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2001 Top 10 Prospects
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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: 20.B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS–Waipahu, Hawaii (1st round supplemental), 1999. Signed by: Darren Wittke.

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Giants Top Prospects

1992 Royce Clayton, ss
1993 Calvin Murray, of
1994 Salomon Torres, rhp
1995 J.R. Phillips, 1b
1996 Shawn Estes, lhp
1997 Joe Fontenot, rhp
1998 Jason Grilli, rhp
1999 Jason Grilli, rhp
2000 Kurt Ainsworth, rhp
2001 Jerome Williams, rhp

Background: Williams has worn the label of No. 1 prospect in the organization for a year, and he has worn it well through what he and the Giants hope were the worst of times. He pitched the entire season at age 19 at Double-A Shreveport as the youngest player in the Texas League, all while overcoming the death of his mother Deborah. Williams left for spring training in early March, only to return two weeks later to Hawaii for her funeral. His father Glenn, who hasn’t been able to work for six years due to neck injuries, urged Williams to stay in Arizona for spring training, but he returned and took time out during the trip to help give pitching lessons to players at Waipahu High, his alma mater. The missed time in the spring meant Williams was working his way into shape during the early part of the season, and it showed. In his first 65 innings, he had a 5.26 ERA, .256 opponent batting average, 10 home runs allowed and a 42-22 strikeout-walk ratio. In his final 65, he had a 2.63 ERA, a .213 opponent average, four homers and a 42-12 strikeout-walk ratio.

Strengths: The Giants love Williams’ maturity, physically and emotionally. Athletic and coordinated, he pitches at 90-92 mph with a fastball that features good life. When he wants to, he can run his fastball up to 95 mph. Late in the season, he showed the kind of command the Giants were used to. He has tightened the rotation on his slider and improved his curve and changeup. Overcoming his mother’s death and finishing the year strong were two more indications of Williams’ mental toughness, which combined with his stuff makes him a potential No. 1 starter.

Weaknesses: Williams has yet to become a workhorse in pro ball, averaging 128 innings in his two full seasons, and missing spring training forced the Giants to keep him on strict pitch counts early in the season. But he threw a pair of complete games and pitched fewer than six innings just twice in the last three months of the year.

The Future: Williams remains one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. The Giants’ major league staff is deep enough that Williams need not be rushed. When ready, he figures to be the ace the Giants now lack. He’ll begin 2002 at Triple-A Fresno.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Shreveport (AA)973.952323201301163484

2. Boof Bonser, rhp

Age: 20. B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: HS–St. Petersburg, Fla. Signed by: Alan Marr.

Background: Bonser officially changed his name from John to Boof, a childhood nickname that stuck, in the offseason. Don’t let that fool you, though–the Giants point to increased maturity as the biggest reason Bonser was named the low Class A South Atlantic League’s No. 1 prospect.

Strengths: Well, maturity and talent. Bonser maintained a 92-95 mph fastball throughout his first full pro season. He can run two-seamers that sink or pitch up in the zone with a four-seamer. The other improvement Bonser made was throwing his curveball more consistently, which came with improved, smooth mechanics. He ate up righthanders, who batted just .179 against him.

Weaknesses: Bonser will have to take care of his big, strong body, but his work ethic has eased any weight concerns. He has the makings of a good changeup, though he didn’t need to use it much while he overpowered Sally League hitters with two plus pitches.

The Future: Because the Giants have the likes of Williams and Kurt Ainsworth ahead of him, Bonser won’t have to be rushed through the system. The poster child for the organization’s successful move to low Class A, Bonser will step up to high Class A San Jose in 2002.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Hagerstown (A)1642.492727001349161178

3. Kurt Ainsworth, rhp

Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 192. Drafted: Louisiana State, 1999. Signed by: Tom Korenek.

Background: Ainsworth had Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda at his wedding last January, and Lasorda called to boost Ainsworth’s confidence when he struggled out of the gate in Triple-A. Ainsworth pitched for Lasorda on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, winning both his starts.

Strengths: Ainsworth throws a 92-93 mph two-seam fastball, circle changeup, curve and slider. He keeps the ball down and lets his defense work for him. After struggling early in the season, he learned to trust his breaking stuff more and adjusted well to his first adversity as a pro.

Weaknesses: Ainsworth nibbled too much for his own good, putting himself in hitter’s counts and leading to his early struggles. After recovering with a strong August (3-0, 2.73), he fell into the same trap in his brief big league debut. He also had some blister problems from throwing his curveball.

The Future: Ainsworth won’t have a spot in the rotation handed to him. But his fast finish in Fresno encouraged the Giants, who will give Ainsworth and Ryan Jensen a chance to take over as the No. 5 starter after Shawn Estes was traded.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Fresno (AAA)1095.0727260014913954157
San Francisco0013.5020002323

4. Tony Torcato, of

Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS–Woodland, Calif., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Doug McMillan.

Background: Giants trainers have called Torcato a freak for his ability to come back from injury. He has had three operations on his right shoulder, the latest March 8 after he got hurt in spring training. His problems prompted his move from third base to the outfield.

Strengths: With a gifted natural stroke that produces consistent line drives, Torcato is easily the best hitter in the system. The Giants project more than just gap power once he stays healthy enough to get in a groove. He still has good arm strength despite his shoulder woes, and he takes good routes in the outfield, a sign of his excellent baseball instincts.

Weaknesses: The Giants hope the move off third base will minimize further entries on Torcato’s medical chart. He’ll hit for more power once he learns the patience to work into hitter’s counts.

The Future: If a corner spot opens in San Francisco’s outfield, Torcato will be the leading in-house candidate. He could use more Triple-A time, though.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
San Jose (A).341258388821224717409
Shreveport (AA).2931471343911239150
Fresno (AAA).320150204881282200

5. Felix Diaz, rhp

Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 177. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Giants Dominican program.

Background: The Giants have redoubled their Latin American efforts the last four years, and Diaz is the crown jewel of their work. He missed 212 months with a tender arm as a precaution in 2001, his first full season, but came back with a dominant effort in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Diaz’ fastball regularly reaches 95-96 mph, and he showed good command of it before his temporary layoff. Diaz throws three complementary pitches for strikes: a hard slider in the mid-80s, a plus changeup with good sink and a decent curveball. All his pitches have life down in the zone. Diaz has become more consistent and slower with his delivery, leading to better command of his changeup and curve. He takes his craft seriously.

Weaknesses: The Giants want to be careful with Diaz. He could use more pro innings but also must show his small frame can hold up under a heavier workload. Sometimes he’s too hard on himself, though that has improved with maturity.

The Future: Diaz’ power potential is exciting. He’s the latest slight Dominican with an electric arm to earn comparisons to Pedro Martinez. He’ll pitch in high Class A this year.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Hagerstown (A)143.6615120052491656

6. Jesse Foppert, rhp

Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: San Francisco, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: Doug Mapson.

Background: After starting his college career as primarily a first baseman, Foppert emerged as a pitching prospect in the wood-bat Shenandoah Valley League in 2000, posting a 2.11 ERA and allowing just 44 hits in 64 innings. He led the Northwest League in ERA in his pro debut.

Strengths: Foppert has an athletic pitcher’s body and a smooth, easy delivery right out of the textbook. Short-season Salem-Keizer manager Fred Stanley compared Foppert’s smooth motion to Jim Palmer’s. His no-effort mechanics produce pinpoint command, and the Giants expect him to be a workhorse. He has a low-90s fastball that touches 95 mph, a plus slider with late action, and a solid changeup and curveball.

Weaknesses: Foppert really just needs innings. He has yet to experience much failure on the mound and needs to pick up the nuances of the position, such as holding runners. The Giants say he has the aptitude to learn quickly.

The Future: Foppert gives the Giants five righthanders among their top six prospects. He’s on the fast track and should start 2002 in high Class A with the chance for a quick promotion to Double-A.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Salem-Keizer (A)811.9314140070352388

7. 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: Niekro’s father Joe and his uncle Phil, a Hall of Famer, were accomplished knuckleball pitchers in the majors, and Lance can throw the floater as well. He nearly won the Cape Cod League’s triple crown in 1999, but a shoulder injury and diminished power caused him to fall to the second round of the draft a year later.

Strengths: Niekro plays with passion and grit like a big leaguer. He reminds the Giants of Jeff Kent offensively: a good fastball hitter who crushes mistake breaking balls and has power to all fields. He has soft, sure hands and an accurate if not overwhelming arm at third base. He’s athletic enough for the position as well.

Weaknesses: Niekro has had health problems since his Cape coming-out party. He came to spring training with a tender right shoulder and injured the same shoulder May 15 when he landed wrong after catching a popup. He must show he can remain healthy to be considered an elite prospect. He also can improve his plate discipline.

The Future: Niekro allayed fears about his recurring shoulder problems by hitting .306-2-13 in 62 instructional league at-bats. He’ll move up to Double-A in 2002 and get back on the express route to the majors.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
San Jose (A).28816318471103344144

8. Erick Threets, lhp

Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Modesto (Calif.) JC, 2000 (7th round). Signed by: Matt Nerland.

Background: A sore arm thanks to poor high school mechanics limited Threets to the bullpen and just 38 innings in 2000 between the juco ranks and the Cape Cod League, where the Giants signed him. Threets hails from Randy Johnson’s hometown of Livermore, Calif.

Strengths: If instructional league radar guns are to be believed, Threets has staked his claim as Livermore’s hardest thrower and could have the hardest fastball in the minors. Club officials insist he threw four pitches in the 102-103 mph range. Threets’ wide-shouldered, powerful build and narrow hips provide a perfect pitcher’s frame.

Weaknesses: Threets’ slider is a work in progress but can be nasty when he stays on top of the pitch. Still raw, he doesn’t have an offspeed pitch. His delivery tends to get stiff if he doesn’t relax and let it go.

The Future: Threets reacted well to the situation he was put in at high Class A last year, where an 85-pitch limit and his lack of polish contributed to him going winless. He shook it off by dominating instructional league. A return to San Jose as a starter is in the offing, but a move to the bullpen could come eventually.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
San Jose (A) 0104.2514140059494060
Hagerstown (A) 200.75120012413932

9. Todd Linden, of

Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Tom Koronek.

Background: Linden hit .390 as a sophomore at Washington and was named the No. 1 prospect in the Cape Cod League in 2000. He had a stormy breakup with the Huskies, transferred to Louisiana State and had an inconsistent junior season. He returned to Baton Rouge in August but changed his mind and signed, negotiating the contract sans agent Tommy Tanzer.

Strengths: Linden reminds the Giants of Will Clark with his sweet swing and absolute confidence in his ability. He immediately became the system’s top power prospect with an impressive instructional league effort, showing pop from both sides of the plate. He recognizes breaking balls well and is a good runner for his size. Linden showed at least average arm strength and projects as a right fielder.

Weaknesses: Linden’s swagger rubbed people the wrong way at Washington, and his makeup was questioned in the Cape League. The Giants would like to see him 15-20 pounds under his fall weight.

The Future: The Giants are barren in the outfield in the minor leagues, and Linden has a chance to move very quickly. If he’s in shape, he could advance to Double-A with a good spring.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Did Not Pitch–Signed 2002 contract

10. Cody Ransom, ss

Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Grand Canyon, 1998 (9th round). Signed by: Doug Mapson.

Background: The Giants drafted Ransom’s brother Troy in the 29th round in 1999 as an outfielder, but moved him to the mound in 2001. Arm strength must run in the family, because Cody’s arm rates a 7 on the 2 to 8 scouting scale.

Strengths: Ransom, named the best defensive shortstop in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, rates as the best defender in the organization. He gets to balls average shortstops wouldn’t dream of. Despite that range and huge arm, he made just 12 errors in 588 chances at Fresno. He made strides offensively, showing above-

average power for his size and position.

Weaknesses: Ransom’s glove remains ahead of his bat. He has too many holes in his swing, though he made progress making more consistent contact. He needs to improve his pitch recognition. He tends to jump to his front foot during his swing, cheating to catch up to fastballs.

The Future: Ransom needs more minor league at-bats before his defense can become a factor in the big leagues. If he improves after another season in Triple-A, he could push Rich Aurilia to third base and take over at short in 2003.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Fresno (AAA).2414697711321623784413717
San Francisco.0007100000050


Rest of the Best:

11. Ryan Jensen, rhp
12. Jeff Verplancke, rhp
13. Francisco Liriano, lhp
14. Ryan Hannaman, lhp
15. Julian Benavidez, 3b

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