Originally written on SF Giants Nirvana  |  Last updated 10/2/11

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Giants’ farm system, so I figured I’d do an end-of-season roundup. These aren’t rankings per se, but rather, a rundown of few of the Giants’ top prospects, with notes on other guys to watch for.

Back in late July, I posted a midseason top 25 list; since then, the system’s undergone quite a few changes. Zack Wheeler and Thomas Neal departed in trades soon after, the signing deadline for 2011 MLB draft picks has passed, and — of course — minor-league seasons (including the postseason) have been completed.

Pitching

Eric Surkamp: I had him at #4 on the midseason list, and he’s since made his major-league debut (six starts in total). He’s been quite underwhelming, to say the least. Though his performance is certainly a very small sample we’re talking about — roughly 27 innings in total, he has failed to a) induce whiffs, and b) throw with the command he consistently displayed at various levels in the minors. His future remains to be seen, although he’s most likely not going to begin 2012 in the Giants’ rotation:

Sabean all but said Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract. Eric Surkamp clearly isn’t ready and Barry Zito has had his “trials and tribulations.” Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

I have not been the least impressed with what he’s done in the majors thus far, but I’m still holding out hope that he can stick at the back-end of the rotation as a useful starter.

Heath Hembree: While the Giants’ organizational depth is fairly thin in terms of starting pitching, they have a few intriguing relief arms. Hembree is the cream of the crop. He spent half of his first full season in the minors down in San Jose, where he posted a 0.73 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched, and struck out nearly half the hitters he faced (43.6% K/PA). After receiving the call-up to Double-A Richmond, he continued to dominate: 2.83 ERA/2.86 FIP spanning 28 appearances. The average pitcher in the Eastern League this year was 24 and a half years old, so Hembree’s fairly advanced for his age (22). As of now, he’s looking like the future closer for the San Francisco Giants.

Kyle Crick: The Giants’ 2011 supplemental-round pick — a right-hander out of high school, he’s probably got the highest ceiling of the Giants’ starting pitching prospects (now that Wheeler is out of the picture). Keith Law actually liked Crick better than the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik. He made seven appearances this year with the AZL Giants, but hasn’t done anything to really affect his prospect status.

Others: There are quite a few other interesting arms in the Giants’ system…Ryan Verdugo made the switch to starter this year, and while he had a solid season, nothing about his performance really stood out — especially considering that he was in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League (pitching in pitcher-friendly Richmond). Mike Kickham and Seth Rosin, a pair of Augusta arms, each did well this year (Kickham starting, and Rosin pitching out of the bullpen for the majority of the season). Lastly, Adalberto Mejia had a hell of a season in the Dominican Summer League, and the Giants selected some quality pitching in this year’s draft — Joshua Osich, Chris Marlowe, and Bryce Bandilla, in addition to the aforementioned Crick.

Hitting

Gary Brown: He’s the best prospect the Giants have, and after an excellent season in San Jose, he’s one of the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. One of the major concerns about Brown entering this season was walks: he didn’t draw very many walks in college, which is (for obvious reasons) alarming for a prospect whose game is speed. No longer much of an issue though: he posted a 7.2% walk rate this season, which is perfectly acceptable for a hitter with above-average contact skills. And considering that he has a penchant for getting hit by pitches (which, I’d assume is a somewhat repeatable skill), all the better.

There was a story on Brown in the Mercury News the other day, and one quote stood out to me:

“People keep saying I’m a singles hitter,” said Brown, who is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. “Maybe they think that because I’m a leadoff man, but that’s not me. I’ve been a gap hitter my whole life. So that gets me a little riled up.”

He’s got a point, really. His numbers: 33 doubles, 13 triples, 14 home runs (.181 ISO). Juan Pierre comps (I’ve heard him compared to Pierre on several occasions) don’t do him justice — his power’s a lot better.

Joe Panik: There were a lot of people that weren’t happy with the Panik pick — having hoped that the Giants would go for a player with a higher ceiling. I was pretty content with the pick though, and I feel somewhat validated by Panik’s performance in Salem-Keizer. .341/.401/.467 in 304 plate appearances with 13 SB/5 CS, and a BB/K ratio of 28/25. Even if he doesn’t stick at short, he projects as an above-average defender at second-base. I expect that he’ll continue to move up through the system quickly.

Tommy Joseph: The biggest snub on my midseason rankings, Joseph was all the way down at #16. The reasoning behind this was: 1) defensive limitations at catcher, which is of paramount importance. 2) poor plate discipline.

Joseph got off to a cold start this year, but really started to pick things up as the season progressed. Here’s his wOBA by month (note: September includes only ~20 plate appearances) –

Joseph finished the year with a line of .270/.317/.471, nearly a +.100 improvement in OPS from 2010. In mid-August, he was ranked the best defensive catcher in the Cal League, and Joe Ritzo, San Jose Giants director of broadcasting, raved about Joseph’s progress:

I’ve noticed a tremendous improvement with Tommy Joseph behind the plate this year, just going from April to August he really has become one of the better defensive catchers in the league. His receiving skills I think have improved the most, and his ability to block pitches in the dirt. He definitely has made tremendous improvement in that regard. I asked Andy Skeels recently which player has improved the most and Tommy Joseph was at the top of that list for what he’s done defensively and offensively.

Joseph’s still only 20 years old, and a catcher that can excel at both defense and offense is inherently valuable. He’s rocketed this year to become — in my mind — one of the Giants’ top five prospects, and maybe even one of the top 100 prospects in baseball (he was listed on THT’s top 100).

Others: Ehire Adrianza hit well in San Jose this time around (.845 OPS in 56 games), which is an encouraging sign. Not a big fan of Francisco Peguero, who’s widely considered to be one of the Giants’ top prospects, and here’s why: .309/.318/.446 at Double-A Richmond. He only drew five walks in 71 games, and posted a miserable BB/K of 5/45. Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac round out the Giants’ organizational depth at catcher. Lastly, there are others to look out for: Jarrett Parker, Chris Dominguez, Charlie Culberson, and Ricky Oropeza to name a few. As a whole, I think the Giants’ organizational depth in terms of hitting — particularly at the catching position — is markedly better than the pitching.

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