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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, 2005.
Background: Cain came up through suburban Memphis’ competitive amateur system, which in recent years has produced such pitchers as early 2003 draft picks Paul Maholm (Pirates, first round) and Stuart Pomeranz (Cardinals, second) and college prospects Mark Holliman (Mississippi), Conor Lalor (South Carolina) and John Lalor (Mississippi State). After playing for the Dulin Dodgers, a national amateur power, and starring for Houston High (also the alma mater of Pomeranz and the Lalor brothers), Cain committed to play college ball at Memphis. The Giants changed his plans when they drafted him 25th overall in 2002 and gave him a $1.375 million bonus. He pitched briefly that summer, then had his first full season truncated by a stress fracture in his right elbow. Cain was healthy in 2004 and didn't miss a start. He had a string of 19 straight outings without allowing more than two earned runs, including his first seven after a promotion to Double-A Norwich at age 19. He tired in late August, in part because he worked 159 innings after totaling 93 in his first two seasons, but that couldn't take the edge off his tremendous performance.
Strengths: Cain matches a mature approach to pitching with electric stuff. His fastball consistently sits at 92-95 mph while touching 97, and he's learning to change speeds with it. His power breaking ball, more of a curveball than a slider, is a second plus pitch, a 77-80 mph downer with the potential to be better as he tightens its rotation and learns how to set it up. He has made great strides with his straight changeup, and scouts say it has a chance to be an average or even above-average pitch thanks to his simple delivery and clean arm action. For all his stuff, the Giants say Cain’s best traits are his maturity and strong desire to be great. He’s a student of the game who takes his side work seriously. He asks intelligent questions of his coaches, then shows the aptitude to take what he has learned to the mound.
Weaknesses: Cain dispelled doubts about his health by holding up for the entire 2004 season, but the toll it took on him was evident at the end. His velocity tailed off and he got hammered in his last three starts. The Giants are confident that as he continues to mature physically and becomes more accustomed to the rigors of pro ball, he’ll be strong enough to handle the full-season grind. His control wasn't nearly as sharp in Double-A as it had been at high Class A San Jose, though that probably was the result of fatigue.
The Future: The Giants have enough young arms competing for innings in San Francisco that they can afford to be patient with Cain — who has a higher ceiling than any of them. He's not yet on the 40-man roster, but he’s accelerating his timetable and the Giants haven’t been shy about promoting their top arms. Though he may begin 2005 back in Double-A, he could finish the season in the majors.
Background: He hadn't pitched above Rookie ball when the Giants got him from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz trade in December 2002, but Valdez quickly burst onto the prospect scene with a dominant 2003 season at low Class A Hagerstown. He never found a consistent rhythm in 2004, because he came down with shoulder tendinitis and shuttled between four teams.
Strengths: Valdez has two pitches that can make hitters look bad. His fastball sits in the mid-90s when he starts and touches 99 mph when he relieves. His mid-80s power slider, which touches 87 mph, has excellent bite when he stays on top of it. His compact delivery helps him harness his power. His feel for pitching improved in 2004, as he learned when to take a little off his fastball and how to move it to different quadrants of the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Because he sometimes wraps his hand around his slider and gets under it, Valdez can lose the feel for his second pitch. He doesn't trust his developing changeup, which he'll need to remain a starter.
The Future: The Giants have yet to decide if Valdez, who has closer's stuff, is better suited for relief. That's their more immediate need, and he worked in that role in winter ball. He could win a big league job this spring as a set-up man for Armando Benitez.
Background: A two-sport athlete who played football at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College and Southern, Lewis was raw when he was drafted but added significant polish in 2004. He fought off nagging leg injuries early in the season to lead the system in on-base percentage, walks and steals, making it an easy decision for the Giants to protect him on the 40-man roster.
Strengths: No one in the system can match Lewis' all-around offensive tools, and his skills are starting to catch up. His bat speed and plate discipline are the best among Giants farmhands. As he grows into his pull power, he should start to hit 20-25 homers annually. He runs well and has good range in center field, where his jumps and routes have improved.
Weaknesses: Lewis doesn't play with consistent intensity and can be moody, and he needs experience to improve his instincts and learn nuances of the game such as pitch recognition and situational hitting. He's most raw on the basepaths, where he needs to learn to take more aggressive leads and get better jumps.
The Future: Though he struggled in the Arizona Fall League, Lewis' combination of tools and hitting ability have him close to breaking the Giants' drought of developing an everyday player. He'll start 2005 in Double-A and isn't far from supplanting veteran Marquis Grissom in center field for San Francisco.
Background: An unsigned third-round pick of the Mariners in 2002, Martinez-Esteve was plagued by hamstring problems as a freshman at Florida State. He moved from third base to the outfield last spring, when he missed winning the Atlantic Coast Conference triple crown by two RBIs. Signed for $537,500 as a draft-eligible sophomore, he just kept hitting as a pro, batting .455 in the California League playoffs.
Strengths: It's all about the bat for Martinez-Esteve. He's adept at making adjustments at the plate because he has a low-maintenance swing that he repeats easily. He has solid bat speed and excellent raw strength, overpowering balls to all fields. He has average arm strength.
Weaknesses: Martinez-Esteve had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn right labrum. It’s unclear how his arm will come back from the surgery. He already had earned a reputation as an indifferent defender in college. His routes and instincts in the field will have to improve to make him a passable left fielder.
The Future: The Giants aren't in a hurry to replace their current left fielder, so Martinez-Esteve will have time to learn the position. However, his shoulder injury means his 2005 season will start in extended spring training, rather than San Jose. Once healthy, his polished bat could help him move quickly.
Background: After starring at Chabot Junior College — vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow's alma mater — Schierholtz won over the Giants with an impressive workout at their ballpark prior to the 2003 draft. A surprise second-round pick, he gave up a scholarship from Long Beach State for a $572,000 bonus.
Strengths: Schierholtz was easily the system's top power prospect before Eddy Martinez-Esteve's arrival, and he still rates a slight edge. He has above-average bat speed, thanks to strong hands that produce a balanced, short swing. He drives the ball from pole to pole, and the Giants view his aggressiveness as a positive. He's an average runner.
Weaknesses: Drafted as a third baseman, Schierholtz had trouble with his footwork on his throws, so San Francisco moved him to the outfield last August. His inexperience showed, but he has enough arm and athletic ability for right field. Offensively, Schierholtz could walk more and has to trust his hands against breaking balls from lefties.
The Future: The Giants' outfield picture suddenly looks crowded, but Schierholtz' lefthanded power should help him stand out. He'll need to show defensive aptitude to keep moving quickly, and should return to high Class A to start 2005.
Background: Formerly known as Carlos Cabrera, Simon's true age (21 months older than originally believed) and name were discovered in June 2003. He was establishing himself as one of the Phillies' top prospects when the Giants got him in the Felix Rodriguez trade last July. Simon tied for the minor league lead with four complete games and three shutouts in 2004.
Strengths: Big and physical, Simon is a power pitcher who worked off his 90-95 mph fastball more than 80 percent of the time with the Phillies. His fastball touched 97 with the Giants, and he has improved at throwing it to both sides of the plate. He has a smooth delivery.
Weaknesses: San Francisco has overhauled Simon's offspeed stuff, particularly his changeup. One club official likened his old change to an eephus pitch. The Giants like his feel for a curveball and slider, though neither will be a plus pitch. He lacks deception, so hitters see his pitches well.
The Future: San Francisco believes Simon's upside ranks just a notch below that of Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez. He's a potential innings-eater who should start 2005 in Double-A.
Background: One of baseball's best stories last year, Hennessey missed all of 2002 and half of 2003 after having two operations to remove benign tumors from his back. The Giants weren't sure they'd get a return on the third-largest signing bonus in club history ($1.38 million), but Hennessey reached the majors in his first full season back. His big league debut was Greg Maddux' 300th victory.
Strengths: Hennessey's slider is an above-average strikeout pitch with sharp two-plane bite. His fastball touches 93 mph, but it's more effective when he keeps it at 89-91. At that reduced velocity, he commands it better and throws it with more life down in the zone. He's athletic, has a clean delivery and his makeup is as good as it gets.
Weaknesses: Hennessey has a tendency to push his fastball and his changeup. When he does, both pitches flatten out and he becomes him hittable. He could stand to get stronger, as would be expected after his layoff and surgeries.
The Future: Hennessey's stuff fits the profile of a setup man if the Giants need him in that role, but they like his upside as a starter, particularly if he can get his fastball and changeup to sink consistently. Unless he has a huge spring, he'll probably open 2005 at Triple-A Fresno.
Background: A supplemental first-round pick and the fourth high school righthander drafted in 2003, Whitaker turned down Texas A&M for a $975,000 bonus. Because his mechanics are raw and his body is still developing, the Giants kept him in extended spring training last year until the short-season Northwest League started.
Strengths: A fierce competitor, Whitaker has a lanky build that reminds San Francisco of Joe Nathan. Whitaker is starting to fill out, bring his fastball to 90-95 mph with more velocity still to come. His curveball isn't as nasty as Matt Cain's, but it has similar 12-to-6 break at times. He has feel for an average changeup.
Weaknesses: Maturity and experience often cure what ails Whitaker, which is inconsistency with his curveball and his command. His fastball and curve are sometimes too lively for his own good, as he led the NWL in walks and wild pitches (14). A more even-keeled approach would serve him well.
The Future: The Giants are confident that as Whitaker matures physically and emotionally, he'll harness his stuff and become a No. 2 or 3 starter. He's ticketed for the organization's new low Class A Savannah affiliate.
Background: The closer on Rice's 2003 national championship team, Aardsma made his major league debut 10 months after signing for $1.425 million. He won the game in Houston in front of family and friends, though it proved to be the highlight of his season. He spent most of his time in Triple-A.
Strengths: When Aardsma is mechanically sound, he pitches at 93-95 mph and reaches 97 with late life and carry on his explosive fastball. He can sink a two-seamer or throw a four-seamer by hitters up in the strike zone. His changeup, which has become average, was his second-best pitch in 2004.
Weaknesses: Aardsma's elbow gets floppy in his delivery, and it hurt his velocity and his slider last year. He mostly pitched in the low 90s with his fastball, and he lost both the movement and command with his slider. The Giants were encouraged that his slider came around in the fall, when he kept his delivery more compact.
The Future: San Francisco had few other options in its depleted bullpen, so Aardsma was rushed. The return of his slider would make him a candidate to set up Armando Benitez in San Francisco this season.
Background: The Giants have been patient with Ishikawa, a former high school football player whose swing and defense at first base drew John Olerud comparisons. His power started to blossom in 2004, when his 16 homers doubled his previous career total. His $955,000 signing bonus — as a 21st-rounder, no less — remains the largest San Francisco ever has given a hitter out of the draft.
Strengths: Ishikawa's consistent swing and good bat speed give him above-average power potential. He crushes balls in the lower half of the strike zone. He knows the value of a walk and isn't afraid to hit behind in the count. He's a fine defender at first base with soft hands, and he's athletic enough to play left field as well.
Weaknesses: Ishikawa hit .188 with 66 strikeouts in his first 47 games last year because he was patient to the point of being passive and wasn't offering at pitches he could drive. As he got more aggressive, his power and average picked up. The Giants say his pitch recognition is improving, and that with more experience he'll find the right blend of patience and aggression.
The Future: Lefthanded power is hard to find, and San Francisco thinks Ishikawa is turning the corner. He'll return to high Class A to start 2005.