The San Jose Giants are similar to the Augusta Greenjackets in some ways. The San Jose Giants are young and filled with some promising prospects, who in a best case scenario, are most likely 2-3 years away from the major leagues. Most of the Giants farm system talent is split between these two A-ball teams. After a couple of years of neglecting the draft — the infamous Michael Tucker singing to lose a 1st round draft pick in ’04 and not getting into the draft until the 4th round in ’05 because of FA signings — the Giants have started to fill their lower levels with some players who could eventually make their way to San Francisco and be a part of the next good Giants team.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite San Jose prospects.
San Jose Giants (A+)
C/1B Pablo Sandoval – If you made a habit of reading Top-10 prospect lists over the years for the Giants you probably never saw Pablo Sandoval’s named listed. After this year, that might change. The 21-year-old switch-hitting catcher and first baseman has been tearing the cover off the ball for the San Jose Giants. He leads all of A+ ball in OPS and has made some dramatic improvements in his game. He’s already surpassed his walk total from last year. In ’07 for San Jose, Sandoval only walked 16 times in 427 PA’s for the SJ Giants. That’s a BB% of 5.2%, but he’s already walked 20 times in ’08 in 227 PA’s for the San Jose Giants. That’s a BB% of 9.3%, a remarkable improvement. He’s also improved his power from an ISOP of .188 in ’07 to .248 in ’08. Even if he’s repeating A+ ball, he’s not overly old at 21. In ’07, the average age of hitters in the Cal League was 22.9 years old and the average age of pitchers was 23 years old. He sports a strong throwing arm at catcher and has been working on footwork and positioning with Steve Decker. The Giants, in the past, have moved Sandoval between 3B and 1B/C in order to get his bat going, but they’ve played him mostly this year at catcher. He’ll get the occasional start at first but I think it’s mostly an attempt to save some wear and tear on Pablo. Sandoval is probably ready to move up a level but the Giants have stated that they’ll most likely skip AA with him and move him straight to Fresno. If he can stick at catcher, you might start reading about Sandoval in prospect lists. Easily one of the best surprises of this year. A switch-hitting catcher with pop? Yes, please.
2B Matt Downs – Downs is something of a personal favorite. He’s definitely not a blue chip prospect but he is an interesting story. He was drafted late in the 2006 draft — 36th round — out of the University of Alabama where he pitched both pitched — was a reliever in ’04 and ’05 — and played the field — became a position player in ’06. He put together a nice season in ’07 with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes when he hit (.338/.410/.537) winning him the organizations batting crown. He played 1B/2B/3B in that year. This year he’s moved up to San Jose and is hitting (.279/.352/.500) with 11 HR’s and 21 walks to 25 strikeouts. Sure, he’s old for his level and he probably lacks a true position — he’s played mostly 2B this year — but he’s a interesting player to keep your eye on. If he makes the majors, he might have a career as a utility man with a little pop that can play the corners.
1B Andy D’Alessio – The point of this prospect list is to find guys I like and attempt to remain positive, but D’alessio has some blemishes to overcome before he can raise his stock. Drafted out of Clemson in the 19th round of the ’07 draft, D’Alessio dominated the Arizona Rookie League. As a 4-year collegiate player, he was beating up on younger and more inexperienced competition. But, he did what he was supposed to do against younger players, he hit. He finished with a line of: (.306/.376/.624) that included 15 HR’s in 210 PA’s. A red flag after his debut was a high K%, especially when you consider his age and competition, of 20.5%. His K% has climbed to 27.9% this year in San Jose with 56 strikeouts in 201 PA’s. His line of (.296/.340/.495) might look alright, but you need to remember that first basemen really have to hit well to have value and that he needs to cut down on his K%. When he was drafted there were some rumors that he had a hole in his swing. His strikeout totals lead me to believe that those rumors might have something to them.
RHP Kevin Pucetas – The Giants seem to have a ton of guys like Pucetas in their system right now. Finesse pitchers who’ve had pretty good results. Pucetas doesn’t run his fastball much past 90mph but he moves his pitches around and has good command. In 63.2 innings pitched for San Jose, Pucetas has an ERA of 2.54 which translates into a 3.28 FIP. His BB% is low at 5.6% and he’s getting a decent amount of K’s for a guy without overpowering stuff — a K% of 19.5. I like Pucetas but I’d like to see the Giants move him up a level this year but I’m not so sure they will. They tend to move finesse guys slower than guys with more velocity. Last year, Pucetas pitched the entire year in Augusta after clearly being ready to go up a level. He dominated A-ball, posting an ERA of 1.83 for the Greenjackets. Because finesse guys have much less wiggle room than the higher velocity guys, they can be risky gambles for the major leagues but I’d like to see the Giants move a few of their finesse guys up a level this year to see what they’ve got. In a perfect world Pucetas would end up as a back-of-the-rotation starter that can eat innings.
LHP Ben Snyder – Snyder is another finesse pitcher, much like Pucetas, but he’s got the advantage of being a lefty. He throws in the mid-to-upper 80′s, occasionally touching 90, and works a big slow curve into the mix. Also like Pucetas, he was a part of the terrific ’07 Greenjackets staff. You could argue that Snyder has been the best pitcher on the San Jose Giants staff this year with a 1.91 ERA in 61.1 innings pitched. He’s not walking guys — BB% of 4.2 — and is striking out hitters — K% of 22.9%. He’s only 22-years-old so he’s in the age range for his league but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Giants promote him as the season unfolds.
LHP Jesse English – English is a very interesting story. Coming out of high school the lefty had the eye of many scouts because of his low-90′s velocity. He was drafted in 2002, the same year as Matt Cain, and looked to be the better pitcher initially. English struggled with health, pitching just 91 innings over parts of the next three seasons. In ’07 he started to get healthy again and pitched 34.1 innings for the Volcanoes and the San Jose Giants out of the bullpen. Over those 34.1 innings he stuck out 57 hitters, showing that he still had something left to prove. The Giants left him in San Jose to start this year and moved him into the rotation — most likely in an effort to build some innings and try to get his development back on track — and the early results have been great. So far this year, English has thrown 59.1 innings, more than any other year since his 2002 debut in the Arizona League. He’s struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he’s faced — K% of 24.1% — and his control has been acceptable — BB% of 7.8%. English is someone everyone should keep their eyes on. If he can regain some of the promise he showed way back in 2002, the Giants could end up very happy that they’ve stuck by him.
RHP Tim Alderson – Tim Alderson was drafted in the 1st round, 22nd overall, in the 2007 player draft. The prep school star featured uncanny control in high school, a low-90′s fastball, a potential plus-pitch in his curveball, and a promising changeup. Alderson got his feet wet in the Arizona League with 5 innings before the season ended. To the surprise of many, the Giants skipped Alderson a level to the California League to start the ’08 season. The aggressive promotion by the Giants speaks volumes on the amount of polish that Alderson already has. He’s held his own in the California League for a 19-year-old pitcher, posting an 3.39 ERA or a 3.13 FIP. Alderson’s control is bordering on average — BB% of 8.3 — but that’s a minor knock against him. Facing the older competition — remember that the average hitters age is just under 23, nearly 4 years older than Alderson — might be a challenge that Alderson is still adjusting to. He’s also had to learn to pitch out of a windup because he pitched exclusively out of the stretch in high school, that might have also affected his control. A ton to like about Alderson right now.
RHP Henry Sosa – As I started going through this list it really hit me, the Giants are loaded with pitching depth at San Jose. Henry Sosa could be among the best of the pitchers and that’s saying something. Sosa got a lot of press after his 2007 in which he struck out 139 hitters in 125.2 innings pitched split between Augusta and San Jose. He made the Futures Team as well. Knee surgery over the 2007 offseason delayed the start to his year but he’s finally made two starts in San Jose and the early results are encouraging. The tall, skinny Dominican throws in the mid-90′s and sports a plus-curveball. He’s been developing a changeup and it could be the key to his development as a starter, that needed third pitch in the arsenal. So far in 2 starts he’s struck out 10 in 8.1 innings pitched while giving up 1 earned run. If Sosa can get some traction in the California League and stay healthy, he could end up in AA by years end.
LHP Clayton Tanner – Tanner, another successful starter in that ’07 Greenjacket rotation, has hit some bumps this year in San Jose. He’s similar to Snyder in that he doesn’t blow anyone away, but unlike Snyder he throws a couple of ticks harder, generally working around 90mph, and he showed some nice groundball tendencies last year and this year. He had a GB% of 58 in Augusta in ’07 and a GB% of 56% this year in San Jose. It’s not Brandon Webb level — elite groundballers usually work in the 60%+ range — but he does get more outs on the ground than in the air. Like Snyder, Tanner’s window is small-ish because of his lack of pure “stuff”, but unlike Snyder he’s almost 3-years younger at 20-years-old. I still like Tanner as a back-of-the-rotation starter that can get the occasional groundball. Even though his ERA is currently at 4.47 his FIP is at 3.42.
The Giants are packed with pitching talent at this level. Alderson and Sosa give the Giants potential front of the rotation starters. Pucetas, Snyder, and Tanner give the Giants potential back-of-the-rotation starters and honestly, I’m not sure where English will end up, be it reliever or starter. He’s got a bunch of upside, thats for sure, but his health will play a huge factor in his ability to remain a starter.
On the hitting side, there isn’t a whole lot in San Jose that could translate to the majors but Pablo Sandoval’s development gives us a lot of encouragement. He’s played amazingly well this year and could finish the year in AAA. Downs and D’Alessio have their problems and could go either way, but keep an eye on them anyways.
Next, we’ll stop by and check out AA and see what’s happing in the cold air of Connecticut.