San Francisco Giants

Original Published Date: Jan. 5, 2013

Let’s face it, the San Francisco Giants are really good at developing players.  Four out their five starters, their closer (both Romo and Wilson), and the main cogs in the middle of their lineup, are all home grown.  Not only do Giants develop and promote their players, they also trade, and some would say liberally trade their prospects to improve the big league club.  While I thought the trade of Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran was a mistake, it’s hard to fault their front office too much for the moves they’ve made over the past five years.

Given the amount of trades and promotions, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I started my analysis of the Giants minor league system.  However, I was pleasantly surprised, particularly on the pitching front, that the Giants have talent.  It starts with pitching and in particularly two young right handed pitchers: Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick.

While many in the industry prefer Crick over Blackburn, I’m taking the later due to not only a very good arsenal but excellent pitchability.  While there isn’t much projectability left with the 6-foot-3 220 pound teenage (he doesn’t turn 20 until January 6th), his fastball sits in the low 90’s with pinpoint control – did I mention he was still a teenager!

Crick is also very good with a better arsenal than Blackburn but is still struggling to command it.  However, he’s got very good mechanics and the Giants have a history of developing pitchers so I’m very bullish on Crick’s upside.  Lefty Mike Kickham and 2012 first round selection Chris Stratton also provide additional depth for the Giants with both having mid-rotation ceilings.

While the pitching depth is there, the positional depth is not.  After outfielder Gary Brown, who I’m still very bullish on, the talent really drops off.  Joe Panik is a second division talent for me and while Andrew Susac, the young catcher out of Oregon State, has potential, he’s also a second division talent.

1. Clayton Blackburn (RHP)

2013 Age: 19 BP: Okla. (H.S)
Ht: 6-3 Weight:220 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 LowA 131.1 116 37 3 1.23 9.80 2.54 1.02

Projectability is a scouting term that means the level of physical development that is left in a player.  For instance, if an 18-year-old pitcher is 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds with broad shoulders, you expect him to put on weight as he matures; which in turn should add a few miles per hour to his fastball.  You expect similar results with batters – more power but a loss of speed.  Looking at it from the other side, players with small frames like Juan Pierre or Dee Gordon will probably never add bulk; so in those cases you conclude there is little physical projections left.  Pitchers like Clayton Blackburn, who just matured early and stood 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds at 19-years-old are in the same boat.  Candidly, the velocity is probably at it’s peak.

I’m not too concerned that Clayton Blackburn is at his physical maturity because the guy can flat out pitch and you know what, he’s got really good stuff.

The arsenal consists of a low 90’s sinking fastball that is a true plus pitch.  It’s not the velocity that makes it plus, it’s the movement and incredible sink that he gets.  In 131.1 innings in LowA, Blackburn had a ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 4.2 which ranked eighth highest in all of baseball (min 100 innings in both the minors and majors).  His curve, slider, and changeup are all grading out as above-average pitches with sources telling me that they’ve seen his curve and changeup already flashing as plus pitches.  Sold yet?  No???  How about he walked 18 in those same 131.1 innings.

With a walk rate of 1.23 per nine, you have to assume that Blackburn has great pitching mechanics and he does.  The delivery is nice and easy with excellent balance on his finish. The mechanics are repeatable and this is leading to great control and the ability to locate his pitches.  His mechanics are not perfect though as there is some scapular loading which will cause a lot of stress on the right elbow.  It’s not horrible but there is an Inverted-W there.

Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Blackburn and I’m adding him in all my Dynasty Leagues.  I expect him to move through both High-A and Double-A next year with a chance to see San Francisco by 2014.  While I wish he didn’t have an inverted W, I like everything so much that I’m rolling the dice and hoping his elbow will hang in there for a few years.

2. Kyle Crick (RHP)

2013 Age: 20 BP: Texas
Ht: 6-4 Weight:220 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 LowA 111.1 75 31 1 5.42 10.35 2.51 1.28

There will be inevitable comparisons between Crick and Blackburn as they are moving through the Giants system together.  While Blackburn’s game is much more polished, Crick has top-of-the-rotation stuff with a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s.  Crick’s biggest challenge is he struggles throwing strikes; and that led to a walk rate of 5.42 per nine.

Crick has dominating stuff as right handed batters managed a paltry .181 batting average against, while lefties didn’t fare much better at .211.  In addition to his fastball, Crick also throws both a slider and curveball that grade out at above-average if not more.  I have yet to personally see him throw many changeups, but sources tell me that the pitch is still fringy but did improve throughout the year.

With a poor walk rate, you would expect to find poor pitching mechanics but in fact, they are actually pretty good.  If anything I would call them mechanical.  It’s like he’s thinking about every one of his pitches as he releases.  That said, his posture, stride, and balance are all good; he’s just not throwing strikes.  The good news is that should improve with more repetition and why everyone is so high on Crick.

Fantasy Impact: Crick has a ceiling of a number two starter, that given his mechanics and arsenal, I believe he has a very good chance of obtaining.  I have him ranked in the group with Straily, Blackburn, Rosenthal, Stephenson, and Myer.  While I love them all, particularly Blackburn, I would not fault you for taking Crick ahead of all of them.  He could be special.

3. Gary Brown (OF)

2013 Age: 24 BP:California
Ht:6-1  Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013-14
2012 AA 538 73 7 42 33 .279 .347 83.8 7.4 .321

Gary Brown was drafted in first round of the 2010 draft (Pick #24) with the hope that he would be the centerfielder of the future for the Giants.  After a breakout season in 2011, it looked like he was well on his way, but 2012 was a bit of disappointment and the Giants, in a Beltonian* move, signed Angel Pagan to a four year $40 million dollar contract.

So what happened?

I had a chance to see Brown in the 2011 Arizona Fall League before he headed home early with mono, and I was shocked at his swing mechanics.  He kept the bat parallel to his body while resting it on his chest; then, he went directly into his load.  There was hardly any arm extension and I was candidly surprised that he could make contact even though the box score said otherwise.  However, when he got to Richmond and started facing better pitchers, they pounded him inside and he had no chance.

The good news is that clearly the Giants worked with him as I had a chance to see him in early August, and his swing had been revamped.  His hands were more relaxed and the bat was resting on his shoulder in a more comfortable and natural setup position.  In the mechanical transformation, he didn’t lose any bat speed and I thought he looked really good.  In fact, after an April and May where he batted .245, he rebounded in June and July by batting .326 before tailing off at the end of August.

So that’s my story with Gary Brown and I’m sticking to it.  I think his swing has been fixed and the future is once again bright.  Does he have all-star potential?  No, but I think he has a chance to be a solid regular offensive player while contributing excellent defensive play.  The one thing that continues to be a mystery is his inability to effectively steal bases.  Brown has 80-grade speed but has only been successful in 65% of his stolen base attempts.  Now that his swing mechanics have been adjusted, maybe the Giants next lesson will be teaching Brown how to get better jumps.

Fantasy Impact: The development process is rarely linear and Gary Brown is experiencing the ups and downs of learning to be a professional baseball player.  There’s still a lot to like here and while his Big League opportunity has been temporarily closed, things have way of working themselves out.  Don’t lose faith in Brown in your Dynasty League.  In fact, he’s a great buy-low candidate.

*Beltonian – defined as the San Francisco Giants act of acquiring an aging player to block an up and coming talent (see Brandon Belt and Aubrey Huff)

4. Mike Kickham (LHP)

2013 Age: 24 BP:Missouri
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2013
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 AA 150.2 119 51 8 4.48 8.18 3.05 1.29

One thing you are taught in Scout School is to not prejudice your review of a player by analyzing his stat line prior to a game.  Of course, I break that rule all the time as I’m constantly writing about players and need to know how they are performing.  However, before seeing Mike Kickham, I fought back the urge to look at his stat line so I could scout him properly.

What I saw was a physical lefty who had a nice sinking fastball that caused batters to beat the ball into the ground.  The slider was flat out nasty and the changeup was also impressive.  I thought his pitching mechanics were good, although his posture could be better.  Overall, I really liked the package and thought he was a solid mid-rotation starter.

After the game, I looked at his stat line and saw where he had walked nearly five per nine.  I was shocked with this stat as I didn’t see this at all during his outing.  In fact, his control was very good.  With an entire season now to review, his control dramatically improved from mid-July through the end of the year.  Did Kickham figure something out or was it just a case of random sampling?  I don’t know, but I was impressed with what I saw.

Fantasy Impact: I think there’s a chance that Kickham could see San Francisco in 2013.  If so, he’s somebody that I would try to pickup in a fantasy league as soon as there are rumblings.  Again, I see his ceiling as a number three starter but in San Francisco and the NL West, it has a chance to play-up.

5. Chris Stratton (RHP)

2013 Age: 22 BP: Mississippi
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws:Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2012 SS 16.1 14 5 1 5.51 8.82 2.76 1.47

The Giants played it safe in the 2012 draft and went with 6-foot-3 Mississippi State pitcher Chris Stratton with their first round selection (pick 20).

Stratton has a decent arsenal with a nice three pitch mix including a fourseam fastball that sits in the low 90’s, a nice slider with a true two-plane break and an emerging changeup.  The fastball is not overpowering, so he’ll have to learn to keep the ball down in the zone.  In a limited 16.1 innings in short season ball, he had a ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 1.67.

Unfortunately, Stratton was hit in the head by a comebacker in his August 16th start against the Vancouver Canadians and his season was cut short by at least three starts.  While I haven’t heard any news since the end of the season, I would expect him to be ready for the start of 2013 season.  Given his arsenal and polish, I would expect him to start in the California League and be part of a must-see rotation that should include Clayton Blackburn and Kyle Crick.

Fantasy Impact: While I’ve not seen Stratton pitch live and the reports on him were limited, I believe he has a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.  I would be adding him to my Dynasty League roster in leagues where there are 200 minor league players rostered.

6. Heath Hembree (RHP)

Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Heath Hembree has accumulated 56 saves across multiple levels within the Giants minor league organization.  He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a fourseam fastball that sits in the mind 90’s and a nasty slider that produces a ton of swing and misses.  Given his max-effort delivery, his mechanics are not the best which is leading to quite a few walks; 4.18 per nine in 43 innings in 2012.  If an injury hits Sergio Romo or he becomes ineffective, I could see Hembree being called upon as early as 2013 for save opportunities in San Francisco.

7. Joe Panik (SS)

Joe Panik is an ok baseball player.  Yeah, it’s not very descriptive, but that’s what I keep coming back to – he’s ok.  On the positive he makes elite contact, can work a count and actually plays a nice shortstop.  On the negative, he’s not very athletic and lacks the type of hitting mechanics that would suggest he will ever hit for any power.  In fact, the swing is so slappy or “armie” that I worry if he’ll be able to hit effectively at the highest level.  I have his ceiling as a second division middle infielder or utility player.

8. Andrew Susac (C)

Part of the reason why the Giants felt comfortable including Tommy Joseph in the deal to acquire Hunter Pence was their confidence in 2011 second round draft choice Andrew Susac.  Susac started his professional career in 2012 with an aggressive assignment in the California League.  While he didn’t dominate, he played well showing a decent contact rate of 74% and the ability to drive the ball.  He also showed a lot of patience at the plate with a 14% walk rate.  Susac should start the 2013 season in Double-A Richmond as a 23-year-old and could see San Francisco as the backup to Buster Posey sometime during the 2014 or 2015 season.

9. Francisco Peguero (OF)

I was pretty excited about Francisco Peguero during his breakout season in the California League in 2010.  He was making great contact and even showing a little pop.  The stat that popped out though was his 40 stolen bases which combined with his plus glove, had me very intrigued.  However, at the beginning of the 2011 season, he had knee surgery and the speed disappeared.  However, the story doesn’t end there as Peguero was called up to the big leagues at the end of the 2012 season and promptly stole three bases.  While the profile is all over the place, in the end, I think Peguero is a fourth outfielder who will provide excellent defense with speed on the bases.

10. Josh Osich (LHP)

I was pretty excited when the Giants drafted Josh Osich in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.  He had a live arm with a fastball that he could throw into the upper 90’s and a changeup that was also a plus offering.  The concern was always the slider; could the Giants work with him to develop that into an above average offering.  After his first professional season, it appears that Osich will be designated for the bullpen.  While on one level that’s disappointing, he also has the stuff to become an important lefty specialist who could move quickly through the organization.


4 comments on “San Francisco Giants

  1. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m going to start my own blog
    in the near future but I’m having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something
    completely unique. P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but
    I had to ask!

  2. What are your thoughts on Gustavo Cabrera? Would you say that he has a higher ceiling than any hitter in the system or too early to tell?

    • Candidly, I don’t know as he’s still in the Dominican. I’ve never seen him play and all I have to go on are Internet reports that really like his upside. Hopefully he’ll make it to the Complex League in 2013 and I’ll get a chance to see him and provide some information.

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