Prospect #1: OF Gary Brown
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A first-round selection in the 2010 draft, Brown emerged as a near-elite prospect in 2011, showing above-average offensive potential to match his well above-average defensive skill set. The 23-year-old center fielder has all the qualities to become a frontline defensive force, with top-of-the-chart speed that gives him a very broad coverage area, a very solid glove, instincts for the position, and solid-average arm strength. His bat isn’t in the same league as his glove, but the hit tool has promise, with some scouts projecting it to be a plus weapon at the major league level. Without much pop, Brown’s game is more contact and speed, limiting his overall offensive impact, but making him a realistic leadoff option. His defense at a premium position will be his ticket to the majors, and the development and utility of the stick will determine whether Brown becomes a fringe starter or an All-Star. Opinions on the ultimate projection are quite mixed.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: “Brown’s offensive skills aren’t as average as his 2012 numbers might suggest, but they aren’t as top-shelf as his 2011 numbers either. The reality is somewhere in between. He’s a good hitter, but he’s not a great hitter.” This is a tasty quote from a very good source, and it represents the majority of opinion I received when I asked around about Brown. His struggles in Double-A can be attributed to his weakness against quality right-handed pitching, most notably arms that can locate velocity inside or drop sharp breaking stuff out of the zone. He has good bat control and a stroke designed for contact, but he either fails to recognize and adjust to such off-speed offerings, or his appetite for unhittable breaking balls is so intense that he is compelled to swing despite knowing that his attempts will be for naught. I’m assuming it’s the former. If he can refine this skill, Brown should be more than adequate at the plate, with contact ability and enough speed to turn weak contact into base hits. Power is never going to be a big part of his game—his swing is built for the gaps rather than the seats beyond the fence—but he can put the good part of the barrel on the ball. His value is elevated by his ability to play center field at a high level, so anything you can get from the bat will only add to his worth. If the bat fails to develop to major league standards, Brown will still reach the level thanks to his glove and his speed. If he can hit for some average, his overall profile will make him a starter. If the bat explodes, he will be a star.

Prospect #2: RHP Kyle Crick
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: A supplemental first-round pick in 2011, Crick is a prototypical power arm with impressive size, strength, and a highly projectable arsenal. The 19-year-old Texan misses plenty of bats with his lively fastball, a pitch that already sits in the plus velocity range, and can touch higher without much effort. Crick delivers the pitch from a high-slot, creating a very steep plane to the plate, making it even more difficult to square up. His secondary arsenal is still underdeveloped, with a hard, slurvy, breaking ball that flashes promise, while a more traditional curve and changeup are also in the mix. With a very athletic delivery, Crick has a good foundation for repeatability and command, but like his complementary pitches, his feel for command/control is currently immature. The ceiling is quite high, and the Giants have a good track record with projectable high-school arms, so Crick could emerge as a top prospect in the near future. He profiles as a quality number two starter, but that’s still very abstract and built on projection, so it will require frequent adjustment during the developmental process.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Crick is an unrefined product, still in the process of harnessing his fastball command while also loading his secondary pitches into the sequence. As a talented 19-year-old with limited pitching experience, Crick is going to be part brilliant and part bust, flashing electric stuff to one hitter and losing it the next. This is the plight of a projectable arm, with the ultimate outcome making the scars of developmental process worth the frustration. When he can stay in his delivery and maintain a good line to the plate, Crick is very difficult to hit, showing bat-missing ability and an aggressive mentality against older competition. When he’s on, he provides observers with a glimpse of the power pitcher that the projection details. Obviously, when he loses his delivery and flies open, he misses glove-side and high, which leads to a lot of free passes and inconsistent secondary stuff. He’s very much a work in progress, and the struggles with command will no doubt show up on the stat sheet. But Crick has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization, so if struggles early lead to success late, a little patience will be more than worth it.

Prospect #3: C/1B Tommy Joseph
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Not many catchers possess a power bat capable of hitting in the middle of a major league lineup, but Tommy Joseph has the necessary tool projections to hit that ceiling. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Joseph struggled to make contact in his full-season debut in 2010, showing good game power but raising red flags about his approach to hitting. A promotion to the hitter-friendly California League in 2011 allowed him to shine, hitting 22 home runs despite being a teenager for half of the season. The hit tool isn’t special but it’s solid, with a stroke that doesn’t sell out for power, showing good bat speed and leverage without being too lengthy. The defense receives more criticism than praise, but small improvements have encouraged some of the more pessimistic observers, although some still suggest his future home will be at first base. The ultimate projection is an average backstop with well-above-average power for the position, which is a skill set that would make Joseph a first-division talent at the major league level. The 20-year-old is ahead of the developmental curve, already taking his lumps at the Double-A level, but the road to the aforementioned projection remains very long and full of daunting obstacles, the biggest of which is Joseph’s approach, a potential career killer if it limits the utility of the bat.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Tommy Joseph hits left-handers like he’s facing little leaguers, but right-handers give the fellow right-hander fits. The sources I spoke with assigned most of the blame to his approach, one that is very fastball-friendly and aggressive, making him susceptible to quality secondary pitches. When he gets behind in the count, he struggles to make the necessary adjustments, which often results in weak contact with the arm-side offerings.  Joseph’s bat has a lot of backers, but his approach tempers some of the love, and when you add to the equation a defensive profile that might end up playing better at first than behind the plate, you create a lot of doubt about the future package. If the bat develops as planned and Joseph becomes an average defender behind the plate, he becomes a first-division talent and an extremely valuable player. If he goes to first base, the pressure on the bat will obviously increase, and despite finding numerous sources willing to champion the bat, I was also able to find numerous ones who were uncertain about its value if he moves from behind the plate. It’s a very interesting profile, because Joseph could be an above-average major leaguer at a premium position if everything clicks, or he could be a tweener if one aspect of the skill set fails to develop to potential. Good prospect theater.

Prospect #4: RHP Heath Hembree
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Drafted in the fifth round back in 2010, the College of Charleston product looks the part of a future late-innings reliever, bringing an electric two-pitch mix in combination with a closer’s attack. Hembree’s fastball is an easy plus pitch, thrown with plane, working comfortably in the mid-90s and showing explosive late life in the zone. His slider is his best secondary offering, one that he uses as his executioner pitch, a hard, slicing breaking ball that both lefties and righties alike struggle to square up. His command isn’t sharp, which limits his effectiveness when he can’t locate, but the stuff is good enough to play in the zone, so throwing strikes should be enough for success. With a duo of plus pitches and the mentality to go after hitters without fear or hesitation, Hembree fits the profile of a very good late-inning reliever at the major league level. His ultimate role will depend on his ability to command his offerings and to find full utility of the slider, but all signs point to a quality bullpen arm.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Command. Hembree has fantastic raw stuff, but his delivery can go from functional to funky in a moment’s notice, throwing his stuff off-line and leading to too many balls delivered out of the zone. He has a tendency to rush his delivery—which isn’t an easy one to begin with—so Hembree will need to stay mechanically sound and in rhythm to get the most from his raw stuff. When he can stay over the ball, Hembree has a closer’s arsenal, with a fastball capable of touching the elite velocity range and a slider that can be used as an out pitch. Hitters are going to struggle with the stuff, so Hembree can’t help them out by allowing free passes or falling into grooved fastball counts. He should be pitching at the major league level at some point in the near future, and if improved command makes the journey with him to San Francisco, he can solidify his role as a late-inning weapon.

Prospect #5: SS Joe Panik
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Selected in the first round of the 2011 draft and signed quickly for slot, Panik set the Northwest League ablaze with his impressive #want, hitting for average, showing a mature approach, and more pop than some scouts anticipated. Panik isn’t a toolshed, but he has a baseball skills and he pushes his physical ability to the limit. His hit tool stands out as a potential plus tool, with excellent bat control and contact ability, and his plan at the plate keeps him in favorable hitting conditions. On defense, Panik can play the position, but lacks the requisite tools to shine. The whispers that he will need to move to second are closer to shouts, mostly thanks to his average arm and average range. The total package is a fundamentally sound gamer with a good bat, but Panik lacks a first-division profile, even if his draft status and $1M+ bonus suggested as much.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Panik’s profile presents a problem in the sense that his bat isn’t all that special, and his defensive projection points to a second base future, a position where the bat needs to carry a lot of weight. Panik has a very mature approach and a nice stroke from the left side that produces steady contact, all of which puts him in favorable counts and gives him an on-base dimension; he doesn’t pack a big offensive punch as far as power is concerned, though, which limits his value. Panik is a gamer, with solid physical tools and impressive baseball skills, but his power grades out below average, so his hit tool will have to exceed all expectations to make him a first-division talent. So far in 2012, the bat hasn’t been great, but scouts still seem to like the hitability (at least the sources I spoke with), but the power element is missing from the equation; the contact hasn’t been loud and his slugging percentage is still south of .340 despite playing in the friendly hitting environments of the California League. His profile is his biggest problem, as his likely defensive home is on the right side of the diamond, while his bat lacks the strength to carry the burden of value. He’s going to fight to maximize his talents, but in the end his profile might be better suited for a utility role than a first-division starter.

Thank you for reading

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I love that #want is a recognized statistic. This is fantastic.
I just wanted to say I think the absence of comments here is more a reflection on the uninspiring nature of the Giants farm system than the quality of the analysis or writing.
Seconded. I enjoyed the report, but I all could think to add was 'bummer'
I really enjoyed this Prof, thanks. I'll echo the comments; this depresses me. Our no 3 prospect is a utility infielder; thanks Sabes for spending $18M on Rowand and Tejada instead last year!
Hopefully if the Giants do not retain the services of Angel Pagan and/or Melky Cabrera they'll result in some nice compensation picks.
So Gary Brown is no longer the Kenny Lofton-esque ball of awesome we thought he would be?
That's a very high expectation, although not entirely unfounded. He has elite speed, very good defensive promise at a premium position, and some stick. The quality of the bat wil determine his future. If Brown becomes a .275 type of hitter, with speed, and 7 defense, that's a huge player. If the bat doesn't develop, he will still have value, but probably not as a major league regular.