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February 25, 2008

Future Shock

Giants Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Angel Villalona, 3B/1B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Henry Sosa, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
3. Tim Alderson, RHP
4. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
5. Wendell Fairly, OF
6. Nick Noonan, SS/2B
7. Nate Schierholtz, OF
Two-Star Prospects
8. John Bowker, OF
9. Pablo Sandoval, C
10. Clayton Tanner, LHP
11. Charlie Culberson, SS/2B

Just Missing: Wilber Bucardo, RHP; Manny Burriss, SS; Eugenio Velez, UT

1. Angel Villalona, 3B/1B
DOB: 8/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2006, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: .285/.344/.450 at Rookie-level (52 G); .167/.231/.167 at Short-season (5 G)

Year In Review: Seen by some as the best pure Latin American hitter in years, the 16-year-old looked to be worth every penny of his $2.1 million bonus in his pro debut.
The Good: For a 17-year-old, Villalona's offensive potential is nearly off the charts. His raw power is nearly unseen in a teenager, but he's also an adept hitter with excellent bat control, and many international evaluators specifically noted his mature approach and excellent pitch recognition. He's an average runner, and his top non-hitting tool is a plus-plus arm.
The Bad: Young and massive, Villalona is far from done growing, and will likely play his way off of third base in short order. It's not a long-term concern, as the bat will play anywhere, but it does reduce his value a bit. His fielding, baserunning, and feel for the game are all a bit raw, but not especially so for his age and experience.
Fun Fact: Villalona has an early sense of the Bay Area rivalry, as in seven games against the Arizona Rookie League Athletics, he went 14-for-31 (.452) with seven extra-base hits.
Perfect World Projection: An impact middle-of-the-order run producer.
Timetable: Villalona is already getting work at first base in spring training, and the Giants are considering making the move across the diamond now to avoid any distractions from his offensive development. He'll make his full-season debut in Low-A--he doesn't turn 18 until August.

2. Henry Sosa, RHP
DOB: 7/28/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2004, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 0.73 ERA at Low-A (62-30-25-61); 4.38 ERA at High-A (63.2-66-36-78)

Year In Review: The lanky Dominican was among the best pitchers in the minors during the first half of the season, but he scuffled a bit following a promotion to the High-A California League.
The Good: Sosa has smooth mechanics and a lightning-fast arm, effortlessly throwing heat that sits in the 93-95 mph range, and routinely touching 97-98. He gets very good shape on his curveball, which ranks as a second plus pitch. He maintains his stuff deep into games, and he's a good athlete who fields his position well.
The Bad: Sosa's lack of a changeup is the biggest concern for his future. Not only is his change below average, but he has little confidence in the offering and rarely throws it in games. His control could also improve, and Cal League hitters had more success against him by simply working the count and forcing him into throwing his fastball.
Fun Fact: Sally League hitters facing Sosa with runners in scoring position and two outs went 2-for-34 with 11 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Sosa's power arsenal and projection should play well in the big leagues, and if the changeup comes around he could be an above-average starter.
Timetable: Sosa's 2007 season represents the largest step forward in the system, but the Giants will slow him down a bit in 2008 by seeing if he can find some consistent success in the California League before getting to Double-A by the end of the year.

3. Tim Alderson, RHP
DOB: 11/3/88
Height/Weight: 6-6/217
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Horizon HS (AZ)
2007 Stats: 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level (5-4-0-12)

Year In Review: A top high school arm out of Arizona, Alderson didn't pitch much after signing, but when he did, he was dominant.
The Good: Alderson's combination of velocity and control is quite rare for a tall high school hurler. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range, but is marked at least a full grade up because of his uncanny ability to throw strikes with it consistently, and his size gives it a good downward plane as well. His curveball is another above-average offering that gets heavy break.
The Bad: Alderson didn't really have a changeup in high school, so that will be the main focus for his development during the coming season. Some scouts had issues with his delivery, while also admitting that it clearly works for him. There's some thought that he might be a victim of too much command, and will have to learn how to set-up hitters at the upper levels and use his breaking ball as a chase pitch.
Fun Fact: Angels infielder Brandon Wood became the first position player from Horizon High School to reach the big leagues last year; the only pitcher to do so is former Brewers reliever Jayson Durocher, who is now a scout for the Rays.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average starter in the big leagues.
Timetable: Alderson's level of polish is rarely seen in a high-school draftee, and he should have little trouble handling a slot in the rotation at Low-A Augusta.

4. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
DOB: 8/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, South Caldwell HS (NC)
2007 Stats: Signed Late--Did Not Pitch

Year In Review: The two-way high school star scared off some teams with his bonus demands, asking initially for Clayton Kershaw-level money before signing late for $2 million.
The Good: Bumgarner is a big left-hander with plus-plus velocity for a southpaw, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s with a fastball that has explosive late life, and touching 96 with it. He has plus command as well, is a good athlete who fields his position well, and is a surprisingly dangerous hitter.
The Bad: Bumgarner's low three-quarters arm slot turned many scouts off. It prevents him from getting a lot of downward movement on his breaking ball, and there are concerns about his effectiveness against right-handed hitters down the road. Like Alderson and many other teenage arms, his changeup needs work.
Fun Fact: Ray Hayward, selected by the Padres in 1983 out of the University of Oklahoma, is the only left-handed pitcher drafted tenth overall to ever reach the majors, finishing with a career ERA of 6.75 in 19 games.
Perfect World Projection: Because of his size and velocity, Bumgarner has the ceiling of a good major league starter.
Timetable: Bumgarner will join Alderson as the second 2007 first-round pick in the Low-A rotation.

5. Wendell Fairly, OF
DOB: 3/17/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, George County HS (MS)
2007 Stats: Signed Late--Did Not Play

Year In Review: With six picks in the first 51, the Giants looked to save some money here and there, and surprised many by taking Fairly in the first round. As one of the top athletes in the draft, however, Fairly refused to sign until he got first-round money, finally inking for $1 million.
The Good: Fairly gives the Giants the kind of big tools/big ceiling outfielder that the system has been lacking for years. He's a phenomenal physical specimen, with plus power potential, plus-plus speed, and outstanding arm strength.
The Bad: As a multi-sport star in high school who rarely played against top-flight competition, Fairly is a big project. He has little experience against quality pitching, and defensively he relies more on his athleticism than his instincts, and therefore needs to improve his reads and routes. He comes to the game with some off-field issues, including multiple arrests, but there do seem to be some mitigating factors surrounding them, and he's not seen as a player with a bad attitude.
Fun Fact: Fairly also pitched at George County High, compiling a 2.07 ERA in his senior season with 68 strikeouts in 50 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Fairley has true star potential, but his development is going to require patience.
Timetable: The Giants will use this spring's camp to determine Fairly's readiness for a full season at Low-A. It's possible that they'll hold him back in spring training and initially get his feet wet in the Short-season Northwest League first.

6. Nick Noonan, SS/2B
DOB: 5/4/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Parker HS (CA)
2007 Stats: .316/.357/.451 at Rookie-level (52 G)

Year In Review: One of the top middle infielders in the draft almost played his way into the first round, going 32nd overall, and then looked like he should have been taken even higher in his pro debut.
The Good: Noonan has the potential to beat you in many ways at the top of a lineup. His hitting approach is highly advanced for his age, and his quick bat and ideal swing mechanics project for him to hit for a high average with a high on-base percentage. He has gap power, and is also a well above-average runner who is dangerous on the basepaths.
The Bad: Noonan's defensive prowess doesn't match what he can do at the plate. His below-average instincts on the left side negatively impact his range, and his arm is average at best, leaving him a little short on plays to his right.
Fun Fact: When batting in the ninth inning of games for the AZL Giants, Noonan went 5-for-11 with two doubles, a triple, and a home run.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday second baseman who hits at the top of the lineup.
Timetable: Noonan is ready for a full-season assignment, but he'll likely move to second base this spring to accommodate fellow first-round pick Charlie Culberson, who is staying at shortstop.

7. Nate Schierholtz, OF
DOB: 2/15/84
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2003, Chabot College (CA)
2007 Stats: .333/.365/.560 at Triple-A (109 G); .304/.316/.402 at MLB (39 G)

Year In Review: The top power prospect in the system had a career year capped by his hitting over .300 during his big-league debut, though he didn't go deep in 112 at-bats.
The Good: Schierholtz has tremendous plate coverage, and supplements his hand-eye coordination with brute strength, resulting in the capability to power balls out to all fields. His best non-hitting tool is his plus arm in right field, although he's a very good athlete for his size and shows average speed once he gets going.
The Bad: Schierholtz is an overly aggressive hacker, and many scouts peg him as a 4A hitter who will get eaten up by big-league chase pitches over the long haul. While he's altered his swing mechanics since early in his career, he still has a significant bat wrap that leaves questions as to his ability to get his bat into the zone quickly. A converted third baseman, his reads and routes in the outfield could use some improvement, although he has made great strides there.
Fun Fact: While Chabot College might not be a baseball powerhouse, it does have an interesting Giants connection, as the school's most famous baseball alumni is VP of Player Personnel Dick Tidrow.
Perfect World Projection: A second-division starting corner outfielder, or a power bat off the bench.
Timetable: While maybe not overly talented, the Giants outfield situation is overly crowded, and the signing of Aaron Rowand created even more competition in the corners. Schierholtz might be the best long-term option, but he also is the easiest one to send back to the minors, as he still has options.

8. John Bowker, OF
DOB: 7/8/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2004, Long Beach State
2007 Stats: .307/.363/.523 at Double-A (139 G)

Year In Review: After hitting just seven home runs in the California League in 2006, the polished lefty batter surprised everyone by powering out 22 in the Eastern League last year.
The Good: Bowker's bat was already good, and the added power gives him a good shot at a big league career. He's got good bat speed and shows no major weaknesses against lefties or breaking balls. He's a consummate pro who earns raves for his makeup.
The Bad: The bat is Bowker's only tool of note. He's slow afoot and has a weak arm, but in his defense he plays a solid left field because of excellent instincts. He could use a more patient approach, and could take another step forward by waiting for more pitches to hit by toning down his aggressiveness early in the count.
Fun Fact: When batting in the fifth inning for Double-A Connecticut, Bowker hit an even .500 (27-for-54) with nine doubles and four home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Bowker projects as a borderline starter right now, but his lefty bat could yield more value than that.
Timetable: Bowker will move up to Triple-A in 2009, and could get a look in September if he keeps hitting.

9. Pablo Sandoval, C
DOB: 8/11/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2003, Venezuela
2007 Stats: .287/.312/.476 at High-A (102 G)

Year In Review: The switch-hitting Sandoval moved back behind the plate and began to deliver on his offensive potential.
The Good: Sandoval's ability to hit for power from both sides makes him a rare commodity among backstops, and scouts believe that more of his 33 doubles from last year will turn into home runs as he learns how to pull the ball. Behind the plate, he does an outstanding job cutting down the running game with his plus arm, which nailed over half of attempted basestealers last year.
The Bad: Other than the arm, Sandoval is still very rough around the edges defensively, and needs considerable work on his receiving skills. He's a free-swinger who needs to develop a more patient approach, but he did show some progress in that department by drawing 13 walks in the season's second half, as opposed to just three before the All-Star break.
Fun Fact: San Jose is one of the few parks in the California League that isn't an especially strong hitter's park, and away from it, Sandoval mashed at a .332/.344/.545 clip on the road last year.
Perfect World Projection: An offense-oriented big league catcher.
Timetable: Catching prospects are few and far between throughout the game, and the Giants organization is no exception. Sandoval will begin the year at Double-A, and at this point it looks like his glove will have more say in his future than his bat.

10. Clayton Tanner, LHP
DOB: 12/5/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, De La Salle HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 3.59 ERA at Low-A (135.1-147-44-104)

Year In Review: A second-round pick in 2006, Tanner was inconsistent in his full-season debut, but shined often enough to still have scouts giving him mostly positive reviews.
The Good: Tanner pitches primarily off of his fastball, which features average velocity but grades up a tick because of his outstanding command of the pitch, as well as late, heavy sink that generates a ton of groundballs. He mixes in an average breaking ball, and made enough progress with his changeup to remain projected as a starting pitcher.
The Bad: Tanner doesn't have an overpowering offering, so he doesn't miss a lot of bats, and there is little room for error with his style of pitching. His changeup is still below average, and he telegraphs it at times with his arm action. He doesn't have much in the way of projection.
Fun Fact: De La Salle is known athletically more for its football program, which has produced a number of NFL players, including Super Bowl champion wide receiver Amani Toomer of the Giants.
Perfect World Projection: Tanner projects as a back-end starter, with a backup plan involving a future as a grounder-inducing reliever.
Timetable: Tanner will face a stiff test in 2008 with an Opening Day assignment to the High-A California League.

11. Charlie Culberson, SS/2B
DOB: 4/10/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Calhoun HS (GA)
2007 Stats: .286/.374/.416 at Rookie-level (46 G)

Year In Review: One of the top high school infielders in the Southeast, Culberson signed quickly as a budget-minded sandwich pick and impressed in his pro debut.
The Good: Nearly all of Culberson's tools play up because of his advanced feel for the game. He has good bat speed, a patient approach at the plate, and a smooth line-drive swing. His speed is a tick above average, and he's an outstanding base runner. In the field, he has good fundamentals and a strong arm.
The Bad: Culberson isn't especially toolsy for a shortstop. He doesn't offer more than gap power, and he lacks the explosive first step to cover the kind of ground a big league shortstop normally does. He needs to improve the accuracy of his throws.
Fun Fact: Culberson and Braves first-round pick Josh Smoker were the first draftees out of Calhoun High in Georgia since 1969, and that year's team also produced two picks--Padres 10th-rounder John Dean, and catcher Lloyd DeFoor, who went in the 52nd round to the Expos. Neither reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Although he has an outside shot at being an everyday shortstop, he has a better chance at a utility-type career.
Timetable: Culberson will also be at Low-A in 2007, as part of an Augusta team that will easily be the most interesting affiliate in the system.

The Sleeper: Right-handed reliever Kelvin Pichardo has a mid-90s fastball and solid breaking ball that could get him a big league look by the end of the year if he can throw more strikes.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Tim Lincecum, RHP
2. Matt Cain, RHP
3. Angel Villalona, 3B/1B
4. Henry Sosa, RHP
5. Tim Alderson, RHP
6. Madison Bumgarner, RHP
7. Wendell Fairly, OF
8. Nick Noonan, SS/2B
9. Nate Schierholtz, OF
10. John Bowker, OF

That was simple enough. Lincecum and Cain both have true ace potential, and are already in the big leagues. You take that over Villalona every time, no matter how much upside the 17-year-old slugger has. A slew of 2007 draft picks have added significant depth to the Giants system, which is up from where it was a year ago, but is still below average. With the knowledge that the attrition rate for teenage talent is a scary one, there still are some glimmers of hope in this system that haven't been there for some time.

Next: The Washington Nationals.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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