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Though the Giants had developed Russ Ortiz from college middle reliever to big league frontline starter, they weren't afraid to deal him when he became too expensive. So they sent Ortiz to the Braves for lefthander Damian Moss and Valdez in December 2002. Valdez was known as Manuel Mateo and believed to be nine months younger than his true age when he signed for $7,500 in 1999. While he has a ways to go to match Ortiz as a big league 20-game winner, the trade worked out for the Giants. San Francisco used Moss to get Sidney Ponson from the Orioles for the 2003 stretch run, while Valdez established himself as the Giants' clear No. 1 prospect with a dominating year at Class A Hagerstown. He won the strikeout crown in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2002, then repeated the feat in the South Atlantic League in his Giants debut. Valdez has the rare ability to invite consistent weak contact with his fastball. With his combination of velocity and command, the Giants say he compares favorably to last year's No. 1 prospect, Jesse Foppert. Valdez throws a two-seam heater that the Giants rate a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale due to its excellent sink and consistent velocity. When he worked as a starter for Hagerstown, his fastball sat in the 92-95 mph range. In a late assignment to the Arizona Fall League, he ran it to 96-98 in short relief stints. He's not afraid to work inside and attacks lefthanders successfully. The Giants rate his slider as a 60 pitch, though it tends to be less consistent than his fastball. Valdez generally does a good job of staying tall, throwing downhill and keeping on top of his slider. His changeup remains in its developing stages, but the Giants were encouraged by the flashes he showed in instructional league, when he threw it for strikes. This was just Valdez' first full season, so he could use more innings of experience to refine his overall game, particularly his changeup and slider. He can be guilty of rushing his delivery and overthrowing. He missed a start in the spring when he was trying so hard to ramp up his velocity that he pulled his groin. He sometimes alters his delivery for his offspeed stuff, hurting his consistency. All of these are correctable flaws, however. Added to the 40-man roster, Valdez will compete for a big league bullpen job in spring training, following Foppert's example. While Foppert was a college draftee, he wasn't a full-time pitcher until his junior season at the University of San Francisco, and Valdez' experience level is similar. If he's allowed to develop more in the minor leagues--likely at high Class A San Jose to start until the weather warms up at Double-A Norwich--Valdez still could jump to the majors sometime in 2004. With more refinement, Valdez profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Cain has blossomed from No. 2 pitcher on his high school team (behind Conor Lalor, now at South Carolina) to No. 2 prospect in the Giants organization, and he was pushing for No. 1 before a stress fracture in his elbow sidelined him midway through the 2003 season. Cain showed he had returned to health with seven dominant innings in instructional league. Cain might have a better arm than Merkin Valdez, and he profiles better as a starter. He starts with a 92-97 mph fastball that he throws on a good downhill plane. He also throws a power downer curveball with good velocity (77-80 mph). When it's on, it has late break and good depth and is a true strikeout pitch. The Giants laud his aptitude and maturity. Cain has shown a feel for a changeup with late movement but hasn't used it much. He also tends to get under the ball and rush his delivery, which puts stress on his elbow. The Giants are confident he'll grow out of that as he matures physically. One of the South Atlantic League's youngest players in 2003, Cain dominated at times anyway. If he can stay healthy, he'll be pushed and could reach Double-A sometime in 2004.
The closer for Rice's 2003 College World Series championship team, Aardsma broke 1997 No. 1 overall pick Matt Anderson's career and season saves records in two seasons after transferring from Penn State. If he makes the big leagues, he'll move ahead of Hank Aaron in the all-time alphabetical listing of big leaguers. Aardsma throws his fastball anywhere from 93-98 mph, and it has explosive late life. He switched from a slider to a knuckle-curve that many Rice pitchers throw, and it's a plus pitch at times. His changeup is major league-ready. Aardsma's closing background has hindered the development of his breaking ball; he only recently ditched his slider. He started at Penn State, and some scouts think he has the stuff and size to succeed in a rotation. Others cite his "pie thrower" delivery, which puts a lot of strain on his elbow, as precluding him from having the needed durability. Aardsma showed big league closer stuff during his debut in high Class A. He should move quickly to San Francisco after a short apprenticeship in Double-A in 2004.
Ortmeier has been on the radar for some time, but still ranks as somewhat of a sleeper. He was drafted out of high school in 1999 (27th round, White Sox) and was a two-time all-Southland Conference selection. He started 2003 as a DH primarily while recovering from left shoulder surgery. Ortmeier has the organization's best combination of tools and skills. His swing is consistent and smooth from both sides of the plate. He shows a quick enough bat to hit inside pitches and lashes line drives from gap-to-gap. He also made strides with his two-strike approach. He runs well enough to play center field, though he profiles best in right. Ortmeier's shoulder injury sapped some strength from what had been a plus arm, though it should bounce back. Some club officials fear his all-out playing style could work against him in the form of more injuries in the future. He hasn't learned to pull the ball yet for the power teams want from their corner outfielders. Ortmeier has the potential to hit .280-.300 with 20-homer power from both sides of the plate. He'll try to prove he's on track to that kind of future projection in 2004 at Double-A Norwich.
Linden was the Pacific-10 Conference batting champion and the Cape Cod League's top prospect in 2000, then led Louisiana State in home runs after transferring in 2001. He has moved rapidly through the system since signing late in 2001, when he negotiated his own signing bonus after a needlessly protracted holdout. Linden has good raw power and projects to hit 30 homers in the major leagues. He generally holds his own against lefthanded pitching. Though he's a bit bulkier than when he signed, he still has good athletic ability, runs well for his size and has an average throwing arm. One club official summed up Linden's offensive plan thusly: "He swings very hard in case he hits it." That wild approach was exploited by Triple-A pitchers. His high leg-kick swing can get out of sync in a hurry, leading to slumps and strikeouts. The free-agent signing of Michael Tucker and the re-signing of Jeffrey Hammonds throw two more obstacles in Linden's way to San Francisco. He'll likely return to Triple-A Fresno for 2004.
Big league injuries and his good command made Correia the first player from the 2002 draft to reach the majors. He didn't even play baseball while at Grossmont (Calif.) JC in 1999, but transferred to Cal Poly and was its top pitcher in 2001 and 2002. A good athlete, Correia throws strikes with three average pitches. His fastball usually sits in the 88-92 mph range, and he has good sink on his fastball and changeup when he's going right. His slider has fringe average movement, but he usually throws it where he wants it. He's aggressive and fearless. Correia doesn't have a plus pitch, and unless he develops one he's destined for the back of the rotation or the bullpen. His relative inexperience shows with inconsistent mechanics, which lead to him leaving his fastball and slider up in the zone. Correia went to spring training with a chance to become the No. 5 starter. If he doesn't, he could return to Fresno to start or stick in San Francisco as a middle reliever.
The Giants weren't sure if Ishikawa was ready for a full-season league in 2003 but decided to send him to low Class A rather than keep him in extended spring training. After many strikeouts and struggles, he matched his regular-season output with an organization-record six homers in 60 instructional league at-bats in the fall. Ishikawa received a $955,000 signing bonus because the Giants believe in his bat. He has a smooth lefthanded swing that remind some in the organization of John Olerud, and he has more raw power. A high school wide receiver, Ishikawa has good actions around the bag at first base. Ishikawa was overmatched in low Class A, leading to some confidence problems. He didn't have a consistent approach at the plate, leading to hot and cold streaks. He took some of his bad at-bats into the field, helping account for 16 errors. Ishikawa needs to reestablish his confidence back at Hagerstown. He's off the fast track, but not off the radar, with a San Francisco ETA of late 2006.
Whitaker catapulted into the first round of the 2003 draft with an April no-hitter that featured 14 strikeouts and concluded with a mid-90s fastball. He signed for $975,000, eschewing a scholarship offer from Texas A&M. Whitaker isn't quite a classic Texas fireballer, but while he lacks the sturdy build of the Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens/Kerry Wood/Josh Beckett lineage, he has the electric fastball. Long, lithe and lanky, he pumps easy mid-90s heat with a quick arm action. His curveball has as much potential as his fastball. When he stays on top of it, it's a potential 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, with excellent power and depth. "Raw as rain," in the words of one Giants staffer, Whitaker has a lot to learn about the craft of pitching. He has to be more consistent with his delivery to avoid the elbow pain that sidelined him after just five innings of Rookie ball. His changeup needs work. Whitaker is behind Matt Cain at a similar stage of their careers, but his ceiling is just as high. If he has a strong, healthy spring training, he could start 2004 in low Class A. More likely, he'll go to extended spring before heading to short-season Salem-Keizer.
Lewis remains one of the organization's more raw players, owing to his playing more football than baseball at Mississippi Gulf Coast JC. He spent one year at Southern and made as much progress between instructional league in 2002 and 2003 as any Giants farmhand. The fastest runner in the system, Lewis' speed rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He worked extensively with former Giants outfielder Darren Lewis (no relation) to improve his reads and jumps in the outfield and to become a better baserunner. Club officials say Lewis' 2003 numbers don't do justice to the juice in his bat and his good raw power. He earns comparisons to former all-star Devon White. Lewis drew a good number of walks in his first full season, but the Giants say that happened by accident. His inexperience leaves him with little feel for the strike zone, which is why his raw power hasn't translated into game power yet. He has work to do turning his speed into stolen bases and making more consistent contact. Lewis needs time to mature physically and emotionally. He'll move up to high Class A in 2004 and could be ready by mid-2006.
Buscher comes from a baseball family, as his father, uncle and brother all played professionally. Brian was drafted twice and starred at Central Florida Community College before transferring to South Carolina. He helped lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back College World Series trips and won the 2003 Southeastern Conference batting title at .393. Buscher has a consistent approach at the plate, using a short swing to hit line drives from gap to gap. He doesn't give away at-bats, is hard to strike out and is always taking extra swings in the cage. Defensively, he's reliable at third base with an accurate arm. Buscher didn't hit for power in his pro debut because he doesn't pull the ball well right now. Down the line he projects to hit 10-15 homers annually. He doesn't run particularly well. Buscher could move quickly if he starts turning on balls and showing more pop. The Giants, who see him as a lefthanded-hitting Joe Randa, already have challenged him by starting his pro career in low Class A. He could begin 2004 in Double-A with a strong showing in spring training.
Jennings reminds some Giants officials of Craig Biggio, both with his facial resemblance and the positions he has played, though he doesn't have Biggio's offensive upside or power. The Giants plan to keep him at catcher, which Jennings first played as a freshman at Long Beach State. Jennings also played some second and third base as well as outfield for the 49ers. He produced a solid debut in the short-season Northwest League but missed instructional league after suffering a concussion in a plate collision during the playoffs. Wiry strong and athletic, Jennings has a strong arm and led the NWL by throwing out 39 percent of basestealers. He has to prove he can hold up under the daily grind of catching a full season while also showing more pop and on-base ability than he did at Salem-Keizer. Jennings is a line-drive hitter who tends to get too pull-conscious, but the Giants also feel his power was somewhat masked by cavernous Blair Field in college. He may skip a level and begin his first full pro season in high Class A.
Schierholtz grew up in San Francisco's East Bay as a Giants fan. When he wasn't drafted in 2002, he seemed set to attend Utah before a strong summer with an American Legion team in Danville, Calif., convinced him to try the junior college route. The Giants found him at Chabot Junior College, where farm/scouting director Dick Tidrow pitched before signing with the Indians in 1967. While other clubs didn't project Schierholtz as an early pick, he wowed San Francisco officials with a .400-18-60 freshman season, ranking second among California juco players in homers. Schierholtz sealed their decision with a prodigious workout at Pac Bell Park prior to the draft. The Giants also popped him early to sway him from a commitment to Long Beach State. Schierholtz was drafted for his offense and has a quick bat that produces as much raw power as any Giants farmhand. He has shown good plate coverage and the ability to hit breaking balls. However, the speed of the pro game sometimes catches up with Schierholtz in the field, where he's raw. His hands are stiff at third base, and while he has arm strength, he needs polish with his footwork and other nuances of playing the position. One Giants official said Schierholtz reminded him most of former all-star slugger Larry Parrish, who started at third base and eventually moved to right field. Schierholtz will play in low Class A this year.
One of the most enigmatic prospects in baseball, Threets may be the game's hardest thrower. He reportedly has been clocked as high at 103 mph. But one San Francisco official compares him to Steve Dalkowski, a minor league legend in the 1950s and '60s. While Dalkowski also was a wild, flamethrowing lefty, that's not a flattering comparison--he never reached the majors. Threets has shown flashes of control in the past, and finally started to do so in games that count in the second half of 2003 at low Class A. In one August outing he needed just 54 pitches to work five innings, his longest stint of the season. He worked closely with Hagerstown pitching coach Bob Stanley, who lowered Threets' hands in his delivery and tried to get him to relax. Late in instructional league, Threets lowered his arm slot a bit, and the results continued to be encouraging. After signing him out of the Cape Cod League in 2000, the Giants immediately raised his angle from his natural slot, which was nearly sidearm. That jumped his fastball from the low 90s range to triple digits. If Threets ever throws consistent strikes, he could be the game's premier lefthanded reliever, combining intimidating size, unhittable heat with movement and a power slider. He'll try to put it all together at Double-A in 2004.
Niekro carries a .313 career average as a minor leaguer, and his swing, offensive potential and big league bloodlines (his father Joe and uncle Phil won 539 big league games between them as knuckleballers) have the Giants encouraged that he'll help in the majors soon. The evidence, however, points toward him doing so as a role player rather than as a middle-of-the-lineup regular. Once touted as a power prospect, Niekro has just a .431 slugging percentage in the minors. He has gap power in his swing but isn't selective enough to hit home runs. While San Francisco lauds his aggressiveness, he doesn't do enough else of value beyond hitting for average. His speed and defense are below average, and a constant stream of injuries have pushed him from third base to first. Niekro has yet to play a full season, thanks to right shoulder surgery in 2001, a broken left hand in 2002 and a strained right hamstring in 2003. Added to the 40-man roster this offseason, Niekro could use more minor league time. The resigning of J.T. Snow probably means Niekro will return to Fresno in 2004.
Lowry reached the major leagues in a hurry, needing just 221 minor league innings before reaching Pac Bell Park. Even shoulder soreness in 2002 and a lackluster performance in Double-A last year didn't slow him down much. He didn't miss a start after being pushed to Norwich but didn't show the stuff he flashed in high Class A, perhaps a lingering affect of his shoulder problems. Lowry has shown a low-90s fastball and plus curveball in the past, but neither was in evidence in the first half of 2003 as the California native struggled with the New England weather and a poor defense behind him. He survived with a good changeup and good command, which stems from his ability to repeat his delivery and arm slot. Lowry didn't use his breaking ball as much last year and he seemed to suffer for it as lefties batted .299 against him. As the year went on, Lowry improved dramatically. Counting his six near-perfect big league innings, he posted a 1.85 ERA in his last 39 innings at three levels. He figures to start 2004 in Triple-A and needs to carry his late improvement over a full season.
McNiven got plenty of exposure in 2002 as a college teammate of Rockies first-round pick Jeff Francis. A veteran of Canadian junior national teams, he has projection remaining despite signing as a senior. The Giants see him developing into a power sinker/slider pitcher in the middle of their rotation. McNiven's pitcher's body is one source of their optimism. He has long arms and legs and plenty of room to fill out physically. He has a loose arm and throws an easy 88-92 mph fastball from a three-quarters delivery, getting good tailing and sinking action when he keeps it down. While his delivery is smooth, San Francisco believes some adjustments (such as getting better extension on his follow-through) and physical maturity will have McNiven throwing harder in 2004. His late-biting, low-80s slider has the potential to be an out pitch. He also throws a hard curveball that serves as his changeup. McNiven's strong instructional league peformance--eight scoreless innings with seven strikeouts--could springboard him to high Class A for his first full season.
Knoedler finally has settled behind the plate. He starred at catcher for Lincoln Land (Ill.) Community College in 1999-2000, winning the National Junior College Athletic Association championship and player-of-the-year award as a sophomore. He didn't sign as a Giants 13th-round pick in 2000, opting to transfer to Miami, where he played both ways and had much more success as a backstop. San Francisco signed Knoedler as fifth-rounder in 2001 and immediately made him a full-time pitcher. But the organization's dearth of catchers prompted the Giants to move him back behind the plate in 2002. Knoedler, whose twin brother Jason is an outfielder in the Tigers system, made great strides offensively last year to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. He overhauled his swing, straightening up his stance and showing the ability to catch up to inside pitches. His natural strength gives him average power, and he runs well and has good athleticism for his position. Arm strength is Knoedler's best tool--the Giants rate his an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale--and he led Cal League regulars by throwing out 40 percent of basestealers. His receiving and blocking skills are average. Aside from his arm, Knoedler's greatest asset may be his throwback mentality and work ethic. If his bat develops more, the Giants see him as a starter in the big leagues. His big arm should make him at least a quality backup. He'll make the jump to Double-A in 2004.
The Giants scored with several nondrafted free agents in 2003, including Alaska League star Jeremy Accardo, short-season Northwest League ERA leader Jesse Floyd and NWL co-home run champ Brad Vericker. The best of the group is Armitage, who signed out of the Cape Cod League for $25,000, enough money to cover his final year at the University of Georgia. He signed too late to make his pro debut but made his mark with a Giants instructional league club that went 22-0-2. Armitage redshirted as a college freshman and was the Bulldogs' starting shortstop in 2002 before moving to center field last spring. He has middle-of-the-field tools, grading out as average or above across the board, with the exception of his arm. Despite hitting just nine homers in his college career, Armitage has big raw power, especially from the left side, and he can put on batting-practice displays. He shortened his swing with wood bats on the Cape, which unleashed some of his power. He also showed a good plate approach on the Cape and runs well for his size, though he profiles better in right field than in center. Look for him to start 2004 in high Class A.
In an organization thin on middle-infield prospects, Athas had an encouraging, bounce-back season in 2003. He was the everyday shortstop in Double-A and really came on in the second half to claim a spot on the Giants' 40-man roster. Athas has solid athletic ability but doesn't have a tool that stands out in either a good or bad way. He has a smooth lefthanded swing with minimal power, but he found a groove and hit safely in 24 of his final 26 games. He crowds the plate and gets hit by pitches to boost his on-base percentage, though he lacks the speed to take advantage on the basepaths. Athas spent the regular season at shortstop and has smooth actions, but played second base in the Arizona Fall League and profiles better on the right side of the bag because of his footwork. On either side, he earns comparisons to Mike Bordick, a fellow New Englander who got the most out of his tools. He'll probably play second base in Triple-A this year, though he may see time at shortstop if Cody Ransom makes the big league club.
Woolard has known nothing but success in baseball, and he finished strong after stumbled a bit for the first time in 2003. At Coatesville (Pa.) Area High, he went two years without losing a game. In college, he led Kutztown (Pa.) State to the NCAA Division II College World Series and was that level's pitcher of the year in 2002, when he was its national leader in wins (14-2, 2.81) and strikeouts (148 in 106 innings). The key for Woolard is a devastating knuckle-curve that he throws at varying speeds. He commands the pitch well and can throw it in or out of the strike zone. Woolard also has a good changeup and attacks lefthanders well, holding them to a .210 average in 2003. His fastball, however, will decide whether he can become the No. 4 starter the Giants project him as. He throws an average 89-91 mph four-seamer and needs to keep it down in the strike zone. He could use more strength and toughness. He wore down physically during his first full season and lost confidence during a midseason slump before rebounding in his last two starts, during which he struck out 16 in 15 scoreless innings. Woolard could skip a level to Double-A with a good spring.
Misch got caught in Houston's temporary draft embargo in 2002. Shortly after taking him in the fifth round, the Astros suspended negotiations with all their unsigned picks, and he decided to return to Western Michigan for his senior year after posting a 1.34 ERA in the Cape Cod League. Poised for a big year in 2003, Misch stumbled instead and went 3-4, 4.42. He's a lefthander who pounds the strike zone and pitches inside aggressively with average stuff, and his approach works much better against wood bats. He was a strikeout pitcher for Western Michigan, setting single-game (19), season (99) and career (265) school records for whiffs, but pitches more like Kirk Rueter. Misch throws an 86-89 mph fastball for strikes and moves it all over the zone. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. None stands out consistently, though he gets strikeouts with his breaking pitches. Misch may start his first full season in high Class A and could move quickly through a system starved for lefthanded pitching after trading Ryan Hannaman, Francisco Liriano, Damian Moss and John Thomas in 2003.
Ransom, whose younger brother Troy was a reliever at Hagerstown last season, has been a regular on Giants prospect lists throughout his career, owing more to his defense than offense. If he ever had hit with more consistency, he would have become a major league regular by now. That may never happen, but his glove is so good that he still merits mention as a prospect. One major league scout said Ransom would be the best defensive shortstop in the National League if the Giants were to give him the starting job for 2004. He's out of options and could compete with Neifi Perez to replace Rich Aurilia. Ransom has excellent range and a plus-plus arm that allows him to make plays in the hole with ease. He has spent the last three seasons at Triple-A Fresno, hitting 23 homers there in 2001, when the Grizzlies played at cozy Beiden Field, and 25 combined the last two seasons. He runs OK and draws a few walks. He did cut down on his strikeouts in 2003, but Ransom's best-case scenario is as a .240 hitter with modest power. Combine that with his offense, and he'd be more valuable than Perez.
Habel is the 2003 version of Jeff Clark, a soft-tossing minor leaguer who earned a look as a prospect because of his performance. While Habel didn't have much success at Northern Iowa with a 6.69 ERA in four seasons, he did have two solid summers in the wood-bat Northwoods League. He doesn't have the power arm of the typical Giants prospect, but he's lefthanded and throws strikes. He pushed his way into Hagerstown's rotation last June and pitched scoreless ball in five of his final 13 starts to make the South Atlantic League all-star team. He emulates Jamie Moyer by commanding a high-80s fastball and a plus changeup. One San Francisco official rated Habel's changeup an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale because of its deception, command and movement down in the zone. Habel will need to further develop his breaking ball to stay in the rotation. He'll advance to high Class A this year as the Giants hope he has more staying power than Clark, who faded after a breakout 2002.
Chavez doesn't get anyone overly excited, but he showed steady progress while making the transition from third base to shortstop last year. He repeated high Class A and improved in nearly every statistical category. He has the physical ability to play shortstop, with good hands, solid range and a plus arm that ranks as his best tool. At times, Chavez lays back on balls and relies too much on his arm, but he started to correct that as the season wore on. The question will be his bat, as is the case with other Giants middle-infield prospects such as Jamie Athas, Cody Ransom, Tim Hutting and Jake Wald. Like Ransom, Chavez is a free swinger with some power. Nine of his 10 homers last year came away from San Jose's spacious Municipal Stadium. He might have shown even more power if not for a left thumb injury in June. Chavez reduced his strikeouts in 2003 but never will be a walk machine. The Giants will know more about Chavez' bat after he moves to Double-A this year.
Ellison made a big leap forward in 2002, skipping Double-A and having a solid Triple-A season. He leveled out last year, and the Giants are pretty sure he's going to be a steady fourth or fifth outfielder who works hard and is limited by his fringy offensive tools. Ellison is the latest big leaguer San Francisco found at NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State, following Marvin Benard, Keith Foulke and Steve Reed, among others. Like Benard, Ellison can play all three outfield spots. His best tool is his strong arm. Ellison runs well enough to be a threat offensively, though he's not an efficient basestealer. Ellison would do well to take more walks and play the little man's game. He has some juice for a man his size, but he'll never hit for real power in the majors. He makes the Top 30 over 1998 first-round pick Tony Torcato, who has defensive shortcomings and has regressed offensively due to a lack of plate discipline and repeated shoulder injuries. With San Francisco's re-signing of Jeffrey Hammond and offseason acquisitions of Dustan Mohr and Michael Tucker, Ellison probably will spend most of 2004 in Triple-A.
Valderrama has been one of the Giants' better outfield prospects for years, and ranked in the top 10 before a rotator cuff injury to his right shoulder in 2001 stunted his progress. His arm is healthy, though its strength hasn't quite come back to where it used to be and now grades as average or a tick below. More important, the injury cost him a year of development time, and he had to spend much of 2002 in high Class A because he was limited to DH. Ready for the outfield again in 2003, Valderrama showed tools that tease the Giants but continued to display maddening inconsistency. He isn't an efficient defender in center field, which is where he needs to play because he lacks the power for an outfield corner. However, he seems to think he is a power hitter and doesn't take full advantage of his plus speed. Valderrama had a strong winter in his native Venezuela, but must produce more in the United States before San Francisco considers him anything more than a fourth outfielder. He's ticketed for a full season in Triple-A this year.
A cousin of White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand and Devil Rays minor league righthander Jamie Shields, Hutting is best described as a ballplayer. He's a scrappy, hard worker who doesn't look like a shortstop but makes all the plays. Hutting has quick feet and a good arm, and the Giants believe he can remain at shortstop if he can learn to stay wide on ground balls and keep his body low. They expect him to improve in 2004 once he's fully recovered from a right knee injury that caused him to miss a month of the college season. Offensively, Hutting made great strides at the plate in instructional league. His offensive approach in college, dictated by Long Beach's power-sapping Blair Field, was to dink and dunk balls the other way. He started to use his strong upper body to turn on pitches in the fall and profiles as a No. 2 hitter because of his bat control and ability to bunt. Hutting will play in low Class A in 2004.
The Giants' recent track record in Latin America hasn't been impressive. Just three of their signees are on the 40-man roster, and none of them (Angel Chavez, Yorvit Torrealba, Carlos Valderrama) looks like a future regular. Yet San Francisco hasn't given up. Acosta was one of several intriguing Dominican arms on its Rookie-level Arizona League club in 2003. He's understandably raw and primarily operates off his fastball. However, his heater could be special, as he touches 96-97 mph. Acosta also shows the makings of a power slider, which he throws in the upper 80s. He hasn't learned to change speed but has plenty of time to do so. His arm strength and age give him a slight edge over fellow righty Carlos Villanueva, who has an advanced feel for pitching for a 20-year-old Dominican and throws in the 89-92 mph range with good control. How Acosta performs this spring will determine if the Giants send him to low Class A.
After Jon Armitage, Accardo may have the most upside of the Giants' 2003 class of non-drafted college players. Accardo ranked eighth in the Alaska League in batting (.290-2-21) while playing shortstop and batting third for Athletics In Action. He also pitched in college and is Illinois State's career saves leader with 12. It was on the mound where he enticed the Giants. Pitching in Alaska's season-ending wood bat tournament in front of dozens of scouts, Accardo threw an easy 92-93 mph fastball and supplemented it with a plus slider. Suddenly in demand after going undrafted in June, Accardo signed with San Francisco after the National Baseball Congress World Series rather than return to Illinois State for his senior year. He touched some 95s during instructional league. He has to learn many of the nuances of pitching, and the Giants will give him innings to do so in the low Class A rotation this year. He profiles as a power bullpen arm down the line.
The Giants have gone to the Louisiana State well for pitchers several times recently, with mixed results. Righty Jake Esteves had too many arm injuries to make it to the majors, but fellow righty Kurt Ainsworth overcame Tommy John surgery to reach San Francisco. Ainsworth went to the Orioles in the Sidney Ponson trade, leaving Wilson and reliever Billy Sadler, a 2003 draftee with plenty of arm strength but less pitchability, as the LSU representatives in the Giants system. Wilson might have been a supplemental first-round pick if he hadn't blown out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in April. LSU coaches were stunned when he signed as a 24th-round pick. When healthy, Wilson has shown a 90-93 mph fastball and a plus curveball. If his rehabilitation goes as scheduled, he'll work in extended spring training before reporting to Salem-Keizer in June.