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Top Ten Prospects: San Francisco Giants
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Manuel
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.
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