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Top Ten Prospects: San Francisco Giants
Complete Index of Top 10s

By John Manuel
December 16, 2005


Live Chat! 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 won’t change.

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 leagues.


1. MATT CAIN, rhp      Born: October 1, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230
Drafted: 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 well.

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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fresno (AAA) 10 5 4.39 26 26 1 0 146 118 22 73 176 .218
San Francisco 2 1 2.33 7 7 1 0 46 24 4 19 30 .151


2. MARCUS SANDERS, ss/2b        Born: August 25, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180
Drafted: South Florida CC, D/F 2003 (17th round)  Signed by: Paul Turco Jr.

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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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 the joint.

  

The Future:
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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
August (Lo A) .300 .407 .400 420 86 126 19 4 5 40 69 90 57 9


3. EDDY MARTINEZ-ESTEVE, of        Born: July 14, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215
Drafted: 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.


Strengths:
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 all fields.

  

Weaknesses:
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 his bat.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
San Jose (Hi A) .313 .427 .524 479 89 150 44 3 17 94 89 82 4 2


4. TRAVIS ISHIKAWA, 1b        Born: September 24, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200
Drafted: HS—Federal Way, Wash. 2002 (21st round)   Signed by: Todd Woodward

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.


Strengths:
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 hands.

  

Weaknesses:
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 Future:
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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
San Jose (Hi A) .282 .387 .532 432 87 122 28 7 22 79 70 129 1 4


5. MERKIN VALDEZ, rhp       Born: November 10, 1981 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220
Signed: 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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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 Future:
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 if healthy.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Norwich (AA) 5 6 3.53 24 19 1 0 107 99 7 45 96 .252


6. JONATHAN SANCHEZ, lhp      Born: November 19, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 165
Drafted: 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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Augusta (Lo A) 5 7 4.08 25 25 0 0 126 122 8 39 166 .254


7. NATE SCHIERHOLTZ, of       Born: February 15, 1984 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215
Drafted: Chabot (Calif.) JC, 2003 (2nd round)   Signed by: Matt Nerland

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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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.

  

The Future:
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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
San Jose (Hi A) .319 .363 .514 502 83 160 27 8 15 86 32 132 5 7


8. FRED LEWIS, of      Born: December 9, 1980 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Drafted: 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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Norwich (AA) .273 .361 .396 512 79 140 28 7 7 47 69 124 30 13


9. KEVIN FRANDSEN, ss/2b       Born: May 24, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 175
Drafted: San Jose State, 2004 (12th round)   Signed by: Matt Nerland

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.


Strengths:
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.

  

Weaknesses:
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 or fast.

  

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 in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
San Jose (Hi A) .351 .429 .467 291 57 102 22 3 2 40 26 22 13 11
Norwich (AA) .287 .336 .395 129 22 37 8 0 2 20 4 14 7 3
Fresno (AAA) .351 .378 .543 94 18 33 10 1 2 16 2 5 1 1


10. CRAIG WHITAKER, rhp       Born: November 19, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 170
Drafted: 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.

  

Weaknesses:
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 and mechanics.

  

The Future:
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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
August (Lo A) 3 4 4.66 29 6 0 5 58 54 3 39 72 .245


Photo Credits:
Frandsen, Ishikawa, Sanchez, Valdez, Whitaker: Bill Mitchell
Schierholtz: Steve Moore
Sanders: Sports On Film
Cain: Andrew Woolley

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