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Background: After being drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in 1997, Grilli held out too long and missed the season. He quickly made up for lost time that fall in instructional league and Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he was named the now-defunct league's last No. 1 prospect. He threw 163 innings last year between Double-A and Triple-A in his first full season and the Giants wisely kept him from any winter ball action. His father, Steve, is a former big league righthander and works as a scout with the Cardinals. Strengths: Grilli's strengths go beyond his raw stuff. He throws an above-average fastball that tops out at 94 mph and has excellent late-moving life. His changeup also is a plus pitch. But best of all, Grilli has the potential to have solid command of both pitches because a mechanically-sound, low-maintenance delivery enables him to consistently spot his pitches low in the strike zone. And Grilli's makeup may outstrip his stuff. Grilli grew up around big league clubhouses and the Giants say he has the mental toughness, poise and understanding of winning that good big leaguers have. Weaknesses: Scouts felt Grilli's top pitch in college was his knee-buckling curveball, but Grilli struggled at times last year to find his touch and control of the pitch. His lack of innings and a consistent breaking ball were exposed when Grilli was hit harder after his promotion to Triple-A. The Future: The one major flaw on the Giants roster last year was a reliance on veteran righthanders such as Danny Darwin, Mark Gardner and Orel Hershiser, who combined for 563 innings. The organization is counting heavily on Grilli to lead a group of strong-armed prospects into the rotation over the next two years. While Grilli probably won't start '99 in the majors, he should make his big league debut sometime this season.
Background: While his record didn't show it, Linebrink's 1998 season impressed the Giants. His ratios of strikeouts and hits per innings pitched were both outstanding figures for a pitcher who entered the season with 38 innings of professional experience. He missed a month with arm tenderness. Strengths: Linebrink has the best raw stuff in the organization. He throws a heavy fastball in the 94-95 mph range that is his top pitch. He will also throw a slider, split-finger and changeup. Weaknesses: When Linebrink is in a zone, he can be dominant. But he tends to have problems finding a groove with his delivery. He is prone to big innings and will pitch himself into jams instead of just working for outs. The Giants feel his delivery and approach problems will be solved with more experience. The Future: The Giants would like to move Linebrink up to Triple-A to start this season but may hold back because of the experience factor. Linebrink has better stuff but lacks the polish that Grilli and Nate Bump possess.
Background: The Giants surprised many by using the first of seven premium picks last year to select Torcato. But his swing, which has been compared to Padres first-rounder Sean Burroughs, is already regarded as the best in the organization. There were major concerns about Torcato's surgically repaired right shoulder. Strengths: To say that the Giants are enamored with Torcato's offensive potential might not go far enough. Organization veterans call Torcato's swing "beautiful" and "gorgeous". They project him to be a middle-of-the-order run producer. Weaknesses: A high school shortstop, Torcato is still learning the fundamentals at third, especially in approaching ground balls and keeping his balance. He had no shoulder problems during the summer or fall and has plenty of arm strength as long as he remains healthy. The Future: Torcato is from the North Bay Area and is a life-long Giants fan, a perfect fit for an organization that has placed tremendous emphasis on its history and former players. He will probably start 1999 down the road at Class A San Jose.
Background: Bump was considered a potential high pick before his junior year at Penn State but a poor season ran teams off. Bump returned for his senior season after being taken in the 23rd round and pitched his way up the draft to be the 25th overall selection. His $750,000 signing bonus was the lowest in the first round. Strengths: Bump has excellent command and location of his two primary pitches, a 91-92 mph fastball and an 87-89 mph cutter that he consistently gets under lefthanded hitters' fists. Bump's delivery is balanced and simple and his mound demeanor very poised--ingredients that should enable him to move quickly through the system. Weaknesses: The Giants will push Bump to use his knuckle-curve and changeup more in 1999 as he won't be able to overmatch Double-A hitters with two power pitches as easily as he did Class A hitters last season. The Future: Bump's ability and maturity surprised even the Giants last year, who kept him in Class A because of San Jose's California League championship hopes. The development of his offspeed pitches will determine how quickly he takes the next step.
Background: Chiaramonte went from being a walk-on as a college freshman to catching every inning of every game as a junior in 1997. He led San Jose to the Cal League championship last season and was named the league's all-star catcher and No. 10 prospect. Strengths: The Giants spare no accolades for Chiaramonte's passion for the game and effort he puts into making himself better. He has the perfect catcher's mentality, especially for working with pitchers and calling a game. His best offensive tool is above-average raw power. Weaknesses: Nothing comes easy to Chiaramonte, who is not a great natural athlete. He has average arm strength but relies on effort and courage rather than quickness behind the plate. Chiaramonte also must learn to tone down his all-out approach at the plate and learn to make more consistent contact to all fields. The Future: Farm director Jack Hiatt, a veteran of 40 years in pro ball--including nine as a big league catcher--says he's never seen a young player with as much desire as Chiaramonte. He will start 1999 at Double-A Shreveport.
Background: The Giants originally signed Nathan as a shortstop in 1995, but Nathan decided to retire in 1996 rather than be converted to pitcher. A year away from the game convinced Nathan to give the mound a shot and he returned to the Giants in the spring of 1997. Strengths: Nathan has intimidating size and has maintained his athleticism and looseness. His fastball is consistently in the 93-94 mph range with good sinking action. Nathan's strikeout pitch is a hard slurve. He also throws a cutter and straight change. Weaknesses: At 24, Nathan has thrown only 199 minor league innings and very few college innings, so getting repetitions and learning game situations are his highest priority. The Giants held him out of winter ball after he tired late in the year. The Future: The Giants will start Nathan at Double-A. Of all the organization's pitching prospects, Nathan's ceiling is perhaps the highest. At the same time he is the farthest from being a sure thing to become a major league pitcher.
Background: Delgado, obtained from Seattle in the trade that netted Shawn Estes, has received September callups in each of the last three years. He's batted .268 in 41 big league at-bats. Delgado is out of options and is almost a lock to make the big league team in April. Strengths: Delgado has matured into a sure-handed, catch-and-throw shortstop with strong defensive fundamentals. He has the ability to play second and third base as well. Though he hit .277 from both sides of the plate in Triple-A, he is a much stronger hitter from the left side, especially on pitches down in the zone. He hit all 12 of his home runs off righthanders. Weaknesses: Delgado doesn't have flashy range and a rifle arm at shortstop but excels because of his dependability. His speed is average at best on the bases. The Future: The Giants should replace departed utilityman Rey Sanchez with Delgado, a similar player with significantly more power potential. Incumbent shortstop Rich Aurilia wore down tremendously in the second half last year, so a platoon arrangement is possible.
Background: The Giants chose the 6-foot-8 Urban with a compensation pick for losing free-agent Wilson Alvarez. After a slow start in the Northwest League, Urban won four consecutive starts for Cal League champion San Jose down the stretch. Strengths: Urban's fastball is solid average in the 89-92 range. He complements it with a good changeup, a slider and a curveball. Urban is a good athlete with sound delivery fundamentals who shows the potential to have above-average command. Weaknesses: Both of Urban's breaking balls need improvement to become big league pitches. Because of his height, Urban's high release point would make an effective breaking ball very intimidating to lefthanded hitters. The Future: Urban's ability to throw strikes and change speeds is so advanced, the Giants will likely start him in Double-A this spring. His ability to master one of his breaking balls will determine his progress beyond Double-A.
Background: Rios has been overlooked his entire career. He helped lead Louisiana State to two national championships but wasn't drafted out of college. He was named the Puerto Rican League's Rookie of the Year in 1995, but has moved slowly through the Giants system. He finally grabbed some attention with a stellar season in Triple-A capped by two pennant-race home runs in his first big league callup. Strengths: Rios has solid tools, including enough speed to play center field and the strongest outfield arm in the organization. His power has increased as he has learned to take more pitches and stop pulling off balls. Weaknesses: The Giants say Rios put so much energy into winter ball in his native Puerto Rico that he would wear out in mid-summer, leading to injuries and slumps in the second half. His size and draft status have not helped Rios gain the benefit of the doubt, either. The Future: Rios' outstanding season and his September heroics give him a strong shot at making the Giants opening day roster as a fourth outfielder.
Background: Serrano was a first-team All-American last spring, when he finished second in the NCAA in hitting at .457. He was the first college catcher selected in the draft. Strengths: Serrano is an offensive-minded receiver with the potential to be an above-average run producer for the position. He has a short, strong swing and stays inside the ball very well for a player just adjusting to wood bats, giving him to show plus power to the opposite field. His best tool defensively is his soft hands. Weaknesses: Despite plenty of catching experience, Serrano is raw defensively. His two major problems are a hitch in his throwing action and inconsistent footwork, which affects both his throwing and his blocking. Both are fundamental skills, not physical, that Serrano worked hard to correct during instructional league. The Future: The Giants value offensive skills behind the plate more than most organizations, realizing that catch-and-throw receivers are rarely big league starters and readily available in Triple-A. If Serrano can make the necessary defensive adjustments, they feel he can become a front line major leaguer.