Friday, January 14, 2011

Profiling Francisco Peguero

Here's another intriguing Giants prospect: Francisco Peguero. He, like Surkamp who I recently profiled, isn't exactly a top MLB prospect. But as far as Giants prospects go, he's one of the position players with the most upside. The Giants signed him in August of 2005 as a non-drafted free agent (international signing), and he's been stewing in their system ever since. They placed him on the 40-man roster prior to this years Rule V draft.

They've brought him along slowly. He played two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the states. In 2008, he split half his time in A short-season ball (Salem-Keizer) and the full-season Sally League. In 2009, he spent most of the first two months in extended spring training with a sports hernia but played about another half season in the Sally League, before being promoted to A-Advanced for the Cal League playoffs and starring in the championship-clinching game alongside Eric Surkamp, winning playoff MVP honors.

In 2010, he lead the California League (A+) with 16 triples, and finished second in stolen bags with 40; he does, however, need to clean up that skill set as his efficiency (64.5%) leaves something to be desired. Using Fangraphs' speed factor, we find that he was the fourth fastest player in the Cal league. His batting average of .329 was also fourth best, and considering he's a center fielder, his .488 slugging percentage and .159 isolated power were very good.

Unfortunately, his walk rate of just 3.3% was second worst in the league, which only forced his on-base percentage to a good but not great .358. And that's the trouble with Peguero. He appears a beyond impatient hitter to this point in his career, but his extremely high average on balls in play (BABiP, .382 in 2010) have yielded him a high average, thus keeping his on-base percentage in a workable range.

Defensively, Peguero plays a very solid center field with a plus-plus arm; he's said to glide in the outfield and cover ground. He had another 11 assists in 2010, and perhaps that's why he's played quite a few games in right field despite his phenomenal speed.

Of him, the 2009 manager of the San Jose Giants, Andy Skeels, said this: "Peguero is a true five-tool player... He's got lightning-quick bat speed. He plays with enormous energy and enthusiasm for the game. He's got a cannon for an arm. He can run... He reminds me a lot of a young Pablo Sandoval. He's going to be very exciting."

But in order to solidify his status as a legitimate prospect, he'll need to a) improve his walk rate by at least a few percentage points, b) continue to post high averages on balls in play by making consistent hard contact to all fields or c) some combination of the two.

As far as Giants' prospects, John Sickel's of Minor League Ball has him ranked fourth. Baseball America had him ranked tenth going into 2010, and I'm close to certain his superb season will only push him into their top five when it comes out January 26th. When I asked Kevin Goldstein, national writer and scouting and player development for Baseball Prospectus and ESPN, how he liked Peguero, he called him a "strange prospect" with "lots to like [but] some glaring holes." I think it's safe to say he was referring to his complete and utter lack of plate discipline.

Though even with the obvious flaws, his minor league stats have been quite impressive, prompting Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection to give Peguero a 91 adjusted-OPS (OPS+) were he to spend time in the majors in 2011, quite respectable for a 23-year-old prospect that has yet to step foot in AA.

And that's exactly where he's headed next, where he and the Giants are hoping to find out if his skills cut the mustard. AA-Richmond tore Conor Gillaspie, Darren Ford, Roger Kieschnick and Thomas Neal (to a lesser extent) to shreds last season. Neal rebounded quite a bit in the second half and his outlook is still promising (93 OPS+, 2011 ZiPS), but each of the former in this group suddenly finds himself outside the realm of legitimate prospects. One thing does seem assured: if Peguero does flame out, a lack of enthusiasm and energy won't be the reason.

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