Friday, March 16, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 11-15; Culberson, Gillaspie, Mejia, Blackburn, Osich

So it's been 11 days since my last post. It's been a weird month, and it's been hard to just find time to really sit down and post (not to mention tweet). For the sake of time interests, I've decided to streamline the rankings profiles a bit now. First off, I would like to have as many of the rankings up before Opening Day. Secondly, when you get deeper and deeper in the rankings, less and less information is available, so it's harder to come up with as in-depth profiles like the ones in the Top-10.

Hopefully, the posting will be a little more consistent from here on out.

No. 11: Charlie Culberson, Second Base

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: Utility infielder; at best, starting second base. At worst, career backup.

Summary: Culberson, the former supplemental round pick (2007 Draft), has had an up and down career as an infielder in the Giants system. Originally drafted as a shortstop, inconsistent defense forced a move from the position after the 2008 season in Augusta (he ended up playing third base in 2009 with the Green Jackets, until he ended up settling at Second Base in San Jose). The main problem with Culberson's defense is that he is too error prone, as he committed 75 errors in between his two campaigns in the Sally in 2009 and 2010. That being said, the move to second base has been worthwhile, as he has only committed 28 errors the past two years at the Keystone in San Jose and Richmond, which has improved his fielding percentages to .975 and .978 the past two years (in comparison, his fielding percentages in Augusta were .901 and .900, respectively).

Offensively, things started slow for Culberson, as the Sally seemed to overwhelm him as a hitter just out of high school. In two stints with the Green Jackets, he posted OPS numbers of .599 and .598, and he displayed little power (312.5 average slugging in Augusta), ability to hit for average (.240 batting average in two seasons in Single-A) and a poor approach at the plate (0.31 average BB/K ratio in Augusta). Much like fellow 2007 pick Wendell Fairley, many people felt that Culberson simply didn't have the offensive skills to project into a Major League player.

However, in 2010, Culberson broke out in all kinds of ways in the California League. He improved defensively with the transition to second base, becoming at least average defensively at the position. The biggest improvement though came offensively, as he hit 16 home runs, and posted a slash of .290/.334/.457 in 503 at-bats in San Jose. While the plate approach was still skeptical (0.33 BB/K ratio), the increased power (career high .167 ISO) as well as speed on the basepaths (25 stolen bases), gave some scouts and experts that Culberson could have 20-20 home run-stolen base potential in the mold of Dustin Pedroia, or at the very least 15-15 potential.

Of course, as mentioned before on this blog, Cal League stats always have to be taken with a grain of salt. While he did follow up his Cal League dominance with an excellent showing in the Arizona Fall League (he posted a .366/.394/.591 slash with two home runs and 21 runs scored in 99 plate appearances with the Scorpions), the Eastern League pitching proved to be dominating for him to replicate his High-A numbers. He regressed to post a slash of .259/.287/.382 in 553 at-bats, and his plate approach suffered, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.17, a career low.

While some would write off Culberson completely, I was actually a little comforted in some ways by his 2011 campaign in Richmond, and still hold some hope that he can turn into a good Major League player in a year or two. First off, he was still two years younger than the competition in the Eastern League (average hitter's age is 24), and while is power regressed, it didn't fall off a cliff like some hitters who make the transition from the Cal to the Eastern League. He still hit 10 home runs, and his ISO only dipped 44 points, not terrible considering his previous high ISO in the Sally was .085. He also made the Eastern League All-Star team, an honor that displayed that his season wasn't downright terrible by any stretch of the imagination.

What to Expect in 2012: It's tough to gauge where Culberson will be in 2012. An early injury in the beginning of work outs has kept him out of Spring Training so far, and it's likely that he won't be ready until the end of Spring Training as well. There was some hope that with a good Spring, Culberson could have made the transition to Triple-A to start the year. Now, it looks like he'll be in extended Spring Training and most likely starting out the year in Double-A again. While starting out in Double-A could be a good thing, Culberson needs to make some kind of transition upward this year, either to Triple-A (the most likely scenario) or to the Majors. The latter is probably a stretch, especially when you consider Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theirot and Emmanuel Burriss are ahead of him on the organizational depth chart at the Major League and Triple-A level. However, there needs to be a sign of improvement and a leap of some sort for Culberson as a prospect in 2012. While he is still only 23 years old, this will be his sixth full season as a professional. If he cannot build off the campaign in Richmond a year ago, it's probably likely to think that Culberson won't amount to much at the Major League level. If he does, then he and Joe Panik could be battling for the keystone position when Sanchez leaves town.

No. 12: Conor Gillaspie, Third Base

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: Utility infielder/outfielder; could start at third base or a corner outfield position in right situation.

Summary: Originally a highly heralded supplemental round pick in the 2008 draft (he was the Giants' second pick after Buster Posey), Gillaspie's career has started slow, but really picked up the past two seasons. After getting a peek at the Major League level in 2008 shortly after being drafted (a Major League callup was written into his contract in order for him to sign at a lower bonus), Gillaspie struggled in all areas of his game in 2009 in San Jose. He committed 27 errors at third base in 116 games, and he only posted a slash of .286/.364/.386 in 530 plate appearances. Despite the hitter-friendly environments, Gillaspie displayed little to no power ability in his first full year, as he only hit four home runs and posted a measly ISO of .100.

While the lack of power or defensive ability hurt his stock greatly in 2009, he did display a solid eye at the plate (0.81 BB/K ratio) and a strong ability to make contact (86 percent contact rate). When he made the transition to the Eastern League in 2010, he was able to transition those skills for the most part. While his BB/K ratio dipped a little, it still remained above average at 0.55, and his contact percentage remained unchanged at 86 percent. Furthermore, one of the reasons for the dip in BB/K ratio was he increased his aggressiveness at the plate, which resulted in a lower walk rate (from 10 to 7 percent), but increased power (.132 ISO). In fact, he doubled his home run total from the Cal League in the Eastern League (from 4 to 8), and his slugging and OPS numbers both improved from San Jose as well (to .420 and .757). Considering most prospects' power numbers go the opposite direction in the transition from the CL to the EL, the improvement was a promising sign that Gillaspie wasn't finished yet.

2011 proved to be Gillaspie's best year as a professional, as he posted his best overall numbers as a Minor Leaguer in Fresno. He hit 11 home runs and posted a slash of .297/.391/.453 with an OPS of .844. His contact rate dipped to 82 percent, but he posted career highs in walk percentage at 13 percent, BB/K ratio at 0.84, and ISO at .157. His stellar campaign with the Grizzlies earned him a callup to the Big Leagues, and he held his own in 19 at-bats, posting a slash of .263/.333/.421 with two walks, only one strikeout, and five hits, including an inside the park home run.

What to Expect in 2012: Gillaspie doesn't hold much room for projection at 24 years old. He is a polished offensive player that displays a strong ability to make contact and a great eye at the plate. However, while his power has started to develop since that lackluster 2009 campaign in San Jose, his upside probably remains at 10-15 home runs a year, and he doesn't offer much speed on the basepaths or athleticism on the field to boot. This proves to be a problem, because defensively, he doesn't really project to be more than a corner infielder or outfielder, and he certainly doesn't have the power tool set to justify consistent playing time at the positions. Gillaspie could be a player in the Bill Mueller-mold (corner infielder who gets on-base and hits for average despite wielding below-average power for their position), but those kinds of players tend to be very rare, and get even fewer opportunities. At the same time, Gillaspie most likely will (and should) get some more playing time at the Major League level in 2012 (though, most likely, he will start the year in Fresno barring injury to someone this Spring). Hopefully, he'll get some more playing time at other positions in Triple-A to maximize his value when he gets the call up some point this year.

No. 13: Adalberto Mejia, Left-handed pitcher

Overall grade: C+
Projection: No. 2-3 starting pitcher.

Summary: A Dominican bonus baby who was signed for $350,000 in 2011 by scout Pablo Peguero (who was also responsible for signing outfielders Francisco Peguero and Rafael Rodriguez), Mejia is still a project of sorts who is a long ways away in terms of being fully developed. Furthermore, while he does offer some upside, at his age and where he's at in his professional career, he still carries considerable risk as a prospect (Baseball America, which ranked him 26 in their prospect handbook, graded his risk factor as extreme).

However, Mejia simply dominated as a pitcher in the Dominican Summer League, most likely earning himself a ticket to the Arizona Rookie League and/or Short-Season Salem Keizer this year. While DSL stats can't be taken too seriously (any rookie league numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt), Mejia displayed impeccable control for an 18 year old who had just signed that season. He only allowed eight walks in 76 innings pitched, good for a walk percentage of 0.9 and a K/BB ratio of 8.9. Just to compare, Joan Gregorio, a right handed prospect who has been ranked higher than Mejia on most lists, allowed nine more walks (17) in two less innings pitched when he threw in the DSL in 2011, and posted a K/BB ratio 6.5 points lower than Mejia (2.4). So, while the numbers can't be weighted too heavily, one can't dismiss Mejia's advanced approach completely either.

Tools wise, Mejia is still raw, as he throws a fastball that goes in the 87-91 MPH range that touches 92 MPH. Furthermore, he has a decent changeup and is working on his slider, which right now is still more of a slurve, according to reports from Baseball America. That being said, he is still 18 and growing into his Six-foot, three inch frame. As he gets older and exposed to more professional instruction when he makes the transition stateside, it is likely that his pitching repertoire and ability will get better. His approach has already received good marks, so the Giants will be starting with an already solid foundation.

What to Expect in 2012: Mejia is still years away from the Big Leagues, and with most Latin American prospects, his future could go either way. Just judging from his numbers and the early reports, Mejia has that upside to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, though he probably doesn't have the front line stuff or size to be a No.1 (though as stated before, he could gain more velocity as he continues to develop physically). I expect the Giants to take things conservatively with Mejia, and I don't really see him pitching beyond the Northwest League in 2012. However, if he continues to transition his command and control to the states, I wouldn't be surprised to see him be more of a riser in more prospect lists going into 2013.

No. 14 Clayton Blackburn, right-handed pitcher

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: No. 2/3 Starter; reliever at worst

Summary: Drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, the prep arm out of Oklahoma (the same state that produced top picks Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley in the 2011 draft) probably had the biggest pitching breakout out of the Giants' picks in 2011 (Joe Panik had the biggest breakout overall).

After signing, Blackburn made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League, and much like Mejia in the DSL, Blackburn displayed impeccable command and control for an 18 year old. In 33 innings pitched, he struck out 30 and walked only 3 batters total. (That's right, Three!) In addition, he only gave up 4.6 hits per nine innings and posted a BB/K ratio of 10. While it was only a 33 inning sample in Rookie ball, the stellar campaign had a lot of experts around the web and league wondering why Blackburn didn't go higher in the 2011 draft (though to be fair to other teams, it did seem like he was for sure going to honor his commitment to the University of Oklahoma going into the draft).

At six-foot, three inches and 220 pounds, his frame hints at front line rotation potential, or at the very least, middle of the rotation status. He has a four pitch arsenal, sporting a 90-93 MPH fastball, a good curve ball, and a slider and changeup, according to Rob Gordon of the MiLBA. Furthermore, while he didn't blow hitters away totally in his stint, Blackburn has excellent life on his pitches, and induces groundballs at an impressive rate (his GO/AO was 2.58 in 2011).

The main concern right now with Blackburn seems to be his size, for at 220 pounds, he is a bit on the heavy side, and isn't particularly athletic. Baseball America notes that he'll have to watch his conditioning in order to maintain and build stamina as a starting pitcher, especially as he makes the transition to full-season ball.

What to Expect in 2012: Blackburn is a big, young, high-ceiling arm that fits the mold of many former pitching prospects in the Giants organization (i.e. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner). While he doesn't have the upside of supplemental round pick Kyle Crick, Blackburn is a legitimate pitching prospect who has an advanced feel and repertoire for somebody his age. He most likely will begin the year in Low-A Augusta, which probably is the right track for him considering his youth. As noted before, his conditioning and stamina will be key things to keep an eye on in 2012, for a lot of his value is tied to him being a starter. If he can't keep the stamina to be a starting pitcher over a full year, his stock will take a hit. That being said, I am confident that he will stay in shape, and he could have a solid year in the Green Jackets' rotation in 2012.

No. 15: Josh Osich, Left-handed pitcher

Overall grade: C+
Projection: No. 4-5 starter; reliever

Summary: A sixth round pick, Osich had the makings of a first or second round draft choice going into the 2011 draft. However, Tommy John surgery in 2010, and arm concerns at the end of his 2011 season at Oregon State, scared off a lot of teams, and the Giants came in and swooped him up in the sixth round. Though he didn't play professionally last year, Osich did sign for $450,000 and passed a physical, so as of now, everything points to Osich being healthy and ready for the 2012 season.

As a pitcher, Osich had stretches of dominance during his time with the Beavers. He threw a no-hitter against powerhouse UCLA in 2011, and struck out 79 batters in 76.4 innings pitched his junior season. While he did post an ERA of 3.64 in 2011, his BB/K ratio remained decent at 2.32, and he only allowed 62 hits the entire year as well. Considering this was his first year coming off TJ surgery, and he couldn't really throw his breaking stuff due to the surgery, the numbers were a promising sign.

Right now, the big dilemma for the Giants is whether to break in Osich as a reliever or starter. Though he started in college and has starting potential, his injury concerns (he was pulled from an NCAA regional game in 2011 after one inning) probably will regulate Osich to the bullpen at least initially. Osich sports a three pitch arsenal, with a 92-95 MPH fastball that has been rated as four plus by Rob Gordon, and a slider and changeup. Baseball America noted that he didn't throw the slider very much last year due to injury concerns, and hence, that could have been the reason it wasn't graded very highly or very effective in 2011. Now that he has had a full year of play since TJ, it wouldn't be surprising to see his breaking stuff, especially his slider, become a more valuable part of his arsenal as a professional.

What to Expect in 2012: I am a big fan of Osich. I did a profile write-up on him going into the 2012 draft pick, and I thought he was worth spending a second round pick on, if available. The fact that the Giants got him in the sixth round to me is a steal (though as noted, we did spend second round money on him with his signing bonus). The health issues are a concern of course, but Osich has very good stuff and I think his secondary pitches will be even better now that he will be two years removed from TJ surgery that cost him his 2010 college season. I think the Giants will take things slow with him and start him in the bullpen, and in the Sally, just to be on the safe side. Though to be frank, I also wouldn't be surprised to see him pitch in High-A ball, simply due to his status as a high-round, college prospect.

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