Monday, June 6, 2011

Giants Select SS Joe Panik at No. 29 and RHP Kyle Crick at No. 49

Sorry this is late, but I had some commitments tonight and I couldn't get to the post until now. Good thing I did though, as it gave me some time to reflect on the picks.

Joe Panik, SS, St. John's University (NY)

For some reasons, St. John has been really active in my life these past five months. A girl I dated had parents who went to St. John's, St. John's quickly became my favorite team in College Basketball because of their hard-nosed play and Steve Lavin, Gonzaga played St. John's in the NCAA Tourney and the Zags played their best basketball game of the year, and now the Giants used their 29th pick on the Red Storm infielder. Wow...if I didn't turn down St. John's out of high school (it was one of four colleges I was considering), I would be really stoked to be a Johnnie alum right now.

Anyways, back on the subject, well...from a statistical standpoint, Panik looks very good. He showed very good strike zone recognition in college, as he posted BB/K ratios of 1.81, 2.24 and 1.83 in his three years with the Johnnies. Furthermore, he put up averages of .332, .374 and .398 in his three collegiate seasons. The most surprising aspect of Panik's game was his pop for a middle infielder, as he posted slugging percentages of .513, .621 and .642 and hit a total of 25 home runs in 640 at-bats.

However, the big question about Panik is how he can do against better competition and how his power and hitting will translate when he starts hitting with wood bats. Panik played a year in the Cape Cod in 2010, and while he did well at the plate (he hit .276 with a .384 OBP in 145 at-bats), his power didn't translate as he posted a slugging percentage of .372 and only had 10 extra bases hits (eight doubles and two home runs).

In terms of his defense, he had garnered good reports from scouts, though he doesn't seem to be rated as highly as Brandon Crawford or Ehire Adrianza when they broke into professional ball. Here's is what Matt Grabusky said about Panik in his scouting report on MLB Draft

"In the field, Panik has good range and soft hands.  His arm is average, which leads some to see his future at second base. Whether he remains at short or slides over to second, Panik has the ability to be a high on base guy and solid fielder at the next level."

A lot of experts still felt though the Giants reached with Panik at 29, and that they could have gotten him at their slot in the supplemental round, or even perhaps as late as the second round. Keith Law on his twitter called Panik a "reach" and that he was a "utility" type. I would wait and see how he does when he makes the transition to the Northwest League this year before I would give him such a "label", but I do feel like the Giants could have gotten a higher ceiling high school arm at No. 29 (Henry Owens for example) and then got Panik at No. 49 in the supplemental round.

Of course, this has been a trend for the Giants recently in drafts (e.g. "reaching for players in the first round"), but it's a strategy that's paid off. Last year, Gary Brown was a projected supplemental/second round pick, and he went in the Giants' first round slot. Safe to say, he's made the pick pay off as evidenced by his performance in San Jose this year. Hopefully the same can be true for Panik.

Kyle Crick, RHP, Sherman HS (TX)

Crick is a projectable power arm that fits the characteristics of former Giants HS draft picks: he's big (225 pounds), he's tall (six-foot, three-inches), and he throws gas, though he has to do some work on his secondary stuff. Thankfully, considering Crick's age, the Giants have the time to be patient with him, and he could be a nice project that could develop well in the Giants system. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler are prime examples of physically gifted HS pitchers that succeeded in the Giants system, and there's no reason to think that Crick can join that club if he stays healthy.

Crick according to John Klima of Baseball Beginnings earned an OFP grade of 54 in his scouting report. The best aspect of Crick's repertoire, according Klima, is his fastball, which was graded a 50 out of 65. His slider was his next best pitch, which was graded a 40 out of 55 and his change and split were graded a decent 30 out of 50. Crick's control still needs some work (Klima graded his control a 30 out of 50), but it's obvious that he has a good tool set and some nice potential as a pitcher.

Furthermore, Klima was encouraged by his mechanics and delivery, noting that his delivery was good and that his "arm smooth through back, body sometimes out in front of arm, arm catches up, gets extension and balanced landings." Here's what Klima said about his strengths as a pitcher:

"FB 89-93, comfortable 90-92, hard downhill with tail, heavy ball. Can reach back for a little more and elevate when needed. SL 81-83 with hard bite, go-to weapon. Hard and late. Split 81 with hard drop. Straight CHG 80-81, assume those weren’t flat sliders, secondary SL 72-73 with drop."

For a supplemental pick, Crick has the tools and frame to be a very good pitcher. Of course, he's young, and he will take some time to develop, since he's a high school kid and not a high profile pitcher like some recent HS pitcher picks like Bumgarner and Wheeler (who were both Top-10 first round picks). That being said, there is a lot to like, and if he can develop his control and secondary stuff in the instructional league and low minors in his first couple of years, then Crick could be a high upside pick that could add to the shallow pitching depth in the Giants system.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

OTF MLB Draft "Eve" Preview

Tomorrow is it. The Rule 4 draft. After numerous player profiles on this blog, we'll finally see the draft take place and see who the Giants will take at the No. 29 pick. Here is some brief notes before tomorrow's big day.

High school arms the Giants could take in the first round: Robert Stephenson, RHP; Henry Owens, LHP; Joe Ross, RHP; Jorge Lopez, RHP; Hawtin Buchanan, RHP; Dillon Howard, RHP; Jose Fernandez, RHP.

Stephenson may be the best pitcher of the bunch, but all the consensus with the mock drafts seem to have him going in the 15-20 range. He would be a steal at No. 29. Owens is a bit of a reach as well, but it seems more plausible for the Giants to land him, as he seems to be going more in the 24-30 range in a lot of mock drafts. The same seems to be true with Howard and Fernandez, who are going in the 25-33 range. Ross is probably the most likely high school pitcher to be selected by the Giants simply because his talent fits well at the slot, and his Bay Area ties make him an enticing option. However, there are some reports circulating that his stock is rising and he could be taken sooner. As for Lopez and Buchanan, they're intriguing pitching talents, but the Giants would probably be overdrafting if they took them in the first round at No. 29. I expect them to be supplemental or second-round material.

College arms the Giants could take in the first round: Tyler Anderson, LHP; Josh Osich, LHP; Alex Meyer, RHP; Matt Purke, LHP; Andrew Chafin, LHP.

I previewed Meyer in my first draft profile, but his stock has boosted considerably since my writeup. He seems to be a borderline Top-10 pick now and most likely could go in the 10-15 range. He underwhelmed in college, but his tools and size are promising. Anderson and Osich are polished pitchers from Oregon and Oregon State, respectively, but they don't have as much ceiling or upside as some of the other arms in this draft, especially the high school ones. Purke is a stay-away who's stock has tumbled because of injuries and egregious signing bonus demands. Chafin is another nice pitcher with good tools and solid stuff, but he has gone through some minor injury issues that has hurt his stock. He's probably not worth it either considering the promising high school arms available in this draft.

Positional talent that the Giants could take in the first round: C.J. Cron, 1B; Brian Goodwin, OF; Jason Esposito, SS/3B; Andrew Susac, C; Kolten Wong, 2B; Brandon Nimmo, OF; Cory Spangenberg 3B.

Cron has as nice power tool set and he was impressive this year at the plate for Utah. However, he is expected to go higher and there is some good depth at the first base position in the Giants system. Goodwin seems to be the most enticing pick out of positional players, simply because he has an impressive tool set with marginal power. However, the Giants took Gary Brown last year, and the minor league outfield depth is loaded as it is. The same could be true for Nimmo, who is younger than Goodwin, but has impressed scouts lately. Esposito looks like a nice player, but he looks to be more supplemental round material. Wouldn't be a bad pickup for the Giants if they could get him in the supplemental or second round. Susac is getting a lot of wind lately with the Buster Posey injury, and he could be a very real possibility should he still be available at No. 29. Wong and Spangenberg are both good talents, though Wong is the more proven commodity. However, they look like they could go earlier, as mock drafts have them in the 20-28 range. Wong would be worth a pick on if available. Spangenberg? I'm not so sure, but he does have an interesting tool set.

What Giants fans should expect this draft

Brian Sabean mentioned this on KNBR, but the pitching depth in this draft is deep, and the Giants do need to stock the system with guys moving up (e.g. Madison Bumgarner), being traded away (e.g. Tim Alderson and Scott Barnes) or fizzling out (e.g. Henry Sosa, Waldis Joaquin) in the last few seasons. I would say there is a 70 percent chance the Giants take a pitcher in the first round of this draft, simply because the talent is deep and they could get a lot of return or a steal they wouldn't get any other year at the 29th pick. I would say it's 50-50 over the remaining 30 percent, with either Goodwin or Susac going in the 29th slot if the Giants don't take a pitcher. I personally like Susac more, but Goodwin has a bunch of tools and could move up quickly ala Brown-style.

Either way, Sabean has had a tendency to surprise Giants fans in the past when it comes to draft picks. Even Bumgarner and Brown were considered "over-drafted" players at the time, and yet they have seemed to pan out just fine. Hence, I wouldn't be shocked if somebody totally off the radar was picked at No. 29. That being said, Sabean and his team have showed great skill in terms of developing talent out of the draft in the past five years, so I am confident that Sabean can continue this trend in the 2011 draft.

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 14, Heath Hembree, RHP

It's been a while since I added to the list. Mostly I have been busy with some work stuff, so that is why the posts have been so inconsistent as of late. However, I should have most of June to post, so I'll have free time to make two posts a day starting in a week.

Anyways, number 14 in the list is Heath Hembree, a power reliever who may have the best stuff out of any pitcher in the Giants minor league system. That being said, despite his power repertoire, Hembree is still a raw commodity of sorts, and there is some concern how he will fare as he moves up the Giants system because his pitch repertoire is so limited as of now.

Hembree originally started his career at South Carolina, but transferred to junior college after 2008 and then made the transition to the College of Charleston in 2010. In his only year in Charleston, he displayed amazing strikeout stuff, as he punched out 42 batters in 29 innings of work. However, despite his strong ability to strike guys out, he also had some control and command problems, as he posted an ERA of 6.52, a WHIP of 1.76, a BB/9 of 5.6 and a K/BB ratio of 2.3. Still though, despite the limited innings in college, scouts were impressed by his stuff and ability, as Baseball America said this in their profile of Hembree in their Prospect Handbook:

"Hembree was a draft curiosity as a seldom-used closer at the College of Charleston, with rumors in the scouting community that he could hit 100 mph. But he also walked 18 in 29 innings and didn't have much track record, and he missed his senior year of high school with a torn ACL he sustained in a football game."

Despite the questions, his size (6-foot, 4-inches and 205 pounds) and velocity prompted the Giants to take a waiver on him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. In his debut season in Arizona, Hembree struck out 22 batters in 11 innings, and posted an ERA and WHIP of 0.82. What was even more surprising was Hembree's newfound control as he walked zero batters in his 11 innings of work (that's right ZERO).

Of course, 11 innings is such a short sample, but the strong performance in rookie ball suddenly garnered him some attention from prospect analysts everywhere. Baseball America ranked him as the 19th best prospect in the Giants system in their Prospect Handbook, the Minor League Baseball Analyst rated him as the 14th best Giants prospect, and John Sickels ranked him 17 in his Giants Top-20 list. Even ESPN prospect analyst and former Blue Jays front office member Keith Law said Hembree was the Giants' "sleeper" prospect in 2011. This is what Law said in his writeup about Hembree:

"Heath Hembree was a fifth round pick who barely pitched this Spring for College of Charleston, then dominated the Arizona League in his brief time there, striking out 22 of 41 batters without a walk. He hit 98 repeatedly in instructional league in September."

While there was some pressure on Hembree to perform this year with the influx of higher expectations, he has stepped it up and performed admirably this season in the Cal League. He is posting a 0.87 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 20.2 innings of work. Furthermore, the strikeout stuff and solid control and command he displayed in Arizona is still evident in San Jose, as he has struck out 38 batters, walked only 9 and posted a K/BB ratio of 4.22. Hembree has been the Giants' go-to guy in the ninth, as he has accumulated 18 saves this year.

There is a lot to like about Hembree. He is a big, strong pitcher with a power fastball and a power slider (it was graded a four-plus by Rob Gordon in the Minor League Baseball Analyst 2011 annual). Furthermore, he knows how to make batters miss, he doesn't give up many hits (he has only a H/9 of 7.0 this year) and his control and command have been sterling thus far. The only concern I have is that I am concerned about his limited pitch repertoire. He's a two-pitch pitcher for the most part, though there have been reports that he has added a changeup to his arsenal. (Apparently in instructional league the Giants asked him to pitch his changeup 90 percent of the time, and according to Baseball America, it wasn't a "wasted effort.") However, one has to wonder how a two-pitch pitcher will do as he advances in the Giants system. Double-A will be a very telling sign of how he'll project as a pitcher, though considering how limited his experience is on the mound in the past few years, I doubt we'll see Hembree earn a promotion to Richmond this season. He'll probably transition to the Eastern League sometime next year, simply because I'm sure the Giants brass wants to see how he can pitch over a full season at one level.

Hembree is still relatively young, as he is only 22 years old and just a year removed from college. That bodes well in his favor, and allows the Giants to stay patient with Hembree and develop him as a pitcher. They don't need to rush him, and that will only result in good things for Hembree as he continues to gain more professional pitching experience.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Farm Watch: Runzler Starting, Verdugo Sizzling, Peguero Debuts, Willoughby Steady, and DSL Begins

So for this edition of the Farm Watch, I add a new wrinkle as I will recap the week's worth of Dominican Summer League games as well. I don't know what I'm going to do with the headlines when the Arizona Rookie League and Short-Season begin, but I guess I'll deal with that bridge when I come to it.

Fresno Grizzlies, 23-33 going into June 4th
  • The big story in Fresno was the promotion of Santiago Casilla and the demotion of Dan Runzler. However, while the demotion wasn't a story in itself, the subplot of Runzler being a starting pitcher with the Grizzlies was what grabbed everyone's attention. Runzler moved up quickly in the Giants system as a reliever, for in 2009, he went from Augusta all the way to the Big Leagues after dominating in the late innings in every stop in the farm system. However, the Giants are concerned about his pitch repertoire and how he has kind of plateaued a bit since his impressive callup in 2009. Runzler has only made two starts prior to this year (both rehab appearances where he only went a couple of innings) as the Giants have taken it easy with him, evidenced by the Grizzlies held him to a 40-pitch limit. He only faced eight batters on June 3rd. He walked three, but struck out two and didn't allow a hit in the limited work. The Giants are hoping Runzler can have similar success like Ryan Verdugo, who transitioned to a starter this year after being primarily used as a reliever in his minor league career.
  • Marc Kroon was put in a dilemma recently, as he had an opportunity to opt out of his contract on June 1st if he didn't make the Giants roster by this time. Kroon apparently had an offer from a Japanese team (he pitched for the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan), and considering he isn't on the 40-man roster, Kroon's opportunity to break into the Giants bullpen seems bleak. However, he decided to stay with the Grizzlies, with the hope that he could get a callup later in the year. The stay has paid off, as he has a 2.08 ERA in his last 10 appearances, with nine strikeouts in 8.2 IP.
  • With Brandon Belt gone, Thomas Neal has picked up the slack offensively for the Grizzlies. He has continued his hot hitting, as he his currently posting an OPS of 1.013 in 83 plate appearances. Neal is an athletic, toolsy outfielder who was rated the seventh best prospect in the Giants system going into 2011 according to Baseball America. Right now, he seems to be destined to stay in Fresno until the rosters expand in September, but Neal is on the right track and is an enticing player who could bring some value to the Giants roster in the near future.

Richmond Flying Squirrels, 25-29 going into June 4th
  •  The Flying Squirrels offense is continuing to struggle to score runs. How bad are they? Justin Christian, a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder is leading the team in OPS at .680. Yeah. That's some major offensive struggles. On a positive note, Christian is a nice story, as he provides a "Crash Davis-esque" presence to this Richmond roster. He went undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State and ended up playing in the Frontier League (an independent baseball league) for two years before he broke into the Minor Leagues. Christian has bounced around quite a bit in his professional career, as he has played in every level in the Yankees minor league system since 2004, and he had a brief stint with the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' Triple-A club in 2009. Christian's at-best scenario at this point would be a callup to Fresno, but his numbers aren't exactly suggesting a promotion anytime soon.
  • Remember when I said Verdugo was coming off one of his best performances of the year when he struck out 10 in 6.1 IP on May 23rd? Well, Verdugo topped that with an eight-inning, 10 strikeout performance on June 2nd. Unlike the May 23rd start though, Verdugo showed exceptional control and command as he only allowed one walk and one hit in the win. Eric Surkamp is getting all the attention in Richmond this season, but Verdugo may have the higher ceiling. He has better stuff than Surkamp, and if he can continue to show the command he showed on June 2nd, then he can certainly close that gap between himself and Surkamp soon.
  • The one guy I have paid attention to closely over the past couple of years is Sharlon Schoop. Schoop made some headlines in 2009 when he played considerable innings for the Netherlands team in the World Baseball Classic (remember, the Netherlands upset the favored Dominican Republic twice). Schoop has always had an interesting tool set as a prospect and he's capable of playing multiple positions in the field, but he just hasn't put it together at the plate. Last year, he showed flashes of progress in the Eastern League, as he hit .273 with a .673 OPS in a 199 plate appearances with the Flying Squirrels. However, he has taken a tremendous step back this year, as he is hitting only .159 with a .427 OPS in 69 plate appearances. Schoop has some talent, but it often goes unrealized, and it is unlikely that he'll ever be a serious prospect in the Giants system.

San Jose Giants,  38-17 going into June 4th
  • In addition to Pablo Sandoval making his San Jose return in a rehab stint, Francisco Peguero made his anticipated 2011 debut in a rehab stint of his own. Peguero is one of the Giants' top outfielder prospects, as he was rated the fourth best prospect in the Giants system according to Baseball America. In his first two games in 2011, Peguero has five hits in 10 at-bats. He also has three strikeouts, but if Peguero can continue to hit in this rehab stint, it will only be a matter of time before he makes the transition to the Eastern League. Last year, Peguero hit .329 with a .846 OPS in 538 plate appearances with San Jose. He also tallied 10 home runs, 16 triples, 19 doubles and 40 stolen bases. In terms of skill, he is a five-tool caliber player who is still relatively young (he's only 23). That being said, his plate approach will have to improve, as he only posted a BB/K ratio of 0.20 a year ago. Peguero doesn't strikeout very much (17.3 percent strikeout rate), but the walk rate is going to have to improve somewhat (3.3 percent last year) if he wants to continue to transition his Cal League success to the Eastern League and eventually Major League level.
  • Ryan Cavan is starting to show that he should be a prospect of note. He is not an elite prospect by any means (he was a 16th round pick in the 2009 draft), but he is quietly having a very good year as the second baseman for the SJ Giants. He is hitting .277 with an OPS of .809 and he has has six home runs, 37 RBI and seven stolen bases on eight attempts. Cavan may be benefiting from the hitter-friendly Cal League, but he did hit .283 with an .803 OPS and added 17 home runs and 79 RBI in 608 plate appearances for the Green Jackets. Thus, Cavan is a nice middle-infielder prospect who could give Charlie Culberson and Nick Noonan a run for their money. Of course, one has to see how he does in the Eastern League first. If he shows progress in Richmond either this year or next season, Cavan could be on the fast track real quick.
  • Zach Wheeler is the Giants' most dynamic pitcher, but Craig Westcott has been the most solid, as he is 7-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 60 IP. Westcott is old for the Cal League (he's 25 years old), and he doesn't have intimidating strikeout stuff (he only has a strikeout rate of 4.5). That being said, he displays good control (1.6 walk rate) and solid command (2.73 K/BB ratio), and has definitely been a boost to this Giants team that is positioned for another Cal League title.

 Augusta Green Jackets, 23-32 going into June 4th
  • Carlos Willoughby is older than most high-profile Latin American prospects (he's 22 years old and he's only been playing in the states since last year), and he doesn't possess a lot of pop (he only has a slugging percentage of .353). However, he is a solid contact hitter who has displayed a good plate approach and plenty of speed and efficiency on the basepaths. This year he is hitting .284 with a .379 OBP and .733 OPS, and he has 23 stolen bases on 28 attempts. Willoughby's tool set reminds me of Eugenio Velez, but unlike Velez, his strike zone recognition is very good. His ability to draw a walk and get on base should make up for his lack of power, and hopefully, Willoughby will continue to progress as he moves up the Giants system.
  • Adam Duvall is a big bopper. He doesn't hit for high average (his minor league average in two years is .245), and he doesn't draw walks (only 36 walks in 456 career plate appearances). However, Duvall has tremendous raw power, as he has hit 12 home runs and posted a .476 slugging percentage in 239 plate appearances this year in the Sally. Defensively, Duvall has struggled a bit at the hot corner, as he has a fielding percentage of .899 and a RF/G of 2.84. That being said, Duvall's power tool set is enticing, and could make him a bit of a sleeper prospect.
  • After giving up seven runs and five hits in a May 2nd appearance, Edward Concepcion has finally regained himself over the past month. His ERA is down to 4.23, and his strikeout rate is up to 10.1 percent. The walks are still an issue (6.8 BB/9), and he still gives up a lot of hits (9.8 H/9), but Concepcion at least has showed that he is capable of bouncing back after a rough stretch. I'm not sure if he'll be a decent prospect, especially considering he's 23 and still in Single-A. However, I like his stuff and his ability to strike batters out.

DSL Giants, 5-1 going into June 4th
  • Top Latin American signee Adalberto Mejia is off to a very good start in the DSL. A tall 18-year-old lefty, Mejia has only allowed six hits and one run in 11 IP. He has showed dominant stuff (10 strikeouts) as well as excellent control (only one walk) in his first two professional starts. It's early in the year of course, but considering he was the Opening Day starter for the DSL Giants, it's obvious that the Giants organization has a lot of confidence and hope in the pitching prospect. So far, he has not disappointed.
  • Alberto Robles is off to a sizzling start at the plate for the DSL Giants. He is hitting .348 with an .879 OPS in 27 plate appearances. He also has showed good speed (three stolen bases), though he will have to improve his jumps (he has gotten caught three times). With four walks and only three strikeouts, Robles has displayed a good plate approach early this year, and hopefully, the 20-year-old can parlay this hot start into a solid 2011 campaign.
  • The DSL Giants are 5-1 this year and have looked impressive to begin the year, especially on the pitching end. They are only allowing 1.67 R/G and they have a team ERA of 1.07, both best in the DSL. They will have to improve the hitting, as their 4.50 R/G is in the middle of the pack, but it is a small sample, and there is still plenty of games to be played in South Boca Chica for the Gigantes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Tyler Anderson, LHP, and Matt Purke, LHP

I will get back to the prospect list countdown at some point, but all the latest developments with the draft have me hooked. I think this week will definitely be draft-centered, with maybe a farm update here and there.

Anyways, I'm going to take a look at two left-handed college pitchers who are rumored to go in the mid-to-late first round: Tyler Anderson out of Oregon and Matt Purke out of Texas Christian.

Tyler Anderson, LHP, University of Oregon

At six-foot, four-inches and 215 pounds, lefty Tyler Anderson is an interesting prospect who doesn't have intimidating stuff, but may be polished enough for the Giants to take in the 29th slot in the first round. Anderson has a very tall, lanky frame, and he has shown good command and ability to strike batters out in his collegiate career.

Anderson is coming off a very solid sophomore year in 2010 and an even better junior season in 2011. Last season, in addition to being voted team MVP and to the Pac-10 first team, he went 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA, and struck out 105 batters in 102.2 IP while only allowing 33 walks (good for a K/BB ratio of 3.18). This season, his ERA improved to 2.17, his W-L record jumped to 8-3, and he struck out 114 batters in 107.2 IP while only walking 35 (his K/BB raito was 3.26). Anderson isn't just a pitcher with a nice frame and good tools, but he has proven himself at the collegiate level, a nice sign that he is very capable of being a solid starting pitcher at the professional level.

John Klima of Baseball Beginnings was high on Anderson, projecting that he could develop into a No. 1 or No. 2 starter at the Major League level. Here is what he said about Anderson's abilities in his scouting report:

"Complete confidence in plus change-up with sink, deception and feel, 81-83, thrown as straight change and also with sink any time in count. FB 88-92, comfortable 91, downhill life, natural sink, not afraid to challenge RHH, CHG makes FB play up. OK slider for third look, enough tilt, uses to change eye level for FB, 76-77. Aggressive up-tempo strike thrower with a little quirk in the back leading to a smooth, easy arm action across top, throws across the body and creates deception. Above-average FB and CHG control."

Anderson doesn't have a lot more room to grow, which is pretty typical for a pitcher coming out of college. However, the grades on him so far are pretty positive. MLB Draft Insider rated his fastball, slider and command/control a 55 with 55 potential (in the case of his command/control, they graded it a 55-plus). His changeup earned a 45 grade with 50 potential, and his mechanics earned a 55 grade, both currently and in terms of potential. As you can see, Anderson has all the right tools as of now, and thus, has the potential to be moved quickly in the Giants system if drafted in the 29th slot.

The only real question with Anderson may be his mechanics. When you watch him on tape, his mechanics and delivery look funky, as he moves extremely quickly, almost as if he's rushing to pitch. One has to wonder how much he'll be able to keep his uncanny pitching motion when he makes the transition to professional ball. That being said, Tim Lincecum was able to keep his unusual mechanics and motion when he transitioned to the minors, and it was obvious that it didn't hurt his development. So, considering his success with his current mechanics and pitching motion in college, Anderson's mechanics may be overblown, and it is unlikely the Giants will mess with them unless he struggles immensely in the transition to professional ball.

While he is not a finesse guy by any means, Anderson's stuff doesn't pop out at you. In many ways, he is very similar to Eric Surkamp in the sense that his velocity doesn't wow you, but he still manages to strike guys out at a great rate. The one advantage Anderson does have over Surkamp is that Anderson's does have a better fastball, so that is something Anderson has going for him. That being said, his lack of "explosive" stuff, may deter the Giants from taking him, especially considering how deep this draft is in terms of pitching (Dr. B makes a note of this in his latest post which looks at left-handed pitchers in this draft).

There is a lot of pluses to Anderson as a potential draft pick. He's got a great frame, he knows how to pitch, he has displayed solid strikeout ability and he has played for a baseball coach who has a lot of experience in terms of producing good Major League players (George Horton used to coach at Cal State Fullerton). It is possible that Anderson will be off the list earlier, but if he's available, he could be a very enticing pick for the Giants at No. 29.

Matt Purke, LHP, Texas Christian University

Purke is probably the riskiest first round pick in this Rule 4 Draft. Purke was originally a first round pick by the Rangers in 2009, but he decided to go to TCU instead. After two years, his stock has taken a tumble, not because of his performances with the Horned Frogs, but because of health issues and the large signing bonus he is demanding if drafted.

In terms of what Purke has done in college, it's nothing short of amazing. His freshman year, he went 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA and had 142 strikeouts in 116.1 IP while only allowing 34 walks and 91 hits. The 14th overall pick by the Rangers the previous season, Purke lived up to his lofty hype his first season with the Horned Frogs, as he led them to the College World Series and was projected as a Top-10 pick when he was eligible for the 2011 draft.

However, this year proved to be difficult for Purke. He only made 10 starts and pitched 47.2 innings as he was diagnosed with shoulder bursitis in late April. Jonathan Mayo said this about Purke in a scouting update that examined Purke's "issues" in 2011.

"There’s been a lot of speculation about Purke and his prized left arm for much of the 2011 season. Some scouts felt something wasn’t quite right all season, and there were some people who questioned the validity of reports about a blister shutting Purke down in the early part of the season, thinking perhaps that it was a cover for the shoulder. Someone familiar with the situation assured Purke did indeed have a nasty blister and that his shoulder didn’t bother him until after he returned. It’s possible that the 10 days he had to take off from throwing to let the blister heal contributed to the shoulder issue he’s now dealing with."

After being diagnosed with bursitis, Purke was shut down until May 25th, when he made his return in the MWC Tourney against New Mexico. With his pitch counted limited, he threw four innings, and allowed four hits, one run, two walks while striking out four. While it wasn't a bad performance by any means, it definitely displayed that the arm issues still linger, and may hurt how he'll project as a pitcher in the minors. He is a tall, lanky pitcher who could fill out as a professional (he's six-foot, four inches and 180 pounds), he has some interesting tools, and his stuff prior to his injury (especially in high school) was of "Top-10 pick" caliber. That being said, it's obvious that he isn't the same pitcher he once was when he was the 14th overall pick in 2009. Here's what Klima said in his scouting report of Purke this year:

"Former first-rounder no longer overpowering. Violent, max-effort and slingy pusher, mid-to-low ¾, body in front of arm, leading and dropping elbow, front side flying open. Leads with elbow and drags arm to compensate, jeopardizing entire future. Arm does not work. Lacks consistent downhill plane and confident repetition of breaking stuff. Transformation from schoolboy flame thrower to ordinary average well underway. No longer a premium pick."

Another big issue with Purke is his signability. He burned some bridges with the Rangers after he turned down their six million dollar offer in 2009 (he wanted $7.5 million). Now, Purke is apparently asking for a four million dollar bonus if drafted. Of course, that was before his injury issues, but it goes without saying that the price tag for Purke will come high nonetheless. The Giants under Brian Sabean have been a bit stingy when it comes to signing bonuses with their picks. Until Buster Posey, Sabean really didn't sign guys over the slot suggestion, which usually resorted in them drafting guys in the first round who weren't first round talents (e.g. Wendell Fairley). That certainly will be the case with Purke if he falls to No. 29, and one has to wonder if Sabean will cave in to Purke's demands if the Giants draft him (logic says "no").

If Purke could recover from his injury problems, then he could be a very interesting prospect. He had such promise in high school and in his first year at TCU, that if taken slowly, perhaps Purke could regain the form that made him such a premium pick-candidate a year ago. But that's a huge risk, and with so many pitchers in this draft, the Giants can't afford to whiff on a "questionable" pick like Purke when there are much better and cheaper options available.

Monday, May 30, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Joe Ross, RHP, and Josh Osich, LHP

We're winding down toward the MLB Rule 4 Draft, and as expected, Mock Drafts continue to pop up. Let's take a look at two draft prospects who are being rumored to go to the 29th slot in the 2011 Draft.

Joe Ross, RHP, Bishop O'Dowd HS

John Sickels in his latest mock draft has Ross going to the Giants slot. Ross is the younger brother of former top A's prospect and pitcher Tyson Ross, and much like his older brother, the younger Ross has an enticing arm and physical build for a pitcher.

At six-foot, two-inches and 190 pounds, Ross isn't as big as his older brother (who's six-foot, five-inches and 215 pounds), but he has a lot more room for growth and is a lot earlier in his development. Tyson didn't get drafted until after his collegiate tenure at Cal-Berkley. As for Joe, he is expected to go anywhere from the late first to supplemental round as a graduating high school senior. So, while Tyson was a little bit more developed as a pitcher when he was drafted in 2008, Joe may have more upside and ceiling than his older brother.

The one thing they do share in common is that they both have live arms and good stuff. Joe, according to MLB Draft Guide, throws his fastball in the 91-94 MPH range, and he has a "slider with plus potential." Ross does have a changeup, but according to reports, it is still a work in progress.

Mechanically, Ross throws from a three-quarter arm slot and his long limbs and athletic build adds to the deception of his delivery. Furthermore, according to MLB Draft Guide, he has showed good control in high school and is consistent with his delivery, a nice sign that he may be able to make the transition to professional quickly if he signs out of high school.

Currently, Ross is committed to go to UCLA, and head coach John Savage raves about Ross' potential. Savage said this about the Bay-Area pitcher:

”Joe is the best right-handed pitching prospect in California. He has a very athletic delivery and a fastball that explodes at the plate. We look forward to watching Joe compete for a weekend job right away at UCLA. His potential as a pitcher is unlimited.”

Of course, you never know about a coach's praise. He is a recruit of Savage, and I'm sure he wants him to sign, so the praise is probably to be expected. Nonetheless, Ross has all the tools to be a good Major League pitcher, and it's obvious that barring injury, he can develop when he breaks into the minor leagues. Of course, considering his age and where he is at in his development, Ross is going to need some time to develop, as is usually the case with pitchers drafted out of high school.

In terms of where he is now, Ross isn't exactly impressive in comparison to other pitching prospects out of high school currently eligible for this year's draft. MLB Draft Insider graded his fastball a 45, his breaking stuff and changeup a 40, and his control and command a 40. However, while it currently isn't impressive, they are positive that he can grow and develop, as his fastball potential is a 55, his breaking stuff a 50 and his control/command a 55. MLB Draft Insider was especially optimistic about his mechanics, as that seems to be the strongest part of his game, as they rated his mechanics currently a 50 with 60 potential.

Ross is a good story because he's a Bay Area kid and a familiar name amongst Bay Area baseball circles. Furthermore, if the Giants draft him, they must really like him, because they don't have to go far to scout him (Bishop O'Dowd is in located in Oakland). With a baseball family pedigree, a live arm, and a need to upgrade the pitching depth in the minors, the Giants would seem to be a prime fit for Ross.

Josh Osich, LHP, Oregon State

Baseball America has Osich going to the Giants in their latest mock draft, and he is a live-armed lefty out of Oregon State who comes with some red flags. Last year, he was shut down for the year in 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. However, Osich this year has come back with a fury, with his most notable performance being a no-hitter against UCLA on May 1st.

The big story of his no-hitter was that it came in a duel against UCLA ace Trevor Bauer. For those who don't know, Bauer is one of the top pitchers in the country, and is projected to go in the Top-15 of this year's draft.

Despite the injury concerns, Osich has the size and stuff to become a legitimate Major League pitcher. At six-foot, three-inches and 225 pounds, Osich is a hoss with an intimidating presence on the mound. According to MLB Draft Guide, he throws a mid-90's fastball with an above average changeup. He is also starting to throw his breaking ball again, which he waned off of to protect himself after Tommy John surgery.

John Klima of Baseball Beginnings was very positive about him in his scouting report, and felt that despite his injuries, he was still a player that would fly off the boards, especially after all the buzz generated from his no-hitter against the Bruins, a pretty quality baseball program. Here is what Klima said in his scouting report:

"I first saw him in Palm Springs in 2009 he threw 97. In this look he sat 92-93 with a bump to 94. The velocity isn’t what it used to be, but it will be enough. He’s throwing from a mid 3/4 slot and sometimes drags his arm, which isn’t my favorite for any pitcher, but teams will look past that to get the left-handed power while they can get it. He’s still downhill enough to make it work, especially in this look, where his fastball was getting late cut into right-handed hitters. His second weapon for right-handers is a 80-82 change, both straight and with occasional sink, and he had good feel on this. There’s not a lot left to dream on here with this boy. He’s close to physical maturity and he won’t throw any harder, so you can expect him to be fast tracked."

In comparison to Ross and other high school pitchers in this draft, Osich doesn't have that much of a ceiling. That is clear in his scouting reports according to MLB Draft Insider, as he only has a 50 potential in terms of his changeup and control/command, and a 55 potential in terms of mechanics and delivery and breaking stuff. The highest rated aspect of his game may be his fastball though, as MLB Draft Insider rated his fastball a 65. This is entirely possible, as he is coming off Tommy John, and before, reports had him clocked in the 97 MPH range.

Osich looks to be a polished left-hander with back of the rotation potential, but perhaps could find some solidity in the bullpen down the road. If the Giants want a guy that can advance through the system quickly, Osich may be their guy, as he has a lot less room to develop in comparison to Ross. I'm not thrilled about the injury history or his mechanics, but history has showed that pitchers have rebounded nicely after Tommy John, and the Giants pitching staff in the minors has done well in terms of working with pitchers with mechanics issues (Zack Wheeler being the biggest example).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dominican Summer League Begins 2011 Season

The Dominican Summer League is on its way, as the DSL Giants defeated the DSL Cubs by the score of 2-0. As someone who has an interest in international baseball, the beginning of the DSL is a very exciting time and adds a whole new flavor to the minor league baseball season as well as this blog.

First off, from now on, that means the DSL is going to be covered in the periodic Farm Watch updates. Furthermore, we also will be looking at prospects that currently are on the DSL roster. The DSL Giants are coming off a successful campaign from a year ago, as they won the South Boca Chica division with a 46-25 record, and they also won DSL championship as well, beating the DSL Twins, three games to zero.

For those who don't know, the DSL consists of players who aren't eligible in the draft, but are usually free agent signings. Most of the players are of Latin American heritage, though you do occasionally see some European baseball prospects playing in the DSL from time to time. While there is no age limit in the DSL, most of the players are anywhere from the age of 16-21, so it is a developmental league, similar to the Arizona Summer League, which is catered to Rookies who are just drafted.

There are 33 teams in the DSL, with two teams belonging to the New York Yankees and Mets each. This is not surprising since those two organizations have a lot of money, and thus, have the luxury of investing a lot of money into their Latin American developmental teams. That being said, you're seeing some teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Athletics who are making a lot of strides in terms of investing more into their Latin American talent and also the facilities of their DSL teams.

As for the Giants, they have some returning talent, as Juan Nova, Marvin Barrios, Franklin Noel, and Ariel Hernandez are the pitchers of note that return from last year's championship pitching staff. In terms of the offense, Leonardo Fuentes, Victor Feliz, Gabriel Cornier, Luis Vazquez and Fernando Pujedas are some of the hitters that contributed to the DSL Giants in 2010.

In terms of new, promising talent, the big guy to watch is Adalberto Mejia, a recent Giants signee who started on Opening Day and threw five scoreless innings and struck out five while only allowing two hits and one walk. Some other new guys to watch are Carlos Cartagena, Randy Ortiz, Noel Diaz, Shurendell Mujica, and Julio Pena. Ortiz had a good showing on Opening Day, as he had two hits, stole a base and scored two runs, while Mujica had two hits including a double and a RBI.

Overall, it'll be interesting see if any guys emerge from the DSL this year. Some recent prospects who have graduated from the DSL and are in the Giants system are Francisco Peguero, Carlos Willoughby, Rafael Rodriguez, Ehire Adrianza, Ydwin Villegas, Jose Casilla, Jorge Bucardo, and Kendry Flores. It'll be interesting to see if the DSL squad this year can produce any prospects of those caliber after the 2011 year has concluded.

Farm Watch: Roster Turnover Hurts Grizzlies, San Jose and Richmond Climbing, Kickham off to "Kicking" Start

It's been a while, but I figured it was time to do a "Farm Watch" update. Here's a look on how things are going with the Giants minor league affiliates.

Fresno Grizzlies, 22-28 heading into May 29th
  • The Grizzlies have had a lot of roster turnover lately. Emmanuel Burriss, Chris Stewart and Brandon Belt all got callups the past week, and Ryan Rohlinger and Henry Sosa were designated for assignment. All the roster change has clearly had an effect on the Grizzlies, as they have lost seven of their last 10 games. The biggest problem for the Grizzlies has been a punch-less offense, which has only averaged 4.76 R/G, fifth worst in the PCL. With catalysts like Burriss and Belt gone, the Grizzlies will depend even more on Brett Pill, Travis Ishikawa, Conor Gillaspie and Thomas Neal for offensive production.
  • Speaking of Neal, he has just come off the disabled list, and he's back on track. He hit a home run on May 27th, and yesterday, he went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI and a stolen base. Neal is currently hitting .358 with a .951 OPS and two home runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases on five attempts. He has drawn only two walks in 57 plate appearances, but he has only struck out seven times, and his contact rate remains solid at 87 percent. Granted, this is a short sample, and one has to wonder how Neal will perform over the long course of the PCL season. Nonetheless, considering Neal has been floating under the radar this year with all the Brandon Belt hype, it would be nice to see Neal have a solid year in Fresno.
  • One of the "bigger than people realize" stories of this latest wave of transactions has to be Henry Sosa being designated for assignment. The Giants protected Sosa from the Rule 5 Draft by adding him to the 40-man roster last year, and unfortunately, it seems like it may not have been worth it. Rule 5 draftee Joe Paterson is performing solidly with the Diamondbacks, as he has 11 strikeouts in 11.2 IP and has only allowed seven hits and one earned run. As for Sosa, he imploded in Fresno this year, as he allowed 39 hits and 30 runs in 23.1 IP, good for a 10.41 ERA. Sosa hasn't seemed to recover from the injuries that have plagued him in 2008 and 2009. His K/9 rate has significantly dropped since it was 9.3 in 2008 with San Jose, and his H/9 has climbed from 7.6 to 8.8 to 15.0 the past three years. I imagine some team is going to claim Sosa, just because he was such a decorated prospect a few years ago, so this is probably the end of Sosa's time in the Giants organization.
  • He probably is going to spend the year in Fresno unless some more injuries happen (completely possible considering how things are going now), but Brad Eldred is making some noise for the Grizzlies offensively. At six-foot, six inches, and 270 pounds, Eldred is a lumbering outfielder that probably wouldn't do well defensively in AT&T Park's big dimensions. However, he has showed some skill with the bat, as he is hitting .301 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and an OPS of .971. Eldred was formerly in the Pirates and Rockies systems before being non-tendered by Colorado last year, and he has brought some pop to a Grizzlies offense that desperately needs it. Eldred isn't exactly a prospect, as he is 30 years old and currently in his seventh season in professional ball, but he looks to be an interesting bat that could help the Grizzlies this season.

Richmond Flying Squirrels, 24-24 heading into May 29th.
  • The Squirrels have finally reached the .500 mark, and seem to be making strides, as they are only 2.5 games back behind the Harrisburg Senators (the Nationals' Double-A affiliate). The key to the Flying Squirrels' success has been the pitching, as they are allowing only 3.52 R/G and are posting a team ERA of 2.85, both best in the Eastern League. The starting rotation has been studly, as Eric Surkamp, Ryan Verdugo and Justin Fitzgerald have carried the staff, posting ERAs of 1.53, 2.93 and 3.14, respectively. Clayton Tanner has struggled a bit, as he is sporting an ERA of 4.84, but his K/BB ratio at 2.29 is better than Fitzgerald (1.22), so it is possible that Tanner is going through a bad stretch. With the offense a bit inconsistent (Richmond's 3.73 R/G is third-worst in the EL), so the pitching is going to have to carry the Flying Squirrels if they want to make a run for the division title.
  • Kind of amazing, but the Flying Squirrels have two pitchers in Double-A who were pitching for the Giants in 2008. Osiris Matos and Alex Hinshaw have struggled immensely with control and command problems since 2009, and now they are down in the Eastern League trying to figure things out. Hinshaw has always had great strikeout stuff (career 11.1 K/9 in the minors), but he has never been able to figure out his walk problems (career 6.3 BB/9 in the minors). As for Matos, he has been solid this year in Richmond (8.33 K/BB ratio, 2.23 ERA in 32.1 IP), but at the same time, he is 26 years old and he pitched the last two years in Triple-A. He may get an opportunity to pitch in the PCL later this year, but at the same time, you wonder if Matos will be anything more than a career minor-league pitcher.
  • After a slow start, Roger Kieschnick is starting to pick things up at the plate. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .316 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBI. He also has two stolen bases and five walks, and is posting a .922 OPS during this recent stretch. The strikeouts are still there, as he has had 10 strikeouts over the 10 game span. Nonetheless, it's nice to see some improvement from Kieschnick, who had a disastrous season ago as he struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness. With an offense that is being carried by Charlie Culberson right now, the Flying Squirrels need Kieschnick's bat to be competitive, and right now, he's on the right track.

San Jose Giants, 34-15 heading into May 29th.
  • After getting off to a hot start with the bat, Chris Dominguez has cooled off in his last 10 games. He is hitting .237 with zero home runs, two RBI and has 12 strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He does have six walks in this time span, but considering he hit nine home runs in his first 38 games, the power dip is a bit concerning. It could be just a bad stretch, and considering the environment of the California League, it could be just a matter of time before Dominguez starts showcasing his home run stroke again in San Jose. That being said, at 24 years old, Dominguez isn't exactly young for the Cal League, and thus, if he wants to keep his high status as a prospect, he needs to continue to display his power tools.
  • Another guy that has cooled off dramatically is Wendell Fairley, as he is posting a .557 OPS in his last ten games. Fairley has always been good in terms of his strike zone recognition, as he is posting an OBP of .358 and a BB/K ratio of 0.61. However, he has never displayed much power in the minors, as his slugging percentage this year (.350) would be a career high. Since this is Fairley's second go-around in the Cal League, a lot of progress was expected for the first round draft pick in 2011. And, even though he is performing better at the plate than a year ago, there hasn't been enough significant progress this year to show that Fairley is a serious prospect in the Giants system.
  • While Fairley has floundered, one outfielder that has come on strong is first-year player Jarrett Parker. He is posting a .792 OPS in his last ten games, and has seven RBI, seven walks and three stolen bases to boot. Parker sports an .808 OPS total for the year, and is hitting .264 in 193 plate appearances with four home runs and 24 RBI. Parker could be better in terms of cutting down his strikeouts (he has a strikeout percentage of 28 percent), but considering this is his first year of professional ball and he is only 22 years old, the progress he has shown is comforting. Of course, we have seen first year players do well in High-A, only to fall back to earth in the transition to Double-A (case in point: Kieschnick), but at the same time, Parker is an interesting prospect with some interesting tools who could do well with more at-bats as a professional.

Augusta Green Jackets,  20-29 heading into May 29th.
  • It was expected that Ehire Adrianza would start out the year in Richmond until an injury forced him on the Disabled List to begin the year. In Augusta though, Adrianza has struggled once again at the plate, as he is hitting .176 with a .586 OPS in 62 plate appearances. Adrianza has still showed good plate discipline (0.67 BB/K ratio), but as noted before, he has struggled to hit for much power or average in his minor league career. Defensively, nobody can doubt that Adrianza is the best fielding infielder in the Giants system. However, with Brandon Crawford making his debut with the Giants this weekend, there is a little bit of pressure on Adrianza to perform. He needs to show what he can do at a higher level so the Giants brass can figure out what to do with him and how much value he has as a prospect. With the slow start in the Sally, Adrianza certainly isn't making things easy for Giants management.
  • In his first full year in the minors, Mike Kickham is off to a good start. He is posting a 1.80 ERA and has 18 strikeouts and only three walks in three starts and 15 innings pitched. A sixth-round pick out of Missouri State a year ago, Kickham was rated the 16th best prospect in the Giants system by Baseball America in their 2011 Prospect Handbook. Kickham, according to Baseball America, has a good fastball that touches 94 MPH, and has a plus slider and a hard breaking ball. There definitely is some promise with Kickham, as he seems to be a polished college arm that could move up quickly if he continues to display the solid stuff and command that he showed in his first three starts with the Green Jackets.
  • Another interesting arm in the Green Jackets' pitching staff is Stephen Harrold, who has been stellar out of the Augusta pen. He is posting an ERA of 1.48 in 24.1 IP and he has 22 strikeouts and a K/BB ratio of 2.75. A 12th round pick out of UNC-Wilmington, Harrold isn't exactly a heralded arm (he wasn't on the radar of any prospect analysts' Giants list), but he has shown good command, and control in the Sally this year. He also did have a solid year in Salem-Keizer a year ago where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP. For a team that doesn't hit well (the Green Jackets' .236 batting average is last in the league, and their 4.45 R/G is second-to-last), Harrold is a valuable asset to this Green Jackets team. As a prospect though, we'll have to just wait and see how he'll progress over the year, but I like what he has displayed with his command and control in his first two years in the minors.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can the Brandons Spark the Giants in Buster's Absence?

It took me a while to write this. Not because of research or anything like that, but simply because I was so steamed about the Buster Posey injury from last night. I'm kind of going through the seven stages of grief right now, and if anything, I'm probably just past the anger stage. That's how tough this day has been and how hard I've taken this Posey setback (much like most of Giants nation).

That being said, Posey is out for an extended period of time (most likely the year), and the Giants will have to make it through. I'll have a profile on catcher Chris Stewart at some point, but the real story of the day other than Posey's injury is the callups of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford (other minor news was Ryan Rohlinger and Henry Sosa being designated for assignment to make room for Crawford and Stewart; Sosa was No. 26 in my list). Belt was an expected callup, simply because he was hitting very well in Fresno, but the Crawford promotion comes as a surprise. After all, he started the season on the disabled list, and while he was putting up good numbers in San Jose, it was only High Single-A. I figured it was more of a rehab stint before he got the eventual callup to Fresno (where he was expected to start the year prior to injury). However, with Mike Fontenot joining Posey and Darren Ford on the disabled list, the need for depth in the middle infield was huge, and the Giants made the decision to call up Crawford along with Belt and Stewart.

In terms of Belt, the promotion was obvious: the Giants desperately need offense, and Belt has been hitting well in Fresno. The Giants managed to garner only three hits today against Anibal Sanchez, and Aubrery Huff and Cody Ross haven't exactly lit it up with the Giants this year. Belt showed some nice strides in Fresno. In 31 games and 132 plate appearance, Belt hit .337 with a .994 OPS and added four home runs and 21 RBI in his tenure with the Grizzlies. The strongest aspect of Belt's game in Fresno was his strong ability to draw a walk and get on base, as he posted an OBP of .470 and had a BB/K ratio of 0.87. Additionally, Belt showed some versatility with the Grizzlies, as he played left and right field and first base, with a majority of his playing time coming in the outfield (he played 26 games total in the outfield). Thus, he brings a lot of utility defensively, which is good since it was obvious in the beginning of the year that Huff was probably more suited for first base only.

Belt though was far from perfect in Fresno. He struck out 31 times, a 30.6 percent rate. Furthermore, his contact rate wasn't very impressive at 69 percent (you read that right). While Belt wasn't overpowered or overwhelmed by the Pacific Coast League pitching, it was obvious that his plate patience was his worst enemy at times. Belt seemed to be almost too selective, and he ended up helping pitchers by getting behind in counts early and often in many of his at-bats. Now, I don't think Belt will be a 69 percent contact hitter in the Majors. In his short tenure with the Giants earlier this year, he posted a contact rate of 77.7, so his low contact rate may have just been a stretch where he was figuring out the pitching and what he could hit for power and what he could lay off of. Nonetheless, Belt probably needs to show more aggressiveness at the dish this time around in the Majors, for he is needed to spark this Giants offense, and MLB pitchers won't make as many mistakes as PCL hurlers.

Another issue for Belt is the decrease in power from a year ago. After posting slugging percentages of .623 in Richmond and .563 in Fresno a season ago, Belt's slugging dipped to .525 this year. Also his ISO fell to .188 with the Grizzlies, the first time it had ever been under the .200 mark in his minor league career. Still though, Belt does offer a lot of offensive upside, even with the power numbers down, and if you look at his competition, Belt doesn't need to be incredible offensively (Huff has a slugging of .337 and Ross has a slugging of .378). If he can be in the mid-to-high .700 (or even low .800) range in terms of OPS for the remainder of the year in San Francisco, and if he can continue to display his solid eye at the plate (he did produce a BB/K ratio of 0.62 in the Majors this year), then Belt certainly will be a boost to this inconsistent Giants offense (and it is possible in my opinion, as his Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced an OPS of .896).

As for Crawford, he is coming off a very promising stint in San Jose this season, as he .312 with a 1.005 OPS. He also added three home runs and 15 RBI, and looked very much like the hitter he was two years earlier in the California League. That being said, the California League is the California League, and considering Crawford spent the past two years in Double-A Richmond, it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that he hit as well as he did in in San Jose.

The big question for Crawford will be how he will adjust in the Majors after relatively struggling in the Eastern League the past two years. His Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced a .226 average, a .303 OBP, a .347 slugging, a .650 OPS, a contact rate of 77 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.47. Those numbers aren't exactly on par with what Giants fans saw from Crawford this year in San Jose. Nonetheless, Crawford may be okay if he can post those numbers this year, or perhaps perform slightly above. Crawford is a solid defender who has gotten good reports from scouts and the Giants brass. An OPS in the .700 range would be a luxury for this Giants team considering his defense, and even an OPS in the mid .600 range would be tolerable. After all, he hasn't played beyond Double-A, so there is going to be a learning period for Crawford at the plate, and the Giants management and fans need to be patient as he develops.

The big issue with Crawford is his plate discipline, as he has had a tendency to strike out a lot and not draw a lot of walks to boot. In 2009, he posted BB/K ratios of 0.31 and 0.20 in San Jose and Connecticut, respectively. Last year, his BB/K ratio improved to 0.51 in Richmond, but he still struck out 26.5 percent of the time, which is uncomfortably high. This year in San Jose, he struck out 22 percent of the time, so even despite the low level for his age, he continued to have issues in terms of making contact at the plate. However, his 0.69 BB/K ratio was the best number in his minor league career, and one can hope that Crawford can transition that confidence and approach to the Majors this year.

Crawford may have been called up prematurely because of the dire need for depth in the Giants infield with Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval on the DL. That being said, this stint with the Giants will be very telling for Crawford. If he can hold his own somewhat, it'll give the Giants even more incentive to hand him the starting position next year. If not, then one could see the Giants management panic and look to deal for Jose Reyes, which would cost the Giants a lot of money in addition to some valuable prospects. I'm not expecting the world from Crawford in this callup. But if he can be a replacement-level player offensively, he could be of some value to this Giants roster because he still has room to grow and develop as a player, and he's an obvious upgrade over Miguel Tejada defensively at shortstop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

OTF MLB Draft Peek: Jason Esposito, SS/3B, and Brian Goodwin, OF

In one day, we will officially be a week away from the MLB Draft! Exciting isn't it? While I'm not sure what I'm going to do for Draft Day (on this blog, specifically), I think I may have only one or two more posts left in terms of going over possible prospects that the Giants could be taking in this year's draft.

In this post, I'm going to look at two prospects who have gone in some mock drafts in the Giants slot. They are position players, however, and though this Giants system needs to re-stock their pitching, these are two players whom the Giants may have a tough time passing on if they're available. Let's take a look at infielder Jason Esposito from Vanderbilt and outfielder Brian Goodwin, a JuCo prospect out of Miami-Dade CC.

Jason Esposito, SS/3B, Vanderbilt University

Prospect Junkies in their latest mock draft had Esposito going to the Giants at No. 29. The possibility of the Giants picking Esposito is enticing, as he would bring a lot of offensive and speed upside to the left side of the infield. Granted, the Giants are pretty set at shortstop with Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Crawford, but third base is a little more open for competition, and Esposito has a lot of excellent tools and is coming off a pretty decent year at the plate in his junior season with the Commodores.

Esposito was a 7th round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2008, and despite Dayton Moore and the Royals offering him a $1.5 million signing bonus, he decided to stick with his commitment to Vanderbilt. So far, it hasn't exactly been a bad decision. In his three years in Nashville, he has a career batting average of .331, an OBP of .407 and he has accumulated 22 home runs and 154 RBI in 713 collegiate at-bats. Additionally, he has shown good speed on the base paths over his career, as he has swiped 63 bases.

Offensively, he has a solid bat with some pop. While he isn't a home run hitter, he does have gap to gap power, as he has hit 58 doubles with the Commodores. MLB Draft Insider graded his current power as a 50, but did give him 55 potential. His contact rates have swooned a little bit, as he posted rates of 79.7, 86.6 and 83.1 percent in his three seasons at Vandy, but the big concern though with Esposito is his inconsistent plate discipline. While he has sported solid OBP numbers, his BB/K ratios have fluctuated over his collegiate career. His three year ratios at Vanderbilt are 0.33, 0.97 and 0.38 (though in 2011, he was hit 13 times, so if you add that into his BB totals, the BB/K ratio goes up to 0.75; however, I attribute that less to plate approach and more to the wildness of the pitchers he has faced). Thus, the huge waves make you wonder how well Esposito understands the strike zone. John Klima said this about Esposito's plate discipline on a video sample he recorded in April:

"The teams that dig Esposito are going to go on more swings like that first one — they’ll like the body, the hands, the compact stroke, the hip speed and the bat speed. He does flash those tools. If you made your final judgment on the rest of his life based on these four swings, you’d say, well, dude better learn some discipline."

It's obvious that Esposito flashes the right tools to succeed as a professional, but his inconsistency does throw some red flags. Furthermore, Klima also feels that Esposito doesn't flash enough power to play the corner position, and contests that a switch to shortstop may raise his stock as a prospect. While I don't necessarily agree totally with the statement (I think there have been examples of third basemen who have succeeded in the Majors without tremendous power), he does have a point. His bat would be good for a third baseman, but great for a shortstop (think Brandon Crawford with a little bit more power). If Esposito could make the transition to shortstop, offensively he'd be a much more enticing prospect to teams in the draft.

Defensively, Esposito's glove grades out pretty well, though it seems to be that he projects more as a third baseman than a shortstop (though as noted by Kilma above, his stock would be better served by a move toward the middle of the infield). MLB Draft Insider graded his glove a 50 with 55 potential and his arm a 50 with 55 potential (this is on the customary 20-80 scale). Zachary Ball of Pro Draft Central had this to say about Esposito in his scouting report:

"Much more athletic and graceful in the field than his predecessor [2008 1st Round Draft pick Pedro Alvarez], Esposito looks like a third baseman. He has a great arm, more than adequate for the position, and on the mound he can crank it up to the low 90s. He has great soft hands, and his footwork has improved to the point where he could be one of the top defensive third basemen in this class."

Another concern about Esposito is whether or not he's just a product of the offense-heavy college environment. (e.g. can his power and hitting translate with wooden bats?) While his collegiate numbers are very good, he has struggled in two years in the Cape Cod League. In 111 at-bats in his first year in the Cape Cod, he hit .198 with a .233 OBP and .449 OPS. He only hit two extra base hits (two doubles) and he fanned 30 times and walked only four times (a 0.13 BB/K ratio). His second season in 2010 wasn't much better, as he hit only .246 with a .592 OPS in 65 at-bats. While he cut down the strikeouts (13), he didn't walk much either, and thus, his BB/K ratio (0.38) wasn't that impressive, though it was certainly an improvement the second-time around.

As a prospect, Esposito is interesting because he flashes good tools defensively and he has some potential with the bat as well. That being said, his stock has fluctuated greatly, as some saw him as more of a second to third round pick going into the 2011 season. If there is one thing going in Esposito's favor though, it is his pedigree, as Vanderbilt has had a history of producing good Major League talent recently, with Alvarez, David Price and current prospect Sonny Gray, who is projected as a Top-5 pick. While the Giants may not have a drastic need to pick up Esposito in the first round (as noted before in previous posts, pitching should be their main focus this draft), he could be a steal in the supplemental round or even second round if he's available.

Brian Goodwin, OF, Miami-Dade CC (Florida)

The Giants really don't have a particular need in the outfield. With Thomas Neal, Francisco Peguero, Gary Brown, Darren Ford, Rafael Rodriguez, Chuckie Jones, and Brandon Belt most likely going to make a transition to left, the Giants have considerable depth in their system in the outfield. Thus, Goodwin would seem to be an odd fit.

However, if he's available, the Giants may be tempted to pick him because he could be the best available player at No. 29 on talent alone.

At six-foot, one-inches and 190 pounds, Goodwin is a physical specimen with loads of athleticism. MLB Draft Insider graded his speed a 60, and his fielding a 50 with 55 potential. Offensively, he has a lot of tools and though he may not hit with much power as a professional, Klima noted that Goodwin's left-handed swing has "speed, strength and lift." also had this to say in his scouting report of Goodwin a year ago when he was still in high school:

"He does a lot of little things well, and has four legitimate tools, lacking power as the only tool to make him the always coveted five-tool talent. And despite his lack of power, Goodwin will surprise you with his pop from time to time. Most of his power goes to the gaps, and his 6.5 speed allows him to leg out plenty of extra base hits. His bat is made for contact, as he excels at putting the ball in play and going with pitches to drive the ball up the middle and the other way. He is extremely fast out of the box, and gets down the line to first base as a left-handed hitter as well as anyone, allowing him to be a threat on infield grounders and bunt plays." made Andrew McCutchen comparisons with Goodwin, though I don't know if Goodwin will have the power upside like McCutchen. That being said, defensively and on the basepaths, the comparisons are definitely valid, as his athleticism may be up there with anybody in this current draft. Baseball Factory ranked him as the 21st best prospect out of high school in 2009, and noted that he was "A natural OF prospect with a fluid LH stroke, Goodwin makes everything look very easy on the field. He glides to balls in the outfield and finds the barrel at the plate with a consistent, low-effort swing."

Before transferring to Miami-Dade CC, Goodwin starred at the University of North Carolina, as he hit .291 with 7 home runs and 63 RBI, while posting an OBP of .409 and an OPS of .920 in 227 at-bats. Furthermore, he showed excellent strike zone recognition, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.92. He did strike out a lot (49 times, the second highest total on the team), and his contact rate left a little to be desired (78 percent), but it was still solid for a freshman. Additionally, while he wasn't given the green light to go on the basepaths as much as other players, he did steal seven bases on nine attempts, and did leg out a team-high eight triples, so the speed set is obviously there.

However, in November of 2010, Goodwin was ruled ineligible for the 2011 season, for violating university policy. While the specifics of the suspension never went public, it was widely speculated that academic issues were the main reason why he ended up transferring to junior college his sophomore year. While his makeup has gotten good reports ( had sterling reports about his makeup and attitude in high school), the suspension is a bit of a red flag in some ways, and makes you wonder if he can avoid trouble as a professional. Nonetheless, it probably could have been a case that Goodwin was focused solely on baseball at a good academic university, and that's not uncommon with baseball players (and athletes in general) in college.

Still though, Goodwin has an excellent toolset and a high ceiling for a prospect. He also performed well in the Cape Cod League, as 5 Tool Talk wrote this about his performance in the summer league:

"His early collegiate success continued into last summer, as he finished 11th among those that qualified on the Cape in batting with a .281 average. During his time with Harwich, he also posted a .364 on-base percentage, stole 15 bases (good for eighth in the league) in 19 attempts and six of his 32 hits went for extra bases."

I don't know if Goodwin will be available at the Giants' slot. He could go in the 10-20 range, simply because his potential and tools may be too much to pass up for MLB general managers. That being said, if he's available at No. 29, the Giants should think about swiping him up, even despite the outfield depth, because he has the potential to develop into a very promising and special Major League player.

OTF's 32 Most Interesting Prospects: No. 15, Ryan Verdugo, LHP

I'm winding down in the Top-32 Most Interesting Prospects list for 2011, and at No. 15, I have left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo. Now, Verdugo isn't a high-ceiling pitcher like some guys on this list, and in terms of his tools, I wonder if he could transition and find a spot on the Giants' Major League roster. Nonetheless, he is a high-strikeout pitcher who has put up great numbers in the minors, so I he has some promise and was worth taking a look at in this spot.

Verdugo came out of baseball powerhouse LSU as a pretty under-the-radar pitcher. He was drafted twice by the Giants, in the 47th round in the 2007 MLB draft, and in the 9th round of the 2008 draft. Verdugo is a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball, but does possess a slider and curve (his curve was rated a three-plus according to Rob Gordon of the MLBA). Verdugo did have some hype out of high school, as he was won the Mr. Baseball award in Washington as a senior. There was some issues with his health though, as he underwent Tommy John surgery while in Junior College, which hurt his stock after he declared for the draft again after he finished Junior College in 2007.

He broke into professional ball in 2008, and performed well in his first year as a pro, showcasing some good stuff as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League (he was primarily used as a starter while at LSU). He made eight appearances in Arizona and struck out 19 batters in 13 innings pitched, while allowing nine hits, three runs and six walks. Verdugo finished the season with a 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 3.17 K/BB ratio.

In his first full year as a professional, the Giants promoted Verdugo to Augusta and he made 21 appearances with the Green Jackets and finished five games. In 32.1 IP, he struck out 45 batters and allowed only 19 hits and 6 runs. Walks however, were a bit of a concern for the lefty, as he walked 19 batters, good for a 5.3 BB/9. The high walk rate killed his overall K/BB ratio in the Sally, lowering it 2.37 (he had a K/9 of 13.5, which is very impressive). Still, though his overall numbers were pretty impressive for a 22-year old in his first professional season, as he finished the year with a 1.39 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.

Still under the radar going into 2010 (he was not mentioned in Baseball America's Top-30 or John Sickels's Top-20 Giants lists), Verdugo started the year in Augusta again, pitching 32 innings and striking out 50 while allowing 26 hits and 14 walks. His walk rate went down (3.9) and his K/BB ratio went up (3.57), and thus, the Giants organization decided to promote him to High Single-A San Jose in July. In the Cal League, the walk issues came back (his BB/9 jumped back up to 5.6), but he still struck guys out at a good rate (12.9) and posted excellent ERA and WHIP numbers (1.47 and 1.11, respectively).

This year, Verdugo got a little bit more attention from prospect analysts, as Sickels listed him as an honorable mention in his Top-20 list, and Baseball America ranked him the 25th best Giants prospect in the organization. However, the biggest change for Verdugo this year was his switch to the rotation in Richmond. Primarily a reliever for most of his minor league career (he only started one game, and that was in San Jose in 2009), many wondered if Verdugo had the versatility to go five to seven innings a game (his career high in innings pitched was in 2010 when he threw 62 IP).

It has paid off though, as he has been a solid addition to the Flying Squirrels pitching staff. He has made eight starts and thrown 41 IP, but he is posting a solid ERA (3.07) and a decent WHIP (1.37). Additionally, while his strikeout rates are down from previous years (expected since he is pitching more innings and facing batters more than once in a game), he is still showing good strikeout ability (9.7 K/9). He could show better command (2.75 K/BB ratio), but it certainly is above average and an improvement from his previous stint in San Jose. Also, he is coming off a 6.1 inning, 5-hit, 10 strikeout performance against Erie in his most recent outing, which is a good sign of how well he is making batters miss while logging more innings as a starter (he did earn the loss though, unfortunately, but it was still a pretty solid start nonetheless).

Physically, there is still some concern whether or not Verdugo will be able to transition his Minor League success (career 2.10 ERA in the minors) to the Majors. He doesn't sport an electric fastball (it goes in the 92 MPH range), and there have long been questions about his command (carer 2.81 K/BB) and secondary pitches. That being said, Verduo has shown flashes of promise in the minors, and he tore it up in the Arizona Fall League last year. Here is what Fangraphs writers, Carson Cistuli, said about Verdugo in a review of the AFL:

"Scottsdale’s Ryan Verdugo went straight to the top of the SCOUT pitching charts last night after doing this against the Phoenix Desert Dogs: 17 BF, 4.0 IP, 3 BB, 9 K. He’s made all of one start in his minor league career, which began in 2008 after being drafted in the ninth round by San Francisco. He has 167 K in 113.0 IP across four levels, most recently in the High-A California League."

Statistically speaking, Verdugo has shown great strides and improvement in his time in the Giants organization. Furthermore, his transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation has been interesting, mainly because it has increased his value greatly. That being said, Verdugo's future seems to be very cloudy at this point. I think he has a shot in terms of becoming a decent Major League pitcher. His ability to make batters miss can't be debated (12.3 career K/9). At the very least, he seems like he could develop into a Dan Runzler-esque option out of the bullpen for the Giants in the future, and considering Jeremy Affeldt has struggled to regain his 2009 form the past two years, a left-hander like Verdugo could be an enticing option.

At the same time though, it seems like the Giants are grooming Verdugo to be a starter, and as we all know there isn't much room in the Giants rotation for another starter. Furthermore, he's behind other top-tier starting pitching prospects like Zack Wheeler and Eric Surkamp (and rightfully so), and with the June Rule 4 Draft loaded with pitching talent, one has to wonder how much time Verdugo has left with the Giants. If anything, he's probably trade fodder at this point, mainly because he's a good arm that would bring some value to any impending deal this year or this off-season.

I think Verdugo could have some impact for the Giants, and like Runzler, he could be a cheap, effective bullpen option. Unfortunately, if he remains a starter, his days in the Giants organization seem numbered. It's just a matter of time of when Brian Sabean makes that deal, whether it's this year or after the season is over.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Evolution of Zack Wheeler's Pitching Delivery

I was on twitter, and I was able to check out a condensed start of Zack Wheeler in San Jose, courtesy of Splashing Pumpkins' Twitter (if you haven't checked out his blog, do so; it's one of the better ones out there and he also posts on Beyond the Box Score and MLB Daily Dish). He definitely showcased some wildness, but it's incredibly evident that he has electric stuff.

Being the curious cat that I am, I decided to go back and look up some of Wheeler's appearances from high school and Augusta on YouTube. It's amazing to see how much his delivery and mechanics have changed since his high school days. So, I'm going to post three videos and analyze all three.

Zack Wheeler in High School

A few things are pretty noticeable here. First off, he keeps his hands far away from his body in his twisting pitching motion. Furthermore, he has a pretty high leg kick, as it is almost Orlando Hernandez-esque. The only difference between him and Hernandez is that Wheeler keeps his glove high (around his head), while Hernandez kept his glove low around his waist (though Hernandez threw three quarter to sidearm, so that explains why his hands are so low). Another noticeable aspect about his delivery is how his back is mostly facing the pitcher. His shoulders are almost square to third base. While it does hide his pitches, he seems to be overcompensating with this twisting motion. Very few pitchers in the big leagues can do this and get away with it.

The most glaring quality of his windup has to be the sidestep with his right foot in his windup motion. He literally takes a full step to the left in his windup. Pay attention to this as you watch video of him in Augusta and how he makes that adjustment. In the stretch, he is mostly closed, with his left leg straight and lined up more toward third base when he gets set.

While the ball explodes off Wheeler's hand, there are a lot of moving parts in his pitching motion. That's not necessarily a good thing unless you're Tim Lincecum, but Lincecum is a superior athlete and has done so much to perfect his acrobatic pitching delivery that he can get away with it. Lincecum is an exception to the rule, not the standard. While Wheeler isn't a bad athlete, his violent delivery was an issue with scouts, and many felt that the Giants would have to refine it in order to protect him over the long term.

Zack Wheeler in Augusta

Wheeler's pitching motion is a little bit more contained in this video of him pitching in the Sally. While you mostly see game footage of him in the windup, you do get some telling things of his stretch pitching motion in his bullpen work.

What jumps out immediately to you his feet. In his high school days, he had a wider base, as his feet were about shoulder's length apart, if not a little more. He's closed up a little bit more, though it's not totally dramatic. Another change is that he's shortened up the windup, getting rid of the huge step to first base in his windup. I figured that would be one of the first changes to his pitching motion when he got to the big leagues, as it makes his pitching motion more refined and consistent.

The hands are also a lot closer to his body in Augusta and the leg kick isn't as high as well. He still twists a little bit and he is closed in the stretch, but it should be noted that it's less dramatic than it was in high school. Nonetheless, his delivery and mechanics look cleaner then they were in high school. He isn't moving around as much, and it isn't as violent as well. It's obvious the coaching staff made good strides with him in his transition from high school ball to Single A.

Zack Wheeler in San Jose

This is Wheeler at his best. His hands are closer to his body in his windup, the leg kick is lower and consistent, and he isn't exaggerating as much with his shoulders in his pitching motion. While in high school and Augusta his shoulders were facing more toward third, that isn't so much the case. His windup looks cleaner, and he seems to be exerting a lot less energy while still maintaining good velocity and movement on his pitches.

In the stretch, the biggest difference is that he's opened up a little bit when set. His left leg is more toward first base than third. It seems to have paid off, as he generates a good and quick delivery to the plate. He could be a little more consistent in his delivery out of the stretch (it does change a little from time to time, which accounts for his spotty command in this video, but that is to be expected for a 21 year old), but overall, you have to like the more compact nature of his delivery in San Jose in comparison to his more "moving" pitching motion back in high school.

Overall, the Giants pitching staff in the minors has worked a lot with Wheeler, and it's obvious that it's paid some dividends. He has changed as a pitcher in San Jose, and he is less raw now than he was a couple of years ago when he was a hot shot high school prospect. He still has some work. He needs to be more consistent of course in his delivery (especially in the stretch) and his command and control is still an issue, as you can see in the video of his May 11th start in San Jose. That being said, Wheeler has developed nicely and it'll be interesting how much he develops physically as he continues to climb up the Giants system. It's obvious that he has the stuff, size and tools to succeed as a Major League pitcher. It's just a matter of whether or not he'll be refined enough in his mechanics and command.