10 October 2011

2011 Giants top prospects: top 20 pitchers

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.

07 October 2011

Giants Top Prospects: Position Players

Quick programming note: I have begun a blog titled Slash and Dash with a few college friends of mine. On it, I will be writing about MLB and, when the mood strikes me, perhaps some college football and basketball. Not to fear, I will still be posting my Giants-related thoughts here. Without further ado, here are my top-20 prospects for 2011: the position players.

Now that the regular season is over, there are only two things to do: argue about which free agents to sign, and make prospect lists. I’ll get to the former in a few days, but here’s my shot at the latter. As you may recall, I did a top-20 position prospects last winter, with accompanying June update. This winter, we now feature pitchers! Last year I didn’t rank pitchers because I felt much less comfortable with the scouting side of prospecting, but a year down the line I feel comfortable enough to take a shot.

One note: I separated my prospect lists between pitchers and position players, because I feel like it’s a fairer way to evaluate them.

Two players who appeared on my list last year are now ineligible: Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Belt had an up and down year, quite literally: after beginning the season as the starting first baseman, he was sent down in May for poor performance. He was brought back up in the beginning of June, before an injury sidelined him for a month. He returned from the injury in Fresno, and then was called up for the third and final time in August. All told, he got 212 plate appearances in Fresno and 160 in San Francisco. Crawford was brought up in response to the anemic play of Miguel Tejada and the injury to Mike Fontenot, and performed about as well as could be expected: great glove, awful bat. He’s headed to the Arizona Fall League to work on his hitting, and should compete for the starting job next spring.

On to the list:

20. Roger Kieschnick, OF (last year: 19)

Kieschnick hit .255/.307/.429 as a 24-year-old in double-A. He’s old for his level, but lost most of last season with a back injury. The injury sapped his power, which really started to show up at the end of the season. The most worrisome thing for me is his K/BB ratio at 121/34. A 7% BB-rate is ok, but a 24% K-rate is pretty damning. We’ll see him in Fresno next year, I imagine, and a September call-up isn’t out of the question. Time is running out for him, however.

19. Ryan Cavan, 2B (last year: 17)

Cavan hit .270/.352/.435 in high-A as a 24-year-old. He’s very old for his level, and suffered from the logjam at second base in the Giants’ system. He walks at an 11% rate, strikes out in only 16% of his plate appearances, and his .165 ISO isn’t terrible for a second baseman. Still, that line is good for only a 102 wRC+ in the hitting atmosphere of the California League, and for an average second baseman, that’s not great. We’ll see how he does in double-A next year.

18. Alberto Robles, INF (last year: NR)

Robles is an infielder for the Dominican Summer League Giants affiliate. He hit .344/.459/.399 in 230 plate appearances as a 20-year-old. He’s a tad old, but in two seasons in the DSL he had walk rates of 10.5% and 13.9%. He barely strikes out, and while he doesn’t hit for much power, he could definitely be a useful player in the majors. At 5’ 11”, 155 lbs., he also has a lot of room to fill out. He’s on the top of my sleepers list.

17. Cristian Paulino, 2B (last year: NR)

Paulino got the call-up to the Arizona Rookie League this year, and performed very well: .277/.379/.435 in 135 plate appearances, 16 walks against 17 strikeouts and 10 steals to only 1 CS. He’s only 19 years old, so he’s a tad young for the league, and he’s a pretty exciting prospect to keep an eye on. We’ll see if he gets the promotion to Salem-Keizer next year, but a 122 wRC+ seems to indicate that he’s ready.

16. Jesus Galindo, CF (last year: NR)

After two years in the DSL, Galindo got an aggressive promotion all the way to low-A Salem Keizer this year. As a 20-year-old, he performed admirably: .276/.353/.364, good for a 122 wRC+. A pretty severe drop in walk rate between 2010 and 2011 is slight cause for concern, and Galindo will be a guy to keep an eye on in full-season ball next year.

15. Brett Krill, RF (last year: NR)

Krill, drafted in the 25th round in 2010, played his first professional season in 2011, and the results were impressive: 125 wRC+, a triple slash line of .304/.350/.488, a .184 ISO. But there’s bad news too: he’s already 22, and his K/BB ratio was 44/14. He should get the promotion to full season ball next year, and we’ll see if this season was an age-related mirage, or if Krill’s the real deal.

14. Shawn Payne, OF (last year: NR)

Payne was drafted in the 35th round this year by the Giants, assigned to low-A Salem Keizer, and promptly hit .306/.431/.394 in 195 plate appearances, good for a 147 wRC+. Payne’s a deep sleeper in this system, and the hesitation is warranted: he’s already 21, and he’s showing very little power. But Payne could be a something like Emilio Bonifacio: good plate discipline, little power, decent defense. He’s a guy to watch next year, presumably in single-A Augusta.

13. Chuckie Jones, OF (last year: 4)

After an exciting debut season last year (132 wRC+ as a 17-year-old), Jones struggled mightily in his second professional season. At low-A Salem-Keizer he hit .218/.322/.315 in 146 plate appearances, good for a 84 wRC+. His walk rate stayed constant at 10%, but his strikeout rate to, at a frightening 32%. What scares me the most, however, was his drop in power, from a .182 ISO in 2010 to .097 this year. He may see a promotion to single-A Augusta next season, but I predict we’ll see him back in low-A. Jones has gone from top-flight prospect to interesting sleeper, so we’ll see how he does next year to turn it around.

12. Kelby Tomlinson, SS (last year: NR)

Tomlinson was the Giants’ 12th round pick this year out of Texas A&M. He was drafted as a good defensive shortstop with work to do with his bat, but he surprised everyone by hitting .357/.415/.543 in rookie ball. He was old for the league (age 21, he’s actually seven days younger than I am) but this result certainly was encouraging. He’ll hopefully move up to full season ball next year as the starter in Augusta, but we may see him in extended spring training before starting for Salem-Keizer instead.

11. Ricky Oropesa, 1B (last year: NR)

Oropesa was the Giants’ third round pick this year, and has yet to play a professional game. Oropesa is a one-tool prospect with out-of-this-world power. He slugged .710 in his final year in college, but also struck out in over 20% of his plate appearances. He profiles similarly to Chris Dominguez (who didn’t make this list). As a college draftee, I hope to see him in full-season ball to start the year next year.

10. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (last year: 9)

Gillaspie spent the season with Fresno, earning two separate call-ups to the big league club. He hit .297/.389/.453 (109 wRC+) in Fresno and .263/.333/.421 in 21 plate appearances with the Giants. He had basically the same season as media darling Brett Pill, except he walked a lot more, plays a more important defensive position, and is two years younger. I expect to see him as a bench guy next year.

9. Jarrett Parker, RF (last year: 14)

As a 22-year-old in high-A, he hit .253/.360/.397 in 571 plate appearances (102 wRC+). He walked 74 times, which is great, but he also struck out 144 times, which is not so great. Parker would be a very exciting prospect if only he hit for more power. As of right now, he looks like nothing better than a 4th or 5th outfielder in the Fred Lewis mold. A year in the challenging hitting environment of Richmond will do a lot to tell us what to expect.

8. Adam Duvall, 3B (last year: NR)

Duvall hit .258/.358/.527 in single-A Augusta (145 wRC+). He’s a bit old for single-A ball (age: 22) but he really raked this year, and I’m disappointed the Giants chose not to promote him midseason. His 22 home runs tied him for second most in the system with Tommy Joseph (Brett Pill hit 25). Next year we’ll see him manning the hot corner for San Jose, and in the California League hitting environment he could definitely start turning some heads.

7. Andrew Susac, C (last year: NR)

Susac was the Giants’ second round pick in 2011. He didn’t play an inning of professional ball this year, but I hope to see him in Augusta to start off the season. He was a draft eligible sophomore, so he’s younger than most college draftees. He’s got the defensive abilities to stay behind the dish, and to me he profiles as a Russell Martin-type player: low average, plus power, good defense. A broken hamate bone in his left hand caused him to drop to the Giants at slot 86, before the injury he was viewed as a first round talent.

6. Ehire Adrianza, SS (last year: 8)

Now we’re getting into the truly exciting prospects in the system. As a 21-year-old, Adrianza split time this season between Augusta and San Jose. He hit better than most expected him to, putting up a combined line of .273/.352/.434 in 430 plate appearances. He began the season injured, and then was sent to Augusta, where he struggled a bit while shaking off effects of the injury. After getting promoted to San Jose on June 29th, he hit to the tune of a 119 wRC+, including a .165 ISO. Were those numbers a California League-induced mirage? We’ll see next season, when Adrianza trades the friendly confines of San Jose for the hits-depressing environment in Richmond. He’s still on track to reach San Francisco in 2013.

5. Hector Sanchez, C (last year: 15)

Sanchez is the one prospect I’m most confused about. He started the year as an interesting sleeper prospect in high-A, then got promoted bizarrely straight to triple-A, then served as an emergency backstop in case either Whiteside or Stewart got injured, got 12 days of big league service time before September, then spent all of September with the big league club. He ended the season with 34 plate appearances in San Francisco, 168 in Fresno, and 228 in San Jose. His stats in San Jose are pretty impressive: .302/.338/.533, good for a 114 wRC+. His stats in Fresno are less impressive: only a 58 wRC+ while hitting .261/.315/.340. He was only 21 this season, and will probably start next year in triple-A Fresno.

4. Francisco Peguero, RF (last year: 2)

Peguero battled a knee injury to start the season, and as such only managed to get 372 plate appearances on the season. He managed a 109 wRC+ in double-A Richmond despite a 1.7% walk rate – yes, you read that right. Unless he starts walking some more, he’s going to struggle in the majors. His performance will depend almost entirely on his BABIP, and those “slap it on the ground and run like hell” guys tend not to last at the big league level. He’ll begin next year at triple-A, and I expect to see him in at least a September call-up.

3. Joe Panik, 2B/SS (last year: NR)

Panik was the Giants’ first round pick out of St. Johns. He signed quickly and immediately started the season with low-A Salem-Keizer, where he silenced all doubters with a .341/.401/.467 line, hitting for average, taking walks, and even exhibiting a bit of power. His K/BB ratio was downright fantastic at 25/28. He played every game at SS in Salem-Keizer, but I have him listed as a 2B/SS because the Giants see him as a likely 2B in the future. He’s headed to Scottsdale to play in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll most likely begin next year as the starting SS in San Jose.

2. Tommy Joseph, C (last year: 4)

Joseph hit .270/.317/.471 in San Jose in his age-19 season. The K/BB ratio isn’t particularly encouraging at 102/29, but he did hit 22 home runs and sported a .201 ISO, which is fantastic. As I noted in my late May revisit, Joseph had a .594 OPS through 183 plate appearances, and he really came on strong in the second half, posting a .921 OPS after the All-Star break. His strong second half, plus his young age, make him the second best hitting prospect in the system. The minor league evaluators at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America (you know, the professionals) both like Joseph as a sleeper top-100 candidate and a candidate for a national breakout next season. He should handle Richmond’s hitting environment just fine. His fielding had been a concern going into the season, but he appears to have what it takes to stay behind the dish, throwing out 37% of base runners this season.

1. Gary Brown, CF (last year: 5)

Gary Brown simply lit the Cal League on fire this year. The starting center fielder since Opening Day, he proceeded to hit .336/.407/.519, which comes out to a 140 wRC+. In addition, he stole 53 bases, played a great center field, and even drew 46 walks. His plate discipline was one of the question marks about him entering the season, and he proved doubters wrong with a K/BB ratio of 73/46, which is perfectly acceptable. He hit 34 doubles and 13 triples, and therefore hopefully won’t be hurt by the hitting environment in Richmond too much, which tends to seriously depress home runs. He will likely slot somewhere between 30 and 50 on the Baseball America top 100 list. Quite simply, he was stunning in his debut season, and all systems are go for him to be roaming the San Francisco outfield by 2013.

As a system, the Giants have a couple of top-flight positional prospects and a few interesting sleepers. This is not an elite system, by any means, but it is still in the rebuilding phase after the graduations of some elite talent in recent years. I would say it would slot somewhere between 15-20 amongst all franchises.

Them’s the hitters, pitchers to come Monday.

08 June 2011

2011 Draft: Prospect Profiles on the New Giants

Ah, the draft. For a prospect hound like me, it’s like Christmas in June. The future of baseball, getting distributed to teams in front of your very eyes. The Giants’ run to the World Series Championship last year was fueled largely by players selected in the Rule 4 draft in the last half decade or so. Just look:

First round, 2002: Matt Cain
24th round, 2003: Brian Wilson
27th round, 2004: Jonathan Sanchez
25th round, 2005: Sergio Romo
First round, 2006: Tim Lincecum
First round, 2007: Madison Bumgarner
First round, 2008: Buster Posey

That’s seven drafts in a row that the Giants picked someone who was a major contributor to their World Series Championship.

So the draft is important, no doubt. How did the Giants do this year? Let’s dive right in, shall we?

First Round, Pick 29: Joe Panik, SS/2B, St. Johns

Yes, there were plenty of puns to be made when the Giants drafted Panik about, oh, twenty or so slots above where he was projected to go. I, for one, definitely Paniked (alright, alright, I’m done, I promise) when I heard Bud Selig announce the pick, but I’ve come around on the selection. Panik is listed at 6’1”, 193 lbs., and is built pretty solidly. His range is adequate for short, but his arm will likely necessitate a move to second in the future. He should be a fast mover as he’s a very polished college player. At the plate, he’s got a nice, fluid swing. He won’t produce a lot of power, but his contact skills are second to none. This season, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out (38-17). His top comp in the majors is probably Freddy Sanchez, although if you squint really hard you can see a little Dustin Pedroia (size difference nonwithstanding). It’s worth noting he struggled in the wood-bat Cape Cod League last summer. I expect Panik to sign quite soon, and start at either shortstop or second base for the Low-A Salem-Keizer team. On my prospect list, I would put him at 9th, behind Ehire Adrianza and ahead of Charlie Culberson.

College Stats


First Round, Supplemental, Pick 49: Kyle Crick, RHP, Texas HS

Going into the draft, I didn’t know a whole lot about Crick, but the more I see him the more I love him. He reminds me a lot of Matt Cain: they’re of similar size (Crick is 6’4”, 220, Cain is 6’3”, 230) and he’s got a low-90s fastball similar to Cain. He’s also boasts a hammer curveball that grades out as a plus pitch. He also apparently throws an average changeup and a fringe-average slider. His big issue is command; he walked 44 batters in 63 innings his senior year. Still, his stuff is impressive. He’ll be a bit of a project, but I look forward to seeing how he develops. He becomes the Giants’ third most exciting pitching prospect, after Zach Wheeler and Eric Surkamp.


Second Round, Pick 86: Andrew Susac, C, Oregon State

I actually played high school ball against Susac, and I can tell you from firsthand experience he has the defensive skills to stay behind the dish. A broken hamate bone in his left hand held him to only 96 plate appearances this year, so opinions are mixed about his hitting ability. Some see him as a 10-15 HR a year, low contact, plus power kind of hitter, in the mold of Russell Martin or a Chris Iannetta, others think he’ll be a defense first catcher that will struggle to start in the big leagues. I sit more in the second camp, but Susac is intriguing enough to take the chance on. He fell perhaps as many as forty slots as teams were scared off by his hand injury. He becomes the Giants’ third best catching prospect, behind Tommy Joseph and Hector Sanchez. There are also some concerns that he might not sign, as he’s a draft-eligible sophomore, but I doubt the Giants would have picked him if they didn’t want to make a run at signing him.

College Stats


Third Round, pick 116: Ricky Oropesa, 1B, USC

Ricky Oropesa is a one-tool player, but oh my, what that one tool is: power. In the third, the Giants grabbed a guy with truly elite power potential, and I can’t fault them for that, but I don’t see Oropesa becoming an everyday player in the big leagues. He had contact issues in college, striking out in over 20% of his at-bats his junior season. He also slugged .710, so I can live with the strikeouts, but I just don’t know if I see the power translating to wood bats. I heard a comparison to Chris Dominguez, and I think that’s probably pretty accurate. He also struggled in the Cape Cod League last summer with wood bats. He’d slot somewhere between 17 and 21 on my prospects list.

College Stats


Other draftees I found interesting/noteworthy:

Fourth Round, pick 147: Bryce Bandilla, LHP, Arizona

I’ve played baseball with Bryce (can’t bring myself to call him by his last name) since we were 8 years old. The thing I remember most about him is him giving up one earned run in 55 innings his senior year, and striking out 78 batters while walking 7. Three years later, he started the season as Arizona’s closer but lost the job early in the season. He’s got an electric fastball that sits mid-90s and can touch 97, and he compliments that with an above-average curveball. He’s got a profile that suggests he can handle more than being a LOOGY. He has a history of starting, as well. Control is a major question mark; he walked more than 6 per nine this season. He’ll be a project for Tidrow. His motion isn’t going to settle any fears either, as it’s quite violent.

College Stats


Sixth Round, pick 207: Josh Osich, LHP, Oregon State

So we grabbed the Oregon State ace and his backstop. Osich fell this far due to health concerns; he reported left his last start after only 12 pitches after feeling some arm pain, and he sat out last season with Tommy John surgery. I love this pick, and I think it’s potentially fantastic value in a mid-round pick. He’s a senior, so signability isn’t an issue. He’s got a live fastball that can touch 97 and an average to above-average changeup. He’s also got a slider that is a work in progress. Similar to Bandilla, he profiles as a reliever even though he has a history of starting in college (he threw a no-hitter against UCLA this year).

College Stats


Eighth Round, pick 267: Jean Delgado, SS, Puerto Rico HS

Finally, a hit-first SS prospect! Delgado was ranked the 5th best Puerto Rican prospect before the draft by Baseball America, and the best hitter. He’s 5’11”, 150 lbs., so he’s got room to fill out. Every report I’ve read indicates that he should be able to stick at SS, but he’s not going to be a Gold Glover. He was the highest drafted of the four Puerto Ricans taken by the Giants (one other, Christian Otero, was ranked as the best fielding prospect by BA).


General impressions on the draft:

Taken as a whole, the front office had a decent draft. The top three of Panik, Crick, and Susac are solid, even if they were drafted in the wrong order. However, there were opportunities for greater returns on that pick. Mikey Mahtook, the outfielder from LSU, was still available, as was HS pitcher Henry Owens. Even if the Giants brass were committed to taking a middle infielder, Levi Michael, Trevor Story, and Jake Hager were all still on the board, and all three were widely considered better prospects than Panik.

What I think happened was all the high-upside pitchers the Giants really wanted came off the board right before pick 29. Tyler Beede went at 21, Taylor Guerreri went 24th, Joe Ross went 25th, and Robert Stephenson went 27th. The draft room panicked (avoiding the pun) and went for need.

That being said, they’re the professionals, and I’m just some kid who should be studying for his finals. They managed to grab a 1st round talent in the 2nd, and in between took a projectable high school pitcher, the type of player they’ve been successful developing in the past. It became apparent after the draft that the Giants probably weren’t drafting with as deep of pockets as we outsiders may have thought they were. Crick and Susac are probably the only two picks that will require anything above slot to sign, and I don’t think they’ll want that much more. All told, this draft will probably cost the Giants $4-5 million, which is quite low. All in all, I thought they had a solid draft.

Now it’s time to get these kids on the field.

24 May 2011

Top 20 Position Prospects, Revisited

Before the season started, I took my first stab at making a top-20 prospects list for the Giants. I focused on position players only, because position players, largely, are who their statistics say they are. Pitchers have a lot more going on, and video scouting plays a much larger role in their prospect status, or at least that’s what I believe. Anyway, here’s the original list:

1. Brandon Belt, 1B
2. Francisco Peguero, OF
3. Chuckie Jones, OF
4. Tommy Joseph, C
5. Gary Brown, OF
6. Thomas Neal, OF
7. Jose Flores, 3B
8. Ehire Adrianza, SS
9. Charlie Culberson, 2B
10. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
11. Brandon Crawford, SS
12. Brock Bond, 2B
13. Chris Dominguez, 3B
14. Jarrett Parker, OF
15. Hector Sanchez, C
16. Juan Perez, OF
17. Ryan Cavan, 2B
18. Nick Noonan, 2B
19. Roger Kieschnick, OF
20. Carlos Willoughby, 2B

Now that we’re about a month and a half into the minor league season, and starters have garnered between 150 and 200 plate appearances, I wanted to check in on each of them and see how they’re doing, then at the end offer a self-critique of the job I did, as well as share some of my insights going forward.

Brandon Belt unexpectedly started the season with the Big Club, and performed as I feared, but anticipated: poorly. Well, he did have only 13 games at AAA before this season. He hit .192/.300/.262 in 60 plate appearances in San Francisco, and was sent back to Fresno when Cody Ross came off the DL. Since being sent down, he’s raked in Fresno to the tune of .362/.483/.560 in 120 plate appearances. While that line is certainly impressive, I’d like to see him stay in Fresno for two reasons: he’s striking out more often than I’d like him to (23% K-rate) and the ML club just doesn’t really need him right now. He could take, say, Darren Ford or Emmanuel Burriss’s spot, but they don’t profile to be anything more than bench players at the ML level anyway. Belt profiles to be an above-average first baseman, even an All-Star, and it would be a developmental mistake to bring him up to sit on the bench rather than let him get regular PA’s in Fresno. He could use the time learning to play outfield, also.

Francisco Peguero and Chuckie Jones have both yet to record a plate appearance this year. Peguero’s been hampered by a knee injury, and had to have surgery during spring training, but he is expected to return in the next two weeks or so. Chuckie Jones has been in extended spring training and will start the season in Salem-Keizer at low-A.

Tommy Joseph is a prospect that I was very high on coming into the season. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm hasn’t been rewarded, as Joseph has a .594 OPS in 183 PA’s. Luckily, he’s only 19, so he’s very young for the league, and should get all season to figure it out. He’s been splitting time at the catcher position with Hector Sanchez (more on him later), and I would like it better if he was getting full time there. Why doesn’t he start in single-A Augusta? Jeff Arnold is starting there, but he’s 23 and has a .599 OPS.

On the other hand, I was low on Gary Brown, and he has proved me wrong, so far anyway. He started the season in high-A San Jose, and through 214 PA’s sports a .366/.443/.541 slash line. I wrote before the season that his low walk rate in college had me concerned, but he’s walked at a more-than-respectable 7.9% rate so far. The .175 ISO is a surprise too, as no one had him pegged for that kind of power. What isn’t a surprise is his base stealing ability, and with 26 SBs so far, he’s living up to his reputation. 11 CSs so far is not very good, however, and suggests that he’s not making very smart decisions on the base paths. I assume he’s thinking that he can use his speed to steal bases at will, which doesn’t work in pro ball like it does in college. I expect him to make an adjustment and make smarter decisions, even if it means lower SB totals. As for his future, I see him as Andres Torres type player, maybe with more speed. His floor seems to be Michael Bourn: perennial Gold Glover who hits at a replacement level, but is an elite defender and good for 50-60 steals a season.

So that’s the top five. More brief write-ups on the next 15:

Thomas Neal has been injured, and is stuck in Fresno, where they seem to have an entire roster stocked with players who only play first base or corner outfield. He’s only got 40 PA’s on the season so far.

Coming into the season, my pet player was Jose Flores, who had an .831 OPS in San Jose last year, and was entering his age-23 season. Well, this far at least, it seems like those numbers were a California League fluke. So far in Double-A, he’s got a .501 OPS in 140 plate appearances, and has three times as many strikeouts as walks. He was finally benched two weeks ago.

Ehire Adrianza was injured in spring training, and started the season two weeks ago in single-A Augusta. He’s hitting .212/.381/.364 in 43 PA’s so far.

Charlie Culberson had a breakout season last year, and came into his age-22 season as a dark-horse prospect for AA Richmond. He’s struggled in the poor hitting environment there, hitting .296/.331/.385 in 182 plate appearances. He’ll have to improve that 3.8 BB% if he wants to continue his rise up the ranks.

Conor Gillaspie has rebounded somewhat from a down season last year, with an OPS of .788 at Triple-A Fresno in 167 plate appearances. His K-rate is 13% and his walk rate is 11%, both very impressive figures, and the .131 ISO isn’t terrible at third. With the Giants’ struggles on the left side of the infield, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up with the big club at some point this season.

Brandon Crawford also began the season injured, after breaking a finger on a bunt attempt in spring training. He started the season in high-A San Jose, and has excelled thus far, hitting .286/.397/.490 in 59 plate appearances. He’ll be moving up to Richmond shortly, no doubt, and will probably see time in Fresno before all is said and done. The 15% BB rate is looking pretty nice, as is the .204 ISO.

Brock Bond’s time as a prospect is rapidly running out. He’s playing utility infielder at Fresno, and that was his absolute ceiling as a major league prospect anyway. He has a .671 OPS in 65 PA’s in Fresno.

Chris Dominguez is certainly living up to his reputation as the Giants’ version of Mark Reynolds. He’s already racked up 9 HRs and 51 Ks in just less than 200 PA’s this season. He could really build on that 5% BB rate if he wants to advance, though. The .180 ISO is nice, but the .315 OBP certainly isn’t. He’s already got 9 errors at third, too.

Jarrett Parker has made a fairly respectable professional debut thus far this season. He’s hitting .259/.380/.427 in 171 plate appearances. The 15% walk rate is great, but probably not likely to hold, while hope the 24% K-rate comes down too.

Hector Sanchez, as mentioned, has been splitting time with Tommy Joseph at catcher in San Jose. He’s hitting .302/.322/.496 in 146 plate appearances. The walk rate is downright scary, as is the K/BB ratio, but the .194 ISO looks great from a catcher.

Juan Carlos Perez has been starting at CF in Richmond, and, like every other hitter in Richmond, has been struggling in the poor hitting environment. He’s got an OPS of only .613 in 176 PA’s. He’s not helping himself with a walk rate of 4.5% and a K/BB of nearly 4, however.

Ryan Cavan was another one of my pet prospects heading into the season, and he’s hit quite nicely in San Jose, to the tune of .278/.344/.473. He’s got solid peripherals, with a 9% walk rate, a 16% strikeout rate, and a .195 ISO; all average or above-average numbers for a second baseman. I especially love the power numbers, but we’ll see how he handles the environment in Richmond. There’s a slight chance he reaches that level this year, more likely next season.

Nick Noonan made the switch from second base to shortstop this year, although will likely be switching back shortly with the return of Adrianza and Crawford. He’s got a .703 OPS in the (I sound like a broken record) poor hitting environment of Richmond.* He strikes out too much, but the 10% walk rate is solid.

*QUICK ASIDE ON RICHMOND (late addition): Throughout the post I've referred to "the poor hitting environment in Richmond" but I hadn't actually looked at the park factors, so after I finished this post I decided to look them up. I was right, but not as right as I thought I'd be. Briefly, park factors measure how a team's home park affect the hitting environment of the team. 1.0 means the park has no effect, less than 1.0 means the park depresses a particular outcome, greater than1.0 means it improves it. Richmond depresses runs, doubles, triples, and home runs, and is exactly average for hits. The only hitting outcome the park increases? Strikeouts. The park is especially bad for home runs, with a park factor of 0.91 in 2009 and 0.81 in 2010. That's a ton of lost home runs.

Outfielder Roger Kieschnick had a down year in 2010 after a solid debut in ’09, and unfortunately has been unable to bounce back in a repeat year in Double-A, hitting even worse than he did last year. A quick Google search indicates he suffered from some sort of back injury in 2010, and if his .089 ISO indicates anything, it’s that he hasn’t been able to recover from that injury.

Carlos Willoughby has started of the season reasonably well in Augusta, sporting a slash line of .286/.388/.357. No power to speak of, but he’s got a 1.1:1 K/BB ratio and a 12% walk rate, both of which are encouraging signs. He plays second base, where his lack of power is less of an issue, and all reports indicate he is a solid defender at worst. He’s also exhibiting some pretty good speed, with 17 steals in 21 attempts.

That rounds out the top 20. A few quick notes on some other players of interest, including players that I pegged as potential sleepers:

Centerfielder Chris Lofton has struggled in Augusta, hitting only .212/.344/.250 in 128 PA’s…The awesomely-names Sundrendy Windster has fallen flat on his face in single-A, with an OPS of only .425. Only 43 plate appearances however, so sample size is a factor to some extent…Rafael Rodriguez is only 18 years old in Augusta this year, but only has a .634 OPS. His young age means he’ll get a lot of time to try to figure it out…Ryan Scoma is having a decent season in Single-A Augusta, with an OPS of .725 and an ISO of .147, but he’s been moved to 1B and his upward mobility has been hampered by the move…Carter Jurica, the Giants’ 3rd round pick last year, has a .713 OPS and an 11% walk rate in high-A San Jose. Acceptable numbers from a shortstop, but I’d like to see him hit a little more…One slash line that stuck out to me is that of Adam Duvall, the 22-year-old third baseman at Augusta. He’s hitting .264/.347/.523, good for an .870 OPS on a team who’s OPS is .698, and in a league where the average OPS is .740. Sure, he’s 22 in single-A, but the average age for the league is a shade or two over 21, so it’s not like he’s terribly old for the league. He’s got a system-leading 12 HRs already this season, and I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on him as the season progresses.

Some impressions: I think I did a decent job on my preliminary list, but there are obviously changes I would make. Gary Brown's very impressive start to the season would get him elevated to the #2 positional prospect, jumping over Peguero and Jones. Flores would drop of the list completely, as would Brock Bond. Adam Duvall and Ryan Scoma would take their spots in the 19th and 20th positions, respectively. I would move Parker, Cavan, and Sanchez up, and bump Tommy Joseph, Juan Perez, and Charlie Culberson down a bit. In midseason I'll have an officially updated list, with a re-ranking of all 20.

So there’s the early season recap. There are still about 100 games left in the minor league season, not to mention the draft (post coming soon!) and the start of the short-season and rookie seasons. Still, it’s fun to check up on a few of the top prospects and see how they’re starting off the season. Look for another minor league update in about 5 weeks, but in the meantime I’ll be working on a draft preview and perhaps even a post or two about the big club.

15 March 2011

Draft Scouting Report: Trevor Bauer

This is the first in an occasional series of posts about one of my favorite days of the baseball season: draft day. Hopefully, I'll be able to take a look at several of this year's top prospects and post a short (or not-so-short) write up on each one. This first is on the UCLA right-hander Trevor Bauer.

I made the trek out to beautiful Jackie Robinson stadium last Saturday to watch UCLA take on St. Mary's in the second game of the Dodgertown Classic. Trevor Bauer was pitching for the Bruins, and here are some notes, impressions, and statistics for the talented junior.

(Side note: I got to meet Keith Law at the game yesterday, he was there scouting Bauer as well. Cool guy.)

Trevor Bauer is a 20 year old junior right handed pitcher out of North Hollywood, CA. According to his UCLA player profile,his favorite pro player is Tim Lincecum, and when trying to project Bauer Lincecum is the first player that comes to mind. The comparison isn't perfect, of course. Bauer (listed at 6'2', 185) is bigger than Lincecum, and while at first glance their delivery's look similar (for a great slo-mo video of Bauer in last year's Houston Classic click here) closer looks reveal some differences. Most prominently, Bauer doesn't recreate Lincecum's now-famous "dangle," where his pitching arm hangs loose straight down towards the ground. In addition, Bauer's stride isn't nearly as long as Lincecum's. The thing that gives me pause the most about Bauer's delivery, however, is his seeming inability to repeat it. As I watched, his landing foot seemed to land in a different place every time, and was dramatically different between the stretch and the windup. On the plus side, Bauer is famous for his incredible work ethic and work-out routine, and his delivery avoids the dreaded "inverted W" that has been fingered as the culprit to many arm injuries.

As for his results, there may not be a college pitcher in the country with better stats over the last two years than Bauer (and that includes his teammate and near-guaranteed top 2 pick Gerritt Cole). Coming into this season, his career statistics looked like:


236.2 3.00 257 68 9.77 2.58 3.78 1.21 .236

His 2011 season statistics look like this:


31.2 1.71 46 14 13.07 3.97 3.28 1.04 .167

Notes from the game on Saturday:

He's got three pitches: a fastball that sits 94-95 and can touch 97, a plus curveball that serves as his strikeout pitch, and an average changeup he uses to keep hitters off-balance. He's upped his fastball velocity this year by about 3 MPH, but it shows in his lack of control. He consistently missed his with his fastball, and it hurt him in the sixth, when St. Mary's 3B Pat Wisdom hit one way over the 347 sign in left-center.

Out of the stretch he had some serious struggles with control early, and he just couldn't find the zone. All three of his walks and his HBP occured in the first three innings. After a bullpen session during the bottom of the fourth (while UCLA was up to bat) he really found a second wind and cruised from there. Keith Law reported yesterday that he was still sitting 92-93 into the seventh inning, well after his 100th pitch. Besides the homer in the sixth, he looked overwhelmingly dominant. His game line looked like this:

7.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K, 123 pitches

Yes, you read that right, a week after throwing 129 pitches in sub-freezing temperatures in Omaha, John Savage leaves Bauer out there to throw 123 pitches in a 10-2 game. There was no good reason to have him come out in the 8th, and probably not for the 7th either. But that's a conversation for another time.

Draft Prospects:

Pros: He already has two plus pitches in his fastball and his curveball, and his changeup is at worst average. He has become famous for his eccentric workout routine and incredible flexibility, and seems to have all the makings of a front-of-the-staff workhorse. His fastball and his curveball are both strikeout pitches, and his fastball really does have that late life that makes it appear to jump across the plate. Curveball buckled knees all night, drew a lot of looking strikes. Led the country in strikeouts last year.

Cons: His workload, especially this season, has been high. His motion has made a lot of trainers squirm, even though he has no history of arm problems. He has sacrificed control for velocity a bit this year.

Overall, I would say that Bauer is most likely a mid-first round pick, somewhere between 15 and 25. He's in a pack of pitchers behind the Cole-Purke-Gray group, but he's not far behind them.

10 February 2011

Giants Top 20 Prospects, Position Players

Prospecting has never been my strong suit. I’ve always considered myself informed, but withdrawn from the Russian roulette game known as prospect mavenry. But, as my Giants fandom only gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view, I suppose) I decided to take my first-ever stab at making some sort of prospect list.

A few housekeeping items: I have decided to make two different lists, one for pitchers and one for hitters. This is the hitters list; the pitchers list will follow shortly. I chose to focus on the available professional statistics for many of the prospects that follow and weighed less on the scouting side of things; the obvious exceptions are those prospects with little or no professional experience (Gary Brown, Jarrett Parker). Still, I rank Brown and Parker lower than just about everybody else, with the caveat that they can move up this list very quickly if they start with a bang. I also weigh the most recent season’s statistics much heavier than any previous season.

With that out of the way, let’s get started. The top 5 catching prospects:

1. Tommy Joseph (18, A)
2. Hector Sanchez (20, A)
3. Johnny Monell (24, A+)
4. Dan Burkhart (21, A-)
5. Joe Staley (21, Rk)

Comments: LTP takes the top spot among catchers despite a poor season in Single-A Augusta. The caveat to his .236/.290/.401 season? He was only 18 years old, very young for full season A-ball. His .175 ISO looks good, but is K/BB is downright scary (116/26). Joseph has time on his hands, and should improve this season. Hector Sanchez was also young for A-ball (20 y.o.) and has displayed decent disciple. He is also the superior backstop. Monell spent the year in high-A San Jose. He was pretty old for the league (24) and put up a pretty decent line (.273/.350/.487 with 19 HRs and 25 doubles) but apparently needs work behind the dish. We’ll see how he handles AA. Burkhart is somewhat of an enigma (only 70 PAs) but after him the system is pretty shallow.

Top 5 First Basemen:

1. Brandon Belt (22, A+, AA, AAA)
2. Andy D’Alessio (25, AA)
3. Luke Anders (23, A)
4. Brett Pill (25, AAA)
5. Sundrendy Windster (21, Rk)

Comments: Belt’s season has been very well documented so I won’t go into much more detail here other than point out that he led all Giants minor leaguers with 23 HRs this season to go with 43 doubles. Not a whole lot else to get excited about except the intriguing Sundrendy Windster, who, in addition to having the greatest name in professional baseball, boasted a .311/.416/.594 line in ~130 PAs in rookie ball this year. Keep your eye on him.

Top 5 Second Baseman:
1. Charlie Culberson (21, A+)
2. Brock Bond (24, AAA)
3. Ryan Cavan (23, A)
4. Nick Noonan (21, AA)
5. Carlos Willoughby (21, Rk)

Comments: Culberson had quite the breakout year this year in high-A, putting up a line of .290/.340/.457 after finally finding a position. He seems to have something of a clank-mitt so we’ll see if he sticks at second base. He also tore up the Arizona Fall League and is considerably younger than I assumed (He’s only 22). The only thing I have to say about Bond is ZOMG that OBP and K/BB!! He’ll probably see some time in the majors this year. Ryan Cavan is a guy that not many people are talking about, but had a great season this year in Augusta (.283/.352/.451 with 17 HRs and 34 2Bs). He’s another guy to keep an eye on. Noonan needs to bounce back from injuries he suffered last season before I rank him higher. Willoughby is a great down-list sleeper. He had a great season in rookie ball (.295/.372/.432 with 23 SBs to only 4 CS) and has a reputation as a speedy middle infielder with not a lot of power.

Top 5 Third Baseman:

1. Jose Flores (22, A+)
2. Conor Gillaspie (22, AA)
3. Chris Dominguez (23, A)
4. Drew Biery (24, A+)
5. Wes Hobson (22, Rk)

Comments: Why is no one talking about Jose Flores? In his age-22 season in high-A, he hit .331/.381/.457 with an average walk rate and low K rate. I like him to surprise next year. Gillaspie had a bit of a down year last year, but is still on track to challenge for the major league job in 2012. Is Chris Dominguez the second coming of Mark Reynolds? In HRs and Ks, perhaps, but he doesn’t walk enough to justify a K rate around 25%. He did finish second amongst Giants minor leaguers with 21 HRs. Nothing else to look at after those three.

Top 5 Shortstops:

1. Ehire Adrianza (20, A+)
2. Brandon Crawford (23, AA)
3. Ryan Lormand (24, A+, AA, AAA)
4. Juan Martinez (23, A)
5. Carter Jurica (21, A-)

Comments: Yuck. Not a darn thing after all-glove/no-hit twins Adrianza and Crawford. Crawford (Bruin Pride, yo), who will almost certainly see Major League time this season, hit .243/.337/.375 at Richmond this season. At least that walk rate looks alright. Adrianza is three years younger than Crawford and hit .256/.333/.348 in San Jose. He’s got a slightly better glove than Crawford and is faster (33 SBs), those factors plus age gives him the number one spot by a nose. No one else worth mentioning here.
Top 5 Left Fielders: (Note: I understand that minor league OF positions are largely meaningless, but I needed to split them up somehow. Players are divided by the position at which they played the most games in 2010.)

1. Thomas Neal (22, AA)
2. James Simmons (24, A+)
3. Wendell Fairley (22, A+)
4. Nick Liles (22, A)
5. Ryan Scoma (22, A-)

Comments: Neal didn’t so much take a step back in 2010 as he did take a step sideways (or tread water, if you prefer). He hit .291/.359/.440, and the only beef I have with his performance is that I would like to see more power out of a left fielder. Simmons was quite old for high-A this year (24) but showed pretty good power (.186 ISO). Fairley took a huge step back this year after being reasonably highly touted last year. He joined the OPB>SLG club (.362 OBP, .343 SLG). Scoma just missed my top-5 sleepers list. He showed pretty fantastic patience in low-A this year, and just needs to develop some power before becoming a legit prospect.

Top 5 Center Fielders:

1. Francisco Peguero (22, A+)
2. Chuckie Jones (17, Rk)
3. Gary Brown (21, Rk)
4. Jarrett Parker (21, Rk)
5. Juan Perez (23, A+)

Comments: Peguero experienced a pretty significant breakout this year, with a line of .329/.353/.488 in high-A. He also stole 40 bags in San Jose. Unless he figures out how to take a walk, he figures to be a “slap in on the ground and run like hell” kind of hitter. The projection system ZiPS, rather bizarrely, has him as an average major leaguer right now. Re: Chuckie Jones, I know he probably won’t play center (more likely right) but he did play there the most this season. He hit .279/.360/.461 in 165 ABs in Rookie ball this year, as a 17 year-old. With any luck, he’ll have a good year this year and will shoot up the prospect charts. Brown and Parker come as a package deal: toolsy college outfielders without much (or, in Parker’s case, any) professional experience. I admit to just kind of sticking them in here, I’d like to see a few hundred PAs before making any kind of analysis. Brown’s lack of walks in college isn’t a great sign, though. Juan Perez was 23 in A+ last season, and hit .298/.337/.472. The K/BB ain’t great, but give him a year in AA and we’ll see where we stand.

Top 5 Right Fielders:

1. Roger Kieschnick (23, AA)
2. Rafael Rodriguez (17, A-, Rk)
3. Ryan Lollis (23, A)
4. Jose Medina (23, A-)
5. Clay Timpner (27, AA)
Comments: Kieschnick had something of a lost season after a year marred by back injuries. There really isn’t a whole lot in the system as far as right fielders, however, so he holds on to the top spot. We’ll see how he rebounds from injury. Rodriguez is only 17, so hopefully he’ll be able to build on last season in Rookie ball (.301/.323/.398). Lollis is intriguing, he was 23 in Augusta last year and hit .288/.345/.380. I’d like to see more power, but the above average walk rate and average K/BB rate show promise. The only interesting things about Medina and Timpner are their walk rates.

So there you have it. Here are my top 20 position players:

1. Brandon Belt, 1B
2. Francisco Peguero, OF
3. Chuckie Jones, OF
4. Tommy Joseph, C
5. Gary Brown, OF
6. Thomas Neal, OF
7. Jose Flores, 3B
8. Ehire Adrianza, SS
9. Charlie Culberson, 2B
10. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
11. Brandon Crawford, SS
12. Brock Bond, 2B
13. Chris Dominguez, 3B
14. Jarrett Parker, OF
15. Hector Sanchez, C
16. Juan Perez, OF
17. Ryan Cavan, 2B
18. Nick Noonan, 2B
19. Roger Kieschnick, OF
20. Carlos Willoughby, 2B

Comments: I am probably unnaturally high on Jose Flores, Ryan Cavan, and Carlos Willoughby, and unnaturally low on Brandon Crawford. Also, I’m really high on the Teenage Dreams: Jones and Joseph. As you can see, the system is pretty strong with second basemen and outfielders, and pretty weak on shortstops.

My top 5 sleepers (guys most likely to take the leap this year):
1. Jose Flores, 3B
2. Juan Perez, OF
3. Ryan Cavan, 2B
4. Chris Lofton, OF
5. Sundrendy Windster, 1B

Comments: I’ve commented on most of these guys already, but the CF class is so deep I had Chris Lofton ranked as our 7th best centerfielder. He hit .268/.350/.343 in low class-A Salem-Keizer as a 20 year old, to go along with 15 steals with only 5 caught stealing. He strikes out too much, but his walk rate is pretty good. If he can develop even a little bit of power than he can really make a move up the board.

So that’s my list. Feel free to leave some suggestions.

03 February 2011

Matt Cain: a PITCHf/x look into his xFIP-defying ways

As you probably saw, yesterday saw not one, not two, but three articles about Matt Cain and his xFIP-defying superpowers. It started with Paapfly’s post “Matt Cain ignores xFIP, again and again”, then got picked up by FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron, Tom Tango, and SBNation’s own (!!) Rob Neyer.

First, some statistics. For his career Matt Cain is the owner of 3.45 ERA, which is fantastic. His FIP, which strips luck and fielding out of the equation, gives him a slight bump to 3.84, which is still quite good. xFIP adjusts the home run per fly ball rate to the league average of 10.6%, which hurts Cain. A lot. His 7.0% career mark is a full 33% below the league average. The theory behind xFIP is that the HR/FB ratio is a statistic that a pitcher cannot control, and as such it fluctuates year to year, much like BABIP. The thing with Cain is, over the course of his career (almost 1,100 IP), that rate hasn’t fluctuated. In fact, it has stayed remarkably constant. Here are his HR/FB ratios since 2006, his first full season as a starter: 7.1%, 5.5%, 6.8%, 8.4%, 7.4%. Still, Cain has largely been dismissed as a fluke or merely lucky, just the other day Baseball Prospectus writer Bill Baer called Cain “one of the most overrated pitchers in baseball.” Baer continued to cite Cain’s home ballpark, and its well-known penchant for suppressing homers. But, as Paapfly points out, Cain’s career home/road splits simply don’t show it. His home HR/FB ratio is 6.7%, on the road, its 7.4%. That’s a result, but not much of one.

Let’s try to tackle this problem using PITCHf/x. Some basics: Cain throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball that sits 91-92 and touches 95, a curveball that sits around 77 and has about 7 inches of downward break, a changeup that sits around 85 and breaks inward to a RHB, a slider that sits 85, and a seldom-used two seam fastball that sits 92-93. He throws his fastball most often, about 58% of all pitches. His most effective pitch, according to FanGraphs linear weights, is either his four-seamer or his changeup, both coming in at just over a run above average per 100 pitches. He decreased the usage of his slider this year, favoring the changeup.

By looking at Cain’s PITCHf/x splits, when can glean some assumptions out of the data. The first obvious thing one notices is that Cain likes to stay away. This makes sense: Cain’s fastball has at best average velocity, and off-speed pitches are generally more effective on the outside part of the plate because a hitter has more trouble turning on one.

Another thing that struck me is Cain’s pitch splits by batter handedness. He throws his changeup 23.2% of the time to lefties, and only 8.7% of the time to righties. On the other hand, he throws his slider 16.1% of the time to righties, while only 2.1% of the time to lefties, even less than he throws his two seamer. His curveball and two-seamer usage are in the same ballpark, regardless of batter handedness.

All of this makes intuitive sense. Cain’s changeup breaks about 7 inches toward his pitching arm side, or away from a left handed batter. Meanwhile, his slider is relatively flat, but looking at his heat map, he throws it almost exclusively low and away from a righty. This illustrates the way he uses what is probably his worst pitch to his advantage: it remains very hard to hit a low-and-away slider over the fence. The changeup heat map shows the same thing: Cain throws it exclusively low and away to lefties.

Cain's slider vs. RHB:

And his changeup vs. LHB:

Now, on to the comparisons. Dave Cameron made some comparisons to pitchers with similarly low HR/FB rates, and found that even for pitchers that kept their HR/FB low for four consecutive seasons, as Cain has, their HR/FB rose about 2% in the next two seasons. As commenter DrBGiantsFan pointed out, Cameron’s sample was primarily pitchers that were just reaching and flying past their peaks. Paapfly responded to Cameron’s post, and part of that post pointed out that Cain also has a very high infield fly ball percentage, at 12.9% in his career. Cameron and Paapfly use Roy Oswalt as the best Cain comparison, but I think I’ve found one better: Jered Weaver of the California Angels. Look at their batted ball percentages: flyballs: 48.5% Weaver, 45.3% Cain; infield fly balls: 13.1% Weaver, 12.9% Cain, home run per fly ball: 7.9% Weaver, 7.0% Cain. Both pitchers have high flyball and infield fly percentages, but don’t give up very many homeruns.

Briefly, Weaver is a right-handed pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal. He throws the same five pitches as Cain, but he uses his two-seamer and his slider far more often. An analysis of the his handedness splits shows what you were probably expected: he throws his slider 31.2% of the time against righties, but only 5.1% of the time against lefties. Conversely, he throws his changeup on 8.1% of the time against righties, but 18.9% of the time against lefties.

The similarity to Cain’s splits is striking. Unlike Cain, Weaver also mixes up his curveball according to batter handedness: 25.3% of the time against lefties, but only 0.2% of the time against righties. That’s right, Weaver threw exactly 3 curveballs to righties this year. Meanwhile, looking at Weaver’s heat maps confirm their similarities.

Weaver's slider against RHB:
And his changeup vs. LHB:

So what does it all mean? Weaver and Cain approach each at bat similarly, and each get the same results: locate the fastball away, mix it up with sliders away to righties and changeups away to lefties, with the occasional curveball and two seamer. Each gets a lot of pop-ups, a lot of fly balls, and not a lot of home runs. I think this can be attributed to their superior command: both walk very few batters: Weaver, 2.17 per 9, Cain, 2.43 per 9 in 2010.

Pitches that are breaking away from the batter are very hard to hit for home runs, but are very easy to hit lazily into the opposite field. Weaver and Cain are both adept at locating their pitches exactly where its hardest to hit strongly, and therefore induce a lot of weak pop flies to the opposite field. After the PITCHf/x analysis, I am convinced this is a repeatable skill for both Cain and Weaver, provided they continue their strike-throwing ways.