Finally, we’ve come to the conclusion of our 2013 prospect list. It’s clear that while the Giants’ system is a middle-to-back system in the big scheme of baseball, this top five contains a lot of interesting prospects. The Giants are definitely rich in pitching arms at the moment; this final segment contains three pitchers making the cut.
Let’s take a look:
5. Clayton Blackburn, SP, 20 years old in 2013
Chris Quick: Blackburn is a right-handed pitcher that exploded onto prospect lists after his successful 2012 season in A-ball as a 19-year-old. The Giants picked him up in the 16th round of the 2011 draft and he’s shaping up to be a steal. Blackburn started 22 games — throwing 131.1 innings — for the Greenjackets and did just about everything that you want a young pitcher to do. Among starters (100 IP) in the SAL, Blackburn ranked: #2 in strikeout percentage (26.9), #1 in walk percentage (3.4), #1 in FIP (1.91), and #1 in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.94). Blackburn works in the upper-80s with his fastball and has good feel for his curve and slider. The biggest knock against Blackburn is that he doesn’t offer much physical projection — at 6’3″, 220 lbs, he’s already a pretty big boy — and he’s more ‘mid-rotation’ than ‘front-line starter.’ He’ll join a stacked San Jose rotation in 2013.
Chris Martinez: The Giants added another good young arm to their stable when they snapped up Blackburn in 2011. He’s been somewhat under the radar from the beginning, as a 16th round pick and in the lower ranks of both the Giants system and in the prospect rankings. He leaped into the top 10 with a big year in Augusta, posting a 2.54 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings. Check the walks, too: only 18. If it’s possible for a top five prospect to be a sleeper, Blackburn would be it. It sounds like a broken record to say he would be part of a loaded San Jose rotation.
4. Joe Panik, SS, 22 years old in 2013
CQ: Panik is a steady, if not slightly unexciting prospect. The Giants keep running Panik out at SS even though he’s likely to play 2B in the majors. I don’t mind it — if Panik can handle SS, he’s got more value anyways. He fits the mold of a ‘No. 2 hitter’ — i.e., a batter with decent contact skills. Panik’s only above-average tool is his bat. He gets great marks for his baseball acumen, and despite struggling initially in San Jose, he still walked more (58) than he struck out (54). With Brandon Crawford and Marco Scutaro holding down their respective positions, the middle infield in San Francisco looks crowded at the moment, but Panik could be the first in line to get a promotion if Marco Scutaro ages poorly.
CM: Panik walks well, which makes him a good fit for the top of the lineup. He’s a solid option up the middle at either short or second, with good defense and adequate arm strength. He wears out opposing pitching with his patient approach at the plate. Let’s see what he does in Richmond this year.
3. Chris Stratton, SP, 22 years old in 2013
CQ: The Giants’ first-rounder from the 2012 draft, Stratton features a low-90s fastball with a sharp, biting slider, a curveball with above-average potential, and a developing changeup. Stratton was shut down after just 16.1 innings in short-season ball when he was struck in the head during batting practice. He should be ready to go to start the season and because he’s a polished college arm, there’s a good chance the Giants will start him in San Jose.
CM: I’m concerned about the head injury he suffered in Salem-Keizer, when a line drive resulted in a concussion and required an overnight hospital stay. That on its own is scary, but it also kept him from playing in the fall instructional league. It was a disappointing turn of events, as Stratton is a true power pitcher from his build to his stuff. He’s a strong kid and should recover from the head injury and the layoff. Maybe he’ll even be in San Jose this year.
2. Gary Brown, OF, 24 years old in 2013
CQ: Brown had an up-and-down year in Double-A Richmond and was clearly challenged at times by the advancement, but at the core of things, his game remains the same: speed, contact, and excellent defense in CF. Brown has real concerns as a hitter against right-handed pitching and whether or not he can handle hard stuff inside on his hands, but a large problem with eye-balling Brown’s numbers is based on the differences of the California League and the Eastern League. Or, to put things another way: the Gary Brown we saw in the CAL league isn’t the real Gary Brown; nor is Gary Brown we saw in EL — he’s somewhere in between. (This is still an instructive graph of what Brown might be, dependent on hitting and defense.) It was a step back for Brown — or, at best, a lateral step — but despite some awkward caught-stealing numbers, and his problems in Double-A, he’s got a chance to be an average player in the big leagues. For his draft position, that’s probably a win for the Giants.
CM: Everyone told me that Brown was all speed and the rest didn’t matter. Imagine my surprise when he showed me a decent amount of pop for a smaller guy. He’s also a better hitter than I expected and he’s good at getting on base. His arm and range are a perfect fit for center field and I’m excited to see him in San Francisco. He’s the one most likely to make it to the big club first, among all the names on this list.
1. Kyle Crick, SP, 20 years old in 2013
CQ: If you were to construct a pitcher in a lab, he might look an awful lot like Kyle Crick, who possesses both the characteristic build of a power pitcher with the stuff to match. Crick showcases some of the best pure stuff in the Giants’ system — he throws a fastball in the mid-90s, and has been clocked at 99, and his hard-breaking curveball was rated best in the SAL. Crick used his combination of size, strength, and stuff to overpower hitters in his first full season of pro ball. His strikeout percentage (27.1) led the SAL among starters (100 IP). Like a lot of developing power pitchers, Crick’s command, or lack of, is his biggest drawback — his walk percentage (14.1) was the worst among starters in the SAL. He offers true front-line starter potential. And, you guessed it, he should start 2013 in San Jose’s rotation.
CM: Crick has a fastball/curveball combo that puts him ahead of the other pitchers in this already deep system. He would be a top arm if just for the stuff, but he also has great size at 6’4″ and he’s a tremendous athlete. The Giants are thankful to have Crick around after losing a past power righty. Alas, Zack Wheeler, we hardly knew ye.
To recap, the 2013 prospect list:
1. Kyle Crick, P
2. Gary Brown, OF
3. Chris Stratton, P
4. Joe Panik, SS/2B
5. Clayton Blackburn, P
6. Heath Hembree, P
7. Mike Kickham, P
8. Mac Williamson, OF
9. Adalberto Mejia, P
10. Martin Agosta, P
11. Andrew Susac, C
12. Adam Duvall, 3B
13. Stephen Johnson, P
14. Gustavo Cabrera, OF
15. Brett Bochy, P
Strengths: Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. The San Jose rotation might house, from top to bottom, the most interesting collection of arms in all of minor league baseball. That rotation could shape up as Crick-Stratton-Blackburn-Mejia and maybe even someone like Chris Marlowe, who Baseball America ranked as having the best curveball in the system. Edwin Escobar should also be there. He, much like Mejia, is a young and talented pitcher.
Weaknesses: Hitting. There just isn’t much hitting in the system right now. The system is full of batters with interesting tools (Adam Duvall, Chris Dominguez, Francisco Peguero, Ricky Oropesa) but with huge, debilitating warts. Cabrera is a high-upside lottery ticket that’s nearly impossible to project at this point. Williamson is very intriguing, but he’s still a little warty. There’s also way too many relievers for my liking on the list. I think Joe Panik will see major league time one day, but I’m not sure of what kind of impact he’ll have. Though, I fully admit that I might be undervaluing him.
Still, that rotation in San Jose could go a long ways to propelling the system up the ladder.
Quibbles with the list? Guys ranked too low? Too high? Discuss it in the comments section.