team that doesn't hit well (the Green Jackets' .236 batting average is last in the league, and their 4.45 R/G is second-to-last), Harrold is a valuable asset to this Green Jackets team. As a prospect though, we'll have to just wait and see how he'll progress over the year, but I like what he has displayed with his command and control in his first two years in the minors.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can the Brandons Spark the Giants in Buster's Absence?

It took me a while to write this. Not because of research or anything like that, but simply because I was so steamed about the Buster Posey injury from last night. I'm kind of going through the seven stages of grief right now, and if anything, I'm probably just past the anger stage. That's how tough this day has been and how hard I've taken this Posey setback (much like most of Giants nation).

That being said, Posey is out for an extended period of time (most likely the year), and the Giants will have to make it through. I'll have a profile on catcher Chris Stewart at some point, but the real story of the day other than Posey's injury is the callups of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford (other minor news was Ryan Rohlinger and Henry Sosa being designated for assignment to make room for Crawford and Stewart; Sosa was No. 26 in my list). Belt was an expected callup, simply because he was hitting very well in Fresno, but the Crawford promotion comes as a surprise. After all, he started the season on the disabled list, and while he was putting up good numbers in San Jose, it was only High Single-A. I figured it was more of a rehab stint before he got the eventual callup to Fresno (where he was expected to start the year prior to injury). However, with Mike Fontenot joining Posey and Darren Ford on the disabled list, the need for depth in the middle infield was huge, and the Giants made the decision to call up Crawford along with Belt and Stewart.

In terms of Belt, the promotion was obvious: the Giants desperately need offense, and Belt has been hitting well in Fresno. The Giants managed to garner only three hits today against Anibal Sanchez, and Aubrery Huff and Cody Ross haven't exactly lit it up with the Giants this year. Belt showed some nice strides in Fresno. In 31 games and 132 plate appearance, Belt hit .337 with a .994 OPS and added four home runs and 21 RBI in his tenure with the Grizzlies. The strongest aspect of Belt's game in Fresno was his strong ability to draw a walk and get on base, as he posted an OBP of .470 and had a BB/K ratio of 0.87. Additionally, Belt showed some versatility with the Grizzlies, as he played left and right field and first base, with a majority of his playing time coming in the outfield (he played 26 games total in the outfield). Thus, he brings a lot of utility defensively, which is good since it was obvious in the beginning of the year that Huff was probably more suited for first base only.

Belt though was far from perfect in Fresno. He struck out 31 times, a 30.6 percent rate. Furthermore, his contact rate wasn't very impressive at 69 percent (you read that right). While Belt wasn't overpowered or overwhelmed by the Pacific Coast League pitching, it was obvious that his plate patience was his worst enemy at times. Belt seemed to be almost too selective, and he ended up helping pitchers by getting behind in counts early and often in many of his at-bats. Now, I don't think Belt will be a 69 percent contact hitter in the Majors. In his short tenure with the Giants earlier this year, he posted a contact rate of 77.7, so his low contact rate may have just been a stretch where he was figuring out the pitching and what he could hit for power and what he could lay off of. Nonetheless, Belt probably needs to show more aggressiveness at the dish this time around in the Majors, for he is needed to spark this Giants offense, and MLB pitchers won't make as many mistakes as PCL hurlers.

Another issue for Belt is the decrease in power from a year ago. After posting slugging percentages of .623 in Richmond and .563 in Fresno a season ago, Belt's slugging dipped to .525 this year. Also his ISO fell to .188 with the Grizzlies, the first time it had ever been under the .200 mark in his minor league career. Still though, Belt does offer a lot of offensive upside, even with the power numbers down, and if you look at his competition, Belt doesn't need to be incredible offensively (Huff has a slugging of .337 and Ross has a slugging of .378). If he can be in the mid-to-high .700 (or even low .800) range in terms of OPS for the remainder of the year in San Francisco, and if he can continue to display his solid eye at the plate (he did produce a BB/K ratio of 0.62 in the Majors this year), then Belt certainly will be a boost to this inconsistent Giants offense (and it is possible in my opinion, as his Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced an OPS of .896).

As for Crawford, he is coming off a very promising stint in San Jose this season, as he .312 with a 1.005 OPS. He also added three home runs and 15 RBI, and looked very much like the hitter he was two years earlier in the California League. That being said, the California League is the California League, and considering Crawford spent the past two years in Double-A Richmond, it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that he hit as well as he did in in San Jose.

The big question for Crawford will be how he will adjust in the Majors after relatively struggling in the Eastern League the past two years. His Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced a .226 average, a .303 OBP, a .347 slugging, a .650 OPS, a contact rate of 77 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.47. Those numbers aren't exactly on par with what Giants fans saw from Crawford this year in San Jose. Nonetheless, Crawford may be okay if he can post those numbers this year, or perhaps perform slightly above. Crawford is a solid defender who has gotten good reports from scouts and the Giants brass. An OPS in the .700 range would be a luxury for this Giants team considering his defense, and even an OPS in the mid .600 range would be tolerable. After all, he hasn't played beyond Double-A, so there is going to be a learning period for Crawford at the plate, and the Giants management and fans need to be patient as he develops.

The big issue with Crawford is his plate discipline, as he has had a tendency to strike out a lot and not draw a lot of walks to boot. In 2009, he posted BB/K ratios of 0.31 and 0.20 in San Jose and Connecticut, respectively. Last year, his BB/K ratio improved to 0.51 in Richmond, but he still struck out 26.5 percent of the time, which is uncomfortably high. This year in San Jose, he struck out 22 percent of the time, so even despite the low level for his age, he continued to have issues in terms of making contact at the plate. However, his 0.69 BB/K ratio was the best number in his minor league career, and one can hope that Crawford can transition that confidence and approach to the Majors this year.

Crawford may have been called up prematurely because of the dire need for depth in the Giants infield with Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval on the DL. That being said, this stint with the Giants will be very telling for Crawford. If he can hold his own somewhat, it'll give the Giants even more incentive to hand him the starting position next year. If not, then one could see the Giants management panic and look to deal for Jose Reyes, which would cost the Giants a lot of money in addition to some valuable prospects. I'm not expecting the world from Crawford in this callup. But if he can be a replacement-level player offensively, he could be of some value to this Giants roster because he still has room to grow and develop as a player, and he's an obvious upgrade over Miguel Tejada defensively at shortstop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Jason Esposito, SS/3B, and Brian Goodwin, OF

In one day, we will officially be a week away from the MLB Draft! Exciting isn't it? While I'm not sure what I'm going to do for Draft Day (on this blog, specifically), I think I may have only one or two more posts left in terms of going over possible prospects that the Giants could be taking in this year's draft.

In this post, I'm going to look at two prospects who have gone in some mock drafts in the Giants slot. They are position players, however, and though this Giants system needs to re-stock their pitching, these are two players whom the Giants may have a tough time passing on if they're available. Let's take a look at infielder Jason Esposito from Vanderbilt and outfielder Brian Goodwin, a JuCo prospect out of Miami-Dade CC.

Jason Esposito, SS/3B, Vanderbilt University

Prospect Junkies in their latest mock draft had Esposito going to the Giants at No. 29. The possibility of the Giants picking Esposito is enticing, as he would bring a lot of offensive and speed upside to the left side of the infield. Granted, the Giants are pretty set at shortstop with Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Crawford, but third base is a little more open for competition, and Esposito has a lot of excellent tools and is coming off a pretty decent year at the plate in his junior season with the Commodores.

Esposito was a 7th round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2008, and despite Dayton Moore and the Royals offering him a $1.5 million signing bonus, he decided to stick with his commitment to Vanderbilt. So far, it hasn't exactly been a bad decision. In his three years in Nashville, he has a career batting average of .331, an OBP of .407 and he has accumulated 22 home runs and 154 RBI in 713 collegiate at-bats. Additionally, he has shown good speed on the base paths over his career, as he has swiped 63 bases.

Offensively, he has a solid bat with some pop. While he isn't a home run hitter, he does have gap to gap power, as he has hit 58 doubles with the Commodores. MLB Draft Insider graded his current power as a 50, but did give him 55 potential. His contact rates have swooned a little bit, as he posted rates of 79.7, 86.6 and 83.1 percent in his three seasons at Vandy, but the big concern though with Esposito is his inconsistent plate discipline. While he has sported solid OBP numbers, his BB/K ratios have fluctuated over his collegiate career. His three year ratios at Vanderbilt are 0.33, 0.97 and 0.38 (though in 2011, he was hit 13 times, so if you add that into his BB totals, the BB/K ratio goes up to 0.75; however, I attribute that less to plate approach and more to the wildness of the pitchers he has faced). Thus, the huge waves make you wonder how well Esposito understands the strike zone. John Klima said this about Esposito's plate discipline on a video sample he recorded in April:

"The teams that dig Esposito are going to go on more swings like that first one — they’ll like the body, the hands, the compact stroke, the hip speed and the bat speed. He does flash those tools. If you made your final judgment on the rest of his life based on these four swings, you’d say, well, dude better learn some discipline."

It's obvious that Esposito flashes the right tools to succeed as a professional, but his inconsistency does throw some red flags. Furthermore, Klima also feels that Esposito doesn't flash enough power to play the corner position, and contests that a switch to shortstop may raise his stock as a prospect. While I don't necessarily agree totally with the statement (I think there have been examples of third basemen who have succeeded in the Majors without tremendous power), he does have a point. His bat would be good for a third baseman, but great for a shortstop (think Brandon Crawford with a little bit more power). If Esposito could make the transition to shortstop, offensively he'd be a much more enticing prospect to teams in the draft.

Defensively, Esposito's glove grades out pretty well, though it seems to be that he projects more as a third baseman than a shortstop (though as noted by Kilma above, his stock would be better served by a move toward the middle of the infield). MLB Draft Insider graded his glove a 50 with 55 potential and his arm a 50 with 55 potential (this is on the customary 20-80 scale). Zachary Ball of Pro Draft Central had this to say about Esposito in his scouting report:

"Much more athletic and graceful in the field than his predecessor [2008 1st Round Draft pick Pedro Alvarez], Esposito looks like a third baseman. He has a great arm, more than adequate for the position, and on the mound he can crank it up to the low 90s. He has great soft hands, and his footwork has improved to the point where he could be one of the top defensive third basemen in this class."

Another concern about Esposito is whether or not he's just a product of the offense-heavy college environment. (e.g. can his power and hitting translate with wooden bats?) While his collegiate numbers are very good, he has struggled in two years in the Cape Cod League. In 111 at-bats in his first year in the Cape Cod, he hit .198 with a .233 OBP and .449 OPS. He only hit two extra base hits (two doubles) and he fanned 30 times and walked only four times (a 0.13 BB/K ratio). His second season in 2010 wasn't much better, as he hit only .246 with a .592 OPS in 65 at-bats. While he cut down the strikeouts (13), he didn't walk much either, and thus, his BB/K ratio (0.38) wasn't that impressive, though it was certainly an improvement the second-time around.

As a prospect, Esposito is interesting because he flashes good tools defensively and he has some potential with the bat as well. That being said, his stock has fluctuated greatly, as some saw him as more of a second to third round pick going into the 2011 season. If there is one thing going in Esposito's favor though, it is his pedigree, as Vanderbilt has had a history of producing good Major League talent recently, with Alvarez, David Price and current prospect Sonny Gray, who is projected as a Top-5 pick. While the Giants may not have a drastic need to pick up Esposito in the first round (as noted before in previous posts, pitching should be their main focus this draft), he could be a steal in the supplemental round or even second round if he's available.

Brian Goodwin, OF, Miami-Dade CC (Florida)

The Giants really don't have a particular need in the outfield. With Thomas Neal, Francisco Peguero, Gary Brown, Darren Ford, Rafael Rodriguez, Chuckie Jones, and Brandon Belt most likely going to make a transition to left, the Giants have considerable depth in their system in the outfield. Thus, Goodwin would seem to be an odd fit.

However, if he's available, the Giants may be tempted to pick him because he could be the best available player at No. 29 on talent alone.

At six-foot, one-inches and 190 pounds, Goodwin is a physical specimen with loads of athleticism. MLB Draft Insider graded his speed a 60, and his fielding a 50 with 55 potential. Offensively, he has a lot of tools and though he may not hit with much power as a professional, Klima noted that Goodwin's left-handed swing has "speed, strength and lift." also had this to say in his scouting report of Goodwin a year ago when he was still in high school:

"He does a lot of little things well, and has four legitimate tools, lacking power as the only tool to make him the always coveted five-tool talent. And despite his lack of power, Goodwin will surprise you with his pop from time to time. Most of his power goes to the gaps, and his 6.5 speed allows him to leg out plenty of extra base hits. His bat is made for contact, as he excels at putting the ball in play and going with pitches to drive the ball up the middle and the other way. He is extremely fast out of the box, and gets down the line to first base as a left-handed hitter as well as anyone, allowing him to be a threat on infield grounders and bunt plays." made Andrew McCutchen comparisons with Goodwin, though I don't know if Goodwin will have the power upside like McCutchen. That being said, defensively and on the basepaths, the comparisons are definitely valid, as his athleticism may be up there with anybody in this current draft. Baseball Factory ranked him as the 21st best prospect out of high school in 2009, and noted that he was "A natural OF prospect with a fluid LH stroke, Goodwin makes everything look very easy on the field. He glides to balls in the outfield and finds the barrel at the plate with a consistent, low-effort swing."

Before transferring to Miami-Dade CC, Goodwin starred at the University of North Carolina, as he hit .291 with 7 home runs and 63 RBI, while posting an OBP of .409 and an OPS of .920 in 227 at-bats. Furthermore, he showed excellent strike zone recognition, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.92. He did strike out a lot (49 times, the second highest total on the team), and his contact rate left a little to be desired (78 percent), but it was still solid for a freshman. Additionally, while he wasn't given the green light to go on the basepaths as much as other players, he did steal seven bases on nine attempts, and did leg out a team-high eight triples, so the speed set is obviously there.

However, in November of 2010, Goodwin was ruled ineligible for the 2011 season, for violating university policy. While the specifics of the suspension never went public, it was widely speculated that academic issues were the main reason why he ended up transferring to junior college his sophomore year. While his makeup has gotten good reports ( had sterling reports about his makeup and attitude in high school), the suspension is a bit of a red flag in some ways, and makes you wonder if he can avoid trouble as a professional. Nonetheless, it probably could have been a case that Goodwin was focused solely on baseball at a good academic university, and that's not uncommon with baseball players (and athletes in general) in college.

Still though, Goodwin has an excellent toolset and a high ceiling for a prospect. He also performed well in the Cape Cod League, as 5 Tool Talk wrote this about his performance in the summer league:

"His early collegiate success continued into last summer, as he finished 11th among those that qualified on the Cape in batting with a .281 average. During his time with Harwich, he also posted a .364 on-base percentage, stole 15 bases (good for eighth in the league) in 19 attempts and six of his 32 hits went for extra bases."

I don't know if Goodwin will be available at the Giants' slot. He could go in the 10-20 range, simply because his potential and tools may be too much to pass up for MLB general managers. That being said, if he's available at No. 29, the Giants should think about swiping him up, even despite the outfield depth, because he has the potential to develop into a very promising and special Major League player.

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 15, Ryan Verdugo, LHP

I'm winding down in the Top-32 Most Interesting Prospects list for 2011, and at No. 15, I have left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo. Now, Verdugo isn't a high-ceiling pitcher like some guys on this list, and in terms of his tools, I wonder if he could transition and find a spot on the Giants' Major League roster. Nonetheless, he is a high-strikeout pitcher who has put up great numbers in the minors, so I he has some promise and was worth taking a look at in this spot.

Verdugo came out of baseball powerhouse LSU as a pretty under-the-radar pitcher. He was drafted twice by the Giants, in the 47th round in the 2007 MLB draft, and in the 9th round of the 2008 draft. Verdugo is a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball, but does possess a slider and curve (his curve was rated a three-plus according to Rob Gordon of the MLBA). Verdugo did have some hype out of high school, as he was won the Mr. Baseball award in Washington as a senior. There was some issues with his health though, as he underwent Tommy John surgery while in Junior College, which hurt his stock after he declared for the draft again after he finished Junior College in 2007.

He broke into professional ball in 2008, and performed well in his first year as a pro, showcasing some good stuff as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League (he was primarily used as a starter while at LSU). He made eight appearances in Arizona and struck out 19 batters in 13 innings pitched, while allowing nine hits, three runs and six walks. Verdugo finished the season with a 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 3.17 K/BB ratio.

In his first full year as a professional, the Giants promoted Verdugo to Augusta and he made 21 appearances with the Green Jackets and finished five games. In 32.1 IP, he struck out 45 batters and allowed only 19 hits and 6 runs. Walks however, were a bit of a concern for the lefty, as he walked 19 batters, good for a 5.3 BB/9. The high walk rate killed his overall K/BB ratio in the Sally, lowering it 2.37 (he had a K/9 of 13.5, which is very impressive). Still, though his overall numbers were pretty impressive for a 22-year old in his first professional season, as he finished the year with a 1.39 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.

Still under the radar going into 2010 (he was not mentioned in Baseball America's Top-30 or John Sickels's Top-20 Giants lists), Verdugo started the year in Augusta again, pitching 32 innings and striking out 50 while allowing 26 hits and 14 walks. His walk rate went down (3.9) and his K/BB ratio went up (3.57), and thus, the Giants organization decided to promote him to High Single-A San Jose in July. In the Cal League, the walk issues came back (his BB/9 jumped back up to 5.6), but he still struck guys out at a good rate (12.9) and posted excellent ERA and WHIP numbers (1.47 and 1.11, respectively).

This year, Verdugo got a little bit more attention from prospect analysts, as Sickels listed him as an honorable mention in his Top-20 list, and Baseball America ranked him the 25th best Giants prospect in the organization. However, the biggest change for Verdugo this year was his switch to the rotation in Richmond. Primarily a reliever for most of his minor league career (he only started one game, and that was in San Jose in 2009), many wondered if Verdugo had the versatility to go five to seven innings a game (his career high in innings pitched was in 2010 when he threw 62 IP).

It has paid off though, as he has been a solid addition to the Flying Squirrels pitching staff. He has made eight starts and thrown 41 IP, but he is posting a solid ERA (3.07) and a decent WHIP (1.37). Additionally, while his strikeout rates are down from previous years (expected since he is pitching more innings and facing batters more than once in a game), he is still showing good strikeout ability (9.7 K/9). He could show better command (2.75 K/BB ratio), but it certainly is above average and an improvement from his previous stint in San Jose. Also, he is coming off a 6.1 inning, 5-hit, 10 strikeout performance against Erie in his most recent outing, which is a good sign of how well he is making batters miss while logging more innings as a starter (he did earn the loss though, unfortunately, but it was still a pretty solid start nonetheless).

Physically, there is still some concern whether or not Verdugo will be able to transition his Minor League success (career 2.10 ERA in the minors) to the Majors. He doesn't sport an electric fastball (it goes in the 92 MPH range), and there have long been questions about his command (carer 2.81 K/BB) and secondary pitches. That being said, Verduo has shown flashes of promise in the minors, and he tore it up in the Arizona Fall League last year. Here is what Fangraphs writers, Carson Cistuli, said about Verdugo in a review of the AFL:

"Scottsdale’s Ryan Verdugo went straight to the top of the SCOUT pitching charts last night after doing this against the Phoenix Desert Dogs: 17 BF, 4.0 IP, 3 BB, 9 K. He’s made all of one start in his minor league career, which began in 2008 after being drafted in the ninth round by San Francisco. He has 167 K in 113.0 IP across four levels, most recently in the High-A California League."

Statistically speaking, Verdugo has shown great strides and improvement in his time in the Giants organization. Furthermore, his transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation has been interesting, mainly because it has increased his value greatly. That being said, Verdugo's future seems to be very cloudy at this point. I think he has a shot in terms of becoming a decent Major League pitcher. His ability to make batters miss can't be debated (12.3 career K/9). At the very least, he seems like he could develop into a Dan Runzler-esque option out of the bullpen for the Giants in the future, and considering Jeremy Affeldt has struggled to regain his 2009 form the past two years, a left-hander like Verdugo could be an enticing option.

At the same time though, it seems like the Giants are grooming Verdugo to be a starter, and as we all know there isn't much room in the Giants rotation for another starter. Furthermore, he's behind other top-tier starting pitching prospects like Zack Wheeler and Eric Surkamp (and rightfully so), and with the June Rule 4 Draft loaded with pitching talent, one has to wonder how much time Verdugo has left with the Giants. If anything, he's probably trade fodder at this point, mainly because he's a good arm that would bring some value to any impending deal this year or this off-season.

I think Verdugo could have some impact for the Giants, and like Runzler, he could be a cheap, effective bullpen option. Unfortunately, if he remains a starter, his days in the Giants organization seem numbered. It's just a matter of time of when Brian Sabean makes that deal, whether it's this year or after the season is over.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Evolution of Zack Wheeler's Pitching Delivery

I was on twitter, and I was able to check out a condensed start of Zack Wheeler in San Jose, courtesy of Splashing Pumpkins' Twitter (if you haven't checked out his blog, do so; it's one of the better ones out there and he also posts on Beyond the Box Score and MLB Daily Dish). He definitely showcased some wildness, but it's incredibly evident that he has electric stuff.

Being the curious cat that I am, I decided to go back and look up some of Wheeler's appearances from high school and Augusta on YouTube. It's amazing to see how much his delivery and mechanics have changed since his high school days. So, I'm going to post three videos and analyze all three.

Zack Wheeler in High School

A few things are pretty noticeable here. First off, he keeps his hands far away from his body in his twisting pitching motion. Furthermore, he has a pretty high leg kick, as it is almost Orlando Hernandez-esque. The only difference between him and Hernandez is that Wheeler keeps his glove high (around his head), while Hernandez kept his glove low around his waist (though Hernandez threw three quarter to sidearm, so that explains why his hands are so low). Another noticeable aspect about his delivery is how his back is mostly facing the pitcher. His shoulders are almost square to third base. While it does hide his pitches, he seems to be overcompensating with this twisting motion. Very few pitchers in the big leagues can do this and get away with it.

The most glaring quality of his windup has to be the sidestep with his right foot in his windup motion. He literally takes a full step to the left in his windup. Pay attention to this as you watch video of him in Augusta and how he makes that adjustment. In the stretch, he is mostly closed, with his left leg straight and lined up more toward third base when he gets set.

While the ball explodes off Wheeler's hand, there are a lot of moving parts in his pitching motion. That's not necessarily a good thing unless you're Tim Lincecum, but Lincecum is a superior athlete and has done so much to perfect his acrobatic pitching delivery that he can get away with it. Lincecum is an exception to the rule, not the standard. While Wheeler isn't a bad athlete, his violent delivery was an issue with scouts, and many felt that the Giants would have to refine it in order to protect him over the long term.

Zack Wheeler in Augusta

Wheeler's pitching motion is a little bit more contained in this video of him pitching in the Sally. While you mostly see game footage of him in the windup, you do get some telling things of his stretch pitching motion in his bullpen work.

What jumps out immediately to you his feet. In his high school days, he had a wider base, as his feet were about shoulder's length apart, if not a little more. He's closed up a little bit more, though it's not totally dramatic. Another change is that he's shortened up the windup, getting rid of the huge step to first base in his windup. I figured that would be one of the first changes to his pitching motion when he got to the big leagues, as it makes his pitching motion more refined and consistent.

The hands are also a lot closer to his body in Augusta and the leg kick isn't as high as well. He still twists a little bit and he is closed in the stretch, but it should be noted that it's less dramatic than it was in high school. Nonetheless, his delivery and mechanics look cleaner then they were in high school. He isn't moving around as much, and it isn't as violent as well. It's obvious the coaching staff made good strides with him in his transition from high school ball to Single A.

Zack Wheeler in San Jose

This is Wheeler at his best. His hands are closer to his body in his windup, the leg kick is lower and consistent, and he isn't exaggerating as much with his shoulders in his pitching motion. While in high school and Augusta his shoulders were facing more toward third, that isn't so much the case. His windup looks cleaner, and he seems to be exerting a lot less energy while still maintaining good velocity and movement on his pitches.

In the stretch, the biggest difference is that he's opened up a little bit when set. His left leg is more toward first base than third. It seems to have paid off, as he generates a good and quick delivery to the plate. He could be a little more consistent in his delivery out of the stretch (it does change a little from time to time, which accounts for his spotty command in this video, but that is to be expected for a 21 year old), but overall, you have to like the more compact nature of his delivery in San Jose in comparison to his more "moving" pitching motion back in high school.

Overall, the Giants pitching staff in the minors has worked a lot with Wheeler, and it's obvious that it's paid some dividends. He has changed as a pitcher in San Jose, and he is less raw now than he was a couple of years ago when he was a hot shot high school prospect. He still has some work. He needs to be more consistent of course in his delivery (especially in the stretch) and his command and control is still an issue, as you can see in the video of his May 11th start in San Jose. That being said, Wheeler has developed nicely and it'll be interesting how much he develops physically as he continues to climb up the Giants system. It's obvious that he has the stuff, size and tools to succeed as a Major League pitcher. It's just a matter of whether or not he'll be refined enough in his mechanics and command.

The Shortstop Prospect Argument: Crawford or Adrianza?

With Miguel Tejada most likely a one-year rental at the most, the big concern for the Giants right now seems to be the future of their shortstop position. In the minors, there are two prospects that have gained a lot of noise the past few years: Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza. Both prospects offer significant upside with their gloves and are probably Major League ready defenders, but there have been some questions with the bat, which is probably why Tejada was signed to a one-year deal when Juan Uribe left town for a three-year contract from the Dodgers. That being said, this year is a critical season for the both of them, as they may be thrust into the starting mix next year should the Giants not acquire any big name players in the next couple of months (mainly Jose Reyes, whom I'm not a fan of because he's going to be a free agent and his history of injury problems).

So, who is the better prospect? Who has more of a future with the Giants? And who has a better shot at the starting position in the next couple of years? Let's take a look at both guys.

The Case for Crawford

Offensively, at this point, it's not question that Crawford is the superior option in comparison to Adrianza. A 4th round draft pick out of UCLA in 2008, Crawford wasn't known for hitting much power in his tenure with the Bruins. However, in a 25-game stint with the San Jose Giants in 2009 (his first full season in professional ball), Crawford went on a tear, as he hit six home runs, drove in 17 RBI, and posted a batting average of .371 and OPS of 1.045 in 119 plate appearances. Impressed by the gaudy numbers in the California League, many people figured that Crawford was a sleeper of sorts, and that he was an offensive shortstop that was a far cry from light-hitting shortstop prospects such as Brian Bocock.

However, his season in the Cal League was far from perfect. He struck out 32 times and walked only 10 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 0.31. Furthermore, there was some consensus that Crawford was benefiting from the hitter friendly environments of the Cal League, as evidenced by his .493 BABIP. When Crawford made the transition to Double-A Connecticut later that season, he proved to be more mortal, as he hit only .258 with an OPS of .659. Despite more plate appearances in the Eastern League (he had 423 plate appearances0, his home run total dipped to four and he continued to swing and miss and show questionable plate discipline with the Defenders as he struck out 100 times and posted a BB/K ratio of 0.20. Of course, he was only 22, and the Eastern League (Connecticut especially) is known to sap hitters' power, so some kind of regression in his slugging numbers was to be expected. That being said, the worries that Crawford's sketchy strike zone recognition would be a problem as he climbed up the Giants system was fully evident in his Double-A stint in 2009.

In his second season in the Eastern League (this time in Richmond), Crawford struggled through injury and ineffectiveness at the plate. His batting average was worse this time around (.241) in 79 games and 342 plate appearances with the Flying Squirrels, and he still struck out in bunches (26.5 percent). However, there were some positive signs in his second go-around in the EL. He showed more power (he hit seven home runs and his ISO jumped up to .134; his ISO was .107 the previous year in Double-A) and his plate approach improved, as his walk rate climbed up to 11.4 (a career high) and his BB/K ratio improved to 0.51 (another career high). The contact rate was still a bit sub-par (0.74), but until he broke his hand in July, many thought Crawford was making the necessary developments in 2010 to earn a shot at the starting Giants shortstop position in 2011 or 2012 at the latest.

This year, Marc Hulet of Fangraphs ranked Crawford as the ninth best prospect in the Giants organization. He had this to say about him in his January writeup:

"Crawford had a reputation as a good fielding shortstop with a weak bat in college. His profile changed a bit when he got off to a strong start in high-A ball in ‘09. His bat wilted with a promotion to double-A. Back at the same level in 2010, Crawford struggled offensively once again and produced a triple-slash line of .241/.337/.375 in 342 plate appearances. Strikeouts are one of his biggest weaknesses, posting a strikeout rate of 26.5 K%...He has a nice quiet stance but could stand to use his legs more. Crawford also pulls his head off the pitchers at times. Despite his limitations, his work at shortstop could earn him a regular gig at the MLB level but his ceiling could be that of Adam Everett or perhaps J.J. Hardy with less power."

Crawford started the year on the disabled list, and has spent a short stint in San Jose for Rehab. This is pretty much expected since a.) he didn't go through much Spring Training and b.) you want to make sure he's totally healthy, and it's better to figure that out at a lower level where he won't get his confidence shot. So far, if anything, he's been gaining confidence in this Cal League rehab stint, as he is hitting .296 with an .897 OPS and two home runs and 12 RBI. It's only a matter of time really before he earns that promotion to Fresno, where he was expected to start the year prior to landing on the disabled list.

In terms of comparing him to Adrianza, Crawford certainly is more Major League ready. Adrianza hasn't played over High-A at any point in his career, while Crawford has already had two stints in the Eastern League. While Crawford's upside defensively is not as high as Adrianza's, there's no question that he is more than capable of handling the position (he has a career fielding percentage of .974 and a RF/G of 4.85 in the minors). The only question is how Crawford's hitting approach will hold up in the Majors. There is some power upside (though it certainly comes in streaks), and I think he'll be able to draw walks at a decent rate, but he whiffs a lot, and his power or walks may not be strong enough to make up for the amount of strikeouts he could have in a full year of Major League ball.

Crawford may be the best solution in the short term, and it would be nice to give him a shot sometime this year, just so the Giants know what they have on their hands. Of course, it is important to see how Crawford transitions to the PCL. If he can hit well there (and I expect him too considering the PCL is a hitter's league), then I think it wouldn't be out of the question to see a Crawford callup sometime in late July or August.

The Case for Adrianza

The big problem with Adrianza is not his defense or his tools. Scouts love his range and fielding ability, as some tout him as having "Gold Glove" potential. He is that good and that spectacular in the field, though he does have a tendency to misplay the routine balls from time to time (as evidenced by his career .958 fielding percentage in the minors). Here is what Mike Newman of "Scouting the Sally" said in a game report about Adrianza a couple of seasons ago:

"Adrianza’s lapse of concentration in booting a routine ground ball overshadowed an otherwise impressive defensive performance. On other chances, Adrianza showed above average range, solid hands, footwork, and impressive arm strength. Of shortstops I’ve seen this season, he and Red Sox prospect Oscar Tejeda were the two best defenders hands down. However, all of Adrianza’s value is currently tied to his staying at shortstop which adds quite a bit of risk to his prospect status."

Additionally, he has some decent speed on the basepaths, as he has stolen 68 bases in his minor league career, including 33 last year in San Jose (in comparison, Crawford has only stolen 17 total in his career).

Defensive tools and base stealing aside, the bat is just a big question mark in Adrianza's future. He has never hit above .258 in any full stint (I didn't count any stint in 2008 as a full stint, since he didn't play more than 15 games at any level that year, though he did show some promise in a 2 game stint in Fresno), and he has a career OPS of .663. Adrianza pretty much is a slap hitter, who hits a lot of groundballs and not with much power. That's fine if he's doing that at the Majors and getting on base, but considering he's doing this against Single-A pitching, doesn't bode well for future projection offensively.

Adrianza is more disciplined at the plate than Crawford. Unlike the UCLA product, strikeouts are not an issue with Venezuelan prospect. In 2009 in the Sally and 2010 in the Cal League, he posted strikeout percentages of 17 and 19.6 percent, respectively, which are both more tolerable numbers than Crawford's rates. Furthermore, in San Jose last year, Adrianza posted a BB/K ratio of 0.54. When you compare it to Crawford's rate in San Jose in 2009 (0.31), you would think Adrianza's plate approach and understanding of the strike zone would fare better and benefit him more than Crawford as he transitions up the Giants system.

Still though, Adrianza struggles to hit for high average, and that is always is a concern if you don't have the power to back that up. The silver lining is that scouts have noticed that he has a short compact stroke, and he has always made contact well in the minors (he has never had a contact rate below 80 percent). At the same time though, he just doesn't hit extra base hits. While his frame doesn't suggest a lot of home runs (he's six-foot, one-inch tall, 155 pounds), you would still think he'd be able to stretch a lot of singles into doubles considering his speed and athleticism. That hasn't been the case, as he had just an ISO of .092 last year and .070 the previous year in the Sally.

He is still relatively young (21 years old), but he hasn't advanced as quickly in the system as Giants fans have hoped, mainly because his bat didn't improve significantly in the jump from the pitcher-friendly Sally to the hitter-friendly Cal League. Baseball America likes Adrianza more, as they rank him the fifth-best prospect in the Giants system going into 2011 (Crawford is ranked sixth), but Gordon of the MLBA ranked Crawford (9th best Giants prospect) ahead of Adrianza (12th) in their team rankings (though Gordon rated the both of them 8D prospects).

While he may not be as close to Major League-ready as Crawford, and doesn't offer the power ceiling either, Adrianza is a more disciplined hitter who has significant defensive upside and some growing potential because he has been playing up for his age most of his career. I'm a bigger fan of Adrianza personally, mostly because of his plate discipline, glove and athleticism. I think in a couple of years, he really could develop into a special shortstop, though he certainly is more high-risk for the Giants in comparison. As for now though, it's neck and neck, and I would be perfectly content if Crawford can earn and hold the starting job in 2012.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

East Bay Envy: Six Interesting Oakland A's Prospects

I always enjoy the Bay Bridge Series. Not because I consider them hated rivals like some Giants fans (in actuality, I really like the Oakland A's and don't buy into the whole "it's Black and Orange vs. Green and Yellow" hoopla) or like interleague play in general (other than a couple of matchups, they do spend way too many games on Interleague play during the year and matchups like Rockies-Orioles are a bit of a yawn). But it's nice to see the Bay Area neighbor in action and in a forum where you can watch both teams at once. I went to an A's-Giants game a couple of years ago at the Coliseum and I admit, the environment was pretty rabid as it was half-Giants fans and half-A's fans. You really don't get that kind of environment for a ballgame outside of the visiting big bandwagon teams (e.g. Yankees and Red Sox).

Anyways, in honor of the Giants-A's series which just ended, I'm going to take a look at six prospects in the A's system whom I find most interesting. The A's system isn't as deep as in years past due to graduations (Tyson Ross for example), trades, and some weird happenings (like Grant Desme, the AFL MVP in 2009 quitting baseball to join the priesthood...I can kind of relate on some issues, but novitiate/seminary life isn't all it's cracked up to be), it took a bit of a hit this year. (Baseball America ranked the A's 28th in their Talent Rankings and the Minor League Baseball Analyst in their 2011 annual ranked them 25th.)

Still, they have some interesting talent in their organization. Here are six guys you should most be aware of in the A's organization.

1. Grant Green, SS. (1st Round Draft Pick in 2009)

Green was the consensus top player in the A's system, ranking as the No. 1 A's prospect in BA and MLBA. The shortstop out of USC is coming off a fabulous year in the California League, as he hit .318 with 20 home runs, 87 RBI and an .883 OPS in 2010 with the Stockton Ports.

Green's hitting has been considered his strongest attribute according to scouts. Baseball America graded his batting a 60 and his power a 55, good grades considering his position (middle infield). Rob Gordon of the MLBA was also high on him as a hitter, grading as a 8B prospect and saying this about him in his writeup:

"Lean and athletic infielder who has very pure hitting instincts and abilities. Makes consistent, hard contact and will hit for BA with at least average pop, but can also shorten stroke in certain situations. Chases breaking balls early in count and batting eye needs work."

Gordon is onto something in terms of describing his plate approach. In his first full year of professional ball in 2010, Green drew only 38 walks and struck out 117 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 0.32. He still makes contact at a decent rate (0.79), but he is going to have to cut down on the strikeouts or draw more walks if he wants to have more value as a hitter as he moves up in the organization. Unfortunately for Green, even in college he didn't walk much (he had a walk rate of seven percent and nine percent his last two years at USC), so his plate approach is always going to be an issue for him unless he can cut down the K's.

Green's defense may be the weakest aspect of his game overall. Baseball America rated him a 45 in their scouting grade, and his arm also earned a 45 as well. There is heavy speculation that Green probably would make a transition to second base in the future, simply because his arm and defense may not be strong enough to play shortstop or third base. Statistically speaking, his numbers in Stockton weren't very spectacular, as he posted a fielding percentage of .920 and a RF/G of 3.75.

This year in the Texas League, there has been some improvement defensively (.952 fielding percentage; 4.16 RF/G), but as expected with the promotion, there has been a bit of regression offensively. He is currently hitting .282 with a .736 OPS and has two home runs and 24 RBI. The most glaring difference from a year ago is the lack of power (.107 ISO), but then again, he really didn't flash his big-fly potential until the second half last year, so he may just be a slow starter. He is walking a little bit more (his BB percentage is 8.0), but he is also striking out just as much as last year (24.4 percent), and thus, his BB/K ratio still looks pretty pedestrian (0.37). Nonetheless, despite this offensive regression from a year ago, Green is still a top prospect in the A's system and could be the heir-apparent at second base in a year or two in Oakland.

2. Michael Choice, OF. (1st Round Draft Pick in 2010)

Choice is the third-best prospect in the A's system according to Baseball America and the second-best A's prospect according to Rob Gordon of the MLBA. The rankings are well-deserved, as Choice is an athletic outfielder who is coming off a very impressive campaign in his first year of professional ball.

In 27 games, Choice tore up the Northwest League as he hit .284 with seven home runs and 26 RBI. Power was the strongest attribute of Choice's 2011 campaign, as he posted an OPS of 1.004, an ISO of .343, and an extra base hit percentage of 66 percent. While these numbers were posted over a short sample size (only 121 plate appearances), it still displayed the significant power upside Choice presents as a professional.

There were some concerns of course with Choice's tools. His contact rate was pretty subpar a year ago (58 percent) and it was a major concern his last year at Texas-Arlington (71 percent). Also, he struck out in bunches a year ago, as he had a strikeout percentage of 42.2 percent (yep, you read that right) and a BB/K ratio of 0.35. However, Choice has always been a patient hitter, as he posted a 0.60, 0.97, 1.41 in his three years at Texas-Arlington. Much like Chuckie Jones of the Giants, once Choice faces more professional pitching, it is likely that the strikeout rate will go down and the contact rate will go up.

He is off to a good year with the Stockton Ports of the California League, once again displaying the power he showcased in the Northwest League a year ago. His OPS is .841 and he has seven home and 28 RBI in 187 plate appearances. He is still striking out a lot (57 times, a 33 percent rate), but his batting eye has improved from a year ago (0.48 BB/K ratio).

Defensively, Gordon notes that despite Choice's athleticism, he projects more as a corner outfielder than centerfielder (his current position). He doesn't make many errors (.968 fielding percentage this year and last year), but he could be better at making plays (2.24 RF/G average the past two years). Without elite speed, and considering the dimensions of the Coliseum, it would probably be predictable that Choice will make the transition to the corners in the next couple of years.

3. Jemile Weeks, 2B (1st Round Draft Pick in 2008)

The younger brother of Major Leaguer Rickie Weeks, Weeks is an athletic infielder who has extremely enticing offensive upside for a second baseman. In his first year out of the University of Miami, Weeks tore up the California League in 232 plate appearances with the Ports. He hit .299 with an OPS of .847 and hit seven home runs, 31 RBI and stole five bases on six attempts. Weeks however struggled through injuries in 2010, as leg and hip injuries only limited him to 77 games in the Arizona League and Texas League. In his injury-plagued campaign a year ago, he still manage to hit .267 with a .752 OPS in 356 plate appearances.

This year, Weeks earned a promotion to Triple-A and has been an offensive catalyst for the Rivercats. He is hitting .309 with a .833 OPS and has two home runs, 16 RBI and seven stolen bases on 10 attempts. This year, Baseball America Ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the A's system, and Gordon ranked him as the sixth-best A's prospect. Here is what Baseball America had to say about Weeks in their prospect handbook:

"When healthy, Weeks shows promising tools. He has a quick, explosive swing and can do damage from both sides of the plate. His strength and outstanding bat speed give him the capability to hit for more power than his body would suggest...He's not the smoothest second baseman, but he has worked hard to improve his throwing and double-play pivot. Weeks draws some Ray Durham comparisons and has the potential to be a top-of-the-order catalyst."

Considering the A's current offensive woes and Weeks' hot start in Sacramento, it wouldn't be surprising to see the athletic second baseman get a shot in the bigs at some point this year. He has the tools and ability to have a career in the Majors much like his older brother, Rickie.

4. Max Stassi, C (4th Round Draft Pick in 2009)

A fourth round pick in the 2009 draft, Stassi gained a lot of national attention when the A's signed the catcher out of Yuba City to a $1.5 million signing bonus (the highest for a fourth round pick at the time). Stassi presented a lot of interesting tools for a catcher, and he had youth on his side as he was coming out of high school.

In his first full year last year in Kane County in the Midwest League, Stassi struggled as a 19 year old at the plate, as he hit only .229 with a 684 OPS in 465 plate appearances. While he displayed good power for his position (13 home runs, 151 ISO) and drew walks (9.7 percent walk rate), he struggled in terms of making contact, as he struck out 34 percent of the time and sported a contact rate of only 66 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.32.

Still, the power numbers were enticing for his age, and he earned a promotion to Stockton this year. Offensively, he hasn't fared much better against the better pitching, as he is hitting .231 with a .662 OPS. Stassi is suffering from a bit of bad luck (as his BABIP is .268) and his plate approach has improved a bit (0.72), as he has cut down the K's (18 percent strikeout rate) from a year ago. However, his power has declined dramatically (.099 ISO), and he has hidden behind the designated hitter role a majority of the year. Stassi isn't a terrible defensive catcher as Gordon noted that Stassi "owns quick hands and is a good receiver behind the dish." Thus, it is kind of concerning why Stassi hasn't played much time behind the dish this season in the California League.

Stassi is still an interesting prospect because of his position and youth. Baseball America ranked him as the A's sixth-best prospect and Gordon ranked him 10th in the A's organization. That being said, his offense needs some work and one has to wonder if the power he showed last year will re-manifest itself this year at some point this season. If it does, then Stassi could really rise as a prospect because his approach is much better at the plate from a year ago.

5. Fautino De Los Santos, RHP (Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 by the Chicago White Sox)

De Los Santos is a live-armed right handed pitcher who burst on the scene in 2007 at the Futures Game when he was hitting 97 MPH on the gun. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg, as de Los Santos put together an impressive campaign in 2007 in Winston Salem of the Chicago White Sox. He struck out 32 hitters in 23 innings pitched and posted an ERA of 3.72, a WHIP of 1.10 and an xERA of 3.17. His advanced numbers were the most impressive, as he posted a 11.9 K/9 and a K/BB ratio of 4.6. De Los Santos was a pitcher who could make batters miss and miss in bunches. The A's ended up trading for him after his 2007 campaign, as de Los Santos was involved in a deal (along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney) that sent fan favorite Nick Swisher to Chicago.

Baseball America was so high on him that they ranked him the 60th best prospect in baseball going into 2008. However, de Los Santos wasn't able to parlay his impressive 2008 campaign in the Carolina League to the California League. His BB/9 rate increased to 4.3 and though he still had a good a K/9 (10.3) and K/BB ratio (2.36), his other numbers weren't very impressive (5.87 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 5.96 xERA). What was even more concerning was the injury problems, as he made only five appearances in 2008 with the Ports and only seven starts in a Rookie League rehab stint in the Arizona Rookie League.

Finally healthy, de Los Santos had a solid year in 2010 in a split campaign in the California League and Texas League, making the transition from starter to reliever. With Stockton, he struck out 22 batters in 15 innings pitched, and sported an ERA of 2.37, a WHIP of 1.05, a xERA of 2.02, and an unbelievable K/BB ratio of 7.3 (compounded by a 13 K/9). Of course, it was his third year in High-A ball, but he remained solid in Midland, as he struck out 55 in 31 innings pitched and posted a K/BB ratio of 3.2. His ERA wasn't impressive at 6.63 and his WHIP was 1.51, but he suffered from a high BABIP (.350) and his xERA was more tolerable at 3.79.

The A's added him to the 40-man roster this year, and he has been good this year in Double-A and a recent promotion to Sacramento. He has pitched 15.1 IP, and he has struck out 21 batters while posting an ERA of 1.76 and a WHIP of 1.24. His walk rate is still a little high (4.7 BB/9 combined), but he has never had a K/9 rate lower than 10 in his minor league career. At the very least, de Los Santos has the upside of a strikeout specialist out of the bullpen.

Gordon had this to say about de Los Santos in his writeup:

"Never posted a K rate below 10 and keeps ball on ground when contact is made. Hard, sinking fastball thrown from whip-like arm action and has knockout slider."

De Los Santos may be a pitcher in the Santiago Casilla mold, whom the A's also developed in their system. While he may or may not make the jump to the Majors this year, he is one of the few interesting arms in the A's system (which is very weak, as the MLBA graded their pitching talent a D) and he would added much needed bullpen depth to a team that is heavily reliant on their pitching for overall success.

6. Yordy Cabrera, SS (Drafted in the Second Round of the 2010 Draft)

Cabrera is a prospect I had a lot of interest in when he was eligible for the draft last year. On my old blog Remember '51, I had hopes that the Giants would draft him in the first round. However, he slid to the second round, and the A's snatched him up and awarded him with a $1.25 million signing bonus.

Cabrera is a toolsy infielder out of Lakeland, Florida who showed a lot of promise in various showcases a year ago. He has good size and a sweet swing, though many people think he may be too big and not athletic enough to play shortstop full time at the Major League level. Jonathan Mayo of had this to say in his scouting report about Cabrera leading up to draft day.

"Cabrera certainly looks the part of a ballplayer in terms of his build and how he carries himself on the baseball field. He's got the raw tools as well -- it's just a question of whether he'll learn to use them consistently. He's got plenty of power, but there is some concern about his ability to recognize pitches well enough to tap into that power. His days as a shortstop are likely numbered, with a move to third or an outfield corner in his future. His athleticism and upside will have many teams interested, and the team who believes it can tap into that will be the one to take him."

Cabrera made the move up to A-ball this year and he has been decent at the plate, as he is hitting .252 with a .737 OPS and has three home runs and 16 RBI in 113 plate appearances. He could still make better contact at the plate (70 percent contact rate this year) and he could cut the strikeouts down a little bit (31 in 103 AB) and flash a better eye at the plate (his BB/K ratio is 0.26). However, those things are to be expected for a kid just out high school.

His defense hasn't been that stellar at shortstop as expected (.908 fielding percentage, 4.19 RF/G), but he has shown some ability on the basepaths as he has nine stolen bases on 12 attempts. Overall, his year so far in the Midwest League has been a solid showing for his first full year in professional ball, though age isn't that big of a factor in his favor, as he was an older kid playing high school ball (he was 19 when he was drafted).

I like Cabrera and the tools he brings as a prospect. While Gordon didn't think too highly of him (he didn't rank him on the Top-15 prospect list for the A's), Baseball America did rank him as the 8th best prospect in the A's system. He is raw, but Cabrera does flash Hanley Ramirez potential with his hitting, power and ability on the basepaths (though defensively he may not be as good as Ramirez). If the A's remain patient with him, he could develop into the kind of prospect that will be on everyone's radar in a year or two. His upside is that promising.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Jorge Lopez, RHP, and Hawtin Buchanan, RHP

Today I'm going to take a look at two possible supplemental round picks that could fall in the Giants slot. The Giants got the 49th pick in the Supplemental Round after Juan Uribe signed with the Dodgers this off-season. Again, we have some more pitchers, but as noted before this pitching is especially deep in young, high upside pitching, and the Giants have an obvious need to solidify their pitching depth in the minors (the Minor League Basbeall Analyst graded the Giants minor league pitching as a C- in their 2011 annual).

Jorge Lopez, RHP, Caguas Military Academy, Puerto Rico

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John Sickels has Lopez projected to go at the 49th slot in his latest mock supplemental first round draft. Lopez is a high-ceiling arm, with a nice frame and good stuff according to reports. While Puerto Rican prospects usually don't have a history of going high in the draft (Luis Atilano was the highest pick from Puerto Rico in the history of the draft, as he went No. 35 in 2003), Lopez seems to be an exception to the rule.

According to a report by Perfect Game USA, Lopez is getting comparisons to Javier Vazquez. He still has a lot of room to develop as a pitcher (he's six-foot-four inches, and 175 pounds), but already he sports a fastball that goes in the low 90's and a good spinning curve ball that has gotten good reports from scouts. An excellent athlete (Lopez played volleyball, basketball and ran track in addition to baseball), Lopez used to be a shortstop before he converted to the mound full time.

Perfect Game noted on his player profile page these things about Lopez:

"Slender young build, should gain strength but not much weight. Slow paced low effort delivery, high 3/4's release point, pulls off some on release, very long and loose arm, good use of his lower half. Fastball to 91 mph, velo comes easy. Flashes hard curveball spin when on top of the ball, change up shows nice sink and should be thrown more. Very nice young pitching prospect who should keep improving."

Lopez was named a Rawlings 3rd Team All-American in 2011, and Diamondscape Scouting named him to the Second-Team All-Region team for the Southeast in January. Unlike a lot of high school prospects eligibile in this draft, there isn't a ton of video or scouting reports on Lopez, but he does sound like an enticing pitcher who has considerable upside as a prospect. While Lopez comes from an area of Puerto Rico that is known for developing positional talent (Cayey), Lopez is still an enticing prospect who has faced good competition and has been fostered in a solid baseball environment.

I wish there was more information on Lopez, because he has good tools for a pitcher. The Giants had some success with Jonathan Sanchez, another pitching prospect who came out of Puerto Rico, but Lopez is a bit more raw in comparison to Sanchez. Sanchez pitched in college in the United States before he entered the draft (he played at Ohio Dominican University), and even then, he was an under the radar prospect (he went in the 27th round of the 2004 draft).

Nonetheless, if Lopez can develop as a pitcher in the minors like Sanchez (or perhaps even better), then the Giants could get a steal in the supplemental round with the Puerto Rican right hander. He may take a little more time than Sanchez to break into the majors simply because of his age and where he is in the development stage, but Lopez seems to have the tools and stuff to succeed as a professional pitcher.

Hawtin Buchanan, RHP, Biloxi HS (Mississippi)

Buchanan is another young, raw, but projectable pitcher who could go in the supplemental round in the Giants slot. Buchanan has intriguing size (six-foot, eight inches, 240 pounds), but he is a very good athlete despite his big frame. He already is committed to Ole Miss, not just to play baseball, but to play quarterback for their football team as well.

His stuff is pretty electric as he sports a fastball that goes in the mid-low 90's and touches 95 MPH. However, according to Perfect Game, there are some issues with his mechanics, as he tends to drop his elbow on his curve ball and is slow on his chanegup. Nonetheless, PG was very optimistic about his improvement from 2010 to 2011

"When I saw Buchanan last year at the East Cobb Invitational tournament I was very impressed with his arm and overall strength and athleticism. But, his mechanics needed a lot of work. Over the offseason he put in that work and it has paid off. He’s increased his velocity by 5-7 MPH and has been up to 95. The 6’ 8” righty who is committed to Ole Miss has really been boosting his draft stock with big performances this season. In a big game against George County on March 10th, a game that drew a lot of interest from MLB scouts (as Buchanan opposed LHP Mason Robbins) Hawtin threw a complete game 3-hitter in Biloxi’s district opener and showed improved command of his secondary stuff."

There are a lot of positives when you watch Buchanan on tape. He has a straight, high leg kick that is very similar to Bronson Arroyo and Roy Oswalt. While I'm not sure he will develop into pitchers of that caliber, he still has tremendous uspide and stuff for a kid his age. The main concern with Buchanan might not be his tools as a pitcher, but whether or not he will sign if drafted. After all, he is committed to play football at Ole Miss, and if he is serious about playing football, he may not sign out of high school if drafted. This probably has lowered his draft stock, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Buchanan go lower in the draft because of this issue.

On talent alone though, there is no question that Buchanan is a supplemental round/second round pick. He was a second team All-Rawlings All-American in 2011, and he was also named to the All-Region first team for the Southeast. If the Giants can select him and get him to sign, then they'll have a nice prospect on their hands because his size and stuff are both a plus for his age. He will need some time to develop as a pitcher of course, since professional hitting will be a major step up over the competition he has currently faced (If you watch the tape, it's obvious he's head and shoulders above the hitters). Nonetheless, the Giants will have the patience to allow him to develop in the minors, simply because there isn't a need to rush him with the Major League rotation and bullpen set strongly at this point.

Friday, May 20, 2011

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 16, Chuckie Jones, OF

The Giants sort of lucked out when it came to drafting Chuckie Jones in the 2010 draft. The St. Louis Cardinals were planning to draft the outfielder out of Boonville, Missouri in the 7th round. He was a local kid, and his role model happened to be Albert Pujols. However, the Giants swooped him up one pick earlier, and instead of going to college (he was committed to Maple Woods Community College in Missouri), he signed with the Giants.

Jones is an incredible athlete. He was a high school quarterback and played hoops, but it was obvious that baseball was the sport he was most focused on. Like many multiple high school sport athlete prospects though, Jones' baseball skills were really raw. While he had athleticism and obvious power, there were a lot of questions about his plate approach as well as his overall instincts for the game. Additionally, the fact that he wasn't more widely recruited to four-year colleges was also a question mark, since you think a college would give a shot to a kid with as much power and athleticism as Jones.

Despite the concerns though, he performed admirably in his debut season in the Arizona Rookie League. In 190 plate appearances, he hit five home runs, 47 RBI and posted a batting average of .279 and an OPS of .817 with an ISO of .182 and an extra-base hit percentage of 35 percent. He wasn't dominant of course by any means, as the concerns surrounding him when he was drafted were evident in Arizona. He struck out 61 times (a 37 percent rate) and he had a BB/K ratio of 0.33. Furthermore, defensively he showed some obvious flaws, as his RF/G was only 1.69 and he had a fielding percentage of .922 while playing mostly center field in the AZL.

Now, I know most people aren't impressed by his numbers in the AZL, and I wouldn't blame them. Matt Garroich of MLB Bonus Baby didn't exactly have the most sunny outlook about Jones as a prospect. The strikeout rate was surprisingly high, and his contact rate (63 percent) was also alarming as well, especially considering it was the AZL. That being said, I would compare Jones to Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who also came into the Gulf Coast League as a very raw, but athletic prospect. Here are the numbers Matt Kemp put up as an 18 year old in the GCL:

168 plate appearances, .270 average, .298 OBP, .346 Slugging, .644 OPS, .076 ISO, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 7 BB, 25 SO.

Now, Kemp is a better athlete and does have more speed and range as an outfielder than Jones. I don't think Jones could do what Kemp does in center field with the Dodgers. However, Kemp was a player with raw power, but didn't have the best plate approach. Granted, he did strike out a lower rate than Jones (16 percent), but his walk to strikeout ratio was very similar (0.28).

Jones already is off to a better start than Kemp when it comes to power (his ISO obviously shows that). Furthermore, Jones drew more walks than Kemp (who had only a 4 percent walk rate as a rookie), so Jones does have that advantage over the Dodger center fielder at this point. If Jones can hone his approach a little better and improve his strike zone recognition and batting eye (which is possible as he continues to face professional pitching), it isn't out of the question to think that Jones could bring an Kemp-like offensive upside to the Giants organization.

For those who think I might be reaching about the Kemp-comparison, here is what Baseball America said in their writeup on Jones:

"Jones doesn't bother to cut down his swing with two strikes, fanning 61 times, in 165 at-bats. But he also drew a team-high 20 walks, indicating he has some plate discipline. Despite his tender age, Jones is built like an NFL linebacker with above average throwing and running ability. He'll probably outgrow center field, but scouting director John Barr assumed the same things about Matt Kemp when he was with the Dodgers. He has enough arm strength to make right field a possibility."

Of course, this is all theory and Jones, who will begin the year in Salem-Keizer, will be challenged to adjust to better pitching as he moves up in the Giants system. Still, there is some excitement about Jones as a prospect. Baseball America ranked him as the 18th best prospect in the Giants system, and the Minor League Baseball Analyst for 2011 ranked him as the 12th best Giants prospect. You just can't discredit guys with good athleticism and power like Jones. He isn't an elite runner like some prospects who were multiple sport athletes in high school (Kemp, Carl Crawford, etc.), but he can steal a base efficiently (six stolen bases in eight attempts last year), which does heighten his value if he can continue to display this as he plays at higher levels in the minors.

Jones is as raw as it comes as a prospect, but he's extremely interesting because of his age, tools and upside. Furthermore, he's relatively under the radar, which is also intriguing because his career could go either way at this point. I'm not willing to consider him a major sleeper in the Giants system just yet (I want to see how he does in the Northwest League first), but if he can continue to display the skills he showed last year in Arizona this season in Salem-Keizer, then I wouldn't be surprised to see Jones really climb up the prospect rankings in 2012 and be on the Giants radar in a few years.