John Manuel talks Giants prospects at 2 p.m. ET
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
Once again in September, Barry Bonds led the Giants into a series with
a playoff spot on the line. Sure, San Francisco was below .500. But
Bonds’ late return from three knee surgeries, plus the ineptitude
of the rest of the National League West, gave the Giants a chance at
the playoffs when they played the Padres in the season’s final
week. A victory in the opener pulled them within three games of first
place, but San Francisco lost its next five games and finished with
a losing record for the first time since 1996—the year before
Brian Sabean took over as general manager.
The Giants got a glimpse of the post-Bonds era, and it wasn’t
a pretty sight. Several rookies who had waited for their big league
chance got it, with mixed results. Outfielders Jason Ellison, who had
a hot start before fading, and Todd Linden didn’t play like long-term
answers. First baseman Lance Niekro slumped in the second half but did
hit for power. Relievers Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter and Jack Taschner
were all part of manager Felipe Alou’s aggressively used bullpen.
The most lasting impression, however, was made by No. 1 prospect Matt
Cain, who lived up to that billing with explosive stuff and posted the
big league team’s second-best ERA in 46 innings. He’s the
best example of the Giants’ organizational philosophy under Sabean
and vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow, who have stressed
developing pitchers both to stock the big league club and to use as
a commodity in trades. While the stable front office lost a key member
when assistant GM Ned Colletti left to run the rival Dodgers, that philosophy
San Francisco has traded some very live arms of late, including former
No. 1 prospects Jesse Foppert (for Randy Winn) and Jerome Williams (for
LaTroy Hawkins). The organization still is paying for the 2003 deal
that sent Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan to the Twins
for catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The Giants released Pierzynski after one
difficult season, only to see him become a playoff hero while helping
lead the White Sox to the World Series championship. Meanwhile, Nathan
has been one of baseball’s best closers the last two years and
Liriano has blossomed into one of the game’s top pitching prospects.
The win-now approach, designed to complement Bonds, also has prompted
free-agent signings and the accompanying loss of draft picks. San Francisco
didn’t pick until the fourth round in 2005—132 picks in—and
also gave up first-round picks in 2003 and 2004. By finishing with the
10th-worst record in baseball in 2005, the Giants are guaranteed of
holding onto their first-round pick in 2006.
In recent years, the Giants have tried to incorporate more hitters
into their drafts, focusing on outfielders with power bats who conceivably
could replace Bonds. With better hitting depth, San Francisco affiliates
posted the second-best winning percentage (.555) in the minors, including
championships in the high Class A California and Rookie-level Arizona
October 1, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230
HS—Germantown, Tenn., 2002 (1st round) Signed
by: Lee Elder
Background: The Memphis area has become a hotbed
for baseball talent, and two of its best prep products reached the major
leagues in 2005 as Cain and the Pirates’ Paul Maholm broke through.
With all due respect to Maholm, Cardinals farmhand Stuart Pomeranz (Cain’s
former Houston High teammate) and the rest, Cain is clearly the best of
that group. He opened 2005 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A and led the Pacific
Coast League in strikeouts. He made his big league debut Aug. 29 against
the Rockies and was impressive in a 2-1 loss. San Francisco won four of
his last six starts as he led the majors in opponent batting average (.148)
in September. He became the youngest San Francisco Giant ever to spin
a complete game when he two-hit the Cubs on Sept. 9. Cain was the youngest
player in the National League all season, and only former PCL foil Felix
Hernandez was younger in the majors in 2005.
Strengths: Hernandez also is one of the few pitchers in Cain’s
class in terms of upside. The Giants believe he has the stuff and intangibles
to be a No. 1 starter. Cain has the kind of fastball that pitchers dream
of, because he throws it hard with relative ease. He can throw it for
strikes, and the more he uses it, the better he commands it. Cain realized
that in the major leagues, pitched off his fastball and found he could
dominate with it. His fastball velocity sits at 93-94 mph with good
sinking life, and he can dial it up to 97. His curveball also is a plus
pitch, a hard downer in the upper 70s. The Giants mandated that Cain
use his changeup more often in 2005. He started to trust it more and
it has become a solid-average third pitch. His delivery is fairly clean
and repeatable, and he’s a student of the game who isn’t
satisfied with being just good enough. After his first big league start,
he was more interested to find out what he needed to do for his next
outing than in reveling in his accomplishment. He even handles the bat
Weaknesses: The Giants’ biggest worry with Cain is throwing
strikes. While he can pitch out of jams, he gets in trouble with walks
and also takes himself out of games early because of higher-than-necessary
pitch counts. He ranked third in the PCL in walks because he nibbled
at hitters too much early in the count, and when he was ahead, he sometimes
thought too much about setting them up rather than challenging them.
He was more efficient down the stretch as he realized he was better
when he attacked hitters relentlessly.
The Future: Jesse Foppert is the only homegrown Giants pitcher
who has approached Cain’s stuff in the last decade. However, Cain’s
mental toughness, dedication and preparation set him apart from Foppert,
who got hurt in 2003 and was traded to the Mariners in 2005. Not only
is Cain a lock to start for San Francisco in 2006, but he should front
the Giants rotation for years to come. He’s the player most likely
to be the face of the franchise after Barry Bonds’ retirement.
2005 Club (Class)
August 25, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180
South Florida CC, D/F 2003 (17th round) Signed by: Paul
Background: Sanders’ older brother Frankie
reached Triple-A in the Indians system and played with Giants scout Paul
Turco Jr. as an amateur. Turco knew Marcus had a high school football
injury to his right shoulder but also knew he had athleticism, speed and
savvy. The Giants took Sanders in the 17th round in 2003 and signed him
a year later as a draft-and-follow.
Sanders has game-changing speed. He has excellent instincts on
the bases and ranked fifth in the minors in steals while being
caught just nine times. When healthy, he has excellent hands and
wiry strength, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields.
Sanders’ bad shoulder didn’t make it through the 2005
season. Weakened in the second half, he didn’t hit with
any power and struggled defensively with 20 arm strength on the
20-80 scale. He had surgery again after the season to clean out
Some scouts see Sanders’ arm limiting him to center field,
but the Giants want to keep him in the infield— possibly
at second base, where he made his pro debut. If he can stay healthy,
he should be an impact leadoff hitter. He’ll open 2006 at
high Class A San Jose.
2005 Club (Class)
August (Lo A)
July 14, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215
Florida State, 2004 (2nd round) Signed by: Paul Turco Jr.
Background: A Mariners third-round pick out
of a Miami high school, Martinez-Esteve didn’t sign and had two
big seasons at Florida State before the Giants took him with their top
pick (second round) in 2004. Martinez-Esteve surprised San Francisco by
having offseason shoulder surgery on his own. He was healthy enough to
start the 2005 season but didn’t play in the outfield until mid-June.
Martinez-Esteve stands out as the Giants’ most polished
hitter, with a fluid, efficient swing and a discerning eye at
the plate. His bat is quick enough to hit good fastballs, and
he’s an excellent breaking-ball hitter. He has power to
Being a DH suited Martinez-Esteve too well, considering he’s
in a National League organization. He lost life in his lower body
after a college hamstring injury and has lost arm strength because
of his shoulder problems. His lessened athleticism and lack of
desire to be a good defender means his entire value stems from
The Future: Fortunately for Martinez-Esteve, he really
can hit. The Giants will try him at first base and give him a
chance in left field at Double-A Norwich in 2006.
Background: Since the Giants bought Ishikawa
out of his Oregon State commitment with a $955,000 signing bonus as a
21st-round pick in 2002, they have waited for him to break out. He finally
did so in 2005, setting career highs across the board to earn a spot on
the 40-man roster.
The Giants always have believed in Ishikawa’s bat and makeup.
He’s athletic and repeats a balanced, fluid stroke, and
his swing has natural leverage that produces power. He’s
patient and unafraid to work deep into counts. He actually hit
better against lefties (.317) than righties (.273) in 2005. He’s
an excellent defender at first base, with good footwork and fine
Ishikawa will strike out a lot because his swing can get long
and has some holes. He can be beat inside by above-average fastballs,
and he’s still learning to make better adjustments, such
as pulling the ball more consistently. He’s slowed some
as he has filled out physically and is now a below-average runner.
The Giants have been patient with Ishikawa, who finally will reach
Double-A in his fifth pro season. He projects as a .275 hitter
with 20-30 homers annually.
Dominican Republic, 1999 Signed by: Felix Francisco (Braves)
Background: Since being acquired from the Braves
in the Russ Ortiz trade prior to 2003, Valdez has tantalized the Giants
with his power arm. After earning a brief promotion to the San Francisco
bullpen in 2004, he spent most of 2005 as a starter before an elbow strain
ended his season in August.
At his best, Valdez can be a front-of-the-rotation starter. His
fastball can sit in the mid-90s, and if he’s throwing strikes
with it, he doesn’t need much else. His changeup has become
his best secondary offering.
With a delivery that often gets out of sync, Valdez lacks the
body control to throw strikes consistently. His elbow drops when
he throws his curveball and slider, neither of which is a dependably
average pitch. His mechanics also put too much strain on his elbow,
though the injury didn’t require surgery.
The Giants, often quick to put power arms in the bullpen, have
decided to wait and see if Valdez can be an impact starter. Valdez
worked on his mechanics in instructional league and was pitching
in the Dominican Winter League. He’ll start 2006 in the
minors but could join the big league rotation later in the year
2005 Club (Class)
SANCHEZ, lhp Born:
November 19, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 165
Ohio Dominican, 2004 (27th round) Signed by: Sean O'Connor
Background: Sanchez starred at NAIA power Ohio
Dominican despite a delivery that left him pushing the ball. Scout Sean
O’Connor recognized a player with arm strength and mechanics that
could be fixed, and the Giants stole Sanchez in the 27th round in 2004.
He finished his first full pro season with two electric starts in the
high Class A California League playoffs, helping San Jose win the title.
Since Sanchez joined the Giants, he has made dramatic progress
incorporating his lower half into his delivery. The change has
pushed the velocity on his fastball consistently to the 93-94
mph range with excellent life and sink. He has good arm speed
on his changeup, which can be a plus pitch.
Sanchez’ low arm angle means he must be mechanically sound
in order to stay on top of his curveball. When he doesn’t,
his curve flattens out and is hittable. He still needs to be more
consistent with his delivery in order to improve his command.
The Future: With an arm action and velocity reminiscent
of Oliver Perez, Sanchez has excited the Giants and could move
quickly. He’ll return to high Class A to start 2006.
Chabot (Calif.) JC, 2003 (2nd round) Signed by:
Background: Since being a surprise second-round
pick, Schierholtz has made steady progress while switching from third
base to right field. In 2005, his first full season in the outfield, he
ranked sixth in the California League in batting and tied for the league
lead with 15 outfield assists.
Schierholtz has above-average raw power from the left side, and
should hit more homers as he learns the strike zone and his own
swing. His bat speed allows him to wait on his pitch and use the
whole field, and he hit .300 or better in every full month of
the 2005 season. He runs well for his size.
His hand-eye coordination and bat speed make Schierholtz at times
too aggressive at the plate, and his strikeout-walk ratio needs
improvement. He has a long swing path, but his bat speed has allowed
him to succeed with it at lower levels. He took well to the outfield
but needs repetitions to become an average defender.
Schierholtz also will be worked at first base in case the Giants’
outfield glut forces their hand. He’ll get his first trip
to Double-A in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
San Jose (Hi A)
December 9, 1980 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Southern, 2002 (2nd round) Signed by: Tom Koronek
Background: Instead of building on a breakthrough
2004 season, when he led the organization in on-base percentage (.424),
walks (89) and steals (34), Lewis got off to a miserable start in his
first stint in Double-A. His average sat at .223 in early July before
he recovered to hit .339 in his final 58 games. A cousin of big league
outfielder Matt Lawton, Lewis played wide receiver at Mississippi Gulf
Coast JC and Southern.
Lewis’ bat speed and level swing could make him a .300 hitter,
and he could steal 30-40 bases annually with his plus speed. He
has the raw power to hit 20 homers per year, and he took better
routes and showed a more accurate arm when he moved from center
field to left at midseason.
Despite three full seasons in the minors, Lewis remains very raw.
He’s far from mastering pitch recognition, which often leaves
him letting hittable pitches go by. His power won’t come
until he starts to pull the ball more often.
The Future: The Giants’ organizational strength is
outfield depth, so they can be patient with Lewis. He might repeat
Double-A and could get another shot in center field.
2005 Club (Class)
May 24, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 175
San Jose State, 2004 (12th round) Signed by: Matt
Background: Frandsen grew up 40 miles from Candlestick
Park as a Giants fan, then attended San Jose State, where he became the
Spartans’ career hits leader (250). He bounced back from a broken
collarbone to reach Triple-A Fresno and play in the Futures Game during
his first full pro season. He finished the year by hitting .367 in the
California League playoffs.
Frandsen is an organizational favorite for his solid tools and
off-the-charts makeup. He’s fundamentally sound in the field
and at the plate, where he has a simple swing and uses the whole
field. His arm and range are excellent at second base and fringy
at short. He has the hands to fill in at third base as well.
Frandsen is getting the most out of his ability, so there’s
not much projection left. He can drive the ball to the gaps but
has below-average home run power. He’s not overly quick
The Future: Frandsen reminds some of former all-star Robby
Thompson, though with less power. At worst, he fits the profile
of a useful utility player and could fill that role in San Francisco
HS—Lufkin, Texas (1st round supplemental) Signed
by: Tom Koronek
Background: In his first year in full-season
ball, Whitaker barely made it through one month in the low Class A Augusta
rotation. He went on the disabled list with a middle back sprain, and
when he returned in June, it was as a reliever. He didn’t allow
a run in his first 11 innings out of the bullpen.
Strengths: The Giants like to say Whitaker has “power
equipment.” It starts with a mid-90s fastball that he whips
to the plate thanks to a very quick arm. He has a feel for spinning
a breaking ball and can throw a changeup with the same arm speed
he uses on his fastball.
Whitaker lacks a feel for his craft. He was tipping his curveball
to hitters, using a different delivery than he did for his fastball
or changeup, and has switched to a slider, which he was able to
throw for strikes more consistently. He needs to improve his focus
Whitaker’s upside remains significant, as do the obstacles
he has to overcome. He’s a candidate to return to low Class
A to give pitching in the rotation another go, and with an arm
this good, the Giants don’t mind being patient.
2005 Club (Class)
August (Lo A)
Frandsen, Ishikawa, Sanchez, Valdez, Whitaker: Bill Mitchell
Schierholtz: Steve Moore
Sanders: Sports On Film
Cain: Andrew Woolley