Giants Prospects 2-10
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Louisiana State, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Tom Koronek.
Background: Ainsworth recovered from Tommy John surgery at Louisiana State to become a first-round pick in 1999, and he won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team a year later. He had a difficult time adjusting to Triple-A in the first half 2001, but he has recovered nicely. He pitched well during two callups last year.
Strengths: Ainsworth is a complete pitcher with a solid five-pitch repertoire. He throws a 92-94 mph four-seam fastball, an 88-90 mph sinker, a slider, a curve and a changeup. He also developed a much better feel for setting up hitters his second time through Fresno. He missed a month last year with a pulled back muscle, but has otherwise been healthy since his elbow was rebuilt.
Weaknesses: While hes not overpowering, Ainsworth has the stuff and command to win. He needs to believe that, however, and go after hitters rather than trying to make the perfect pitch.
The Future: The Giants believe Ainsworth has nothing left to gain in the minors. Unless he has a horrible spring, look for him to displace Ryan Jensen or possibly Livan Hernandez in the San Francisco rotation.
3. Jerome Williams, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSWaipahu, Hawaii, 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Darren Wittke.
Background: No. 1 on this list the previous two years, Williams still is considered a potential star, though his stock dipped slightly in 2002. He sped through the system to reach Triple-A at age 20, which made him they youngest regular starter in the Pacific Coast League, then dominated in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Williams athleticism is often compared to that of a young Dwight Gooden. He throws a 90-92 mph fastball and an outstanding changeup. He has a mound presence that helps him get out of jams. One of his catchers said he was great at improvising pitches during a game.
Weaknesses: His makeup came into question during a rough patch in the middle of 2002. Some Giants officials and PCL observers wondered why Williams couldnt translate his athleticism into better stuff, questioning his work ethic. He seemed to have addressed those concerns by the end of the year, when he posted a 1.83 ERA in his final eight starts. Williams also needs to improve his slider and curveball.
The Future: Williams may have more upside than Foppert or Ainsworth, but hes younger, less polished and less mature. He might pitch a second full season in Triple-A, like Ainsworth did last year.
4. Francisco Liriano, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Rick Ragazzo.
Background: Liriano showed up at a Dominican tryout camp as an outfielder, but the Giants immediately moved him to the mound. He was just 18 when he began his first full season at low Class A Hagerstown last year. He pitched very well and was selected for the Futures Game, but he didnt attend because of shoulder problems that prevented him from pitching after July 21.
Strengths: Liriano cranks his fastball up to 97 mph and throws consistently at 93-94 with good life. His slider and changeup are outstanding for his age, and he may have three big league-ready pitches right now. Hes intelligent and mature beyond his years on the mound.
Weaknesses: The biggest issue for now is the health of his shoulder. Liriano will have to prove he can stay healthy and be durable after going more than five innings just five times in 16 starts last year. He needs more consistency with his secondary pitches and his control. He also needs to learn some pitching strategy to better attack hitters.
The Future: The Giants will be very cautious with Liriano because hes so young and so talented. If hes healthy, hell probably open 2003 at high Class A San Jose.
5. Todd Linden, of
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Tom Koronek.
Background: The Giants had given up on signing Linden as a supplemental first-round pick in 2001, but then he overruled agent Tommy Tanzer and cut a deal for a $750,000 bonus on his own. Though his pro debut was delayed until 2002, he made up for it by tearing up Double-A and reaching Triple-A.
Strengths: Linden is a switch-hitter with 30-homer potential. Guys like that tend to move quickly, and he has. He sprays the ball around the field and is willing to draw walks, so hell probably hit for average as well. He has a strong arm suited for right field. He runs well enough to get to balls in the oufield and steal bases if hes left unattended.
Weaknesses: Lindens stroke can get long, and he occasionally overswings and gets herky-jerky with his mechanics. He needs work on his routes to fly balls.
The Future: Linden finished 2002 in Triple-A and hell probably start there this year. The Giants dont have a clear-cut right fielder, so its possible Linden could break camp with them if he has a big spring. Realistically, hes another year away.
6. Boof Bonser, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: HSSt. Petersburg, Fla, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Alan Marr.
Background: Bonser justified his surprise first-round selection by winning most-valuable-pitcher and top-prospect honors in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2001. He struggled when rushed to Double-A to start 2002 and had to be demoted to work on his secondary pitches.
Strengths: Bonser showed a mid-90s fastball at Hagerstown, but it dropped to the low 90s last year at high Class A San Jose. Though he still must refine his curveball and changeup, they show promise. He has been unhittable as a pro, limiting opponents to a .203 average while averaging 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Weaknesses: Bonser got pounded at Double-A because he couldnt throw his curve or changeup for strikes. He answered questions about his maturity and work ethic in 2001, but the Giants think he expected things to come too easily to him last season.
The Future: Bonser still needs a lot of improvement on his pitches and command to reach his high ceiling, so it wouldnt be a shock if he started 2003 back in high Class A. He should reach the Giants new Double-A Norwich affiliate by the end of the year.
7. Fred Lewis, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Southern, 2002 (2nd round). Signed by: Tom Koronek.
Background: Lewis played more football than baseball at Mississippi Gulf Coast JC before transferring to Southern. Hes part of a recent wave of Southern prospects that includes Tigers 2001 first-rounder Michael Woods and Rickie Weeks, the possible No. 1 overall pick in 2003. Lewis was the Northwest Leagues top position prospect in his pro debut.
Strengths: Though hes very raw, Lewis is as close to a five-tool player as the Giants have in their system. He slashes the ball all over the field, which should help him maintain a high average, and he also has good patience for a player with his limited experience. Hes the fastest player and best athlete in the system.
Weaknesses: Lewis has trouble tracking balls in the center field, though his speed helps make up for some of that deficiency. He needs to learn how to steal bases and how to pull pitches for power.
The Future: Lewis still has a lot of work to do, but the Giants rave about his potential and anticipate the day when he can cover center at Pacific Bell Park. Hell probably begin his first full season in low Class A.
8. Ryan Hannaman, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSMobile, Ala. (4th round). Signed by: Lee Elder.
Background: The cream of the Giants system is the trio of polished righthanders atop this list, but they also have collected an impressive group of power lefties. As with Liriano, San Francisco first saw Hannaman as a position player and immediately made him a full-time pitcher.
Strengths: Hannamans inexperience was evident when he signed, but one club official called him the most improved player in the system. As he got a better feel for his mechanics, he finished 2002 with 68 strikeouts in his last 49 innings. Batters cant get comfortable against his lively mid-90s fastball and tight slider.
Weaknesses: Still raw, Hannaman doesnt have a consistent delivery, which causes his slider to flatten and his location to suffer. Hes going to need some time to come up with a changeup. He also requires plenty of work on the nuances of pitching, such as holding runners and fielding his position.
The Future: If Hannaman cant smooth out his rough edges, he still could project as a nasty southpaw closer. Hell pitch this year in high Class A.
9. Lance Niekro, 1b/3b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Florida Southern, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Alan Marr.
Background: Yes, Niekro can throw a knuckleball just like his father Joe and uncle Phil, who won 539 games between them in the majors. Unlike them, his ticket to the majors is as a position player who first made his mark by nearly winning the 1999 Cape Cod League triple crown. He has risen quickly, though surgeries have interrupted both his full seasons (shoulder in 2001, wrist in 2002).
Strengths: Niekro is a disciplined hitter who uses the whole field. He has good size and he knows how to use it to generate leverage. Niekro has good range at third base and made a smooth adjustment to first base when the Giants wanted to give his shoulder a break following his 2001 surgery.
Weaknesses: Niekro should develop power, but so far he hasnt shown it. He makes good contact but has to draw more walks after totaling just 22 in 170 pro games. Hes not much of a runner. Most of all, he has to stay healthy to get more experience.
The Future: Niekro will start 2003 in Triple-A. The Giants still havent decided if his future is at first or third base, though hed prefer to go back to the hot corner.
10. Erick Threets, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Modesto (Calif.) JC, 2000 (7th round). Signed by: Matt Nerland.
Background: Threets comes from Randy Johnsons hometown of Livermore, Calif., and has more heat than the five-time Cy Young Award winner. He reportedly hit 103 mph in instructional league following the 2001 season, and regularly reached triple digits last year. Poor mechanics have contributed to a sore arm and shoulder bursitis, limiting him to 150 innings total over the last three years.
Strengths: Threets throws harder on a consistent basis than anyone in baseball. He has a perfect build for a pitcher, at 6-foot-5 with wide shoulders and narrow hips. At times hell show a nasty slider.
Weaknesses: At this point, Threets doesnt have much going for him besides velocity. He may have to sacrifice a few mph to get more life and command. His delivery still needs smoothing out and his lack of control precludes using him as a starter. His slider is inconsistent and he has no semblance of an offspeed pitch.
The Future: The Giants see Threets as a guy who can come in for an inning and blow hitters away. Hell advance quickly if he can lock in his mechanics. If he can develop a second reliable pitch and throw more strikes, he has closer potential.
Best of the Rest
While pitchers dominate San Franciscos Top 10 Prospects list, several outfielders just missed making the cut. Thats good news for the Giants, whose biggest weakness at the major league level is their two outfield spots alongside Barry Bonds.
Deivis Santos was an outstanding defender at first base with above-average speed for the position, so the Giants tried him in the outfield in 2002. A career .300 hitter since coming to the United States, he may need to develop more power to become a big league regular.
Tony Torcato, the 19th overall pick in the 1998 draft, has a similar profile. A former third baseman who had to move after injuring his shoulder, hes another line-drive hitter and has batted .307 in the minors. Hell get a chance to make the Giants this year.
Travis Ishikawa projected as a second- or third-round pick in the 2002 draft, but his bonus demands scared teams off. San Francisco waited until the 21st round to take him, and gave him a $950,000 bonus, record money for a player taken that late. He played mainly at first base in his pro debut and compares to John Olerud, but has more power potential and the athleticism to play the outfield on a full-time basis.
Jason Ellison is trying to follow Marvin Benards path from Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) to the Giants, and he has better tools than Benard.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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