Unlike last year, we won’t be doing a special comic for number 1, so four prospects today.
It might seem like I’m down on a lot of prospects this year. Well, to be perfectly clear, 2012 was not a good year for Giants prospects. Many top prospects had disappointing years, at best. Only Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn really had huge years.
That said, I still like the farm system. There are no Buster Poseys or Mike Trouts in it, but that can be said of about 30 or so farm systems in baseball. But there are a couple of potential stars, and a few players who have very high ceilings. Sure, it’d look great to also have Zack Wheeler here, but there are at least five names in this Top 10 I think are surefire major leaguers within the next few years. That’s not bad. Onto the prospects:
7. Heath Hembree – It’s hard to judge Hembree’s 2012, as he dealt with an injury over much of the season. His velocity came back by the fall, but this closer-in-waiting has a few issues to deal with, still. His control problems are an obvious one, but most closers deal with that. Hembree can be effectively wild when his velocity is up. Getting batters to swing at fastballs out of the zone is how his strikeout totals stay high, but his weakened fastball was why he had such low totals last year.
The bigger worry I have right now is the lack of development on Hembree’s changeup. He’s gotten better control of his slider, which was important. But I don’t think two pitches will be enough for Hembree. He’ll need to turn his changeup into a weapon he can use. Until then, being a two-pitch guy makes him more susceptible to adjustments, and to injuries a slider can bring on. When I watched Brian Wilson in the minors years ago, he had the look and feel of a closer. From what I’ve seen the last two seasons of Hembree, I can’t say I’ve seen that look and feel yet. It could come, and he has the tools to do it, but it’s not there yet.
6. Mac Williamson – Every year or so, the Giants take a hitter in the mid-rounds with prodigal power but flaws. Roger Kieschnick, Chris Dominguez, and Ricky Oropesa all come to mind. Williamson is the latest. Williamson has been praised for having big power, but also having pretty good speed and a good arm. But the biggest question is about his contact skills; he hit under .300 in college, which doesn’t bode well for the pros.
What Williamson did have was a big start to his pro career in short-season ball, batting .342 with six walks in 125 plate appearances. That’s a big difference from those other names: Kieschnick and Oropesa both made their debuts in High-A, and Dominguez had an okay short-season debut. So there’s hope. But it’s a very small sample size. Williamson has all sorts of potential…this season, we’ll see how far that ceiling might fall.
5. Joe Panik – Speaking of why you don’t buy too much into a good short-season first season, Panik fell from his Northwest League MVP numbers to a rather average year in San Jose, a better offensive environment. Both his slugging and speed rates took tumbles, though neither will be a hallmark of his. A batting average drop to under .300 was a bit of a surprise, considering that is his strength.
The good news is that his walk and strikeout numbers were very consistent in the full season, and that bodes well to see him remain a hit machine. The question of him staying at short or moving to second base is less of an issue, because he can be seen as an heir apparent to Marco Scutaro, even before Scutaro’s contract is up. He’s a Scutaro-type of player, and is a perfect fit in the Giants future.
4. Gary Brown – No one was expecting Brown to keep up his numbers from 2011 while going to Richmond. But to see his average drop under .300 and an on-base percentage under .350 really turned a lot of people sour on him, and he’s no longer considered a shoo-in as a leadoff hitter because of it. Throw in significant issues against right-handers, and clearly Brown has a lot to improve. That said, issue number one is that he isn’t using his best tool (speed) to its potential by getting caught more than 35% of the time. If he doesn’t take that part of his game seriously enough, what can you expect on the rest of it? One has to think that had something to do with the four-year deal that Angel Pagan was signed to in the offseason.
That said, Brown still has a big ceiling. He’s a legitimate center fielder defensively, and has the gap power to take advantage of AT&T Park. Even with Pagan ahead of him, the team is realistic to have this guy in their plans. His priorities should be his success rate, taking walks and having a better plan against right-handed hitters. Even just moderate improvement there will put Brown back into the team’s immediate plans.
If you pay any attention to the various Giants prospect lists, I doubt there’s any real surprises coming in the top 3, so here’s some comments about the guys who didn’t make the list.
• Roger Kieschnick – This guy had a real shot to be at the back end of my list, and was one of the last guys I took off the list. His numbers looked great in Fresno…for what he played. But injuries cost him. He broke his shoulder last season running into a wall, which I wouldn’t hold against him. But he also has had chronic back problems, which is really alarming for a guy his age. He’s got a shot to compete as a fifth outfielder (along with Francisco Peguero), and the reports of adjustments he’d made in Fresno were encouraging, so there’s hope…but I’m just not sure.
• Andrew Susac – Maybe it was a mistake to push this guy all the way to San Jose, but he just didn’t look right. It didn’t look like injury issues, either, he just didn’t look good all season. There was a lot of hope and hype on him after the 2011 draft, but he didn’t fulfill it. As a catcher, he doesn’t have to be as good, and he still has potential, but a sub-.250 batting average in one of the best hitter’s leagues is not boding well.
• Gustavo Cabrera – The big international signing for the Giants, this 16-year old has a ton of talent and potential. Big speed guy, good right fielder, and a lot of potential in his swing. But he’s going to have to do something before I start giving Top 10 spots to him.
• Adalberto Mejia – Other than having a name that will give sportwriters migraines, Mejia became one of the trendy guys to show up on prospect lists this offseason. At 18, he did a good job considering his age in Augusta, and there’s room to grow on his high-80’s, low-90’s fastball. Plus, he has good control for a kid his age. But for me, he gave up too much hard contact and didn’t have nearly the strikeouts (6.7 per nine innings) that you want from someone that low. Strikeout rates tend to drop as you go up the levels.