Here are all of the top prospect profiles from this winter (as well as the previous two), organized in one place for your convenience. This page can be found under the “Cove Chatter 100” category in the right-hand links bar. Please use it as a reference all season long!
Pitchers and catchers report this week. That means… the offseason is down to its final days! I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but the last month has been a full-on grind for me. So let’s get this prospect series wrapped up so we can start digging into spring camp topics!
These profiles won’t be as long as the previous ones. There are two reasons for that. 1) I am running out of time to finish the series, which started before Christmas. 2) For the most part, these are the most well-known prospects in the system. There are so many places to get information about the top minor leaguers these days, it’s very unlikely I have any new tidbits to offer for any of them. They are, however, the 10 players in the system right now that I feel will have the best MLB careers… and I want to tell you about them, dang it!
If you’ve been following along from the beginning, I truly appreciate your support. Though it doesn’t show in the major media outlets (it rarely does), this system is not only stacked at the MLB level, but it’s become as deep in the minors as it has been in years. It’s a great time to be a Giants fan, no matter which level you focus in on.
#1: Christian Arroyo, SS, Age 20: Arroyo (2.5 years below the CAL average age) followed up a .304, 28-2B, 9-HR season in San Jose with a .308, 3-HR campaign in 19 games for the AFL Champion Scottsdale Scorpions. Christian sealed the championship game with a tremendous run-and-slide catch from his SS position. It’s still believed that he’s better suited for 2B or 3B at the Majors, and we could start to see the Giants play him all over the diamond this year. AA will be a big test for the former 1st rounder, but it certainly appears he’s got a bright MLB future ahead of him. As Kruk often loves to say, “He can hit!”
#2: Mac Williamson, OF, Age 25: When is Mac going to get some love, for crying out loud? Right now, right here. The guy who keeps getting left out of organization top 10 rankings has been my #2 since season’s end, and I haven’t wavered on that position once. Williamson is one of the most athletic looking baseball players I’ve ever seen in person, and he puts that athleticism to use in game situations quite often. He has good range and a very strong arm in RF (he’ll play LF in the Majors as long as Pence is around) and has been known to make the occasional highlight reel play. He missed most of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery and ascended from Richmond to San Francisco by 2015’s end. Like Arroyo, Mac was a standout for Scottsdale in the AFL, batting a team-leading .370 with 2 HR in 19 games. MLB outfield time could be very hard to come by in SF if everyone is healthy this season, but I truly believe Williamson will force the organization’s hand at some point. In his prime, I envision a well-rounded player and potential 25-HR threat.
#3: Tyler Beede, RHP, Age 22: The Giants spent last winter overhauling the repertoire of their 2014 1st round pick, then streamlined him to Richmond after his sinker/ground ball approach yielded a 2.25 ERA and 1.5 BB/9 in 9 starts for San Jose. Beede took some knocks for an up and down performance in AA (48.4 avg GSc), which saw his walk rates jump back up to 4.4/9. Personally, I think 2016 will tell a lot more about Beede’s prospect stock than either of his half-seasons in 2015. He’s an athletic and very intelligent player on the mound, and you don’t get drafted in two separate first rounds without being incredibly talented. I’m excited to see how Beede progresses this year.
#4: Phil Bickford, RHP, Age 20: What was I just saying about twice being a 1st round draft choice? Bickford was the #10 overall pick in 2013 and #18 overall pick by the Giants last summer. He left CSU Fullerton after his freshman season following a dominant performance in the Cape Cod League, transferring to College of Southern NV in order to be draft-eligible a year earlier. His numbers at the JC level were of the video game variety (86 IP, 1.45, 21 BB, 166 K), compliments of what some scouts have called an “invisible fastball.” The Giants took it slow with Phil in 2015, and will likely send him to Augusta for rotation duty this spring (he’s a West Coast kid though, so don’t rule out a San Jose assignment). At 6-4, 205, Bickford’s got a body built for durability, but at the moment there are questions about his ability to hold a starter’s arsenal of pitches. I’d say the Giants have plenty of time to help him figure that out.
#5: Clayton Blackburn, RHP, Age 23: Not much to say about Blackburn. He constantly gets held back in rankings and scouting reports for any number of reasons: body, stuff, velocity, you name it. However, the young righty continues to show up and prove his naysayers wrong. All he did last season was win the ERA title in one of he most hitter-friendly leagues, at the highest level of minor league baseball. Blackburn is not a hard thrower. He’ll never light up a radar gun. But I believe he can be every bit the pitcher Chris Heston was at his peak last season. He’s now firmly on the Giants radar, and should have a chance to compete for a MLB role if and when injuries occur in 2016.
#6: Chris Shaw, 1B, Age 22: Shaw was one of the premiere power hitters in the Cape Cod League in 2014, and was off to a strong start to his junior season before hamate bone surgery cut his time short. He finished the year with a .319 average and 11 HR, and the Giants used their supplemental 1st round pick on him in the June 2015 draft. The LHH first baseman would hit another 12 HR (in only 200 PA) with Salem-Keizer, placing him atop the short-season NWL. Though his defensive skills are labeled well below average, Shaw’s bat reminds me some of Brandon Belt’s. Both players seem to have the ability to hit for power and average. Shaw, though, has pretty legitimate 30-HR power. If he can reach his potential, he may be the reason the Giants eventually part ways with Belt.
#7: Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Age 22: Mejia missed the first 50 games of 2015 after testing positive for a banned dietary supplement (I still read people saying he was popped for “PED’s” every now and then), then returned to Richmond for the second consecutive season. His best start came on July 24 (7 IP, 1 ER, 8 K), but an injury would keep him out nearly the remainder of the year. The Giants assigned him to the AFL for a second time, where the young lefty made 7 starts at full health for Scottsdale. He logged a 3.48 ERA in 31 IP, and earned some positive reports in the process. I even saw one first-hand observer claim on Twitter that Mejia could pitch in the majors “right now.” Even if he returns to AA this year, he’s still quite young. He should have a decent chance of working into a MLB rotation some day.
#8: Chase Johnson, RHP, Age 24: The Giants drafted Chase, an infrequently used reliever at Cal Poly – in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. They sent him to Augusta for a rotation assignment in 2014, and nothing about his stat line (aside from making 22 healthy starts) really stood out. Johnson was off to San Jose in 2015, where he became one of the breakout prospects in the organization. He officially made 18 starts, but his best outing of the season actually came in a relief appearance (following a Tim Hudson rehab start). I counted him for 20 GS at San Jose, where he averaged an impressive 57.5 GSc. The Giants promoted him to Richmond, where he made his final three outings of the year. Johnson saw a major uptick in his fastball last season, even reaching the upper-90’s late in games on occasion. The curveball he featured in Richmond had sharp, downward break, and his changeup makes for a third respectable offering. He’ll likely return to Richmond this spring, where he’s a major name to follow in the organization.
#9: Aramis Garcia, C, Age 23: It took Garcia a while to get going offensively in his first full season (that’s often the case for catchers as they adjust to the professional game), but once he did, he was one of the hottest hitters in the minors. The Giants promoted the former 2nd round pick after he hit 15 HR for Augusta, highlighted by a .324, 6-HR, 27-RBI month of July. In 20 games for San Jose, he hit only .227 with 0 HR. Garcia though, has always been known more for his bat than his defense, and his sounds like he still has plenty of work to do behind the plate. If he can improve his receiving skills, he offers a very strong arm that left Augusta beat writer David Lee impressed all season.
#10: Lucius Fox, SS, Age 18: Aside from Pablo Sandoval (who was a major developmental surprise), the Giants haven’t had all that much success with international hitters in their organization. They decided to take another big shot – their biggest shot in franchise history, to be exact – by signing Fox from the Bahamas. The SS, who is most known for his elite speed and smooth defensive skills, was handed a $3+M signing bonus, for which the Giants were forced to pay another $3M in penalties to MLB. Fox has experience playing some high school ball in the US, and at 18 will likely debut in Arizona this summer. I will say though, that the Giants think so highly of his makeup and skillset, I would not be stunned if he opened the year in Augusta. Surprised? Yes. Stunned? No. It’s very hard to project Fox when he hasn’t played a professional game, but one look at his swing (bat speed galore) shows it’s pretty clear the Giants could have a high ceiling player on their hands here.
#11: Sam Coonrod, RHP, Age 23: Coonrod was a flamethrowing righty (pre-draft reports had him up to 98) with very poor command during his 3-year career at Southern Illinois. He made 15 starts in his junior season, logging a 2.87 ERA and an 8.2 K/9. His walk rate, however, was 5 per 9 for the second consecutive year.
The Giants made Coonrod their 5th round pick in 2014, and his first full season in Augusta (2015) was a solid one. In 22 starts – 111.2 IP, 3.14 ERA, 8.3 H/9, 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9. His average Game Score (GSc) for the Greenjackets was a 54.3 (50-52 is average), and his Game Score W-L record was 13-6, with 3 ND. His best outing of the year, by GSc, was an 8-IP, 3-hitter with 6 K on July 20 (80 GSc). His most dominant start, however, was a 10-K, 2-hit effort over 7 IP on June 9 (77 GSc). Both of those performances came on the road, where Sam was actually quite a bit stronger in 2015.
He was promoted to San Jose for the postseason, where he made 2 appearances (1 start), allowing 3 ER over 9 IP.
Coonrod’s walk rate improvement was a huge development for the organization in 2015. He pairs his plus fastball with an above average slider, but I was under the impression he profiled better as a reliever when the Giants drafted him. His showing in Augusta definitely changed that notion for the time being, and it earned him no shortage of praise from opposing managers, who named him SAL Pitcher of the Year. The Giants were watching too, and offered him an invitation to MLB spring camp.
Coonrod has been consistently ranked in the organization’s top 10 by major publications this winter, so I’m sure this ranking will feel a little low. I don’t see this spot as a knock on him at all, however. As mentioned earlier, his 2015 was a good one, but Chase Johnson posted very similar numbers one level higher in San Jose. At the moment, I want to see how Coonrod builds on his success in 2016 before I enter him into my top 10. Without a doubt, he gives the Giants yet another hard throwing arm to be excited about as we head into spring training.
#12: Jordan Johnson, RHP, Age 22: Johnson burst onto the scene last summer, ascending from near anonymity to a major name to follow in just a month’s time. I profiled him after a 6-inning, 8-K midseason debut in San Jose. He was consistently throwing 93-96 that night in the Cal League, and popped the mitt at 98 a few times as well. Add in a changeup and slider that had spectators buzzing, and Johnson really announced his presence with a bang.
Jordan is a native of Elk Grove and a very unknown 23rd round pick in 2014 out of Cal State Northridge. His college career was marred by injury, as Tommy John surgery cost him parts of two seasons. He showed enough during his junior year for the Giants to take notice, but only made 3 pro appearances that summer. The organization took it slow with him, keeping him back in extended spring training and debuting him in the AZL when short-season leagues began. Seven appearances later, he was on his way to Salem-Keizer. After only one start there, he was on the move again – this time to San Jose. Between all three stops, Jordan struck out 74 and walked only 13 in 62 innings of work. He made two postseason starts in San Jose as well, allowing 3 ER and striking out 13 over 12 IP.
I decided to lean a bit on the conservative side this winter. In the world of irrelevant offseason rankings (we all love a good list!), it made more sense to keep him out of the top 10 until he has a bit more of a track record. In the real world, however, I can’t think of many arms in the organization I’m more excited to watch this season. Johnson is 6-ft-3 and looks like he could easily fill his 175-lb frame out another 15-20 pounds as he matures. If he proves healthy this year, we could well be looking at a Matt Duffy type sleeper (Big West product, later round draft pick, similar size) with some major impact potential on the mound.
#13: Ray Black, RHP, Age 25: Those who “know” say you aren’t supposed to give relief-only prospects high rankings, but there was absolutely no way I was leaving Black out of my top 15. He just has too much wow factor for me to ignore.
Most people in these circles know Black’s story pretty well at this point, but the rest of the baseball world might soon start becoming familiar with him too. Alex Pavlovic outlined the righty’s extensive injury history (TJ surgery, broken throwing hand, torn labrum, went completely M.I.A. for two seasons after the Giants drafted him from Pitt) in a piece from last spring.
Black has a true (and incredibly rare) 80-grade fastball. When he’s on the mound, he averages 99 mph. He touched 104 in the AFL just a few months ago. That’s Aroldis Chapman territory, and it’s so incredibly hard not to dream of him overpowering hitters on the AT&T Park mound with that kind of heat. David Lee watched him extensively a couple years ago in Augusta, and had great things to say about his slider. I’ve kept those reports in the back of my mind… he’s not a one-pitch guy, and that’s an important detail for a relief prospect.
What’s holding Black back at this point? Well, he’s never pitched on back to back days in the minors (hopefully he does this season). He also had some pretty significant command problems last year, walking exactly one batter per inning in San Jose, then 6 more in 9 innings of AFL action. But he had 67 K’s in only 34 IP in 2015, so there’s your upside. The Giants certainly have a nice list of potential long term closer candidates post-Santiago Casilla, but they don’t have one guy they’re saving the job for at this point. If Black can avoid anymore serious injury setbacks and improve his command, he could well be one of the most electric 9th inning arms in baseball one day. At the least, I think he could be helping the MLB bullpen at some point this season.
#14: Andrew Suarez, LHP, Age 23: Suarez turned down a 2nd round selection from Washington in the 2014 draft and returned to Miami for his senior season. He suffered through an early season oblique strain and some inconsistency, but when healthy was again one of the better college southpaws in the country. He was rated right around 75 in pre-draft rankings, and the Giants made him their second round pick last June.
Once Suarez signed his professional contract, the organization didn’t waste much time moving him up the latter. After logging a handful of innings in Arizona, he joined Salem-Keizer’s rotation in the short-season NWL. He allowed 1 hit and no runs over 5 innings in his 5th start for the Volcanoes, and was immediately headed back down the West Coast to San Jose. He’d spend the rest of the summer in the Cal League, allowing 3 ER in 15 innings over 3 starts with the Giants. He took the ball two more times in the postseason.
Suarez is a 6-ft-2 lefty with a bit of a stocky build and a compact delivery. He had labrum surgery that cost him his freshman year at Miami, but was able to enjoy a mostly healthy career upon his recovery. Polished lefties are tough to come by, especially those who offer four average or better offerings and can sit low-90’s with their fastball. To be honest, I feel like he’s too low here, but I also happen to really like the 13 players above him on my list. Nothing is ever guaranteed in this game, and Suarez’ shoulder issues are worth filing away for now. But if he remains healthy, he sure seems like a guy who could zoom through the system and become a reliable #4 or 5 starter.
#15: Jarrett Parker, OF, Age 27: Parker is one of the more interesting names on this list, and I certainly didn’t see it coming. The Giants 2nd round pick in 2010 (just behind Gary Brown) never really had a breakout minor league season. Yes, he always hit his fair share of HR and swiped a number of bases (28 in 2012), but they were usually matched with low batting averages and gaudy strikeout totals. While Brown was ascending to the top of Giants prospects lists, Parker was being asked to repeat at San Jose in 2012 and again at Richmond in 2014. His numbers, while consistent across the levels, were far from head-turning. In 2015, however, he finally had his breakout.
When Parker got called to the Majors for the first time last year, I couldn’t remember a hitter looking more lost at the plate. I honestly wondered whether he’d ever get another chance in the bigs. But Parker proved me wrong in a big way, surging offensively in Sacramento for 23 HR, then going on a September big-fly binge that will be hard to forget. I was listening to KNBR on my way home during the 3-HR game in Oakland, and Jon Miller’s call gave me goosebumps. There are thousands of minor league prospects in baseball at any one point in time… do you know how many of them will do what Parker did in September 2015 for the Giants? Not very many.
So, now the question becomes, is Parker merely a flash in the pan, or can he continue to produce at the highest level? It’s hard to imagine him (or Mac Williamson) getting a roster spot out of spring camp if the regulars are healthy, especially since Parker would make for 3 LHH outfielders on the 25-man. I just don’t see that happening. With Parker, you get a guy who is solidly built, athletic enough to play any OF position (though he really doesn’t stand out in one spot), and a major hacker at the plate. He might be the greatest “3-true outcomes” hitter in the system, as he has a high tendency to either walk, strike out, or drive one over the fence.
Personally, I think Parker could make for an interesting platoon partner for an MLB team. He should provide nice bench depth for a few years, at the very least. But after hitting a combined 29 HR in 2015, he’s a guy who we have to take seriously at this point.
#16: Hunter Cole, OF, Age 23: Cole had 3 steady seasons for Georgia, but his power didn’t develop as hoped after hitting 7 HR as a freshman. He seemed like a pretty good bet to return for his senior year when he fell to the 26th round in 2014, but the Giants were able to sign him anyway. A year later, and he was rising levels at a rapid pace. 2015 saw him in San Jose after just 10 games with Augusta, and in Richmond for the final 51 games. Between all 3 stops, Cole hit .301/.358/.474 with 9 HR, 9 3B, and 33 2B. The Giants tried him at 2B (he played 3B and OF in college), but in AA he was a full-time RF.
Like Austin Slater, Cole doesn’t take a ton of walks and is not immune to strikeouts. Also like Slater, he was able to put the ball in play and impact a lot of games consistently during 2015. While the Giants appear to still have Slater working in the infield, it seems that Cole could end up as a corner OF only. They’re overall profiles are very similar, but I have a hunch Cole’s bat will be the difference maker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him add more power to his right-handed swing, and eventually work his way into at least a platoon MLB left fielder role if the opportunity presents itself.