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Giants special assistant Felipe Alou spent nearly two decades in player development with the Expos and considers Andres Galarraga the best young power hitter he ever came across. When Alou watched Villalona take batting practice for the first time, he had visions of the Big Cat dancing in his head. With a barrel chest and a strapping body, Villalona looks like a premier power-hitting prospect and he takes batting practice to match. He doesn't look like he's 17, which is what the Giants must keep reminding themselves as they develop their $2.1 million bonus baby out of the Dominican Republic. "If he's a 17-year-old high school player right now, I don't know how much money he'd get," retiring farm director Jack Hiatt said. "He's got unbelievable power." Though his major league debut is years away, San Francisco fans already consider Villalona the shining savior in a system that hasn't produced an impact position player since Will Clark and Matt Williams in the mid-1980s. Villalona made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he was both the youngest player and the No. 1 prospect, and earned a late callup to short-season Salem-Keizer. The Giants wanted Villalona to concentrate on developing good habits as he acclimated to life in the United States, including basics like taking productive batting practice and learning to compete. They noticed major improvements from his first instructional league in 2006 to the next, especially with his hitting approach. He's able to hang in tougher on breaking balls, has shown the ability to hit to the opposite field with runners on base and no longer swings out of his shoes at every pitch. San Francisco is so enamored with his powerful bat that it isn't concerned yet about where it will play. Villalona is athletic for his size, and he has good hands and a well above-average arm at third base. He's shy but easily likable and coaches say he is eager to learn. Villalona is still growing and his weight bears watching. He is an average runner now but will rate below average as he gets older. The Giants already acknowledge that he'll probably be a first baseman down the road, perhaps as soon as 2008. Special assistant J.T. Snow, a former Gold Glove first baseman, worked with Villalona during instructional league and he picked up first base quickly. He tends to throw from a low arm angle, leading to errors. Villalona didn't react well at first when he wasn't assigned to Salem to start the summer and he remains unschooled when it comes to the subtle nuances of the game such as bunt plays and cutoffs, but all that's to be expected of someone who could be a high school junior. In 2008, Villalona will log his first full pro season and almost certainly will be the youngest regular in the low Class A South Atlantic League. He's talented enough to reach the majors before his 20th birthday--which won't come until August 2010--but the Giants insist they have no timetable. "When he's ready and can do the right things consistently in front of crowds, he'll get there and stay there a long time," Hiatt said.
Pitching exclusively from the stretch, Alderson was a two-time Arizona player of the year and helped Horizon High to a pair of state 5-A championships. He showed unbelievable command for a high school senior, let alone one who's 6-foot-7, issuing just four walks while striking out 111 in 73 innings. He was drafted 22nd overall and signed for $1.29 million. Alderson had the best command of any high school pitcher in recent memory. His fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out at 94 mph, and San Francisco projects that he'll throw harder. His low-80s curveball already ranks as the best in the system. He can change planes with it, taking some velocity off to achieve a bigger break. He had no problems throwing out of an easy windup in instructional league, and he repeated those mechanics well. Alderson's herky-jerky delivery leads to concerns about his durability as a starter. The Giants think he gets his body in a good position to throw and won't have any problem staying in a rotation. He's made progress with his rudimentary changeup. The Giants won't be afraid to push Alderson due to his uncanny command. Low Class A Augusta is the logical next step, but don't be surprised if Alderson opens 2008 at high Class A San Jose.
The hardest-throwing high school lefthander in the 2007 draft, Bumgarner also was a fine righthanded hitter who helped South Caldwell High win two North Carolina 4-A state championships. He became the first prep southpaw drafted in the first round by the Giants since Mike Remlinger in 1987. The 10th overall pick, Bumgarner signed for $2 million. Bumgarner has everything the Giants look for in a pitching prospect--size, athleticism and velocity. His fastball works at 92-94 mph and hits 97 on occasion. It has good, boring action and often runs in on the hands of righthanders. A tremendous athlete, he showed flashes of dominance in instructional league. Bumgarner went higher in the draft but grades below Tim Alderson because his command and breaking ball aren't nearly as good. When Bumgarner stays on top of the pitch, it's a hard slurve that sweeps away from lefthanders. His changeup is in the experimental stages and he throws it too hard, but should be a useful pitch in time. Coming from rural western North Carolina, Bumgarner had a tougher task acclimating to Arizona and his first pro experience. While he might not move as quickly as Alderson, Bumgarner has a higher ceiling. He figures to make his pro debut in low Class A.
Schierholtz led Giants minor leaguers with a career-high .333 average, made his major league debut in June and earned another callup in September. He did his best work at Triple-A Fresno in between his two big league stints, hitting .317 with 12 homers in 51 games. He capped his year by batting .348/.363/.596 in the Arizona Fall League. For a player with 30-homer potential, Schierholtz makes excellent contact. His strikeouts have dropped from 132 to 81 to 77 over the past three seasons as he has leveled out his lefthanded swing. He plays a strong right field and has an above-average, accurate arm. He's a good runner for his size if not a pure basestealer. His body is all sculpted muscle. Schierholtz must learn to work counts, improve his on-base percentage and be more aggressive when he gets ahead of pitchers. San Francisco challenged him to swing for the fences and he responded at Fresno, then appeared much more comfortable in September. Schierholtz is the youngest member of the Giants' projected 2008 outfield corps, and aside from $60 million free agent Aaron Rowand, he's also the most talented.
Signed for just $15,000, Sosa was scheduled to remain in extended spring and pitch in the Arizona League in 2007. But Orlando Yntema tore a knee ligament in the final week of spring training and Sosa replaced him at Augusta. He made the most of his chance, winning more games (six) than he allowed earned runs (five) before earning a trip to the Futures Game and a promotion to high Class A. Sosa pitches consistently in the mid-90s and tops out at 97 mph with his fastball. His hard curveball is a strikeout pitch. He repeats his delivery well while throwing from a high three-quarters slot. He's among the more durable high-profile arms in the system. He's still more thrower than pitcher, and Sosa at times has trouble finding the strike zone and keeping his fastball down. He's trying to learn a changeup, and it remains a distant third pitch. If Sosa can harness his stuff, his upside is huge, and his changeup is the key for him to remain a starter. He probably will get more experience in high Class A at the start of 2008.
The 32nd overall pick in June, Noonan turned down a Clemson scholarship and signed quickly for $915,750. He earned Arizona League all-star honors and hit over .500 for most of instructional league. Noonan made a brilliant first impression with his sweet lefthanded swing and polished baseball acumen. He quickly earned a reputation for having the best pure hitting skills and soundest strike-zone judgment in the system. He makes steady, line-drive contact in the mold of Robin Ventura, and he's also an excellent bunter. Despite a loopy stride, Noonan has above-average speed, and his fine instincts helped him steal 18 bases in 21 pro attempts. There's a smooth quality to everything he does on the field. Though some scouts have compared him to Chase Utley, Noonan doesn't have the same power potential. He prefers to play shortstop but fellow supplemental first-rounder Charlie Culberson has a stronger arm, so Noonan will move up the ladder at second base. He's still working on his skills around the bag, especially turning the double play. Noonan could advance quickly thanks to his polished approach and instincts.
Velez was a utilityman in the Blue Jays system, but he has been an electric difference-maker since the Giants plucked him in the Triple-A phase of the 2005 Rule 5 draft. He was the South Atlantic League MVP in 2006, though he was 24 in low Class A. For an encore, he led the Double-A Eastern League with 49 steals, reached the majors and hit .303 with 15 swipes in 17 Arizona Fall League games. It's fitting that Velez' first big league hit was a triple because he flies around the bases with well above-average speed. He has some gap power, especially as a lefthanded hitter. His best defensive tool is his plus arm strength. A wrist sprain cost Velez the first month of the season. San Francisco moved him to the outfield to get him back on the field quicker. The one-time shortstop would fit best as a second baseman, but he tends to field balls too upright, which hardens up his hands. He lacks finesse on the infield. Offensively, his biggest need is patience. The Giants see Velez as a high-energy utility player. His value would increase as a dependable infielder. San Francisco likely will field a speed-oriented lineup in 2008, enhancing his chances of making the team.
The best all-around high school athlete in the 2007 draft, Fairley hit .538 with nine home runs, went 9-2 as a pitcher and drew interest from Division I football programs as a wide receiver. He remained something of a wild card because he didn't participate in many showcases, and lasted until the Giants took him 29th overall and signed him for $1 million. Fairley generates tremendous bat speed, reminiscent of a young Fred Lewis, and has the tools to hit for average and power. He didn't let many fastballs get past him in instructional league. He has easily above-average speed, the range to play center field and an above-average arm. Fairley is still very raw at the plate and will need time to develop. He'll have to learn to recognize and react to offspeed pitches. He couldn't do much in instructional league because he was slowed by shoulder tendinitis. The Giants aren't concerned about his past, which includes a misdemeanor conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His attorney is appealing the conviction. He also faced assault charges after a prank on a high school bus, but that case was dismissed. He has the highest ceiling among Giants hitters after Villalona, but Fairley likely will move slowly and probably won't see the majors before 2011 at the earliest. He'll make his pro debut in low Class A.
Bowker held his own over his first three minor league seasons, but hadn't flashed the power San Francisco expected when it drafted him in the third round. The power arrived at an unlikely place last season, as Bowker finished third in the pitching-dominated Eastern League with a .523 slugging percentage. Bowker arrived in spring training last year with added muscle and began to flourish when coaches suggested he stand closer to the plate. He combines the ability to hit for average--he's a career .296 hitter--with pull power. He has strong hands and can hit good fastballs. The Giants loves his aggressive approach and work ethic. He's limited to left field because he has below-average speed and his range and arm are adequate at best. San Francisco pulled the plug quickly after trying Bowker in center field. He has played right field as well, but it would be a stretch for him to man that position at spacious AT&T Park. Because dead-pull lefty hitters seldom fare well there, he'd be well served to work on driving the ball to all fields. His breakthrough earned Bowker a spot on the Giants' 40-man roster. Because they have a glut of young outfielders, including several lefthanded hitters, he'll need to continue putting up strong numbers to earn a permanent role in San Francisco.
After hitting .307 in his pro debut, Burriss struggled so badly in high Class A that the Giants demoted him after 36 games. He said he wasn't mentally prepared when the 2007 season began. He regained his focus and confidence against younger competition in the South Atlantic League, finishing third in steals (51) and fifth in batting (.321). It's no surprise that Burriss led a system full of burners with 68 stolen bases. In addition to his pure speed, he has fine basestealing skills and was encouraged to use them by aggressive Augusta manager Roberto Kelly. Burriss is a contact hitter who works counts better than his walk totals would indicate. He has good range and instincts at shortstop. Burriss has no power and will have to prove he can handle quality fastballs at higher levels. After making 30 errors in 123 games in 2007, he needs to be more consistent on defense. Caught stealing 18 times last season, he can become more efficient on the bases. Burriss, who hit .365 in 17 Arizona Fall League games, says he learned his lesson and will be ready to start 2008. He'll take another crack at San Jose, likely playing some second base next to Brian Bocock. The Giants hope one can be their shortstop by 2010.
The Giants absolutely love Bocock's playmaking ability on the infield and didn't hesitate to name him the host club's U.S. representative in the Futures Game. It was a gutsy move, considering he was a ninth-rounder and they took another shortstop, Emmanuel Burriss, with a supplemental first-round pick in the same draft. But Burriss said he didn't feel slighted, nor was he upset when San Francisco swapped the two players in early May, promoting Bocock to high Class A and demoting Burriss to low Class A. Bocock started hot but struggled as the summer wore on, finishing with a .220 average and .293 OBP at San Jose. The Giants knew developing his bat would be a challenge, and while he's a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, he doesn't get on base or stay consistent enough to project as a top-of-the-order presence. His swing path makes it tough for him to hit breaking balls, as his bat doesn't stay in the strike zone for long. But club officials can't stop gushing about Bocock's superior defensive skills, including plus range and arm strength that allow him to make difficult plays in the hole look easy. Bocock, whose uncle Mike is the winningest coach in the history of the summer collegiate Valley League, had minor elbow surgery after the season but should be ready for spring training. The Giants must find a place for Burriss and Bocock to play every day this season and were expected to pair them at San Jose, with Burriss likely sliding to second base.
Tanner competed well as a 19-year-old in low Class A last year, earning a spot in the South Atlantic League all-star game before fading down the stretch. The Giants expected that, considering it was his first full pro season and Augusta gets as hot as the surface of the sun in late summer. Tanner has an advanced sense of how to attack hitters. His fastball hits 91 mph but he usually pitches in the upper 80s with late life. Because his delivery is so easy, his fastball tends to sneak up on hitters. San Francisco believes he'll add velocity as he matures, too. His changeup and slider aren't anything special yet, but he has above-average command and both pitches should improve. Tanner threw over the top in the spring but the Giants lowered his arm slot a bit to a high three-quarters delivery, which he easily repeats. He's competitive, studies hitters and surprised Augusta pitching coach Ross Grimsley by keeping detailed notes on each opposing player. Tanner patterns himself after Barry Zito, and because Zito's contract runs through at least 2013, there's a good chance he'll make his major league debut alongside his idol.
McBryde committed 15 errors in low Class A, but it didn't reflect on his ability to play center field. He picked up most of those errors because of his cannon arm, which is well above average and is easily the strongest among outfielders in the system. "He tried to throw out everyone trying to go first to third," one Giants coach said. "If he hit the runner or short-hopped the third baseman, that was his error." Fully recovered from a hamstring injury that short-circuited his junior year at Florida Atlantic, McBryde also grades out as a plus-plus runner, ranking behind Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez and Antoan Richardson as the fastest players in the system. Yet he stole just 14 bases and was caught 11 times last year, suggesting that he hasn't learned to use his speed yet. The big question with McBryde is his bat. He shows signs of 15-20 homer potential and is also a good bunter, but he needs to make better contact. Once he develops better strike-zone awareness, he could turn a corner quickly. McBryde, who has the tools to become an elite prospect, will take the step up to high Class A in 2008.
Culberson went 51st overall in the 2007 draft, higher than most draft experts expected, but the Giants didn't have another selection until the fifth round and didn't figure he'd still be around. He got extra exposure as a Calhoun (Ga.) High teammate of lefthander Josh Smoker, picked 31st overall by the Nationals. Signed for $607,500, Culberson teamed with Angel Villalona and Nick Noonan to form a prospect-studded infield for the Arizona League Giants, who reached the league title game. San Francisco plans on continuing to bring the three of them up together. In the best-case scenario, they make it all the way to the major leagues like the 1970s Dodgers infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey. Russell would be a pretty good role model for Culberson, who isn't flashy but manages to make plays in spite of average range and an unorthodox, sidearm release. The Giants grade his arm as above-average, with the drawback being that he tries to make every play, no matter how impossible. Culberson has a metal-bat swing and lacks a true load to generate power, but he got plenty of work with wood in his pro debut after signing quickly and showed signs of making adjustments. Culberson has a stocky build and some pull power that helped him mash 15 homers as a prep senior, but power isn't expected to be a major part of his game. He'll move up with Villalona and Noonan to low Class A.
Joaquin missed all of 2006 after Tommy John surgery, but upon returning to the mound he didn't take long to show the Giants that he still had his electric stuff. On Sept. 9, Joaquin threw six shutout innings, allowed just two hits and struck out seven as Salem-Keizer defeated Tri-City in a Northwest League playoff game. And he did it all with a strict limit of 70 pitches. Joaquin made 15 appearances for the Volcanoes during the regular season and showed improvement each time out. By the end, he was throwing an easy 95-mph fastball along with a power slider--the stuff that made him such an intriguing prospect two years earlier. San Francisco believes Joaquin could become a frontline starter, though like most young pitchers, he's prone to overthrowing and flying open with his shoulder. Like many Tommy John survivors, he struggled with command in his first season back. His changeup has a long ways to go as well. Though it'll be a few years before he would arrive in the majors, the Giants are ecstatic at the progress Joaquin made in 2007 and want to see how he holds up in full-season ball this year.
Pereira literally wrote the book on pitching. He and fellow Giants minor leaguer Dave McKae authored and self-published a 63-page manual titled "In Pursuit of Pitching Perfection." The book includes diagrams and photos that demonstrate basic mechanics, grips, exercises and other techniques. Pereira must practice what he preaches, because he ranks as the system's best upper-level pitching prospect. He spent all of 2007 at Double-A Connecticut, got stronger in the second half and carried his success into a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League. Club officials were happy with his steady progress one year after he jumped from high Class A to Triple-A and was San Francisco's representative in the 2006 Futures Game. Pereira thrives with his ability to locate his upper-80s fastball, his changeup and his curveball. None of his pitches stand out, but he gets outs and keeps lefthanders at bay with his changeup. He's one of the most athletic pitchers in the system and compares favorably to Brad Hennessey, who has been valuable to the Giants as both a starter and reliever. Pereira's next stop will be a longer engagement in Triple-A than he had in the second half of 2006.
Matos appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues, but he traveled in a few circles in 2007 while trying to hone a consistent breaking ball. He spent most of the season in middle relief in Double-A, where he showed more consistency with his two-seam fastball as well as a mid-90s four-seamer. But he struggled against lefthanders, who hit .277 against him, and went to low Class A to work on throwing a slider. From there, the Giants sent him to help San Jose's playoff push. Matos got minimal work in the Dominican Winter League and was expected to report to Triple-A for 2008. San Francisco loves the way he comes after hitters and remains open-minded to his future role, believing he could move back onto a starter's development track if he can keep his arm fresh. He looks like at least a future contributor out of the bullpen with the equipment to mow down righthanders.
Most scouts thought San Francisco overdrafted Williams because they had six selections among the first 51 picks and needed to watch their bonus money. While his bat certainly didn't merit the 43rd overall selection or a $708,750 bonus, the Giants are captivated by his skills behind the plate and think he'll be a big leaguer if they can make him just a serviceable hitter. As a bonus, his first pro manager at Salem-Keizer happened to be former big league catcher Steve Decker, who knew he was watching something special the first time Williams threw to second base. He has a slightly above-average arm but his lightning-quick release helps him get a pop time consistently below 1.95 seconds on throws to second base. He was able to control the running without pitchers even bothering with a slide-step, leading the Northwest League by throwing out 43 percent of opposing basestealers. Williams also has terrific footwork, blocks everything in the dirt and runs well for a catcher. He works hard on his line-drive swing, has a bit of gap power and does a decent job putting the ball in play. Williams had a tender elbow in instructional league, where he was limited to DH duty. Considering the dearth of catchers in the system, he'll move fast as long as his bat is playable, with a jump to high Class A likely for 2008.
Bucardo was the best pitcher on the Giants' Rookie-level Dominican Summer League club for two seasons, and his success translated to the Arizona League last year. The native Nicaraguan throws a low-90s fastball with heavy sink, giving up just one home run in 60 innings and posting a 3.14 groundout/flyout ratio. Bucardo also has a promising slider and is just beginning to throw a changeup, which he'll need against lefthanders. He pounds the strike zone and had enough polish to earn a late callup to Salem-Keizer. But Bucardo might have made his biggest contribution when he helped convince his younger brother Jorge to spurn a larger offer from the Yankees and sign with the Giants. Jorge Bucardo, who went 7-2, 1.35 in the DSL as a 17-year-old, has a similar build and repertoire as Wilber but is further along at a younger age and will be a player to watch when he makes his U.S. debut. Wilber should make his full-season debut in low Class A this year.
Threets finally climbed the mountain in 2007, earning a September callup after pitching effectively out of the Triple-A bullpen for a second consecutive season. He sat and waited nearly two weeks before making his major league debut, and his nerves probably contributed to a 19.29 ERA over three appearances with the Giants. But his promotion was a success story nonetheless, considering his colorful seven-year ride through the minors. Threets once was clocked at 104 mph, and while he jokes that "those days are long gone," there are plenty of major league lefthanders who would kill for his 95-mph fastball. Shoulder and back injuries derailed Threets in the past, but he finally got enough consistent mound time to address his once-considerable command issues. He still doesn't throw enough strikes, but he pitched effectively and showed improved command in the Mexican Pacific League this winter. While learning to pitch without his old velocity, he has gained a better feel for his cutter, and he also flashes a plus changeup. If Threets has a consistent spring, he'll be a candidate for the major league bullpen.
As a pitcher with collegiate experience who knows how to change speeds, Snyder was expected to do well in low Class A. He didn't disappoint, leading San Francisco farmhands with 16 victories and becoming a key figure in the minor leagues' most dominant rotation. In fact, Snyder was the only member of Augusta's starting five who wasn't selected to the South Atlantic League all-star game--despite ranking fourth in the league with 75 strikeouts and sixth with a 2.15 ERA at the break. Snyder, whose older brother Brad preceded him at Ball State and is an outfielder in the Indians organization, is a true starting pitching prospect with a fastball, curve, changeup and slider. He can hit 90 mph but usually pitches in the upper 80s and isn't afraid to throw inside to lefthanders, whom he limited to a .180 average last season. One Giants coach said Snyder is ahead of where Noah Lowry was in his first pro season. Snyder's changeup might not be as good as Lowry's, but it has potential to be a plus pitch. Snyder reported to Hawaii Winter Baseball and got pounded for a 9.39 ERA, mostly because of fatigue. He's a strong athlete who fields his position well. Because he repeats his delivery well and throws strikes, Snyder could move through the system quickly. He'll open in high Class A this year.
No matter when he's handed the ball, Misch competes and throws strikes. While he'll never intimidate out of the bullpen with his mid-80s fastball and mild-mannered appearance, he was much appreciated by Giants manager Bruce Bochy as other pitchers labored in deep counts or issued walks. Misch became more than just a September callup last season, and made himself the answer to a trivia question when he started the Aug. 4 game at San Diego in which Barry Bonds hit his 755th career home run to tie Hank Aaron. Misch should have earned his first major league victory in that game--he struck out eight and allowed two runs over five innings--but the bullpen blew his decision. His best pitches are a slow curveball and an above-average changeup, both of which he commands and will throw in any count. While Misch's big league ceiling appears limited, he has a few things going for him: He's durable, versatile and athletic. He originally committed to play soccer at Miami (Ohio) before the school dropped the sport. Misch's development of a cut fastball has helped him combat righthanders to the point that he could be a candidate to start again, though he fared poorly in that role in the big leagues, going 0-2, 6.41 in four outings. He has an excellent chance of opening the season as a long man in the San Francisco bullpen.
The Giants can find power arms anywhere--high schools, colleges, internationally, position players they convert, small colleges, and, yes, in trades. They obtained Pichardo from the Phillies in an August 2005 deal for Michael Tucker and toyed with Pichardo in a starter's role in 2006. He battled arm issues that season and was moved to the bullpen full-time last year. As a reliever, he stayed healthy while showing significant improvement and good durability. Pichardo flashes three quality pitches, the best of which is a fastball that at times sits at 94-96 mph with good life. His delivery requires lots of effort and he tends to overthrow, with his command suffering as a result. When he throws strikes and gets ahead of hitters, though, he can finish them off with his power breaking ball that's a cross between a curveball and slider. Double-A hitters didn't chase the pitch as frequently when it was out of the zone. He has flashed a decent changeup with good arm speed as well. The Giants protected Pichardo on their 40-man roster in the offseason, and with a strong start at Triple-A, he'll be on the verge of making his big league debut at age 22.
There was a time the Giants envisioned a rotation anchored by Valdez (acquired from the Braves in a December 2002 trade for Russ Ortiz) as the ace with Matt Cain as a solid No. 2 starter. When those plans didn't quite materialize, San Francisco watched Valdez blow his 99-mph fastball past hitters in spring training and thought he'd become a lethal force in the late innings. But he couldn't keep his fastball down in the zone, had trouble developing an offspeed pitch and was dispatched to the bullpen early in a disastrous 2006 season. He might have been hurt all year, as his season ended when he grabbed his arm in the third inning of a late-August start. On the day he was injured, club officials said Valdez was throwing with the best combination of command and velocity that they had seen in two years. He had Tommy John surgery, missed all of the 2007 season and returned to the mound in short stints for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. It speaks to Valdez' talent that he remains one of the most prized arms in the system. His health will determine where he starts 2008, though he's out of options and San Francisco will have to sneak him through waivers if he doesn't make the 25-man roster.
A former Cal State Fullerton standout whose pinch-hit triple ignited the winning rally in the 2004 College World Series clincher against Texas, Pill made major strides in his first full pro season to supplant Travis Ishikawa as the most promising first base prospect in the system. While Ishikawa regressed at the plate, crashing from the big leagues all the way back to high Class A, Pill racked up 10 homers and a South Atlantic League-leading 47 doubles while playing in a pitcher's park one level lower. The Giants believe he has serious power potential and put him on a strength program to add muscle to his long, lean frame. Most of his homers came from left-center to the left-field pole, but with added strength he could put many of those doubles over the wall. His long arms generate leverage in his swing, and he also makes surprisingly consistent contact for a big man. Coaches consider Pill the best defensive first baseman in the system, quite a statement considering Ishikawa's solid glove. Pill has outstanding hands, good instincts and average speed. Playing in the more hitter-friendly high Class A California League should boost his numbers this year.
Anderson doesn't have eye-popping stuff, but he competes so well and has such terrific poise that he seems destined to make a contribution in the San Francisco bullpen, perhaps in the near future. A year after topping the minor leagues and setting a California League record with 37 saves, he reported to Double-A and recorded 29 saves to tie for the Eastern League lead. As a pro, he has 85 saves in just 128 appearances. Anderson commands a fastball in the upper 80s, can cut it to get in on lefthanders and paints corners, often recording three outs on 10 pitches or less. Because of his efficiency and his size, he's able to pitch on multiple days without any durability issues. He's not afraid of pitching to contact. Anderson also throws a slider, and he could use a changeup or splitter to better combat lefthanders, who hit .293 against him in 2007. The Giants sent Anderson to the Arizona Fall League after the season, and he didn't allow an earned run and walked just one batter in 12 innings. He's a good bet to open the season closing games in Triple-A, with a shot to move up whenever San Francisco needs him.
The Giants acquired Denker as the player to be named in the trade that sent pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney to the Dodgers in August. Denker made an immediate impression with his new club, hitting a grand slam and a two-run double in his first game for San Jose. He remained a major force as San Jose scrapped to the California League title, hitting .480 in the playoffs despite a strained quad. Denker is a fireplug who generates plenty of power despite his size. However, as he has faced better pitching moving up the minor league ladder, his homer totals have declined from 23 in 2005 to 16 in 2006 to 11 last year. Denker can hit in any count and has drawn 272 walks against 318 strikeouts over his minor league career--numbers not often seen among San Francisco's position prospects. He turns the double play well enough and has average range and arm strength but stiff infield actions. His speed is average at best. The Dodgers had planned to send Denker to the Arizona Fall League, and the Giants might have done the same but already had their rosters set when the trade went down in August. His value lies in his bat and his tenacity, and he'll probably jump all the way to Triple-A this season.
Romo spent two years at Arizona Western JC, then went 24-4 in two NCAA Division II seasons, one at North Alabama and one at Mesa State. He has put up eye-popping numbers as a pro as well, and after starting part-time in 2006, he moved full-time to the bullpen last season and showed excellent control and a durable arm. Romo led all full-season relievers by striking out 14.4 batters per nine innings despite a lack of true power stuff. Instead, he relies on a tremendous feel for pitching, using different angles and a five-pitch arsenal to baffle batters. His fastball has reached 93 mph and sits at 88-90 mph regardless of his arm slot, and he spots it with confidence and plenty of guts. He'll show hitters both a curveball and slider, and mix speeds with a changeup and splitter. Romo kept boosting his profile with another fearless performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed just one run in 14 innings. His feel for changing speeds and ability to throw strikes with any pitch in any count keeps hitters off balance. He has been extremely effective against lefthanders, who hit .153 with 45 strikeouts in 111 at-bats against him last year (including the AFL). Short and far from imposing on the mound, Romo gives up a lot of fly balls, and his fringe-average fastball and trickery may not work against advanced hitters on a consistent basis. He'll report to Connecticut to see if he passes the Double-A test.
Scouts never will rave about Horwitz, but all he does is spray hits wherever he plays. He won batting titles in his first two pro seasons and didn't slow down once he landed in Triple-A last year, hitting .326 after a midseason promotion. Every manager for whom he has played has become his biggest fan. Horwitz has a great two-strike approach, loves the opposite field and doesn't strike out despite a swing that can get a bit long and choppy. He has little power to speak of and is better suited defensively for left field, so he doesn't fit the profile of a starting big leaguer. His arm is decent and his speed is below-average, so basically all he provides is a high batting average. But it's hard to find a more dedicated worker than Horwitz, who made the most of his invitation to big league camp last spring. He usually arrived before 7 a.m. for early hitting, even beating the coaches to the cage. He'll probably return to Triple-A this year.
The Giants gave up their first three picks in the 2005 draft for signing free agents Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel. That was the best draft of the decade, and Copeland was San Francisco's first pick--which came in the fourth round. While he doesn't compare to the outfielders drafted early that year--a list that includes No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton, 2007 Minor League Player of the Year Jay Bruce, World Series hero Jacoby Ellsbury and other potential studs such as Cameron Maybin and Colby Rasmus-- Copeland still should be able to help San Francisco down the line. He profiles best as a fourth outfielder, as he has no true standout tool. His biggest weakness is power, as his line-drive stroke isn't conducive to hitting homers. He has a quick bat and is a tick above-average as a runner, though he's just a fair baserunner. Copeland also ranks as perhaps the Giants' most patient minor league hitter. After hitting better against lefties than righties in 2006, he struggled significantly against them in 2007, posting a .433 OPS against southpaws (compared to .903 against righties). While he can play center field, Copeland fits better in left, and his fringy throwing arm would be exposed in right. He's ready to jump to Double-A this year.
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