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Surprise, surprise. For the 13th time in 14 years, the Giants' top prospect is a pitcher. Though teenage slugger Angel Villalona did nothing to diminish his No. 1 status of a year ago, his teammate at low Class A Augusta couldn't be denied. After drafting him 10th overall and signing him for $2 million in 2007, the Giants merely hoped Bumgarner would learn to compete and master simple skills in his first full pro season. Early efforts to smooth out his mechanics were a failure, as he allowed 10 runs over 11 2/3 innings in his first three starts. Then the big, strong lefthander went back to his high school delivery and was untouchable, posting a 0.90 ERA in his final 21 regular season outings before allowing just one unearned run in two playoff starts as the GreenJackets won the South Atlantic League title. Bumgarner's overall 1.46 ERA was the lowest in the minors, and he struck out an unreal 7.8 batters for every walk. There may not be a lefthander with a better fastball than Bumgarner's. He hits 97 mph with minimal effort, consistently pitches at 93-94 and hitters have trouble picking up his heater from his high three-quarters delivery. His fastball has boring action and is a devastating two-strike pitch when he elevates it. He gave up just three homers all season, as his command and control were impeccable. "He has another gear," catcher Jackson Williams said. "He's so long and so loose, the ball just pops--and it pops hard." His breaking ball and changeup showed improvement throughout 2008. Bumgarner, who's from a small town in North Carolina, initially came across as a timid kid when he first reported to instructional league in 2007. But he soon dispelled any concerns about his makeup. "The closer to home plate they get, the more he reaches back and goes after them," Augusta pitching coach Ross Grimsley said. "For 19, he's a very mature, smart kid. He knows he's got some things to work on to make himself a more complete pitcher and not just a thrower." Bumgarner is a physical, durable beast and a good athlete who also makes hard contact as a righthanded hitter. While Bumgarner's fastball control far exceeded San Francisco's wildest expectations, his secondary pitches remain a work in progress. Coaches worked to replace an erratic curveball with something closer to a true slider that developed depth the more he threw it. He didn't get much practice setting up hitters because his fastball was nearly unhittable. He often threw his changeup in fastball counts just to work on it. "That'll be the biggest thing," Grimsley said. "He'll need the changeup for the higher levels and he understands that." Bumgarner has all the gifts to be a No. 1 starter, though it's hard to imagine anyone unseating Tim Lincecum in San Francisco in the foreseeable future. The Giants hope to instill a friendly rivalry between Bumgarner and their other first-round prep pitcher from the 2007 draft, Tim Alderson. They're expected to form a supremely talented 1-2 punch at Double-A Connecticut, potentially with 2008 first-rounder Buster Posey as their catcher. If Bumgarner continues to easily dispatch hitters after skipping a level, San Francisco will be tempted to give him a taste of the big leagues in September.
Posey led NCAA Division I in hitting (.463), on-base percentage (.566), slugging (.879), hits (119), total bases (226) and RBIs (93) in 2008, en route to winning Baseball America's College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes awards. The Rays considered him with the first overall pick, but he slid to the Giants at No. 5. He received the largest up-front bonus in draft history, $6.2 million. There might have been better pure athletes in the draft, but Posey has few peers when it comes to baseball athleticism. He was drafted out of high school as a pitcher and moved from shortstop to catcher at Florida State, where he once played all nine positions in one game. He profiles as a catcher in the mold of Joe Mauer. Posey has a quick bat and makes consistent contact with gap power to all fields. Arm strength isn't a problem, as he hit 94 mph as an occasional reliever for the Seminoles. He's agile and has soft hands, and he even runs well. He's a captain on the field and wins plaudits for his baseball acumen. Posey is still relatively new to catching and will need time to develop behind the plate, especially his game-calling skills. He had trouble with passed balls in Hawaii Winter Baseball and was sent back to instructional league for a crash course in receiving. Despite his huge power numbers as a college junior, some scouts believe he won't hit more than 10-12 homers annually in the majors. Posey doesn't have to hit for huge power to be an all-star. He's versatile enough to play anywhere on the diamond, but most valuable as a catcher. He's probably headed for Double-A, where he'll catch a talented pitching staff.
The best Giants power-hitting prospect to come along in more than a decade, Villalona signed for a then-club-record $2.1 million in 2007. He had an encouraging first full pro season in 2008, when he was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League. He led a championship Augusta team with 17 homers as a 17-year-old while moving from third base to first base. Villalona's batting practice was a daily fireworks display and he often carried it over to games. He has the ability to hit quality fastballs and hanging breaking balls a long, long way. He has soft hands, a strong, accurate arm and surprising agility for a player his size. He lost almost 40 pounds from spring training to the end of the season and coaches praised his dedication to getting in baseball shape. Villalona lacks patience at the plate, rarely drawing walks and failing to realize when pitchers are trying to pitch around him. It's vital that he continue to take his conditioning seriously. Even after slimming down, he's still a poor runner with no chance of returning to third base. If the Giants promote Villalona a level per year, he'll still reach the majors at age 21, and he might not need that long. His production improved every month at Augusta, and they hope for a similar upswing this season at high Class A San Jose.
Alderson's advanced command and hard curveball made him the 22nd overall pick and earned him a $1.29 million bonus in 2007. The Giants figured those attributes also prepared him for an aggressive assignment to high Class A in his first full pro season, and he responded by winning the California League ERA title at 2.79. He threw exclusively out of the stretch in high school, but had no problems repeating his delivery from the windup in San Jose. Alderson's curveball is the best in the organization and he works it off an 88-92 mph four-seam fastball with natural cut and late movement. He began throwing a two-seamer to get more grounders, though it's not like he needed to work on pitch efficiency. He's a smart competitor, often throwing curveballs in the first three innings of night games when the conditions were shadowy. He throws strikes and lives at the bottom of the zone. Alderson will develop into a frontline starter if he continues to make steady progress with his changeup. He doesn't have overwhelming velocity, though he still can get outs with his fastball. While he's athletic, like most gangly pitchers he doesn't field his position well. He could be a factor out of a major league bullpen right now, but the Giants have no plans to develop him as anything but a starter. He'll begin 2009 with Madison Bumgarner in Double-A and could finish the season in the big leagues.
After signing for $915,750 as a sandwich pick in 2007, Noonan became a Rookie-level Arizona League all-star and the talk of the Giants' instructional league camp. Last season, he was the most consistent offensive player on a championship Augusta club loaded with teenage talent. Noonan's swing is compact, balanced and direct to the ball, which should allow him to hit for average with gap power. He has outstanding situational hitting skills, bunts well and moves runners. He has above-average speed and an opportunistic nature on the bases, stealing 29 bags in 33 attempts. He made dramatic improvements at second base, especially going to his backhand and turning double plays, after playing shortstop in high school. His game awareness is off the charts. Coaches lauded Noonan's strike-zone awareness before the season began, but he drew just 23 walks and acknowledged that he needs to be more selective. He was so aggressive that he got himself out at times in 2008. He's still learning to play second base and doesn't always take proper angles on grounders. He might not flash enough power to make Chase Utley comparisons hold up, but Noonan is clearly San Francisco's second baseman of the future. While high Class A would be the next logical step, club officials were debating whether he might be ready for a jump to Double-A.
Despite missing half of the Arizona League season with a broken foot, Adrianza ranked as the circuit's best middle-infield prospect, thanks to his defensive wizardry and ability to make contact from both sides of the plate. When Triple-A Fresno was thin on infielders for a series at Tucson, he was driven over from Scottsdale and promptly collected three hits. Adrianza has excellent range and plays Gold Glove caliber defense up the middle. Even Omar Vizquel, who was in Arizona while rehabbing his knee, commented on Adrianza's soft hands and accurate arm. A natural righthanded hitter, he has a level swing and balanced approach from either side. He has gap power and doesn't try to just slap and dash his way on base. Something of a late bloomer, Adrianza only recently began adding strength to his lanky frame. He's not as fast as most shortstops, though his excellent instincts and first-step quickness make up for that shortcoming in the field. A full season in low Class A at age 19 should be a good test for Adrianza's skills and durability. Though Emmanuel Burriss had his moments as a rookie last season, Adrianza has a higher ceiling offensively and defensively. Free agent pickup Edgar Renteria figures to be gone by the time Adrianza is ready.
The Cape Cod League MVP and batting champ (.345) in 2007, Gillaspie became the first player from the 2008 draft to reach the majors. He negotiated the callup in return for agreeing to MLB's slot recommendation of $970,000 as the 37th overall pick. He singled off Dan Haren for his first major league hit. Gillaspie has a rare blend of supreme hitting skills and patience at the plate. He wasn't overwhelmed in a handful of big league at-bats, showing good pitch recognition and a confident approach. He has a strong frame, solid speed and an average arm. He gets the most out of his ability and plays the game with a no-nonsense attitude. The Giants aren't convinced Gillaspie will stay at third base, but they will give him every opportunity because they're thin at the position. He tends to hurry in the field and doesn't look smooth. He's more of a doubles hitter than a home run threat, so his power might be a tad light for the hot corner. His intensity can come across as arrogance at times, such as when he annoyed some veterans in September when he said, "I think I can play as good as any of these guys up here." Though he's on the 40-man roster and will be in big league camp, Gillaspie isn't a candidate to be the Opening Day third baseman. He could earn his way back in September after opening the season in high Class A or Double-A.
The Giants sent their entire fleet of top talent evaluators to look at Rodriguez before signing him last July for $2.55 million, a franchise record for an international player. Special assistant Felipe Alou likened Rodriguez's combination of size, strength and speed to a young Vladimir Guerrero. He signed on his 16 birthday, reportedly turning down a higher offer from the Cardinals. Rodriguez has all the tools to be a superstar. Farm director Fred Stanley said Rodriguez reminds him of a young Dave Winfield with a bigger wingspan. Rodriguez profiles perfectly as a right fielder with big-time power potential--" He hits golf balls in B.P.," Alou said--plus speed and a cannon arm. Giants coaches liked his enthusiasm in instructional league and believe he'll take instruction well. Rodriguez hasn't faced quality pitching and other international scouts weren't as sold on his hitting ability. He has a huge strike zone that could prove difficult to cover, and breaking balls figure to be an adventure for a while. Rodriguez will receive daily instruction at the Giants' Dominican complex before he participates in the Rookie-level summer league there. He's not nearly as advanced as fellow Dominican Angel Villalona was at the same stage, and he isn't expected to play for a U.S. affiliate before 2010.
Even when the Giants spend their top four draft picks on college hitters, they manage to unearth a major league arm. Signed for $100,000 as an eighth-rounder, Barnes had a spectacular introduction to pro ball. He posted a 2.06 ERA and 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings, limited opponents to a .155 average, and pitched the clinching game in the South Atlantic League playoffs. Barnes thrives on location and hiding the ball until late in his delivery, but he's more than just a finesse pitcher. He can reach 92 mph when needed and changes speed like a major league veteran. His changeup overwhelmed Sally League hitters down the stretch and his curveball is an effective third pitch. He repeats his fluid delivery well, enabling him to fill the strike zone. He fields his position well and has a good pickoff move. Barnes isn't overpowering, generally pitching in the upper 80s with his fastball, and it remains to be seen how he'll fare against more advanced hitters. Despite having little margin for error, he'll have to continue establishing the inner half against righthanders. Barnes is further along than Noah Lowry at a similar stage and profiles as a possible No. 3 starter. Because the Giants lack starting depth in the upper levels of their system, they could skip him to Double-A to begin the season.
Romo began 2008 as an occasional name on the travel squad for spring training games and ended it as the most dependable set-up man in San Francisco's bullpen. While he isn't particularly imposing or athletic, there's no downplaying the way he made major league hitters look foolish--including Manny Ramirez, whom he struck out on three pitches. The Giants issued the second-most walks in the National League last year, so Romo's aggressive, strike-throwing approach was a refreshing change. His breaking ball is essentially two different pitches when he changes his arm angle, one of which is a front-door slider that snaps back across the plate against righthanders. He wants the ball and isn't intimidated. He's durable and handled multipleinning appearances without complaint. Romo's fastball is fringe-average and only touches 90 mph, so he can't get away with mistakes up in the strike zone. Aware that the book will be thicker on him next season, he worked on a changeup while pitching for Mexicali this winter. Romo has had nothing handed to him, yet he has managed to miss bats at every level. He'll hold down a key role in the Giants bullpen in front of closer Brian Wilson.
Joaquin had Tommy John surgery in his past, his delivery looks stiff and he takes longer than most pitchers to work himself into shape in the spring. But by the end of each year, he's usually throwing some of the nastiest stuff in the system. Joaquin did it again in 2008, looking uninspired for long stretches in Augusta but throwing gas for San Jose in the California League playoffs. He hit 97 mph in a dominant performance against Stockton, and he can sit at 93-95 when he's at the top of his game. Joaquin's slider is a plus pitch and his changeup is effective enough that club officials haven't ruled out developing him as a starter. He would have to improve his control, though, and his quickest route to the big leagues is in short relief. If he's paired with a catcher who prods him to throw inside, he has a chance to dominate at any level. Joaquin loses focus if he isn't challenged, so the Giants could assign him to Double-A or higher if he shows determination this spring.
The Giants took Fairley with the third of their first-round picks in the 2007 draft, 29th overall, and they're still not sure exactly what they got with their $1 million investment. A high left ankle sprain late last spring set him back for nearly three months and prevented him from playing in low Class A as hoped. He made his pro debut in the Arizona League, where he hit a triple off a rehabbing Kelvim Escobar. Fairley was one of the top athletes in the 2007 draft but he's quite raw. He has tremendous bat speed and strength that gives him some of the best power potential in the system. He also scored top marks on a vision-tracking test that the Giants gave to their minor leaguers. He's still learning to pick up breaking pitches, however, because he didn't see many quality curveballs from high schoolers in Mississippi. Fairley also is figuring out how to work counts, bunt and steal bases. He has well-above-average speed and plus arm strength. Coaches were happy with the way Fairley competed in instructional league, and they worked him at all three outfield positions. He'll focus on center field in 2009, when he'll head to Augusta a year behind schedule.
Sosa took everyone by surprise in 2007 when he established a dominant fastball and represented the Giants at the Futures Game. But he had arthroscopic knee surgery that October and didn't make it out of extended spring until late May last year, then posted mediocre results in 12 high Class A starts. Club officials were disappointed that he never regained his previous form, even when given extra time. He also had a pectoral strain that kept him out for a few weeks. When healthy and repeating his over-the-top delivery, Sosa has a mid-90s fastball. The rest of his game is raw, as he has only a rudimentary grasp of a curveball and changeup, which must continue to develop if he wants to remain a starting pitcher. He did make some strides with his control last year, but his confidence took a jolt and his aggressiveness suffered as a result. Sosa will have to reset himself next season, likely opening back at San Jose. He has all the physical tools to get back on track.
Kieschnick has major league bloodlines, as the first cousin of former two-way major leaguer Brooks Kieschnick. Roger had a chance to join Brooks as a first-round pick, but he slumped last spring, hitting just .305 and chasing enough pitches that he dropped to the third round. Signed two days before the Aug. 15 deadline for a slightly above-slot $525,000, he saw his first pro action in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He's a legitimate power threat who tied Pedro Alvarez (the No. 2 overall pick in 2008) for the team lead with seven homers on Team USA's college squad in 2007. Kiescnick drives the ball to all fields, though he gets himself out by being overly aggressive. A good athlete for his size, he has solid-average speed and arm strength, making him a prototype right fielder if he performs with the bat. He's expected to make his pro debut in high Class A.
A year after he led all minor leaguers with a 1.86 ERA, Pucetas would have topped the California League in the same category if not for San Jose rotation-mate Tim Alderson. Pucetas didn't lose a decision until Aug. 17, and his 10-0 start tied Dan Rambo (1990) and Jeff Urban (1998-99) for the longest winning streak in San Jose franchise history. His performance cemented his status as a legitimate pitching prospect, and he has far exceeded expectations as a 17th-round pick out of NCAA Division II Limestone (S.C.). Pucetas earned a trip to the Futures Game in 2008 and was just as impressive in the Arizona Fall League. His fastball won't blow away anyone at 86-88 mph, but he doesn't make many mistakes with it and it plays up because he brings a consistent changeup to the mound every time out. His slider is nearly as dependable, though his curveball comes and goes. It's his feel for the craft and ability to mix and command his pitches that really sets him apart. He's strong and durable, and he controls the running game well. As long as he keeps throwing quality strikes, Pucetas could become a back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever in the majors. San Francisco will give him a chance to fill a rotation slot in spring training, but he's more likely to open the season in Double-A.
You'd imagine the Giants would have been down on Williams after he hit .179 in 47 games in low Class A to start 2008. Instead, they promoted him and he showed improvement at the plate--albeit by batting .231 in the hitter's haven that is the California League. It remains to be seen whether he'll ever hit enough to justify going 43rd overall in the 2007 draft and receiving a $708,750 bonus. But Williams did cut down his stride, shortened up and became more aggressive early in the count. He peaked in instructional league, where club officials insisted he was the best hitter in a camp filled with the organization's elite prospects. Williams originally might have bought into the idea that he's a defensive catcher with limited offensive upside, but coaches disabused him of that notion. There's no doubting his Gold Glove-caliber skills behind the plate. Augusta manager Andy Skeels, who played with Sandy Alomar and Benito Santiago, said Williams has a quicker release and a more accurate arm than those two former all-stars. He threw out 45 percent of basestealers last season. He blocks balls in the dirt, keeps pitchers focused and calls a good game. If Buster Posey starts 2009 in Double-A, Williams will return to high Class A so both can play every day.
Ishikawa looked like he was falling off the prospect radar in 2007, when he lost his swing and dealt with several nagging injuries. Regarded as the Giants' first baseman of the future when they gave him a $955,000 bonus to steer him away from Oregon State in 2002, he got back on track in 2008. He rescued his career by performing well in a return to Double-A and was even better after a promotion, hitting 16 home runs in 171 Triple-A at-bats. He suddenly found himself with a major league opportunity in mid-August when John Bowker couldn't pull himself out of a prolonged slump. Ishikawa credited his faith with his success, saying belief in a higher power kept him from living and dying with every at-bat. While showing better power last year, he also cut down on his strikeouts considerably and showed good pitch recognition against major league competition, though he remains susceptible to soft stuff away. He's an excellent defensive first baseman with soft hands, above-average range and a terrific feel for the position. He has below-average speed but is decent for a first baseman. He held his own in his big league trial and will be a platoon candidate for the Giants--possibly teaming with switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval--if they don't acquire another first baseman this winter.
The Giants drafted Hinshaw three times--out of high school in 2000, out of Chaffey (Calif.) JC in 2002 and out of San Diego State in 2005--before he finally signed. In between he was also drafted by the Marlins in 2003 and missed a season following Tommy John surgery. Hinshaw showed what all the fuss was about in an encouraging major league debut season. The wiry lefthander appeared in 48 games, posted a 3.40 ERA and held lefthanders to a .205 average. He remains far from a finished product, often failing to get ahead of hitters and walking his way into trouble. But his low-90s fastball, hard curveball and sweeping slider all can be plus pitches, lending credence to the belief that he'll be more than a lefty specialist. Hinshaw is a fiery competitor who has had his share of dustups, including one ejection for arguing the strike zone. He went to the Arizona Fall League and looked tired there, posting a 6.23 ERA in 17 innings. Hinshaw is even skinnier than teammate Tim Lincecum and probably could stand to gain a few pounds to help increase his stamina. He's a near lock to make San Francisco's Opening Day roster.
Scouts weren't sure whether McBryde would make a better hitter or pitcher coming out of Florida Atlantic, as he had served as the Owls' closer at times during his college career. The Giants bet on his plus-plus speed and are encouraged by the results so far. McBryde is a dynamic presence in center field with his speed and arm strength. Physically, he's a stronger version of a young Steve Finley. McBryde improved several aspects of his offensive game last season, cutting down on strikeouts and using his speed to get on base with a flurry of bunt singles and infield hits. He also improved his baserunning skills, stealing 31 bases in 41 attempts after going just 14-for-25 in 2007. The downside was that just 21 of his 124 hits went for extra bases in 2008, and club officials thought he got a little too slap-happy. McBryde hit a few tape-measure home runs, including one at Visalia that went almost 500 feet. But he'll need to drive the ball with more consistency and hit breaking pitches to turn the corner in Double-A this season.
Tanner struggled to stay healthy in 2008, juggled his repertoire and endured a series of frustrations, yet his 3.69 ERA ranked sixth in the California League--and three of the pitchers he trailed were San Jose teammates Tim Alderson, Kevin Pucetas and Jesse English. Tanner also was part of another strong pitching staff at Augusta in 2007, though a heavy workload there may have led to some of Tanner's problems in 2008. He missed nearly a month with a scapular strain and a tight posterior shoulder capsule. He rebounded to pitch well in the second half, due in no small measure to the re-emergence of his curveball. It became such a dependable pitch that he'd work backward, throwing it for first-pitch strikes and using his changeup when behind in the count. Tanner is bright, talkative and studies hitters as well as anyone in the league, and he's not afraid to challenge them even though he doesn't have overpowering stuff. His fastball sat at 88-89 mph last season and he made his share of location mistakes with it, but he has youth and athleticism on his side. He'll get a true test in Double-A this year.
Giants vice president Dick Tidrow saw just a little bit of tape on King heading into the 2008 draft, but he knew immediately that the juco lefthander would be his "priority guy" for the draft. King has a power arm and a big frame that San Francisco projects will get stronger. He has a high leg kick and unleashes a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph and climbs as high as 97 with nice movement. His slider can be a swing-and-miss pitch, too. King doesn't have a feel for his pitches, however, and it will take time for him to develop command and consistency. For now, his fastball is overpowering enough that he'll get away with location mistakes at the lower levels. The Giants regard King as a good gamble for a seventh-round pick and a $110,000 bonus, even if he ends up in a relief role. In addition to throwing a no-hitter at Surry (N.C.) CC, he hit .329 and homered five times in 67 at-bats as a DH. After a strong pro debut in the Arizona League, King likely will jump to low Class A to start his first full season.
Few players have a package of tools that excite the Giants more than Peguero. There's no nepotism involved, as he's not directly related to Giants international scout Pablo Peguero, who happened to sign him. When Peguero made his domestic debut last season, officials had the Dominican outfielder jump straight to low Class A. He had a so-so showing there, but really came into his own when he took a step back to short-season Salem-Keizer when the Northwest League season opened in June. He has high upside with four solid tools and emerging power. For now, Giants coaches confidently predict he'll be a 30-doubles guy in the near future. Peguero plays the game with great energy and enthusiasm, running out every grounder like a young Robin Yount. His swing is a little long and he'll need time to learn the strike zone and cope with quality offspeed pitches. He can handle all three outfield positions and will gravitate toward right field because of his above-average arm strength. If he appears ready this spring, the Giants could again challenge Peguero by starting him out in high Class A.
The Giants signed Neal for a $220,000 bonus as a draft-and-follow in May 2006 after he boosted his stock with a huge season at Riverside (Calif.) CC. His development stalled when he dislocated his shoulder, and reconstructive surgery forced him to miss nearly all of the 2007 season. To make sure he'd get a full season of at-bats in 2008, the Giants had him share first base and DH duties with Angel Villalona at Augusta. Neal responded with a solid year, his 103 strikeouts in 428 at-bats notwithstanding. Despite playing his home games in a cavernous park, Neal hit 15 homers, many of them to center or the opposite field. Only Villalona's power grades out higher among Giants prospects. Neal is still young and his power numbers could explode once he learns to pull the ball with consistency. A below-average runner with a stocky build, he returned to the corner outfield spots in instructional league. His shoulder responded well, though he'll never have more than an average arm. He'll open 2009 as San Jose's left fielder.
San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean compares Downs to a player from his Yankees days, Shane Spencer. "Wherever you put him, he just hits," Sabean said. Downs was a 36th-round selection in 2006 out of Alabama, where he did anything and everything to help his team win--including a four-inning relief appearance in an NCAA regional game. As a hitter, he's the definition of a tough out. He has a short swing that should continue to work at higher levels, and the ball jumps off his bat, both to the gaps and over the fence. Downs drew 38 walks against 67 strikeouts last season, one of the better ratios in a Giants system that doesn't preach patience especially well. He is an above-average runner and has smarts on the basepaths. Downs shows a plus arm at third base and is equally playable at second, first or either corner outfield spot. He saw action at all those positions in 2008, and his bat also gives him the profile of a utilityman. He doesn't have quite the same feel or softness to his game as Ryan Rohlinger, another utility candidate who got big league time last season. But Downs is a better athlete and is a bit stronger. He's expected to start 2009 in Double-A.
Drafted by the Reds in the 39th round coming out of high school in 2005, Quirarte was a solid contributor at Cal State Northridge in two seasons as a starting pitcher. He jumped up draft lists after the Matadors began using him as a closer in 2008, going in the fifth round and signing for $193,000. Moving to the bullpen added velocity to a fastball that now sits consistently in the low 90s, and a plus splitter became his out pitch. He also commands an above-average slider that has some depth and showed continual improvement last summer. Quirarte is aggressive and pitches with a quick tempo, which works against him at times. He tends to rush his delivery and pitches on adrenaline. He shows an ability to keep the ball down, not yielding a homer in his pro debut and surrendering just two in 56 innings in his final season at Northridge. As a short reliever with some polished weapons, Quirarte could move quickly through the system. He had 14 saves at Salem-Keizer and is a top candidate to close at San Jose this year.
After spending at least part of the previous three seasons in low Class A, Matos had another statistically dominant season against minor league hitters and broke through with his first big league callup. He failed to make a good first impression in the big leagues, however. In his second career appearance, he couldn't pitch around an error by Fred Lewis and gave up five unearned runs in the sixth inning of a July 4 loss to the Dodgers. A tight lower back caused him to miss two weeks in September, and he got knocked around in the Arizona Fall League. Matos has the fastball to be a major league closer, pitching consistently in the mid-90s, and he fared well against lefties in the minors, which had been a concern in the past. But his lack of a changeup and an inconsistent slider probably limit him to short relief. While Matos has an exciting arm, he'll need to show more consistency with fastball location, especially from the stretch, before he gets an extended chance to pitch in the major league bullpen.
Culberson teamed in the Augusta middle infield with Nick Noonan last season, but he couldn't match the success of his roommate and fellow 2007 sandwich pick. Culberson, who signed for $607,500 as the 51st overall choice, hit .104 in April. Playing in front of friends and family only increased the pressure on the Georgia native, whose father Charles was the Giants' 16th-round pick in 1984. His baseball bloodlines run deep, as his grandfather Leon played in the majors and he's also related to the Sislers (Hall of Famer George, former allstar Dick and big leaguer Dave). Culberson eventually righted himself, hitting .274 over the rest of the season, though he missed all of August when he hurt his hand punching a paper-towel dispenser in frustration. He did return for instructional league and played well there. Culberson generates a lot of bat speed and has strong hands. He hit a few line-drive homers last season, and the ball jumps off his bat when his swing stays nice and compact. Developing more patience at the plate is a must. He has below-average speed but makes up for it by being aggressive on the bases. Culberson isn't a prototypical shortstop, but he has good feet and gets off strong throws despite an unorthodox release. He let his offensive woes affect him at times and committed 35 errors in 79 games at short, many coming when he tried to make highlight plays instead of eating the ball. He probably would fit better at second base, but Noonan's presence means the Giants will keep Culberson at shortstop for at least a while longer. He consistently comes out for early work and scores points for his attitude. He probably showed enough in the second half to graduate to high Class A.
For the second consecutive year, the Giants used their early position in the Rule 5 draft to take a pitcher from the Dominican Republic. At the 2007 Winter Meetings, they plucked lefthander Jose Capellan from the Red Sox, but he didn't' even last through spring training. In 2008, they selected Perdomo from the Cardinals, who had acquired him from the Indians in a July deal for onetime World Series hero Anthony Reyes. Though he stands barely 6 feet, Perdomo owns a consistent 93-95 mph fastball. He has an average-to-plus slider and has shown the ability to throw strikes with his changeup, which should help against lefthanders. He's athletic with good arm speed and the ability to get loose quickly. He needs to improve his command, but he tends to miss down in the zone when he's wild, so he keeps the ball in the park. Perdomo will compete with Pat Misch, Billy Sadler and Keiichi Yabu for a bullpen spot in spring training. Because the Giants remain in rebuilding mode, Perdomo could have the upper hand if he flashes consistency this spring. If he doesn't stick on the active roster, he has to be exposed to waivers and offered back to St. Louis for half the $50,000 draft price.
Sadler again handled Triple-A hitters in 2008, posting a 1.09 ERA for Fresno and allowing a .165 opponent average, yet he seemed no closer to solving the command problems that have prevented him from becoming an established big league reliever. He shuttled between Triple-A and San Francisco all season, walking 27 in 44 innings for the Giants. Sadler also gave up six homers and learned that 95-mph fastballs at the belt aren't a good idea when facing big league hitters. He has the equipment to be a late-inning force if he can throw strikes, because he backs up his fastball with a hard curveball that misses plenty of bats. Mound presence is a problem for Sadler, who loses his cool while experiencing the highs as well as the lows. He nearly started a bench-clearing brawl with the Dodgers when he celebrated a Manny Ramirez strikeout with a little too much gusto. Like Brian Wilson, Sadler pitched at Louisiana State and had Tommy John surgery while in college, though his elbow reconstruction came while he was at Pensacola (Fla.) JC. If he has a consistent spring, Sadler should break camp with the Giants.
Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner weren't the only Giants pitching prospects to win ERA titles last year. Martinez quietly put together a sensational season, and his 2.49 ERA edged out Trenton's Phil Coke for the lowest mark in the Double-A Eastern League. While Connecticut's Dodd Stadium is a pitcher-friendly ballpark, Martinez's numbers were actually better on the road. The Boston College product is a ground-ball machine, throwing a sinking 86-88 mph fastball, a true curveball and a plus changeup consistently down in the strike zone. In the past, Martinez would throw 10 good fastballs and follow with five down the middle, but he was consistent with his command throughout 2008. He has been among the system's most durable minor league arms over the past three seasons. The Giants will really begin to get excited about Martinez if he can continue to induce groundouts when he makes the jump to the launching pads of the Pacific Coast League this season.
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