Updates on the Top Prospects, #1-10

It’s been a month since we finished our mid-season top prospects list, so I wanted to take a few minutes to look at how these guys are holding up through the summer. There are certainly a few guys who’ve helped or hurt their stock big time, and I’m constantly re-evaluating the system. Luckily, the top 5 guys are all doing fairly well, although I don’t know that they’ll all be able to keep their lofty spots in the organization come off-season rankings… not if guys like Edwin Escobar have anything to say about it.

#1 Kyle Crick, RHP, San Jose | 11 gs, 1-1, 1.78 era, 50.2 ip, 38 h, 32 bb, 69 k.

Crick has been inconsistent with his control at times, but his fastball is baffling Cal League hitters this summer, and he’s keeping runs off the board. If he can stay healthy, I don’t think an Arizona Fall League assignment would be out of the question for Crick this year.

#2 Chris Stratton, RHP, Augusta | 19 gs, 8-3, 3.11 era, 113 ip, 107 h, 41 bb, 114 k.

I thought Stratton might get a second-half promotion to San Jose, but it looks like he’ll be staying in Augusta for the remainder of the season. While there are certainly other pitchers in the system whose stars have shone brighter than his right now, Stratton has actually been very consistent. He’s also been better lately, allowing only 2 ER over his last four starts.

#3 Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Jose | 20 gs, 7-5, 3.62 era, 117 ip, 97 h, 28 bb, 119 k.

Blackburn has lived up to his workhorse reputation this year in San Jose, giving the Giants a competitive effort on the mound every 5th day. With guys like Crick, Escobar and Mejia pitching around him this year, it’s been very easy to overlook Blackburn. But that would be a huge mistake, as the 20 year-old has really been on a tear lately. He’s 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA over his last 10 starts. I would say his stock is holding strong.

#4 Martin Agosta, RHP, Augusta | 15 gs, 8-3, 2.03 era, 79.2 ip, 49 h, 34 bb, 97 k.

Agosta has been dominant when he’s been on the mound this season. His 49 hits allowed and 97 K’s in 79 innings indicate his dominant stuff, but durability has been an issue in the past couple of months for the 2nd round pick. He’s made only 5 starts since June 1, and is currently on the DL with a blister. He’s already missed some time with dead arm this summer, so his health is definitely a concern right now. But I’m sure the Giants would really like to get his electric arm back on the mound sooner rather than later.

#5 Mac Williamson, OF, San Jose | 115 g, .277/.360, 20 hr, 67 rbi, 42 bb, 115 k, 9 sb.

Mac has done nothing to hurt his value this summer after a slow start to his first full professional season this spring. He hit .320 in June and .321 in July, with a combined 13 HR. He’s cooled off a bit in August so far, but his bat and defensive skills make him one of the top position player prospects in the system. The real test for Williamson will obviously be Richmond, but his season in San Jose has been pretty impressive.

#6 Andrew Susac, C, Richmond | 84 g, .256/.362, 12 hr, 56 rbi, 42 bb, 68 k.

Susac’s season thus far has been pretty consistent with his overall scouting report. He’s shown power while posting an OBP 100 points higher than his average, yet battled injuries for most of the summer in Richmond. This may seem like a simple analysis, but Susac really has had a nice season, especially for a guy who hit only .244 with 9 HR in San Jose last year. The former 2nd round pick is coming along nicely, both at the plate and behind it. If he can just keep himself on the field with more consistency, I’d think he could be ready to break out in Fresno next year.

#7 Gary Brown, CF, Fresno | 115 g, .230/.289, 12 hr, 46 rbi, 29 bb, 115 k, 13 sb.

Brown’s stock is fading pretty quickly these days. After a terribly cold start in Fresno, the former top prospect heated up in June, adding the long ball to his repertoire. However, his bat has gone cold again, to the tune of .233 in July and .247 in August. The Giants could really use his elite defense in San Francisco, but his bat just hasn’t developed as hoped to this point. Maybe he needs another season to make some adjustments at the dish.

#8 Joe Panik, 2B, Richmond | 117 g, .266/.341, 4 hr, 47 rbi, 50 bb, 50 k, 10 sb.

Panik is another curious case for the Giants and their top hitting prospects. He’s had his ups and downs in Richmond this season. After going ice cold in June, he’s finally starting to get his average up again with a .368 line in August. He continues to show excellent plate discipline, as well as a lack of power. He’s probably done enough at this point to move out of the dreaded Eastern League next season, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll hit enough to play every day in the big leagues.

#9 Gustavo Cabrera, CF, DSL | 44 g, .231/.375, 0 hr, 14 rbi, 28 bb, 45 k, 17 sb.

Cabrera, the 17 year-old bonus baby, has held his own in his first taste of professional baseball. After hitting .200 in the month of June, he posted a .413 OBP in July, and is 8-23 so far in August. Cabrera’s ability to take a walk and steal a base should make the Giants feel good about his game so far. Not incredible numbers for a top prospect, but for a kid who’s as young and raw as he is, I think he’s doing just fine.

#10 Heath Hembree, RHP, Fresno | 47 g, 26 sv, 4.15 era, 47.2 ip, 47 h, 15 bb, 58 k.

Hembree has been anointed the Giants’ closer of the future at times during his minor league career, but he seems to have stalled in AAA. After spending most of the season in Fresno last year, he’s been stuck in the Pacific Coast League again this year as well. The Giants needed bullpen help badly while Santiago Casilla was out, but never called Hembree’s name. Hembree’s ERA isn’t amazing, but I think he’s done enough to earn a call to the show. Not sure what the hold-up is at this point.

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Coming Soon to a Park Near You?

**Edit** Sounds like Pill and Kieschnick have been called up from Fresno this afternoon. Per Baggs, they’ll be in Philly tomorrow. Tanaka optioned, Abreu to DL… and Giants’ beat writers are full of __it, as usual.

With the trade deadline soon approaching and the Giants on one of their worst slides in recent memory, there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the team right now. While I have a hard time believing that nobody from the current 25-man roster will be traded in the next couple days, I truly don’t think we’ll see any big deals involving guys like Lincecum, Sandoval, Romo and most notably, Pence.

There are a number of factors that go into this train of thought, ranging from contract status, market value, trade return, comments from Brian Sabean himself, and, not to be forgotten, the player’s popularity with the fans. At this point, though, the season seems lost. Barring a miracle, the Giants will likely finish the year in the bottom-third of the standings. That being said, this team is in dire need of some changes. The current group, despite its huge achievements in the past, is putting a pretty awful product on the field these days. That is something the front office will need to change, as soon as possible preferably.

The Giants haven’t had a season like this since 2008, and it got me thinking: there sure are a lot of interesting guys on the squad in Fresno this year. Even if Sabean doesn’t make any big splashes on the trade front, we’re certain to see a few familiar faces get called up from AAA at some point. I’d bet we’ll see a couple new faces as well. Just my opinion here, but if you’re out of the race, it’s time to see what you’ve got going into next season. Some of these guys have earned the chance to get an extended look. Others would just be fun to see for some of us prospect-watchers.

I put together a list of the guys who are potential August/September call-ups, in order of most likely to get the call (my opinion). There are quite a few names, and for now we’ll keep it at AAA guys. It’s not likely anyone below Fresno would get a look, but I guess you never know. Maybe Mark Minicozzi or Javier Herrera from AA? My guess is no, but as Kruk says, stranger things have happened.

Brett Pill: 95% – Pill hasn’t gotten much of a shot this year, but I’d think he’s a lock for a call-up, just to add some pop off the bench. He crushes AAA pitching, but he doesn’t look like he can hit the big league breaker. I’d still like to see him get regular AB’s for a month, but that would require Belt on the bench or in the OF. Not likely.

Jake Dunning: 92% – Dunning pitched well in 19 innings with the Giants, but was sent down to make room for Joaquin Arias and newly-acquired Guillermo Moscoso. He’s got a nice fastball and shows a pretty cool head. He’ll probably be back at some point as long as he doesn’t melt in Fresno (a la Mike Kickham).

Hector Sanchez: 90% – Sanchez played a big role in last year’s World Series run, providing offense when Posey needed a break. This season, he pulled a Sandoval and showed up out of shape. He’s back in Fresno after injuries and inconsistency in SF, but I’d be shocked if he’s not called up when rosters expand in September.

Nick Noonan: 85% – Noonan has paid his dues in the minors. He flashed some nice plate discipline back in April after making the Opening Day lineup. He’s been passed over by Arias and Tony Abreu, but I’d like to see him get another shot.

Eric Surkamp: 85% – Surkamp got knocked around in his first ML action post-Tommy John surgery, but I’d say he’s a good bet for some September action if the Giants choose to rest Cain and Bumgarner.

Francisco Peguero: 75% – Peguero got a big league sniff last year, and earned another call-up early this season. The Giants didn’t give him much of a leash, and he hasn’t been back since. If he can stay healthy in Fresno, he’s another guy who needs a chance to prove himself in the outfield.

Heath Hembree: 70% – The Giants say he doesn’t have a secondary pitch, but I really think it’s time to see what Hembree DOES have, and that’s a mid-90’s heater. If you can’t give him a chance now, you might as well trade him.

Roger Kieschnick: 70% – Kieschnick would have gotten called up in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending injury. He’s been hurt a lot in his pro career, but he’s another guy who deserves a chance to show what he can do. He’s got power and a nice outfield arm, and I’m ready to see it.

Mike Kickham: 65% – Kickham has kind of fallen off the table lately in Fresno, and that may cost him a shot at getting back to AT&T Park. But it really would behoove the Giants to see if he can’t work some of his kinks out in September.

Juan Perez: 60% – Perez provided a nice spark during his brief debut in June. He played the best CF on the team, giving up his body for amazing catches and firing runners out at second, third and home. He couldn’t really hit, but I’ll say this: when he was in the lineup, I was watching to see what he’d do next. Might have to wait for Peguero and Kieschnick before he gets another shot now, though.

Dan Runzler: 45% – Runzler had a great spring, but hasn’t pitched all that well in Fresno. His strong, erratic left arm has major league stuff. If the team needs a lefty, I’d say he gets some consideration.

Gary Brown: 40% – Brown hasn’t really earned a call-up at this point, but maybe he gets a cup of coffee in September. The Giants really need their former top prospect to start hitting, and soon.

Brett Bochy: 35% – Bochy probably could have been in San Francisco this year if not for injuries and a shaky start to his season. He’s nothing fancy, but he’s closed games before, and it’d be pretty cool to see father Bruce and son Brett on the AT&T mound together.

Justin Fitzgerald: 30% – Fitzgerald is a 5th starter type and a UC Davis grad. He’s 27 and struggling in Fresno, but I’d have to think his name has at least been mentioned a couple times in talks for a spot starter.

Chris Dominguez: 25% – Dominguez seems to have changed his approach at the plate this year. He’s hitting for higher average but less power, and reportedly has a cannon at third. He’s been a strikeout machine since being drafted out of Louisville, but maybe he forces his hand in September?

Ehire Adrianza: 20% – Adrianza is a classic all-glove, no-hit shortstop. His elite defense has had him ranked in the Giants top 10 prospects in the past. He’s now one step away from the bigs. He’s still pretty young, so there’s no rush, but if he can hit at all, he’s got at least a utility job waiting for him down the road.

Johnny Monell: 15% – Monell is a catcher/1B with tremendous power, but he’s a terrible defender by most accounts. It’d be interesting to see if his left-handed bat could play at AT&T.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #10

#10. Heath Hembree – RHP, 24 yo, AAA: Hembree is the crown jewel of power bullpen arms in the system. The Giants drafted him in the 5th round in 2010 out of the College of Charleston, and he burst onto the scene in San Jose in 2011. In 26 games with the little Giants that spring, he (and his 99 mph fastball) was a strikeout machine. He also logged 21 saves and a 0.73 ERA. Ultimately, he saved 38 games between Hi-A and AA in 2011. Those kinds of numbers will get you on the fast track, and they did for Hembree. For the past two years, he’s been called the Giants’ closer of the future. However, he’s seen up and down results for the past season and a half in Fresno, where he’s struggled with his control at times. For what it’s worth, his strikeout and walk rates are much improved this year from last, but it’s the 4.53 ERA and the apparent lack of a good secondary pitch that’s prevented Hembree from helping a struggling bullpen in San Francisco this season. The stout righty still has 18 saves on the season, and 8 of his 19 ER came in back-to-back outings in June. Take those two appearances out, and he’s got a very respectable 2.73 ERA. I’m not sure when he’ll get the call to the show, but I’d have to think it’s coming soon.

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Finding a Silver Lining

After last night’s 8th inning collapse, the Giants are now 40-49. Let’s do a little math.  If the Giants were to win the division this year, I’m going to say they’d need 87 wins. With the way the West is playing out, you’d have to think these teams will continue to beat up on each other in the second half. So 87 wins really isn’t an absurd number for a division winner, and winning the division is really the only chance the Giants have at making the playoffs. To get to 87 wins and a realistic chance at making the postseason, the Giants would need to win 47 of their final 73 games. This is a team that’s 17-34 since May 13, and owns a 15-30 record on the road. I’m not saying it’s impossible, and the Giants have certainly made fools of us all before, but when you’ve lost five of six at home to the Marlins and Mets, the odds aren’t really in your favor anymore.

If the season is a wash, which all signs are pointing to, then we have to look at it for what it is – a complete disappointment. There’s no sugar-coating how far this team has fallen, and I guarantee nobody feels sorry for us. I really hope the Giants send a message to a few certain guys that every spot on the team needs to be earned. No more free passes. I also hope the second half gives us a chance to see guys like Hembree, Kieschnick, and Brown. Honestly, if the fan base and the organization can’t find a silver lining in all of this, it’s going to be a miserable second half.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #13

13. Josh Osich – LHP, 24 yo, AA: How sweet would it be to see Heath Hembree lighting it up from the right side and Josh Osich from the left in the next couple years? The Giants drafted Osich in the 6th round of the 2011 draft out of Oregon State. He offered some of the best power stuff in the draft that year, and likely would have been a first round pick if not for having Tommy John surgery in 2010. Osich was both a starter and reliever in college, but has pitched strictly out of the bullpen for the Giants. He’s got a big body, and can dial his fastball up around 97-98 from the left side. He posted a 3.62 ERA in 32 innings last season for San Jose (his first season of pro ball), and the Giants had him return to Hi-A for the first half this year as well. In 40 innings of work this season, he racked up 48 strikeouts and 12 saves to go along with a 2.45 ERA. By the all-star break, Osich was beginning to embarrass hitters with his fastball, and he’s now been promoted to AA for the second half. He’s a little older than you’d like a top prospect, but if he can stay healthy and keep cranking that fastball up, he’s not that away from a call-up.

Trusting the Brass

Losing five out of six to last-place clubs will put a team and its fan base in a sour mood, and that’s exactly what has happened after the Giants dropped below .500 for the first time since they started the season 0-1. On the field, the Giants have been injury-riddled and mired in slumps. Off of it, there have been a bevy of trade talks, and we’re still a month from the trade deadline.

Brian Sabean recently shed light on these topics, and in the process showed why the Giants are one of the most successful franchises in the game these days. You can read Andy Baggarly’s recap of the GM’s comments here, but here are the main points: The Giants know their weaknesses right now, but will not rush to make a desperation trade. They likely will make some moves eventually, but they’d rather take on salary than send prospects when that happens. Until then, they trust the current roster to step up and play competitive baseball.

On the minor league front, Sabean did reveal the organization’s feelings about two of their top prospects – Gary Brown and Heath Hembree – saying that neither will be moving from Fresno until they show some consistent play (which dispatches my theory of calling up Brown to replace Angel Pagan). Now it’ll be interesting to see if either of the two players are part of a trade.

Sabean’s comments were well-timed, and should be reassuring to the loyal Giants followers out there. Despite the pressure to win, the brass will stick to their plan in building this team. Now it is up to the fan base to trust that brass going forward.