San Francisco Giants Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By John Manuel
1. Jerome Williams, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Waipahu, Hawaii, 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Darren Wittcke.
Background: Before Justin Wayne went fifth overall in 2000, Williams was the highest-drafted native player ever out of Hawaii. While Wayne eclipsed his draft status, he doesnt eclipse Williams as a prospect. Williams went 39th overall in 1999, as compensation for the loss of free agent Jose Mesa. He dominated Hawaiis high school ranks, posting a 0.30 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 65 innings as a senior. In one game, he pitched a no-hitter while hitting three home runs in a 13-0 win, and he concluded his career with 20 strikeouts in a playoff victory. California-based scout Darren Wittcke made the trip to Hawaii to scout Williams and convinced the Giants to pull the trigger.
Strengths: Williams athletic ability and stuff draw comparisons to Dwight Gooden from Giants officials. High Class A California League hitters batted just .200 against Williams in his first full pro season, and he was just 18 when he pitched in the Double-A Texas League playoffs for Shreveport. The Giants still dont know how hard hell throw eventually. Just throwing on the side or trying to throw strikes, he throws 91 mph. When he needs it, he dials up to 94 mph and probably has another 3-4 mph to add. The pitch has good life and he throws it for strikes. He was 180 pounds when drafted, and he might be 215-220 when he gets done growing. Williams also throws a solid changeup, slider and curveball. He has a smooth, sound delivery that he repeats well, and hes an excellent fielder. Despite the poker face he shows on the mound, Williams gets up for big games.
Weaknesses: Its hard to find any, because the Giants dont do a good job containing their glee over Williams development. Sometimes his curveball gets slow and a bit too big, but its nothing that wont improve with experience. San Francisco has been careful with his pitch counts, and Williams averaged less than six innings per start in 2000.
The Future: Williams ranks among the best prospects in baseball, not just in the Giants system. He passed Kurt Ainsworth by showing a higher ceiling in 2000. Dont look for him to pass Ainsworth on the way to the big leagues, however. The Giants would love Williams to get a full year of Double-A in 2001.
2. Kurt Ainsworth, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Louisiana State, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Tom Korenek.
Background: Ainsworth was the 24th overall pick in the 1999 draft, making him the first player drafted that high after major arm surgery. He missed one year in college after having Tommy John surgery in 1997 and had pitched just eight innings for Louisiana State before a workhorse 1999 season that ended with first-team All-America honors.
Strengths: Ainsworth throws a 92-94 mph fastball with good movement, and supplements it with a tight slider and good curveball. The Giants love Ainsworths makeup. He pitches well under pressure and is intelligent, on and off the mound.
Weaknesses: Sometimes Ainsworth is a little too fine, overestimating hitters and underestimating his own stuff. San Francisco would like to see him pitch more aggressively inside. He answered any questions about his durability by ending a long season with his strong Olympic performance, where he won both starts for Team USA.
The Future: Ainsworth didnt slide on this list because of anything he did wrong. The Giants depth in the big league rotation has the organization hoping it can bring its duo of potential frontline starters along at its own pace, with Ainsworth ticketed for Triple-A in 2001.
3. Tony Torcato, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSWoodland, Calif., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Doug McMillan.
Background: In the same draft that produced heralded third basemen Sean Burroughs (Padres) and Mark Teixeira (Georgia Tech), Torcato tends to get forgotten. Despite right shoulder surgery that forced him to play half of 1999 as a DH, Torcatos hitting exploits rival those of Burroughs.
Strengths: Torcato has the best swing in the organization and sprays line drives to all parts of the field. California League managers walked him intentionally eight times, tops in the league. The organization is confident that despite having had problems with both shoulders, Torcato should develop power as he gets stronger.
Weaknesses: Toracatos inexperience and injuries have left him flailing at the hot corner, where he struggles with his throws. He has changed his throwing stroke and rarely releases the ball from the same point twice. Staying healthy would help his defense.
The Future: Torcato will start the year at Double-A Shreveport, unless he has a big spring and plays his way to Triple-A Fresno. His progress on defense will determine whether he can overcome Pedro Feliz and Lance Niekro and stay at third base.
4. Lance Niekro, 3b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Florida Southern, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Alan Marr.
Background: The son of former big leaguer Joe Niekro and nephew of Hall of Famer Phil Niekro projected as a first-round pick after nearly winning the Cape Cod League triple crown in the summer of 1999. He also showed off the family knuckleball in an emergency relief appearance. Persistent shoulder problems, though, and a longer swing with an aluminum bat short-circuited Niekros power last spring, so he slipped through to the second round.
Strengths: Niekros short, compact swing makes him the rare hitter who hits better with wood than with aluminum. Despite a groin injury that slowed him for the first half of the season, he won the short-season Northwest League batting title in his pro debut. He showed the arm, hands and power to be a big league third baseman.
Weaknesses: The Giants want Niekro to get stronger and in better shape to help him avoid injuries. Theyre confident that with his makeup and intelligence, that wont be a problem.
The Future: San Francisco is flush with third-base prospects. Giants officials are confident Niekro could make the jump to Double-A if needed, and if Torcato has the kind of spring that would put him in Fresno.
5. Ryan Vogelsong, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Kutztown State U. (Pa.), 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Alan Marr.
Background: Vogelsongs gangly 160-pound frame out of high school detoured him to Kutztown State, an NCAA Division II program. Hes way past gangly now. After battling tendinitis early in his career, he came back strong in 2000.
Strengths: Giants officials like Vogelsongs stuff as much as Ainsworths. Vogelsongs fastball has similar velocity (92-94 mph) and life when he pitches to both sides of the plate. He has a solid curveball, and his hard slider is effective against lefthanders. He has added a changeup that has developed nicely. Vogelsong was leading the Texas League in strikeouts at the time of his promotion to the big leagues last year.
Weaknesses: He lacks Ainsworths polish, but so do most Double-A pitchers. Vogelsong gets stubborn with his curveball, which he thinks is his best pitch, while the organization prefers his slider.
The Future: Vogelsong will pitch at Fresno, one of the Pacific Coast Leagues most challenging parks for pitchers. Vogelsong figures to slot in behind Williams and Ainsworth in a future rotation, and has the stuff to become a quality reliever if the rotation gets too crowded.
6. Sean McGowan, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Boston College, 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Glenn Tufts.
Background: McGowans frame and athletic ability attracted the interest of football programs such as Boston College, Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State and Syracuse. He wound up at Boston College for baseball, where he led the Big East Conference in batting and home runs as a senior.
Strengths: McGowan led the organization in batting average, hits and RBIs last year. He combines the power of a man his size with a smooth, compact swing. He has shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields, even hitting cripple pitches to center field. The organization thinks hell hit for more power as he learns to pull the ball.
Weaknesses: McGowan has athletic ability but hasnt put in the work to be a good defensive first baseman. The Giants would like to see him be a little more selective at the plate, drawing a few more walks and turning on pitches to put his tremendous power to use.
The Future: With big league veteran J.T. Snow getting older and more expensive, the Giants have a pair of possible successors in McGowan and Damon Minor. McGowan, who will get a full season at Double-A in 2000, is three years younger than Minor.
7. Damon Minor, 1b
Age: 27. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Oklahoma, 1996 (12th round). Signed by: Mike Keenan.
Background: Minors twin brother Ryan got the attention when they played together at Oklahoma and when they both started in pro baseball. But Damons better plate discipline and ability to manifest his power helped him surpass Ryan as a prospect.
Strengths: Minor has the best raw power in the organization. His confidence blossomed at Fresno in 2000, where the small park and the presence of veteran Jalal Leach helped him develop the plate discipline and shorter swing to make use of his power. His batting average and on-base percentage (.394) were career highs, a sign of his growing maturity.
Weaknesses: While the Giants love Minors power, they describe him as the stereotypical American League player. His defensive shortcomings at first base stand out in contrast to slick-fielding San Francisco incumbent J.T. Snow. Minor has little speed as well.
The Future: Another year of Triple-A probably wont do Minor much good. The Giants wont hesitate to use Minor should something happen to Snow, but Snow is under contract through 2003 with an option for 2004. Minors chances likely would be better in another organization.
8. Pedro Feliz, 3b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Luis Rosa.
Background: Feliz has come a long way from the skinny Dominican who hit .193 with no extra-base hits in 119 at-bats in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his 1994 pro debut. After hitting 40 home runs the previous three seasons combined, Feliz finished fourth in the minors in home runs and also was rated the best defensive third baseman in the Pacific Coast League.
Strengths: Among Giants farmhands, Feliz power is rivaled only by Minor. The key to unlocking Feliz power was plate discipline. Once he stopped putting himself in pitchers counts, he was able to use his short swing and strong wrists to his advantage. Defensively he features a strong arm and good footwork.
Weaknesses: Feliz set career highs for walks and on-base percentage (.337), but needs to improve in both areas. And he likely wont hit 30 home runs against better pitching without better pitch selection.
The Future: Feliz is at the top of the organizational ladder and has a chance to win the starting job in San Francisco. At worst, hell share time with veteran Russ Davis. Feliz tuned up for his chance with a strong winter in the Dominican, giving him momentum going into the spring.
9. Carlos Valderrama, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 1995. Signed by: Luis Rosa.
Background: The Giants efforts in Latin America took a huge hit with the loss of Rosa, who resigned in 1997 after being accused of demanding sexual favors from prospective players. Valderrama battled arm, back and leg injuries in 1998-99 before putting it all together with a complete, healthy season in the California League.
Strengths: Valderrama is the closest thing the Giants have to a five-tool prospect. When healthy and confident, he has shown good bat speed, a plus arm, the speed to be a basestealing force, and the range and savvy to play center field.
Weaknesses: Valderramas slight build makes him injury-prone, and the Giants werent always convinced he wanted it badly enough. Defensively, he has the tools to play center field, but his performance has been erratic, especially with his routes to the ball and fundamentals like hitting the cutoff man.
The Future: Valderrama is the top outfield prospect in the organization but has just one solid full season under his belt. If Arturo McDowell, a superior center fielder, joins him in Double-A this year, Valderrama might move to right field.
10. Jeff Urban, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-8. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Ball State, 1998 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Mike Keenan.
Background: On the fast track when he signed, Urban came crashing down to earth when he separated his pitching shoulder and tore his labrum when he fell awkwardly during a pickup basketball game in January 2000. The injury and resulting surgery precluded him from pitching last year, but he returned with a strong effort in instructional league to earn a 40-man roster spot.
Strengths: Urban has shown he can throw four pitches for strikes, including a sneaky-fast fastball that has reached 94 mph, a cut fastball/slider that complements his tailing four-seamer, a good changeup and a developing curveball. He has excellent mechanics for his size, and they remained the same after his inactivity.
Weaknesses: Urban missed a year and a chance to show he can handle Double-A, which he didnt do at the outset of 1999. He was 80-85 percent back in instructional league and will have to prove to the Giants he has learned from his time off.
The Future: Obviously, San Francisco remains intrigued by a lefthander with quality stuff. Urban will be challenged at Shreveport and could move quickly if he can shake his rust.
Rest of the Best:
11. Boof Bonser, rhp
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