After posting my top 20 positional prospects for 2011 on Friday, here’s my list for top 20 pitching prospects. Scouting pitchers is a lot different than scouting hitters because there are a lot more factors that come into play, and it is significantly harder to just look at a stat line, maybe read a few scouting reports, and form an opinion on someone. And to top it all off, your favorite pitching prospect could go blow out his arm and we’d be back at square one (see: Jorge Bucardo). This is my first year ranking the pitching prospects of the organization, so there’s likely to be some bumps and bruises along the way, but here goes.
20. Chris Heston, RHP (starter)
Heston was the Giants’ 12th round pick in 2009 out of East Carolina University. He’s 23 and he pitched in high-A this year, so he’s old for the level, but he performed pretty well, posting a 3.28 FIP in 151 innings with 7.81 K/9 and 2.38 BB/9. At 6’4”, 185 lbs., he’s a big fella, but he seems like more of a pitch to contact kind of guy. He could be a useful bullpen guy slash spot starter down the road, but I’d like to see what he can do in double A first.
19. Jake Dunning, RHP (reliever)
After being converted from a shortstop to a pitcher in March 2010, Dunning started this season as a starter before being converted to a reliever in late May. In 76 innings at high-A San Jose, he struck out 8.41 batters per nine innings and walked 2.84. According to scouting reports he has a fastball that clocks in the low to mid 90s with a slider and a changeup. His ceiling is as a middle reliever in the mold of Santiago Casilla.
18. Jacob Dunnington, RHP (reliever)
Only 20 years old, Dunnington started the year in single-A Augusta before getting promoted to San Jose in early July. He was pretty good in Augusta for 43 innings before dominating in San Jose, posting a K/9 rate over 12. His walk rate is a bit high though, and that caused his K/BB ratio for the season to fall at exactly 2.0. He’s very good at limiting the home runs, however, and he’s got a ceiling as either a set up guy or potentially a closer. He should start next year back in San Jose, with a promotion to Richmond likely at some point during the season.
17. Brett Bochy, RHP (reliever)
This is probably an aggressive ranking for Bochy, but this guy is more than just organizational filler (and son of the big league manager). A closer for Kansas last year before falling victim to Tommy John, he returned this season to put up big numbers for single-A Augusta. He reminds me of Brian Wilson: closer for big-conference school who blows his arm out, gets drafted late on day two, and then returns to dominate as a reliever. He put up a 12.23 K/9 rate and a 1.85 BB/9 rate, for an unreal 6.63 K/BB ratio. Hopefully the organization is aggressive with Bochy and promotes him to double A next year. I also would have liked to see him in the AFL this year.
16. Edwin Escobar, LHP (starter)
Escobar originally signed with the Rangers in 2009 for $350K out of Venezuela. The Giants then traded for him last April. This year Escobar started the season with Augusta, making four appearances (two starts) before being sent back to extended spring training. He then made fourteen appearances (twelve starts) with the AZL Rookie team. In Arizona he posted an 8.22 K/9 rate and a 3.33 BB/9 rate, good for a 3.37 FIP. He’s only 19, so he has a lot of room to improve, but this ranking is really just a shot in the dark. Next year will be an important one for him.
15. Seth Rosin, RHP (reliever)
Rosin, the Giants’ 4th rounder in 2010, spent the season as the closer for single-A Augusta. A prototypical closer type, reports have Rosin listed at either 6’5” or 6’6”, and between 235 and 250 lbs. – a big boy no matter how you slice it. He comes at batters with a four-seamer in the 94-96 range, and two-seamer at about 92, and a changeup around 78-81. He reported also throws a slider, but that pitch still needs work. He pitched a full season in Augusta, and here’s what he has to show for it: 89 innings, 39 appearances (10 starts, although none since June 29), 93 K’s, 30 BB’s, 2.63 FIP. He looks like a reliever going forward, and we should see him in San Jose next season.
14. Reinier Roibal, RHP (starter)
Roibal is a Cuban defector who signed with the Giants before the 2010 season. In his first full season Roibal threw 63 1/3 innings, struck out 58, and walked 17. He shows good command and an ability to miss some bats, although he doesn’t get superior strikeout numbers. Still, a 2.95 FIP in low-A is encouraging. He could use another season before it becomes apparent exactly what the Giants have in Roibal.
13. Lorenzo Mendoza, RHP (starter)
Mendoza made 14 starts and pitched 73 innings in low-A Salem-Keizer this season. Mendoza was attractive to me as a prospect for a couple of reasons: his age (this year was his age-19 season) and his K/BB ratio (4.25). He should start next year in the Augusta rotation, and as a 20-year-old he’ll be one of the younger pitchers in that league.
12. Enmanuel de Jesus, LHP (starter)
De Jesus, who was born six days into 1994 (!!), was the number two starter for the Giants’ Dominican Summer League affiliate. Even though only 17 years old, he posted a 2.36 FIP in 46 2/3 innings, striking out 59 and walking 20. I’m actually probably underselling de Jesus here; there’s a good argument to be made that he’s in the top 7 or so pitching prospects in the system. His high-ish walk rate is my one concern, but I expect to see him back in the DSL next year and competing at a similarly high level.
11. Demondre Arnold, RHP (starter/reliever)
Arnold was the Giants’ 25th rounder this year out of a Georgia CC. He’s only 19, and struck out 32 while only walking 8 in 26 2/3 innings in rookie ball. He’s got a low-90s fastball with some projection, a low-80s changeup, and is reported working on a curveball. He relieved this year but will get a chance to start next year, most likely at low-A Salem-Keizer.
10. Ryan Verdugo, LHP (starter)
Verdugo is one of the Giants’ few pitching prospects in the upper minors. This was Verdugo’s first year being a full-time starter, and he performed admirably. In 130 1/3 innings, he struck out 133 batters and walked 63. He had a penchant for giving up the home run this season (14 of them) so his FIP isn’t great looking at 4.10, but overall I’m pretty pleased. He also seemed to fade a bit down the stretch, probably as a result of the increased workload. We’ll see him next year in Fresno.
9. Joan Gregorio, RHP (starter)
Gregorio pitched in the Arizona Rookie League this year after pitching in the DSL last season. He really made some positive strides, foremost being a jump in his strikeout rate. He possesses the ability to miss bats, only giving up 7.7 hits per nine innings, a very good rate. A 2.88 FIP in Arizona is really fantastic, and at only 19 years of age, he’s a guy to be very excited about. Scouting reports are hard to find, so I can’t report on his stuff, but I look forward to seeing him in Salem-Keizer next year.
8. Kendry Flores, RHP (starter)
Flores profiles as similar to Lorenzo Mendoza: 19-year-old right-handed starter in low A. Flores had some decent stats as well, with 47 strikeouts and 14 walks in 48 innings. He’s got a low-90s fastball, plus changeup, and slurvy breaking ball that could use some work. We’ll see him joining Mendoza in the Augusta rotation next season.
7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP (starter)
Here’s a guy I’m genuinely excited to see when he comes stateside next year. Mejia, 18 years old, pitched 76 innings this season in the DSL, racking up 71 strikeouts against only 8 walks. That kind of command is nearly unmatched in the Giants’ system. He reportedly throws his fastball somewhere between 87-92, has a good changeup, and is working on refining a slurve/curveball. He and his 1.88 FIP will be coming to Arizona (Salem-Keizer? Fingers crossed!) next season. He also reportedly is pitching in the Arizona Instructional League this winter.
6. Mike Kickham, LHP (starter)
As a 22-year-old in single-A this year, Kickham threw 111 2/3 innings, struck out 103, and walked 37. His 3.48 FIP looks pretty good, as well. He’s ranked this high because he’s one of the high-floor, low-ceiling types that are always underrated, but very valuable to have. He’s got a low-90s fastball, a slider, a 12-6 curveball, and is working on a changeup. He should move fast next year; I predict he’ll start the year out in high-A, with a mid-season promotion to double-A. He could be contributing to the big league club as soon as mid-2013.
5. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (starter)
Blackburn was the Giants’ 16th round pick this year out of an Oklahoma HS. He’s a big boy at 6’3”, 220 lbs. He signed early enough to pitch in the Arizona Rookie League this season, striking out 30 and walking only 3 in 33 1/3 innings. He was ranked #4 on Baseball America’s top 20 AZL prospects end of the year roundup. He throws a low-90s fastball and compliments it with a curveball and a changeup that could use some work. The key word for Blackburn is projectability. This guy could really break out next year and shoot up some prospect lists. I expect to see him in Salem-Keizer next year, although a spot in Augusta isn’t out of the question.
4. Josh Osich, LHP (starter)
The Giants’ sixth rounder this year, Osich had some arm problems at the end of the college season and didn’t pitch professionally this summer. He was considered a first-round talent before the injury, so drafting him in the sixth was a steal. He had Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2010 season, so he does have a history of arm trouble. Osich throws a mid-90s fastball, a plus change, and had begun using his slider as a setup pitch for his fastball this season. Hopefully, with an entire winter to rest and rehab his arm, we’ll see Osich is full season ball next year.
3. Heath Hembree, RHP (reliever)
Hembree is the premiere relief prospect in the Giants’ system, and should be ready to contribute as early as next season. In stops in San Jose and Richmond, he struck out 13.2 batters per nine, walked 4.2 per nine, and only surrendered 6.1 hits per nine. And that all together, and that says “closer of the future.” Fun fact: in 24 1/3 innings in San Jose this season, Hembree stranded 97% of all base runners. That’s obviously unsustainable, but that’s the kind of facts I like to share about relief prospects. Hembree boasts a mid- to high-90s fastball, a “power slider” (per BA), and a changeup. It shouldn’t be long before we see him taking the closing reins from Brian Wilson in the ninth inning in San Francisco.
2. Kyle Crick, RHP (starter)
Crick was the Giants’ supplemental round pick this season. He signed relatively late and only threw seven professional innings this year, with poor results, but this guy has all the makings of a future ace or #2. He reminds me a lot of Matt Cain: a big burly right-hander from a Southern high school. He’s got an easy delivery, and arm problems shouldn’t ever be a problem. He sits mid-90s with his fastball, he’s got a plus curveball, and is working on a slider and a changeup. He’s only 18 years old, so he’ll probably be limited to short season ball next year, most likely in Salem-Keizer, but he’s got all the makings of the next Giants’ great pitching prospect.
1. Eric Surkamp, LHP (starter)
Surkamp suffered a hip injury last season, and going into this year no one was really sure what to expect. He silenced all doubters by striking out 165 in 142 1/3 innings, while walking only 44 and giving up only 5 home runs. He got called up to the big leagues on August 27, and he struggled in 26 2/3 big league innings. Barring that setback, Surkamp will be ready to contribute to the big league squad as early as next spring. He will be right in the middle of the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, and if he can remember how to strike out batters he could be one of the most valuable fifth starters in the league. Surkamp has a high-80s/low-90s fastball, but he complements that with a plus curveball that just plain misses bats. He also sports a solid changeup. I expect that he will start the season in Fresno before earning a May call-up after a few Zito runsplosions.
So there’s the Giants’ top 20 pitching prospects. You might notice I left Jorge Bucardo off this list, he missed all year with an undisclosed shoulder injury. We’ll see how he recovers and where he starts next year, but I didn’t feel comfortable ranking him in the top 20 without some kind of news about the injury and why it kept him out all season.
Feel free to leave me feedback, how you feel about this list, or anything that strikes your fancy. Soon enough, I’ll be looking at the free agent market to target some players I think the Giants should be interested in.