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Belt first drew the attention of scouts as a pitcher at Hudson High (Lufkin, Texas), showing an 88-93 mph fastball from the left side and a solid feel for throwing strikes. The Red Sox drafted him in the 11th round in 2006 but couldn't sign him, as he opted instead to attend San Jacinto (Texas) JC. He had more success as a hitter than a pitcher at San Jac, and turned down another 11th-round offer (this one from the Braves) in 2007 to attend Texas as a full-time first baseman. He had a closed stance and an armsy swing that served him well with a metal bat (.961 OPS as a junior), but scouts weren't sold on his approach. Longtime Giants crosschecker Doug Mapson urged his team to take a fifth-round gamble on Belt in 2009 because of his athleticism and knowledge of the strike zone, a move that has paid off bigger than anyone could have forecasted. He held out all summer before agreeing to a slightly over-slot $200,000 bonus, signing too late to make his pro debut. In instructional league following the 2009 season, Belt made rapid progress after coaches had him try an upright, open stance. "All we did was square him up and give him some direction back toward the middle," San Francisco farm director Fred Stanley said. "Just kind of freed him up so his hips and hands can work . . . and my goodness." Belt exploded in 2010, dominating on three levels. He batted .352/.455/.620 while moving from high Class A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno, leading the minors in hitting and OPS while ranking second in on-base percentage. He continued to batter pitchers in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .372/.427/.616. Belt combines tremendous plate discipline with an up-themiddle approach that serves him well against lefthanders and righthanders alike. He makes adjustments from pitch to pitch--something almost unheard of for a firstyear pro--and enjoys the mental side of hitting. His power is through the middle of the field, and he should be good for at least 20 homers a year. His ability to make consistent hard contact could provide the Giants a lefthanded version of Buster Posey in the very near future. Belt is built like a beanpole but has no glaring weaknesses. He runs well for his size, has average speed and is a smart baserunner. He has plus range and hands at first base, where he could contend for Gold Gloves. His athleticism also led to a trial on the outfield corners late last season, and he performed well. He understands where to position himself has enough arm strength for right field. His intelligence and aptitude are off the charts. Belt's pro debut was so overwhelmingly successful that Giants GM Brian Sabean was willing to consider handing him an everyday job on Opening Day, knowing he might have a young Luis Gonzalez or Larry Walker on his hands. More likely, Belt will start 2011 in Triple-A with San Francisco hoping he'll force a promotion, much like Posey did last May.
The Giants made Wheeler the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft--the highest they've taken a pitcher since selecting Jason Grilli at No. 4 in 1997--and signed him for $3.3 million. It was a bad omen when he recorded only one out in his pro debut in April, as a persistent cracked-fingernail issue derailed his season. He did post a 3.27 ERA in his final five starts. With his size, broad shoulders and loose arm action, Wheeler has plenty of projection remaining. His cracked nail was a blessing in disguise because it forced him to take time out to work on smoothing out his mechanics. He got on a more direct line to the plate and cut down the effort in his delivery, allowing him to command the bottom of the strike zone much better. Wheeler threw an easy 94-97 mph fastball during instructional league with improved location. His changeup became functional toward the end of the season, and his breaking ball became tighter and more consistent. He can throw an overhand curveball but has had more success with a slurve. He did a lot of maturing on the mound in his first pro season and learned he can't strike out the world. Wheeler remains an elite arm with room to grow. After a promising instructional league, he'll move up to high Class A if he competes well in spring training.
Brown was leading the Big West Conference with a .438 average and .695 slugging percentage last spring when he broke his left middle finger on a slide in mid-May, ending his season. Drafted 24th overall and signed for $1.45 million in August, he looked rusty in his brief pro debut. Brown is a self-described hellraiser who raises plenty of it with his blazing speed. He was clocked at 3.69 seconds to first base on a bunt last spring at Cal State Fullerton--from the right side of the plate. He showed he can hit with wood bats with a .310 average in the summer Cape Cod League in 2009 and projects as an above-average hitter, though he has some lower-body movement in his swing that could hamper him. Brown has exceptionally quick hands that allow him to turn on pitches and give him gap power. He doesn't draw as many walks as he should to take full advantage of his speed. He's a potential Gold Glove center fielder whose fly-catching skills should prove valuable in the large prairies of the National League West. His arm is nothing special, but his throws are accurate. Brown may begin his first full pro season in high Class A. The Giants need a long-term center fielder, and he might not require more than two years in the minors.
Peguero concluded 2009 by winning MVP honors in the high Class A California League playoffs, and he helped San Jose win another title in 2010. After a slow start, he batted .372 in the second half and .350 in the postseason. He also led the league with 16 triples, provided quality outfield defense and appeared in the Futures Game. Peguero has the best blend of power and speed in the system, and he might be the most energetic player too. In some ways, he's reminiscent of a more compact Vladimir Guerrero. Peguero has terrific plate coverage that suits his aggressive style, and he has learned to turn on pitches in hitters' counts. His lack of patience hasn't worked against him yet, but he'll have to lay off better breaking pitches as he moves up the ranks. Peguero has easy plus speed but still has a lot to learn on the basepaths after getting caught stealing 22 times in 2010. His speed, excellent instincts and well above-average arm make him a long-term option in either center or right field. He played winter ball in his native Dominican, which should be good preparation for making the jump to Double-A Richmond in 2011. With Gary Brown now in the organization, Peguero's future in San Francisco figures to come in right field.
The Giants almost traded Adrianza to the Mariners in a July 31 deadline deal that would've netted David Aardsma. When talks fells through, San Francisco was happy to hold onto the premium playmaker. He barely said a word in his first big league camp last spring, but he made a statement whenever he took infield practice. Cal League managers almost unanimously rated Adrianza as the best defensive shortstop in the league last year. He has plus range to both sides, a lightning-quick transfer and an accurate arm, even while throwing on the run. He doesn't rush and makes everything look easy in the field. He made just 16 errors in 121 games last season, none after July 31. A switch-hitter, Adrianza hasn't impressed with the bat thus far. His swing gets long and he can be too pull-conscious despite his lack of power. He does have some plate discipline and should improve as a hitter as he gains strength. While not a burner, he's a smart baserunner and makes the most of his excellent first-step quickness. With Brandon Crawford in the system, the Giants don't need to rush Adrianza. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll move up the ranks as his bat allows, moving to Double-A this year and potentially arriving in San Francisco in 2012.
A Bay Area native who grew up a Giants fan, Crawford has the tools to star at shortstop but continues to be plagued by inconsistency at the plate. He has hit just .250/.313/.369 in parts of two seasons in Double-A. Breaking his right hand last July, when he was hit by a liner during batting practice, didn't help. He returned to help San Jose win the California League playoffs, hitting two crucial homers in the finals. Crawford's athleticism and awareness make him a potential Gold Glove shortstop, though he's not as gifted as Ehire Adrianza. He makes plays with plus range, a solid arm and smart positioning. Crawford opens eyes with his opposite-field power, but has yet to show he'll make enough consistent contact to be a big league regular. Coaches worked with him in instructional league to eliminate his leg kick and give him a different timing mechanism, hoping to improve his balance and keep his head on the ball longer. He has solid speed and good instincts but won't be a prolific basestealer. The Giants kept Crawford in big league camp longer than they kept Buster Posey, hoping it would help him be ready to take over as their shortstop in 2011 after Edgar Renteria's contract expired. Crawford's bat isn't ready to make that leap, and he'll probably open the season in Triple-A instead.
A $220,000 draft-and-follow signee out of Riverside (Calif.) CC, Neal dislocated his throwing shoulder in 2007 and missed nearly 12 months. He broke out in 2009, hitting .337/.431/.579 and leading the California League in on-base percentage, then turned in a solid season in Double-A last year to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. As a youth, he played on a San Diego-area travel team that included Stephen Strasburg, Mike Leake and Giants manager Bruce Bochy's son Brett. Neal is more athletic than most 6-foot-2, 225- pounders. His combination of power, arm strength and surprising ability to cover ground in either outfield corner draws comparisons to Jermaine Dye. But Neal needed time to figure out Double-A pitchers, who worked him with sinkers down and in, followed by sliders away. He has the bat speed to handle quality fastballs but gets a little overeager in RBI situations. While a below-average runner, he's opportunistic on the bases and coaches love his hustle. By the end of the season, Neal learned to take a consistent plan into every at-bat, something he can build on in Triple-A in 2011. There's a good chance he'll be introduced to the big leagues at some point this year, with the chance to establish himself as an everyday player in 2012.
A surprise supplemental first-round pick in 2007, Culberson played close to home for two seasons at low Class A Augusta but couldn't enjoy the experience. He hit a combined .241/.299/.311 and missed a month in 2008 when he broke his hand punching a papertowel dispenser. He has never lacked for bat speed, and his hard-nosed attitude helped him re-establish himself as a prospect with a strong 2010 season in high Class A. He has excellent bloodlines: His father Charles was a Giants minor league outfielder, his grandfather Leon played in the majors, and he's also related to the Sislers (Hall of Famer George, former all-star Dick and big leaguer Dave). Culberson has a powerful swing and strong hands to go along with fast-twitch athleticism. Though he's an aggressive hitter who doesn't walk much, his improved plate discipline and pitch recognition skills keyed the progress he made last year. He has average power and solid speed. Drafted as a shortstop, Culberson moved to third base in 2009 and second base last year. His strong arm and quick release make him an asset on double plays. Culberson showed his breakout was no fluke by batting .366/.394/.591 in the Arizona Fall League. He has caught up to fellow 2007 sandwich pick and second baseman Nick Noonan, and the Giants will have to find at-bats for both in Double-A this year.
Surkamp was on his way to leading Giants minor leaguers in strikeouts for the second consecutive season and was within a week of being promoted to Double-A when he partially dislocated his hip while fielding a ground ball in mid-July. He had surgery to tighten the labrum in his hip and should be 100 percent for spring training. He's a product of Cincinnati's famed Moeller High, whose alumni include Buddy Bell, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin. Surkamp's fastball sits in the upper 80s, but he gets good sink on it and throws it to both sides of the plate from a three-quarters delivery that adds deception. Coaches believe he can throw harder, both because of his size and the fact that he didn't use his fastball much in college. His curveball and changeup are both plus pitches and he commands his entire arsenal, generating plenty of swings and misses. He also has toyed with a cut fastball to give him another weapon against righthanders. San Francisco is aggressive with starting pitchers who throw strikes and has a limited inventory of them in the system, so expect Surkamp to move quickly if healthy. He could put up gaudy numbers this year in the Double-A Eastern League, a pitcher's paradise compared to the Cal League.
Joseph was one of the best power-hitting high school prospects in the 2009 draft and boosted his value by moving behind the plate as a senior. He attended a literal school of hard knocks in his pro debut last year, sustaining a concussion in late May and taking a beating from a barrage of foul tips behind the plate. The Giants don't put much stock in his disappointing numbers because they knew he was nicked up and one of the youngest players in the low Class A South Atlantic League. Joseph arrived straight from high school with a short, direct swing that should lead to plenty of hard contact in time. He generates consistent backspin in batting practice and competes well against quality fastballs. He lacks a consistent approach, though, and his strikeout numbers were indicative of that. Joseph's power is his only plus tool. He has a stocky build, poor speed and defensive limitations. He has a lot of work to do as a catcher after allowing 19 passed balls and 52 steals in 65 games last year. He does have solid arm strength. Joseph started 10 games at first base last year and has the power to play there. That seems like an automatic move with Buster Posey in San Francisco, but the Giants plan to continue developing Joseph as a catcher this year in high Class A.
Club officials felt Rodriguez could compete as a 17-year-old in the short-season Northwest League, but he struggled with a bad back and was overmatched by recent college draftees while hitting just .163 in 12 games. So the gifted teenager returned to Arizona, and he regained some confidence while finishing out the season in Rookie ball. It will be a challenge for Rodriguez to cover his huge strike zone against pro pitching, but if he reaches his potential, he could be a physical force and plus outfielder in the Dave Winfield mold. His $2.55 million bonus remains a club record for an international player. Rodriguez gained strength in his first full year in the United States and began to trust his ability, but he got caught in between pitches often. He made the biggest improvement in the outfield, where he learned to position himself better and improved on his throwing accuracy. He has a strong arm suitable for right field. He is a long strider who times out faster than he looks, especially when he gets moving on an extra-base hit. He's expected to make his full-season debut in low Class A this year.
Parker's lean, athletic frame is ideal for a major league outfield prospect and he has a nice blend of running ability, some power potential and plus defensive skills in center field. He put on 20 pounds before his sophomore year and his home runs jumped from zero to 16, turning him into one of the top draft-eligible college hitters in the country. He also led Virgnia to the College World Series in the process. But he hit .188 in the Cape Cod League, and an inconsistent junior season allowed him to fall to the Giants in the second round last June. He signed for an over-slot $700,000 bonus as the 74th overall pick. Parker projects to hit at or near the top of the order, but he must develop better on-base skills because some scouts don't believe he'll hit for average. He had contact issues in college with 177 strikeouts in 656 at-bats, and he'll need to shorten up his long-armed swing if he wants to cut down on strikeouts. His arm is fringe-average but playable in center field, where he otherwise projects to be a solid defender at a premium position. He should start out at Augusta in 2011.
Casilla's older brother Santiago won a World Series ring with the Giants while finally establishing himself as a valuable short reliever after parts of six seasons with the Athletics. The younger Casilla also had an impressive season and claimed a spot on the 40-man roster. He posted a 1.16 ERA in 46 games in low Class A, used mainly in the closer role, and didn't allow a home run. He doesn't quite have his brother's upper-90s velocity and his fastball is harder some days than others, but his two-seamer makes him a ground-ball machine. He posted a 2.53 groundout/airout ratio last year and induced nine double plays, and at times it sits at 90-93 mph. He throws an average to plus slider that he tends to overuse, and at times he mixes in a slower-breaking curve. He is less consistent from the stretch and must work harder to control opposing runners. He tends to snap his head during his delivery when he overthrows, a flaw he worked hard to address. The younger Casilla received his own postseason experience when San Francisco promoted him to high Class A for the Cal League playoffs. He might be a year or two away from figuring i
The Giants had high hopes for Kieschnick after his terrific 2009 season in high Class A, which included a farm system-leading 23 home runs. But he was one of several hitting prospects who got off to a slow start in the bad weather of the Double-A Eastern League last year, and it soon became a wasted year for the big kid from Texas. Back spasms sapped his power and he finally spoke up after a horrendous 0-for-34 streak in late May. His stay on the disabled list lasted three weeks, and he wasn't much better when he returned in June. He finally shut it down for good in early July. Eventually, doctors diagnosed a stress fracture in his back, and he worked all winter to rehab the injury. Not only did Kieschnick miss out on valuable development time, but he also couldn't take early batting practice or work on shortening up his swing. When healthy, Kieschnick is an exciting prospect with strength, fast hands and pull power. An above-average runner for his size, he's a plus defender with a plus arm in right field. He plays the game hard. A healthy Kieschnick should return to Double-A.
After helping lead Louisville to the 2007 College World Series, Dominguez finished a fine college career in 2009 with 61 home runs, second all-time at Louisville, and a school-record 218 RBIs. He arrived with an uppercut swing that suited him in college but led to a lot of strikeouts and didn't put him in position to handle breaking balls. He made changes last year and competed better against offspeed stuff, but still struck out once per 4.2 at-bats in low Class A. He also hit 21 home runs--second to Brandon Belt in the system--and led the South Atlantic League with 101 RBIs. Dominguez led the league in games played and at-bats, too, and maintained his energy level over the hot summer despite his stocky build. Dominguez is an average runner and isn't blessed with tremendous range at third base, but he can play two steps deeper because his arm strength is off the charts. A rival league manager called it the strongest arm he's ever seen from a minor league third baseman. He makes errors when he rushes things, though. Dominguez, who failed to sign with the Rockies in 2008 as a fifth-round pick, was a bit old for low Class A and will need to make progress quickly. Learning to lay off the high fastball will be among the keys to establishing himself as a future major leaguer. He'll try to make adjustments in 2011, perhaps with a jump to Double-A.
Kickham was a draft-eligible sophomore from a Missouri State program that has produced several well-regarded pitching prospects in recent years, as well as several big leaguers such as Shaun Marcum and Brad Ziegler. The Giants gave him an above-slot $410,000 to sign as a sixth-rounder and believe they might have gotten one of the steals of the 2010 draft. Pitching coordinator Bert Bradley already knew Kickham's repertoire, having watched him compete against his son at Southern Illinois. He's a physical lefty who throws his fastball consistently in the 90s, touching 94 mph, and commands a plus slider that has good, sweeping action. He further confounds lefty hitters with a hard breaking ball that he can drop under their hands. Kickham will change arm angles and showed a good feel for setting up hitters during instructional league--all traits that indicate he could move quickly. He also can throw a decent changeup, giving him a starter's repertoire. Kickham had thrown from a slide step in college and didn't fully load, so coaches worked with him to see if he could boost his velocity. Although he could be murder on lefties as a reliever, San Francisco doesn't have much lefthanded inventory among their starters and so he's likely to get stretched out. Kickham has a twin brother, Dan, who was taken by the Rockies in the 27th round but didn't sign.
Gillaspie is one of the best contact men in the system whose only plus tool is his ability to hit fastballs. He's a smart hitter with great eye-hand coordination, and he successfully made adjustments after falling into a teamwide slump to start the season in Double-A. Then he continued his momentum in the Arizona Fall League while showing a bit more power, tying with the Blue Jays' Adam Loewen for the league lead with five homers. While Gillaspie doesn't take many walks, he works deep counts and isn't afraid to hit with two strikes. He did a better job fighting off hard stuff inside and learned not to be surprised to see breaking balls in hitters' counts as he boosted his final average to .287. Gillaspie has good gap power and likes to be aggressive when he splits the outfielders, as his eight triples will attest. He's a below-average defender at third base but put in a lot of effort on improving his footwork, and his 17 errors were 10 fewer than the previous year in high Class A. While he's focused on third base, Gillaspie profiles as more of a utility type, so don't be surprised if he's asked to work at second base and left field in the near future. He's an average runner. Gillaspie is on the 40-man roster and was a September callup in 2008--a tradeout benefit because he signed for slot money. Perhaps this is the year Gillaspie gets a legitimate callup.
Jones was a high school quarterback and basketball player, but baseball was his best sport. He was Missouri's high school athlete of the year, and the Cardinals already had called to say they were planning to take him in the seventh round before the Giants swooped in one pick earlier. Jones had committed to Maple Woods (Mo.) CC, following his role model, Albert Pujols, but was eager to start his career. He signed quickly and then showed the ultra-athleticism that made him a three-sport standout in high school. Competing mostly before his 18th birthday, he posted a .461 slugging percentage in 46 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League, amassing five homers, four triples and seven doubles among his 46 hits. He has good bat speed to go with his present strength. Jones didn't bother to cut down his swing with two strikes, fanning 61 times in 165 at-bats. But he also drew a team-high 20 walks, indicating he has some plate discipline. Despite his tender age, Jones is built like an NFL linebacker with above-average throwing and running ability. He'll probably outgrow center field, but scouting director John Barr assumed the same thing about Matt Kemp when he was with the Dodgers. He has enough arm strength to make right field a possibility.
Hembree was a draft curiosity as a seldom-used closer at the College of Charleston, with rumors in the scouting community that he could hit 100 mph. But he also walked 18 in 29 innings and he didn't have much track record, and he missed his senior year of high school with a torn ACL he sustained in a football game. He pitched only one inning as a college freshman at South Carolina before getting in a year of work in junior college and then at Charleston. Hembree signed relatively quickly and the Giants got right to work, giving him a simple guide move with his front arm that allowed him to repeat his otherwise clean delivery and stay on line to the plate. To call Hembree a quick learner would be an understatement. In 11 relief innings in the Arizona League, he struck out 22 and didn't walk a batter while working from 94-99 mph with his fastball and mixing in a power slider. San Francisco forced him to throw 90 percent changeups in instructional league and it wasn't deemed a wasted effort. He doesn't have a pitch to combat lefthanders, though some think his power repertoire and big hands make him an excellent future candidate for a splitter. Hembree profiles as a premium closer or set-up man, with the potential to move fast as a reliever.
A starting shortstop and occasional relief pitcher at Indiana, Dunning hit .227 in Rookie ball before he bought into a full mound conversion. The Giants did the same thing a decade ago with former all-star closer Joe Nathan, who like Dunning is tall, and coaches were thrilled when Dunning showed much better feel and touch at a similar stage. Dunning quickly was able to show command of a curveball, slider and changeup while his fastball consistently hit 94-95 mph. All could be solid-average pitches or better. His slider has good tilt, and his changeup fades away from lefty hitters. He's just learning how to compete on the mound and take the same demeanor out there every time. But his delivery is under control, he is confident and he is committed to his current career path. It's a bonus that he fields his position well, too. Dunning's grasp of four pitches should warrant his development as a starter, but San Francisco might have him work out of the bullpen this season as the organization tries to avoid overtaxing a fresh arm.
Bucardo is so slender that he could sleep in the barrel of a shotgun, according to farm director Fred Stanley. Club officials were curious how durable he would prove to be in his first full season, and Bucardo was a pleasant surprise, not only with the way he maintained his stuff but also with how he competed on two levels. He led the South Atlantic League in opponent average (.208) and ranked second in ERA (2.21). His lack of strength might have caught up to him in nine unimpressive late-season appearances in high Class A, but it's notable that he threw over 150 innings before his 21st birthday. Bucardo is wiry strong, and his stuff plays as a starter or reliever. He throws from several arm angles while touching 94 mph, but mostly pitching in the 88-90 range, and gets ground balls with an effective sinker. His slider is average and his changeup is haphazard, but he has a good idea of when to use it. Bucardo is a good athlete who springs off the mound when fielding his position. His older brother Wilber is also in the Giants system, but hasn't developed along the same lines.
The Giants hoped to see a little more polish from Stoffel, who was Arizona's all-time saves leader and served as closer in a Wildcats bullpen that included Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, a pair of first-rounders from the 2008 draft. Stoffel recorded 25 saves in 29 chances in high Class A, but had trouble controlling his tempo and ran into control problems when he'd overthrow, causing him to get underneath the ball. Stoffel ended the year with a huge positive, though, when he threw three scoreless innings in a deciding Game Five in the California League playoffs as San Jose won an 11-inning thriller at Rancho Cucamonga. Stoffel struck out the final hitter with the tying run at third base--his eighth strikeout in 20 batters faced during the postseason. Stoffel throws his fastball at 88-93 mph, at times reaching the mid-90s, and has a true power slider that can sits in upper 70s and touches 80 mph. He can turn it into a hard slurve at times. He worked on a changeup on the side but didn't have the confidence to use it in games. His future depends on his ability to locate his fastball down and to both sides of the plate--something he's shown the ability to do when he's composed on the mound.
The Giants fast-tracked Noonan after he lit up the AZL in his pro debut three years ago, even though there were signs his offensive approach needed work and he wasn't ready to make the jump. Sure enough, Noonan came upon a speed bump in Double-A, struggling to hit anything but singles and missing more than 40 games with a recurring hamstring injury. Despite gifted hand-eye coordination and a knack for hitting with runners on base in the past, Noonan had trouble competing against Double-A pitching. He was off-balance and lunged at pitches, leading him to accept an overhauled approach in instructional league. Coaches had him put more weight on his back leg, firm up his front side and get his hands on a shorter path to the ball. According to Richmond manager Andy Skeels, Noonan started driving the ball, staying back against lefties and generating better bat speed--looking more like the lefthanded hitter who drew comparisons to Robin Ventura when San Francisco drafted him. Noonan hasn't added much strength to his rangy frame. He's an average defender and runner whose bat is his ticket to advancement, so he'll have to reestablish his value with a return trip to Double-A.
Perez earned his prospect stripes a little later than most. But then again, he has a better story to tell. The Dominican native moved to the United States in 2001 and wasn't drafted out of high school in the Bronx, so he apprenticed for his father's plumbing company and played in an amateur men's league. After facing all those ex-pros, Perez was well prepared when he got an opportunity to play at Western Oklahoma JC. He set Division II national juco records with 37 homers and 102 RBIs in 2008, which got him drafted in the 13th round by San Francisco. Perez packs a lot of punch in a small body, and his ability to play second base in addition to all three outfield spots gives him multiple avenues to advance. He was so good in center field that the Giants moved a better prospect, Francisco Peguero, to right field. He's an above-average runner and thrower who could hit for average and power. He showed that power in the Carolina League-California League all-star game, earning MVP honors with a homer and a double. Breaking balls at times gave Perez problems in high Class A, and he doesn't have premium bat speed to catch up to the best fastballs. He'll have to become more efficient on the bases after he was caught stealing (15) almost as often as he succeeded. Special assistant Felipe Alou said his tools conjure Craig Biggio, but Perez needs to boost his walk rate and turn some of his fly balls into line drives.
Verdugo won a Mr. Baseball award in Washington and was drafted in 2005 (43rd round) by the Phillies even though he had just had Tommy John surgery. He opted to go to Skagit Valley (Wash.) JC instead, where he pitched a no-hitter and reestablished himself on draft boards. The Giants took a flier on him in the 47th round of the 2007 draft, even though they knew he had committed to Louisiana State. Verdugo fulfilled that commitment, and after he had a strong year as a starting pitcher, San Francisco spent another pick on him. They saw a pitcher with easy arm action whose 92 mph fastball seemed to jump out of his hand. Verdugo is a deceptive lefty whose stuff consistently misses bats. Working in relief, he fanned 94 in 63 innings between Augusta and San Jose, right in line with his pro average of 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings. His changeup is his best offspeed pitch and shows flashes of being above-average. If Verdugo can tighten up his slider, he could get a chance to start again. Verdugo remains a minus command pitcher who posted a 2.45 ERA while starting and throwing three- and four-inning stints in the Arizona Fall League, but didn't work many clean innings (37 baserunners in 22 innings). If he can start to fill up the strike zone, he will advance quickly.
San Francisco still has to dream a bit on Villegas, who wasn't strong enough for a full-season assignment and hit just .189/.215/.242 in low Class A last year. He began the season in extended spring training and went up to Augusta to replace Sharlon Schoop and wound up a semi-regular thanks to his glove. Villegas' defensive skills and playmaking abilities at shortstop rival Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Crawford. In instructional league, Villegas moved to second base to form an acrobatic double-play combination with Adrianza that had coaches slapping their foreheads in amazement. Villegas played much looser after reporting to the Giants' winter instructional camp in the Dominican Republic after the season, running better and swinging the bat with more authority. Villegas is from the same area (Carabobo) in Venezuela as Pablo Sandoval, but San Francisco doesn't have him on the Panda's calorie counter. Villegas needs to gain weight and prove he's durable enough to play a full season, to say nothing of the strides he must make with his switch-hitting approach. For now, he has enough youth, projection and premium defensive tools to warrant attention. He's expected to make a repeat visit to Augusta in 2011.
Ford was acquired along with lefthander Steve Hammond in a July 2008 trade that sent Ray Durham to the Brewers. Ford's eventful 2010 season began with an eye-opening spring training that included an electric 11- for-22 performance that won him the clubhouse award for best rookie in camp. He made a memorable major league debut as a pinch-runner Sept. 1, sprinting madly around the bases on a wild pitch and error to score the winning run against the Rockies. Ford wasn't on the playoff roster, but he enjoyed a front-row seat for the Giants' run to a World Series title. His season wasn't all good news, though. In July, Ford surrendered to authorities in New Jersey after investigators suspected he made up a story over the winter about being robbed at gunpoint while making a bank deposit from his offseason job at a car dealership. The charges were a distraction for the hyper-fast leadoff hitter--he earns 80 speed grades on the 20-80 scale from some scouts--as he struck out too much and threw away at-bats against tougher Double-A pitching. His choppy swing precludes him from driving the ball consistently, and he hits too many groundballs. Ford was in the process of resolving his legal situation over the winter. If he can avoid distractions and develop a consistent righthanded swing, his blinding speed and tremendous range in center field make him an option as a reserve outfielder.
A Bronx native, Monell is the son of a well-traveled former minor leaguer, also named Johnny, who played for 17 seasons on three continents. The younger Monell grew up soft-tossing with the likes of Jim Thome in winter ball in Puerto Rico and has lefthanded power of his own. He didn't disappoint in his first exposure to the Cal League and hit 19 home runs in the regular season, then connected for three more for San Jose in the championship series to win playoff MVP honors. He's more slugger than hitter and was being exposed by older competition in the Puerto Rican League over the winter. Monell was old for high Class A and his receiving skills remain raw. Pitchers generally like throwing to him, though, and he used his solid arm to throw out 29 percent of basestealers last year. Monell has a bulldog attitude that makes him a good competitor and teammate and he shows some ability as a game-caller. His arm is slightly above-average and he runs well for a catcher, hitting four triples and stealing 12 bases in 15 attempts. He remains an interesting platoon candidate if he can polish up his defensive skills. At his age, though, he can't afford to repeat any levels, so a move up to Double-A is in the offing.
After a few injury-marred seasons that included knee surgery and a strained muscle in his upper back, Sosa came out blazing in spring training, throwing consistently in the mid-90s while keeping a spotless 0.00 ERA in 10 appearances covering 12 innings. It looked like he'd be the first reliever called upon when the Giants needed a fresh arm in April or May. But Sosa's season in Triple-A didn't go as planned and San Francisco still seemed confused about whether he fits best as a starter or reliever. Sosa hit a low point in late May, when he was suspended two games for fighting a teammate. He took a step back with command and got punished by Triple-A hitters when he elevated the ball. He had trouble establishing his secondary pitches because he tends to push his changeup and his breaking balls (he throws both a curve and a slider) are fringy. San Francisco hoped Sosa would have matured into a better competitor by now, as he's starting to get a bit old to maintain his prospect status. He remains one of the more electric arms in the system, though, warranting a continuing look.
Tanner's ability to miss bats has trended in the wrong direction since the Giants grabbed him out of a northern California high school, but he's an intelligent command pitcher who is usually around the plate and impresses on nights when he has three pitches working. Tanner had a strained oblique in May, missing two starts, but strung together enough solid starts in June to be named an Eastern League all-star replacement for Daryl Maday, who was promoted to Triple-A. Tanner's season high for strikeouts was just six, and he pitches to contact. He'll need finer control to live up to his back-of-the-rotation ceiling. He induces ground balls with a sinking fastball and changeup and changes speeds well. At times he gets good, downward tilt on his low-80s slider, and at others it's more of a groundball pitch than a swing-and-miss offering. His slider helps him neutralize lefthanders, who hit just .180 against him, and he could have a future as a lefty specialist if needed. Tanner is always studying opposing hitters for weaknesses or looking for a new wrinkle to exploit. San Francisco added him to its 40-man roster in November, and he should move up to Fresno in 2011.
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