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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's 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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 and 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. 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. Martinez-Esteve had average arm strength before he had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn right labrum. It's unclear how his arm will come back. He already had earned a reputation as an indifferent defender in college. His routes and instincts will have to improve to make him a passable left fielder. The Giants aren't in a hurry to replace their current left fielder, so Martinez-Esteve will have time to learn the position. His bat could expedite his route to San Francisco. He'll start 2005 down the road at San Jose.
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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. A fierce competitor, Whitaker has a lanky build that reminds San Francisco of former farmhand Joe Nathan. Whitaker's fastball is 90-95 mph now with more velocity to come as he fills out. 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. Maturity and experience should 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 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.
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. 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. 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 of his slider. The Giants were encouraged that his slider came around in the fall, when he kept his delivery more compact. San Francisco had few other options in its depleted bullpen to open the 2004 season, so Aardsma was rushed. The return of his slider would make him a candidate to set up Armando Benitez in San Francisco this season.
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 second-largest San Francisco ever has given a hitter out of the draft. 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. 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. 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.
The Giants pushed Misch aggressively in 2004, and he responded better than anyone could have expected. Signed as a senior in the seventh round the year before--after failing to come to terms with the Astros as a fifth-rounder in 2002--Misch skipped two levels and pitched in Double-A. San Francisco counted on his maturity and savvy command of a four-pitch mix to help him survive the jump. Misch was Norwich's most consistent pitcher, only twice failing to reach the fifth inning, and he tied fellow Giant Alfredo Simon for the minor league lead with four complete games and three shutouts. At times, all four of Misch's offerings are average big league pitches. His curveball and changeup are usually his best offerings, and he commands them as well as his 86-89 mph fastball and his slider to all four quadrants of the strike zone. Though he set Western Michigan records for whiffs in a game (19), season (99) and career (265), Misch won't be a big strikeout pitcher as a pro. He's similar to Giants mainstay Kirk Rueter. Misch will begin this year in Triple-A and should be among the first pitchers promoted when San Francisco needs reinforcements.
Coming into 2004, the Giants considered Ortmeier their top position-player prospect because of his combination of usable skills, hustle and tools. They still regard him highly, but want to see him have a healthy season to know what kind of big leaguer he'll be. His all-out style already had led to shoulder problems in the past, and three separate injuries hampered him for most of last year. He put Reading catcher Carlos Ruiz in the hospital after a home-plate collision May 5 that injured his shoulder. He missed a week and he wasn't the same player when he returned, as his average dropped 36 points in a month. Ortmeier missed more time in July with a left wrist injury, though an MRI revealed no significant damage. His season came to an early end Aug. 16 when he collided with Norwich second baseman Jay Pecci while chasing a popup, giving him a concussion. The injuries sapped Ortmeier of his game power, and his ability to translate his above-average raw pop into production will determine whether he becomes an everyday right fielder in the majors. He runs well for his size and has an average right-field arm when at full strength. Ortmeier had more trouble making contact in 2004 than he had in the past, though that may be attributable to his physical problems. He'll probably return to Double-A at the outset of the season.
Bowker missed all of 2002 with a broken right wrist before leading Long Beach State in homers each of the next two seasons. Offensive numbers are often misleading at the 49ers' Blair Field, a pitcher's paradise, but scouts didn't need stats to tell them the ball makes a different sound coming off Bowker's bat. He ranks among the Giants' best pure hitters thanks to above-average bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. He hit safely in 33 of 41 games during his pro debut. If he continues to fill out his athletic body, Bowker has the potential to hit for power and average. He trusts his quick hands, allowing him to wait on pitches and drive them the other way when needed. He isn't a great runner and is limited to an outfield corner, probably left field because his arm is fringe-average. Bowker's lefthanded bat is a nice complement to fellow 2004 draftee Eddy Martinez-Esteve's mashing from the right side. The duo should man the outfield corners in high Class A this year.
Buscher began 2004 late after offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. When he returned, he spent most of his time at DH before getting in a few games at third base late in the year. Buscher's only above-average tool is his ability to hit for average, but his game also lacks any glaring weaknesses. He has hit at every level, and he led the Southeastern Conference with a .393 average in 2003. He has a mature approach and a solid line-drive swing. He uses the whole field and has enough bat speed to catch up to good inside fastballs. Buscher's power is fringe-average, as his swing lacks natural loft. He's fundamentally sound at third base, with nice footwork and the ability to handle bunts well. His arm came back strong toward the end of 2004. Buscher's grinder mentality and quiet confidence make him a classic overachiever. His successful return to third base helped push Nate Schierholtz to the outfield, where his lefthanded bat can move quicker. A healthy Buscher could move fast as well. He'll report to Double-A for 2005.
No position player has been better positioned to break into the Giants' lineup the last two years, but Linden has failed to prove he can contribute in San Francisco. After bursting on the scene in 2002, he finished his first pro season in Triple-A--and has been mostly stuck at Fresno ever since. A .186 hitter in his cups of coffee with the Giants, Linden has been unable to make adjustments, forcing the club to go with stopgap corner outfielders such as Michael Tucker. He has yet to temper his all-or-nothing approach, as he sells out for home runs and makes it easy for pitchers to exploit the holes in his swing. He led the system with 149 strikeouts last year and continued to have difficulty making contact in Venezuela in winter ball. Linden does have above-average power from both sides of the plate, and enough athleticism and arm strength to play solid defense at either corner-outfield spot. He'll be waiting in Triple-A if 39-year-old Moises Alou or 40-year-old Barry Bonds breaks down in San Francisco.
While Knoedler caught in college until a broken left hand sidelined him in 2001, Giants scouts loved his power arm and were afraid his funky, high-maintenance swing wouldn't allow him to hit with wood. They moved him to the mound after he signed, but their catching shortage led them to put him back behind the plate in 2002, and two years later Knoedler reached the majors. It's quite an accomplishment for the organization's ultimate overachiever and hardest worker. Knoedler is also one of the Giants' strongest players, spending his offseasons in workouts with his twin brother Jason, a minor league outfielder for the Tigers, and the Dodgers' Jayson Werth. Knoedler's strength allows him to handle the demands of his position, and he led the Double-A Eastern League with 102 games caught in 2004. He has well above-average arm strength, and does a capable job of receiving and blocking pitches. He progressed with the bat last year, showing average power and hitting a career-best .274 while working from a simpler, more upright stance. He was more consistent with his swing and tinkered less, though he still has holes. San Francisco's signing of Mike Matheny blocks Knoedler for the short term, and he'll head to Triple-A in 2005.
The Giants haven't had a middle-infield prospect of note since trading Mike Caruso to the White Sox in 1997. They have high hopes for Sanders, whose athletic ability and offensive potential make him a different animal from the likes of Cody Ransom, Jamie Athas and Angel Chavez, failed San Francisco infield prospects of the recent past. Sanders was a shortstop until he injured his right shoulder playing wide receiver at Sarasota (Fla.) High. Though he had shoulder surgery, San Francisco drafted him in the 17th round in 2003. He signed as a draft-and-follow after leading Florida juco players with 44 steals at South Florida Community College last spring. In his pro debut, Sanders was the igniter and best prospect on the Giants' Rookie-level affiliate that won the Arizona League title. He led the AZL in runs and steals and is the fastest runner in the organization, with 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. More than just a speedster, Sanders has enough bat speed and strength in his wiry frame to make him a dangerous line-drive hitter with enough power to keep pitchers honest. He's a patient hitter who also knows when to be aggressive. He has some smoothness to his infield actions as well, though his hands could be softer. He'll head to low Class A for his first full season.
A three-year starter at Central Florida, Timpner batted .371 and led the Atlantic Sun Conference in hits (96), doubles (20), triples (six) and steals (43) last spring. His track record and solid all-around tools prompted the Giants to draft him in the fourth round. He finished a strong pro debut by joining Fred Lewis and Eddy Martinez-Esteve in San Jose's outfield for the California League playoffs. He instantly became the best defensive outfielder in the system, as he's more accomplished than Lewis in center field. Timpner has above-average speed and maximizes his range by getting great jumps and taking good routes. His arm is average. He's an efficient basestealer who reads pitchers well, and he already is one of the better baserunners in the organization. San Francisco doesn't expect him to hit for power at the big league level, but still isn't sure how much he'll drive the ball or if he'll be a slap hitter. Timpner doesn't try to muscle up for home runs and was tired at season's end, but he had enough left to hit .367 in the playoffs. His bat will determine whether he can be an everyday center fielder or just a useful extra outfielder. He figures to return to high Class A to start 2005.
The Giants' knack for finding power arms in unlikely places led them to sign Accardo in the summer of 2003. Accardo had served as Illinois State's closer and earned a school-record 12 career saves, but he was better known as a shortstop and wasn't drafted. His velocity increased during a summer stint in the Alaska League, where San Francisco clocked his fastball at 92-93 mph. The Giants signed him before he returned to Illinois State for his senior year. Accardo settled into the 90-93 range in high Class A last year and touched 95. The Giants were impressed with how he held up under the workload of being a full-time closer, and he led the California League in saves despite a brief callup to Double-A. Accardo still can get better, as he worked off his fastball for most of 2004. He should get better at commanding it as he learns to keep his front shoulder closed and tries not to overthrow. His slider showed flashes and can be a plus pitch, but he didn't throw it for strikes consistently and was left without a strikeout pitch. He tinkered with a cutter and splitter. As he moves up, he'll need one of his secondary pitches to at least be average. His athletic ability, durability and potential fastball command project Accardo as a set-up man who could help the Giants soon.
The Giants have gone to the Louisiana State well repeatedly in recent years, drafting such Tigers stalwarts as Jake Esteves, Todd Linden, Brian Wilson and Sadler. Sadler spent time as LSU's closer, but profiles as a set-up man because he lacks command of his power pitches. A smallish, aggressive competitor, he has a big arm. He pitches at 92-94 mph and touches 96 with his fastball, though the pitch can arrive on a flat plane because he's just six feet tall. Sadler's curveball can be a plus pitch at times and he has a resilient arm, leading the system with 60 appearances last year. Fiery and emotional, Sadler tends to get himself into trouble when he gets too amped up and loses his mechanics. He overthrows his fastball at times, leaving it up in the zone, and tends to lose his arm slot, causing him to get underneath his curve. Sadler has swing-and-miss stuff, though, and big league managers covet power set-up men. Sadler should team with closer Jeremy Accardo again in 2005, this time in Double-A.
The son of Joe and nephew of Hall of Famer Phil, Niekro once seemed destined for a long major league career of his own. Like Todd Linden, he starred in the Cape Cod League prior to signing and has been on the verge of earning a job in San Francisco for a couple of years. But Niekro has been waylaid by injuries, including right shoulder surgery (2001), a broken left hand (2002) and hamstring woes (2003) that pushed him to first base after he played third as an amateur. He has seen time at the hot corner the last two seasons, and he was consistent enough making routine plays that the Giants consider him capable of backing up at third in the majors. Niekro's bat was supposed to carry him to San Francisco by now, but he showed an alarming lack of power before 2004. He added a high right ankle sprain to his medical chart in spring training, but he got hot once he returned to the field, slugging a career-high .554. He has bat speed and leverage in his swing, and he unlocked his power once he became more selective. If Pedro Feliz falters, Niekro could enter the picture in a similar role as a reserve at first, third and left field. He'll return to Triple-A to start the season.
Nicknamed "the Blade" for his slender build, Burres emerged in his second high Class A season and could help the Giants address their lack of lefthanded pitching. He was on track to be a situational lefty, but struggled at the beginning of 2004. His curveball got too loopy, and his 84-89 mph fastball and decent changeup weren't enough for him to be effective. But once he got a chance to start in mid-June after Matt Cain's promotion to Double-A, Burres took to a new cut fastball he learned from San Jose pitching coach Trevor Wilson and suddenly became the team's ace. He won nine of his last 10 starts, including the last seven in a row, and went 12-0, 1.87 as a member of the rotation. His stunning success was the product of painting the outer half of the strike zone with his fastball and pounding hitters inside with his cutter. He ran out of gas in the California League playoffs, but he'll report to Double-A as a starter in 2005 and see if he can repeat his late-season magic.
On the second day of the 2004 draft, San Francisco looked to NAIA power Ohio Dominican for a pair of picks, taking Sanchez in the 27th round and righthander Benny Cepeda in the 48th. Sanchez, who holds school records for strikeouts in a game (16), season (105) and career (311), helped pitch the Panthers to three straight NAIA World Series from 2001-03. He impressed the Giants with his aptitude in instructional league, then drew the attention of scouts in winter ball by having one of the best fastballs in a down year in his native Puerto Rico. Sanchez has a loose, quick arm that generates 92-94 mph heat despite his slight frame. His fastball is a swing-and-miss pitch when he commands it. He has to iron out his mechanics and hone his curveball. Sanchez also will have to work on his changeup to remain a starter in pro ball. He'll pitch in the low Class A rotation in 2005.
Broshuis endeared himself to Giants minor league pitching coordinator Bert Bradley because he shares Bradley's idea of pitching: throw quality strikes early in the count, no matter what your velocity. Broshuis doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his advanced feel for pitching helped him go from the fifth round last June to high Class A in a month. He didn't stick around for the playoffs or instructional league, returning to Missouri to finish his psychology degree. Broshuis went 11-0, 2.61 for the Tigers last spring after lowering his arm slot from overhand to three-quarters. He sacrificed velocity and ended up throwing in the 87-89 mph range, but he gained good movement on his sinker. The new arm slot also prompted him to switch from a curveball to a slider. He already has good feel for the slider, an average pitch, adding and subtracting velocity as needed. His changeup is solid, and Broshuis moves all three pitches around the strike zone. He's a good athlete who fields his position well and has a good pickoff move. He'll return to San Jose for 2005, where he'll need to show a little less respect for hitters and return to his attacking style.
No pitcher in the system came as far last year as Munter, who zoomed from low Class A in 2003 to Triple-A and a spot on the 40-man roster. He has battled his weight, which at one point reached 270 pounds. As he's gotten in better shape, he has improved his mechanics, which in turn helped him start to command his heavy sinker. One Giants official compared Munter's sinker to a bowling ball thrown out of a helicopter. He throws it in the low 90s and reaches 95 mph, using his 6-foot-6 frame to deliver it at a steep downward angle. Munter had an impressive 147-41 groundball-flyball ratio in 2004, allowing just five homers. He also has a hard slider that's an average pitch. He went to the Arizona Fall League to work on his changeup, and made enough progress for the Giants to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Munter has a shot at a big league bullpen job in spring training.
The Giants had no depth at catcher two years ago and hoped Jennings would fill the void. They're not giving up on him by any means, but they consider 2004 a wasted year. Sent to high Class A to start the season, he hurt his right shoulder, which sapped his arm strength, eroded his confidence and eventually robbed him of his ability to drive the ball. Jennings became his own worst critic and didn't show his past form until he went to short-season Salem-Keizer. Wiry strong, he has more pop than he has shown as a pro. More athletic than most catchers, he also played second and third base and the outfield at Long Beach State. He has a solid arm, getting the ball to second base in roughly 2.0 seconds. Jennings has to prove he's healthy and can handle the daily grind of catching in Class A this year, and he may see some time at other positions as well. Adding strength and regaining his confidence are his biggest needs.
Signed in a rare Giants venture into Venezuela, Sandoval is a catch-and-throw specialist who shows the ability to receive and block well. He impressed Arizona League managers last summer with how well he handled the oldest pitching staff in the league. San Francisco believes he can play an important role in the future if he can keep his pudgy body in check. He's believed to weigh as much as 40 pounds more than his listed weight of 180, which hinders his bat speed and offensive potential. Sandoval has athletic ability and hand-eye coordination, but his size isn't translating to power, and he has to become more patient as well. A switch-hitter, he also can throw with either arm. His (right) arm isn't overly strong, but it's accurate and he threw out 30 percent of basestealers last year. If Sandoval comes to spring training in shape, he could share the catching duties in low Class A.
Mooney's stock is on the rise after he hit .375 in a banner instructional league performance. The Giants took him in the 16th round after he won Northern California juco player of the year honors in 2003, when he hit .436 with 22 homers at the College of San Mateo. He was an all-star in the Arizona League last summer, but he was much too old for Rookie ball at age 21. He was placed there because of the shortage of visas for minor league players last year, which made it difficult for the Giants to fill out rosters with lower-level players. Mooney has a strong body and average bat speed, and if he learns the strike zone he should hit for above-average power. He's an average runner and can become an asset in right field with more experience. His plus arm is the best among the system's outfielders. Mooney plays the game hard but his youth shows through at times, and he needs to handle both success and failure better. He should be the everyday right fielder this year in low Class A.
The Giants haven't made many forays into independent ball, but Begg might encourage them to scout the indy ranks for pitching in the future. He spent three years in the Frontier, Northeast and Northern leagues before San Francisco brought him into Organized Ball in July 2003. He has breezed through high Class A and Double-A with a combined 15-3, 2.34 record, but he struggled mightily in Triple-A. Begg took some time off last summer to pitch in the Olympics, where he took the defeat in Canada's semifinal loss to Cuba. He doesn't have big stuff, working in the high 80s and only touching 90 with his two-seam fastball, but he has excellent command. He's a sinker-slider pitcher, and his changeup can be average at times. Begg gave Triple-A hitters too much credit, and got pounded when he uncharacteristically fell behind in the count. He can't be afraid to pitch inside but must do so judiciously. He has a chance to become a No. 5 starter in the majors, but middle relief is a more realistic aspiration.
Giants fans have been teased by rare Threets sightings since he reportedly reached 103 mph in instructional league following the 2001 season. Command and injury problems have limited him to 89 innings over the last three years, and he missed all of 2004 after May surgery to repair a small labrum tear in his shoulder. Threets was able to throw in the bullpen last fall, and his fastball was back in the mid- to upper 90s. That was enough for San Francisco to protect him on the 40-man roster for a second straight year. With his fastball and a power slider, Threets has the raw stuff to become a premier reliever. But the emphasis is on the word "raw." He has walked nearly a batter per inning as a pro and has little feel for the strike zone. He also throws across his body, which doesn't bode well for his health. The Giants have tinkered with his delivery to try to smooth him out, but Threets hasn't stayed on the mound enough to put his new mechanics to use.