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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Prospect Spotlight: Javier Herrera

Ok, so Javier Herrera is certainly not your traditional minor league “prospect,” but he’s put up impressive numbers in AA this year, and he’s a player I’m very intrigued by. So let’s take a closer look…

Javier Herrera: 28 yo, AA

Pos: OF

HT, WT, B/T: 5-11 225 | RR

2013: 102 g, .302/.381/.495, 28 2b, 13 hr, 57 rbi, 18 sb/6 cs, 42 bb/86 k

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Herrera is a 28 year-old outfielder who the Giants signed prior to the 2013 season. He’s been a professional baseball player for a very long time, signing with the A’s as an international free agent back in 2001. He’s battled some very significant injuries during his career, and has been out of minor league baseball entirely for multiple years at a time. At this point, the “minor league journeyman” label would certainly fit Herrera well. So why am I taking the time to look at him at all, you ask. Frankly, when you’re having the kind of season at the plate in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League that he is, you’re worth discussing in my opinion.

Herrera is a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and signed his first professional contract at the age of 16. He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2002, and made his US debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2003 at age 18. He hit .230 in 18 games that summer, and the A’s sent him to Vancouver in the short-season Northwest League the following summer (2004). Herrera broke out in Vancouver, posting a .331 mark with 12 HR, and was only caught stealing once in 24 attempts. He also displayed impressive defensive abilities and a very strong outfield arm, and his performance earned him the #68 spot on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects heading into 2005.

Herrera’s first full season in professional ball saw him in Low-A Kane County, where he hit .274 with 13 HR and 26 SB in 94 games. The A’s must have been impressed, because they bumped him all the way to AAA for a brief stint at the end of the year. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .417 with a HR in 5 games with Sacramento. At this point, Herrera’s stock was at its peak. He entered 2006 as the #2 prospect in Oakland’s system and the #74 prospect in MLB. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster and gave him an invite to big league Spring Training. At 20 years-old, it appeared he was on the fast track to the majors…then everything came unraveled.

Herrera never made it to Opening Day in 2006, as it was announced at the end of Spring Training that he needed Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season, and never made it back to Sacramento. In 2009, he was either released or injured (maybe both), and only logged 2 at-bats on the year. 2010 saw him in the short-lived independent Golden Baseball League, and he was out of baseball with hamstring issues in 2011. He was back in independent ball again last season, where he posted a combined .319/.397/.523 line with 14 HR and 78 RBI with two clubs in the Frontier League. Herrera’s tools impressed the Giants, who signed him to a deal in the offseason.

The Giants assigned Herrera to AA Richmond this year, where he’s put up consistent numbers at the plate all year. He’s posted an average of .298 or better each month, and had a 1.016 OPS in June. His first-half campaign earned him a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, where he was named MVP after hitting a 3-run HR off Anthony Ranaudo in the first inning. He hasn’t hit as well since the break, but still owns a .299 average for the season, with 13 HR and 18 SB. In a lineup with guys like Andrew Susac, Joe Panik, Adam Duvall, and now slugger Angel Villalona, Herrera’s name is very easy to overlook in the box scores. However, he and fellow minor league journeyman Mark Minicozzi have been the Flying Squirrels’ best hitters by far this year. It makes sense, as Minicozzi is 30 and Herrera is 28, but there’s a big difference in the two veterans. While Minicozzi is a former 17th round pick of the Giants, Herrera was once a budding star.

Most observers might consider Herrera organizational filler, but there’s much more to his story. If you pull up his profile on Baseball America, you see a bevvy of Oakland’s organizational “best tools” selections from 2004 to 2008. During those years, Herrera was given multiple “best athlete,” “best outfield arm,” and “best defensive outfielder” honors in the system. When you see that, you can’t help but dream on the kind of player Herrera could have been (and maybe could still be). Health issues kept him out of minor league baseball for the past four years, but they didn’t scare off the Giants. If he can continue to produce in the difficult Eastern League, you’d have to think he’ll be in Fresno for next season.

 In baseball, they say you never give up on tools. Herrera has certainly showcased his tools in Richmond this year, and may be turning into a nice resurrection story if he can stay healthy. The Giants have gotten contributions from so many castoff type players lately: Where would they be without the efforts of Arias, Blanco, Vogelsong, or Gaudin? Unlike these players, Herrera has never been to the big leagues. But he’s in an organization that needs outfield depth, and he seems to be in the prime of his career. If the Giants get desperate come September, and they don’t mind fiddling with the 40-man roster a little bit, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see them take a chance on a guy who offers some pop, speed and defensive ability. Not to mention, one who’s out to show the world what he can do. 

Prospect Spotlight: Matt Duffy

This post is the first of a new minor league series where we take a closer look at players who, for one reason or another, are under the radar prospects in the Giants’ system. These are usually the players who were drafted in the lower rounds, maybe are a bit older than the “traditional” prospect, or have just completely flown under the radar. I’ll probably do a lot of the guys who didn’t quite make the cut on my mid-season rankings, and a few of our 2013 draft picks.

I’m pretty excited to do these player profiles, because some of these guys might just be diamonds in the rough that pop up on a big league field someday. Farm systems are loaded with unheralded guys, so we certainly have plenty of names to work with here. As I continue to provide updates on some of the guys from our Top 40 list throughout the second half, I’m hoping we can do a few of these profiles a week. It’s also my goal to keep the pitcher to hitter ratio as even as possible.

Matt Duffy: 22 years-old, Hi-A

Position: SS

HT, WT, B/T: 6-2, 175 | RR

2013: 78 G, .306/.401/.423 (.824 OPS), 3 3B, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 21 SB, 44 BB, 41 K

Matt Duffy is a former Long Beach State Dirtbag who is a grinder on the field. The Giants selected the junior shortstop in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, and he recently earned a promotion from Augusta to San Jose. Duffy offers speed and a solid approach at the plate. In 125 career games as a professional (47 at Salem-Keizer, 77 at Augusta, 1 at San Jose), he’s sporting a .283/.386/.370 batting line with 31 stolen bases in 38 attempts. His .386 OBP includes a reverse BB/K ratio of 70/63, which is pretty impressive for a guy who’s new to pro ball. He seems to be finding his niche as a scrappy, bat-control player, but his flaws aren’t hard to find if you look at his numbers. His meager .370 SLG% shows a significant lack of pop, and his 24 career errors are pretty glaring too (although it doesn’t appear that he played shortstop a ton in college, so that might be a factor for the struggles).

Duffy is an interesting case, as collegiate stats really don’t seem to be indicative of his performance with the Giants early on. Through his first two seasons at Long Beach, he was a second baseman with a .260 average and only 11 BB and 9 SB. He earned 2nd-team All-Big West honors as a sophomore, and played in the Cape Cod league that summer, where he played all over the infield and hit .346. His performance with the wood earned him a spot as starting shortstop in the Cape All-Star game (held at Fenway). Duffy looked primed to break out after his strong summer ball campaign, but only hit .244 in his third and final collegiate season. He finished his Dirtbag career without a HR, but did show an improved plate discipline, working 25 walks and striking out only 16 times. His 14 errors that season makes me think he was transitioning to shortstop that year, but I haven’t found anything to confirm it.

The Giants snagged Duffy in the 18th round last year and sent him to short-season A-ball to play shortstop. In 47 games, he hit .247 with a .361 OBP and 10 SB. This year, he was Augusta’s most consistent hitter, showing a little more pop with 21 extra base hits to go along with a .301/.401/.423 line before getting promoted. There really aren’t many great scouting reports on him, but everything I’ve read says Duffy is a hard-working, baseball rat. He’s a true dirtbag, and a guy you’d like to have in your organization. He hit two doubles and drove in a run during his debut in San Jose. If he can keep showing a steady approach at the plate and improve his defense, the Giants may just have a sleeper in the mold of Joe Panik in this kid.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #7

#7. Gary Brown – CF, 24 yo, AAA: Brown, like Joe Panik, is a former first round pick who’s seen his stock drop recently. Brown was the Giants’ top prospect as recently as last year, but that distinction is now reserved for pitcher Kyle Crick. As far as position players go, Brown is still rated very high, but I think there are a couple of guys who have moved ahead of him. Drafted in 2010 out of Cal State-Fullerton, his calling has always been speed, contact and defense (the speed being his elite-level tool.) The Giants drafted him with the intention that he’d be their CF and leadoff hitter for many years, as his quirky bat flashed .300 potential with gap power. He did nothing to dispel those beliefs during his first full season of pro ball, hitting .336 with 14 HR, 13 3B, 34 2B and 53 SB for San Jose in 2011. That performance earned him a #38 ranking on the Baseball America Top 100 prior to the 2012 season. Visions of Brown winning the starting CF gig in San Francisco by 2013 filled the heads of many Giants’ fans.

Those lofty visions have faded a bit since then, as Brown’s numbers took a hit in Richmond last season, and his performance through the first half in Fresno has been disappointing so far. He’s seen his OPS dip from .925 (’11) to .731 (’12) to .724 (’13) over a three-year span. He also saw his SB dip to 33 last season and only 12 through 92 games at AAA this year. For a guy with elite speed, 12-21 in SB attempts is a bit concerning. While Brown has not hit for average this season, he does have 11 home runs, including 8 in the month of June alone. He’s already broken his career high for strikeouts in roughly half a season, however, so maybe he’s changed his approach at the plate. Whatever the case, the Giants have said that he’ll need to prove he can hit righties if he wants to play in the big leagues. His defense and arm are still very good, but it’s the bat that might end up keeping him from being a MLB starter. Brown is an old-school type of guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I think he will eventually find a way to prove those who jumped off his bandwagon wrong.

Mid-Season Top 40 Prospects: #8

#8. Joe Panik – 2B, 22 yo, AA: Panik was the Giants’ first round pick (29th overall) in 2011. He was a shortstop at St. Johns, and after playing the position at Salem-Keizer and San Jose, he’s been moved to second base this year at AA Richmond. Even when he was drafted, most scouts felt Panik would eventually end up at second. His calling was his bat, not his defense. During his time as a professional, Panik has showed his above average abilities to make contact, but he hasn’t been able to hit for much power. In 289 career games, he has 16 HR and only a .401 slugging percentage. Those numbers don’t seem like they’re going to improve much.

This season, Panik’s batting average has dipped significantly. He’s currently hitting .250 through 90 games, with only 3 HR. However, he’s still shown the ability to walk more than he strikes out (43:41), which he’s done at every stop in the organization. It’s his ability to handle the bat that keeps him in the system’s top 10. It really is rare these days to see a hitter who doesn’t strike out (look at Marco Scutaro), but Panik needs some hits to start falling his way these last couple months if he wants to continue his path toward the big leagues. If he can regain his .300 hitting form, he’s still probably the Giants’ second-baseman of the future… If he can’t, he’s probably looking at a bench role. He’s still young, and Scutaro is locked up for two more years, so there’s no rush on Panik at this point.