May 29, 2012
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: San Francisco Giants
Prospect #1: OF Gary Brown
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: “Brown’s offensive skills aren’t as average as his 2012 numbers might suggest, but they aren’t as top-shelf as his 2011 numbers either. The reality is somewhere in between. He’s a good hitter, but he’s not a great hitter.” This is a tasty quote from a very good source, and it represents the majority of opinion I received when I asked around about Brown. His struggles in Double-A can be attributed to his weakness against quality right-handed pitching, most notably arms that can locate velocity inside or drop sharp breaking stuff out of the zone. He has good bat control and a stroke designed for contact, but he either fails to recognize and adjust to such off-speed offerings, or his appetite for unhittable breaking balls is so intense that he is compelled to swing despite knowing that his attempts will be for naught. I’m assuming it’s the former. If he can refine this skill, Brown should be more than adequate at the plate, with contact ability and enough speed to turn weak contact into base hits. Power is never going to be a big part of his game—his swing is built for the gaps rather than the seats beyond the fence—but he can put the good part of the barrel on the ball. His value is elevated by his ability to play center field at a high level, so anything you can get from the bat will only add to his worth. If the bat fails to develop to major league standards, Brown will still reach the level thanks to his glove and his speed. If he can hit for some average, his overall profile will make him a starter. If the bat explodes, he will be a star.
Prospect #2: RHP Kyle Crick
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Crick is an unrefined product, still in the process of harnessing his fastball command while also loading his secondary pitches into the sequence. As a talented 19-year-old with limited pitching experience, Crick is going to be part brilliant and part bust, flashing electric stuff to one hitter and losing it the next. This is the plight of a projectable arm, with the ultimate outcome making the scars of developmental process worth the frustration. When he can stay in his delivery and maintain a good line to the plate, Crick is very difficult to hit, showing bat-missing ability and an aggressive mentality against older competition. When he’s on, he provides observers with a glimpse of the power pitcher that the projection details. Obviously, when he loses his delivery and flies open, he misses glove-side and high, which leads to a lot of free passes and inconsistent secondary stuff. He’s very much a work in progress, and the struggles with command will no doubt show up on the stat sheet. But Crick has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization, so if struggles early lead to success late, a little patience will be more than worth it.
Prospect #3: C/1B Tommy Joseph
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Tommy Joseph hits left-handers like he’s facing little leaguers, but right-handers give the fellow right-hander fits. The sources I spoke with assigned most of the blame to his approach, one that is very fastball-friendly and aggressive, making him susceptible to quality secondary pitches. When he gets behind in the count, he struggles to make the necessary adjustments, which often results in weak contact with the arm-side offerings. Joseph’s bat has a lot of backers, but his approach tempers some of the love, and when you add to the equation a defensive profile that might end up playing better at first than behind the plate, you create a lot of doubt about the future package. If the bat develops as planned and Joseph becomes an average defender behind the plate, he becomes a first-division talent and an extremely valuable player. If he goes to first base, the pressure on the bat will obviously increase, and despite finding numerous sources willing to champion the bat, I was also able to find numerous ones who were uncertain about its value if he moves from behind the plate. It’s a very interesting profile, because Joseph could be an above-average major leaguer at a premium position if everything clicks, or he could be a tweener if one aspect of the skill set fails to develop to potential. Good prospect theater.
Prospect #4: RHP Heath Hembree
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Command. Hembree has fantastic raw stuff, but his delivery can go from functional to funky in a moment’s notice, throwing his stuff off-line and leading to too many balls delivered out of the zone. He has a tendency to rush his delivery—which isn’t an easy one to begin with—so Hembree will need to stay mechanically sound and in rhythm to get the most from his raw stuff. When he can stay over the ball, Hembree has a closer’s arsenal, with a fastball capable of touching the elite velocity range and a slider that can be used as an out pitch. Hitters are going to struggle with the stuff, so Hembree can’t help them out by allowing free passes or falling into grooved fastball counts. He should be pitching at the major league level at some point in the near future, and if improved command makes the journey with him to San Francisco, he can solidify his role as a late-inning weapon.
Prospect #5: SS Joe Panik
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Panik’s profile presents a problem in the sense that his bat isn’t all that special, and his defensive projection points to a second base future, a position where the bat needs to carry a lot of weight. Panik has a very mature approach and a nice stroke from the left side that produces steady contact, all of which puts him in favorable counts and gives him an on-base dimension; he doesn’t pack a big offensive punch as far as power is concerned, though, which limits his value. Panik is a gamer, with solid physical tools and impressive baseball skills, but his power grades out below average, so his hit tool will have to exceed all expectations to make him a first-division talent. So far in 2012, the bat hasn’t been great, but scouts still seem to like the hitability (at least the sources I spoke with), but the power element is missing from the equation; the contact hasn’t been loud and his slugging percentage is still south of .340 despite playing in the friendly hitting environments of the California League. His profile is his biggest problem, as his likely defensive home is on the right side of the diamond, while his bat lacks the strength to carry the burden of value. He’s going to fight to maximize his talents, but in the end his profile might be better suited for a utility role than a first-division starter.