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January 15, 2014

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

San Francisco Giants Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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Prospect rankings primer
Last year's Giants list

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Kyle Crick
  2. LHP Adalberto Mejia
  3. LHP Edwin Escobar
  4. RHP Kendry Flores
  5. RHP Clayton Blackburn
  6. C Andrew Susac
  7. RHP Keury Mella
  8. RHP Joan Gregorio
  9. RHP Martin Agosta
  10. LHP Ty Blach

1. Kyle Crick
Position: RHP
DOB: 11/30/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 220 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Sherman HS (Sherman, TX)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #65 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: 1.57 ERA (68.2 IP, 48 H, 98 K, 39 BB) at High-A San Jose
The Tools: 7+ fastball; 6+ potential CH; 6 potential CB; 6+ potential SL

What Happened in 2013: An oblique injury three starts into his season slowed his initial California League destruction, but it didn’t take long after his return for him to emerge as one of the best young arms in the minors, a trend he carried over to the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Excellent size and present strength; arm is incredibly fast; fastball is easy plus-plus offering; pitch works in the 93-97 range; touches higher; big late life; changeup started out as a weakness but emerged as his best secondary offering; excellent arm speed and late action to the arm side; difference-maker pitch with more consistency; shows both curveball and hard slider; curveball with two-plane movement and some depth; plus is possible; slider is hard with sharp cutter-like slice to the glove side; mid-80s to low 90s; aggressive approach.

Weaknesses: Delivery can be problematic; can struggle with balance and rhythm (arm can be late); overall command is below average; secondary inconsistency; fastball-heavy attack; can overthrow the slider and lose depth.

Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: 6; late-innings reliever (closer)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch at Double-A level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The positive takeaway for fantasy is that Crick will miss bats regardless of his role. As a starting pitcher, Crick could be a big contributor in ERA and strikeouts, but his WHIP is likely to hold him back (unless he takes a big step forward in control) and his high pitch counts may inhibit his potential for wins. If he’s a reliever, he can be an 80-90 strikeout closer—which installs a relatively high realistic floor into his fantasy value.

The Year Ahead: Crick is a monster, regardless of his ultimate role. Given his age and developmental progress of the changeup, you can see a frontline starter in the making, with size, strength, a deep plus potential secondary arsenal, and a near-elite fastball. The inconsistencies in the delivery and command woes could limit his upside in a rotation, which several sources cite when a bullpen projection is suggested. If he can iron out the delivery in the next few seasons and throw more strikes, Crick has the type of lively stuff that can survive in the zone, and if one of the breaking balls steps forward into a true plus pitch, the big Texan shouldn’t have any trouble missing bats and barrels alike. I think Crick can stick around in a rotation for the foreseeable future, and any command refinement could launch him into the top 10 prospects in the game.

Major league ETA: 2015

2. Adalberto Mejia
Position: LHP
DOB: 06/20/1993
Height/Weight: 6’3” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2011, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2013 Stats: 3.60 ERA (5 IP, 5 H, 2 K, 2 BB) at Triple-A Fresno, 3.31 ERA (87 IP, 75 H, 89 K, 23 BB) at High-A San Jose
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential SL; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: Mejia built on his strong full-season debut in 2012 with an even better season in the hitter-friendly environments of the California League, using a plus potential three-pitch mix from the left side to miss more than a bat an inning.

Strengths: Smooth, easy delivery; creates good angles; fastball works low 90s; touches a bit higher; excellent late hop; slider is sharp in the 82-85 range; very tough on left-handed bats; turns over a very good changeup; projects to be third plus offering; arm speed offers deception; good fade to the arm side and some sink; strong command projection; good overall pitchability.

Weaknesses: Good delivery but doesn’t always stay over the ball and finish; tendency to elevate and work up in the zone; more control than command at present; secondary stuff lacks knockout projections; more pitchability than power.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch at Double-A level.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The stuff may not be off the charts with Mejia, but this is another arm to get excited about for fantasy. Of course, some of that has to do with the ballpark he has to look forward to pitching in. Having fly-ball tendencies didn’t derail his numbers in the Cal League this season, and will come in handy at AT&T Park.

The Year Ahead: Mejia was an “On the Rise” candidate coming into the season, and he really took a step forward, with enhanced stuff that didn’t sell out at the expense of control. Any lefty that can work a lively fastball in the plus velocity range and back it up with two secondary pitches with above-average potential has a chance to reach the major-league level, and when you add pitchability and a good command profile into the equation, you could develop an impact starter. Mejia lives in a world in between power and finesse, and if the stuff continues to hold steady as the command refines, the Giants will have a future middle-of-the-rotation arm in the near future.

Major league ETA: 2015

3. Edwin Escobar
Position: LHP
DOB: 04/22/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2008, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 2.67 ERA (54 IP, 44 H, 54 K, 13 BB) at Double-A Richmond, 2.89 ERA (74.2 IP, 68 H, 92 K, 17 BB) at High-A San Jose
The Tools: 5+ FB; 5 potential SL; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2013: Escobar arrived on the national prospect scene in 2012 with a strong Sally League season, but after pitching his way to the Double-A level in 2013, the soon-to-be 22-year-old southpaw could be knocking on the door of the majors with another step forward this season.

Strengths: Good strength; delivery works well; plus pitchability; fastball can pack a punch in the low 90s; plus offering at times with some arm-side life; changeup is best secondary pitch; good fastball disguise and late action; shows a playable slider with some tilt; good strike-thrower.

Weaknesses: Thick build with some maintenance concerns; can lose angle and work arm side and up; fastball can dip into upper 80s; can play pedestrian at times; breaking ball lacks big upside; slider can get too slurvy and loose; relies more on location and sequence than pure stuff.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; 54 innings at Double-A level; lacks much projection; solid-average stuff.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s going to become painfully clear as this list continues, most of these guys are decent options for fantasy, but no one outside of Kyle Crick has real high-end stuff. With his strong command profile, Escobar is likely to be of most help in the non-strikeout categories—though he won’t be a dud in the missing-bats department. Think more along the lines of good Matt Harrison value (from someone who likes Harrison).

The Year Ahead: I’ve been watching Escobar since he first signed with the Rangers back in 2008, and his developmental journey from lottery ticket trade throw-in to number three prospect in the Giants’ system is quite remarkable. Back in his complex-league days, Escobar had a very promising high three-quarters curveball, a true plus potential offering that he could snap and throw for strikes. At present, Escobar’s lack of highly projectable breaking ball has several sources thinking his future is more likely as a back-end starter or reliever than an impact arm in the middle of a rotation. The development journey can be strange. The Venezuelan southpaw mixes his pitches well, relying heavily on his solid-average fastball and quality changeup to miss bats and keep hitters off balance, mixing in a slider that has been especially effective against left-handed bats. He’s a good arm and a future major leaguer—which is a huge win for the Giants regardless of the outcome—but a long shot to reach his ultimate upside without a step forward in playable intensity from the slider and more consistent velocity from the fastball.

Major league ETA: 2015

4. Kendry Flores
Position: RHP
DOB: 11/24/1991
Height/Weight: 6’2” 175 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2009, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 2.73 ERA (141.2 IP, 113 H, 137 K, 17 BB) at Low-A Augusta
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 6 potential CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2013: After four years of short-season ball, Flores made his way to the Sally League where the Dominican arm walked only 17 batters in over 141 innings of work.

Strengths: Smooth, athletic delivery; sharp command profile; repeats well/consistent release points; fastball jumpy in the low 90s; can work comfortably in the 92-93 range, touching 95; changeup plays up because of consistent mechanics/release; some late sink; shows average curveball with some depth; advanced pitchability.

Weaknesses: Recent uptick in stuff; previous profile was pitchability over power; fastball can still dip to fringe-average; work in the 89-91 range; can get vanilla; breaking ball lacks wipeout grade; needs to add strength to frame; questions about ultimate projection.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to pitch above Low-A; velocity uptick is new development.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s risk and reward here with Flores, even more than with other pitchers who have completed a full season at Low-A. The combination of the potential stuff and park could make him a future no. 3/4 starter in fantasy leagues, but if there’s real regression in that department, he becomes much closer to waiver wire fodder. I’d prefer taking a flier on a short-season arm with bigger upside to grabbing Flores.

The Year Ahead: Flores is perhaps the most polarizing of arms in the Giants system, with sharp command and strong overall pitchability but stuff that can play sharp in one start and play down in another. Added strength could help with the arsenal consistency, but the concerns about his ultimate projection will remain until he can show an above-average arsenal for an entire season. At his best, Flores could spot up a 92-94 fastball, use his plus potential changeup to miss bats and barrels, and mix in a solid curveball to help change sight lines and disrupt timing. The feel for craft is very strong, and if the uptick in stuff proves to be legit, Flores could move quickly in 2014. Despite his low-level resume, the Giants elected to add the 22-year-old arm to the 40-man roster, a move that seems to suggest the organization believes the gains of 2013 will continue going forward.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

5. Clayton Blackburn
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/06/1993
Height/Weight: 01/06/1993
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 16th round, 2011 draft, Edmond Santa Fe HS (Edmond, OK)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #95 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: 3.65 ERA (133 IP, 111 H, 138 K, 35 BB) at High-A San Jose
The Tools: 5+ potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5 potential CH; 5 potential SL

What Happened in 2013: Big boy righty that logged 131 innings in his 2012 full-season debut, moved up to the California League and logged 133 more, missing more than a bat an inning in the process.

Strengths: Big, strong, physical body/frame; sound delivery; fastball is solid-average pitch; can work 90-93 with some weight; strike-zone pounder; curveball flashes plus potential; tight rotation and vertical depth; shows average changeup with sink; slider is fourth average (or better) offering; can show sharp tilt and good deception from fastball; good command profile.

Weaknesses: More command/control than a power arm; fastball can play as fringe-average offering at 88-90; secondary stuff lacks wipeout projections; more solid-average than special across the board; limited projection.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch in Double-A; lacks impact stuff or impact projection.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Blackburn is a safe pick to accrue fantasy value, but he lacks that above-replacement punch in shallower leagues. In deep leagues, he’s an underrated prospect who has the potential to contribute strong ratios and win potential—however, the strikeouts are likely to underwhelm.

The Year Ahead: Blackburn is workhorse prototype, a big, strong pitcher capable of taking the ball every fifth day and logging innings. He’s more finesse than frontline, and he lacks much arsenal projection, so what you see now is likely what you will see when he arrives at the major-league level. But there is a lot of value to be found in a cost-controlled innings eater with only moderate risk attached. While he might lack the sexy ceiling of some of his organizational cotemporaries, Blackburn is a good bet to eventually find a home at the back of a major-league rotation, where he could give you 200 innings of solid but not spectacular performance.

Major league ETA: 2015

6. Andrew Susac
Position: C
DOB: 03/22/1990
Height/Weight: 6’2” 210 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR)
Previous Ranking: #6 (Org)
2013 Stats: .256/.362/.458 at Double-A Richmond (84 games)
The Tools: 6 potential power; 5+ arm; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: The former Oregon State product started to show more thunder in his stick at the Double-A level, and was even more impressive in a small 17-game sample in the Arizona Fall League

Strengths: Good present strength; body for backstop; raw power is plus; game power could play above average; clean, no frills stroke; shows some bat control; good approach; will force pitchers to work; glove could play to average; arm is solid-average to plus; good catch-and-throw skills.

Weaknesses: Shows swing-and-miss in the zone; struggles against velocity; hit tool likely to play below-average to fringe; could limit power utility; receiving skills need work; feet can get heavy; slow to the arm side on balls in the dirt; overall defensive profile lacks plus projection; well below-average runner.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average regular/backup catcher

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; 84 games at Double-A level; questions about hit tool/receiving skills.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Susac has a likely future behind the plate and potential 15-homer pop (even in that stadium) in his corner, but the batting average is likely to be an issue. That said, if you are in an OBP league (or a points league), Susac is a stronger option as he has an advanced approach with strong walk rates to back it up.

The Year Ahead: Susac might appear as a power-first/only prospect, but he has enough chops behind the plate for a dual-threat profile, even if that profile is more solid-average than first-division or higher. The hit tool is a question mark, especially against quality stuff. But the strength in the swing is legit, and he’s going to run into some power at the highest level. The arm [read: ability to throw out baserunners] is his best defensive attribute, while the receiving and blocking components still come off as unrefined; the hands can be stiff and the footwork can be casual and sloppy. Despite the shortcomings, the overall profile could be an above-average regular, a down-the-lineup catcher with playable power that can control the running game and manage a battery. The numbers might not be sexy, but a 55 (20/80) backstop is an extremely valuable commodity to have under team control.

Major league ETA: 2015

7. Keury Mella
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/02/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2011, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 2.25 ERA (36 IP, 34 H, 41 K, 11 BB) at complex level AZL
The Tools: 7+ potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: In his stateside debut, Mella was electric on the mound, missing bats with his well above-average fastball and showing more feel than expected.

Strengths: Big arm strength; good feel for a repeatable delivery; fastball is power offering; two-seamer works low-90s with weight; four-seamer can work in the mid-90s with room for more in the future; shows hard curveball with bite; projectable offering; some feel for changeup.

Weaknesses: Fastball-heavy arsenal at present; some pitchability and feel but still more thrower than pitcher; inconsistent release on breaking ball; wide gap between present/future; changeup is underdeveloped at present; can get too firm; deliberate in release; command is below-average at present.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; complex-level resume; big gap between present/future.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Go ahead, live a little. The range of outcomes is so big here that it’s not even worth speculating on what he could be for fantasy. But if the stuff is legit, he’ll be something—and that’s worth a flier.

The Year Ahead: Next to Crick, Mella might have the highest tool-based ceiling on the farm, with the type of fastball to project near the top of a major-league rotation. The secondary stuff is a long way away, but he already shows the ability to spin a hard breaking ball, and even though it’s raw, the changeup has potential because of the delivery and utility of the fastball. At present, Mella pounds the zone with a lively two-seam fastball in the lower 90s, and backs it up with a bat-missing four-seamer that can work up to 96 with late life. He can ride the fastball a long way on his developmental journey, but any step forward with the secondary stuff could launch him into the national spotlight as a top tier prospect in the Giants system. It might not happen in 2014, but it’s going to happen eventually.

Major league ETA: 2017

8. Joan Gregorio
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/12/1992
Height/Weight: 6’7” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 4.00 ERA (69.2 IP, 65 H, 84 K, 17 BB) at Low-A Augusta
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 6 potential SL

What Happened in 2013: The projectable Dominican arm failed to eclipse the 100-inning mark in his full-season debut, making 13 starts but losing time to an oblique injury and a blister issue.

Strengths: Projectable size; length and leverage in delivery; fastball works in the low 90s; touches a little higher; could get a bump with added strength; flashes above-average slider; fastball plane with late tilt; good strike thrower at present; his first name is Joan.

Weaknesses: Body can get out of sorts in the delivery; struggles to stay over his offerings; slider will flatten out and lose bite; fastball command is fringe; struggles to turn over the changeup; pitch can get too firm and flat.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Low-A resume; underdeveloped changeup

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The bottom of this list isn’t filled with guys who are must-owns by any means in shallow and medium-sized dynasty leagues, but in a deep league, Gregorio is worth a pickup with that strikeout-to-walk rate. He has a nice strikeout/WHIP profile if he continues to progress.

The Year Ahead: Gregorio has size you can’t teach, which is both appealing because of the length and leverage he can create and detrimental because of the athleticism and body control necessary to be consistent in his mechanics. With room to add more strength, the 22-year-old righty could see a jump in his fastball, a pitch that can already show plus velocity in the 92+ range with good movement. The slider has potential, but is more flash than anything else right now, and the undeveloped changeup has many scouts putting a future bullpen label on the Gregorio. He can quiet some of the bullpen chatter by staying healthy and logging a full season of starts in High-A, which should help with the development of his secondary offerings and fastball command. The ultimate ceiling is high, and with size and a projectable fastball/slider combo, the floor could be a late-innings reliever. He just needs to avoid the disabled list and log professional innings.

Major league ETA: 2016

9. Martin Agosta
Position: RHP
DOB: 04/07/1991
Height/Weight: 6’1” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2012 draft, St. Mary’s College of California (Moraga,
CA)
Previous Ranking: #9 (Org)
2013 Stats: 2.06 ERA (91.2 IP, 57 H, 109 K, 43 BB) at Low-A Augusta
The Tools: 5+ FB; 6 CH; 5 SL; 5+ potential CT

What Happened in 2013: A second-round pick in 2012, Agosta made his full-season debut in 2013, taking the mound for 19 starts and allowing only 57 hits in over 91 innings of work.

Strengths: Clean, athletic delivery; arm works very well; fastball is solid-average to plus; velocity consistent in the low 90s; can bump higher; good movement; changeup is most consistent secondary offering; plays well off fastball with good vertical action; shows playable slider; has sharp mid-80s cutter in his bag; can throw all offerings for strikes; pitchability.

Weaknesses: Lacks wipeout stuff in rotation; more control than command; fastball can play down over the course of a game; above-average cutter put on the developmental backburner; standard slider is more show than stud.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; mature stuff/feel; yet to pitch above Low-A level.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Agosta’s story is not too dissimilar to Clayton Blackburn, where the value comes in deeper leagues because he lacks the upside to own at this point in shallower formats. He’s also not close enough to the majors to be as safe of an own as he will be next year.

The Year Ahead: Agosta can get lost in the Giants’ voluptuous mid-rotation prospect mix, but I like his upside more than those of Stratton or Blach, mostly because of the deep arsenal that has enough meat to miss bats and enough velocity and movement variance to keep hitters off balance and guessing. The command needs a grade jump, but the 22-year-old has feel for the mound and should be able to refine enough for the command to play as average. The late-innings potential is there as a floor, but I’m still on the Agosta-as-a-starter bandwagon, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he finds his way to Double-A in 2014 and proves up to the rotation task.

Major league ETA: 2015

10. Ty Blach
Position: LHP
DOB: 10/20/1990
Height/Weight: 6’1” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2012 draft, Creighton University (Omaha, NE)
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2013 Stats: 2.90 ERA (130.1 IP, 124 H, 117 K, 18 BB) at High-A San Jose
The Tools: 5+ FB; 6 potential CH; 5 CB; 5 SL

What Happened in 2013: An “On the Rise” player on last season’s list, Blach lived up to the hype in his professional debut, starting in the California League and displaying a very good feel for control in addition to some bat-missing prowess.

Strengths: Plus pitchability; good present strength and repeatability in the delivery; loud hip rotation/jerk in the delivery can distract the eye before release; multiple fastball looks; two-seamer with some sink in the upper 80s/low 90s; four-seamer with more giddyup in the 91-94 range; changeup plays as plus offering; excellent deception in the arm and some arm-side action; shows multiple breaking balls; both slider and curveball should play as average offerings; sharp control; plus command projection.

Weaknesses: Can open up in the delivery and miss arm-side and up; fastball is not a power pitch; relies more on location and movement than velocity; lacks plus breaking ball; command/control profile; questions about ability to miss bats at higher levels.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no 4 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to pitch at Double-A level; lacks plus stuff/small margin of error.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another lower-upside Giants prospect and someone to ignore in anything but deep leagues with deep farm teams. Could be a Robbie Erlin type with the ability to put the ball where he wants to and the underwhelming stuff overall if it all works.

The Year Ahead: Blach is a command/control lefty with a deep mix of pitches that he sequences well. The stuff doesn’t pack a big punch, but his pitchability allows it to play up, as he shows multiple fastball and breaking ball looks, and a very good fading changeup that should be good enough to keep right-handed sticks off his fastball. He makes the delivery work, and the loud hip snap works to his advantage in the form of eye-line deception and not against his ability to repeat and locate the ball. Blach should continue to produce results at Double-A, and will eventually settle in as a solid back-of-the-rotation type at the major-league level. The command will have to be sharp for sustainable production, but the overall profile looks like a safe bet for league-average success in a rotation.

Major league ETA: 2015


Prospects on the Rise:
1.
SS Christian Arroyo: Excellent reports on the promise of the hit tool, but concerns about the defensive profile and projected value raised doubts about Arroyo and prevented him from cracking the top 10 this season. But with a strong full-season campaign, the former fist-round pick should push into the top 10, especially if he can quiet some of the concerns about his ability to stick at shortstop.

2. 3B Ryder Jones: A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Jones has the natural ability to rip a baseball, projecting to hit for both average and power. He has a long way to go in the field, but the arm could be a weapon at third, and he has plenty of time to iron out the actions. But his name will be made with the stick, and if the 19-year-old can bring his advanced hitability to a full-season league, he will move up the prospect ranks and into the top 10 next season along with draftmate Christian Arroyo.

3. RHP Chase Johnson: A college reliever turned starter at the professional level, Johnson has the size and stuff to project to the major-league level in either role. In bursts, Johnson can work into the mid-90s, showing a sharp slider and the feel to turn over a projectable changeup. Out of the rotation, the command inconsistencies could limit his overall utility, but the fastball will stay play as a plus offering in the low 90s, with a secondary arsenal that could play to solid-average or higher if everything comes together. Reports were mixed in his short-season debut, with several sources keeping the reliever label on the 22-year-old righty despite initial success out of the rotation.


Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
1. RHP Heath Hembree: I’m not big on ranking relievers high on prospect lists, especially when in competition against arms that feature legit rotation futures. But Hembree could have easily cracked this list based on his impact potential in a late-innings capacity and low risk factor involved. With a plus fastball that can show plus-plus velocity (but often at the expense of control), and a very sharp mid-80s slider, the 25-year-old righty will have a good chance to miss a lot of bats in a major-league bullpen going forward.

2. RHP Derek Law: Despite only 25 innings above the Low-A level, Law is a legit bullpen option for 2014, with an easy plus fastball in the 93-95 range, a very good curveball with bite, and an average but effective slider. The delivery makes command problematic, with a pronounced back turn and plenty of effort, but his stuff is good enough to live loose, and he should continue to miss plenty of bats as he makes an accelerated climb toward the major-league level.

3. OF Gary Brown: From first-division center fielder of the future in 2011 to below-average bench outfielder in 2013, Brown has experienced quite the drop in status since exploding on the scene in his full-season debut. The inability to make adjustments against quality arms has been his biggest weakness, and it’s highly unlikely that his bat improves to the point where it plays as a major-league regular. But the defensive profile and speed should be enough to carry him to the highest level, which would be seen as a developmental success story for most players; however, when you have the physical tools of Brown—a former first round pick—the bar for success is set much higher than most players.


Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/88 or later)

  1. Madison Bumgarner
  2. Kyle Crick
  3. Brandon Belt
  4. Adalberto Mejia
  5. Edwin Escobar
  6. Kendry Flores
  7. Clayton Blackburn
  8. Andrew Susac
  9. Kuery Mella
  10. Joan Gregorio

The Giants won the World Series in ’10 and ’12 on the back of strong starting pitching, but 2013 showed what can happen as a great staff ages, going from fifth in the league in ERA in 2012 to 12th last season. The Giants had the oldest pitching staff in the National League, averaging just under 30 years old. With the addition of Tim Hudson and re-signings of Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, the staff is not getting any younger. Luckily for the Giants, their U25 Top 10 list boasts eight starting pitchers, including current ace Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner just turned 24 last August and enters 2014 already having three and a half seasons under his belt and those two World Series rings. In 2013, he surpassed Matt Cain as ace of the staff with career bests in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and BAA—all top 10 in the NL—while making his first all-star team.

Belt is the only other current major leaguer on the list and is coming off a breakout 2013 in which he cemented his status at fist base for the foreseeable future, finishing 10th in the NL in extra-base hits. He and Susac are the only position players on the list, with Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval having graduated from this list in the past two years.

Susac may be the closest of the prospects to the majors after spending all of 2013 at Double-A Richmond, followed by an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League. A well-balanced defensive and offensive catcher with a good approach at the plate, Sucac never projects to be Posey’s replacement but more of a complement. With Johnny Monell having been traded to the Orioles and former first round pick Jackson Williams’ bat never matching his glove, Susac looks to be next in line should Posey or backup Hector Sanchez get injured or falter.

The Giants farm system resembles those championship teams, with a gaggle of very good young starting pitchers who boast a mix of good control and pitchable stuff. All seven prospects on the U25 project to stick in a major-league rotation in the future and all were signed as teenagers out of high school or as international signees. Among the seven, four of them (Crick, Mejia, Escobar, Blackburn) had great results in the Cal League, the toughest league to pitch in throughout the minors. They all managed to put up ERAs below 3.70 and K/BB ratios around 4:1, except for Crick at just a tick under 3:1.

Kyle Crick looks like the heir apparent to Matt Cain, having very similar mechanics with a little more hump, getting his fastball up to 99 at times with a plus hard slider. There are some concerns with an inconsistent finish to his delivery, but with him being only 21 there is no rush to get him to San Fransisco. He should continue to refine his stuff in Double-A this year and could be a top-of-the-rotation starter for a long time.

Escobar seems to be the closest pitcher to the big leagues, having finished 2013 in Double-A Richmond and having put up impressive numbers at both San Jose and Richmond. In 129 IP, Escobar allowed only 112 hits with a 146:30 K/BB ratio. He was added to the 40-man roster before 2013 and has two options left. Mejia, Blackburn, Crick and no. 10 prospect Ty Blach should see time in the high minors with a chance of callups in 2014 if the age and inconsistency woes of 2013 strike the big-league club again.

Other names on the list, Flores and Gregorio, made huge strides in 2013 at Class-A Augusta. Not only did they show improvement in stuff but also in results. Flores, Gregorio, no. 9 prospect Martin Agosta and 2012 first rounder Chris Stratton will likely lead another very talented and impressive San Jose staff in 2014. Rookie leaguer Mella is a prospect to dream on with great stuff and thus far equally impressive results. Still having a long way to go, Mella should be a perennial member of this top 10 list —Steffan Segui


A Parting Thought: After Crick, you can make an honest case for more than a dozen prospects in the 2-to-10 range; a thick register of arms with mid-to-backend rotation projections, and position players with warts on either the stick or the glove.

***

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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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