Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: Brandon Belt's explosion saves the system from the ignominy of being without a five-star prospect, who already earned a mulligan with the graduations of Posey and Bumgarner.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Brandon Belt, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Zack Wheeler, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
3. Gary Brown, CF
4. Charlie Culberson, 2B
5. Ehire Adrianza, SS
6. Thomas Neal, OF
7. Francisco Peguero, OF
8. Tommy Joseph, C/1B
Two-Star Prospects
9. Jarrett Parker, OF
10.Chuck Jones, OF
11. Mike Kickham, LHP

Nine More:
12. Brandon Crawford, SS: He's a good defensive shortstop with a little bit of pop, but will he hit?
13. Eric Surkamp, LHP: A finesse lefty, he will need to prove that he can get upper-level hitters out without cracking 90 mph on his fastball.
14. Heath Hembree, RHP: A fifth-round pick last June picked for his big-time velocity, Hembree is far from harnessing it.
15. Jose Casilla, RHP: This Dominican reliever gets good velocity and sink on his offerings, but he doesn't have closer-grade stuff.
16. Rafael Rodriguez, OF: His tools are still incredible, but his transition to baseball player has been slow.
17. Michael Main, RHP: A former Rangers first-round pick, he just doesn't have the stuff he had in his teenage years.
18. Chris Dominguez, 3B: A difficult player to figure out, in that he possesses both an 80 power and an 80 arm, but not much else.
19. Conor Gillaspie, 3B: A 2008 supplemental pick, Gillaspie has hitting ability but not enough secondary skills for a starter at the position.
20. Hector Sanchez, C: He's an intriguing catcher with gap power and a plus arm.

1. Brandon Belt, 1B
: 4/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2009, University of Texas
2010 Stats: .383/.492/.628 at High-A (77 G); .337/.413/.623 at Double-A (46 G); .229/.393/.563 at Triple-A (13 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Hit/run

Year in Review: An unheralded pick at the time, Belt was the biggest breakout in the entire minor leagues in 2010, with scouts being universal in their belief that it was the real deal.
The Good: Belt has plus-plus pure hitting ability, showing no real weaknesses against lefties or righties, any pitch type, or thrown in any location. His hands are tremendous, and he's equally adept at going with pitches or turning on them with plenty of bat speed. The bat plays even better due to outstanding plate discipline and pitch recognition. He's a very good defensive first baseman, and runs well enough to play in the outfield, where he held is own in some late-season looks.
The Bad: Belt doesn't have traditional power for a first baseman, and scouting projections for him vary from 15 to 25 home runs annually. He had some struggles in Triple-A against a steady diet of breaking balls, and might still need to make some adjustments at the highest level.
Ephemera: He was a 46th-round pick in the 2005 draft by the Astros out of Hudson High School in Lufkin, Texas, a school with no football program. That's right, a Texas high school with no football.
Perfect World Projection: Belt's sweet lefty swing drew multiple optimistic comparisons to Will Clark.
Fantasy Impact: He could produce in every category, even chipping in with a handful of stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: Belt will get a long look this spring, as the re-signing of Aubrey Huff does not block him, since one of the two could move to left field once Belt's bat is deemed ready.
ETA: 2011

2. Zack Wheeler, RHP
: 5/30/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, East Paulding HS (GA)
2010 Stats: 3.99 ERA (58.2-47-38-70) at Low-A (21 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: Limited pitch counts and a recurring fingernail problem limited the first-round pick to less than 60 total innings, but scouts saw enough to remain impressed.
The Good: Wheeler has the stuff to pitch towards the top of a rotation. His fastball is downright special: while it now only sits in the low-to-mid 90s while touching 97 mph, it also features natural sink, as he didn't give up a home run in 2010 while compiling a ground-ball/fly-ball ratio of 2.6 to 1. He gets enough snap on a power breaking ball to flash plus on occasion. Add a little meat to his big frame, and he 's still projectable.
The Bad: Wheeler needs to find consistency with his breaking ball and improve his below-average changeup, which requires the kind of innings he wasn't able to pitch in 2010. Without his secondary stuff, left-handed hitters give him trouble, and his control comes and goes.
Ephemera: Wheeler walked 23.1 percent of the left-handed batters he faced in 2010, yet just 8.9 percent of righties.
Perfect World Projection: He develops into a front-line starter with All-Star possibilities.
Fantasy Impact: He could be an impact starter that delivers in all categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: Despite his limited experience, Wheeler is ready to face the challenge of High-A.
ETA: 2013

3. Gary Brown, CF
: 9/28/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Cal State Fullerton
2010 Stats: .182/.333/.227 at Rookie (6 G); .136/.259/.227 at Short-Season (6 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/power

Year in Review: The fastest player in the draft, Brown had a higher on-base percentage and slugged better than teammate Christian Colon, but went 20 picks later in the draft.
The Good: Brown is an absolute burner with easy 80 speed. He's ultra-dangerous on the basepaths and has incredible range in center field. He has outstanding hand-eye coordination and struck out just 12 times in 210 at-bats as a junior while showing gap power.
The Bad: Brown's approach is a worry for many scouts, as he walks even more rarely than he strikes out, with nearly 87 percent of his plate appearances ended with balls in play. He'll never be a true power threat, so he needs to develop more on-base skills to fit in the top of a lineup. His arm is a tick below average.
Ephemera: Gary's sister Torrie was an all-conference volleyball player at Cal State Fullerton.
Perfect World Projection: He could turn into a dynamic leadoff man and plus-plus center fielder.
Fantasy Impact: Brown could turn into a big-time fantasy asset, with batting average, stolen bases, and a few home runs thrown in for good measure.
Path to the Big Leagues: While a broken finger cut his college season short, Brown's experience means he's ready for a full-season debut at High-A.
ETA: 2013

4. Charlie Culberson, 2B
: 4/10/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2007, Calhoun HS (GA)
2010 Stats: .290/.340/.457 at High-A (128 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: A supplemental first-round pick who had never hit, Culberson started to do so in 2010, then proved that it was for real with an explosive showing in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Culberson has always been an impressive athlete, and now that he's hitting, he doesn't have a below-average tool. Using a simpler swing, he was able to finally to advantage of his bat speed, and he's strong enough to power out 15+ home runs a year. He's a tick above-average runner who can steal bases, and he has outstanding defensive fundamentals to go with a solid arm.
The Bad: Culberson doesn't have the best defensive instincts, and often needs his wheels to make up for poor jumps on ground balls. He's an aggressive hitter who could use a more patient approach. Because of his previous struggles and the fact that he's only hit in friendly environments, some scouts are still skeptical about his bat.
Ephemera: Culberson started at least two games at every lineup spot other than leadoff in 2010, doing most of his damage in the six-hole, rapping out a .361/.390/.569 line in 18 contests.
Perfect World Projection: He develops into an average-to-above everyday second baseman.
Fantasy Impact: With double digits in both home runs and steals, his fantasy value could eclipse his real-world one.
Path to the Big Leagues: We'll all know much more about Culberson following a year at Double-A Richmond.
ETA: 2012

5. Ehire Adrianza, SS
: 8/21/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/165
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 2006, Venezuela
2010 Stats: .256/.333/.348 at High-A (124 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Glove/hit

Year in Review: A classic Venezuelan shortstop, Adrianza continued to impress with the glove, while answering few questions about his bat.
The Good: Adrianza is one of the best defensive players in the minors. His range, hands, and arm are all outstanding, but he's also a remarkably mature defender who doesn't make the 'overplay' errors so many young, talented shortstops do. He has some offensive value thanks to a decent approach at the plate and the ability to steal bases.
The Bad: Scouts simply hope that Adrianza can hit enough to play every day, as he'll never have enough offense to fit in at the top of a lineup. His swing is funky, and he lacks the ability to consistently square balls up, producing plenty of strikeouts and weak contact.
Ephemera: After making errors in three of his last four games in July, Adrianza finished the year with a 26-game errorless streak.
Perfect World Projection: He has the skills to become an everyday shortstop, but he's more notable for his glove than his bat.
Fantasy Impact: Stolen bases should give him at least some value.
Path to the Big Leagues: Adrianza will continue his one-level-at-a-time progression at Double-A Richmond.
ETA: Late 2012

6. Thomas Neal, OF
: 8/17/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 36th round, 2005, Poway HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .291/.359/.440 at Double-A (136 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Hit/run

Year in Review: Unable to reproduce his big numbers from 2010, Neal nevertheless had a strong second half to finish with respectable numbers at Double-A.
The Good: Neal certainly looks the part of a corner outfield prospect as a big, athletic player with tools. He has a quick bat and can flash above-average raw power when he turns on a fastball. He's a solid outfielder with a strong arm, and plays the game hard.
The Bad: Neal made some adjustments in the second half, and while the result was much more contact, he also stopped driving balls. He's a tick below average as a baserunner who is limited to a corner, and there are questions about his secondary skills being enough for the position.
Ephemera: Neil is one of 20 players drafted out of Poway High, whose most famous baseball alumni are Tony Gwynn Jr., Phil Plantier, and former Astros closer Dave Smith.
Perfect World Projection: Neal's ceiling is as a solid-but-unspectacular everyday outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: Some average, some power, a handful of steals, but nothing special.
Path to the Big Leagues: Neal will begin the year at Triple-A Fresno, and could line himself up for a September callup.
ETA: Late 2011

7. Francisco Peguero, OF
: 6/1/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2006, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: .329/.358/.488 at High-A (122 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/power

Year in Review: He put up big numbers in the Cal League, but can it last?
The Good: Peguero has plenty of tools. A career .312 hitter in the minor leagues, he simply has a knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball, while showcasing gap power and the kind of plus to plus-plus speed to turn doubles into triples and steal plenty of bases. He can cover a lot of ground in the outfield, and his arm is both strong and accurate.
The Bad: Peguero's game is often described as "out of control." He's an over-aggressive baserunner, he consistently takes poor routes in the outfield, and he has nearly zero plate discipline. That combination has scouts worried that the advanced levels will provide some tough lessons for him. He needs to improve his outfield play to remain in center, and he'll never be a big power threat.
Ephemera: After drawing a walk in a game against Bakersfield on April 23rd, Peguero didn't wait around for another one until July 1st, a span of 48 games.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday center fielder, but there remains considerable risk here.
Fantasy Impact: Good batting average, 10-15 home runs, and 30 or more stolen bases; what's not to like?
Path to the Big Leagues: Peguero will move to Double-A Richmond in 2011, where he'll need to make considerable adjustments to keep putting up numbers.
ETA: 2013

8. Tommy Joseph, C/1B
DOB: 7/16/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2009, Horizon HS (AZ)
2010 Stats: .236/.290/.401 at Low-A (117 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/run

Year in Review: This young slugger showed power in his full-season debut, but not much else.
The Good: Thick and muscular, Joseph has plenty of raw pop, and is capable of clouting massive shots when he makes solid contact. He's a grinder and a battler who plays hard and has a take-charge attitude on the field. His arm is a plus tool behind the plate.
The Bad: There are questions about where Joseph will end up on the diamond, as he's a sloppy receiver whose arm strength is hindered by a slow release. He's far too much of a free swinger, and can get overly pull-conscious at times. He runs like a 215-pound catcher.
Ephemera: Joseph did his best Pat Tabler impression with the bases loaded in 2010, going 7-for-12 with three doubles, 14 RBI, and just one strikeout.
Perfect World Projection: Offense-first catcher or second-division first baseman.
Fantasy Impact: It's hard to say without knowing what position he'll play, but he'll hit home runs.
Path to the Big Leagues: Joseph will move up to High-A in 2011, and San Jose (and the hitter-friendly Cal League) could lead to an offensive breakthrough.
ETA: 2014

9. Jarrett Parker, OF
: 12/1/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, University of Virginia
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/hit

Year in Review: An athletic outfielder who was seen as a potential first-round pick heading into the 2010 season, Parker had an up-and-down spring and slid to the second round, where he signed for an above-slot bonus of $700,000.
The Good: Long-limbed and ultra-athletic, Parker is a plus runner, a very good center fielder, and he displays at least average power. He has good plate discipline and rarely swing at good pitches. Beyond his range and glove in the outfield, his arm is a tick above-average.
The Bad: There are plenty of questions about Parker's raw hitting ability. He racked up big strikeout totals in college, and was especially bad with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. His swing is long and loopy, he can get very pull-focused, and one scout claimed his mechanics need to be “re-started from the ground up.”
Ephemera: Of the 31 players drafted out of the University of Virginia since the Nationals made Ryan Zimmerman the fourth overall pick in 2005, none have reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Parker's ceiling is high based on his tools, but he's a classic boom-or-bust type.
Fantasy Impact: There's the potential for a power/speed package here, but don't go drafting him just yet.
Path to the Big Leagues: Despite coming from a major program, Parker could make a slower progression through the system than most college players. His showing this spring will determine if he begins the year in Low- or High-A.
ETA: 2014

10. Chuck Jones, OF
: 7/28/92
Height/Weight: 6-3/235
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Seventh round, 2010, Boonville HS (MO)
2010 Stats: .279/.360/.461 at Rookie-level (46 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/hit

Year in Review: Although he was a seventh-round pick (and signed for $125,000), scouts who subsequently saw Jones in Arizona wondered how he lasted so long.
The Good: Athletically, Jones is a beast, with the kind of size and physical presence found more commonly on the gridiron than on the diamond. He's massively strong, and his best tool is plus-plus raw power, but he's not just a hulking slugger. He's an above-average runner with surprisingly good defensive instincts and an arm that's a tick above average.
The Bad: Jones is still quite raw as a hitter, as he takes a big cut, makes few adjustments, and often flails at breaking balls. He struck out once in every 2.7 at-bats, and could rack up some immense whiff totals in a full-season league. He needs to improve his baserunning, and few think he'll be able to maintain his speed as he moves up the ladder.
Ephemera: Jones is the only player ever drafted out of Boonville High in Missouri, a small town in the central part of the state best known for a minor Civil War battle in 1861.
Perfect World Projection: Like Parker, Jones has a significant ceiling, but questions about his ability to hit still need to be answered.
Fantasy Impact: Jones could hit plenty of home runs, but he needs to hit first.
Path to the Big Leagues: Jones needs to earn a job on the Low-A Augusta roster this spring, and might be best served with more time in extended spring training before the short-season leagues start.
ETA: 2015

11. Michael Kickham, LHP
: 12/12/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Sixth round, 2010, Missouri State University
2010 Stats: 11.57 ERA (2.1-4-2-3) at Rookie (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changup

Year in Review: A draft-eligible sophomore, Kickham moved up on draft boards all spring, finally landing with the Giants in the sixth round; they signed him for a well above-average bonus of $410,000.
The Good: Kickham's combination of size and velocity from the left side excites scouts. He has a loose, easy arm action, and his fastball sits in the low 90s while touching 95 mph. He'll flash a solid slider at times, and maintains his velocity deep into games.
The Bad: He lacks a long track record of success, or for the kind of velocity that he showcased in the spring. He can overthrow his slider, losing depth on the pitch, and his changeup has promise, but still needs plenty of refinement. He generally throws strikes, but needs to work on using both sides of the plate.
Ephemera: The Giants have had plenty of success with drafting pitchers in the sixth round, including John Burkett (1983), Jeff Brantley (1985), Aaron Fultz (1992), and Joe Nathan (1995).
Perfect World Projection: Kickham could become a mid-rotation starter, but that's going to require many things to go right.
Fantasy Impact: Limited, and if he moves to a relief role, he won't be a closer.
Path to the Big Leagues: Kickham will likely begin the year in the Low-A Augusta rotation.
ETA: 2014.

The Sleeper: Nineteen-year-old Dominican Kendry Flores is a skinny, projectable right-hander with a silky-smooth delivery and very good control. If his velocity moves up a few ticks, he could move onto more radars.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Buster Posey, C
2. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
3. Brandon Belt, 1B
4. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
5. Zack Wheeler, RHP
6. Gary Brown, CF
7. Charlie Culberson, 2B
8. Ehire Adrianza, SS
9. Thomas Neal, OF
10. Francisco Peguero, OF

Posey is already a star, and that's while acknowledging he should be three to five years away from his prime; he could easily be the best player at his position for a long time. Bumgarner pitcher well late in the year, and should settle in nicely as a good second or third starter, depending on how his secondary pitches develop, and where his at-times fluctuating velocity finally parks. Sandoval's 2009 season seemed like a fluke, but his 2010 year was well below expectations, as he just plain got fat. The average of those two years is .300/.355/.483, which might be a more reasonable expectation if he can stay away from the ice cream.

Summary: After graduating Posey and Bumgarner, the Giants can be excused for having a system light on high-upside prospects. That said, the trend will need to reverse itself in order for the club to remain competitive in the National League West in the long term.

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Seeing how Cain and Lincecum are 26, just missing the cutoff, the picture probably is a little brighter than depicted.
Yes and no. Because they have so much MLB service time, Cain and Lincecum are already fairly expensive. Young, awesome, pricey talents in the years to come.
Belt wasn't eve on the 2010 list. Is there any precedent for a 1-year ascendance from unworthy of mention in an org's top prospect listing to 5-star prospect status?
It's an excellent question, and my honest answer is I don't know. It's rare, but not sure it's completely unique.
If you send me the lists in a workable file, I can take a crack at answering that question.
More importantly, in a steamy tryst between Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, who would be more romantically aggressive? It is Valentine's Day, after all.
Personally, I feel that this comment has nothing to do with baseball, and should not have been made on a website like Baseball Prospectus.
Personally, I feel that this comment has nothing to do with baseball, and should not have been made on a website like Baseball Prospectus.
Might I suggest a Good Humor pop?
Actually, if this is snark, well done.
I had hoped that it didn't need said. People are either less perceptive than I thought, or the moralists are out in force again.
Whatever happened to Wendell Fairly?
I don't think anything happened to Fairly except that the Giants scouts seriously over estimated his ability, just as every team apparently under estimated Brandon Belt's potential. It's not an exact science.
He's a tools guy who never had it all click and we a bit older than most when he started, so he didn't have as much time. He hit .292 last year at San Jose, but that was with no power as a 22 year old.
That's more than 20 words!
You've been waiting to use this, haven't you?
Great reporting, Kevin. It's clear you have good sources.
What determines power ceiling? Belt is 6'5", if he puts more muscle on that frame wouldn't he have a ton of power projection? Or is it more based on the kind of swing he has?
There's a TON that goes into a power projection. Beyond just size and strength, you have to look and the kind of loft and backspin a guy can generate. Look at a guy like Ryan Sweeney. If you saw him get off the bus, you'd think he'd be a huge power guy, and yet. . .
Kevin, who if any do you see as a potential 5-star next year? Wheeler is the obvious one, but if you had to pick one other...
I got a good feeling about Brown.
As a Giants fan still nursing a WS hangover, the depleted system doesn't bother me so much. And it's nice to have Belt to look forward to this year.

Kevin, I have questions about two prospects:

Angel Villalona: What have you been hearing about whether or not he's been able to train/play in any meaningful way? And based on where he was at the end of a not-too-terrible '09 season (for an 18 year-old) in San Jose, can you possibly project where he would be (both in terms of playing level and prospect ranking) in '11? Do Giants fans have any reason for hope with him?

Roger Kieschnick: It seems like he had a decent '09 in San Jose (good power, but lots of swing-and-miss) and then struggled in Richmond before being injured. Were scouts down on him even before the injury? Or is it a case of the jury being out until he comes back this year?

Thanks, and can't wait to hear the discussion on the podcast this week.
Villalona: The biggest problem right now is that his visa has been revoked, so forget about training, the guy can't even get into the country.

Kieschnick: Injury obviously helped, but scouting reports weren't on his side either. Definitely had some bad habits (like Neal) from the Cal League. Neal adjusted, Kieschnick . . . not so much.
Kevin, you write that Belt has no real weakness against any pitch type, but also that he struggled against a steady diet of breaking balls. That seems contradictory.
I don't think struggling with breaking ball for 13 games in AAA implies he has a weakness.
And do you consider 229/.393/.563 a struggle? I mean this equal to a 0.956 OPS, which is like MVP performance albeit in AAA
Nick Noonan.... anything there, or just destined for a lifetime of Caddyshack jokes?
Not a ton there, but might have made a top 30. Will be interesting to see how the Giants handle development there, as it's tough to see Noonan ready for Triple-A, while Culberson and Arianza are arriving.
Wow, Belt above Sandoval, who is looking like a .300 hitter in the majors. I'm sure defence helps, but that is a big statement. Just one of the many reasons I love these columns, since it would've been 'easy' to put him behind, and just cite that Sandoval is 'already there.'

Now I just have to sigh even bigger when Belt gets picked first in my league's prospect draft!