Madison Bumgarner. Buster Posey. Thomas Neal. Zach Wheeler. Dan Runzler. Waldis Joaquin.
When it comes to rookies/prospects currently on the forty-man roster breaking out next season (be it at the Major League or Minor League level), those six are on every Giants fan and baseball expert's list.
However, they shouldn't be the only ones people should be looking forward to this Spring.
Conor Gillaspie, Darren Ford and Henry Sosa are three guys that could turn some heads in 2010 in the Minors.
At this moment, the three guys are still at least a year or two away from contributing at the Major League level. That being said, they are talented players that should be paid attention to should injury or mediocrity strike the current veterans on the Giants' 40-man roster. Are there red flags with Gillaspie, Ford and Sosa? Of course, but if you look at their profiles a little closer, they all have potential of being real breakout stars for the Giants in 2011 or beyond.
Here are the down-lows on the three potential "breakout" prospects:
2009 statistics in San Jose: 126 (G), 469 (AB), 530 (PA), 134 (H), 97 (1B), 31 (2B), 2 (3B), 4 (HR), 62 (R), 67 (RBI), 55 (BB), 2 (IBB), 68 (SO), 3 (HBP), 6 (GDP), 2 (SB), 3 (CS), .286 (AVG), .364 (OBP), .386 (OPS), .750 (OPS).
Last season, the Giants put Gillaspie on the 40-man roster even though he had only 32 games of professional experience prior to the 2009 season (he had played eight games with the Giants in 2008 and 24 games between rookie and short-season Single-A). At the time, it was deemed a questionable decision. Gillaspie certainly wasn't ready to contribute to the Major Leagues last year, and it showed in San Jose.
However, though Gillaspie didn't wow everyone in 2009 like many thought he would when he was the Giants' second pick of the 2008 MLB Draft (behind Buster Posey), he is capable of breaking out in Double-A or even Triple-A in 2010.
Why such optimistic thoughts about a guy deemed a "tumbler" by commenters on Fangraphs? Gillaspie's plate patience numbers are very promising.
Gillaspie posted a 10.4 percent walk rate in 2009 in San Jose and also sported a 0.81 BB/K ratio. Why is that such a big deal? Well, if you look at the Giants roster last year, only two guys sported BB/K ratios above 0.70 (Kevin Frandsen, who had a 0.75 ratio, and Ryan Garko, who had a 0.90).
Furthermore, Gillaspie's strikeout rate wasn't terrible at 14.5 percent last season, and it certainly was an improvement from the 18.3 percent strikeout rate he sported in Salem-Kaizer in 2008.
Now, there are still some red flags with Gillaspie's game. He doesn't hit for ANY power it seems (as evidenced by a .386 slugging and .100 ISO) and his defense at third base is very questionable. Also, he isn't exactly a burner on the basepaths either, so he doesn't maximize his ability to get on base.
That being said, if you watch Gillaspie's swing during this Minor League Spring Training game in 2009, he does have a very good looking swing. You can tell that he will have trouble getting a lot of pop behind balls (it seems very short, compact), but it isn't unfathomable to think that his batting style could mirror a Bill Mueller-esque player (whom many experts have compared him to since he was drafted). That isn't exactly a bad thing, especially considering Mueller had a career batting average of .291 and OBP of .373.
Will Gillaspie reach those heights? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least though, I think Gillaspie could put up very similar batting numbers to a guy like Nate Schierholtz (I think their swings are very similar), only with less power, but more plate patience.
Gillaspie will probably never be high ceiling guy. He just doesn't have the power to do so. At the very least though, he is capable of being a solid everyday player in the future, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If his career path was personified in a woman, it would probably not be as hot as Jessica Alba, and look more like Julia Stiles. It won't be smoking or jaw-dropping, but you won't be able to really complain with the the overall profile in the end.
2009 statistics with San Jose: 101 (G), 441 (PA), 380 (AB), 81 (R), 114 (H), 17 (2B), 9 (3B), 9 (HR), 50 (RBI), 35 (SB), 12 (CS), 49 (BB), 97 (SO), .300 (AVG), .386 (OBP), .463 (SLG), .849 (OPS).
Ford was one of the centerpieces when the Giants traded Ray Durham to Milwaukee in 2008. So far, there is a lot to like about Ford. He's fast and can steal a base (he stole 69 in Single-A in 2006 and 67 in two levels of Single-A in 2007 and 62 in two levels of Single-A in 2008). Granted, his stolen base numbers went down to 35 in 2009, but still, he shows a great knack on the basepaths, something that is greatly needed on a Giants roster that just lost their leading stolen base man (Randy Winn).
However, there is one major question mark with Ford: he has spent the last three years in Single-A. That is never a good sign, especially when the guy is 24-years-old and was drafted out of high school.
Still, Ford offers a lot of potential despite a slow start breaking into professional ball. His batting approach has greatly improved since his first year in rookie ball in 2005. While not traditionally a power-hitting player, his OPS was the second-highest of his career in San Jose in 2009 (he posted a .902 OPS in West Virginia in 2007). Additionally, Ford has maintained an ability to get on base well. Since 2005, he has only had one season where his OPS was below .350 (in 2008, where in two levels of play it was .329).
If anything, if Rajai Davis and Fred Lewis were able to make a baby ("Junior"-style), the player would look a lot like Ford. He has the base-stealing ability of Davis, but has the run-scoring potential of Lewis as evidenced by Ford's OBP numbers. Granted, Ford still has to prove this at higher levels in the Minors. Single-A in all reality is just Single-A.
Nonetheless, if Ford capitalizes on the success he had in San Jose in Double-A or even Triple-A, then it wouldn't be surprising to see Ford get a call-up in August or September.
2009 statistics with Connecticut: 6-0 (W-L), 2.36 (ERA), 14 (G), 14 (GS), 72.1 (IP), 298 (BF), 61 (H), 22 (R), 19 (ER), 4 (HR), 25 (BB), 44 (SO).
Sosa is an interesting case because his health is such an issue. He's coming off an arm injury in 2008, and had his season shortened in 2009 because of arm fatigue (e.g. his arm wasn't healthy after surgery in 2008).
So, Sosa's stats are hard to gauge because it's obvious it's not the Sosa that pitched in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium in 2008. His 5.47 strikeout rate and 1.76 BB/K ratio in Double-A last season aren't exactly numbers of a player dubbed one of the most underrated prospects in baseball by Baseball Intellect in 2008.
Then again, maybe the Sosa we saw last year should be one Giants fans should be expecting in the future. After all, arm injuries are incredibly unpredictable things, and we have seen them derail promising pitchers' career (Jesse Foppert comes to mind).
Yet, let's just say Sosa is close to be his 2008 self pre-injury. Let's just say he's recovered fully after shutting it down early in 2009. What can Giants fans expect from Sosa in 2010?
In my mind, with those factors, a lot.
Sosa not only has a good arm, but he looks to have good makeup as well. Unlike some fireballers who come into the league only able to last a few innings, Sosa is a legitimate starting pitcher with gas. He posted incredible WHIP numbers at his first two levels of play (0.99 in rookie ball and 0.89 in Single-A) and even last year, despite battling arm fatigue, his WHIP was very respectable at 1.19.
And, Sosa has also improved gradually with his command and control. Until his arm injury, Sosa was able to strike guys out with great proficiency (he had 11.41, 8.85, 11.03 and 9.27 strikeout rates in various levels from rookie to advanced Single-A from 2006 to 2007), but he still had problems walking guys.
In his first two years of professional ball, he had mediocre walk rate numbers at 3.34 and 3.63 in 2006 rookie level, 2007 Single-A respectively. Then his walk rate skyrocketed in San Jose in 2007 to 5.09, which produced a BB/K ratio of 2.17.
Since 2008, he started to clean up his command issues a little bit. His walk rate was only 2.88, and he had a 3.22 K/BB ratio in 2008. And, though his BB/K ratio was the lowest of his professional career in 2009, his walk rates weren't the problem. In 2009, he posted a 3.11 walk rate, the second-lowest of his career.
With the Giants rotation in solid shape for 2009, Sosa most likely will not be needed unless the most drastic of circumstances happen (think The Simpsons when all of Montgomery Burns' free agents for his company softball team had something happen to them prior to the championship game). However, Sosa will be very interesting to watch in the minors this season.
If he shows that his arm problems are a thing of the past this Spring, Sosa will be a very enticing pitching option for the Giants in late-2010 or 2011.