The top five prospects in the Giants system are probably the least controversial part of our list. The top three, in particular, are a whole level above the other prospects in this system. That said, I think there is at least one ranking that may surprise the minor league gurus.
5. Thomas Neal, OF 24 years old in 2011
Otis Anderson: Neal’s .291/.351/.440 line in the Eastern league isn’t bad or anything, it’s just not what you would like to see out of a corner outfielder. In fact, if you look back at guys who’ve done similar things in that league at a similar age, you see a lot of bench players and guys who just couldn’t quite stick in the majors. It will take one hell of a PCL campaign to convince me that Neal is for real again.
Chris Quick: Neal is easily the closest thing (well, besides Brandon Belt) that the Giants have to position player depth near the major league level. The Eastern League is usually tough on hitters (league average OPS of .729 last season) and while Neal didn’t dominate the league, he was better than league average with his .799 OPS. Neal was 23rd in the league by OPS (min. 300 at-bats) but a lot of his company was non-prospects like Tagg Bozied (30-years-old), Hector Gimenez (27-years-old), and Justin Christian (30-years-old). Right now, he profiles as a 4th outfielder, but I’m still holding out a little hope that his talent lies somewhere between his outstanding 2009 Cal League campaign (1.010 OPS, 559 PAs) and last year in Richmond.
4. Francisco Peguero, CF 23 years old in 2011
OA: Whatever else Francisco Peguero may do this year, he’s already been the recipient of the year’s most surprising ZiPS projection. That system sees him as ready to be a major league contributor right now. I’m more than a little sceptical of that, but Peguero has an impressive skillset: power, speed and defense. His minor league lines bespeak a player with almost no patience or pitch recognition – his game plan is to hit the ball really hard and then run really fast. Adding some strikezone control would make him a star.
CQ: After compiling our list, I think I probably ranked Peguero the most aggressively. He’s a fascinating player — if not flawed — and it’s hard to tell how he’ll end up. He doesn’t walk (3.9% career walk-rate in the minors) and his approach seems centered around hitting the ball in play and running. Scouts like his batspeed and his overall athleticism. I think he’s the most volatile prospect in our Top 5. AA should be a good challenge for him next year and if he can stay afloat, the Giants might have something.
3. Gary Brown, CF 22 years old in 2011
OA: I admit to being a little disappointed when the Giants took Brown last year. Not because I’m some draft guru who has a list of guys that they should have took, just because it doesn’t sound like a guy who’s going to be a great player – he’s a fast guy with a high batting average. I’m a bit over it now, and I still hold out hope that he can show a solid walk rate as a pro. Defense, baserunning and contact hitting should make him a fun player, if not a great one.
CQ: It’s fitting that Brown follows Peguero in our list, as both players are similar-ish. Brown’s footspeed (graded at an 80 on the ’20-80′ scouting scale) is out of this world. He’s one of the fastest players in the minors right now. He’s shown good bat-on-ball skills in college (he famously batted .438 in his last season at Cal Sate Fullerton) but, much like Peguero, he just doesn’t walk. From draft day videos, I’m not a huge fan of his hitting mechanics. Brown dances his feet around in the box as he waits for his pitch (video), it’s quite the sight to behold. I think Brown’s best case scenario is Juan Pierre. It’s easy to forget that Pierre (before he was drastically overpaid) was once a useful player.
2. Zack Wheeler, SP 21 years old in 2011
OA: Allow me to present the explanation for Zack Wheeler’s ranking in one image.
The man with the mustache that looks like it should be beating up hippies is named Dick Tidrow. You probably know his name, but if you don’t here’s what you need to know: this guy won the Giants a world series, as much as Edgar Renteria did and as much as Cody Ross did. Tidrow (with no small amount of credit to the man that hired him) drafted every starting pitcher not named Barry Zito, as well as the team’s two best relievers. The Giants have earned an awful lot trust when it comes to drafting pitchers. Wheeler’s professional data is still pretty scant, so I’m going to assume Wheeler is good until he proves that he isn’t.
CQ: Fact: that Dick Tidrow picture is amazing. It’s kind of a cop out, but I really agree with Otis that if it’s one thing I trust the Giants on, it’s drafting and developing pitching talent. Wheeler’s first minor league season was a mixed bag. He missed time with a cracked fingernail and because of that injury he only totaled 58.2 innings pitched. His walk-rate was high (5.8 per 9) but so was his K-rate (10.7). When Wheeler is right he throws a fastball in the low to mid-90s. He also throws a developing slider (I’ve also seen it called a slurve) and a changeup.
1. Brandon Belt, 1B 23 years old in 2011
OA: It’s nice to finally rank a guy for whom there’s no on the one-hand, on the other hand talk. Brandon Belt hit the crap out of the ball in San Jose, went to Richmond and hit the crap out of the ball there. Then in Fresno, almost as if just to show that he could, he hit .229 while still posting an OBP near .400 and a SLG over .500. He walked about as much as he struck out, and found time to get good reviews for his defense. It will take some jiggering or misfortune to get him into the big league lineup, but if he hits like last year, the Giants will find a spot for him.
CQ: The easiest placement on this whole list. Everything that Belt did in 2010 was successful. He hit .352/.455/.620 across 3 levels, ending up at AAA after he started the year in high-A. He’s a solid baserunner (22 SB, 8 CS) and he fields his position very well. He’ll enter 2011 as one of the top prospects in baseball.