#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.
#17: Austin Slater, 2B/OF, Age 23: Slater was a 2014 8th round draft pick who (alongside fellow classmate of 2014 Hunter Cole) zoomed to AA in his first full season of pro ball. He was also selected as one of the Giants’ 2015 AFL representatives, playing some 2B and corner OF while hitting .250 for the champion Scottsdale Scorpions in October.
Slater was one of the top talents in Florida during his prep days, and turned down a late-round selection from the Dodgers to attend Stanford. He never showed much power during his collegiate years (not many Stanford hitters do), but he hit .341 during a breakout junior season in 2014. The Giants snagged him that summer, and watched as he actually improved his batting average to .347 in Salem-Keizer. He played primarily RF for the Volcanoes.
Slater earned a 2015 opening day assignment (and a position change, back to shortstop) to San Jose, where he hit .292 with 3 HR in 60 Cal League games. His time at shortstop was short-lived, but he did settle in at 2B for the SJ Giants, and that’s where he played all of his innings after a mid-season promotion to Richmond. He hit .296, without a HR in 54 games at AA.
I like Slater. At this point he really looks to be a guy who can hang defensively at 2B and the outfield corners. The Giants have been looking for a guy like that for a while. While he has shown good bat-to-ball skills up to this point, Slater’s low BB to K ratio (24:92) in 2015 is something he will need to improve if he wants to stick on a MLB roster someday. If he can get on base a bit more and strike out a little less, I can really envision him in a Kelby Tomlinson type role down the road. I’d expect to see Slater back in AA for the start of 2016.
#18: Ty Blach, LHP, Age 25: Blach was top 10 in my 2014 and 2015 winter rankings, and I still think quite highly of him. The difference this year is that we’re starting to get a better idea of what his MLB career could look like, and the Giants had a plethora of high ceiling arms blossom in 2015 (Chase Johnson, Jordan Johnson, Sam Coonrod). Blach may not possess the eye-popping fastball of others in the system, but he’s certainly got some positive things going for himself too. Southpaws with command can be quite valuable, and Ty has shown tremendous control throughout his professional career. He’s got a 4-pitch arsenal that he mixes quite well, and his changeup may be one of the best in the system.
The first thing people generally notice about Blach’s minor league numbers are his K-rates, which have dipped as he’s moved up the system. He was also very hittable for Sacramento last year, allowing 189 hits in 165.1 IP. However, the thing that really strikes me about Ty is his ability to log innings. He made 27 starts in AAA, and in 9 of his 11 least successful outings (game score 43 or less), he was still able to finish 5, 6, and sometimes even 7 innings of work. Actually, he only made 2 starts that were shorter than 5 IP all season. The Giants have shown they value that kind of durability in a pitcher. Heck, look at Barry Zito for crying out loud.
Blach also had his share of dominant games for the Rivercats in 2015, a 3-hit shutout (game score 85) best among them. I was in attendance for his start on May 3, when he allowed 3 hits and 1 run over 6 IP against El Paso. He only struck out 4 that afternoon, but he appeared in complete control for nearly the entirety of his outing. He likely won’t ever be a high strikeout arm. It’s just not his profile, and it never has been. Personally, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for him. In fact, with the lack of openings in the Giants MLB rotation going forward, I could see Blach eventually finding his home in the bullpen, where his fastball may play just up a tad (91-93?), and his changeup could help give him an out pitch against righties. I’m not sure they make that move in 2016, but you just never know what kind of need will arise during the season.
#19: Jalen Miller, SS, Age 19: Miller was one of the top prep SS and a top 50 overall prospect heading into the 2015 draft. He was still on the board in the 3rd round, and the Giants selected him. They signed him to an overslot $1.1M bonus and sent him to rookie ball. While he started hot, Jalen’s bat soon cooled off and he struggled offensively for most of the summer. He hit only .218/.292/.259 in 197 PA, but did steal 11 bases in 13 tries. His speed is rated as above average in the reports that I’ve read, and while he’s gotten a lot of compliments for his contact-oriented approach at the plate, it’s obvious he’s going to need plenty of time to develop his bat. Considering the Giants have the best homegrown infield in baseball, I’d say there’s absolutely no rush.
It seems like nearly every SS the Giants draft gets labeled as a future 2B, and already that’s the case with Miller. Depending on who you read, he either stands out for his defense or he doesn’t quite have the goods to stick at short. Personally, I don’t think the Giants are in any rush to move him off the position. MLB Pipeline rated him #7 in the organization last summer, dropping a Brandon Phillips comp on him in the write-up. For me, putting him near the bottom of the top 20 demonstrates the depth of talented players the Giants have in the farm system right now. It’s also very hard for me to project guys at such a young age, but Miller sure was a pleasant surprise on draft day last June, and I’m excited to follow his development.
**Edit: Ok, I’ve been thinking about this profile since the minute I clicked submit a couple days ago. Honestly, I don’t know whether my ranking of Crick is too high, too low, or just right. I guess that is something we will know more about at the end of the season. But what I’m concerned about is the write-up itself. I just don’t feel like I offered much insight here, and I apologize for that. These projects sometimes get bigger and more exhausting than you remember, and motivation isn’t always so high for each post.
Here’s the deal: Crick has so, so much talent. That’s undeniable. I’ve said this for the past few seasons, and I’ll say it again – Kyle Crick hasn’t faced a professional opponent that can beat him yet. To me, his biggest opposition has been himself, and it’s been a recurring theme for a while now. The best a hitter can really do against him is to leave the bat on their shoulder, and let him run his pitch count up… and that’s generally what they’ve done in Richmond. Still, his H/9 and HR/9 were stellar, as they’ve been throughout his career. So, you want a silver lining here, or something to hang your hat on for Crick? To me, it’s that ability to miss bats and limit hard contact. He’s still only 23, and if he can even find a minor tweak to get his control back in the 5/9 range (not great by any means), he could well be a very effective arm. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess whether that will happen.
#20: Kyle Crick, RHP, Age 23: Much as it pains me to write this, there really wasn’t a prospect in the system who had a more disappointing season than Crick – especially considering he was still #1 on many lists (including mine) coming into the year. For the second consecutive season at AA, the Texas right-hander struggled with command and pitch counts. This time, however, the Giants pulled him from the rotation as his walk rates ballooned out of control. Crick would spend the second half of 2015 pitching in relief, where he still walked over a batter per inning. For the year, he surrendered 66 free passes in only 63 innings. During his two campaigns at Richmond, he’s walked at least one hitter in all 33 combined starts, he’s never completed 7 innings in any one game.
There’s no doubt Crick still has great velocity and strikeout stuff, but his career 6.4 bb/9 is clearly holding him back from succeeding against advanced hitters. I really feel for the kid. He’s got one of the most electric fastballs I’ve ever seen… but until he shows that he can get the walks down to a non-alarming rate (which may never happen at this point), it’s hard to predict him having an impact role for a MLB team.
#21: Michael Santos, RHP, Age 20: Santos is a guy who’s battled weight and durability issues his entire professional career, but he’s got a big arm and arguably one of the highest ceilings in the system (heavy low-90’s fastball, plus-potential curve). The 6-ft-4, projectable Dominican right-hander was #19 on my list last winter, and entered the season in Augusta’s rotation with big expectations. He exited the mound mysteriously after 2.2 IP in his first start of the year, however, and wouldn’t return to action until mid-July. He was used cautiously over the season’s final few months, making only 9 starts for the Greenjackets in 2015. Here’s a detailed scouting report (and video) on Santos, who could again be a breakout candidate this year, from Augusta beat David Lee. I expect him to start the season in Augusta, but wouldn’t be shocked by an aggressive Cal League assignment.
#22: Mikey Edie, CF, Age 18: He’s not a real well-known player in the system yet, but if you’re into toolsy CF’s with in-game success (and really, who isn’t?), then Edie is your player to dream on. He won’t turn 19 until mid-season, and to date the former Venezuelan Little League World Series star is a career .294 hitter with 24 SB in 86 rookie ball games (’14 in the DSL; ’15 in AZL). It’s not recommended to get too worked up over low-level stats, but the fact that Edie has shown the ability to succeed at such a young age is a good sign for me. Combine that success with his speed, athleticism, a plus arm in CF (one of the strongest in the organization), and in my opinion a beautiful swing that you can see here, and you’ve got a kid with a pretty significant ceiling. There’s a lot here to compare him with Fargas, the next guy on the list, and I’ll admit they’re very similar prospects (Fargas is older and more accomplished). At the moment I give the edge to Edie, who I ultimately believe will be the better offensive player of the two.
#23: Johneshwy Fargas, CF, Age 21: As I mentioned, Fargas’ profile and overall skillset are quite similar to Edie. Fargas, however, is 3 years older and was drafted from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in 2013 (Edie was an international free agent signing). He’s a couple inches taller than Edie, but both are skinny bodies who could stand to add some weight. Fargas is one of a handful of players in the system who has the ability to play CF at the highest level. He is also the owner of a very strong outfield arm, and reports last year out of Augusta were that he loves to show it off. Fargas held his own as the Greenjackets’ everyday CF and leadoff hitter last summer, posting a .278/.347/.349 slash line. He didn’t show much extra-base power, but made up for it by swiping 59 bases on the year (19 CS). While his speed made him an impact player in low-A, it doesn’t sound as if he’s a truly elite-speed player. The big question with Fargas, as with most toolsy CF’s, is whether he will hit as he moves up the ranks.
#24: Steven Okert, LHP, Age 24: The longer I research and evaluate prospects, the more I’m beginning to understand that relievers are a very volatile group. Okert had a breakout 2014 season, capped off by arguably the most dominant performance of any pitcher in the Arizona Fall League. He generated a ton of buzz in MLB spring training, showing off his mid-90’s fastball and sharp slider from the left side. When the year began, Okert headed to Sacramento with the notion that he could be in the majors quickly if the Giants suffered an injury. He had a very nice start to the season, but ran into some inconsistent stretches as the summer progressed. Ultimately, Josh Osich stepped up and earned the mid-season bullpen spot in San Francisco. While Okert doesn’t throw as hard as Osich, his stuff can be just as electric. If he can find the control that made him so dominant in 2014 (2.9 bb/9), he could help form a dominant southpaw duo in SF for a long time.
#25: Mac Marshall, LHP, Age 20: Marshall was a top 100 draft prospect in 2014, but his commitment to LSU dropped him to the 21st round to Houston. Surprisingly, it indeed sounded as if he was going to sign, but Marshall’s negotiations fell apart in the aftermath of the Brady Aiken contract fiasco. Both prep lefties lost hefty chunks of change in the process. Instead of enrolling at LSU, Marshall went to Chipola JC in Florida, with the intent to re-enter the 2015 MLB draft. The Giants tabbed him with their 4th round pick, and he logged 20.2 innings between Arizona and Salem-Keizer. Marshall stands at 6-ft, 180, and is known more for his secondary offerings (strong changeup) than he is for his fastball. He struggled with control during his short sample last summer, and I’m hesitant to rank him higher until I see if he can lower those walk rates. If he happens to add a couple mph to his fastball in the process, we could see him shoot up the system.
#26: Chris Stratton, RHP, Age 25: The former SEC ace has plugged along through the organization since 2012, but the results just haven’t matched the potential for a top 20 draft pick. Stratton’s a taller guy (6-3) with a track record of taking the ball (topping 120 IP in each of his 3 full seasons), and the Giants still think highly of him. He’s also a man of tremendous character, and someone who it’s nearly impossible to root against. He made 17 starts in AAA last year, and I have little doubt he’ll be a big leaguer at some point down the road.
At this point, however, there are many reasons why I can’t rank Stratton higher on the list. For one, his velocity as a professional hasn’t approached what it was during his junior year at Mississippi State. It’s certainly worth bringing up the concussion he suffered on the field just weeks after his pro debut, but for whatever reason, he’s mostly been a 2-seam guy topping out around 92 since draft day. Stratton does still have one of the better sliders in the system, but one of the knocks on him is that he’s had trouble establishing the inside part of the plate. Right now, it’s hard to determine whether he ultimately lands in the back of a MLB rotation, the middle of a bullpen (I envision him a bit in the George Kontos mold), or whether he spends most of his career in AAA. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you I’m sure rooting for him to outperform the expectations.
#27: Joan Gregorio, RHP, Age 24: For someone who closely monitors box scores at every level of the system, I have to admit I kind of fell asleep on Gregorio last year. I was well aware of his profile (6-ft-7 string bean with a 92-96 fastball), but I lost track of him a bit when the Giants sent him to pitch in the Richmond bullpen one season after failing to establish himself in San Jose. The move was almost certainly the product of Gregorio being placed on the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection last winter, as the organization likely wanted to see if he could compete at the upper levels.
It turns out he can, and his overall numbers in the Eastern League really weren’t bad (78.2 IP, 3.09, 3.7 bb/9, 8.2 k/9). He was actually placed into the Squirrels’ rotation toward the end of the year, and logged a 2.34 ERA in 42.1 IP (9 starts). What’s holding Gregorio back at this point is his durability, and it’s been a trend throughout his career. He’s been in the organization for 6 years, yet he’s pitched only 439 innings. He’s almost 24, and though it’s hard to see him becoming a front-line pitcher at this point, you have to believe Gregorio could still provide value as a back-end starter or hard-throwing reliever, especially if he can manage to finally put some weight on his frame.
#28: Derek Law, RHP, Age 25: Law came out of nowhere to dominate the Cal League in 2013, and was so close to making the Giants 25-man roster out of spring training in 2014. Instead he was assigned to close games in Richmond, where he did until forearm stiffness and Tommy John surgery ultimately cost him the next calendar year.
Law returned to the AA closer’s role last summer, and despite a few inconsistent outings he still maintained an solid 4.0 k/bb mark. The 6-ft-2 righty and former 9th round pick attacks hitters with a jerky rotation that features a Johnny Cueto-like upper body rotation and an over the top release. Before his surgery, his fastball was reported in the low-90’s and reaching 96, but his biggest weapon was arguably his biting curveball. It’s a thing of beauty when he locates it. The lost season definitely hurt his stock some, but I think Law still has late-inning MLB potential in his arm, and I think we’ll be hearing from him again in 2016.
#29: C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Age 21: The Giants drafted Univ. of Texas SS Hinojosa with their 11th round pick in what some analysts are calling THE sleeper pick of the 2015 draft. The shorter (some sites list him at 5-9, others 5-11) middle infielder has been on the professional radar since his high school days, when he was regarded as one of the better defensive SS in the class. His hard commitment to Texas slid him to the 26th round, where the Astros took a flier on the local kid.
Hinojosa locked down the Longhorns’ shortstop gig from the minute he stepped on campus, starting 172 games at the position during his 3 year career. He hit .309 as a freshman, and looked to be headed for college stardom. He couldn’t keep it up over the next two seasons, though, as his average fell slightly in 2014, then took a major dip last summer (.242). He did hit 7 HR as a junior though, after hitting only 4 combined the previous two years.
Once signed, the Giants sent Hinojosa straight to Salem-Keizer. He hit well there, flirting with .300 while knocking 5 HR in only 200 PA. He didn’t walk or strike out much, but also committed 14 errors before an injury cut his season short. Overall, he reminds me some of Brandon Crawford… a guy with major draft hype who didn’t quite perform up to it in college. He doesn’t have Crawford’s size, and I don’t know much about his defense, but he’s definitely one of the more intriguing names to follow from the 2015 class.