Friday, March 30, 2012

Division Clash: Comparing the NL West's Prospects by Postion (Catcher)

So with Opening Day approaching for Minor League teams everywhere, I figured it would be a good idea to look at and compare the other prospects and talent from other teams in the NL West to the ones in the Giants organization. With so many players, the best thing to do in my opinion was to take the top prospects by position from each team and compare them to one another. That way, everyone gets an idea who the other NL West teams have in their system, while also engaging where teams' strengths are and where the weaknesses are as well.

In this post, I'm going to look at the catching prospects in the NL West. The prospects are Michael Perez (Diamondbacks), Tim Federowicz (Dodgers), Wilin Rosario (Rockies), Yasmani Grandal (Padres), and Tommy Joseph (Giants). I'll write up a short summary on each Non-Giants prospect, and compare all the prospects to one another at the end (I'll be doing the same things for all the other positions as well).

Michael Perez, Arizona Diamondbacks

Age: 19 years old
Drafted: 5th round of 2011 MLB Draft
Hometown: Catano, Puerto Rico
Highest level played: Rookie Ball
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .217 average, .280 OBP, .565 slugging, two home runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts in 25 plate appearances (Arizona Rookie League).

Why Perez is the D'Backs' Best Catching Prospect?

While the Diamondbacks' system is stocked to the ceiling with high-end pitching, it's position depth is rather thin. Catcher may be the most lacking in terms of depth, as Perez rates as the best catching prospect in Arizona's system, and he was just recently drafted in the 2011 Rule 4 Draft.

Perez has some pedigree, as he was a fifth round pick, and was rated as the 24th best prospect in the Diamondbacks' system according to Baseball America. From Puerto Rico, Perez is a bit raw, but he does sport some athleticism and potential at five-foot, 10 inches and a 180 pounds. His arm strength and power bat are Perez's highest rated tools, but his plate approach and ability to make consistent contact at the plate still need a lot of work. John Sickels, who graded Perez a C prospect in his Prospect Handbook, said this in his report on Perez in his 2012 PH:

"A high school catcher from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Michael Perez was drafted in the fifth round last June and signed to a $235,000 bonus. He played just seven games of pro ball in the Arizona Rookie League, but those seven games matched the pre-draft scouting reports exactly: Perez has loads of power potential from the left side, but needs to make more contact and microwave his undercooked defensive skills behind home plate. He is a long way from the majors, but catchers with a chance to hit always bear watching."

Evaluation on Perez:

Perez is still young, raw and has a long road to the Majors, but at his age (he's going to be 19), the Diamondbacks can afford to be patient with him, especially with Miguel Montero established at the catcher's position at the Major League level. He does have a nice swing from the left side of the plate, though I do want to see more tape of him in game action before I can make a definitive judgment on his overall potential at the plate. With two home runs and two doubles in 23 at-bats in Rookie Ball last year, Perez certainly has the potential to be a power-hitting catcher in the future, and his size and profile resembles Montero's in a myriad of ways. That being said, his seven game stint in Rookie Ball was such a short sample, and we'll need to see if Perez's power will be able to sustain over the full course of a season. The Diamondbacks will probably start Perez this season in Short-Season Yakima, according to George Utter of Baseball Instinct. That will give Perez a chance to work on some things both offensively and defensively in extended Spring Training.

Grade: C (Potential to rise to a C+ or B- next year if he can transition his AZL power in the Northwest League).

Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers

Age: 24
Drafted: 7th round of 2008 MLB Draft (Drafted by Boston)
Hometown: Erie, Pennsylvania
Highest Level Played: Majors
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .277 average, .338 OBP, .407 slugging, eight home runs, 32 walks, 63 strikeouts in 382 plate appearances (Double-A Portland); .325 average, .431 OBP, .627 slugging, six home runs,  15 walks, 20 strikeouts in 102 plate appearances (Triple-A Albuquerque); .154 average, .313 OBP, .154 slugging, zero home runs, two walks, four strikeouts in 16 plate appearances (Majors Dodgers).

Why is Federowicz the Dodgers' Best Catching Prospect?

The Dodgers have had quite a history of finding catching talent (Mike Piazza, Paul Lo Duca, Russell Martin, Carlos Santana), though keeping it in their organization has been a bit of a different story. Since Martin, the Dodgers haven't had much success in this department, as evidenced by free agent Rod Barajas getting a majority of playing time behind the backstop last season.

I had a hard time with this one mainly because I was torn between Federowicz and Gorman Erickson. Federowicz, who came from the Red Sox organization in the three way trade that sent Eric Bedard to Boson last year, is a polished defensive-first prospect and doesn't come with a lot of upside (his grade from Baseball America was 45 with low risk). Erickson on the other hand may be better with the bat, but he didn't really break out until last season. So, I decided to go with Federowicz, who is generally rated higher by most experts than Erickson. Baseball America rated him as the 10th best prospect in the Dodgers system, while Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst rated him as the Dodger's 14th best prospect.

As for Federowicz, he split his minor league season between Portland of the Eastern League and Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. At the plate, he didn't quite impress in Double-A, but he held his own for his position as he posted a .277/.338/.407 slash in 382 plate appearances. After he was traded to the Dodgers, he made the most of the PCL's hitter-friendly confines, as he raised his slash to .325/.431/.627 in 102 plate appearances. The strong performance with the Isotopes earned him a late season call up to the Dodgers, but his tenure was mostly irrelevant, as he played in only 7 games and hit .154 in 16 plate appearances.

Evaluation on Federowicz:

Offensively, he profiles mostly as replacement level or slightly above offensively, as he doesn't sport much power (his career high in home runs at any level was 10 in the Sally in 2009) and doesn't really hold much potential to hit for high average (the only times he hit over .300 was in the Sally and PCL). His ability to make contact is decent (he's been in the 76-88 mark in terms of contact percentage over his minor league career) and he does sport a good approach and eye at the plate (his BB/K ratio has been over 0.50 at every level since 2010), but his tools and ceiling don't rate as anything special.

Defensively is where Federowicz profiles well, as scouts have been high on his footwork behind the plate as well as his strong throwing arm. He threw out 37 percent of baserunners in Portland last year, and while that rate regressed to 22 percent in the PCL (though he only played 22 games), he still averaged a 33 percent rate between Portland and Albequerque in 2011. His career caught stealing rate is 33 percent, so it's obvious that Federowicz has the tools to be a very good defensive catcher at the Major League level.

With A.J. Ellis and Mike Treanor ahead of him at the Major League level, Federowicz will probably start the year back in the PCL in 2012, but should get a shot to compete for the starting job at some point this year. If he continues to hit Triple-A pitching in 2012 like he did in 2011, he could get more playing time than the seven game stint he saw last season.

Grade: C (I consider him to be a platoon/backup catcher at the Major League level for the most part, but if his offensive game can continue to improve, he could have a couple of seasons where he could be a starting catcher. Defensively, he profiles well, but his future as a Big Leaguer depends on how he handles the stick with the Dodgers.)

Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

Age: 23
Signed: 2006 by Rolando Fernandez and Felix Feliz
Hometown: Bonao, Monsenor Nouel, Dominican Republic
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .249 average, .284 OBP, .457 slugging, 21 home runs, 19 walks, 91 strikeouts in 426 plate appearances (Double-A Tulsa); .204 average, .228 OBP, .463 slugging, three home runs, two walks, 20 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances.

Why is Rosario the Rockies' Best Catching Prospect?

A Top-30 prospect according to John Sickels last year (he was ranked the 28th prospect in baseball according to Sickel's 2011 list), Rosario is probably one of the highest rated offensive prospects in the Rockies system behind Nolan Arenado. Last year, Baseball America ranked Rosario as the second best prospect in the Rockies system and last year, Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball analyst rated him as the 37th best prospect in baseball.

However, despite the accolades and stellar season in Double-A in 2010, Rosario failed to build upon the hype in 2011. Even though it was his second campaign in the Texas League, he struggled to make consistent contact (78 percent contact rate; 21.4 percent strikeout rate) and showed serious flaws in his discipline and approach at the plate (0.21 BB/K ratio, a .16 decrease from the previous season). The same plate discipline problems continued in the Majors when he got a call up late in the year, as he struck out 20 times in 57 plate appearances while only walking twice (a 0.10 BB/K ratio).

While the strikeouts and lack of walks will always be something of concern for Rosario, he does still have a lot of upside as a prospect. Even with the regression in his second year in Tulsa in 2011, Rosario remains one of the Rockies' best position prospects. Baseball America rated him as the fourth best prospect in the Rockies System going into 2012, and the MiLBA rated him the third best prospect in the Rockies System and the fourth best catching prospect in baseball.

Evaluation on Rosario:

Rosario possesses two plus tools: his arm strength and power. In terms of arm strength, his success in terms of gunning down runners is dually noted, as he hasn't posted a throw-out rate below 38 percent since 2008 (his second season in Casper). Scouts note that not only does he have a cannon for an arm, but that his footwork and exchange are very clean as well. Defensively, Rosario does have some flaws, as his blocking ability could still use some work, and he could move laterally better, according to Baseball America. However at 23 years old, he still has time to develop his skills behind the plate as well as his game-calling (which will only get better with more experience).

What attracts scouts and experts the most about Rosario however, is definitely his hitting potential, specifically his power. Rosario has mashed over his minor league career, and despite all the flaws and letdowns of his 2011 season, his ability to hit the big fly with ease didn't regress in the slightest. He hit 21 home runs in Tulsa, and three home runs in 57 plate appearances with the Rockies. In addition, he also posted extra base hit rates of 39 percent and 63 percent in Double-A and the Majors, respectively. Scouts note that he has a short stroke, can hit Major League fastballs and has 30-home run potential at the Major League level.

Still though, much like Joseph in the Giants system, the big question with Rosario is whether or not he'll see enough hittable fastballs once pitchers start to adjust to his free-swinging ways. Rosario has an aggressive approach that sometimes borders on "too-aggressive" more often than not. Scouts and experts note that breaking balls give him a lot of trouble, and he tends to chase pitches outside the zone often. To make matters worse, he doesn't walk much, and has never walked much in the Minors (his best walk rate, 8.7 percent, came in his first season in the Pioneer League). If the strikeouts continue to be an issue in high minors and Majors, this could be a huge red flag because Rosario's approach will never result in him drawing enough walks to counter a lot of strikeouts (career high 0.42 BB/K ratio).

Rosario is far from perfect, but he's an impressive prospect nonetheless. In terms of the catching prospects in the NL West, his arm strength and power tools probably rank highest. That being said, his plate approach might be the worst (and Joseph isn't exactly Scott Hattesberg). At his age, there is still some time for Rosario to develop, and he could project into a more athletic Yadier or Bengie Molina, with even more home run potential. That being said, if his approach doesn't improve, his ceiling could be Miguel Olivo-esque.

Grade: B (I love the power and the arm strength, so I'm cutting him some slack despite the lackluster 2011 season overall; however, it will be a crucial year for him in 2012. Either he makes the step to being an All-Star caliber catcher this year, or he struggles and shows that he probably is destined for platoon or backup duty behind the plate.)

Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

Age: 23
Drafted: 1st round (12th overall) in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds
College: University of Miami (FL)
Hometown: La Habana, Cuba
2011 Regular Season Stats: .296 average, .410 OBP, .510 slugging, 10 home runs, 41 walks, 57 strikeouts in 251 plate appearances (High-A Bakersfield); .301 average, .360 OBP, .474 slugging, 4 home runs, 13 walks, 39 strikeouts in 172 plate appearances (Double-A Carolina); .500 average, .667 OBP, .667 slugging, zero home runs, five walks, one strikeout in 18 plate appearances (Triple-A Louisville).

Why is Grandal the Padres Best Catching Prospect?

The former Cuban defector's future looked bleak, as he seemed blocked in the Reds system by the team's top prospect Devin Mesaroco, who is destined for the starting job at some point in 2012. However, the Padres took advantage of the Reds' system depth and lacking of pitching consistency at the Major League level, and Grandal came along with Yonder Alonso in a trade for Padres ace Mat Latos. Suddenly, Grandal went from the second-best catching prospect in his own system, to probably the best catching prospect in the NL West period.

Grandal played college ball at the University of Miami (he was teammates with Alonso) and was drafted 12th overall by the Reds in 2010. While he doesn't sport the power or athleticism of former "colleague" Mesaroco, Grandal does possess a strong ability to hit for average, a patient eye at the plate, and some sneaky (though not plentiful) slugging potential. Furthermore, Grandal does have some strong defensive skills behind the plate, as he has a solid, six-foot, two inch frame and an average to slightly-above average arm (he threw out 34 percent of baserunners last season). The numbers did show Grandal got better defensively in his call up to Double-A, as he allowed less passed balls (5 to 14 in High-A) and threw runners out at a better clip as well (36 percent to 34 percent in High-A). So, while he may not be a Gold Glover by any means, he certainly has the defensive potential to be a mainstay at the position for a long time.

While Nick Hundley is currently manning the position in 2012, and was recently inked to an extension by Padres management, the future clearly rests in Grandal's hands. Grandal did show some contact issues last year (his contact rate in Bakersfield was 72 percent, and in Carolina it was 75 percent), but he was above average in terms of making contact in college (84 percent) and he does have an excellent eye at the plate (17 percent walk rate, 0.72 BB/K ratio in Bakersfield). To me, those things should bode well for him as he most likely makes the move to Tucson and the Pacific Coast League to begin the 2012 season (expect a big breakout from him in Triple-A this year...that place is a bandbox).

Evaluation on Grandal:

There were rumors that Grandal was upset by the Hundley extension, but I think management is clearly in Grandal's camp. He is still only 23 years old, and he comes across as a polished college catching prospect who could be an All-Star at the Major League level (Gordon of the MiLBA graded him as a 9D prospect). Grandal may not have the arm strength of Rosario, but I think his defensive skills should be good enough considering his bat. He still needs more time and development in terms of calling games (an issue for most catchers coming out of college since college coaches mostly call the games), which could be the reason why he begins and may stay a majority of the year in Tucson. For that reason, it is understandable why the Padres inked Hundley to an extension, even though Grandal may have the more upside.

Offensively, I like his plate discipline, and his ability to use the whole field as a hitter. He is also a switch hitter, which should help him out at a spacious park like PETCO (which severely limits pull-heavy lefties as evidenced by Anthony Rizzo's struggles last season), but considering his power tool set as well as the environment of San Diego's home park, I would be surprised if he tops the 15 homer mark as a Big Leaguer. That being said, scouts say that he has a balanced approach that will bode well for him to hit for high average, so even if he may not produce the home runs, he could produce 2010 Buster Posey-esque lines in the future where he is producing a lot offensively for his position despite the fact that it isn't coming in terms of eye-popping slugging or home run numbers.

Grade: B+ (Hundley is the guy for now, but at some point Grandal will get his shot and I think he'll be the full-time guy by 2013 (Hundley to me will be trade bait this year). He is a talented overall catcher who is already polished, but still has some potential both offensively and defensively. I'll be interested to see how his offense will translate to PETCO, but for now, he'll just have to settle for putting up "MLB '99" numbers in Tucson and the PCL.)

NL West Catcher Prospect Rankings:

1. Grandal, Padres
  • Grandal is the best overall catcher and most ready for the Big Leagues out of any catching prospect in the NL West. He may not have that one outstanding tool like some of the other catching prospects (specifically Rosario), but I think his tools are strong enough to the point where he could be an All-Star caliber catcher at the Major League level.
2. Rosario, Rockies
  •  Rosario's probably holds the best power and arm strength tools out of any catcher prospect in the NL West (Grandal included), but his lack of plate discipline and regression in 2011 are a huge red flag. He still is young, and the potential and ceiling could still be quite high for Rosario in the future. That being said, there needs to be major progress in his approach if he wants to become anything more than an Olivo-esque player.
3. Joseph, Giants
  • Because I did a profile on him on this blog, I didn't feel like there was much of a need to go into much detail on him in this post. (I mean, what else could I say that I didn't say before?) Joseph's may have the second best power tool set behind only Rosario, but like Rosario, his plate discipline is a Major question. Joseph did show improvements defensively in 2011, but his abilities still probably pale in comparison to the other catching prospects in the NL West, as a lot of experts are conceding the fact that he is going to make an eventual move to first base. If Joseph continues to progress from High-A to Double-A like he did from Low-A to High-A, then Joseph could be on the top of this board by next year. His age is definitely a plus in his favor (he'll be 20 years old this year).
3. Perez, Dimaondbacks
  • The more I see Perez, the more I think "Miguel Montero-esque", but it's just way too early to say that definitively on Perez. He was just selected in last year's draft and he has only 25 professional plate appearances underneath his belt. Still though, he did sport a lot of power and arm strength potential in the Arizona Rookie League, and scouts seem high on his potential and athleticism behind the plate. Much like Joseph, with a strong season in his first full year of professional ball, Perez could rocket up this board, and it could be between him and Joseph for best catching prospect in the NL West in 2013.
5. Federowicz, Dodgers
  • Erickson probably has more ceiling and don't be surprised to see Erickson on this list next year. For now though, Federowicz takes the cake as the Dodgers' best catching prospect and he is probably destined for backup or platoon status in the Major Leagues. He doesn't offer a lot of offensive upside, and while good defensively, he doesn't project as spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. Federowicz could be very valuable for the Dodgers in the future and even as soon as this year (especially with mediocre options like Ellis and Treanor ahead of him in the Bigs).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Training Notes: Ortiz Released, Journeymen Re-Assigned and Belt OTF?

With Opening Day (well...the official one, unless you count today's games in Japan as Opening Day) officially begins next week, which means we're winding down in Scottsdale. So, as with anything winding down, there is some new swirling around Giants camp as the rosters start to get finalized. Safe to say, there probably is a lot more on the horizon for the Giants in the next couple of days.

Here are a few of the most recent tidbits that deal with Giants prospects/minor league players.

-- According to Hank Schulman of the SF Chronicle, the Giants released journeyman right handed pitcher Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz pitched for the Fresno Grizzlies in 2010, but didn't get a callup at any point that season. Last year, Ortiz made his return back to the big leagues, making 22 appearances for the Cubs while posting an ERA of 4.86 in 33.1 IP. Despite his experience and arm (he averaged 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year with the Cubs), it was a longshot that Ortiz would break camp with the Major League team, let alone see any playing time at the Major League level at any point this season. With the Giants depth in the starting rotation and bullpen, the chips were heavily stacked against Ortiz this Spring. Chances are though he will catch on with another team at some point this year, most likely with a team that is in more need of pitching or bullpen depth.

-- Also, Schulman reported that the Giants re-assigned Andrew Kown, Brian Burres, Wilmin Rodriguez, and Shane Loux to Minor League camp. All of them were non-roster invitees, so the decision on these guys doesn't really come as a surprise. Rodriguez had the most impressive Spring of the bunch, as he posted a 1.96 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in six appearances and 5.1 innings of work. He also recorded a save and struck out five batters while allowing four hits and no walks. Of all the listed guys above with an outside chance to somehow sneak on the 40-man roster this year, I think Rodriguez has the best shot, especially with Dan Runzler's health a major question mark this year.

-- Much to this writer's dismay, Brandon Belt may start the year in Fresno despite a stellar spring (he was hitting .380 with three home runs going into today's game), according to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area (and formerly the SJ Mercury). Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens had this to say in Baggarly's piece about Belt's performance at the plate this Spring:

“He’s way out in front of the batter’s box,” Meulens said. “It works for him, but want to make sure he’s getting the bat head out on those pitches middle-in and not just trying to flare it to left-center. We’re on the back field using drills so he can create that feel. When his elbow goes out, the barrel actually flattens and it takes a longer time to get the bat out in front."

My big issue with this is that I understand Belt may not put up the .380 mark in the Majors this year like he has been doing this Spring. That is unrealistic of course, and I think he would probably be a .250-.270 hitter with a .340-.360 OBP and .420-.450 slugging. However, Belt really has nothing else to prove in Fresno (he mashed last year), and he offers a lot more value to the Giants other than just offense (he is a huge defensive upgrade over Aubrey Huff). It's just sad that the Giants are being so cautious with him, because I think he came on toward the end of the year after the Giants stopped sending him down to Fresno and back up to San Francisco like one of those crazy, flashing Yo-Yo's. Hopefully, Belt will get an extended shot at first for the Giants at some point this year and can prove to the Giants he's the best option for the Giants not only for the future, but for the present as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Latin America Look: DPL 1B/3B Prospects Natanael Javier and Leury Vargas

Last week, I wrote a little profile on the Dominican Prospect League, and much like I will be looking up prospects who'll be entering the 2012 Draft out of high school and college, I figure it would be a good idea to look at some international names who'll be eligible to sign in 2012. The first two I am going to look at are two guys out of the DPL program in the Domincan Republic: Natanael Javier and Leury Vargas, both who project as corner infielders. Both also appeared at the DPL Showcase in Peoria, Arizona this March.

Natanael Javier, Third Base

Age: 16 years old (Birthday: October 10th, 1995)
Hometown: Boca Chica, Dominican Republic
Height: Six-foot, Three inches
Weight: 185 Pounds

Summary on Javier:

Javier is a 16 year old third baseman who sports a lot of potential at the plate. At six-foot three inches, he's big and strong, and when you watch tape of him in batting practice, he can wow you in a variety of ways. He has a strong, fluid swing that is very consistent and he can really drive the ball with authority. Perfect Game USA in their recap of the DPL Workout Day on March 21st echoed a lot of the same sentiments, noting that Javier had one of the most impressive batting sessions of any of the DPL players that day. Here is what they said about Javier in their writeup:

"Javier is a right-handed batter with lots of strength. He has by far the best plate coverage of any of the players and his bat is in the strike zone for a long time. His swing is quick with smooth and easy bat speed. He had a “wow” BP, especially on his third round when he cut it loose. He launched three homers with easy far over the left field wall with almost no effort. To say the ball jumps off his bat is overused in scouting and really doesn’t do Javier justice. I’m not sure if it leaps, bounds, hop, or springs off his bat, but it is quite impressive."

If I had to guess, I would say his swing reminds me a lot of Hanley Ramirez. His swing looks very effortless, but he has the strength to really put some pop behind the ball. However, a lot of his value as a potential prospect is tied to his offensive ability, as scouts haven't been as high about his defense or speed in the field or basepaths. In the scouting report on the DPL site, they note that even though Javier's "foot work is great for a big man and has good body control and agility," they do suggest that he is "an average fielder with average arm strength and runs below average."

At 16 years old, Javier does have room to improve in his weak areas, and he could become a better fielder with more exposure to professional instruction, especially in Rookie ball (both in the DSL or VSL, or AZL or GCL with whatever team that signs him). Even if he cannot stick defensively at third base, the reports on his bat and power are good enough to where he could make the move to first base in the future (though he obviously would hold more value at the hot corner).

Leury Vargas, First Base/Third Base

Age: 15 years old (Birthday: August 30th, 1996)
Hometown: San Cristobal, Dominican Republic
Height: Six-foot, Three inches
Weight: 210 pounds

Summary on Vargas:

Vargas made a lot of noise for being one of the youngest players to travel with the DPL team to Peoria. Despite his youth (he doesn't turn 16 until late August), he is definitely a man-child at Six-foot, three inches and 210 pounds. Though he can play both corners, with his size, it is more likely that he will probably project as a first baseman as a professional. When you watch him on tape, it's obvious he is very raw defensively, as he doesn't look as smooth as many of the other infielder prospects on the DPL squad (and even Javier, who is rated as average defensively). While most of what I saw was him playing first base, his footwork could use a lot of work and his transfer and throwing motion could use some fine tuning as well. However, at his age, he still has plenty of time to develop and polish up his glove at the corner.

What really makes Vargas stand out is his bat. For a big guy, his swing is very short and compact (even more so than Javier's), but he still gets a lot of pop behind the ball and can consistently hit line drives. He keeps his hands and the bat close to his body and he sports a bit of a leg kick in his load. To me, his swing compares a lot to Robinson Cano. But with his strength and size, he'll obviously project for more power than Cano as a hitter.

Perfect Game was intrigued by Vargas simply because of his age and short swing for a first baseman. Here's what they said in their writeup on Vargas about his workout on March 21st:

"Leury Vargas is a bit on an anomaly, a Dominican first base prospect. He is a physical specimen listed at 6’3, 210 which is a couple inches and 10-15 pounds on the conservative side as he towers over the other players. He was the youngest position player on the team and doesn’t turn 16 until August 30. He doesn’t have the deep load that others do, as he stays very short to the ball with very quick and strong hands/wrists. His power is evident with a lot more to come."

The biggest key to Vargas' future is his size, as he is already 210 pounds as a 15 year old and he is only going to get bigger as he gets older. Whether or not he can keep the weight under control in the future will be a huge factor in his development, especially since his athleticism and footwork seem to be average at best. However, he has a ton of power potential and youth on his side, so safe to say, he will be very intriguing to a lot of teams who are looking for a long-term project to boost their system.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

OTF MLB Draft Peek: LHP Brian Johnson and RHP Jake Barrett

Though we are still months away, it's always a good time to be looking at potential candidates in the upcoming MLB Draft. With the college baseball season starting to gain steam, a lot of Draft and Prospect blogs and sites out there are already coming out with mock drafts. I decided to take a look at two college arms who were projected to go in the Giants slot at No. 20. They are pitchers Brian Johnson and Jake Barrett, who come from established college powerhouses Florida and Arizona State, respectively.

Brian Johnson, Left-Handed Pitcher, University of Florida

Why You Should Know About Johnson:

Through The Fence has Johnson going at No. 20 in their latest mock draft, and safe to say, Johnson is an intriguing arm who could have a lot of versatility as a prospect. For starters, Johnson is a two-way player for the Gators who also plays first base in addition to pitching. While he has produced solid numbers at the plate for the Gators over his collegiate career (he posted a .307/.381/.464 slash last season with five home runs in 192 at-bats last season and this year his slash is .283/.316/.453 with two home runs), he holds a lot more value in this draft as a pitcher. Last year, he made 15 starts and 16 appearances for the Gators and posted an 8-3 record with a 3.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. This season, Johnson has gotten off to a good start, as he is 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA after six starts.

Johnson's main strength as a pitcher is his control and command. Last year, he posted a K/BB ratio of 4.8 and a walk rate of 1.69. This year, his plus tools haven't missed a beat, as his K/BB ratio currently sits at four and he has only allowed seven free passes in 31.2 innings pitched. Johnson isn't a strikeout artist by any means, as his K/9 was 8.13 last year and 8.08 this year, but with his control, the strikeout numbers may be good enough for him to be a solid Major League starting pitcher.

The main weakness with Johnson though is that he has proved to be hittable in his collegiate career. Last year, he had a hits allowed per nine innings of 8.81 and this season has proved to be similar, as his H/9 rate currently sits at 8.08 (the same as his K/9). While he was able to keep the ball in the park last year (he only gave up four home runs all of last year), this year, his H/9 rate has hurt him more, as he leads the Gators pitching staff in home runs allowed with five (already one more than his entire total from last year). Granted, with the move from metal to wood bats, one can imagine that Johnson will be able to keep the ball in the park a little better as a professional. That being said, how well Johnson will be able to induce groundballs will be the key to whether or not he will be successful as a professional pitcher.

Johnson sports a three pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits in the low 90's, a changeup and a slider that projects to be a plus pitch at the next level, according to TTF writer Dan Kirby. At six-foot, four inches and 235 pounds, Johnson has a big, impressive frame, and Kirby noted that he has a great mound presence and an advanced feel for pitching. Last summer, he also gained valuable experience playing for the USA Collegiate Team, though he was mostly lauded for his performance at the plate (he did hit three home runs, including the game winner against Japan).

There are some concerns that come with Johnson as a potential pick, with the issues mostly centering on hitters ability to make contact off him and a head injury he suffered from an errant throw by catcher Mike Zunino during a game against Georgia last season. Nonetheless, with his impeccable command and versatility as a two way player, Johnson could be an intriguing pick for the Giants should he be available at the 20th slot in this year's draft.

Jake Barrett, Right-Handed Pitcher, Arizona State University

Why You Should Know About Barrett:

Selected 99th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2009 draft, Barrett is a polished college arm that was projected to go in the Giants slot according to Pine Tar Press writer Ty Youngfelt. Much like Johnson, Barrett sports solid command and tools as a pitcher, and could help stock a Giants system that is thin on pitching after numerous trades (Tim Alderson, Scott Barnes, Zack Wheeler, Henry Sosa) and graduations (Madison Bumgarner, Dan Runzler).

Barrett  has solid tools as a pitcher, as he sports a fastball that sits in the 90-94 MPH range along with a curveball and splitter that have above average potential, according to MLB Draft Countdown. MLBDC was particularly high about Barrett entering this season, as they noted this in their profile on him last June:

"Toronto was so high on him back in 2009 because he had a big-league body (6’3″, 225 lbs), a good fastball (90-94 mph) and two pitches (curveball and splitter) with above-average potential...He showed great poise stepping into a very talented bullpen during his freshman year, pitching to a 3.41 ERA in 28 outings and striking out 43 batters in 29.1 innings...

This year, Barrett made the jump to the rotation and found instant success. His first start of the season saw him toss six-innings of shutout ball, giving up only three hits while striking out six. He finished the season with a 7-4 record, a 4.14 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 76 innings. He tossed one complete-game shutout against Cal late in the season....Barrett is going to be one of the most big-league ready of any of the college pitchers in the 2012 class, making him a perfect fit."

So far this season, the Sun Devils have regulated Barrett back to the bullpen, as he has taken over the role as the team's primary closer. While the change in roles certainly hasn't helped his stock, he has relished in the role, striking out 14 batters and allowing only 2 walks in 11.2 innings pitched this year. He also has two saves and is posting a 2.31 ERA after nine appearances to begin the 2012 collegiate season.

Much like Johnson, hitters have been able to make contact against Barrett at a decent rate over his amateur career. Last year, he posted a H/9 percentage of 8.88 and this year he has allowed 8 hits in his 11.2 innings of work. The high hit rates haven't hurt him as much, as he has kept the ball in the park as evidenced by his 0.36 HR/9 rate last year, and one home run this season. That being said, much like Johnson, how well he will be able to induce groundballs will be key to his development as a professional pitcher, especially since his control isn't as solid as Johnson's (he posted a BB/9 of 2.49 last year).

If he stays as a reliever this year, then I highly doubt the Giants will pick up Barrett at the 20th slot (Youngfelt made his Mock Draft in February before the college season started and I assume he thought Barrett was going to stay in the rotation). That being said, if Barrett somehow make the transition back to the rotation this year, then he could be a viable pick at the 20th slot. There is no doubt about his tools, and in limited innings of work, he can prove to be a dominant pitcher who can strike out hitters in bunches. Furthermore, at six-foot, three inches and 230 pounds, he has a big solid frame that projects well for the future. However, it's obvious stamina is an issue for him, as evidenced by his role change this year. Even if he pitches the whole year in the bullpen, Barrett could still have a future as a starting pitcher as professional, but the Giants and Barrett himself are going to have to work on his conditioning in order for him to be able to log a lot of innings as a starter over the course of a full professional season.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 16-20; Oropesa, Kickham, Rosin, Parker, Dominguez

Okay, after a few off-the-road posts, I decided to get back to the rankings. Let's take a look at the 16th-20th prospects on the list. As you can see, the quality is dropping off a little bit, as we're hitting the lower end C+ and middle C range in terms of prospects. Nonetheless, there is some upside with some of these guys, it's just that they come with a lot of warts that prevent me from going higher on them. Of course, a bounce back year, and these guys could gain in their grades, and that is certainly possible with all five of these guys.

No. 16: Ricky Oropesa, First Base

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: Starting first baseman; at worst, pinch hitter off the bench.

Summary: A third round pick by the Giants in the 2011 draft, Oropesa has some big upside as a potential power threat, but carries a size-able amount of risk. A physical specimen at six-foot, three inches and 225 pounds, Oropesa has the look and some of the plus tools of a future home-run mashing first baseman. He hit 40 home runs total in his career at USC and posted a career slugging of .596 and OPS of 1.007 as a collegian. Furthermore, he has had moments where he had just wowed scouts in person, with his most eye-popping feat being a home run he absolutely crushed off of UCLA's Gerrit Cole, the eventual No. 1 pick in last year's draft.

And yet, despite the power and solid, Big-League frame, Oropesa for the most part comes off as a bit of a one-trick pony. The scouting reports on his defense are average at best, he doesn't sport a lot of speed on the basepaths or in the field (pretty much limiting him to first base or a corner outfield position), and he isn't expected to hit for much average as a professional either. Yes, his career collegiate batting average is .331, but he only posted a contact rate of 77 percent as a collegian, and in 2010 in the Cape Cod, he only hit .222 in 153 at-bats with 52 strikeouts to boot.

For better or worse, a lot of Oropesa's stock and projection as a prospect weighs on his ability to hit for power as a professional. Hence, the amount of risk weighing on that one tool really prevents me from thinking he's a Top-15 prospect in the Giants system at this point (and he didn't sign in time to get any time in Rookie Ball or the Northwest League, so that also hurt his rating since he hasn't been exposed to professional pitching yet). That being said, even though he had a down year his junior year at USC (he only hit 7 home runs after belting 13 and 20 his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively, though I imagine the change in bats had something to do with the regression in power numbers), he did hit a league-high seven home runs in the Cape, so Oropesa certainly has the ability to hit for power with wooden bats.

What to Expect in 2012: Oropesa will always be susceptible to strikeouts because of his long, uppercut swing. That being said, he has a good eye at the plate (career 0.59 BB/K ratio, with it being 0.65 and 0.63 the past two years at USC) and that could make up for the amount of whiffs Giants fans will see in the minors from him. He definitely has Carlos Pena-esque potential, as it seems like his power is legitimate and he could post good OBP numbers that will make up for the low averages (I don't see Oropesa projecting to be more than a .250 hitter in the Majors). Of course, we have seen offensive-heavy collegiate prospects flame out before (Eddy Martinez-Esteve being the biggest recent example), but Oropesa does have some good ceiling, and if he can mash home runs on a consistent basis that are in a similar mold to the one he rocked off Cole in college, then he could make some noise in the Giants system. It is likely that the Giants will take a slower route with him, like power hitting third base prospect Chris Dominguez, and start him off in Augusta. However, he could start off the year in San Jose if he makes an impressive enough impression on the Giants brass this Spring (though with Angel Villalona starting the year in San Jose, that is probably unlikely).

No. 17: Mike Kickham, Left-handed pitcher

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: No. 3-5 starting pitcher

Summary: Mike Kickham entered the Giants as somewhat of a sleeper prospect after being drafted in the 6th round in the 2010 MLB Draft. A polished college pitcher from Missouri State, Kickham has the size and frame of a starting pitcher with Major League potential. Kickham made a lot of noise in the Summer Collegiate League circuit after having a great campaign in the MINK League (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas College summer league) where he went 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA in 24 innings of work. He also struck out 42 batters and only allowed 7 walks for the Sedalia Bombers that summer (good for a K/BB ratio of six). Though his summer in the MINK was cut short due to the Giants drafting him in the sixth round, it was a nice campaign that got Kickham on many prospect experts' radar.

While Kickham's traditional numbers didn't impress in college (he posted a 4-9 record with a 5.25 ERA and 1.36 WHIP), he did show solid command (3.43 K/BB ratio) and ability to rack up strikeouts (9.66 K/9) in 96 innings pitched his sophomore year with the Bears. He did prove to be hittable at times (9.47 H/9), but for the most part, sans the ERA and W-L record, Kickham did have a lot going for him in his last year as a collegian.

In his first full professional season in the Sally, the same problems seemed to hound Kickham in Augusta. He didn't post a great W-L record (not totally his fault, since the Green Jackets were one of the worst offensive teams in the Giants system and the Sally is tough on hitters) and he still allowed a lot of hits (9.0 H/9) in 111.2 innings pitched. However, he transitioned his impeccable command to Single-A (2.78 K/BB ratio), and got better as the year progressed. Dr. B of When the Giants Come to Town said this about Kickham in his Top 50 rankings profile (where Kickham also ranked No. 17):

"Mike Kickham continued a pattern from college of posting peripheral numbers that look much better than his ERA. What's encouraging about Kickham's performance for Augusta is he got progressively stronger as the season went along. Over his last 10 starts, he went 4-5, 3.25, 55.1 IP, 13 BB, 40 K, GO/AO=2.36. He really turned it on over his last 6 starts starting August 5: 3-3, 2.23, 36.3 IP, 5 BB, 25 K."

Kickham was a bit old for the Sally at 22, but he has all the tools you would want from a starting pitcher. He has an enticing frame at six-foot, four-inches and a 190 pounds, and his fastball sits in the 92-94 MPH range according to reports. Also, Kickham sports a curve ball, slider and a changeup, so his four pitch repertoire bodes well for his future as a starting pitcher.

What to Expect in 2012: Kickham most likely will start the year in San Jose, which will be a challenge for him considering the hitter-friendly environments of the California League. Kickham does induce a lot of groundballs (thanks to his breaking pitches), but how he avoids contact will be a big factor for him in terms of whether her progresses or regresses as a prospect in High-A. His strikeouts per nine numbers were solid last year (8.3), but they weren't spectacular by any stretch. Kickham's strong finish last year provides a lot of hope for the future, and with his frame, there is hope that he can gain more velocity as he fills out into his body (which hopefully will help his ability to strike batters). Overall, there is a lot to like about Kickham, and I think he has more upside than an Eric Surkamp, who had amazing command and strikeout ability, but lackluster tools. That being said, Surkamp dominated in the Cal League, and Kickham needs to do the same in 2012 if he wants to really gain steam as a prospect in the Giants system.

No. 18: Seth Rosin, right-handed pitcher

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: No. 4-5 starting pitcher; most likely a bullpen arm, maybe a setup guy

Summary: Another former Green Jacket, Rosin is a powerful right handed arm that struck out guys in bunches in the Sally last season. Much like Kickham, Rosin entered the draft as a polished college arm out of the University of Minnesota. In his last year with the Golden Gophers, the six-foot, five-inch right hander went 9-4 with a 4.72 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 95 strikeouts in 103 innings pitched.

Like Kickham, the ERA numbers didn't impress, but Rosin's excellent command in college (7.92 K/BB ratio) prompted the Giants take him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. After striking out 9 batters and allowing 9 hits in an 11 inning-stint in Salem Keizer in 2010, Rosin had a good year in his first full professional season in Augusta. He appeared in 39 games and made 10 starts with the Green Jackets, pitching 89 innings total in 2011. Despite the inconsistency in roles, he still posted good numbers, as he finished the year with a 3.34 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 3.10.

As evidenced by him striking out 95 batters in 89 innings, his ability to strike batters out makes Rosin an intriguing prospect. He sports a 92-94 MPH fastball, a a 72-76 MPH curveball and a changeup that sits in the 81-84 MPH, according to a scouting report by John Klima of the Baseball Prospect report. While his curve ball and changeup still need a lot of work, his lively fastball and impeccable command should carry him as a prospect as he moves up in the Giants system.

He has a big frame, but at 235 pounds, his size probably projects him to be more of a bullpen arm rather than a rotation guy. I just don't think he will have the stamina to pitch 150 plus innings in his professional career. Furthermore, his three pitch repertoire also limits his potential to be a consistent play in the rotation. That being said, if he can get into better shape and develop his pitches, he could have end of the rotation or spot-starter potential.

What to Expect in 2012: Rosin will join Green Jacket teammate Kickham in San Jose, most likely starting in the bullpen (though it is possible that he could get an end of the rotation spot). Rosin is a big, powerful arm who has great stuff and even better command. Much like Kickham, he's a bit of an older prospect, but he has held his own as a professional thus far. The Cal League will be a challenge for him, but his command is a bit better than Kickham's at this point, so the transition should be less arduous for Rosin than Kickham. It'll be interesting to see what the Giants do with Rosin (either make him a starter or reliever), but either way, he has the tools to be a player in the Giants pitching staff in a couple of years.

No. 19: Jarrett Parker, Outfielder

Overall Grade: C
Projection: Utility outfielder; maybe a Major League backup

Summary: Parker came into the Giants system with some lofty hype after posting a .333/.428/.593 slash with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 243 at-bats in his final season at the University of Virginia in 2010. The Giants selected the polished, athletic collegian in the second round of the 2010 draft. The selection of Parker, along with first round pick Gary Brown, showed the Giants commitment to acquiring more position prospects who could move quickly in the minor leagues.

Much like Brown, Parker started his first full season in San Jose. Unlike Brown though, Parker struggled in his first year, though his numbers weren't terrible by any means. Parker did flash a lot of speed in his first year, as he stole 20 bases in 25 attempts, and he did display a good eye at the plate, as evidenced by his .360 OBP and 13 percent walk percentage. However, Parker struggled to put the bat on the ball consistently in High-A ball, as he struck out 144 times (a 25.2 percent rate) and posted a contact rate of 70.4 percent.

Hitting for average as a professional may be a struggle for Parker (even in college his contact rate was under 80 percent), and that was evidenced by his .253 average in San Jose. That being said, his plate approach and ability to get on base could maximize his value, especially considering his skill on the basepaths. In terms of power, he did sport some pop at the University of Virginia (26 home runs combined his last two years with the Cavs), and in his first year in San Jose, as evidenced by his 13 home runs and 33 percent extra base hit percentage. His power probably projects more as gap to gap power rather than pure home run power, but with his speed, the ability to hit the ball to the gaps will only maximize his value as a prospect.

Defensively, Parker has been graded as a plus defender, as Jonathan Mayo in his 2010 Draft Day scouting report of Parker said that he had plus defender skills and range to be a good center fielder (though he did note that he had below average arm strength). Statistically though, Parker will have to work on some things, as he did commit 10 errors and posted sub-2 range factors at every position he played in 2011 (though he may have been playing out of position in San Jose, as he mostly played right with Brown in center).

What to Expect in 2012: Parker's stock took a big hit in 2011, though to be honest, he's kind of been on a bit of a downward trend since his phenomenal 2009 where his team bested a Stephen Strasburg-led San Diego State team in the NCAA Regionals (he was rated as the top prospect going into the Cape Cod in 2009 and he struggled in the Cape). Parker will probably begin the year in San Jose again, though that might not be a bad thing, for he will probably play more at his natural position of center field and he could use some more time to hone his approach at the plate and cut down on the strikeouts. Overall, Parker is a great athlete and baserunner, and his careful eye at the plate should produce .340-plus OBPs wherever he should go in the Giants system. If he gets off to a hot start in his second year in the Cal League, it wouldn't be surprising to see him join classmate Brown at Double-A Richmond at some point in 2012. That being said, the Giants will need to see significant progress from Parker in San Jose before they rush him up to Double-A.

No. 20: Chris Dominguez, Third Base

Overall Grade: C
Projection: Utility corner infielder; could be a career minor league player if approach doesn't improve

Summary: A 3rd round pick by the Giants in the 2009 draft, Dominguez came in with some high expectations after mashing at Louisville in college. He was one of the best hitters in the Big East, leading the conference in batting average his last two seasons, while also displaying considerable power as a collegian (he hit 46 home runs combined his last two years, and also posted extra base hit percentages of 39.6 and 43.8 percent his junior and senior years, respectively). Hence, the Giants figured Dominguez would be a fast-moving prospect in their system after playing four years with the Cardinals.

However, Dominguez  moved slowly in the Giants system, starting in Augusta his first full year in 2010 (at 23 years old, he was old for the league). While he did flash some home run power potential (he hit 21 home runs in 608 plate appearances), he struggled with pitch recognition and plate discipline with the Green Jackets. Mike Newman of Fangraphs and Scouting the Sally said this about Dominguez in his scouting report following the 2010 season:

"After watching him play, I referred back to a scouting report on Dominguez by Frankie Piliere back in 2008 to find little had changed in the two years since that report was written. Dominguez seemed like the same player he was as a junior in college which leaves me questioning his ability to adjust at a more advanced age than the average “Sally” prospect."

Newman noted his plate discipline issues, especially when he saw breaking pitches. Newman said that Dominguez had "significant problems adjusting to breaking pitches; Even below average breaking balls gave him fits." Despite these issue, with his power, size and arm strength, a lot of experts out there were still high on Dominguez after the 2010 season despite his advanced age for the level.

Dominguez made the transition to San Jose in 2011, and predictably (considering the hitter-friendly confines), he did well in the Cal League, posting a slash of .291/.337/.465 with an .802 OPS and 11 home runs in 279 plate appearances. The strong start in San Jose prompted the Giants to promote Dominguez to Richmond, and he got off to a fast start (he was named Eastern League player of the week after hitting .458 with a home run, seven doubles, a triple and eight RBI during the week ending June 26th). However, he struggled as EL pitchers adjusted to him, as he finished the year with a slash of .244/.272/.403 with a .675 OPS and seven home runs in 313 plate appearances in his tenure with the Flying Squirrels.

Tools wise, Dominguez may be the most impressive third base prospect in the Giants system. His power and arm are rated as plus tools by scouts, and at six-foot, three inches and 215 pounds, Dominguez has a big frame and some decent athleticism for his size (though defensively his range is graded as below average). His plate approach seems to be the key to whether or not he will become a future Major League player, as he is known for posting a lot of strikeouts with little walks to counter them (he has a career BB/K ratio of 0.21). Even if he does have "Major-League" power, many wonder if Dominguez will make enough contact as a professional (career minor league contact rate of 74 percent) to ever make use of it.

What to Expect for 2012: At 25 years old, Dominguez is one year away from his "peak" year. So far, he has flashed some promising signs (his San Jose campaign, 21 home runs in the Sally, his fast start in Richmond), but for the most part, the negatives of his game (lackluster plate approach, below-average defensive skills, older age for levels played) have outweighed the positives in my mind. Tools-wise, as stated before, he may be better than any other third base prospect in the Giants system (and I'm including Conor Gillaspie). However, I just don't know if he has the plate discipline to adjust to better pitching. His BB/K ratio was an atrocious 0.12 in Richmond last year, and his contact rate was also sub-average at 74 percent. To me, that isn't the sign of a replacement level Major League player, let alone a Major League starting one. Dominguez most likely will start again at Double-A to improve his approach, but he will need to make major strides in his second year in the Eastern League. If he can improve and be more patient at the plate, he could salvage his status a little bit, but I would say at his age, the chips are heavily stacked against him.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prospect Highlight: Wendell Fairley, OF

With the recent news of former No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush being involved in another alcohol-induced incident, it got me thinking "Who are some high round picks in the Giants system that have really fallen off the past couple of seasons?" The two names that came to mind were Wendell Fairley and Michael Main (whom I'll be covering in another post). Bush has had serious makeup problems since he was drafted, and to be honest, while he has flashed good numbers as a converted pitcher (he used to play shortstop, but hit so poorly the Padres decided to switch him positions), I think his makeup problems (specifically alcohol issues) will prevent him from reaching even a modicum of his potential.

(On a side note: I don't understand why this guy has been given so many chances at this point in his career. This was a guy who was arrested at a high school because he showed up drunk, threatened high school kids and then was caught on video camera screaming and crying hysterically as police arrested him. Why would any team touch him, let alone two teams with very smart general managers in the driver's seats? (Though to be fair, Toronto booted him after he broke their zero-tolerance policy they agreed upon when he signed with the Jays; at this point, I think Tampa is probably going to follow suit, especially since they already have some heat on them from acquiring Josh Lueke, a pitcher who allegedly raped someone. Having Lueke, and a guy who apparently hit and run a 72-year-old man on a motorcycle while drunk on the same roster would be a PR nightmare, and Tampa has enough problems drawing fans to the park.)

But, to my knowledge, Fairley and Main's issues have simply been ineffectiveness at the professional level, so at least they have that going for them, unlike Bush. That being said, they did come as highly touted picks, and they have hardly lived up to their Draft Day press clippings during their minor league careers so far. Can 2012 be a break out for the both of them, where they finally capture at least SOME of the hype that made them such highly merited first round choices? Or are these two probably destined to be fringe prospects in the Billy Rowell-mold?

Let's take a look at Fairley in this post. I'll try to take a stab at Main in one of the next ones sometime this weekend.

Wendell Fairley, outfielder

Age: 24
Minor League service time: Three years.
Highest level played: Double-A (Richmond)
Career minor league stat line: .263 average, .347 OBP, .334 slugging, .681 OPS, 167 runs scored, eight home runs, 24 stolen bases in 367 games and 1,419 plate appearances. 
Overall Grade: C-/D+ (Leaning more toward latter grade though)
Projection: Backup outfielder; maybe career minor league player.

Why Has Fairley Been Disappointing?

When drafted in the Giants' pick-heavy 2007 draft, many felt that the Giants got a good steal with Fairley in the 29th slot. Keith Law remarked that Fairley had middle-of-the-first round potential in the draft, but went lower because of signability and some makeup issues (apparently, he had a kid when he was a senior in high school, which to be honest, isn't really all that uncommon with a lot of athletes). A lot of the reports on Fairley were very sterling, as scouts raved about his "five tool" potential as well his athleticism. According to OGC's draft day profile on Fairley, scouts remarked that he had "the ability to hit for average and plus power" and that he was a "plus runner" and had defensive skills "perfect for center field."

However, there were some concerns about Fairley's game from people, even on draft day. For starters, Fairley was a two sport athlete in high school who also concentrated heavily on football (he was widely recruited by colleges as a wide receiver), and hence, he wasn't as widely known by scouts because of his dual-sport commitments. Also, while sporting "five tool" potential, many experts and people in the Giants organization (even Brian Sabean) admitted that he was very raw and that it would take some time for him to develop into those tools. Still, despite some concerns, the vibe surrounding Fairley's selection was overall very positive, as said in OGC's post:

"He sounds like the best position prospect that we have had in ages (well, at least before Villalona; won't they make a nice pair of call-ups in 4-6 years, or less?) and he helps makes up for the fact that we passed up a few premier position talents in Dominguez, Heyward, and Mills, particularly Heyward since I've seen a number of descriptions of him being remniscent of Willie McCovey. He's noted as a Top 10-15 pick by talent so he's equivalent enough to them to satisfy me - and I do like Bumgarner and Alderson and the fact that Sabean and Tidrow both noted that they are on the fast track and could advance to the majors in as short as 2 years, so despite them not being college players, they could provide return to the Giants in perhaps even a shorter timeframe, few prospects make the majors in 6 years, let alone 2 years. And there's no way the Giants would have gotten anyone as good as Bumgarner in the 29th pick had they selected any of those three hitters."

Despite the lofty praise and excitement, Fairley's high point seemed to be draft day and it's been downhill since. He held his own in 52 games in the Arizona Rookie League in 2008, posting a .363 wOBA, but his wOBA was mostly helped by a .388 OBP and a BB/K ratio of 0.70. In terms of actually hitting the ball, his numbers were very mediocre, as he hit only .259 and posted a slugging of .337 with only two home runs in 238 plate appearances. So, while Fairley did show a good approach at the plate his first season in Rookie Ball, his lackluster ability to hit for average or show any power in Arizona was a bit of a warning sign.

All that came into fruition in his first two full years of professional ball. In Single-A Augusta in 2009, he posted a slash of .243/.323/.333 in 390 plate appearances. Not only did he show little ability to hit for average or power in the Sally (only one more home run despite 152 more plate appearances), but he didn't showcase any of the speed that made scouts grade him a "plus runner" on draft day (only two stolen bases on six attempts). While he did pick it up offensively in San Jose in 2010, improving his slash to .292/.362/.343 in 440 plate appearances, the complete lack of power (one home run all year) and questionable baserunning skills (10 stolen bases on 16 attempts) made him an afterthought in most Giants prospects lists.

The Giants had him repeat the year in San Jose in 2011, and though he struggled in his second Cal League campaign (he posted a .245/.329/.317 slash in 242 plate appearances), the Giants still promoted him to Richmond toward the end of the year. Despite the change to the pitcher-friendly environments of the Eastern League, Fairley actually performed a lot better in the EL in 2011 than in the CL, posting a slash of .265/.321/.337 with a .657 OPS in 109 plate appearances. Still though, 2011 provided more of the same: a lot of empty singles and not much extra on the basepaths (only five stolen bases the whole year).

When you look at him in person, Fairley seems to have an athletic presence, but he doesn't 'wow' you in the way a typical "five tool" type would. He's not blazing, his frame isn't incredibly strong looking, and his swing is very constricted and illustrates why he has never posted a slugging in the .400 range over his career. He has a slap hitter's swing that makes him a groundball machine. One would hope that management and instruction has tried to work with him on this, but after four years, one has to wonder how much has been taught and how much has changed. From what I've seen from when he first started playing professional ball, not a lot has progressed in terms of swing mechanics, which makes me think Fairley's power ceiling and ability to hit extra base hits will sort of stay where it is (i.e. very low).

Is There Still Hope for Fairley?

To be honest, Fairley is one of those prospects that's really hanging on the edge right now in terms of projection. If I have to guess where he ends up, I would probably say he's a career minor leaguer with maybe a backup or utility role in the outfield being his ceiling at this point. He doesn't hit for average, doesn't hit for power, doesn't steal bases, doesn't play excellent defense (he projects more as a corner infielder at this point) and doesn't exactly have the best eye at the plate (though he does seem to adjust with more exposure to pitching, as his BB/K ratio improved in his second year in San Jose). All those are factors that are heavily working against his potential and chances in terms of being a Major League player.

However, to be honest, his slash lines haven't been as bad as I initially thought, and Giants fans had to expect Fairley to struggle like this to start out his career. He was so raw when he was drafted that to expect him to come out and mash would be foolish.Yes, the power and speed hasn't developed as well as hoped, but the averages and OBP numbers still give glimmers of hope that he can have some kind of utility for the Giants organization in the future. The glimmer is small and unlikely to project into anything, but to say Fairley is done at 24 years old and after only four seasons (including only 34 games in Double-A) would be a bit rash at this point.

There is a lot for Fairley to overcome. To be honest, there are a lot more outfield prospects in the lower minors levels of the Giants system who are younger and with more upside than Fairley at this point, so he has to do a lot to hold them. Minor injuries have seemed to take its toll on Fairley over his career, as was the case last year where he was limited to only 95 games. So, if Fairley can stay healthy and be somewhat effective in Richmond again, there is hope that he can rebound his status as a prospect in 2012. He won't jump up on any Top 30 lists going into 2013, but if he can have a bounce back year where he can post a .270/.340/.380-esque slash, then Fairley will suddenly be an interesting prospect again in the Giants system and not just the "first round" bust he's been known as the past couple of seasons.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Training Notes: Adrianza and Peguero Optioned to Fresno, Villalona to SJ

While these aren't exactly new, I forgot to include them on the last post of Spring Training notes, so I figured it would be good to include them for those who weren't aware. I was just scanning the Minor League transactions blog of Baseball America and I uncovered these tidbits on the Giants.

-- This happened during the week of March 7-12th, but the Giants optioned shortstop Ehire Adrianza and outfielder Francisco Peguero to Triple-A Fresno to start the 2012 season.

-- The decision to have Adrianza start in Fresno is a bold maneuver by Giants management. Adrianza hasn't played above High-A ball (sans a couple game stint in Fresno his first year) in his minor league career, and it was widely assumed that the defensive-oriented shortstop would most likely begin the year in Double-A Richmond. However, the Giants must have liked his defensive abilities, because his batting stat line was anything but impressive this Spring, as he only played 5 games and had 3 at-bats. In those at-bats, he struck out twice and recorded no hits. While he may start the year with the Grizzlies, I would be mighty surprised to see Adrianza stick in the PCL the whole season.

-- Peguero hasn't seen much time with the Major League club this Spring, as it seems like he has mostly been in Minor League camp if you look at the stat line (he has no recorded offensive or defensive stats on the Giants' Spring Training site). The only note I have of Peguero is the fact that he threw out A's catcher Derek Norris in a game (most likely a Minor League one). This decision to have him begin in Triple-A is a mild surprise, since I thought the Giants might start him in Richmond after he only played half a season there. That being said, the Giants must have felt his performance in Double-A was good enough, and warranted a promotion to the PCL.

-- Lastly, the Giants optioned first base prospect Angel Villalona to High-A San Jose this week. This also doesn't come as a surprise considering Villalona has been unable to acquire a visa from the U.S. consulate this Spring. It was first reported that he was approved and that he would be able to make it for Spring Training, but due to some physical issues, it has been delayed and Villalona has been stuck in the Dominican Republic this whole Spring Training. Villalona last played in San Jose in 2009, so even if he did make it for some workouts this Spring, I think High-A ball was going to be his most likely destination anyways considering he hasn't played professionally since 2009.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Latin America Look: The DPL and a Glimpse Into Latin American Scouting

One of the most interesting developments in the world of Latin American baseball scouting has to be the emergence of the Dominican Prospect League. I discovered the web site in about February, and to be honest, the organization seems to be doing a lot in terms of raising the standards of scouting and player development in the Dominican Republic.

For those who aren't aware, scouting in the Dominican Republic or any other Latin American country for that matter, comes with a considerable amount of risk. There are benefits to the practice of course. For starters, since players in Latin America aren't exposed to the draft (except Puerto Rican players, who are), teams can establish strong baseball connections and even academies in countries which can give them an inside-edge to the players they want to sign and develop in the minors. Furthermore, players from Latin America can sign as early as 16-years-old, so that gives organizations lots of time to expose these raw athletes to instruction and professional playing time. Lastly, while some players command large signing bonuses, for the most part, the prices on Latin American players vary, and organizations can acquire maybe three to four athletic (but raw) players for the price that a first or supplemental round pick would cost in the Rule 4 draft.

However, there still remains glaring negatives to scouting and signing players from Latin America. As with the recent example of Fausto Carmona (who is now Roberto Hernandez Heredia), identity issues are a huge problem in Latin America. Because of shaky governments and infrastructure, birth records are very spotty in most Latin countries, and it has been common place for players and their managers to lie about their name, age and identity in order to acquire larger signing bonuses (after all, a 16 year old player is going to command a bigger bonus than an 18 year old because that 16 year old has two more years of development). The Giants have fallen victim to this a couple of times as well, with the biggest example being former top pitching prospect Merkin Valdez, who originally went by the name Manny Mateo when he was in the Braves' system. However, the Mateo name was false, and Valdez actually was a couple of years older than his stated age (the Giants still kept him in their system though despite the false claims).

While the identity issues have been a big concern, another problem with prospects signing from Latin America has been their struggles with issues back home. Of course, as a baseball fan and human being, one has to feel for their situation, and understands the pressure that they probably feel with so many people relying on them back home for money and support (if you haven't watched the movie "Sugar," you should; it will give you a good perspective of the challenges for these Latin prospects). That being said, sometimes the influences go beyond them sending home money that they should be saving for themselves. As Angel Villalona and Alfredo Simon have showed in the past couple of years, their huge statuses as baseball players in their home countries have gotten them into legal trouble as well. Both Villalona and Simon were involved in murder cases in the past couple of years. While Simon has still remained stateside, Villalona has been stuck in the DR, unable to reacquire a visa.

But, probably the biggest reason why a lot of teams don't invest too heavily in Latin America is simply the fact that the prospects are either huge booms or busts. After all, it's hard to project how a player will develop at 16 years old. Will he get stronger? Will he be able to handle a professional environment? Can he handle the language and cultural transition? Will he be able to handle the pressure of being paid six figures or more as a teenager? There are so many risk factors that are working against these prospects before they even pitch a single inning or take a professional at-bats.

Hence, that is why I don't understand why Major League Baseball wants to regulate scouting in Latin America. It is such a huge risk to begin with, and I believe that risk downgrades any kind of upside any Big Market team (Red Sox, Yankees) would have in terms of "dominating" a certain Latin area. Sure, they may dominate and be able to outspend on players in comparison to other organizations, but considering the success rate of players and their high volatility, is scouting in Latin America any better in terms of building a successful organization than the draft or spending on Free Agents? Probably not. If a team wants to spend their money in Latin American scouting, they should be free to do so as much as possible. However, their spending will also be hurt in another area, which likely will be in the draft or free agency, so that will balance things out for other teams who may get outspent in Latin America. They can have their advantage in the draft or in free agency in terms of building a competitive team.

But, back to the DPL, from what it seems like, this seems to be a great resource and organization not just for the prospects in the DR, but scouts as well. First off, we have seen what the "travel" circuit is like for high school amateurs, and it seems like the DPL is trying to replicate that: the DPL consists of teams with the "top" talent 18 and under in the DR and they not only play games against one another in "showcases" for scouts in the DR, but they also travel around Latin America and even to the states to participate in showcases against American high school competition. The whole spirit of the DPL "showcases" seems to be similar to what we see from events like the "Area Code" games, which only increases the profiles of these Latin prospects, while also giving more scouts more viewing time of these prospects in action.

So far, the DPL has been very successful in terms of getting their players signed to good bonuses. Texas Rangers first base/outfielder prospect, Ronald Guzman, signed a $3.5 million signing bonus last Winter. Adalberto Mondesi, the son of Raul Mondesi, is a shortstop whom the Royals signed for $2 million. And the Jays and international director of scouting Marco Paddy have really been active with the DPL as they have signed prospects such as shortstops Dawel Lugo (who signed for $1.3 million) and Ronniel Demorizi (who signed for $105,000). Guzman, Mondesi and Lugo were all ranked in the Top 20 of the Minor League Baseball Analysts' 2011-2012 Top International Prospects list.

As for the Giants, they have already established connections with the DPL, as they signed outfielder Carlos Valdez last Winter to a $325,000 signing bonus. Valdez is a five-tool type of player who has a solid, athletic frame, but still a lot of room for development. Thanks to the DPL, there is ample video and information on Valdez via their Web site, which makes it a lot easier for me and other Giants fans to get excited about Valdez's potential.

So what do I think about the Dominican Prospect League overall? To be honest, I think this is really good for baseball in Latin America, and I'm hoping more and more countries follow suit (Venezuela seems like the next destination for another organization like this one). It allows more exposure to these talented Latin prospects who often go under the radar and unrecognized until they hit the mid minors. Furthermore, for people who are really into prospects (such as me), the DPL also gives us an idea of who to be watching out for in the Dominican Summer League as well as other Rookie Leagues. It still doesn't compare to the exposure high school and college prospects get here in the states (thanks to sites like Perfect Game), but it is a heck of a lot better than what we were getting a few years ago before the DPL was really established.

The only negative I think we could see is for organizations, as the increased hype and visibility of these prospects will only result in higher signing bonuses for these players. With more videos on profiles out there on these prospects, courtesy of the DPL, more and more organizations will be exposed to these prospects which will increase the competition when it comes to bidding for their playing rights. Before the DPL, it would mostly be one team scouting a player, and thus, they would have a lot of control when it came to the negotiation of signing bonuses (e.g. "Nobody else knows about you, so you have to play for our price or don't play at all." method). Now, with the DPL showcases, site and videos on these prospects, players and their managers will have a lot more freedom in the negotiation process. Teams who scout a player more will have more leverage of course (a player is likely to sign with a team that scouts them the most and shows the most interest), but they won't have that complete or absolute leverage like before.

It will be interesting to see how the DPL continues to develop as the years progress. Without a doubt, how their alums pan out as professionals will be the biggest factor in terms of whether the DPL continues to develop or starts to fade. If the success rate of players who played in the DPL is high, undoubtedly the organization will gain more reputability, which only mean more talent coming their way, as well as higher signing bonuses for their prospects. If the the success rate is low, the organization could take a hit, and all the exposure will undoubtedly fade when teams start to pull their checkbooks away from their players. (I mean, who would want to spend on players from an organization that doesn't produce successful Major Leaguers?) So, these next five years will be crucial, and the progress of top DPL alums like Guzman, Mondesi and Lugo could boost or hinder the viability of the organization for the future.

Nonetheless, I really love the idea of the DPL and I think it's going to be setting in motion a lot of good things for prospects and scouts in Latin America. There are a lot of talented players in Latin America and the more talent teams (and especially the Giants, who have been very active in Latin America the past seven or so years) acquire from this area, the better baseball will be here, both internationally and domestically.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Training Notes: Cuts and a Look at the Giants Prospects This Spring

So, I figure with Opening Day and with final roster cuts coming up, it would be a good time to see who has done well and who has struggled this Spring out of the prospects invited to Spring Training. Here are a few points in "bullet form."

-- As noted in the title, the Giants made another round of cuts, optioning pitcher Hector Correa and outfielder Tyler Graham to Triple-A to Fresno (title of the blog alert!). The news on those two isn't too much of a surprise considering the Giants bullpen and outfield is pretty crowded as it is, and those two were long shots to make the 25-man this Spring. Correa struck out three in 2.1 innings of work, while also allowing one run on three hits and two walks. While Graham impressed with his abilities in the field, he never could get comfortable at the plate this Spring, as he only had two hits and one walk in 15 at-bats.

-- The Giants also made some assignments to Minor League camp last Sunday. On the list were infielders Chris Dominguez and Nick Noonan, catcher Jackson Williams, outfielder Juan Perez, and pitchers Matt Yourkin, Mitch Lively and Justin Fitzgerald.

-- The most impressive performer of the bunch was Perez, who posted a slash of  .455/.538/.909 in nine games and 11 at-bats with the Giants Spring club. He also added a home run, a triple and a stolen base to his stat total this Spring. The Spring is a nice sign for Perez who is coming off a down year in Richmond where he posted a slash of .256/.303/.381 in 497 plate appearances. The previous season, Perez gained some steam as an under the radar prospect after hitting .298 with an .809 OPS in 596 plate appearances with the San Jose Giants. While he is a bit of an older prospect (he's going to be 25 this year), Perez has some very Andres Torres-esque qualities in the sense that he has good speed (22 stolen bases a year ago) and some pop for a guy of his diminutive stature. Whether he starts in Richmond or Fresno, I think Perez could have a bounce back year in 2012, and this Spring was certainly a good sign for such a breakout.

-- On March 16th, the Giants sent top prospect Gary Brown to Minor League camp. Though he is the consensus No. 1 Giants prospect on most experts' lists and a Top-50 prospect in baseball, the move isn't a surprise considering Brown's highest level of play is the Cal League. With Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera being acquired this off-season, and with Gregor Blanco's hot spring, Brown's shot of making the 25-man roster was very slim and unlikely to begin with. In seven games with the Big League squad this Spring, Brown had two hits in 11 at-bats, both singles. While he did have a stolen base, he was caught stealing twice on three attempts. One of the big things Brown needs to work on is being more efficient on the basepaths, as he was caught 19 times last year. With his 80 scout grade speed, that is just way too much. Hopefully the Giants worked with him on some things this Spring that will make him more efficient this upcoming season.

-- Of the non-roster invitee prospects in the Giants system, the biggest performer had to be Tommy Joseph, who had two home runs in nine at-bats with the Giants Spring club. He also showed a solid eye at the plate, walking twice and only striking out once. Considering that his biggest weakness as a hitter was the questionable plate discipline, this Spring was an encouraging sign for him this upcoming year as he makes the move from the Cal to the Eastern League.

-- In terms of pitching prospects, the results have been a little mixed. Eric Surkamp was expected to battle for the fifth spot in the Giants' rotation, but he hasn't stood out amazingly this Spring. While he has displayed flashes of the command that made him such a great prospect in the Cal and Eastern League (he has struck out 11 and only walked 3 in 11.1 innings of work), he has still proven to be too hittable when facing Major League hitters. He allowed 13 hits and six runs in four appearances and two starts this year. It is likely that he will start the year in Fresno.

-- On the other end, Heath Hembree came on with a fury this Spring, striking out seven in five innings of work while only walking one and allowing two hits and a run. With Brian Wilson showing some arm issues this Spring, Hembree made a case why he should be considered in the Giants bullpen as soon as this year. If Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt or Javier Lopez show any signs of struggle, don't be surprised to see Hembree get a call up to the big league roster sooner rather than later. He may be the third best right handed reliever on the Giants roster behind Wilson and Sergio Romo.

Friday, March 16, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 11-15; Culberson, Gillaspie, Mejia, Blackburn, Osich

So it's been 11 days since my last post. It's been a weird month, and it's been hard to just find time to really sit down and post (not to mention tweet). For the sake of time interests, I've decided to streamline the rankings profiles a bit now. First off, I would like to have as many of the rankings up before Opening Day. Secondly, when you get deeper and deeper in the rankings, less and less information is available, so it's harder to come up with as in-depth profiles like the ones in the Top-10.

Hopefully, the posting will be a little more consistent from here on out.

No. 11: Charlie Culberson, Second Base

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: Utility infielder; at best, starting second base. At worst, career backup.

Summary: Culberson, the former supplemental round pick (2007 Draft), has had an up and down career as an infielder in the Giants system. Originally drafted as a shortstop, inconsistent defense forced a move from the position after the 2008 season in Augusta (he ended up playing third base in 2009 with the Green Jackets, until he ended up settling at Second Base in San Jose). The main problem with Culberson's defense is that he is too error prone, as he committed 75 errors in between his two campaigns in the Sally in 2009 and 2010. That being said, the move to second base has been worthwhile, as he has only committed 28 errors the past two years at the Keystone in San Jose and Richmond, which has improved his fielding percentages to .975 and .978 the past two years (in comparison, his fielding percentages in Augusta were .901 and .900, respectively).

Offensively, things started slow for Culberson, as the Sally seemed to overwhelm him as a hitter just out of high school. In two stints with the Green Jackets, he posted OPS numbers of .599 and .598, and he displayed little power (312.5 average slugging in Augusta), ability to hit for average (.240 batting average in two seasons in Single-A) and a poor approach at the plate (0.31 average BB/K ratio in Augusta). Much like fellow 2007 pick Wendell Fairley, many people felt that Culberson simply didn't have the offensive skills to project into a Major League player.

However, in 2010, Culberson broke out in all kinds of ways in the California League. He improved defensively with the transition to second base, becoming at least average defensively at the position. The biggest improvement though came offensively, as he hit 16 home runs, and posted a slash of .290/.334/.457 in 503 at-bats in San Jose. While the plate approach was still skeptical (0.33 BB/K ratio), the increased power (career high .167 ISO) as well as speed on the basepaths (25 stolen bases), gave some scouts and experts that Culberson could have 20-20 home run-stolen base potential in the mold of Dustin Pedroia, or at the very least 15-15 potential.

Of course, as mentioned before on this blog, Cal League stats always have to be taken with a grain of salt. While he did follow up his Cal League dominance with an excellent showing in the Arizona Fall League (he posted a .366/.394/.591 slash with two home runs and 21 runs scored in 99 plate appearances with the Scorpions), the Eastern League pitching proved to be dominating for him to replicate his High-A numbers. He regressed to post a slash of .259/.287/.382 in 553 at-bats, and his plate approach suffered, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.17, a career low.

While some would write off Culberson completely, I was actually a little comforted in some ways by his 2011 campaign in Richmond, and still hold some hope that he can turn into a good Major League player in a year or two. First off, he was still two years younger than the competition in the Eastern League (average hitter's age is 24), and while is power regressed, it didn't fall off a cliff like some hitters who make the transition from the Cal to the Eastern League. He still hit 10 home runs, and his ISO only dipped 44 points, not terrible considering his previous high ISO in the Sally was .085. He also made the Eastern League All-Star team, an honor that displayed that his season wasn't downright terrible by any stretch of the imagination.

What to Expect in 2012: It's tough to gauge where Culberson will be in 2012. An early injury in the beginning of work outs has kept him out of Spring Training so far, and it's likely that he won't be ready until the end of Spring Training as well. There was some hope that with a good Spring, Culberson could have made the transition to Triple-A to start the year. Now, it looks like he'll be in extended Spring Training and most likely starting out the year in Double-A again. While starting out in Double-A could be a good thing, Culberson needs to make some kind of transition upward this year, either to Triple-A (the most likely scenario) or to the Majors. The latter is probably a stretch, especially when you consider Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theirot and Emmanuel Burriss are ahead of him on the organizational depth chart at the Major League and Triple-A level. However, there needs to be a sign of improvement and a leap of some sort for Culberson as a prospect in 2012. While he is still only 23 years old, this will be his sixth full season as a professional. If he cannot build off the campaign in Richmond a year ago, it's probably likely to think that Culberson won't amount to much at the Major League level. If he does, then he and Joe Panik could be battling for the keystone position when Sanchez leaves town.

No. 12: Conor Gillaspie, Third Base

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: Utility infielder/outfielder; could start at third base or a corner outfield position in right situation.

Summary: Originally a highly heralded supplemental round pick in the 2008 draft (he was the Giants' second pick after Buster Posey), Gillaspie's career has started slow, but really picked up the past two seasons. After getting a peek at the Major League level in 2008 shortly after being drafted (a Major League callup was written into his contract in order for him to sign at a lower bonus), Gillaspie struggled in all areas of his game in 2009 in San Jose. He committed 27 errors at third base in 116 games, and he only posted a slash of .286/.364/.386 in 530 plate appearances. Despite the hitter-friendly environments, Gillaspie displayed little to no power ability in his first full year, as he only hit four home runs and posted a measly ISO of .100.

While the lack of power or defensive ability hurt his stock greatly in 2009, he did display a solid eye at the plate (0.81 BB/K ratio) and a strong ability to make contact (86 percent contact rate). When he made the transition to the Eastern League in 2010, he was able to transition those skills for the most part. While his BB/K ratio dipped a little, it still remained above average at 0.55, and his contact percentage remained unchanged at 86 percent. Furthermore, one of the reasons for the dip in BB/K ratio was he increased his aggressiveness at the plate, which resulted in a lower walk rate (from 10 to 7 percent), but increased power (.132 ISO). In fact, he doubled his home run total from the Cal League in the Eastern League (from 4 to 8), and his slugging and OPS numbers both improved from San Jose as well (to .420 and .757). Considering most prospects' power numbers go the opposite direction in the transition from the CL to the EL, the improvement was a promising sign that Gillaspie wasn't finished yet.

2011 proved to be Gillaspie's best year as a professional, as he posted his best overall numbers as a Minor Leaguer in Fresno. He hit 11 home runs and posted a slash of .297/.391/.453 with an OPS of .844. His contact rate dipped to 82 percent, but he posted career highs in walk percentage at 13 percent, BB/K ratio at 0.84, and ISO at .157. His stellar campaign with the Grizzlies earned him a callup to the Big Leagues, and he held his own in 19 at-bats, posting a slash of .263/.333/.421 with two walks, only one strikeout, and five hits, including an inside the park home run.

What to Expect in 2012: Gillaspie doesn't hold much room for projection at 24 years old. He is a polished offensive player that displays a strong ability to make contact and a great eye at the plate. However, while his power has started to develop since that lackluster 2009 campaign in San Jose, his upside probably remains at 10-15 home runs a year, and he doesn't offer much speed on the basepaths or athleticism on the field to boot. This proves to be a problem, because defensively, he doesn't really project to be more than a corner infielder or outfielder, and he certainly doesn't have the power tool set to justify consistent playing time at the positions. Gillaspie could be a player in the Bill Mueller-mold (corner infielder who gets on-base and hits for average despite wielding below-average power for their position), but those kinds of players tend to be very rare, and get even fewer opportunities. At the same time, Gillaspie most likely will (and should) get some more playing time at the Major League level in 2012 (though, most likely, he will start the year in Fresno barring injury to someone this Spring). Hopefully, he'll get some more playing time at other positions in Triple-A to maximize his value when he gets the call up some point this year.

No. 13: Adalberto Mejia, Left-handed pitcher

Overall grade: C+
Projection: No. 2-3 starting pitcher.

Summary: A Dominican bonus baby who was signed for $350,000 in 2011 by scout Pablo Peguero (who was also responsible for signing outfielders Francisco Peguero and Rafael Rodriguez), Mejia is still a project of sorts who is a long ways away in terms of being fully developed. Furthermore, while he does offer some upside, at his age and where he's at in his professional career, he still carries considerable risk as a prospect (Baseball America, which ranked him 26 in their prospect handbook, graded his risk factor as extreme).

However, Mejia simply dominated as a pitcher in the Dominican Summer League, most likely earning himself a ticket to the Arizona Rookie League and/or Short-Season Salem Keizer this year. While DSL stats can't be taken too seriously (any rookie league numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt), Mejia displayed impeccable control for an 18 year old who had just signed that season. He only allowed eight walks in 76 innings pitched, good for a walk percentage of 0.9 and a K/BB ratio of 8.9. Just to compare, Joan Gregorio, a right handed prospect who has been ranked higher than Mejia on most lists, allowed nine more walks (17) in two less innings pitched when he threw in the DSL in 2011, and posted a K/BB ratio 6.5 points lower than Mejia (2.4). So, while the numbers can't be weighted too heavily, one can't dismiss Mejia's advanced approach completely either.

Tools wise, Mejia is still raw, as he throws a fastball that goes in the 87-91 MPH range that touches 92 MPH. Furthermore, he has a decent changeup and is working on his slider, which right now is still more of a slurve, according to reports from Baseball America. That being said, he is still 18 and growing into his Six-foot, three inch frame. As he gets older and exposed to more professional instruction when he makes the transition stateside, it is likely that his pitching repertoire and ability will get better. His approach has already received good marks, so the Giants will be starting with an already solid foundation.

What to Expect in 2012: Mejia is still years away from the Big Leagues, and with most Latin American prospects, his future could go either way. Just judging from his numbers and the early reports, Mejia has that upside to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, though he probably doesn't have the front line stuff or size to be a No.1 (though as stated before, he could gain more velocity as he continues to develop physically). I expect the Giants to take things conservatively with Mejia, and I don't really see him pitching beyond the Northwest League in 2012. However, if he continues to transition his command and control to the states, I wouldn't be surprised to see him be more of a riser in more prospect lists going into 2013.

No. 14 Clayton Blackburn, right-handed pitcher

Overall Grade: C+
Projection: No. 2/3 Starter; reliever at worst

Summary: Drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, the prep arm out of Oklahoma (the same state that produced top picks Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley in the 2011 draft) probably had the biggest pitching breakout out of the Giants' picks in 2011 (Joe Panik had the biggest breakout overall).

After signing, Blackburn made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League, and much like Mejia in the DSL, Blackburn displayed impeccable command and control for an 18 year old. In 33 innings pitched, he struck out 30 and walked only 3 batters total. (That's right, Three!) In addition, he only gave up 4.6 hits per nine innings and posted a BB/K ratio of 10. While it was only a 33 inning sample in Rookie ball, the stellar campaign had a lot of experts around the web and league wondering why Blackburn didn't go higher in the 2011 draft (though to be fair to other teams, it did seem like he was for sure going to honor his commitment to the University of Oklahoma going into the draft).

At six-foot, three inches and 220 pounds, his frame hints at front line rotation potential, or at the very least, middle of the rotation status. He has a four pitch arsenal, sporting a 90-93 MPH fastball, a good curve ball, and a slider and changeup, according to Rob Gordon of the MiLBA. Furthermore, while he didn't blow hitters away totally in his stint, Blackburn has excellent life on his pitches, and induces groundballs at an impressive rate (his GO/AO was 2.58 in 2011).

The main concern right now with Blackburn seems to be his size, for at 220 pounds, he is a bit on the heavy side, and isn't particularly athletic. Baseball America notes that he'll have to watch his conditioning in order to maintain and build stamina as a starting pitcher, especially as he makes the transition to full-season ball.

What to Expect in 2012: Blackburn is a big, young, high-ceiling arm that fits the mold of many former pitching prospects in the Giants organization (i.e. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner). While he doesn't have the upside of supplemental round pick Kyle Crick, Blackburn is a legitimate pitching prospect who has an advanced feel and repertoire for somebody his age. He most likely will begin the year in Low-A Augusta, which probably is the right track for him considering his youth. As noted before, his conditioning and stamina will be key things to keep an eye on in 2012, for a lot of his value is tied to him being a starter. If he can't keep the stamina to be a starting pitcher over a full year, his stock will take a hit. That being said, I am confident that he will stay in shape, and he could have a solid year in the Green Jackets' rotation in 2012.

No. 15: Josh Osich, Left-handed pitcher

Overall grade: C+
Projection: No. 4-5 starter; reliever

Summary: A sixth round pick, Osich had the makings of a first or second round draft choice going into the 2011 draft. However, Tommy John surgery in 2010, and arm concerns at the end of his 2011 season at Oregon State, scared off a lot of teams, and the Giants came in and swooped him up in the sixth round. Though he didn't play professionally last year, Osich did sign for $450,000 and passed a physical, so as of now, everything points to Osich being healthy and ready for the 2012 season.

As a pitcher, Osich had stretches of dominance during his time with the Beavers. He threw a no-hitter against powerhouse UCLA in 2011, and struck out 79 batters in 76.4 innings pitched his junior season. While he did post an ERA of 3.64 in 2011, his BB/K ratio remained decent at 2.32, and he only allowed 62 hits the entire year as well. Considering this was his first year coming off TJ surgery, and he couldn't really throw his breaking stuff due to the surgery, the numbers were a promising sign.

Right now, the big dilemma for the Giants is whether to break in Osich as a reliever or starter. Though he started in college and has starting potential, his injury concerns (he was pulled from an NCAA regional game in 2011 after one inning) probably will regulate Osich to the bullpen at least initially. Osich sports a three pitch arsenal, with a 92-95 MPH fastball that has been rated as four plus by Rob Gordon, and a slider and changeup. Baseball America noted that he didn't throw the slider very much last year due to injury concerns, and hence, that could have been the reason it wasn't graded very highly or very effective in 2011. Now that he has had a full year of play since TJ, it wouldn't be surprising to see his breaking stuff, especially his slider, become a more valuable part of his arsenal as a professional.

What to Expect in 2012: I am a big fan of Osich. I did a profile write-up on him going into the 2012 draft pick, and I thought he was worth spending a second round pick on, if available. The fact that the Giants got him in the sixth round to me is a steal (though as noted, we did spend second round money on him with his signing bonus). The health issues are a concern of course, but Osich has very good stuff and I think his secondary pitches will be even better now that he will be two years removed from TJ surgery that cost him his 2010 college season. I think the Giants will take things slow with him and start him in the bullpen, and in the Sally, just to be on the safe side. Though to be frank, I also wouldn't be surprised to see him pitch in High-A ball, simply due to his status as a high-round, college prospect.