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Foppert is from San Rafael, just a ferry ride away from Pac Bell Park. He's not far away in a baseball sense either. Undrafted as a high school infielder, he barely pitched in his first two years at the University of San Francisco. When his Shenandoah Valley League team needed pitchers in the summer of 2000, he was persuaded to get on the mound. To say it turned out to be a good move is an understatement. After a solid junior year pitching for the Dons, he went in the second round of the 2001 draft and led the short-season Northwest League in ERA during his pro debut. Foppert was even more dominant during his first full pro season in 2002. He reached Triple-A, where he was rated the Pacific Coast League's No. 1 prospect, and led the minors by averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Foppert has a textbook delivery. Because he spent so little time on the mound as a teenager, he didn't have the chance to develop poor mechanics. He has a smooth motion, looking as if he's barely working, and the ball still jumps out of his hand. Foppert has a mid-90s fastball that was clocked as high as 99 mph at Double-A Shreveport in 2002. The fastball has so much life that he barely needed his other pitches in Double-A. His second-best pitch is a splitter that hitters can't lay off when it dives out of the strike zone. He made nice strides tightening up his slider last year. Foppert's mound presence and poise also left a positive impression. Given his background and athleticism, the Giants expect that he'll handle the bat well for a pitcher. Foppert is still developing a changeup and began working on a curveball in instructional league. He needs to tweak his command, as big leaguers might not chase his splitter as much as minor leaguers have. Throwing more strikes would allow him to reduce his high pitch counts, the main reason he averaged less than six innings a start last year. He faded in August under the wear of his first full season. Foppert probably won't win a spot on the Opening Day roster. The Giants don't have a clear opening and he could use more time at Triple-A Fresno. But if he picks up where he left off, he could force a promotion quickly. Easing him into the majors in a long relief role also could be a possibility.
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 sailed through his first two stops in the system before having a difficult time adjusting to Triple-A in the first half of 2001, but he has recovered nicely. He pitched well during two callups last year. 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. While he's 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 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.
After being rated the organization's top prospect 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 20, which made him the youngest regular starter in the Pacific Coast League, then dominated in the Arizona Fall League. 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. His makeup came into question during a rough patch in the middle of 2002. Some Giants officials and PCL observers wondered why Williams couldn't translate his athleticism into better stuff, questioning his work ethic. He seemed to address 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. He may have more upside than Jesse Foppert or Kurt Ainsworth, but he's younger, less polished and less mature. He might pitch a second full season in Triple-A, like Ainsworth did last year.
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 well and was selected for the Futures Game, but he didn't make the trip because of shoulder problems that prevented him from pitching after July 21. 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. He's intelligent and mature beyond his years on the mound. 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 pitching strategy to better attack hitters. The Giants will be cautious with Liriano because he's so young and so talented. If he's healthy, he'll probably open 2003 at high Class A San Jose.
The Giants had given up on signing Linden as a supplemental first-round pick in 2001, but then he dumped 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. 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 he'll 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 he's ignored. Linden's stroke can get long, and he occasionally overswings and gets herky-jerky with his mechanics. He needs work on his routes to fly balls. Linden finished 2002 in Triple-A and he'll probably start there this year. The Giants don't have a clear-cut right fielder, so it's possible he could break camp with them if he has a big spring. Realistically, he's another year away.
The owner of one of the best names in baseball, Bonser officially changed his name from John to Boof after his childhood nickname stuck. A bit of a surprise as the 21st overall pick in 2000, Bonser justified his selection by winning most valuable pitcher and top prospect recognition in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2001. He struggled when rushed to Double-A to start last season and had to be demoted to work on his secondary pitches. Bonser showed a mid-90s fastball that was enough to dominate 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. Bonser got pounded at Double-A because he couldn't 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. Bonser still needs a lot of improvement on his pitches and command to reach his high ceiling, so it wouldn't 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.
Lewis played more football than baseball at Mississippi Gulf Coast JC before transferring to Southern. He's 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 League's top position prospect in his pro debut. Though he's 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. He's the fastest player and best athlete in the system. Lewis has trouble tracking balls in 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. 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. He'll probably begin his first full season in low Class A.
The cream of the Giants system is the trio of polished righthanders at the top of the prospect list, but they also have collected an impressive group of power lefties, led by Francisco Liriano, Hannaman and Erick Threets. As with Liriano, San Francisco first saw Hannaman as a position player and immediately made him a full-time pitcher. Hannaman's lack of a pitching background was evident when he signed, and he's still raw, but one Giants official called him the most improved player in the system last year. As he got a better feel for his mechanics, he finished 2002 with 68 strikeouts in his last 49 innings. Batters can't get comfortable against his lively mid-90s fastball and tight slider. Hannaman doesn't have a consistent delivery, which causes his slider to flatten and his location to suffer. He's going to need 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. If Hannaman can't smooth out his rough edges, he still could project as a nasty southpaw closer. He'll pitch this year in high Class A.
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 injuries have interrupted both his full seasons (shoulder in 2001, wrist in 2002). Niekro is a disciplined hitter who uses the whole field. He has good size and he knows how to use it to generate leverage. He 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. Niekro should develop power, but so far he hasn't shown it. He makes good contact but has to draw more walks after totaling just 22 in 170 pro games. He's not much of a runner. Most of all, he has to stay healthy to get more experience. Niekro will start 2003 in Triple-A. The Giants still haven't decided if his future is at first or third base, though he'd prefer to go back to the hot corner.
Threets comes from Randy Johnson's 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 as an amateur and pro over the last three years. Threets throws harder on a consistent basis than anyone in baseball, including the majors. He has a perfect build for a pitcher, at 6-foot-5 with wide shoulders and narrow hips. At times he'll show a nasty slider. At this point, Threets doesn't have much going for him besides velocity. He may have to sacrifice a few ticks 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 Giants see Threets as a guy who can come in for an inning and blow hitters away. He'll advance quickly if he can lock in his mechanics and learn how to subtract a little when he gets behind in the count. If he can develop a second reliable pitch and throw more strikes, he has closer potential.
Cain was a 2002 first-round pick, but he didn't enter the year as the top prospect on his own team at Houston High. But Conor Lalor came down with a sore elbow--he's now at the University of South Carolina--and Cain seemed to get better with every start. He was just 17 when the Giants drafted him 25th overall, and his youth and his tall, slender build make him projectable. Cain threw 93-94 mph in the Rookie-level Arizona League, touched 95-96 and had his manager, Bert Hunter, predicting that he might one day reach 99-100. He had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, so the Giants had him replace it with a slider. His overall command needs work, as his changeup is rudimentary and he tends to overthrow his fastball. San Francisco believes Cain is on the fast track because of his work ethic. He should be one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League this season.
After signing with the Giants when he was just 17, Santos spent three years playing with the team's Rookie-level Dominican Summer League club. He has hit .300 since coming to the United States, employing a solid line-drive swing and making consistent contact. He's an outstanding defensive first baseman with plus speed for the position, so the Giants tried him in left field is 2002. He proved to be better than adequate in the outfield, and he could play either position in the majors. Santos has yet to show the power that teams want in a first baseman or lefthander, however. He also doesn't draw many walks, so his offensive value doesn't extend much beyond his batting average. He'll return to Triple-A after finishing last season there.
Torcato had been a staple in the organization's top 10 since he was drafted in 1998. Expectations for him aren't quite as high now, though he still looks like he can be a productive big leaguer and will get a shot at making the Giants this spring. Torcato has been a solid hitter every step of the way, though he never has shown much power. During the 2002 season he made a concerted effort to try to pull the ball in certain situations. He hit 13 homers, nearly double his previous career high, and San Francisco hopes he'll eventually develop 20-homer power. Like Deivis Santos, he makes good contact but offsets that by not working many walks. He's no more than adequate as a left fielder, and his arm is nothing special. Drafted as a third baseman, he moved off the hot corner after a series of shoulder injuries. Torcato needs to build up his strength to get through the rigors of a full season.
Despite keeping a low profile before his high school senior year, Ishikawa emerged as a projected second- or third-round pick in the 2002 draft. But teams were scared off by his bonus demands and his declared intention to attend Oregon State, so the Giants got him in the 21st round. After a month of negotiations he signed for $950,000, an unprecedented bonus for a player that deep in the draft. Ishikawa draws John Olerud comparisons because of his smooth line-drive swing and defensive prowess. However, he has more power potential and athleticism. The way Ishikawa hits balls out of the park effortlessly in batting practice leads the Giants to believe he'll have at least 30-homer pop. His speed and agility allow him to play the outfield, where he saw some brief time in his pro debut. Though Ishikawa is slick at first base, he needs to be more aggressive pursuing grounders to his right instead of letting his second baseman handle everything. He'll probably begin his first full season in low Class A.
When the Giants decided to trim a little salary by trading Russ Ortiz to the Braves for Damian Moss in December, they also picked up Valdez, previously known as Melvin Mateo. In 2002, his first season in the United States, he led the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in strikeouts and was rated as the league's top pitching prospect. For a youngster--though he's nine months older than previously believed--he has impressive maturity and desire. His stuff is noteworthy as well. Valdez gets ahead in the count with his lively 93-95 mph fastball. He shows a good feel for his slider and changeup but remains inconsistent with both, forcing him to rely too much on his fastball. His slider has good depth when thrown properly, and his changeup has a decent fade even though it remains in the developmental phase. Valdez, who has front-of-the-rotation potential, is expected to pitch in low Class A this year.
Drafted in the first round ahead of Jesse Foppert in 2001, Lowry endured a frustrating first full season. Nagging shoulder problems caused him to spend half the year on the disabled list, and only twice was he allowed to pitch more than five innings. Nothing more than tendinitis ever was diagnosed, and he was successful when he was able to take the mound. Opponents batted just .186 against him. Lowry throws a 91-92 mph fastball and has an excellent changeup that constantly befuddles hitters. Some people say his curveball is even better than his changeup. He also throws a cutter, and all of his pitches have plus potential. He competes well and throws strikes with a smooth delivery, though he sometimes overthrows. If Lowry can stay healthy, he'll sail through the minors. He'll pitch in Double-A in 2003.
Ellison draws comparisons to Marvin Benard because both came out of NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State--Ellison won two national championships in two years with the Warriors and was MVP of the 1999 NAIA World Series--and both play beyond their tools. Ellison, though, has better tools than Benard. One of the fastest players in the organization, he's an outstanding center fielder with a strong arm. His take-no-prisoners approach has made him a favorite of his minor league managers. The Giants have been searching for a true center fielder who can produce offensively for a decade. Ellison could be a prototype leadoff hitter if he were a bit more patient at the plate. He also needs to learn how to use his speed to steal bases. Ellison just needs to tighten up his swing to make the final jump to the big leagues. He'll start 2003 in Triple-A, where he finished last season after starting it in high Class A.
Once considered the organization's lone true five-tool prospect, Valderrama was the talk of San Francisco's big league camp in 2001. Then he tore his right rotator cuff that May and has been battling the injury ever since. He was almost all the way back last spring, but he pushed himself too hard in spring training and suffered a setback. He never took the field in 2002, getting only DH duty. He had another operation to clean out his shoulder after the season and the Giants hope he'll be at full strength this year. If so, Valderrama still could become the power-hitting center fielder they once thought he was. How much his defensive instincts and arm strength have suffered remains to be seen. There's nothing wrong with his speed, and he's capable of turning walks into doubles. Problem is, he doesn't walk much. Valderrama often overswings, leading to too many strikeouts, but can really drive the ball when he connects. If he has fully recovered from his shoulder problems, he could make his big league debut in 2003.
Cash spent one season at Modesto (Calif.) JC, where Erick Threets later pitched, before moving on to California for three years. Because he was drafted as a college senior, the Giants have pushed him quickly to see what they had. They sent him to Double-A to start his first full pro season in 2002, and then shipped him to the Arizona Fall League. San Francisco tried to make him a starter at the beginning of the year, but his slender build and high pitch counts weren't conducive to handling that workload. Cash moved back to relief, his role in his pro debut, and had a 1.82 ERA (compared to 4.05 in the rotation). He has a nice repertoire, led by a sinker. He also throws a 91 mph four-seam fastball, a slider, curveball and changeup. The Giants would love to get him stronger and throwing more strikes so he could try to start again. If Cash doesn't work his way back into the rotation, he still could make the majors as a ground-ball specialist out of the bullpen. He got roughed up in the AFL, an indication that he needs time in Triple-A this year.
Like Fred Lewis, Ortmeier was a raw college outfielder when the Giants grabbed him with an early pick (third round) in the 2002 draft. Ortmeier isn't quite as toolsy as Lewis but he's a little more polished. Ortmeier projects as a center fielder, which makes him a valuable commodity in the Giants system. Still, San Francisco didn't get to see him in center as much as it wanted after he signed. He injured his shoulder, which kept him in left field until he was shut down in mid-August and knocked him out of instructional league. Though his progress was slowed by the injury, Ortmeier should move quickly once he's healthy because he's a switch-hitter with size, speed and power. He's better as a lefthanded hitter at this point. If he plays alongside Lewis in low Class A this year, Ortmeier may see more time in right field than in center.
After Ryan Jensen won 13 games for the Giants as a rookie last year despite underwhelming stuff, there's hope for Clark. He has won 14 games in each of his two full pro seasons, and he was the high Class A California League's 2002 pitcher of the year and ERA leader. He's considered a similar pitcher to Jensen but with a better body. Clark is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, yet doesn't crack 90 mph with his fastball. His biggest assets are his control and his curveball, both of which managers rated the best in the Cal League. He also throws a slider and changeup. He maintains his composure at all times. Guys who do it with smoke and mirrors often are exposed once they get to Double-A, and Clark did get hit hard in his first exposure at that level. That makes 2003 a critical season for Clark to show if he's got what it takes.
After three undistinguished seasons at NCAA Division II UC Davis, Bruso blossomed into the California Collegiate Athletic Association pitcher of the year as a senior. He also emerged as the most pleasant surprise from San Francisco's 2002 draft, leading the Northwest League in ERA while showing three big league average pitches. Afterward, he was named the top pitcher in the Giants' instructional league camp. Bruso throws a 91 mph fastball, a slider and a changeup. While many first-year pros tend to nibble at the strike zone, he was a strike-throwing machine. He takes the mound with the poise of a veteran. His performance in low Class A this year will determine just where he fits among the system's deep store of pitching prospects.
A two-way star as a pitcher/outfielder in high school, English resembles a smaller C.C. Sabathia. In his pro debut, English rated as the No. 4 prospect in the Arizona League. His potential is considerable because he's a lefty with movement on all his pitches. His fastball sits at 90 mph, and there's hope that he might gain more velocity as he firms up his body. He also can crank up the heat when he needs a strikeout. English's best pitch is his changeup, which greatly enhances his fastball. Those two pitches allowed him to average 13 strikeouts per nine innings in the AZL. His curveball is a bit slow, and if he can't tighten it the Giants will have him switch to a slider. The biggest adjustment he must make is learning what it takes to be a professional. There are concerns about his work ethic and weight. English will start 2003 in extended spring training and report to the Northwest League in June.
A 16th-round pick in 2000, Pannone pitched for the National Baseball Congress World Series champion Liberal Bee Jays that summer and signed as a draft-and-follow the next May. Though overshadowed by Francisco Liriano and Ryan Hannaman, he pitched more consistently than either and led Hagerstown in wins and opponent batting average (.247) last year. Pannone doesn't throw hard (88-91 mph), but gets outs with the downward movement on his sinker. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup and needs to improve his overall command. He has a pretty good idea of what he's doing on the mound, which puts him ahead of other young pitchers deep in the farm system. Pannone has a chance to be a big league starter but is more likely to find his way into a middle-relief role if he gets there. He's headed for high Class A in 2003.
The Giants signed Chavez as a 17-year-old shorstop in 1998. He subsequently had knee surgery, so the Giants moved him to third base so he wouldn't have to move as much. He still has shortstop hands, though. Chavez is one of the best defensive infielders and has one of the best infield arms in the organization. He likes to show off his arm, too, waiting as long as possible before gunning throws across the diamond. He's good enough defensively that he still might move back to shortstop. At the plate, Chavez has some holes in his swing, though the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact. He has a Gary Sheffield-like pump in his swing but lacks the bat speed to get away with it. His approach also needs some tinkering, as he rarely draws walks. A move to Double-A in 2003 will be a good test to see if Chavez can hit enough to reach the majors.
The Giants took a flier on Spiehs in the 2001 draft, then signed him after he helped the Anchorage Glacier Pilots win the National Baseball Congress World Series. He pitched well enough in high Class A during his 2002 pro debut to earn an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, usually reserved for players with more experience. Spiehs usually pitches with average velocity and tops out at 93, but he gets by with a sinker/slider combination. Both pitches have hard downward movement when he's on, getting him lots of ground balls. He's still inconsistent with his sinker and occasionally hangs it up in the strike zone. Spiehs mixes in a few changeups, but he's essentially a two-pitch guy. He'll pitch in Double-A this year and projects as a middle reliever.
Lunsford has been one of the organization's quickest risers. He earned an invitation to big league camp and progressed from high Class A to the majors last year. His strength is his defense behind the plate. He has outstanding catch-and-throw skills and threw out 35 percent of basestealers in 2002. Pitchers love throwing to him because of the way he calls a game and gets them through jams or nights when they don't have their best stuff. He and Yorvit Torrealba are the top two candidates from within the organization to take over after Benito Santiago retires. Right now the question is whether Lunsford can hit. He doesn't project as more than a .250 hitter with a handful of homers and a few walks in the majors. That might be enough, considering his defense. He'll be the everyday catcher in Triple-A this year.
Ransom is 27 and coming off a year when he hit just .207 in his second stint in Triple-A. Yet he's so good defensively that he still has a chance to play in the big leagues, maybe even as a starter. Ransom is the kind of shortstop who can make a difference for a pitching staff. He has great range and an outstanding arm, making bullet throws with seemingly little effort. He could become a Rey Sanchez/Rey Ordonez type, sticking in the majors on his glove alone. Ransom has good power for a shortstop and has patience, but he has so many holes in his long swing that he's a career .227 hitter as a pro. He's athletic, so there's some hope he can make adjustments, but that also should have happened before now. His future probably isn't with the Giants, who have the much more productive Rich Aurilia as a starter. It's also possible they could try his strong arm on the mound. They did that with Ransom's brother Troy, drafting him as an outfielder before converting him to a pitcher. Ransom will give Triple-A another try in 2003.
When the Giants drafted Thomas in 1999 and signed him for $565,000, they thought they had found another hard-throwing lefthander. But they soon discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery. They decided not to void his contract, even though he wouldn't make his pro debut until 2001. San Francisco is still waiting to see what a healthy Thomas might do, because he has pitched just 111 pro innings and spent two months on the disabled list last year with a shoulder injury. He had a strong instructional league, so there's still hope that he might blossom. Thomas throws one of the best changeups in the organization, though he's still learning how to take advantage of it. He has a 91-92 mph when he's healthy, and throws a curveball and cutter. He probably needs more time in high Class A.
Portorreal made his U.S. debut as an 18-year-old in the Arizona League last year, earning league all-star honors and wowing the Giants with his 93 mph fastball and the makings of a plus curveball. He continued to impress in instructional league, and he should throw even harder once he fills out. Like many young pitchers out of the Dominican, Portorreal is skin and bones. A few years of weight training and proper nutrition could turn him into a monster. The Giants compare him to a young Lorenzo Barcelo, who came up in their system before being traded to the White Sox, but say he's further along than Barcelo was at this stage. Portorreal still needs to tighten up his curveball, which gets a little loopy, and develop a changeup. He'll move up to low Class A this year, when he'll be one of the younger starters in the South Atlantic League.