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The Memphis area has become a hotbed for baseball talent, and two of its best prep products reached the major leagues in 2005 as Cain and the Pirates' Paul Maholm broke through. With all due respect to Maholm, Cardinals farmhand Stuart Pomeranz (Cain's former Houston High teammate) and the rest, Cain is clearly the best of that group. He opened 2005 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A and led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts. He made his big league debut Aug. 29 against the Rockies and was impressive in a 2-1 loss. San Francisco won four of his last six starts as he led the majors in opponent batting average (.148) in September. He became the youngest San Francisco Giant ever to spin a complete game when he two-hit the Cubs on Sept. 9. Cain was the youngest player in the National League all season, and only former PCL foil Felix Hernandez was younger in the majors in 2005. Hernandez also is one of the few pitchers in Cain's class in terms of upside. The Giants believe he has the stuff and intangibles to be a No. 1 starter. Cain has the kind of fastball that pitchers dream of, because he throws it hard with relative ease. He can throw it for strikes, and the more he uses it, the better he commands it. Cain realized that in the major leagues, pitched off his fastball and found he could dominate with it. His fastball velocity sits at 93-94 mph with good sinking life, and he can dial it up to 97. His curveball also is a plus pitch, a hard downer in the upper 70s. The Giants mandated that Cain use his changeup more often in 2005. He started to trust it more and it has become a solid-average third pitch. His delivery is fairly clean and repeatable, and he's a student of the game who isn't satisfied with being just good enough. After his first big league start, he was more interested to find out what he needed to do for his next outing than in reveling in his accomplishment. He even handles the bat well. The Giants' biggest worry with Cain is throwing strikes. While he can pitch out of jams, he gets in trouble with walks and also takes himself out of games early because of higher-than-necessary pitch counts. He ranked third in the PCL in walks because he nibbled at hitters too much early in the count, and when he was ahead, he sometimes thought too much about setting them up rather than challenging them. He was more efficient down the stretch as he realized he was better when he attacked hitters relentlessly. Jesse Foppert is the only homegrown Giants pitcher who has approached Cain's stuff in the last decade. However, Cain's mental toughness, dedication and preparation set him apart from Foppert, who got hurt in 2003 and was traded to the Mariners in 2005. Not only is Cain a lock to start for San Francisco in 2006, but he should front the Giants rotation for years to come. He's the player most likely to be the face of the franchise after Barry Bonds' retirement.
Sanders' older brother Frankie reached Triple-A in the Indians system and played with Giants scout Paul Turco Jr. as an amateur. Turco knew Marcus had a high school football injury to his right shoulder but also knew he had athleticism, speed and savvy. The Giants took Sanders in the 17th round in 2003 and signed him a year later as a draft-and-follow. Sanders has game-changing speed. He has excellent instincts on the bases and ranked fifth in the minors in steals while being caught just nine times. When healthy, he has excellent hands and wiry strength, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields. Sanders' bad shoulder didn't make it through the 2005 season. Weakened in the second half, he didn't hit with any power and struggled defensively with 20 arm strength on the 20-80 scale. He had surgery again after the season to clean out the joint. Some scouts see Sanders' arm limiting him to center field, but the Giants want to keep him in the infield--possibly at second base, where he made his pro debut. If he can stay healthy, he should be an impact leadoff hitter. He'll open 2006 at high Class A San Jose.
A Mariners third-round pick out of a Miami high school, Martinez- Esteve didn't sign and had two big seasons at Florida State before the Giants took him with their top pick (second round) in 2004. Martinez- Esteve surprised San Francisco by having offseason shoulder surgery on his own. He was healthy enough to start the 2005 season but didn't play in the outfield until mid-June, and he missed the postseason with a foot injury that isn't considered serious. Martinez-Esteve stands out as the Giants' most polished hitter, with a fluid, efficient swing and a discerning eye at the plate. His bat is quick enough to hit good fastballs, and he's an excellent breaking-ball hitter. He has power to all fields. Being a DH suited Martinez-Esteve too well, considering he's in a National League organization. He lost life in his lower body after a college hamstring injury and has lost arm strength because of his shoulder problems. His lessened athleticism and lack of desire to be a good defender means his entire value stems from his bat. Fortunately for Martinez-Esteve, he really can hit. The Giants will try him at first base and give him a chance in left field at Double-A Connecticut (the Norwich franchise's new name) in 2006.
Since the Giants bought Ishikawa out of his Oregon State commitment with a $955,000 signing bonus as a 21st-round pick in 2002, they have waited for him to break out. He finally did so in 2005, setting career highs across the board to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. The Giants always have believed in Ishikawa's bat and makeup. He's athletic and repeats a balanced, fluid stroke, and his swing has natural leverage that produces power. He's patient and unafraid to work deep into counts. He actually hit better against lefties (.317) than righties (.273) in 2005. He's an excellent defender at first base, with good footwork and fine hands. Ishikawa will strike out a lot because his swing can get long and has some holes. He can be beaten inside by above-average fastballs, and he's still learning to make better adjustments, such as pulling the ball more consistently. He's slowed some as he has filled out physically and is now a below-average runner. The Giants have been patient with Ishikawa, who finally will reach Double-A in his fifth pro season. He projects as a .275 hitter with 20-30 homers annually.
Since being acquired from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz trade prior to 2003, Valdez has tantalized the Giants with his power arm. After earning a brief promotion to the San Francisco bullpen in 2004, he spent most of 2005 as a starter before an elbow strain ended his season in August. At his best, Valdez can be a front-of-the-rotation starter. His fastball can sit in the mid-90s, and if he's throwing strikes with it, he doesn't need much else. His changeup has become his best secondary offering. With a delivery that often gets out of sync, Valdez lacks the body control to throw strikes consistently. His elbow drops when he throws his curveball and slider, neither of which is a dependably average pitch. His mechanics also put too much strain on his elbow, though the injury didn't require surgery. The Giants, often quick to put power arms in the bullpen, have decided to wait and see if Valdez can be an impact starter. Valdez worked on his mechanics in instructional league and was pitching in the Dominican Winter League. He'll start 2006 in the minors but could join the big league rotation later in the year if healthy.
Sanchez starred at NAIA power Ohio Dominican despite a delivery that left him pushing the ball. Scout Sean O'Connor recognized a player with arm strength and mechanics that could be fixed, and the Giants stole Sanchez in the 27th round in 2004. He finished his first full pro season with two electric starts in the high Class A California League playoffs, helping San Jose win the title. Since Sanchez joined the Giants, he has made dramatic progress incorporating his lower half into his delivery. The change has pushed the velocity on his fastball consistently to the 93-94 mph range with excellent life and sink. He has good arm speed on his changeup, which can be a plus pitch. Sanchez' low arm angle means he must be mechanically sound in order to stay on top of his curveball. When he doesn't, his curve flattens out and is hittable. He still needs to be more consistent with his delivery in order to improve his command. With an arm action and velocity reminiscent of Oliver Perez, Sanchez has excited the Giants and could move quickly. He'll return to high Class A to start 2006.
Since being a surprise second-round pick, Schierholtz has made steady progress while switching from third base to right field. In 2005, his first full season in the outfield, he ranked sixth in the California League in batting and tied for the league lead with 15 outfield assists. Schierholtz has above-average raw power from the left side, and should hit more homers as he learns the strike zone and his own swing. His bat speed allows him to wait on his pitch and use the whole field, and he hit .300 or better in every full month of the 2005 season. He runs well for his size. His hand-eye coordination and bat speed make Schierholtz at times too aggressive at the plate, and his strikeout- walk ratio needs improvement. He has a long swing path, but his bat speed has allowed him to succeed with it at lower levels. He took well to the outfield but needs repetitions to become an average defender. Schierholtz also will be worked at first base in case the Giants' outfield glut forces their hand. He'll get his first trip to Double-A in 2006.
Instead of building on a breakthrough 2004 season, when he led the organization in on-base percentage (.424), walks (89) and steals (34), Lewis got off to a miserable start in his first stint in Double-A. His average sat at .223 in early July before he recovered to hit .339 in his final 58 games. A cousin of big league outfielder Matt Lawton, Lewis played wide receiver at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College and Southern. Lewis' bat speed and level swing could make him a .300 hitter, and he could steal 30-40 bases annually with his plus speed. He has the raw power to hit 20 homers a year, and he took better routes and showed a more accurate arm when he moved from center field to left at midseason. Despite three full seasons in the minors, Lewis remains raw. He's far from mastering pitch recognition, which often leaves him letting hittable pitches go by. His power won't come until he starts to pull the ball more often. The Giants' strength is outfield depth, so they can be patient with Lewis. He might repeat Double-A and could get another shot in center field.
Frandsen grew up 40 miles from Candlestick Park as a Giants fan, then attended San Jose State, where he became the Spartans' career hits leader (250). He bounced back from a broken collarbone to reach Triple-A Fresno and play in the Futures Game during his first full pro season. He finished the year by hitting .367 in the California League playoffs. Frandsen is an organizational favorite for his solid tools and off-thecharts makeup. He's fundamentally sound in the field and at the plate, where he has a simple swing and uses the whole field. His arm and range are excellent at second base and fringy at short. He has the hands to fill in at third base as well. Frandsen is getting the most out of his ability, so there's not much projection left. He can drive the ball to the gaps but has below-average home run power. He's not overly quick or fast. Frandsen reminds some of former all-star Robby Thompson, though with less power. At worst, he fits the profile of a useful utility player and could fill that role in San Francisco in
In his first year in full-season ball, Whitaker barely made it through one month in the low Class A Augusta rotation. He went on the disabled list with a middle back sprain, and when he returned in June, it was as a reliever. He didn't allow a run in his first 11 innings out of the bullpen. The Giants like to say Whitaker has "power equipment." It starts with a mid-90s fastball that he whips to the plate thanks to a very quick arm. He has a feel for spinning a breaking ball and can throw a changeup with the same arm speed he uses on his fastball. Whitaker lacks a feel for his craft. He was tipping his curveball to hitters, using a different delivery than he did for his fastball or changeup, and has switched to a slider, which he was able to throw for strikes more consistently. He needs to improve his focus and mechanics. Whitaker's upside remains significant, as do the obstacles he has to overcome. He's a candidate to return to low Class A to give pitching in the rotation another go, and with an arm this good, the Giants don't mind being patient.
Ortmeier was the Giants' top outfield prospect before they loaded up on outfielders in the last three drafts. He suffered through an injury-plaged season in 2004 but bounced back with a strong 2005 campaign. Ortmeier has a solid all-around game but will go as far as his bat takes him. He did a good job of translating his raw power into game power last year, clubbing 20 homers after totaling 23 over his first three seasons. He also did a better job of making contact. He's aggressive at the plate, on the bases and in the field (hence the collisions that have caused injuries to both shoulders and a concussion). He's an above-average runner, particularly for his size. Ortmeier still must improve his approach and feel for hitting to be an everyday big leaguer. His arm strength hasn't come back since a 2004 injury to his left shoulder and is now fringe average, though he compensates with good accuracy and a quick release. No one in the organization plays harder. Ortmeier had four multihit efforts in six games in the Arizona Fall League before a sore wrist caused him to shut it down for the fall. He looked overmatched in September in his big league trial and will get his first taste of Triple-A Fresno in 2006.
The Giants have waited to see the real Brian Wilson since drafting him less than two months after he had Tommy John surgery in 2003. He signed a 2004 contract because of his elbow injury, meaning San Francisco didn't have to protect him on its 40-man roster this offseason. The Giants certainly would have if needed, because he'll likely reach the majors in 2006. Formerly a No. 1 starter at Louisiana State, Wilson worked mostly in the bullpen trying to build up arm strength in his pro debut and got hammered in low Class A. Humbled by his performance, Wilson changed his diet, hit the weight room and got into the best shape of his life. The results were immediate--a spike in fastball velocity to the mid-90s, a return of his plus curveball and a more effective changeup. Wilson disciplined himself on the mound as well as off the field. He tightened his repertoire, ditching extraneous pitches and focusing on three good ones. His hard downer curve has such bite that it's often mistaken for a splitter. Wilson zoomed to Triple-A and didn't allow a home run all season. He tired late and wasn't at his best in the Arizona Fall League. If he has another strong offseason, he could start 2006 in San Francisco's bullpen, though a return to Triple-A is more likely.
Accardo has moved rapidly through the system, reaching the major leagues in 2005 as a pitcher just two years after he was Illinois State's shortstop and closer and pitching a perfect inning May 4 in his big league debut. The Giants signed him as a nondrafted free agent after seeing him throw 92-93 mph in the Alaska League in the summer of 2003. Accardo has settled in at 90-93 mph since signing while improving his slider. He threw a true cut fastball with more horizontal action when he signed, and he has added depth to the pitch as a pro. Accardo's fastball jumps on hitters because he has an easy delivery, and he's able to locate it both high and low in the strike zone, keeping them guessing. He showed a durable arm as a big leaguer, though the Giants were careful with him and used him on back-to-back nights just six times. He didn't allow a run in any of those 12 appearances. Accardo doesn't have a guaranteed spot in the San Francisco bullpen because he's still learning the subtleties of pitching, but his live arm, athleticism and continual improvement bode well for his future as a set-up man.
As a leadoff man and center fielder, Timpner was a key cog in San Jose's California League championship last year. Lenn Sakata has managed several of the system's top outfielders at San Jose the last two years and believes Timpner is the surest bet of all to be a big leaguer because of his defense and speed. Both of those tools earn 60 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his average arm plays up because of his quick release and accuracy. Timpner needs to make better use of his wheels offensively to become an everyday player in the majors, however. He'll never be much of a home run threat, so he has to improve his jumps and reads to become a more efficient basestealer. He generally stays within himself, spraying the ball to all fields and showing gap power, and he has become a better bunter. He also holds his own against lefthanders. He must show more patience to stay at the top of a lineup, though his college and pro track records don't indicate he'll ever be more than average in that regard. Timpner will move up to Double-A this season.
Ranked No. 27 on this list a year ago, Sandoval moved up 12 spots despite giving up playing a premium position. That's how much the Giants like his switch-hitting bat. Moving to third base helped bring out his bat even more, but to be an everyday third baseman he'll have to hit more homers. His current approach is to use the entire field, and he'll have to learn to pull the ball to bring more of his batting-practice power into games. His swing is consistent and fluid from both sides of the plate, keeping his bat in the hitting zone longer than the average hitter's. While he's a low-ball hitter, a trait more commonly associated with lefthanded hitters, he showed more pop from the right side. His plate coverage and handeye coordination should cut down on his strikeouts, though he also doesn't walk much. Defensively, he got off to a solid start at third base, and he has the tools to stick there. His hands and arm are solid-average for the hot corner, though his range is somewhat limited. He's athletic despite a pudgy 5-foot-11 frame that never will look good in a uniform. If he stays in shape and grows into third base with experience, Sandoval could develop into an average defender with a line-drive bat capable of hitting .300.
Griffin is a perfect example of the raw arms with upside the Giants love to draft. Unlike other pitchers drafted high out of the Albany, N.Y., area, such as Tim Stauffer and former Blue Jays lefthander John Cerutti, Griffin is a power pitcher. He remains raw because he's still growing into his 6-foot-7, 225-pound body, and if he improves his body control then he could rocket up this list. He led NCAA Division I in 2005 by averaging 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings, leading the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with 120 whiffs in 78 frames. He won his last five starts of his college career after losing 11 of his first 13 decisions for Niagara, a solid program in a relatively weak, Northern college conference. He redshirted as a freshman to get stronger--his fastball registered 82-84 mph--and improve his mechanics. As he has grown stronger and learned more about pitching, Griffin has increased his velocity to a consistent 90-94 mph and figured out how to use his height to throw downhill. His fastball already had natural sink, and he showed more consistency with his angular delivery in instructional league. Griffin's hard curveball also can be a plus pitch, though it can be inconsistent. His changeup is a third pitch and needs work, but when he's on, his fastball and curve suffice. Griffin is at his best when he works quickly and attacks hitters. He's expected to start 2006 in low Class A.
While he wasn't on the prospect radar prior to 2004, Munter has made great strides and worked in 45 big league games last year. He was used heavily until a mid-August elbow injury, described as inflammation, landed him on the disabled list. He pitched just once in September after he returned but didn't have surgery. Munter always has owned a heavy fastball, but in the last two years he has been able to keep his mechanics more consistent, throw more strikes and improve his velocity. His sinker sits in the low 90s, and some nights he pitches at 94-95 mph. His confidence took off when he started challenging hitters and had success, and he showed last year he could be effective with essentially one plus pitch. He allowed only one home run and recorded 83 of his 118 outs via groundballs in 2005. Munter struck out just 11 hitters because he truly lacks a swing-and-miss pitch. His slider has become an adequate breaking ball because he throws it with some power, though it lacks tilt. He's working on a changeup that's getting better, but Munter already has a formula for success with his power sinker. While he needs to watch his weight and stay healthy, he should continue to be a groundball pitcher in a set-up role.
The Giants had high hopes for Taschner and pushed him aggressively in his first full pro season, sending him to high Class A. He was waylaid by injuries, however, including a blown out elbow that required Tommy John surgery that knocked him out for the entire 2002 season. Taschner endured, even through an ugly second half in 2004 when he posted a 9.28 ERA in Triple-A and gave up 14 home runs in 53 innings. He was much better in a return trip to Fresno last season, and his stuff took off when he worked solely in a relief role. His once-average velocity jumped into the low to mid-90s, the hardest he has thrown since he was drafted. His improved fastball and solid changeup helped him shackle righthanders to a .138 average between Triple-A and the majors. His increased velocity was the biggest factor in his ability to handle them. His slider has some depth to it and can be a solid-average pitch if it becomes more consistent. If Taschner were more durable, he'd probably get a chance to start again. But the Giants finally have found a way for him to be productive and will keep him in relief. He figures to be one of the top lefties in their bullpen this year.
After Joaquin posted a 1.61 ERA in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2004, the Giants highly anticipated his U.S. debut. They weren't disappointed, as he helped their Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate win a championship. Joaquin has an electric arm and one of the highest ceilings in the organization. His lightning arm speed yields consistent mid-90s fastballs, and in his final outing of the year he hit 98 eight times while striking out eight of the 10 batters he faced. He also throws a hard slider that reaches the upper 80s and has some depth, though it needs more consistency. Giants officials try to temper expectations for Joaquin by pointing out that he's still much more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point. His arm action and delivery need plenty of work to become more fluid and reduce the effort he puts into each pitch. Like all teenagers, he needs experience, and his changeup is very rudimentary. Joaquin is raw enough that a jump to full-season ball this year might be asking too much. If he makes significant progress with his offseason drills and throwing program, however, he could make the leap to low Class A.
Coutlangus hadn't pitched since high school but always showed above-average arm strength as an above-average defender in center field. When the Giants moved him to the mound after he hit .194 in 2004, he began a quick ascent and earned a spot on the 40-man roster after the 2005 season. Coutlangus hit well in his pro debut but San Francisco didn't hesitate to make him a pitcher once he struggled at the plate, having considered the position change since signing him. His athleticism and raw arm strength helped him take to the new role. At his best last year, Coutlangus threw his fastball at 90-92 mph, though his velocity diminished as the workload got to him. He was able to pound the strike zone and wasn't afraid to pitch inside. Considering his inexperience, he had good command of his fastball, not only throwing it for strikes but also keeping it down. He tightened the slurvy breaking ball he had taught himself into a sweepy slider under the tutelage of San Jose pitching coach Trevor Wilson, and added a cutter. He still has plenty to learn about pitching and may need to cut down his repertoire, which also includes a curveball and changeup. Coutlangus will pitch in Double-A in 2006.
Bowker didn't have a bad season in high Class A in 2005, but he didn't distinguish himself from the rest of his outfield competition in the system either. He has more raw power than most other San Francisco farmhands but hit just three homers in the first three months because he became too passive. The spacious right-field area in San Jose's Municipal Stadium also worked against him, as he hit just two homers at home all season. Bowker finished with a flurry, however, homering five times in his final eight games. He has premium lefthanded power, and the key to bringing it out is maintaining his aggressive approach. He had an injury-plagued career at Long Beach State, redshirting as a freshman because of problems with his right wrist, and still is gaining a feel for his all-out swing. He was too passive at the plate early during his poor start and got going once he started being aggressive again. Bowker's bat is his ticket. He's a below-average runner with decent outfield skills and a fringy arm. The Giants played him at first base in instructional league as a possible solution to their outfield logjam. Bowker needs a good spring training to earn a promotion to Double-A, especially if they keep him in the outfield for now.
The Phillies were developing Simon--formerly known as Carlos Cabrera and believed to be 21 months younger before baseball's sweeping visa reform in 2003--as a starter who could pitch off his fastball when they sent him to San Francisco in the July 2004 Felix Rodriguez trade. He had little success in the rotation after switching organizations, so the Giants moved him to the bullpen last year. They felt he'd be more aggressive in relief, and he responded by converting 12 of his first 13 save opportunities before faltering late in the season. Simon draws comparisons to a young Armando Benitez for his power fastball, which sits at 93-94 mph and reaches 97. But Simon's fastball lacks deception and he had a bad habit of nibbling as a starter. When he fell behind in the count, hitters sat on his heater with success. San Francisco has worked to improve his offspeed stuff since acquiring him. While Simon throws his changeup, curveball and slider for strikes, none is better than fringe average. He needs to continue making adjustments, such as pitching inside more often and throwing his offspeed offerings in fastball counts. He has fallen behind Brian Wilson in the organization's relief pecking order, not to mention Jeremy Accardo and Scott Munter. Simon must have a good spring to open 2006 in Triple-A.
Though San Francisco didn't have a pick in the first three rounds of the 2005 draft, the player-development staff was pleased with the talent uncovered by the scouting department. The Giants' first choice came at No. 132 overall, and though offensive outfielders are a strength of the system, Copeland's tools were too good to pass up. So was his production. He led the Big East Conference in hitting, runs, hits, doubles, total bases, slugging percentage and stolen bases in 2005, and he set Pittsburgh single-season records for runs, hits, doubles and triples. He's the highest-drafted player out of the Panthers' resurgent program since 1985, when the Royals took Chris Jelic in the second round. Copeland's quick hands help him make quick adjustments and turn on good fastballs. With more experience he'll learn to trust his hands and wait better on breaking balls. He has solid gap power and is an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases and in the outfield. His arm is fringe average but more than playable in center, and staying in center will be the key to whether Copeland can be an everyday player. He'll report to low Class A for his first full season.
With the recent successes of Noah Lowry and Jack Taschner, the Giants have made a breakthrough with developing lefthanders. Eager to continue the trend, they protected some of their top lefty arms, such as Jon Coutlangus and Reina, on their 40-man roster this offseason. Reina has been on San Francisco's radar since he made his U.S. debut in 2003. The Venezuelan native has yet to produce consistently, but he has a live arm and stuff. His fastball sits in the low 90s when he's right, with some sink and excellent hard, late tailing action. Reina also has shown a solid-average changeup, and he throws both a slider and an occasional curveball. He showed his stuff in the Venezuelan League after the 2004 season, where his performance made the Giants worry they might lose him in the Rule 5 draft if he wasn't protected. After pitching 55 innings the previous winter, Reina came down with biceps tendinitis that limited him to 68 innings in 2005. An inconsistent release point hinders his control. A healthy Reina could move quickly, but he also has to show he can consistently get minor leaguers out.
The Giants continue to try to find power arms in Latin America, with Felix Diaz their best success story in recent years. Most of San Francisco's better Latin pitchers, such as former big leaguers Livan Hernandez and Felix Rodriguez and current minor leaguers Alfredo Simon and Merkin Valdez, originally were signed by other organizations. The Giants liken Acosta to Simon in that he's a big, strong power arm with a body that should make him durable. Acosta has a delivery with some effort, but the result is a fastball that touched 99 mph in the past. He had an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2004 and returned in 2005 throwing in the low 90s. Acosta did work hard on his rehab and is still rediscovering his stuff. His secondary offerings remain inconsistent--his slider has shown promise-- but San Francisco didn't hesitate to protect Acosta on the 40-man roster. This season is crucial for him, and he'll probably pitch at San Jose so the Giants can keep a close eye on him.
Knoedler reached the major leagues again in 2005. He's just 1-for-11 in brief tours of duty, but that's still quite an accomplishment for someone who began his pro career as a pitcher. Perhaps the Giants were onto something back then, because his bat still has a long way to go for him to become a big league regular. While he's protected on the 40-man roster, San Francisco also likes Eliezer Alfonzo, who's also on the 40-man. Knoedler, whose twin brother Jason is a Tigers minor league outfielder, gets the edge on the prospect list because he's a much better defender and is younger than Alfonzo. Knoedler has a strong body and plus arm strength that helped him throw out 38 percent of basestealers in Triple-A last year, and he did a better job at receiving in 2005. Furthermore, he improved his game-calling skills during his apprenticeship to veteran Mike Matheny when he was called up to the big leagues. Knoedler, who has shown decent power in the past, was relatively powerless in his first stab at Triple-A. He doesn't have much plate discipline or speed, so he offered little at the plate. He also hit just .226 in 53 Arizona Fall League at-bats. With a strong spring, Knoedler could become Matheny's full-time backup in 2006.
Horwitz isn't overly physical, hit just two home runs last season while playing a power position (right field), signed as a nondrafted free agent and lacks a plus tool. What he can do is hit, which he showed by winning the low Class A South Atlantic League batting title, then following it up with an MVP performance in the Cal League championship series. It was his second straight batting crown, as Horwitz topped the short-season Northwest League in his pro debut. Horwitz showed he could hit in college, batting .347 as a junior for California in 2003, but he didn't sign as a 26th-round pick of the Athletics after the season. Instead, he returned for his senior year and struggled, hitting just .288 with 14 extra-base hits. Horwitz has done nothing but hit since turning pro. He stays inside the ball well, covers the whole plate and has a knack for making contact, though his approach doesn't lend itself to power. His instincts stand out at the plate, on the basepaths and in right field, where's he's a solid-average defender with an average, accurate arm. Horwitz joined John Bowker and Jon Armitage as Giants outfielders who worked out as first basemen in instructional league. He'll start 2006 in high Class A and will keep rising as long as he hits.
The Giants' Arizona League club was one of the minors' most successful teams, posting a 39-17 record and winning the league title for the second consecutive year. The cast changed and was much younger last season, featuring righthanders Waldis Joaquin and Martis as teenage flamethrowers. Martis and slick-fielding AZL shortstop Sharlon Schoop both signed out of Curacao. Martis looks like the better prospect at this point because of his live arm and Schoop's suspect bat. Martis doesn't quite have Joaquin's arm, but he's not far off with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. His curveball shows signs of being a solid pitch, and he throws a slider and a changeup as well. While his arm action is relatively smooth and fluid, his delivery has issues in terms of maintaining balance and incorporating his entire body. He'll have to polish his mechanics to earn a spot in low Class A to start the year.
Misch seemed on the verge of breaking through into San Francisco, following Noah Lowry's lead as a finesse lefty who could use his savvy and average stuff to get big leaguers out. But in his second full pro season, Misch got hammered in Triple-A and had to retreat to Double-A to regain his footing. While Lowry is an obvious comparison as a homegrown lefty, Misch has different stuff, with his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup all grading out as average. His curve has become his best pitch, but he doesn't really have a plus offering. That, plus his tendency to nibble, was his undoing at Fresno. Giants officials say Misch was too stubborn for much of the season and didn't make adjustments in how he set up hitters, who figured out his pitch patterns and punished him. He recovered a bit in Double-A, but not enough to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. Misch made it through the Rule 5 draft but will have to earn San Francisco's trust again with a more successful stint in Triple-A this year.
Maroul became the latest in a recent line of surprise Most Outstanding Players at the College World Series. He somewhat resembles Astros outfielder Charlton Jimerson, the 2001 CWS MOP for Miami, as a college senior draft from a prominent program who nevertheless remains raw and toolsy. Maroul's best tool is his arm, and if he doesn't succeed in the field, he could follow in the footsteps of Jon Coutlangus and move to the mound. He threw in the low 90s in workouts at Texas. He has a bit more going for him as a position player than Coutlangus, though, starting with easy power. While Maroul makes inconsistent contact because of his long swing, the ball jumps off his bat. He's also one of the best defensive infielders in the system already, as his arm plays well at either spot on the left side of the infield. He's the best defensive third baseman in the organization, but he moved to shortstop at short-season Salem-Keizer to accommodate Pablo Sandoval. Maroul looked solid at short during the summer and again in instructional league. He has soft hands and enough agility for the Giants to continue playing him at shortstop this season, likely in low Class A.
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