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January 20, 2009

Future Shock

Giants Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
2. Buster Posey, C
3. Angel Villalona, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
4. Tim Alderson, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Rafael Rodriguez, RF
6. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
7. Nick Noonan, 2B
8. Travis Ishikawa, 1B
9. Henry Sosa, RHP
10. Sergio Romo, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Roger Kieschnick, OF

Just Missed: Ehire Adrianza, SS; Wendell Fairley, OF; Joseph Martinez, RHP

Ranking Challenges: Bumgarner is an obvious number one, but Posey isn't all that far behind him. Some might flip-flop Villalona and Alderson at three and four, but I can't see either player ranked lower that those two slots. Where Rodriguez slots in is really a matter of your evaluation philosophy, but after that, it's anything goes for the remaining six-Adrianza was the only player close enough to almost make the list.

1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
DOB: 8/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, South Caldwell HS (NC)
2008 Stats: 1.46 ERA at Low-A (141.2-111-21-164), 3.59 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The first-round pick exceeded all expectations when he put together the best season of any pitcher in the minor leagues.
The Good: Bumgarner has true ace potential. Using a slingy, three-quarters delivery, his fastball sits effortlessly at 92-94 mph and consistently touches 95-96, a velocity that most feel will become more commonplace as his body matures. Beyond just cooking with gas, Bumgarner's command of the pitch ranks at the top of the charts, as he works both sides of the plate and paints the corners with pinpoint precision. Under the tutelage of Augusta pitching coach Ross Grimsley, he transformed his once-slurvy breaking ball into a true power slider with excellent depth and tilt that gives him a second out pitch. He understands his craft well and displays a mound presence that is well beyond his years.
The Bad: He lacks confidence in his so-so changeup; he rarely used it in 2008 and he was able to dominate Sally League hitters without it. It flashes plus at times, but also has a tendency to come in flat.
Fun Fact: He went six or more innings without allowing an earned run in half of his 24 starts.
Perfect World Projection: What we have here is a big-league ace with the much-desired combination of power stuff and outstanding location.
Glass Half Empty: It's hard to see him not becoming at least a third starter in the big leagues.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's young and far away, but this kind of talent does not get blocked.
Timetable: Assuming David Price is in the big leagues to stay, Bumgarner takes over the mantle of top pitching prospect in the minors as he moves up to High-A San Jose in the Cal League.

2. Buster Posey, C
DOB: 3/27/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Florida State University
2008 Stats: .385/.484/.692 at Rookie-level (7 G); .273/.429/.455 at Short-season (3 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The College Player of the Year dropped a bit in the draft due to bonus demands, but the usually thrifty Giants surprised everyone by selecting him with the fifth overall pick and paying him a $6.2 million bonus.
The Good: Posey has all of the tools needed to become an impact catcher in the majors. He has excellent pitch recognition, the potential for average big-league power, and a lightning-fast bat that rockets line drives to all fields. He's ultra-athletic, grading even moreso for a catcher, and his plus-plus arm strength was on display most weekends on the mound for the Seminoles, where he doubled as their closer.
The Bad: He took some time off during the Hawaii Winter League to work on his defense with coaches; while all of the tools are there, he's only been playing the position for two years and he does need to make some adjustments. There is debate about his ultimate power ceiling, and while there are few complaints about his bat, most do not see him as a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Fun Fact: Posey graduated fourth in his class of 302 at Lee County High School in Georgia and was on the ACC Academic Honor Roll and the Dean's List, and he once made the President's List (4.0 GPA) at Florida State as a finance major.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future Gold Glove catcher who hits .300, knows how to work a base on balls, and hits 15-18 home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: A good defender who hits .280 with 12-15 homers batting in the sixth spot in the lineup, but still an above-average value for the position.
Path To The Big Leagues: Incumbent backstop Bengie Molina enters the final year of his contract in 2009, so the position will be open and ready for Posey afterwards.
Timetable: While he could move quickly, Opening Day 2010 is more than a little aggressive. He'll likely begin the year at High-A San Jose, and should be ready within two years.

3. Angel Villalona, 1B
DOB: 8/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2008 Stats: .263/.312/.435, .217 EqA at Low-A (123 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The highest high-profile international signee from 2006 showed amazing potential and was quite raw in his full-season debut.
The Good: Villalona's ceiling is through the roof, beginning with his raw power, which rates as a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He doesn't need to take a massive hack to drive the ball out of any part of the park, and his hand-eye coordination should lead to high batting averages down the road. He made continuous improvements during the year, raising his OPS by nearly 100 points after the All-Star break.
The Bad: His body bordered on soft much of the year and his conditioning came into question, an issue that will require constant monitoring. One scout classified his approach as, "young, innocent, and restless," as he'll currently swing at anything in the same area code. More walks will come by default as his power develops, but he'll still need to improve his plate discipline considerably.
Fun Fact: Villalona had two hits in eight at-bats with the bases loaded last year, but both of them were grand slams.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an everyday, slugging first-baseman on a championship-level club.
Glass Half Empty: He becomes something of a one-dimensional slugger with weight issues.
Path To The Big Leagues: Travis Ishikawa gets first dibs on the job, but his talent doesn't approach that of Villalona.
Timetable: After being the youngest player in the Sally League last year, Villalona likely will be the youngest in his new one, as he moves up to join what should be an absolutely loaded squad in the California League.

4. Tim Alderson, RHP
DOB: 11/3/88
Height/Weight: 6-6/217
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Horizon HS (AZ)
2008 Stats: 2.79 ERA at High-A (145.1-125-34-124), 5.28 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This 2007 first-round pick earned a surprisingly aggressive assignment to High-A in his first full season, and responded by leading the Cal League in ERA.
The Good: Despite the fact that he was just 19 during the entirety of the 2008 season, Alderson is already the most polished pitcher in the system. He lives in the bottom half of the strike zone with an average velocity fastball that features a bit of arm-side run, and he's equally adept at dropping his plus curveball into the zone. His changeup is solid, and he has an advanced understanding of setting up hitters, pitching inside without fear, and keeping hitters guessing when he gets ahead in the count.
The Bad: There are questions about Alderson's ultimate upside,; he has a highly advanced understanding of how velocity, command, and movement can work, but he doesn't have the kind of stuff to project as an impact starter.
Fun Fact: The 22nd overall pick in the draft was used on a pitcher for ten straight years, from 1998-2007, until the Mets broke the streak with Reese Havens last June. Of the ten, seven have reached the big leagues, and the remaining three (Alderson, Aaron Thompson of the Marlins, and Colton Willems of the Nationals) all have a good chance of getting there as well.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a durable, strike-throwing, mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: While he doesn't have the ceiling of your usual top prospect, he's unique for his age in that he does offer a great deal of certainty, and, barring injury, he should reach his projection.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's moving faster than one might expect, but every team needs starting pitching.
Timetable: Alderson will move up to Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2009, and along with the addition of Bumgarner he should turn the Giants' rotation into one of the most feared in the game within three years.

5. Rafael Rodriguez, RF
DOB: 7/13/92
Height/Weight: 6-5/198
Bats/Throws: R-R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The organization continued to spend heavily in the international market by giving Rodriguez a $2.55 million bonus, a record for a Dominican position player.
The Good: Rodriguez' long, angular frame and natural raw power draws some physical comps to a right-handed Darryl Strawberry. The ball flies off of his bat when he gets his arms extended, and he also has excellent plate coverage and hand-eye coordination. He's a tick above-average runner, and has the arm required for a good right fielder.
The Bad: Only 16, Rodriguez is obviously unrefined. He has little exposure to quality secondary pitches, so there are open questions about just how much he'll hit. He's still growing, and he'll likely lose athleticism once he matures, though he should be fine in right field.
Fun Fact: Remember the day when we all got a chuckle out of Dan Quayle spelling 'potato' wrong in a school classroom? Rodriguez was two days old when that happened.
Perfect World Projection: His ceiling is extremely high.
Glass Half Empty: Again, the dude is 16 years old.
Path To The Big Leagues: All that the $2.55 million bought was a path to the Estados Unidos and a work permit. He's at least four years away, and more likely five or six.
Timetable: Rodriguez will spend the first half of the year at the Giants' training complex in Arizona before seeing his first professional at-bats in the complex league.

6. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
DOB: 7/18/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Wichita State University
2008 Stats: .273/.360/.409 at Rookie-level (6 G); .268/.350/.324 at Short-season (18 G); .200/.429/.200 at MLB (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: This college performer was surprisingly a holdout before signing for the slot figure as the 37th overall pick. Even more surprisingly, he was the first 2008 draftee to reach the big leagues.
The Good: Gillaspie has polished offensive skills, beginning with a big league-level approach and a quick compact swing that laces line drives into the gaps. He's a plus athlete who runs well, and he has good reactions at third base and a solid arm.
The Bad: Gillaspie's swing is designed for line drives, limiting his power potential and requiring him to be an on-base machine in order to profile well at the position. While he has all of the tools to play third base as a pro, his footwork and throws need work, as he often finds himself off-balance and off-line.
Fun Fact: Gillaspie's first and only big-league hit was a pinch-hit single off of Dan Haren during a four-hit, 12-strikeout shutout spun by the Arizona ace.
Perfect World Projection: He's going to be a high-average, high-OBP third baseman.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being a left-handed bat off the bench capable of backing up both corners.
Path To The Big Leagues: I love Pablo Sandoval as much as the next guy, but if you think he can play third, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Timetable: Despite his surprising call-up in September, Gillaspie isn't necessarily on the fast track. He could join the expansive cast of prospects at High-A San Jose, with the hope of reaching Double-A by the end of the year.

7. Nick Noonan, 2B
DOB: 5/4/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Parker HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .279/.315/.415, .218 EqA at Low-A (119 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: He's an athletic middle infielder who failed to put up huge numbers in his full-season debut, but the praise from scouts was still nearly universal.
The Good: Noonan has exemplary hitting fundamentals, with plus bat speed and the ability to make adjustments on pitches in-flight. He features gap power now, and most see more to come as he learns how to recognize which pitches he can drive. He's a 60-65 runner with great base-running instincts and above-average defensive ability. He gets high marks for his baseball intelligence, with one scout noting, "he just plays the game much older than he is."
The Bad: Noonan is a bit unrestrained at the plate, looking to attack pitches early in his at-bats, and often finding himself behind in the count. While his transition from shortstop to second base was an overall success, he's still getting used to some of the nuances of playing the right side, including turning the double play and the shorter, more angled throw to first.
Fun Fact: Of Noonan's 23 walks on the season, nine were drawn in the first inning, and he failed to garner a free pass in either the fourth or fifth innings of a game despite 99 at-bats in those frames.
Perfect World Projection: He's a toolsy second baseman with above-average value both on offense and defense.
Glass Half Empty: Even if he can't conquer his impatience, he does have speed, and he could still play shortstop in a pinch and be a solid utility type.
Path To The Big Leagues: Do any of the Giants' current options at second base really thrill you?
Timetable: Seriously folks, the box scores at High-A San Jose are going to be worth watching on a daily basis.

8. Travis Ishikawa, 1B
DOB: 9/24/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 21st round, 2002, Federal Way HS (WA)
2008 Stats: .291/.382/.462, .269 EqA at Double-A (64 G); .310/.370/.737, .314 EqA at Triple-A (48 G); .274/.337/.432, .302 EqA at MLB (33 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This on-again, off-again prospect put together a monstrous two months at Triple-A, then had a decent showing in the big leagues.
The Good: Ishikawa manages the strike zone well and employs a textbook swing with average power that at times projects as above average. He's an outstanding defender at first base who prevents numerous throwing errors with his glove and plays bunts extremely well.
The Bad: Ishikawa's inconsistency has been a constant frustration to both the Giants and scouts alike; we're talking about a player who hit .214/.292/.295 at Double-A in 2007. He'll need a platoon partner, because even when he's put up good numbers, he's never done it against left-handers.
Fun Fact: In an eight-game stretch in August last year at Triple-A Fresno, Ishikawa went 19-for-33 (.576) with six doubles, a triple, and seven home runs-good for a 1.455 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: He's a productive everyday first baseman, albeit not against lefties.
Glass Half Empty: Which Ishikawa do we get? The 2005 and 2008 versions looked awfully good, while the '06 and '07 models were nowhere close to big-league caliber.
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, that path is complete.
Timetable: Ishikawa will begin 2009 as San Francisco's starting first baseman against righties. He could establish himself as a key part of the Giants future, or he could be back in Triple-A by June.

9. Henry Sosa, RHP
DOB: 7/28/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2008 Stats: 4.31 ERA at High-A (56.1-62-18-58), 7.26 DERA; 0.00 ERA at Low-A (1.1-1-2-0), 13.50 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The hard-throwing Dominican pitched well when healthy, but he missed much of 2008 recovering from knee surgery and a pectoral strain.
The Good: Sosa remains one of the more lively live arms in the system, with a low-90s fastball that touches 96 and stays there late into games due to an easy, smooth arm action. His hard curveball is another true weapon that he's comfortable using either to break into the zone or as a chase pitch.
The Bad: Sosa lacks confidence in his below-average changeup. His command comes and goes, and he tends to work up in the zone with his fastball.
Fun Fact: He seems to thrive on trouble and had a massive split at San Jose, allowing opposing batters to hit .351/.405/.568 against him with the bases empty, but a far stingier .213/.277/.324 with runners on.
Perfect World Projection: He should become a solid part of the rotation.
Glass Half Empty: If the changeup doesn't come around, he'll become a set-up man.
Path To The Big Leagues: Power arms tend to find their own way.
Timetable: Sosa will begin the year at Double-A Connecticut. He'll remain a starter for now in order to get innings, but his long-term role is still undetermined.

10. Sergio Romo, RHP
DOB: 3/4/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 28th round, 2005, Mesa State College (CO)
2008 Stats: 4.00 ERA at Double-A (27-22-7-30), 7.03 DERA; 0.00 ERA at Triple-A (6-3-2-7), 0.00 DERA; 2.12 ERA at MLB (34-16-8-33)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This undersized, low-on-stuff reliever kept proving his doubters wrong, surprising everyone by limiting big-league hitters to a .138 average.
The Good: Romo is a smallish righty with a deep arsenal. He throws three different fastballs (four-seam, cutter, splitter) at 87-92 mph, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. He's been utterly dominant over the past two years by, as one scout puts it, "driving hitters insane." He has a deceptive delivery that he varies from low three-quarters to over-the-top, and he'll add and subtract from all of his pitches to throw off a hitter's timing while locating all of his offerings in all four quadrants of the strike zone.
The Bad: Despite his track record of late, many find it hard to put much faith in a pitcher who is getting by solely on guile and deception. His fastball comes in straight and tends to sit high in the zone, giving him a significant fly-ball tendency.
Fun Fact: Romo was born in Brawley, California, a small town on the southern end of the state that is deeply involved in the cattle industry and relief pitching; the town also produced Sid Monge and Rudy Seanez.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be what he is now: a magician in the bullpen.
Glass Half Empty: The hitters figure out his trick.
Path To The Big Leagues: Mission accomplished.
Timetable: Romo will begin the year in the Giants' bullpen, and the more he keeps getting hitters out, the more high-leverage innings he'll see.

11. Roger Kieschnick, OF
DOB: 1/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Texas Tech University
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: A disappointing junior year dropped this toolsy outfielder to the third round. He signed late, and made his pro debut with an inconsistent showing in the Hawaii Winter League.
The Good: The first thing that stands out about Kieschnick is his size and athleticism. He's a broad-shouldered hitter who makes loud contact; half of his hits in Hawaii went for extra bases. He's an average runner-slightly more once he gets going-and he has the range and arm to be an above-average right fielder.
The Bad: Despite the tools, Kieschnick rarely lived up to expectations in college, as his .305 batting average this year at Texas Tech ranked just sixth on his team. Right-handers were able to get him to expand his zone with a steady diet of breaking pitches, and he compounds the issue by often becoming pull-happy.
Fun Fact: Either Kieschnick is some kind of cool retro gamer, or his parents stopped buying him toys at some point; the Texas Tech media guide lists "playing Super Nintendo" among his hobbies, the 16-bit machine released in 1991 that ushered in the modern era of console gaming.
Perfect World Projection: He's a classic big-league right fielder.
Glass Half Empty: There are too many refinements needed, leaving him as a fourth outfielder.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Giants need players at nearly every position, and the outfield is no different.
Timetable: The Giants will use the spring to evaluate Kieschnick's progress and determine whether to send him to High- or Low-A to begin the season.

The Sleeper: Similar to Kieschnick, 2008 fourth-round pick Brandon Crawford has all of the skills in the world, but he never quite put them together at UCLA. He could be an easy Top 11 candidate a year from now, or he could be completely off the radar.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (as of Opening Day 2009)
1. Tim Lincecum, RHP
2. Matt Cain, RHP
3. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Pablo Sandoval, INF
6. Angel Villalona, 1B
7. Tim Alderson, RHP
8. Rafael Rodriguez, RF
9. Nate Schierholtz, RF
10. Emmanuel Burriss, MI

Those first three players could be one terrifying rotation, but also one in danger of having to share war stories of horrible run support in their future. With Alderson not far behind, the Giants are going to have enough pitching to be dangerous if they can find anything close to an actual big-league offense. Sandoval should be one of the answers there he can really rake, but he's completely miscast at third base. Despite decent numbers in small samples, Nate Schierholtz is likely doomed to a bench-outfielder role due to his unenviable combination of an aggressive approach and a long swing, while Burriss' ability to play both middle infield positions, draw a few walks, and run extremely well will always have some value.

Summary: This is an up-and-coming system thanks to a new focus on the draft and what looks like a strong commitment to play with the big boys in the Latin American market. It's going to take some time, but all of the signs are pointing in the right direction.

Up next: the Washington Nationals


Kevin joins Brad Wochomurka for a look at the Giants' top prospects, a group that may now include the best pitching prospect in the game, as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.

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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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