Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Final Changes to the OTF Top 30 List

I know prospect lists should be final, but I had to make a final tweak to the rankings. With Angel Villalona's visa being delayed, the possibility of him not playing another year is very real (though I do think he'll get here at some point). The main reason for the delay allegedly is that he is applying for a visa meant for athletes and apparently his physical shape didn't check out with those dispersing visas for such athletes. That report scares me and makes me less optimistic that he'll recapture the potential he had when he was playing in the minors as recently as 2009.

So, I added two others at the No. 30 spot, since I felt they were both deserving. I added pitcher Chris Marlowe and outfielder Roger Kieschnick. Marlowe is a relief pitcher out of Oklahoma State whose frame and strikeout ability has gotten Tim Lincecum-comparisons, while Kieschnick is a bit of a tumbler but did post solid power numbers in the Eastern League a year ago.

This should be the last change and I apologize for all the flip-flopping. I just want to get these rankings as accurate as possible and the later rankings are always the toughest.

OTF Top 30: No. 9, Eric Surkamp, LHP

No. 9: Eric Surkamp, left-handed pitcher.

Age: 24
Drafted: Sixth round (177th overall) in the 2008 MLB Draft
College: North Carolina State
2011 Regular season numbers: 10-4 W-L, 23 games, 142.1 innings pitched, 37 runs allowed, 110 hits allowed, 44 walks, 165 strikeouts, 2.02 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.37 FIP, 3.75 BB/K ratio (Double-A). 2-2 W-L, 6 games, 26.2 IP, 32 hits allowed, 18 runs allowed, 17 walks, 13 strikeouts, 5.74 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 4.68 FIP, 0.76 BB/K ratio (MLB).
2011 Fall/Winter League numbers: None

Why you should know about Surkamp in 2012:

Surkamp is one of the more enigmatic pitching prospects in the Giants system. Scouts don't think he has the velocity to be anything more than a back-of-the-rotation or spot starter at the next level. On the other hand, stat guys point out that his dominance and command rates illustrate that he has the potential to be a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starter in the Big Leagues. Surkamp's future probably lies somewhere in the middle (hopefully), but his brief Major League stint in 2011 didn't do anything to sway critical scouts in the other direction. Surkamp won't spend much time in the minors in 2012 (he most likely is starting in Fresno barring injury AND an incredible Spring), but he'll be an interesting arm to keep an eye out on, especially if Barry Zito or Ryan Vogelsong struggle in the rotation.

What are Surkamp's strengths as a prospect?

After being drafted in the sixth round out of NC State, Surkamp appeared to profile as a low-ceiling pitcher who could advance quickly in the minors. Not only has Surkamp advanced in the Giants system (even though he did start out his career in the Sally his first full season), but he has pretty much dominated at every level in the Minors.

Surkamp sports plus control and command, and has demonstrated that with excellent walk to strikeout ratios in the Minors, and his tenure in Richmond last season was probably his most impressive stint yet. In 142.1 innings pitched, he struck out 165 while only allowing 44 free passes, good for a BB/K ratio of 3.75 and a FIP of 2.37. Even though the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers, Surkamp's numbers in Richmond were no fluke, as he was dominant in Augusta in 2009 and San Jose in 2010 as well, posting BB/K ratios of 4.33 and 4.19, respectively. His San Jose numbers are especially impressive since the Cal League tends to favor hitters, and despite those circumstances working against him in 2010, he still managed to post a FIP of 2.54.

While he doesn't sport tremendous velocity on his fastball (it is graded a three-plus by Rob Gordon of the MiLBA and it sits in the 87-90 MPH range), his deceptive three-quarters pitching motion, excellent control and plus curve ball have contributed heavily to his dominance in the minors. Daniel Jarrett of MLB Prospect Portal gave Surkamp positive reviews in a game report of a Surkamp start against the Akron Aeros on May 29th, noting this about Surkamp in his report:

"Surkamp's fastball was topping out around 90 MPH, but he showed great command of his offspeed pitches, mixing them in to keep the Aeros lineup off balance all game. His changeup and curveball both rate as plus pitches but his fastball will be big league average at best, even if he's able to add an MPH or two as he continues to get stronger...

It's not often you see a pitcher with a league average fastball who is able to record as many strikeouts as Surkamp, but its a credit to the quality of his secondary pitches and his poise on the mound. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain those rates throughout his career but his definitely has the pitchability to be a successful big league pitcher. His upside is likely as a #2 or #3 starter, who can log plenty of quality innings while giving his team a chance to win each and every night."

Surkamp doesn't have the stuff or ceiling of a pitcher like Kyle Crick or previous pitching prospects in the Giants system such as Zack Wheeler (currently in the Mets organization) or Madison Bumgarner. However, he is a prospect who knows how to pitch and has displayed excellent poise and presence on the mound at every stop in the Minors. It's those intangibles that make Surkamp such an interesting prospect, and help make up what he lacks in terms of tools and velocity.

Where might Surkamp struggle?

Surkamp was called up to the Majors late last season and did not impress in his six-start "cup of coffee" with the Big League club. Not only was he extremely hittable (he allowed 10.8 hits per nine innings), but he displayed none of the dominance, control or command that made him such a great prospect in the minors. His BB/K ratio was putrid at 0.76, amplified by a walk rate of 5.7 (he never posted a walk rate higher than 3.2 in the minors, and that was in his first season of professional ball at Salem Keizer).

It made sense why Surkamp didn't dominate in the Majors like he did in the Minors in 2011. His stuff really isn't all that impressive. Despite sporting good size at six-feet, four inches and a 190 pounds, Surkamp tops out at 90 MPH on his fastball and is consistently in the 87-89 range. While that is passable for a Major League starter, it leaves little room for error and it certainly isn't the velocity one would expect from a major pitching prospect. Furthermore, Surkamp is a three pitch pitcher, and while his curve has gotten good reports, his changeup has gotten mixed results (most likely due to the fact that his fastball doesn't generate a lot of speed). While asking Surkamp to develop a fourth pitch at this stage of his professional career is a huge stretch, Surkamp most likely has to develop his current pitch repertoire even more to be successful. How he will induce groundballs at the Major League level will probably be the key to his success. since I doubt his 10.6 career K/9 will translate. According to Baseball America in their handbook, his two seam fastball does tail, sink and induce groundballs, but that was hardly evident at the big league level, as he only posted a GB/FB rate of 0.91 (though the 26.1 line drive rate probably had something to do with it being so low).

Hence, the big question about Surkamp is this: can his repertoire and approach transition to the Major League level? Or is Surkamp simply one of those pitchers that can succeed against marginal talent, but not against elite hitters with better approaches? The tenure in San Francisco suggests the latter, but it was only a short six-game sample, and Surkamp had logged 142.1 innings in Richmond and six innings in San Jose in addition to his stint with the Giants. Surkamp may have just been a bit worn out, and wasn't ready or in the proper shape to face Major League hitters. Of course, that's just theory, and Giants fans won't really know how Surkamp will fare in the long run at the Major League level until he logs a larger sample.

Grades on Surkamp's Tools:

Fastball: 15/20 (It certainly isn't impressive in terms of velocity, but his two seamer does offer some hope that he can induce groundballs at the next level. His size does suggest that he has the potential to increase the velocity on his fastball, but even then, it'll probably be an increase of 1-2 MPH at best. Whether the velocity increases or not, he'll need to rely on more than just his fastball at the next level in order to be successful.)
Curveball: 17/20 (His curve, according to Baseball America, is knowing for finishing off pitchers, and it has good sweeping action at 75-78 MPH according to Gordon. While we're not look at a Barry Zito-esque curve here, it is a plus secondary pitch that Surkamp will probably hinge on in order to be successful as a starting pitcher. He locates it well, so he has that going in his favor.)
Changeup: 16/20 (The report vary, but his changeup did show signs of effectiveness at times in 2011. While his lack of fastball velocity doesn't maximize the value of his changeup, Baseball America did report that it works well against right handed hitters. Considering how Tim Lincecum's success in 2010 hinged on his changeup despite a decrease in fastball velocity from the previous year, this could be the pitch in Surkamp's repertoire that makes or breaks Surkamp's projection as a Major League pitcher.)
Mechanics: 18/20 (His three quarters delivery is deceptive, and his tall frame further makes things difficult for opposing hitters when it comes to seeing his pitches. On tape, Surkamp has a steady delivery that moves smoothly and doesn't exert too much effort.  His easy delivery probably prohibits him from getting more behind his fastball, but I will take the added control and command of his delivery over one that inhibits more speed, but more wildness in his pitches.)
Command/Control: 19/20 (A huge plus tool of his. Surkamp is fearless and isn't afraid to attack hitters inside despite sporting an average fastball. While this wasn't the case in San Francisco (he was too nitpicky in his callup), his track record shows that he has the potential to bounce back in 2012 and display the command that made him such a fast riser in the Giants system. While I think the K/9 rates won't translate at the Major League level, I do think his control will, which will equalize the regression in strikeouts in the Big Leagues.)
Ceiling: 16/20 (He probably projects as a back-end starter, maybe a 3rd starter at best. Furthermore, at his age, he really doesn't have much more room for development, so it's kind of now or never right now for Surkamp. Still though, if he can recapture the control he showed in the Minors at the Big League level, he could be a valuable fourth or fifth starter for the Giants as soon as this season.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 16/20 (He suffered a torn labrum in his hip in 2010 which ended his San Jose campaign early, but he rebounded from surgery in 2011 and posted solid numbers. While he doesn't have a massive injury history, the hip injury in 2010 will be something to watch out for in the near future. Surkamp also was a sixth round pick, so that goes against him in terms of projection (usually less-heralded guys are less-heralded for a reason). That being said, Surkamp has a good work ethic and has adjusted well at every stop he has been at, so that definitely bodes well in his favor.)

Overall grade: B-
Projection: No. 4 or No. 5 Major League starting pitcher; could be spot starter or long innings reliever.

Summary: Surkamp has garnered quite the fan base amongst Giants fans which can be a good thing (Pablo Sandoval) or misleading (John Bowker). I love Surkamp's repertoire and approach as a pitcher, which I think makes up for his average tools as a pitcher. While I think the stint in San Francisco isn't a total indicator of Surkamp's potential in the Major Leagues, I think it was a warning sign for a lot of Giants fans who felt Surkamp was in line to achieve automatic success at the Big League level like Madison Bumgarner. He just doesn't have the tools like Bumgarner to be that dominant. However, if he can recapture his control and confidence, then it is likely to see Surkamp achieve some success on the Giants staff. He won't have have much room for error, but it certainly isn't out of the question.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 8, Kyle Crick, RHP

No. 8: Kyle Crick, right-handed pitcher

Age: 19
Drafted: 16th pick in the Supplemental First Round (49th overall) in the 2011 MLB Draft
High School: Sherman High School (Texas)
2011 Regular Season numbers: 7 games, 7.0 innings pitched, 9 hits allowed, 8 runs allowed, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts, 6.43 ERA, 2.43 WHIP, 4.77 FIP, 1.00 BB/K ratio (Arizona Rookie League).
2011 Fall/Winter League numbers: None

Why you should know about Crick in 2012:

A heralded prep arm in a prep-heavy pitching class in the 2011 draft, Crick went to the Giants' slot at No. 49. The pick was heralded by some analysts, including  ESPN's Keith Law, who gave the Giants high marks for the selection (and remember, he lambasted the Joe Panik pick in the first round). Considering how thin the pitching ranks are with the graduation Madison Bumgarner in 2010 and the trade of Zack Wheeler in 2011, Crick has the most potential out of any current pitching prospect in the Giants system. Of course, Crick is still very young and only pitched seven innings in a limited Rookie League campaign in 2011. While the brief stint in the AZL didn't impress statistically, he's still a projectable pitcher with a high ceiling and a lot of time for development. If he can take to the Giants' pitching instruction (and all signs point that he will), then he will certainly be on a lot of baseball analysts' radar in 2013.

What are Crick's Strengths as a Prospect?

The reports on Crick prior to the 2011 draft were very stellar, as John Klima of the Baseball Prospect Report (formerly Baseball Beginnings) had a lot of sterling things to say about Cricks' performances in high school (he saw him in person twice). At the time, Crick was committed to go and play ball at TCU, but Klima pointed out at the time that he had the potential to be a very high draft pick in the 2011 draft. Here's what Klima said in his scouting report:

"I had a brief look at Texas right-hander Kyle Crick over the summer. I liked him. Yes, I did. So did TCU, who scooped some of the other Texas schools to land his commitment. I have a sneaky feeling that the draft might play a role for this guy, but as time and experience have taught us, you never know which way a guy goes until after the dust settles...

Strengths: FB 89-93, comfortable 90-92, hard downhill with tail, heavy ball. Can reach back for a little more and elevate when needed. SL 81-83 with hard bite, go-to weapon. Hard and late. Split 81 with hard drop. Straight CHG 80-81, assume those weren’t flat sliders, secondary SL 72-73 with drop."

Klima gave him an OFP of 54, with his fastball and slider earning 50/65 and 40/55 grades respectively. His control was a bit of concern in Klima's reports, as he only graded it a 30/55, but Klima was very high on Crick's mechanics, noting that his "arm smooth through back, body sometimes out in front of arm, arm catches up, gets extension and balanced landings."

For the most part, a lot of the reports on Crick's were very similar to Klima's. Crick pretty much slipped to the Giants' supplemental slot due to a bevy of talented pitching going in the first round (including prep arms Henry Owens, Joe Ross and Robert Stephenson). Crick dominated in high school, going 7-2 with a 1.11 ERA in 13 starts as a senior, and the remarks he got from his high school coach were also glowing as well:

"He's got the most powerful arm I've ever coached," Senato told the Texas Herald Democrat. "He's got a lot of upside -- he's not a polished product at all. His changeup's going to be better, and he's got more velocity in his arm. He can get to 97 or 98 mph at some point."

Of course, high school numbers and coaches' remarks always have to be taken with a grain of salt (what is his coach going to say? "Oh he sucks! The Giants made a huge mistake!"), but Crick seems to be a prospect with real potential. Even if you don't look at the velocity and grades on his pitches, his size alone (six-foot, three inches, 225 pounds) makes him an interesting prospect and gives him potential for a lot of velocity. And when you watch him on tape, there is a lot to like about his pitching motion, as he has a smooth delivery and seems to hide the ball well.

Furthermore, the fact that Crick got some playing experience after signing was a huge plus in his favor. While it wasn't the best stint, it was more professional experience than what other draft picks Andrew Susac or Ricky Oropesa or Josh Osich garnered last year (they had none). The exposure to professional pitching, hitting and instruction from last year's stint undoubtedly will make it a smoother transition for him in 2012, especially considering all the "draft hoopla" has worn off since his stint.

Where might Crick struggle?

Crick is years away from reaching his peak, and his stint in the Arizona Rookie League showed that. He struggled with control and command, as he gave up eight walks, nine hits and eight runs in seven innings of work in Arizona. Of course, he was just 18 years old and just coming off signing a $900 K signing bonus, so it is likely that he may have either been a little distracted or overwhelmed when he made his professional debut in 2011.

Still, Crick's control is always going to be an issue. As noted before, it was one of his lower grades in Klima's scouting report, and if he wants to have a career as a starting pitcher, he needs to be able to get those issues resolved, even if it is at a gradual pace. If he continues to walk hitters at the high rate he displayed in the AZL last year, then his career as a starter might be short, which in turn, would be a massive hit to his status as a prospect.

While Crick has a solid fastball and slider combination, he still needs work on his third and fourth pitches. He does sport a change and split finger fastball, but they haven't graded out as impressive pitches by any stretch of the imagination. With instruction, I am hopeful that he'll be able to hone a third pitch and at least make a fourth pitch average or slightly below. That being said, that might take a couple of seasons before we see the result of that instruction pay off, especially considering it will be his first full year as a professional in 2012, and he will just be learning how to pitch in general.

One the main weaknesses that has been noted about Crick is his strength and stamina as a pitcher, as it was a bit of a question mark in high school. While his stamina wasn't noted as poor by any measure, he only pitched 13 games in high school, so he has to get acclimated quickly to a full professional season. With his size and already solid frame (225 pounds), his conditioning will be important. If he doesn't stay in shape, it won't be hard to see his frame get out of control and hurt his stamina. While I think he's still young enough to stay in the current shape he's in, and I think management will keep a close eye on Crick (simply due to their investment in him). A pitcher's condition and stamina are always important aspects to keep tabs on, especially as they are breaking into the professional level and getting accustomed to the habits it takes to be a Major League pitcher (let's just say very few pitchers can get away with the Livan Hernandez Diet Plan).

Grades on Crick's tools:

Fastball: 17/20 (Solid now, but with the potential to grade much higher as he gets older and more developed as a pitcher. Currently his fastball goes in the 89-93 MPH range and comfortably in the 90-92 MPH range according to Klima. But, as noted before, his size gives him room for potential, as it could sit in the 93-95 MPH range in the next year or two.)
Slider: 17/20 (His best secondary pitch, Crick's slider ranges from 81-83 MPH and has good movement and a hard bite, according to Klima. If his fastball continues to keep or gain velocity, then I could see this pitch being even more effective in the future.)
Changeup/Split Finger: 13/20 (The reports are nothing special on these two pitches. His changeup, according to reports, is 80-81 MPH but is pretty straight. As for his split, it has a hard drop and sits in the 81 MPH range. If he wants to hold his own as a starting pitcher prospect, he's going to need to develop one or even both of these pitches.)
Mechanics: 17/20 (Klima was high on his mechanics, and on tape, his delivery and motion look pretty clean. He has fluid movement and moves quickly to the plate. Also, I like the way his motion disguises the ball, which only makes things look faster and harder to hit for batters. I bet there will be some tweaks done by the pitching staffs in the Giants organization, but Crick gives them a solid foundation to work with).
Command/Control: 13/20 (Klima noted that he had some work to do with his control, and his Rookie League stats showed that. Furthermore, he learned quickly that he isn't simply going to dominate hitters as easily as he did in Texas High School ball. I think his struggles with command and control are correctable, but he has a lot to work on in 2012.)
Ceiling: 17/20 (With the combination of his fastball/power slider combo, Crick already profiles as a solid Major League pitcher. Whether or not he will become a mainstay in the Giants' rotation depends on how well he develops his third and fourth pitches. If he that development happens, he could be a starting pitcher with a No. 2 ceiling. If not, then he's probably destined for the bullpen.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 18/20 (He's gotten high remarks from the organization (John Barr was very high on Crick after they drafted him) as well as from the scouting community, and he signed early enough to at least get some work in the Rookie League before the 2011 season ended. Crick still has a long road to go as a prospect, and as we have seen in the past, the road of a pitching prospect is often an unpredictable one. But right now, it seems like Crick is on the right path for success.)

Overall Grade: B-
Projection: Starting Major League pitcher. Best case: No. 2 starter. Worst case: Middle innings reliever.

Summary: I'm conservative with the Crick grade because a.) He's barely out of high school and b.) his Rookie League stint wasn't all the impressive (though it was a VERY small sample). That being said, I do think Crick can progress to be a B or B+ pitching prospect in the near future. He sports impressive size and tools, and the Giants have an excellent track record when it comes to developing pitching in their minor league system. Crick has the kind of raw skills and size that Matt Cain sported when he was drafted out of high school in the 2002 draft. Am I saying he's going to be a carbon copy of Cain? Of course not, but he has that potential, and if he pans out and develops in the Minors, then I think he could project to be a Cain-esque pitcher for the Giants in the future.

Monday, February 27, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 7, Francisco Peguero, OF

No. 7: Francisco Peguero, outfielder

Age: 23
Country: Dominican Republic
Signed: 2006
2011 Regular Season numbers: .324 average, .387 OBP, .441 Slugging, .828 OPS, .387 wOBA, 125 wRC+, 12 runs scored, 2 home runs, 4 stolen bases (High-A). .309 average, .318 OBP, .446 Slugging, .763 OPS, .340 wOBA, 109 wRC+, 34 runs scored, 5 home runs, 8 stolen bases (Double-A).
2011 Winter League numbers: .264 average, .312 OBP, .345 slugging, .657 OPS, 0.29 BB/K ratio, 5 runs scored, 1 home run, 3 stolen bases (Dominican Winter League).

Why you should know about Peguero in 2012?

Behind Gary Brown, Peguero rates as the Giants' best outfield prospect. Unlike Brown, Peguero may be ready for the big leagues as soon as this season. He already completed Double-A, and held his own with the bat (albeit with flaws). Furthermore, Peguero has five tool potential as a player, with stellar defensive abilities (he sports solid range and arm strength) as well as good speed on the basepaths. However, the projections on Peguero vary amongst analysts and scouts. Some believe he has the potential to be a very good Major League player. Some on the other hand, don't believe Peguero's free-swinging approach will translate very well to the next level. Either way, 2012 will be a very interesting year for the Dominican outfielder, especially if (and most likely when) he gets a call up to the Big League club.

What are Peguero's strengths as a prospect?

Peguero's strength is his bat, and he has showcased impressive hitting skills at every Minor League level he has played at since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He sports a minor league career batting average of .312 and has posted an average contact rate of 85.2 the past five stops from 2009-2011 (which included Salem-Keizer, Augusta, San Jose, and Richmond). To make things better, Peguero's power has improved as he has gotten older and started to fill out his 5-feet, 11-inches frame. In 2010 in 510 at-bats, he posted a career high .488 slugging and .159 ISO in the California League with San Jose, and last year in the Eastern League, he posted a .137 ISO along with a 26 percent extra base hit percentage (only one percent lower than his extra base hit percentage in San Jose in 2010). Considering the Eastern League tends to suppress hitters' power, Peguero's ability to show some pop was pretty impressive, especially since it was his debut campaign in Double-A.

However, hitting isn't the only strength of Peguero's, as he sports strong abilities on the basepaths (Rob Gordon of the MiLBA graded his speed as a four-plus out of five) and in the field (his defense was also graded as a four-plus). Though he only stole 12 bases last year between High-A and Double-A, Peguero was recovering from a knee injury, so the regression in stolen bases was to be expected. However, in a fully healthy season in 2010, he stole 40 bags and a combined 22 between Salem Keizer and Augusta in 2009. While he may not be a 30 stolen base guy by any stretch of the imagination, he does have 15-20 potential, especially with his power maturing and knee starting to recover.

From a scouting standpoint, analysts and professional scouts love the tools Peguero brings to the table. Some scouts make the Vlad Guerrero comparison often, due to his free-swinging nature, ability to make contact and rocket arm in the outfield (Baseball America graded him as having the best outfield arm in the Giants system). While I think the Guerrero comparison is a tad over-optimistic, he is impressive to watch on tape and on the field (I got a chance to watch him in San Jose in a short stint he had in the Cal League in 2011). Furthermore, Jonathan Mayo of was especially glowing of Peguero, as he rated him the No. 2 prospect in the Giants system and 99th prospect overall. Here's what Mayo said in his scouting report of Peguero:

"Peguero has tools galore and tries to use them with an all-or-nothing style. He’s very aggressive at the plate, a free swinger who doesn’t walk at all but also doesn’t strike out, making contact with anything and everything. He runs the bases the same way, and he has the speed to be a basestealing threat. His power hasn’t really shown up in games consistently yet, but he’s got pop in his bat for sure. He moved over to right field last year, partially because he was coming back from a knee injury. His strong arm works well there, but he was back in center field in the Dominican this winter."

Where could Peguero struggle as a prospect?

The biggest issue for Peguero is his plate approach, which frankly isn't very good. Yes, he makes consistent contact and doesn't strike out a lot. That being said, Peguero doesn't draw any walks, and that's putting it nicely. His career BB/K ratio is 0.23, and he has only drawn 80 walks in 2106 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues (yes, you read that right). Last year in Richmond, he only garnered five walks in 296 plate appearances (which is 1.7 percent).

Of course, having a lack of walks at the professional level isn't necessarily a bad thing. Guerrero and Pablo Sandoval  never drew a lot of walks in their Minor League careers either. That being said, to compare within the organization, Sandoval did post 97 walks in 1924 plate appearances in the Minors, and even his plate approach was questioned by some. The fact that a notorious free-swinging prospect like Sandoval drew 17 more walks in almost 200 less plate appearances than Peguero should be a big warning sign about Peguero's plate approach. He did get away with it in the lower levels, and he was successful in Richmond, so there is hope that his plus-hit tool will carry him as a professional. However, it will be interesting to see how he will fare once he starts to face better pitching and once teams get better scouting reports on him. If his BABIP dips, his numbers could take a catastrophic hit, especially considering his offensive production is so heavily weighted on him hitting for high average.

Another miniscule issue one could find with Peguero is what position he should play. While he has played center field most of his career, he moved to right field due to injury in 2011. While he profiles well there defensively (especially considering AT&T's dimensions, which require athletic right fielders), he may not hit for enough power at the corner outfield positions. Furthermore, with Gary Brown rating just as high, if not better defensively (at least in terms of range), Peguero could find himself stuck behind or moving around out-of-place when Brown catches up with him. I think Peguero would be ideal at right for the Giants (just because so much is demanded from right fielders defensively at AT&T), but his "tweener" outfielder status could present a problem in the future.

Grades on Peguero's tools:

Hitting for average/contact ability: 19/20 (I really love Peguero's hit tool. His contact rates have been consistently stellar, and he has hit for high average everywhere he's played. His swing is short and smooth, and despite the aggressiveness, his bat just doesn't miss the ball often. To me, that's just a huge plus in his favor, for it's not easy to replicate High-A offensive numbers in Double-A.)
Plate Approach: 12/20 (He gets killed heavily here, and it's the reason why he only profiles as a B prospect in my book. The BB/K ratios are atrocious and even for a free swinger, the lack of walks is disturbing and a huge red flag. Do I think he can improve the approach? Certainly, but he is already going to be 24 next season and after a season in Double-A, I don't know how much instruction will help his approach at this point. I'm not trying to be pessimistic of course, but at this point in a player's career, usually a player's approach is what it is, and his approach is not a blueprint for consistent success at the Major League level.)
Power: 16/20 (It's still developing, but Peguero's power is maturing to the point where he really does profile as a legitimate five-tool player. I don't think he'll be a 20-plus home run hitter, as his career high was 10 in 2010 in the hitter-friendly California League, but he certainly will be a threat for high slugging numbers and a lot of doubles and triples simply due to his speed. I think if he can hone his approach at the plate even a little bit, he could be a 10-15 home run guy at the Major League level. If not, then he probably profiles more as an 8-12 home run hitter.)
Speed: 18/20 (I'm curious to see how his speed will fare post-knee injury, but for the most part, Peguero's speed is a plus tool in his arsenal. 40 stolen bases in 2010 is nothing to shrug at, and he certainly has 20 stolen base potential at the next level. Furthermore, he has showed a strong knack for stretching out extra base hits, as his plus-20 percent extra base hit rates in Augusta, San Jose and Richmond have illustrated.)
Defense: 18/20 (He may be a bit of a tweener, but his tools fit well in AT&T park. His arm isn't as strong as Schierholtz's but it's close and still above average nonetheless. As with his abilities on the basepaths, I wonder how his knee injury will affect his fielding in the future, but there weren't any major issues in San Jose or Richmond last year and the reports were good on his play in center in the Dominican Winter League this past off-season. He may not be a Gold Glover, but he has the range, athleticism and arm to be a solid defender for years to come.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 15/20 (The knee injury he suffered prior to 2011 is a big warning sign, simply because you never know how those will turn out. Some are just temporary set backs, some tend to linger over the years. Time will only tell how his knee holds up and how it will affect his skills. Another issue is the fact that the Giants have progressed Peguero slowly in the system, as he has repeated almost every level in his Minor League career. Granted, that's not a bad thing, and Peguero signed young enough to where repeating didn't hinder his development. Still, at 24, Peguero's time to break into the Majors is now. If he doesn't make the Majors at some point in 2012, it would be a tremendous disappointment and set back for him as a prospect.)

Overall grade: B
Projection: Starting Major League outfielder; at the very worst, a utility outfielder.

Summary: To me, Peguero resembles an Austin Jackson-esque player. He has solid tools, including speed and defense, but the offense is a huge question mark simply because of the "swing first, walk never" approach (e.g. Shawon Dunston's dream). Peguero's offensive production is always going to be heavily reliant on his BABIP, and as Jackson showed last season, a regression in the BABIP could mean a huge regression in production. Granted, a Jackson-esque player isn't a bad thing to have (he was a runner up for the Rookie of the Year award in 2010), but to think Peguero is going to be a sure-thing outfielder at the Major League level isn't for certain. 2012 is going to be a make or break year for Peguero. If he continues to hit wherever he starts (I am guessing Fresno, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him start in Richmond just considering how slowly they have progressed him), then he may have a bright future as a potential starting outfielder for the Giants starting in 2013. However, if that BABIP regresses...then's not going to look good for Peguero, as he is just going to profile as that free-swinging outfielder who'll put up great Minor League numbers, but just can't hack it at the Major League level against elite pitching.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What Giants Fans (Mostly Myself) Learned from "Bowkermania!"

(Photo courtesy of Crazy

In 2009, John Bowker burst onto the Giants fan scene like no other. He became pretty much the "favorite son" of Giants fans and bloggers everywhere, who came up with terms like "Bowkermania!" and "Free Bowker!"

Of course, there was some interest in the free-swinging lefty in 2008, who got off to a torrid start with the Giants where he hit eight home runs in the first three months of play, and posted a slash of .325/.373/.584 in the month of June. However, a down July sent him to the bench, and for the remainder of the year in 2008, Bowker was pretty much an afterthought in the Giants organization.

But 2009 was the real jump off for Bowker, and it all started with that 2009 season of his in the Pacific Coast League.

Bowker put up incredible numbers in the PCL as a 25 year old, posting a slash of .342/.451/.596 with an OPS of 1.047 in 450 plate appearances with the Fresno Grizzlies. Yes, the 21 home runs were impressive, as was the OPS, but what really turned a lot of Giants fans' heads around (especially the stat heavy guys) was Bowker's suddenly honed approach at the plate.

Prior to 2009, Bowker's approach at the plate profiled as one of a free-swinging power hitter who struck out a good amount and didn't draw a lot of walks to boot. In 2007 in San Jose, he posted an OPS of .762 but only sported a meager BB/K ratio of 0.37. In 2008, his power numbers jumped in Connecticut despite the pitcher-friendly environments of the Eastern League, as he hit 22 home runs and posted an OPS of .886 in 587 plate appearances with the Defenders. Unfortunately, despite the jump in power, the approach at the plate didn't get much better, as he finished the year with a BB/K ratio of 0.40. While Bowker certainly had the potential to hit with power at the Big League level (and he flashed that in his short campaign in 2008), many people believed that his approach at the plate would prevent him from achieving consistent success as a Major League player.

In 2009 though, that all changed as his BB/K ratio suddenly spiked to 1.16. That's right. He improved his BB/K ratio by 76 points from Double-A Connecticut and 90 points from his brief stint with the Giants (his BB/K ratio was 0.26 in San Francisco). Bowker suddenly went from an outfielder with utility potential to starting potential, perhaps even All-Star potential.

Or so that's what all of us Giants fans wanted to believe.

In reality, we should have tempered the expectations.

As Grant Brisbee eloquently put it in this piece on the McCovey Chronicles, Bowker was such a beloved figure amongst Giants fans because he was the kind of player offensively in Fresno that was the polar opposite of what Giants fans were seeing on a daily basis in the outfield. Randy Winn had no patience at the plate and added minimal power to boot. Fred Lewis was a strikeout machine. Aaron Rowand couldn't lay off balls in the dirt to save his life. Eugenio Velez was Eugenio Velez. With his unbelievable numbers in Triple-A, Giants fans felt that if they could even get a modicum of that production at the Big League level, then he would be an upgrade over whatever the Giants had trotting out in the outfield in 2009.

Alas, he couldn't translate his impressive numbers as a Grizzly to the Major League club. In a short cup of coffee (73 plate appearances), Bowker put up a .194 average, .620 OPS and a BB/K ratio of 0.22 (actually worse than his 2008 call up). He looked less like the guy who was dominating PCL pitchers like Barry Bonds, and more like the guy in July of 2008 who didn't have a clue at the plate.

It didn't stop Giants fans like us though from believing in Bowkermania. Giants fans (including myself) pointed out a myriad of reasons why the skills didn't translate from Triple-A to the Major Leagues. He wasn't getting enough at-bats. The hitting philosophy under Carney Lansford didn't suit his style. The organization was putting too much pressure on Bowker to produce right away, and not enough on guys like Winn or Velez.

To be honest, the Giants did everything they could to give Bowker the job in 2010. They hired Hensely Meulens from Fresno as the Giants hitting coach, and they didn't bring back Winn. Furthermore, they made the competition between Bowker and Nate Schierholtz for the starting right field job in Spring Training, and after out-performing Nate in Spring Training, they handed the right field position to Bowker on Opening Day.

And still, Bowker couldn't produce. After a 90 plate appearance and .207/.254/.356 campaign as the Giants' right fielder, the Giants organization sent him down to Fresno and then included him in a trade package that eventually netted them lefty-specialist Javier Lopez from Pittsburgh. In the span of a year, Bowkermania in San Francisco was done, and two years later, Bowkermania was finished in Major League Baseball, as Bowker was released from the Phillies after last season to pursue a career in Japan (he signed with the Yomiuri Giants).

Bowker isn't the only example of Giants fans over-hoping for a prospect. Kevin Frandsen, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden, Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, Merkin Valdez, and Dante Powell are all examples of prospects Giants fans have had high hopes for, only to see them flail at the MLB level. After Bowker and the creation of this blog, Bowkermania taught me four things:

1.) Look at skills, not stats...and look at those skills at all levels, not just one.

Ron Shandler is a big proponent of this in his forecast. Though it is mostly referring to fantasy baseball purposes, the same rings true for prospects. You have to look at what his tools are and how they translate into the numbers, and not just the numbers themselves (or even the tools themselves, because as we know, some guys sport tremendous tools but can't back it up into good numbers). In addition, I would add onto this by saying that looking at all the "skill-related" numbers at all levels is equally important. Bowker didn't really flash any plate patience until he got to Fresno. His BB/K ratio and walk numbers were pedestrian at best from the Northwest League to the Eastern League. At the end of the day, one year of good plate patience is just that: one good year. Add that with the fact that he didn't show that at the Major League level, and Bowker pretty much proved to be the player we all thought he would be pre-2009: a free swinging lefty with some pop, but not a lot of discipline.

2.) Position is key.

If Bowker was a third baseman or catcher, perhaps the Giants would have had more patience with him. That being said, with a glut of outfielders such as Rowand, Mark Derosa, Nate Schierholtz, etc., Bowker didn't have much room for error. Add that with the mid-season signing of Pat Burrell and the writing was pretty much on the wall for Bowker. That is why, in my mind, position is such a key thing for prospects. It's the reason why a guy like Pablo Sandoval loses value if he moves from third to first base or if Tommy Joseph moves from catcher to first base. As first baseman, those guys not only struggle to compete with others at the position around the league, but they even pale in their own organization, as Brandon Belt is far superior to them defensively and perhaps offensively. Bowker was a corner outfielder whose lone "strength" was his bat, and when he didn't show that bat at the Big League level, he became expendable because there is usually a lot of depth in organizations when it comes to outfielders.

3.) Pay attention to trends in the leagues.

Brian Sabean said in an interview once that Triple-A pitching "wasn't very good." While he was referring to Buster Posey and he came off as condescending, Sabean has a point. Triple-A pitching isn't good. For the most part, Triple-A pitchers are journeyman who can't find a spot on the 25-man roster or prospects who have struggled at the Major League level and are taking some time for seasoning or to work on some things. Triple-A pitchers have some kind of flaw one way or the other, and one can't automatically believe that one's Triple-A numbers will automatically translate (even partially) to the Big League level. The California League is the same issue, as the environments greatly favor hitters, much like the Pacific Coast League. As for the Eastern League, the environments tend to favor pitchers, and one has to take some pitchers' numbers (mostly ERA for example) with a grain of salt. Hence, when it comes to evaluating prospects, one just can't look at one sample and say that's the recipe for success. There has to be a consistent showing of success from level to level.

4.) Age-related-to-league performance is huge.

In many ways, Bowker going to Fresno is lose-lose. He had 350 plate appearances in San Francisco the previous year. If he succeeded, then well, he was 25 and he had almost 3/4 of a season of experience at the Big League level. He is supposed to succeed. If he flops, then he probably wasn't that good of a prospect if he can't dominate Triple-A pitching at age 25. Now, if Bowker was 22 or 23 and putting up the numbers he was in 2009, that would be a different story. But he wasn't and as a result, Giants fans probably should have tempered their expectations. This isn't just specific to Bowker of course, and it should be applied to all prospects in any professional system. If a guy is younger than the competition and producing, then that's a good sign. If he's older than the competition, then it's a red flag. If he's repeating levels, that's also a red flag as well, especially if he has good numbers. Age-related-to-league is probably one of the most important things any baseball fan could look at when it comes to evaluating prospects. Bowker's older age and the fact that he was repeating Triple-A should have had more of us Giants fans on our toes.

As stated before, Bowker isn't the only example of a "prospect getting hype but not living up to it." Myriads of organizations can claim almost hundreds of players who failed to live up to the hype in the past decade alone. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. There are guys like Bowker who take a while to develop and then burst onto the scene at the Major League level. Mike Morse and Jose Bautista are examples of players who took longer than expected in the Minors, showed inconsistency at the Minor and Major League level and have now become everyday players. That being said, those are the exceptions, not the standards.

Did Bowker have a chance to be that exception? Of course, he did. I still feel he had a very good power tool set for a corner outfielder. But as with most prospects in his situation, the chips were stacked against him and as it is most of the time with prospects, the odds won out. For every Buster Posey, there's four to five Bowkers out there that don't live up to the "hype" generated by fans.

At least Giants fans (and myself) are better off now for understanding that the "hype machine" doesn't always strike gold with everyone.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 6, Andrew Susac, C

No. 6, Andrew Susac, catcher

Age: 21
Drafted: Second round (86th overall) in the 2011 MLB Draft
College: Oregon State
2011 Regular Season Numbers (at Oregon State): .313 average, .444 OBP, .552 slugging, .996 OPS, .239 ISO, 42.9 extra base hit percentage, 0.84 BB/K ratio, 31 runs scored, 5 home runs 32 RBI (Sophomore season)
2010 Cape Cod League Numbers: .290 average, .393 OBP, .500 slugging, .893 OPS, .210 ISO, 0.52 BB/K ratio, 17 runs scored, 5 home runs, 15 RBI (Falmouth Commodores)

Why you should know about Susac in 2012:

Right now, the debate over who could be the successor to Buster Posey behind the plate should Posey move positions is between Tommy Joseph (No. 3 on the list) and Andrew Susac. Originally projected as a high to mid first round pick, Susac dropped to the second round and the Giants swapped him up in their slot. Though he didn't play professionally last year (he signed too late), Susac was one of the best offense and defensive catchers in the 2011 draft. If he can build upon his solid sophomore season at Oregon State in 2012, Susac could be a Top-5 prospect in 2013.

What are Susac's strengths as a prospect?

Susac just overall is very impressive and it's hard to find much faults with him after his stellar season at OSU in 2011. As a Beaver, he hit five home runs, drove in 32 runs and posted a slash of .313/.444/.552. The fact that he did it in the Pac-12, against some of the best college competition in the nation (he hit against pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Anderson, who all went in the first round) makes his numbers all more impressive.

Susac has a good strong swing and he has showed an impeccable approach at the plate as well as power for a catcher. Perfect noted he was showing improving offensive tools at the plate and making great strides until a a broken bone in his hand somewhat stalled his 2011 season. Here's what they said:

"Until his untimely injury, sustained while swinging a bat, Susac was enjoying a breakout campaign at the plate for the Beavers, hitting a team-high .364 in 26 games. Even as he missed his next 16 games, he still stood among team leaders in homers (4), RBIs (25) and walks (21) in early May. Susac had made significant strides in all areas of his game this spring, but his improvement at the plate was especially noteworthy, and west-coast cross-checkers had quickly identified he and Utah’s C.J. Cron as the best college bats in that part of the country for this year’s draft."

While his offense has been lauded, scouts and experts also rated Susac as a solid defensive catcher. noted that he has very good arm strength and soft hands behind the plate. Rob Ozga of the Baseball Draft Report did note inconsistencies behind the plate at times, but also noted that he improved his polish and arm strength over the course of the season (a good sign that he can continue to improve as he receives professional instruction). At six-foot one inch and a 190 pounds, Susac has good athleticism for a catcher and has ample experience behind the plate (he played the position for four years in high school and two years in college).  Unlike Joseph and Posey, there isn't any doubts about Susac staying behind the plate as a professional, as there aren't many concerns or gripes with his defensive abilities.

In addition to raking in college as a sophomore, he has proven that he can hit with wood bats as well. In 2010, Susac put up excellent numbers in the Cape Cod with a slash of .290/.393/.500 in 100 at-bats. Hence, Susac appears to have good discipline at the plate, and the power Susac has displayed as an amateur seems to be for real and isn't just a product of metal college bats.

What might Susac struggle in 2012?

Because of signability issues (remember, he was projected as first round pick on talent alone), Susac didn't get a chance to play in 2011. It would have been nice to see him get some professional at-bats in the Northwest League like Joe Panik, but unfortunately that didn't happen. So, while Susac didn't expose himself as a prospect, he is going to have to produce right away as a prospect since he didn't get that valuable half-season of professional play. Granted, not playing after signing isn't the end of the world, but there certainly is a little bit more pressure on him, especially since he's a prospect drafted out of college.

The biggest concern with Susac may be the injury issues. While scouts and experts noted that the broken hamate bone in his hand shouldn't be a big worry (especially since he sat the remainder of 2011 out after being drafted), it did cost him some games at Oregon State in 2011. Furthermore, Susac did show some struggles as a freshman, as he only hit .260 and posted a .725 OPS in his first year of college play. His defense was also very inconsistent his freshman year, as he eventually had to split the job his frosh year due to defensive issues. Considering he was rated as a solid defensive prospect out of high school (he was drafted in the 16th round by the Phillies in 2009), the less-than-stellar defensive showings was a bit of a concern (though as noted before, he made a lot of improvements by his sophomore season).

As good as Susac's power and plate patience is, his ability to make contact is a bit of a question mark. His contact rates were only 76 percent both years at OSU, which isn't exactly impressive (the Baseball Cube rated his contact ability as a 37 out of 100). While he did face some good pitching in college, the contact rates will be something to watch out for when he makes his debut as a professional. 76 percent isn't bad, but if it regresses, that could be a huge red flag for his development as a hitter, especially as he moves up the system.

Grades on Susac's tools:

Hitting for Average/Contact ability: 15/20 (Yes, he hit .313 as a sophomore, but he was sub-.300 as a frosh and in 2010 in the Cape Cod. Add that with mediocre contact rates and I am unsure if Susac will ever be able to hit for high average as a professional. He certainly has the capability to be a .270-.290 hitter, but to imagine him as a .300-plus hitter in the mold of Buster Posey to me is a bit of a stretch.)
Plate approach: 19/20 (One of the strongest aspects of his offensive game. He has posted excellent BB/K ratios in college and the Cape Cod, and he has showed an impeccable ability to get on base. Furthermore, for a catcher, he has good speed (Rob Gordon rated his speed as a 3-plus out of 5 in the MiLBA), so he will have the ability to score a lot of runs on the basepaths. Even if the contact ability doesn't translate as well as a professional, I do believe Susac's plate approach will, which will be a huge plus in his favor.)
Power: 18/20 (Susac displayed excellent power from the Cape Cod to his Sophomore year, posting over .200 ISOs in those two campaigns. Furthermore, his 43 percent extra base hit percentage was also very impressive with the Beavers, especially considering most college hitters went through a power regression with the introduction of the new metal bats. With a solid plate approach and good power, Susac has a chance to post excellent ISO and OPS numbers as a professional.)
Speed: 15/20 (Susac isn't going to steal a lot, if any, bags (he stole zero in college). However, he isn't a base clogger and he can stretch out hits from time to time, which is a plus for a catcher. He has good frame and solid athleticism, so if he can continue to get on base, he certainly will be a candidate to score a lot of runs for a catching prospect.)
Defense: 17/20 (The improvement he showed from his freshman to his sophomore year has been noted by scouts and experts, and he has good arm strength and skills behind the plate. Furthermore, he has experience as a catcher which is something you can't really say for Joseph and even Posey (Joseph didn't start catching until his senior year of high school and Posey didn't start until college). Of course, he hasn't really caught as a professional, which means he doesn't have much experience calling his own games (something most colleges don't do), so whether or not he'll be an A-prospect defensively will hinge on his ability to call games. That being said, he has the tools and the ability to be a very good defensive catcher at the professional level.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 16/20 (The broken hamate bone and signing late hurt him in 2011 and I want to wait and see before he's completely healthy. Furthermore, his disappointing frosh season also hurt him in this category, especially since he was deemed a draft-ready prospect as a high school senior. He has showed improvement in his amateur career, and he's definitely trending upward as a player, but until I know for sure he's fully healthy, then I have to be conservative in this grade.)

Overall Grade: B
Projection: Starting Major League catcher; Upside: could be an All-Star caliber catcher. Downside: Could be a career backup.

Summary: Susac is going to be a Major-League bound player. From what I've read, he has the defensive ability to be at the very least a backup catcher at the Major League level. I mean, if Eli Whiteside can have a Major League career, than certainly Susac can as well. The only issue now is whether or not he'll make enough contact as a professional, and if his health will hold up as he plays more games. Right now, there is a lot to like about Susac: he has a good plate approach, solid power and very impressive tools behind the plate. That being said, Susac will have to prove himself  in the Minors before Giants fans can jump on the bandwagon completely just yet.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 5, Ehire Adrianza, SS

No. 5, Ehire Adrianza, shortstop

Age: 22
Country: Venezuela
Signing: Signed in 2006
2011 Regular Season numbers: .231 average, .315 OBP, .378 slugging, .692 OPS, .315 wOBA, 90 wRC+, 18 runs scored, 3 home runs, 3 stolen bases (Single-A). .300 average, .375 OBP, .465 slugging, .841 OPS, .377 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 34 runs scored, 3 home runs, 5 stolen bases (High-A).
2011 Winter League numbers: .234 average, .282 OBP, .338 slugging, .620 OPS, 12 runs scored, 1 home run, 0 stolen bases, 0.50 BB/K ratio (Venezuelan Winter League).

Why you should know about Adrianza in 2012?

Adrianza is the best defensive infielder prospect in the Giants system. Even last year, when Brandon Crawford was still a prospect, Adrianza's glove and defensive ability was graded higher than Crawford's by most scouts and Minor League analysts. Though Crawford and the newly-signed Ryan Theirot will be holding down the shortstop position in 2012, Adrianza is certainly a candidate for the position in the next couple of years. If Adrianza's offense can catch up even a little bit to his defense in 2012, it wouldn't be surprising to see him earn a call up at some point this season, especially if other utility infielders like Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burriss struggle.

What are Adrianza's strengths as a prospect?

Defense, defense and more defense. Adrianza, according to scouts has "Gold Glove" potential, which isn't something you hear often about a lot of shortstop prospect. He had good range, a solid arm and is very smooth in his mechanics and technique at the position. Jonathan Mayo of, who ranked Adrianza at No. 8 in his Giants Prospect Top 20, said this about Adrianza's fielding ability:

"There are no doubts about his skills with the glove as he is a plus defender across the board, from his range to his hands to his arm. At the very worst, he’ll have a career as a defensive utility man."

Though he isn't going to give Troy Tulowitzki or Derek Jeter a run for their money in terms of hitting ability, Adrianza has improved at the plate with more professional at-bats. Though he was repeating Single-A and High-A last year (he started in Single-A because he tore a thumb ligament in Spring Training), his OPS improved to .692 and .841 in Augusta and San Jose, respectively. He also displayed more power in his second go-arounds in the Sally and California League, as he posted career high ISOs of .147 and .165 (he did have a .167 ISO in Fresno in 2008, but that was only a two-game sample). So, Adrianza is starting to show more power potential, even if that power ceiling may not be much more than what he displayed last season.

Adrianza's strengths at the plate are his plate approach and his ability to make contact. Despite not hitting for high average so far in the minors (his career average is .252), he has never posted a BB/K ratio under 0.50 since 2009 (his first full professional season) and a strikeout rate over 19 percent (which was his Augusta stint last year where he was still recovering from his thumb injury). His contact rates have also been as stable as his BB/K ratios in his professional career, as he has only posted a contact rate under 80 percent once (with the Green Jackets last year). So, though the averages haven't really illustrated it (though he did hit .300 last year in San Jose), Adrianza has the skills and the potential to be a decent hitting shortstop at Major League level..

Though he isn't known for blazing speed (Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball analyst graded his speed as a 3-plus out of 5), Adrianza has showed potential on the basepaths in his career. While his stolen base numbers dipped to 8 total last year between Augusta and San Jose, he did steal 33 bases in 2010 in High-A. While I'm not sure if Adrianza will be a 20-plus threat as a professional (his previous career high was 7, though he did steal 23 in the DSL in 2007 as a 17-year-old), he could be a threat to steal 10-15 bags at the Major League level.

Where might Adrianza struggle?

For as much as scouts and experts rave about Adrianza's glove, they are almost equally as emphatic about his lack of offensive ability. Adam Foster of Project Prospect said this about Adrianza in a game report in 2011:

"Adrianza can’t hit. [I've] seen him 5 [times:] no power, poor [strike] zone judgment/pitch recognition"

I don't know if I would necessarily agree with Foster totally, simply because from what I've seen (I caught a couple of SJ Giants games last year) and from the numbers, the poor strike zone judgement contradicts his statement. Nonetheless, he's got a point when it comes to the lack of power, as the only power he's showed so far came in leagues he was repeating. For the most part, he's been pretty much a contact/singles hitter, and despite sporting some decent speed, it hasn't resulted in many extra base hits in his minor league career. Furthermore, he has a bit of a long swing and load and this was further emphasized by Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally. For a guy like Adrianza, his long swing certainly doesn't help things, simply because he doesn't have much power and he's swinging as if he's got a multitude of it (e.g. probably not the best approach).

Another thing Adrianza has going against him is that he pretty much lost a year of development in 2011. That's not really his fault totally (he was injured to begin the year), but there was some hope that Adrianza would see some time in Double-A in 2011. That didn't happen and now he's going to be 22 and in his sixth year of professional ball as he heads to the Eastern League. To make matters worse, the Eastern League is treacherous on hitters, so Adrianza will certainly have the chips stacked against him at the plate. Does that mean he is absolutely going to struggle? No, but I figured Adrianza would take a couple of years to develop offensively in the Eastern League. Going into last year, I figured he was young enough to do that. Now, well...he's still young enough, but I am less confident about that scenario than I was prior to the beginning of the 2011 season.

So far, Adrianza has only had one good season offensively at the plate in his career, which was last season in San Jose. A lot of experts took the numbers with a grain of salt, simply because it was his second year in High-A. Adrianza didn't do a lot to prove that the numbers were a fluke this Winter, as he struggled offensively in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 28 games, he posted a slash of .238/.282/.338, good for an OPS of .620. While it is a small sample, one would have hoped that Adrianza would have built on his solid campaign in High-A. Instead, he took a small step back.

Grades on Adrianza's Tools:

Hitting for Average/Contact Ability: 15/20 (This is a tough one to grade. If you look at the averages, he doesn't project to be a .300 hitter at the next level. However, if you look at the contact rates, one would think that he certainly has the ability to be a solid hitter at the next level. Last year in San Jose was a good sign. After a somewhat disappointing second stint in the Sally to begin 2011, Adrianza did extremely well in San Jose, hitting .300 and posting a career high .845 OPS. Of course, those averages are probably going to regress naturally in the Eastern League, but if Adrianza continues to sport the skills he showed in CL last season, then the numbers should still be decent for a shortstop.)
Plate Approach: 17/20 (Despite Foster's adamant stance, I think Adrianza has a solid approach. He doesn't strike out a lot, he walks at a good clip and his BB/K ratio has consistently been above average as a professional. His pitch recognition isn't perfect by any standard, but I think Adrianza's discipline at the plate is a strong tool he has going for him.)
Power: 12/20 (He just doesn't have much, and I don't think he'll develop much either. I think he's 6-8 home run guy at the Majors, maybe 10 max. He's got a good frame at six-feet, but he probably projects power-wise more to Elvis Andrus than Tulowitzki.)
Speed: 16/20 (It has showed so much on the basepaths, but Adrianza is athletic and has potential. At the very least, he is efficient on the basepaths, as he was successful on five of his six attempts last season. I still look at the 30 stolen bases in 2010 as a sign that he is capable of swiping 10-15 at the Major League level.)
Defense: 20/20 (Probably a little optimistic, but Adrianza is a wizard with the glove. I have seen it in video and in reports. His glove, range and arm strength are legitimate and Gold Glove-worthy.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 16/20 (He's coming off a thumb injury and he repeated Single-A and High-A, so those things go against him. However, he has showed improvement at the plate on a year to year basis, so it's evident that he's taking well to instruction. Even though he's struggled, I think his experience in the VWL will help him, simply because of the exposure to a lot of Major League vets like Pablo Sandoval.)

Overall Grade: B
Projection: Starting Major League shorstop. At worst, utility infielder; at best, Gold-glove shortstop.

Summary: It all depends on how he develops at the plate offensively in 2012. A bad year, and well...his stock is going to take a major hit. A good year, and well, he could challenge for the shortstop position in 2013. Right now, it seems more people are leaning more toward the former than the latter, but I am optimistic that his approach and ability to make contact will carry him in Richmond. Some people will believe I'm ranking Adrianza too high, but he's still young and his defensive tool is plus-plus in my mind. His glove alone will carry him to the Majors, especially in this era of "defense-conscious" baseball. Whether he'll be able to be more than a late-innings defensive specialist though is still a question for debate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 4, Heath Hembree, RHP

No. 4: Heath Hembree, right-handed pitcher

Age: 23
Drafted: Fifth round (168 overall) of the 2010 MLB Draft
College: College of Charleston
2011 Regular Season numbers: 26 games, 24.2 IP, 16 hits allowed, 2 runs allowed, 12 walks, 44 strikeouts, 0.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.74 FIP, 3.67 BB/K (High-A). 28 games, 28.2 IP, 20 hits allowed, 11 runs allowed, 13 walks, 34 strikeouts, 2.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.64 FIP, 2.62 FIP (Double-A)
2011 Fall/Winter League numbers: None

Why You Should Know about Hembree in 2012:

With Zack Wheeler being traded for Carlos Beltran last July, Hembree emerges as the Giants' best pitching prospect in the system. While a power reliever being the prized pitching prospect isn't necessarily a good sign, Hembree is the kind of prospect who could be making his debut in the Majors as early as this season. Furthermore, with Brian Wilson going through a multitude of health-related issues, and going to be a free agent after next season, Hembree gives the Giants some leverage, as it is totally plausible to think Hembree taking up Wilson's mantle in the closer's spot should he leave town for a higher contract.

What are Hembree's Strengths as a Prospect?

Under the radar in 2010 (he was a fifth round pick in the 2010 draft), Keith Law of ESPN remarked that Hembree was a sleeper prospect in the Giants system when he came out with his Giants Top Prospects list. Law proved to be right, as Hembree dominated the California League and did extremely well in the Eastern League in his first full year. While Hembree did post excellent numbers in the rookie league after signing (he struck out 22 and walked zero...that's right ZERO!), not many people expected Hembree to have the breakout he did at both levels last year.

Hembree's strengths as a prospect are his plus fastball and impeccable ability to strike people out. His fastball goes in the 93-97 MPH range, topping out at 99 MPH according to reports. Furthermore, he has a power sliders that sits in the 84-86 MPH range, according to scouts. This lethal combination led to a 16.05 and 10.67 percent strikeout percentage in High-A and Double-A last season, which is exactly the kind of K/9 rates you want to see out of a potential closer.

Furthermore, in addition to striking out a lot of people, Hembree does not give up a lot of hits and displays above average command for a reliever. His WHIP was 1.16 and 1.17 in the California and Eastern League, respectively, and his BB/K ratios were also solid at 3.7 and 2.6. Hembree has worked hard to get to where he is currently at as a prospect, as coaches have helped smooth Hembree's mechanics and work on not overthrowing, according to Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball analyst. With this kind of upward progression, there seems to be a lot of promise for Hembree in the future, especially in the Giants bullpen, which has been a strong point of the Giants' success the past couple of seasons.

Where Might Hembree Struggle as a Prospect?

Though his stuff is absolutely dominating, Hembree at the core remains a two pitch pitcher with a reliever ceiling, which isn't all that valuable at the end of the day. With his stuff, one would hope that the Giants would be able to stretch more innings out of him, but Hembree hadn't pitched many innings in college after bouncing around from South Carolina to junior college to the College of Charleston in a three year span. Hence, Hembree's best case scenario remains as a closer, which doesn't leave him much room for error when it comes to his value and status as a prospect.

Hembree sports a big frame at six-foot, four inches and 210 pounds (he actually lost 10 pounds since becoming a professional), but, according to Perfect writer Allan Simpson, "he's far from a finished product." His biggest Achilles Heels has to be his control and inconsistency in command. Here's what Simpson said in a writeup on Hembree when he was drafted in 2010:

"Despite his explosive fastball and powerful, athletic frame, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander is far from a finished product, and his end-of-game role for the College of Charleston has it difficult for higher-level scouts to see him. In 21 appearances covering 23 innings (through mid-May), he was 5-2, 6.17 with four saves and had walked 15 while striking out 33. Though Hembree’s fastball is his primary weapon, it can often be straight and college hitters have teed off on it..."

The same reports have been true for Hembree as a professional.  While his strikeouts rates have been impressive for a reliever, his control (walk) rates haven't. In San Jose, he posted a walk rate of 4.38 and in Richmond it was 4.08, only a .30 improvement. Now, considering it was his first full year as a professional, a little slack can be considered (especially since his college career was so limited and sporadic). Nonetheless, if he wants to be rated as an elite reliever at the Minor and Major League level, he'll need to decrease those walk rates and find a little bit more control as a pitcher. With only two "real" pitches (he's starting to develop a changeup, but it's far from polished), and a fastball that has been described as "straight" and "hittable" by scouts, he can't afford to put too many batters on base by balls.

Another red flag that hasn't really showed up so far as a professional but could rear it's ugly head in the future is Hembree's injury history. Hembree suffered a torn ACL as a college senior and struggled to find himself a spot in the rotation or bullpen at South Carolina. Though he bounced back in junior college and at Charleston, the injury history could be an issue, simply because of Hembree's large frame, and one never knows with knee injuries, especially when they occur at such a young age. We have seen prospects bounce back from them before, but we have also seen injuries hinder prospects from reaching their full potential as well.

Grades on Hembree's Tools

Fastball: 19/20 (He's got a power fastball, and it is definitely his plus-plus pitch. It can go as high as 99 MPH, but it sits at 93-97 MPH regularly, which is still very impressive. It can be pretty straight when he's overthrowing, but it seems like his pitching coaches have helped him refrain from doing that too often. With long fingers and a solid frame, Hembree has the potential to keep the firepower behind his fastball for a good while.)
Slider: 18/20 (The slider has gotten good reports, as it has good cutting action and sits in the 84-88 MPH range. It has been described as a four-plus out of five pitch, according to Gordon of the MLBA.)
Changeup: 14/20 (A fairly new pitch for him, as his repertoire in college and last season was his fastball and slider. He used it rarely in 2011, and it hasn't seemed to impress people so far. With his fastball velocity though, it could be a very effective pitch with some development.)
Mechanics: 18/20 (Mechanics were a bit of a question mark for Hembree when he was drafted, but it seems like he and the coaching staffs in the Giants organization have done a good job with him so far. For the most part, his delivery is smooth and he isn't putting too much effort out either. When you watch him on tape, his pitching motion looks solid and consistent, which is pretty much all you can ask for from a pitching prospect at this point.)
Command/Control: 16/20 (The strikeout rates certainly help him greatly in this category. However, walking over four batters every nine innings isn't exactly a promising sign for a reliever, especially one that is expected to close out games. Of course, his control isn't awful by any stretch, but as stated before, if he wants to be an elite reliever, he has to start cutting down the walks.)
Ceiling: 16/20 (Hembree could be a shut-down closer or setup man at the Major League level, but that's as high as his ceiling gets. At 23 years old and with two plus pitches and a sub-par changeup, Hembree doesn't exactly fit the mold of a guy who could learn to be a starting pitcher at the professional level. Of course, that's not a bad thing, but as mentioned earlier, it leaves very little room for error.)
Health/Makeup: 17/20 (Injury set back his college career a bit after tearing his ACL as a high school senior, but the injury bug hasn't hit him since. That being said, he hasn't pitched a lot of innings in either his professional or college career, so how his arm holds up as he progresses through the system and eats more innings will be something for the Giants brass and fans to pay attention to. He transferred twice in college and wasn't exactly a high end draft pick, but he hasn't let those things deflate him and he has put up a nice professional career so far.)

Overall Grade: B
Projection: Middle relief with closer/setup man potential.

Summary: Brian Wilson's injury issues are setting up a lot of attention on Hembree, which could be both good and bad. Last year, Hembree was a bit under the radar and was able to succeed. Now, with more tape and scouting reports on him, he won't go as unnoticed into 2012 as he did into 2011. Nonetheless, his plus fastball and slider, big frame, and history of success point to a career heading in the right direction. With Wilson a free agent after next season, it is entirely possible that Hembree could see some action in the Giants bullpen in 2012 and perhaps have a shot at the closer's spot in 2013 if he experiences Major League success this season.

Monday, February 20, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 3, Tommy Joseph, C/1B

No. 3: Tommy Joseph, Catcher/First Base

Age: 20
Drafted: Second Round (55th overall) of the 2009 Draft
High School: Horizon High School (Arizona)
2011 Regular Season numbers: .270 average, .317 OBP, .471 slugging, .787 OPS, .340 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 80 runs scored, 22 home runs, 95 RBI (High-A)
2011 Fall/Winter Season numbers: None

Why you should know about Joseph:

After his vicious injury last year in the collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins, Buster Posey and his future at the catcher's position is in doubt. While Posey obviously has all the tools to be a super star Major League catcher, whether or not he can handle the position physically post-injury and whether the Giants want to keep him there post-injury (remember, Posey earned the highest signing bonus for a draft pick in club history at $6.25 million in 2008) is yet to be determined. Thus, there has been a strong emphasis on the development of catching prospects in the Giants system, especially since the Giants got such meager production from the position in 2011 from Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Joseph probably has the most upside of any of the catching prospects in the Giants system. He is only 20 years old, but has played two full years of professional ball in the Sally and California League. While there will be a push from recent 2011 draft pick Andrew Susac, there will be a lot of focus on Joseph's development as he makes the move up to Double-A Richmond in 2012. Safe to say, Joseph's development as game caller and hitter in the Eastern League will have an effect on what the Giants will plan to do with Posey in 2013 and beyond.

What Are Joseph's Strengths as a Prospect?

Joseph has a few things going for him: his position, his power and his youth. Joseph broke into Single-A ball at the age of 18, right out of Horizon High School in Arizona (a school that also produced first round pitching prospect Tim Alderson, who is now in the Pirates organization). The Giants fast tracked him a little bit, and Joseph had to go through a trial by fire in his first full professional season. In fact, if you judge Joseph solely by his numbers, it doesn't look all that good. He only hit .236 with an OPS of .691 and he struggled with pitch recognition and plate patience in his debut season, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.22, highlighted by a 24.5 percent strikeout rate. Defensively, he struggled with injuries and getting accustomed to the position as a professional, as Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally (and now Fangraphs) remarked this about Joseph's defense after his season with the Green Jackets:

"Drafted as a catcher, I’m under the impression he is unlikely to stick there over the long haul.  With his present agility rating below average, it is likely to only become worse in time.  And while his arm was plenty strong for the position (Keith Law graded it a 60 in a recent tweet), Joseph’s mechanics on throws to second base included poor footwork and a tendency to stand straight up instead of fire out towards the base.  This not only hurts his pop times, but causes undue stress on the shoulder which could lead to injury.  Additionally, his transfer was sloppy which hampered his release.  With Joseph appearing a number of times at first base and designated hitter, the San Francisco Giants organization may already see the writing on the wall."

Despite his status as a prospect taking a hit after the 2010 season, the Giants moved Joseph up to San Jose in 211 and he performed much better there offensively and defensively. His OPS improved to .782 and he made good on the positive reports of his power when he was drafted by belting 22 home runs and 32 doubles in 560 plate appearances. Additionally, he allowed less passed balls (13 to 19 in 2010) and threw out more runners (37 to 26) in San Jose, a sign that his defense is starting to improve with more professional experience.

Joseph's calling card is his power and he has showed flashes of that power as a professional (38 home runs as a professional so far). He has a strong, smooth swing with ample pop (scouts have graded his power potential as a 60). Furthermore, though he may not be the best defensive catcher in the Giants system, his arm strength is a plus tool of his, and he was able to display that in the California League in 2011, where he was much healthier than in 2010 in the Sally, where he was battling with nagging injuries almost all season long.

While the numbers aren't of an elite prospect just yet, there is still a lot of time for Joseph to develop as a prospect, and the fact that he'll be 20 and playing in Double-A is a good sign for the Giants that he is progressing nicely. Furthermore, Joseph's power tool set seems to be for real and I think he is totally capable of transitioning that tool set (as well as his arm) to Double-A, even though the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers.

Where Might Joseph Struggle as a Prospect?

The big issue with Joseph is his plate approach which frankly, hasn't been very good. Even in a breakout 2011 with San Jose, his BB/K ratio was 0.28, not much of an improvement from 2010 (though he did decrease his strikeout percentage to 18.2). Joseph is overly aggressive at the plate and with his power, he would benefit from being more selective. The silver lining in all of this though is that he is still young and is having to balance between becoming a game caller and developing as a hitter. As he gains more experience as a catcher, he will be able to concentrate more on his plate approach, and hopefully the BB/K ratios will improve.

As stated before though, how much time Joseph has as a catching prospect is hard to determine, especially with the Giants drafting Susac this past draft. Susac is far more developed defensively than Joseph and he may be a better option down the road behind the plate than Joseph, even if Joseph may have more offensive upside. Hence, a move to first base seems likely for Joseph in the future and though he does sport some good athleticism (he has a six-foot, one inch, 215 pound frame), Brandon Belt ahead of him at the Major League level certainly is a roadblock in that path. Furthermore, one has to wonder if Joseph would even fit in at the position in the Giants organization. Joseph's hitting abilities would be above-average for a catching prospect, but most likely average to below average for a first baseman.

Lastly, though the organization will have patience with him in his move to Richmond in 2012, he will have a lot of challenges ahead of him in the Eastern League. The EL definitely is a measuring stick for prospects, especially offensively, and even though the High-A numbers are nice, offensive stats in the California League are always taken with a grain of salt. If he struggles, it won't be the end of the world, but it will be interesting to see if he'll be able to handle the rigors of Double-A, continue to develop behind the plate defensively, and still display his plus tools (power and arm strength). A lot of Giants prospects have tumbled in Double-A and were unable to bounce back, even ones who were young for the league (Nick Noonan being the most prime example). I think Joseph has a shot to hold his own in Double-A, but considering the plate approach he displayed in Augusta and San Jose, the odds will be against him. One can only hope that his confidence won't be derailed at such a young age.

Grades on Joseph's Tools:

Hitting for Average/Contact Ability: 15/20 (Joseph hasn't showed signs of being a .300 hitter in the minors so far, and I highly doubt he will be as he progresses up the system. He did improve his contact rate from 73 percent in Augusta to 80 percent in San Jose, but he still only finished the year in San Jose with a .270 average. Even though he may not be a .300 hitter, it is plausible to think that Joseph can be a .260-.280 average hitter, and with his power tool set, that may be enough for him to progress to the big league level.)
Plate Approach: 14/20 (Definitely the weakest tool of Joseph's arsenal. His walk rate actually decreased almost a percent from Augusta, and his BB/K ratio has never touched the 0.30 mark, which isn't a good sign. I think he has the ability to improve his approach, and certain prospects in the Giants system have done that in the past - Brandon Crawford being the most recent example. However, if there is anything that is going to hold Joseph back as a prospect, it's going to be his over-aggressiveness at the plate.)
Power: 19/20 (I think Joseph has real power, and I think he can be a 20-plus home run hitter at the Major League level, which would be invaluable as a catcher. Even despite the poor Augusta numbers, he still posted a .165 ISO and last year he improved that ISO to .200. Furthermore, it's not just home runs that Joseph hits, as he posted extra base hit rates of 38 and 41 percent in his first two years as a professional. If his plate approach is going to hold Joseph back as a prospect, then it's his power that's going to progress him, because it's that solid a tool.)
Speed: 13/20 (He's a catcher, so he isn't going to be depended on or expected to steal bags. However, Joseph has some athleticism for a catcher, as his speed was graded a two by Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst. Furthermore, his doubles numbers and extra base hit percentages show that he will be able to stretch out hits and isn't just a station to station base clogger.)
Defense: 16/20 (I am a little more generous with this grade than most out there, but I think he's trending upward defensively, based on the numbers and scouting reports from his tenure in San Jose. The arm strength has always been there, but now he is practicing better technique and fundamentals behind the plate, which is only going to get better as he gets older and more professional instruction. I don't think he'll be an elite defensive prospect, but I certainly think he has the ability to be a starting catcher at the Major League level.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 17/20 (He dealt with some injuries his debut year in the Sally, but those seemed to be a thing of the past in the California League, as he played in a 127 games as a 19 year old. The age definitely favors him, and his ability to improve defensively also shows that Joseph is coach-able and can adapt quickly. Also, his athleticism gives him some flexibility to play multiple positions, though he may be limited to first base and perhaps a corner infield position at the most.)

Overall Grade: B
Projection: Starting Major League catcher; perhaps a utility player that can split time between catcher and first base.

Summary: Joseph ranks in at No. 3 because of his youth and position, though he does have some good tools that make him a legitimate prospect in my mind. Best case scenario: Joseph has the potential to be a Mike Napoli-esque player (as Marc Hulet suggests in his Giants Top-15 roundup). I also think Joseph could be a Chris Iannetta-esque player offensively (low average, but good slugging and OPS numbers), though I don't think he could match Iannetta defensively. Overall, it'll be an interesting year, and there will be a lot of debate once the season starts between Giants fans about whether Joseph or Susac is the better catching prospect. I like Joseph a lot more, but Susac will definitely give Joseph a push because of his defensive prowess. That being said, if Joseph continues to flash the power he's showed before in the Sally and Cal League this year in Richmond, then I think Joseph will continue to hold off Susac at the position a little bit longer.