Here’s the final rankings, 5 to 1, of our Top 15 Prospect List. At the end of the post, I’ve also included each writer’s individual list.
Spoiler: Brett Bill is not the #1 Giants prospect.
5. Heath Hembree, RP 23 years old in 2012
Chris Quick: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but I’m a tough grader when it comes to relief prospects. Unless the prospect really jumps off the page at me, I’m likely to rank conservatively. That being said, Hembree has created a lot of buzz for himself over the past year. Hembree throws a fastball in the mid-90s and his slider has the chance to be a plus-pitch. Hembree has struck out an eye-popping 14 batters per nine innings over his minor league career. But, with the great strikeout totals comes control issues, as Hembree walked 4.2 batters per nine this past season split between San Jose and Richmond.
Hembree’s development this season for the Giants could be huge, both for the club and their wallets; if Hembree can ascend to the closer throne in San Francisco, the team could save itself a lot of cash and heartache by letting Brian Wilson walk and/or trading him for prospects.
Rory Paap: Keith Law made Hembree–shown here–the Giants’ sleeper prospect of 2011, and he basically nailed it. Hembree had an excellent year split between A-Advanced and Double-A, though he was slightly less successful–but with a better WHIP–in Richmond. Still, he has plenty of arm and has missed bats at a clip of 14 per nine innings so far in the minors.
There are a couple of reasons that Hembree doesn’t rank higher here. The first and most prominent is that he’s just a reliever, which is obviously a lot easier to find, draft and develop than a starter. The second is that he lacks polished command and a true second offering. Still, there’s a great chance he not only makes it to the big club soon but that he also contributes significantly. The Giants’ bearded closer is about one nagging injury and a few blown saves away from losing his job and saving the Giants a bunch of cash, assuming Hembree plays along with my little fantasy.
Otis Anderson: Bay City Ball was split about whether Hembree should rank higher than Surkamp. Surkamp won out based on the starter versus reliever reasoning that Rory outlines. The counterpoint is that starter and reliever are roles rather than positions, and on a pure stuff level, Hembree is much more projectable than Surkamp. I think we probably settled in the right ranking, but it is a much closer than the raw numbers would suggest.
It would be nice if Hembree walked fewer people, but that strikeout rate indicates that his upside is that of a relief ace. To me that’s the only kind of relief prospect even being concerned with.
Chris Martinez: Heath Hembree was pretty hyped before the year, and I didn’t buy into it. After I saw him pitch in San Jose, I was forced to eat a little crow. There are mixed reports on the variety of his pitches and I don’t recall seeing any one pitch really stand out aside from the fastball, but he was always effective. I also saw him early in the 2011 season, so I’m guessing his slider and changeup improved a lot once he got to Richmond. He’s a potential closer as long as he has one really good pitch and he could be a great closer if he has a good secondary pitch.
4. Eric Surkamp, SP 24 years old in 2012
CQ: I’m a bit of a Surkamp fanboy, I admit. His career numbers in the minors — 10.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 — are simply amazing. Surkamp succeeds without a top-shelf fastball by spotting his pitches and using his breaking stuff accordingly. FYI: Baseball America ranked Surkamp’s curveball, changeup, and control as best in the Giants’ system. He struggled in the majors during 26.2 innings, but I think he can be better than what we saw in an admittedly brief time. Despite his stats in the minors he doesn’t have front of the rotation upside, but he could be a very good mid to back-end starter. The system is pretty thin near the top for SP depth and if Barry Zito flops this year, Surkamp will get the call.
RP: Despite Surkamp’s relatively disappointing debut last September, I’m also a pretty big fan of the southpaw. His numbers throughout his minor league career have been spectacular. I remain convinced that his unremarkable appearances in the bigs were the product of being a bit rushed and overwhelmed; his strengths–particularly control–seemed non-existent to the point that he hardly looked like the pitcher that we’d read about–and I’d actually seen in San Jose. I think he will settle in nicely in the middle or back of the rotation if he stays healthy, continues to control and mix his repertoire and maintains a high-80s heater.
Let me strongly agree with Quick here: Surkamp will be a better option than Zito at the back of the rotation very soon, if he isn’t already. Oh ya, I also hope we are BCB are right about Surkamp. He encompasses all that is the Giants’ starting pitching “depth.”
OA: Normally, I would not put any stock into 26 innings from a pitcher. The nagging doubt that gets to me about Surkamp is that his handful of MLB starts pretty much played to the exact script that his skeptics penned. Major leaguers didn’t chase his breaking stuff. His strikeouts disappeared and in their place came an unwelcome increase in walks.
He’ll deserve whatever second look he gets this year, but I’m a little warier than I was in the middle of last year.
CM: Eric Surkamp rebounded from some weird injury problems to become the latest success story in the system. Surkamp suffered a torn hip ligament at the end of 2010 that ended his season, which was a real drag because he was doing well before the injury. Healthy in 2011, Surkamp pitched his way into the top 10 rankings of most Giants prospect lists. Before we knew it, Twitter and the blogosphere foretold Surkamp’s arrival in San Francisco. I think he should get a serious look in spring training for a rotation spot. I ranked him #2 behind Brown because he’s currently the most important pitching prospect in the system. The second one of the starters goes down, Surkamp gets the call. Of course, Giants management thinks it’s a fine idea to stick their readily available Major League prospects in Fresno and/or on the bench, so expect Surkamp in Triple-A Fresno for most of the year, even when he could and should be pitching in San Francisco.
3. Tommy Joseph, C 20 years old in 2012
CQ: As a prospect, Tommy Joseph is one part youth relative to league, one part raw power, and one part improved defense. Initially viewed as something of a project behind the plate, Joseph, by scouting reports, took huge strides this past year on defense. For a guy with plus-power, that’s huge. As a 19-year-old playing in the Cal League (league average age was 22.7 years for hitters, 23.2 years for pitchers), Joseph socked 22 home runs while posting a slash of .270/.317/.471. That’s basically a league average batter for the league. Joseph’s main issue is his plate approach; he owns a career BB/K ratio of 55 to 218.
Joseph should start 2012 in Richmond as one of the younger players in the league. Generally, AA is a pretty good test for prospects and Joseph should be challenged with his current plate approach. If he can improve on his plate approach he’ll continue to rise.
RP: Was Joseph’s second half of 2011 a 256-at-bat (and non-repeatable) hot streak or genuine development? That’s the question that his prospect status is heavily weighing on right now. He triple-slashed .240/.287/.368 before the All-Star break in ’11, a horrendous showing. After that, he pumped 16 home runs and slashed .301/.346/.574. That’s like the difference between Yuni and Tulo’s bats, so you can see why this is important. If Joseph doesn’t go off like that last year, he’s probably not in our top 10 and I’m not writing this blurb.
I think the Eastern League is going to have the answer to my question in 2012. Let’s hope it’s the one that Giants fans–and we at Bay City Ball–want to hear.
OA: Joseph is going to be very young for AA this year. If he hits in the Eastern League at all, it should be regarded as a success. In fact, if he hits in the Eastern League you don’t really have anything left to learn about him as a prospect. Conversely, if he struggles, it shouldn’t hurt his prospects that much.
CM: Tommy Joseph is a nice problem to have: a great hitting young catcher with good defense, but what do you do when you have that behind Buster Posey? Switch Joseph to first? It might come to pass, just to keep Joseph’s bat around. I am pleased at the swing the system has taken lately, to include more position players among the elite prospects, and I am also very blessed that I got to see guys like Brown, Joseph, Surkamp, Hembree, et. al. recently in San Jose. I believe I addressed some questions about Joseph’s defense and instincts behind the plate last summer in a piece on Bay City Ball. I saw good things from Joseph as a catcher, especially for someone so young. He should be in Double-A next year, which is fine for his track record, age, and development curve.
2. Joe Panik SS/2B, 21 years old in 2012
CQ: The Giants will give Panik every chance to stick at SS, even though there are some doubts on whether or not he can handle the position. Panik, the Giants’ first round pick in the 2011 First Year Player Draft, jumped right into pro-ball without skipping a beat; in 304 PAs at Salem-Keizer, Panik hit .341/.401/.467 with 10 2B, 3 3B, and 6 HR. Panik doesn’t have any huge standout tools, but he’s well-rounded and his bat profiles well. He’ll make contact and flash gap-power. In addition, I think it’s worth noting that in a system full of hackers, Panik’s BB/K ratio while playing for the Volcanoes was 28 to 25, giving him some semblance of a patient and balanced hitter.
RP: The Giants drafted the St. John’s standout last June to a flurry of puns. With the puns also came a general distaste for the Panik pick at 24. That is until his excellent pro debut shortly after he expeditiously signed on the dotted line with San Francisco. What Panik lacks in star power he makes up for in a lot of ways, perhaps most importantly the fact that he’s what a lot of scouts would call a high-probability prospect. In other words, he may not grow to be an All-Star, but he is less likely to break your heart. Worst case, he’s probably on the 25-man in some capacity.
If Panik can somehow stick at shortstop, he could be a real asset. If he can’t, well, Freddy Sanchez is probably going to fall apart soon, and I really don’t like the prospect of Burriss playing any more second base. The times when Sanchez has not been able to go–which have been frequent–really have put it into perspective how spoiled we were in the decade-long period from Kent to Durham, the latter of which I really didn’t appreciate enough at the time. In Panik I see a nice compromise, the potential for a cheap and average-ish middle infielder. The thought of it honestly makes my mouth water.
OA: Joe Panik isn’t really the type of guy that people want their team to draft in the first round. He lacks the type of sexy upside that is the main reason why people get really into the amateur draft. Fans are itching to see first round draft picks spent on skilled athletes in order to convince them that they’ll enjoy their millions more if their day job is mostly consumed with standing around waiting for someone to hit a flyball, as opposed to the certain physical deterioration of the NFL. Or on hard throwing Texans who already have their own subclass of Chuck Norris jokes about them.
There’s some good reasoning behind this. Drafting only guys like Panik would probably result in a farm system bereft of star level talent – something much dearer to acquire than the types that polished college hitters generally turn into.
But, the thing people see in Panik- a middle infielder who can hit for average – is a valuable commodity on a team that’s already pretty good. I’m generally down on drafting from positional need, but this might be an exception. The second base chart is very much “after Sanchez, the deluge” and the deluge is already taking grounders at shortstop.
In short, Joe Panik can be a solid ballplayer, and can save the Giants from spending money on a free agent middle infielder. They probably shouldn’t worry too much about rushing him, if he’s to achieve the second goal.
CM: Joe Panik is another college prospect who seems ready to move quickly through the minor league ranks. Last summer it seemed like the Giants did not use their first round pick well on this unknown shortstop from St. John’s University, but his Northwest League and Arizona Fall League performances showed that he was worth the 24th overall pick. It also puts a lot of pressure on Panik to produce in a system that is thin on middle infield prospects. If he doesn’t start the year in Advanced-A San Jose, I’ll eat my boyfriend’s hat. Seriously, he has this brown pinstripe fedora that he wears everywhere. He thinks it makes him look cool. I don’t agree. But I’ll eat that hat.
1. Gary Brown, OF 23 years old in 2012
CQ: Meet the #1 prospect on everyone’s list, Gary Brown. Brown had a season to remember in San Jose — 188 hits, 34 2B, 13 3B, 14 HR — and left some wondering why the Giants didn’t promote him to AA. Brown profiles as an explosive package of speed, defense, and contact ability. He’ll never walk much, but his style is focused on hitting the ball in play and running full speed. He profiles as a plus-defender in CF, and for the Giants and their spacious outfield in San Francisco, that’s a great thing. Brown might be one of the most “exciting” position player prospects the Giants have seen in some time. Note: I’m not using “exciting” in the same sense as “skilled”, but chances are that Giants fans will love watching Gary Brown do this his thing in the majors. He’ll start the year at AA Richmond but don’t be surprised if he’s in the majors by mid-season.
RP: It’s probabaly foolish and wishful thinking that I’m fairly optimistic about the Giants’ system–which is frankly pretty thin–but I am. Fittingly, there’s no player on this list or any other that I’m more excited about than Gary Brown. I cannot wait to see what he does with the daunting challenge that Double-A will be for him in 2012. I hope he’s up for it. I think he is.
With the exception of Torres’ remarkable 2010 season, the Giants have not had a quality center fielder or a legitimate leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton, and he came only for one half of a (nearly triumphant) season to patch up the Shinjo-Calvin Murray debacle. That’s 10 seasons. Gary Brown, if all goes to plan, is the answer to a painful, decade-long problem. He puts the demons of Dave Roberts to bed.
Brown is lightning fast, has excellent contact skills with a surprising amount of pop (14 home runs, .519 SLG in San Jose), and his absolute floor as a defender in a premium position is probably around average. If he can polish up his outfield instincts and continue to draw walks and get on base at a respectable rate, he’s going to be a very useful player with more star potential than Panik. And finally, I can confirm that he’s nothing like Aaron Rowand, the only exceptions being their Fullerton alumni status and a penchant for being hit by pitches. And that particular skill might well prove to be pretty handy given how dangerous Brown ought to be on the paths.
OA: Maybe I’ve just listened to too much Kevin Goldstein, but I’m really psyched to see what Gary Brown can do in the majors. A lot of people who know what they are talking about had Wheeler above Brown before the Beltran trade, but this was the guy that I was excited about.
The main thing that catches the imagination about Brown is how annoying he would be to play against. He’s an on-base threat who is also a threat on the bases. A speed guy with enough power that you can’t just groove one to him. A centerfielder that can turn triples into doubles and doubles into well-hit outs. He sounds like a total pain in the ass.
CM: Gary Brown jumps up to the top of the system thanks to a flurry of trades last year that removed two of the top 10 Giants prospects from 2010 (Thomas Neal and Zack Wheeler). Brown’s combination of speed, defense, and hitting makes him the top Giants prospect. He outperformed my expectations on offense in San Jose. His hitting was the biggest concern I had for him going into the season. It also helps that he is capable of being fast tracked through the system. I’d expect Brown to start the year in Double-A Richmond, which has become the proving ground for Giants prospects.
And as promised, here are the staff lists by writer.
To recap, our 2012 prospect list:
Rank Name 1 Gary Brown 2 Joe Panik 3 Tommy Joseph 4 Eric Surkamp 5 Heath Hembree 6 Andrew Susac 7 Kyle Crick 8 Francisco Peguero 9 Ehire Adrianza 10 Hector Sanchez 11 Josh Osich 12 Chris Dominguez 13 Conor Gillaspie 14 Adam Duvall 15 Mike Kickham
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