Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Formidable, Fruitful Farm (?)

Francisco Peguero at the XM All-Star Futures Game
The Giants’ minor league system in years past has been downright dreadful. The front office seemed to have a knack for developing pitching, but were completely and utterly lost when it came to drafting and developing offensive pieces. The tide seems to have turned now that the big club has Pablo Sandoval (mostly in 2008 and 2009) and Buster Posey contributing every day. Now that the minor league season is basically over, it might be a good time to look at the future. I’m also no scout and have not seen any of these guys play. I’ll pick and choose where I feel they might have something but don’t take everything I say to the bank.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, Brandon Belt. I’ve written about him as recently as a few days ago and simply want to relay his final line of 2010 – before he goes to the Arizona Fall League of course – and pass along some quotes from Baseball America. Belt finished his season across three minor league levels (A-Advanced, AA, AAA) with: 595 PA, 99 R, 173 H, 43 2B, 10 3B, 23 HR, 112 RBI, 22 SB, 8 CS, 93 BB, 99K, .352 AVG, .455 OBP, .620 SLG and 1.075 OPS. Simply remarkable for a guy that didn’t make it onto the Baseball America’s top 30 Giants prospects list coming into 2010. It’ll take some more time to figure out what the Giants really have in him, but I think there’s a good bet he’ll be a solid everyday contributor, and soon. John Manuel of BA said that Belt was among the top dozen players considered for their Minor League Player of the Year award, which went to Rays pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson. He also said: “Belt did get a lot of consideration. For me, he had the best year of anyone in the minors this season. In the past, we’ve stayed away from guys who were good or OK prospects who had monster years, and we’ve been proven correct…” He goes on to talk about why it’s important to be cautious with guys like Belt who break out. Fair enough, I don’t mind if Belt stays somewhat under the radar and is given a chance to succeed without heaped on expectation.

Another interesting prospect for the Giants is Francisco Peguero (78 R, 19 2B, 16 3B, 10 HR, 40 SB, 22 CS, .329 AVG, .358 OBP, .488 SLG, and .846 OPS) of the San Jose Giants – A Advanced. I had a chance to watch him play in the Cal League championship game in 2009. He was very impressive and followed that playoff appearance with a full season in San Jose this year. Peguero obviously posted a nice batting average, but his OBP leaves something to be desired. That’s because he walked only 18 times in 538 plate appearances and struck out 88 times. That will be his primary question mark going into the future. Peguero still has time to improve his relative patience, though a 180 degree turn around is basically impossible. Hitters are who they are. What’s intriguing about Peguero are his tools. He’s extremely fast and athletic as evidenced by his stolen bases and 16 triples. He’s also rumored to be a plus outfielder with an excellent arm. Peguero will have to prove he can harness these skills and be a plus center fielder for the Giants to stomach the lack of patience. If he can spray the ball into the gaps and prove he can keep solid contact rates – he’s got a chance. Triples alley could prove to be his best friend. He must also address his base running. 40 SB in 62 attempts is unacceptable. You can see why the Giants added him to the 40 man roster to protect him from this years Rule V draft. Also in San Jose, the Giants have a shortstop prospect in Ehire Adrianza. He didn’t light up the California League offensively but he’s an excellent defender. He and Crawford – who I’ll mention later – are the closest thing SF has to a shortstop of the future. Adrianza has a little bit of speed and knows how to draw a walk. That skill is important for his development if he ever wants to contribute in the major leagues.

The Giants essentially took the California League 2009 Champions – the San Jose Giants – and bumped them to AA Richmond for 2010. The results were underwhelming to put it mildly. One of the Giants’ top hitting prospects, Thomas Neal, had a breaking out party in 2009 but fell far short of expectations in AA in 2010. He did start to figure things out and hit much better in the second half, but he missed time at the very end of the season. His final line included only 12 HR and a .799 OPS. Roger Kieschnick seemed like a possible slugger in 2009 as he hit 23 HR and slugged .532. Unfortunately, he struggled with injuries this year and only took about 220 bats and hit 4 HR with a .673 OPS. Brandon Crawford (.712 OPS) again struggled in AA, creating a huge question mark on his ability to be an even average hitting shortstop in the major leagues. His glove is supposedly ready but his bat is lagging in a big way. Exacerbating things, Crawford went down with an injury and missed key development time. What’s more, the Giants don’t have a shortstop to step into the hole the oft maligned Edgar Renteria will leave when he exits for free agency and / or retirement. Crawford is thought to be the closest thing the Giants have in their system to being major league ready, and that’s going to be a problem. They were in the same position two years ago and ended up forking over $20 M for Renteria’s services. Darren Ford had an outstanding spring and seemed poised to break out but struggled with the bat as well. So did Conor Gillaspie, who’s been a huge disappointment after being picked in the supplemental first round after being the Cape Cod’s best hitter coming out of college. It seems likely he will never hit enough for a third baseman and his glove is a frying pan. His patience and batting eye were his calling card in years past, but fell off considerably in 2010 with only 37 walks and a .335 OBP. Nick Noonan continues to not be the highly touted player they believed they selected out of high school. His .532 OPS looks like that of a pitcher. Other than Belt’s brief stint in Richmond, it was an incredibly boring offensive season for the Flying Squirrels.

Unfortunately, the Giants appear to have very little of use in AAA Fresno. They of course promoted both Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner which is of course a large reason for that. In the lower levels, Zack Wheeler had an injury to his fingernail and missed significant time. But, when he did pitch he looks to have been impressive at times. He hasn’t yet allowed a HR in pro ball in 58 innings and has struck 70 batters (10.74/ 9 IP). The Giants will cross their fingers he takes the Matt Cain path to the Bay.

Overall, the Giants have some interesting pieces but definitely appear to lack the depth they had a year ago with Posey’s and Bumgarner’s promotion. They’ve just added Jeremy Brown from Fullerton to their stable of athletic center fielders as well. The prospect of signing Carl Crawford in the offseason intrigues me, but the thought of giving up future first-round draft picks scares me considerably. Franchises with more modest payrolls – relative to the Yankees and Red Sox at least – need to build from the ground up. The Giants have done a wonderful job of that recently and I hope they can continue their current success.

If any of this interests you at all, I recommend going to check out Peguero in the playoffs starting Saturday, September 11th in San Jose at 6 PM. The link provided is a brilliant analogy of the difference between those who interested in the intricacies of the farm pieces and how they fit, and the majority who are only engaged when the final product emerges.

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