2016 San Francisco Giants Top Prospects Chat

The top 5 #SFGiants bloggers share their thoughts about the prospects in system

We posed five intriguing questions about the 2016 San Francisco Giants Top Prospects to guru's Michael Saltzman of Candlestick WIll,  Dr.B of When the Giants Come to Town,  Shankbone from You Gotta Like These Kids,  Wrenzie from Wrenzie Blogs Giants,  Kyle Goings of Cove Chatter,  Kevin Cunningham of SF Lunatic Fringe.com,  and OGC of Obsessive Giants Compulsive.

2016 San Francisco Giants Top Prospects Chat

#1. Who is the most under-rated/under-valued Giants prospect?

Mac Williamson. He has hit at every level and hit for power. He has shown all 5 tools and he could end up the team's starting LF this season if Angel Pagan struggles to stay healthy. Baseball America and others have him behind several other prospects. Outside of Christian Arroyo and maybe Tyler Beede, no player has shown more in my opinion than Williamson.

Michael Saltzman Candlestick Will
Dr.B When the Giants come to Town

This is a tough question because in my opinion, the entire Giants farm system is very under-rated as whole, and is chock full of individually under-rated prospects, but I'm a hopeless homer, so what do I know?

I have Mac Williamson #4 on my own list. He is not top 10 for Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels or ESPN, so I am going to go with Mac Williamson. I think his age is working against him on many of these lists, but he essentially missed a year with Tommy John surgery which delayed his development. He has tremendous power potential with enough athleticism to be an above average corner outfielder. I believe he has a great chance to be the Giants starting left fielder by the end of this season. His ceiling is probably a batting average of .250-.270 with 30+ HR's on a yearly basis.

High Minors: Clayton Blackburn. This is a major league pitcher, who continually beats up stats everywhere he goes while being young for the league. He's worked on his conditioning, which might be his biggest barrier to the majors, and he has more in the tank then given credit for, he can reach back. Very good arsenal of pitches and a feel for pitching that is completely underrated.

Low Minors: Ronnie Jebavy. The mythical 5 tool player is hard to find. Can you squint? Jebavy has power to keep pitchers honest, great speed, excellent defense. He plays CF. He has been ignored a lot because of his low BBs in Short Season ball. So he's a big question mark. I just have a feeling this is the guy who everyone will look back on.

Shankbone You Gotta Like These Kids
Wrenzie Wrenzie Blogs Giants

Honestly, the most underrated Giants prospect in my eyes is Mac Williamson. It seems like he's been forgotten and been sent to oblivion by people but he has reached the Majors in 2015 and he performed very, very well in the Fall League. After his TJ, his arm strength is back and I think it's a plus tool because of the strength and the accuracy of his throws. He got a chance to be a classic corner OF profile with his plus raw power and his plus arm. His swing gets long and he'll chase pitches but I think his hit tool will be an average tool. He'll be a solid Major Leaguer if he's given the playing time especially that the OF is in the transition phase as the players that are normally seen in the outfield (Pence, Pagan, Blanco) are getting old.

For me it’s without a doubt Mac Williamson. He’s pretty regularly ranked outside the top 10 on Giants lists (MLB Pipeline was the highest on him this winter at #7), though I have him solidly at #2 on my own organizational top 50. With so much emphasis on youth, a 25 year-old prospect doesn’t seem to get as much love these days. Mac missed most of 2014 to Tommy John surgery, and I think people are really missing the boat on what he’s been able to do during his two healthy full seasons in the organization. He’s a great athlete with intimidating size and power, he earns praise for his outfield defense, and his arm is well above average. He combines the physical tools with a tremendous work ethic and desire to improve, much like his good buddy Matt Duffy. Like Duffy, I think Williamson will eventually get an opportunity to show what he can do, and I expect him to prove a lot of doubters wrong when he does.

Kyle Goings Cove Chatter
Kevin SF Lunatic Frindge

There’s no easy choice this year. Three years ago, it was easily Joe Panik. This past year, Christian Arroyo would have been it. But this year, the lists that are out there make a fair amount of sense. Then again, I talk with a lot of hardcore prospect hounds, so I may not think the way some do. So let me dig deep here for one: Tyler Brown.

Tyler Brown was also drafted from the College of Southern Nevada (same as Phil Bickford), but down in the 26th round. He’s easy to overlook considering the Giants have two excellent younger shortstop prospects coming into the system the same time he is, but this is a very athletic, speedy sort of a player. I won’t try to equate JC stats here, but he’s got real speed, a good eye for the ball and knows how to draw walks (somehow, this is still an understated skill among speedsters). Brown can play second or short, but I think he’ll make a good name for himself.

OGC Obsessive Giants Compulsive

I consider Clayton Blackburn to be the most under-valued Giants prospect. Looking at the various rankings for Giants prospects, he is ranked as high as 3rd by Sickels, but Baseball America and Minor League Baseball Analyst have him 8th, MLB.com has him 12th, and Baseball Prospectus don’t even mention him. Most view him as a back of rotation guy,

But consider what he did last season. At age 22, he led the PCL with a 2.85 ERA (3.11 FIP). Most top prospects in the majors get to AA at age 22 or better, and Blackburn made it at age 21 and did well, then did great in AAA at 22, yet Clayton has never made any MLB Top 30 prospect lists, sometimes squeaking in the last part of the Top 100 lists. As Sickel noted, “Ready for a major league trial, continues to outperform expectations, throws four big league pitches for strikes, entire package consistently plays up despite skepticism from some observers.”

I put him into the Sandoval category of misunderstood prospects. People don’t like him because of his size. But I’ve seen guys with his body type among the best in the majors when I was growing up in the 70’s. As long as he keeps it under control (he reportedly came into camp in, roll the cliche, “the best shape of his life”), he should be fine. People don’t like him because he throws in the 88-91 MPH range right now. But MLB.com noted that his fastball plays up because it has run and sink. And when he was first profiled, I saw reports that had him up as high as 92-94 MPH. Which leads into another thing people don’t like about him, nothing is dominant about his pitching, everything is about average, nothing really plus about him.

Nothing except for his performances. I mean, he led the PCL in ERA. Some thought he was a #2 potential starter early on, and all he has done is rise and continue to do well, with no hiccups, and if anything, improvement (leading PCL). He strikes out a fair amount, but nothing to open eyes, while getting a lot of grounders vs. fly balls.

What I think people are missing - and even the rankings acknowledge this - is that Blackburn is already a pitcher and not a thrower when he was drafted, very much like Matt Cain, I think. And most of the rankers are not scouts, they aggregate the opinions of scouts who they talk to. And Blackburn doesn’t have the stuff or physicality that scouts love, and so he is downgraded for that. Plus the experts can’t even agree, one thinks his slider is plus, another views it as sub-par. Even Giants fans don’t get him, not one question in BA’s chat on Giants prospects.

I think Blackburn has the ability to come up to the majors and be one of our top starters eventually. And a Matt Cain type start would not surprise me. I think he’s extremely mature and advanced in knowledge, much like Cain when he came up. Most agree that he has four pitches, and a plus fastball with sink. I think he’s been mostly toying with minor league hitters, just showing enough to get them out.

#2. What prospect has the best chance to be the break-out star this season?

Best chance to be a star is Ray Black. Black's fastball is lethal and 100+. With the emergence of Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich, Black may end up being brought up and form a new young core that ends up pitching the 7th-9th.

Michael Saltzman Candlestick Will
  DR. BWhen the Giants come to Town

I've already talked about Mac Williamson in the first question so let's look at another name. A lot of people have gone to sleep on Tyler Beede after his struggles in AA last year, but he wore down physically from the grind of starting every 5'th game in his first full professional season and lost weight and strength. He has worked hard to add weight and strength this offseason. I think there is more than a small chance he will be pitching for the Giants by the end of this season and will perform well if he does.

Hitting: Mac Williamson. Pitching: Derek Law. The TJ boys. Both players have huge carrying tools. Mac is a 5-tool player if you squint at his speed until he gets underway. Massive power, and a great 6th tool.

Law was on the brink of making the 25, he has moved back into position. Unique delivery, good poise, great pitches. Both are being underrated because of age bias in prospecting. Law's stat lines are filthy. What is being hidden is the recovery from TJ has greyed both players stat lines. I expect both to contribute to the 2016 San Francisco Giants.

Shankbone You Gotta Like These Kids
Wrenzie Wrenzie Blogs Giants

I think the biggest breakout star for the Giants this season will be Tyler Beede. Not that he's a breakout star already in my opinion, he was on track for a shot at the Majors until he encountered a road block in Richmond. In my opinion as well as my good friend that knows Beede personally, he's hit with fatigue in his stint in Richmond as well as his perfectionist mentality caused him to struggle in the strike zone. My friend said that Beede has put on 30 pounds of muscle to endure the grind of the full season. His command should improve, he will probably incorporate his four-seamer more in his sinker-cutter-change repertoire, his curveball command and his curveball He is a big chance to be in the Majors this year.

Kevin SF Lunatic Frindge

Chris Shaw is my bet. Shaw’s already on a lot of prospect lists this year, but he’s got the best power in the system since Mac Williamson was this low, and maybe as good raw power as Chris Dominguez had, with an obviously better ability to make contact. If Shaw gets pushed hard to San Jose (and I think there’s a 50-50 chance he will be), people will be oohing and aahing as he pounds the ball up and down the state.

This is a tough one for me, as the Giants don’t have many immediate needs at the MLB level. If there’s an injury in the rotation at some point, Clayton Blackburn looks like he has the poise and polish to secure a spot. Ditto for Mac Williamson if a corner outfield position needs supplementing. The wildcard for me is Christian Arroyo, who just keeps putting up numbers despite being very young at each level. If he hits in AA like the Giants believe he can, we may see him in San Francisco much sooner than expected.

Kyle Goings Cove Chatter
OGC Obsessive Giants Compulsive

Based on the above, I was tempted to just say Blackburn again. But right now I think the Giants should be a little worried about how his body would hold up, he had shoulder issues last season, and the most IP he has in a season is 133, three seasons ago. I think the goal this season would be to push his IP into the 160-180 range, like what Ty Blach did last season. Then he’ll be ready for a full MLB season in 2017, when there will be a spot open since Peavy probably would be gone, with his contract over.

With the roster so set, with maybe three open spots (three bench spots, maybe two MI and 5th OF, maybe include an extra C or corner infielder), I think the best chance for break-out star, which I assume is a reference to Matt Duffy and Joe Panik the past two seasons, rests on the odds of someone coming up lame for whatever reason (injury or poor performance) and giving that opportunity to break out to a prospect. As much as people worry about Belt and Panik, I think that they should give us 140-150 games. I think the best opportunities are in this order: starting pitching, bullpen, and LF.

Hence why Blackburn came to mind. But I think if a SP goes lame, the Giants would go first with Heston, then I think Ty Blach would get a try next (Giants like mixing in L/R, plus he’s unlike any of the other starters), then if Ricky Romero is healthy and doing OK, he would be in the mix as well, plus then Stratton could be next. I can see one of Peavy or Cain having problems going a full season, but I think Cain is finally fully healthy and in normal condition, good enough to hold a back of rotation spot, taking over the Zito spot from Lincecum: good enough pitcher but not good. Hey, that formula led to a couple of championships (Zito wasn’t good enough in 2014). So Blach probably won’t get much of a shot, especially given that Heston should be good enough based on what he did in 2015, let alone anyone.

That gets us to bullpen. Here, I’ll cheat some and nominate Steven Okert and Derek Law as the best chance for breakout star. Because the odds of a six man bullpen all staying healthy and performing well has to be pretty low, which will open a spot up for either Okert or Law, depending on who goes down, a LHP or RHP. Though if I had to chose one, Okert would be the guy, because he reportedly has the repertoire to handle both RHP as well as LHP and was in AAA last season, while Law only has AA experience and hasn’t pitched a full season yet since recovering from TJS.

Some might not think much of Okert, but per his BA profile, he had the bad habit of relying too much on his cutter mid-season, which made him very hittable plus he lost the feel for his slider. They eliminated the cutter which forced him to use the slider more and to find that plus pitch again. He did: in his last 17 appearances, he had a 2.14 ERA in 21.0 IP, with 23 K’s and only 8 BB’s, nearly 3 K/BB ratio, and over 9 K/9, in AAA. If you take out that bad middle - presumably, they won’t allow him to get obsessed with his cutter anymore - he had a 1.45 ERA in 28 games, 37.1 IP, 44 K and 14 BB, 3+ K/BB, over 9 K/9.

Law didn’t have a great 2015, or even a good one, or even a good enough, if you look at his ERA. But he had an 11.2 K/9 and 4.00 K/BB, the bad ERA was due more to really bad BABIP (.405 for the season), which can happen for relievers with very SSS for pitching. His FIP was 2.09, for comparison. He had a lot of swinging strikes and especially strikes looking, so he was fooling batters a lot of the time, and not so much in other times. I’m willing to chalk it up to rustiness after not pitching for a year, then getting used to pitching post-TJS. Had he not had TJS in the middle of 2014, he most probably would have been relieving for us late in the season and perhaps in the playoffs, he was that good before.

#3. What prospect do you expect to take the biggest leap forward in development this season?

I’m looking at Tyler Beede, who struggled in AA Richmond after he was quickly promoted from the Cal League last summer. The former 1st rounder put on 25-30 pounds this winter, and is currently in Giants camp as a non-roster invite. The Giants' primary focus for Beede last year was working a 2-seam/sinker into his arsenal in hopes of harnessing his control while pitching for ground balls. This season, I think the reigns will be completely off and the extra muscle on his frame should help keep Beede strong into September. I’m looking forward to seeing what year two brings for the talented right-hander.

Kyle Goings Cove Chatter
DR. B When the Giants come to Town

Again, there are so many to choose from, but I'll go with the obvious choice and say Phil Bickford, who I think may have the highest ceiling of any current Giants prospect.

Christian Arroyo. His bat is essentially ready for the big leagues but he doesn't have a position. Arroyo is Joe Panik in 2014. He'll start the season in Double-A but he'll hit well enough to be in Triple-A before the summer and by the trade deadline, they will have no choice but to bring him up.

Michael Saltzman Candlestick Will
Wrenzie Wrenzie Blogs Giants

There are a few that I have in mind in terms of having the biggest leap forward this season but I think that Steven Duggar will be the one who will have the biggest leap in development. The 6th round pick in the 2015 draft by the Giants is an athletic outfielder who got exciting tools. He got a great defensive potential with his plus-plus speed with range and a plus arm to boot. He got a broken swing in my opinion with a lot of moving parts and a choppy swing path and I amazed at how he managed to put up a very solid batting average with that swing. If he repairs his swing in the offseason, his hit tool will be average to above-average thanks to his very good eye and patience and possibly hit more doubles and home runs. His baserunning instincts needs to be improve as well to fully utilize his plus speed. I have a feeling on him that he'll break out and have a very good season and surprise many.

Hitting: Aramis Garcia is going to zoom up prospect lists. Catching is not a stacked area, and here is where Los Gigantes really shine, investing in position scarcity. While everybody wants to talk about HS OFs or bonus baby pitchers, they put in their time with catching. This dude can hit, and his stat line is being hidden by all the time spent learning how to play the most important defensive position. Its a huge challenge. He has big power, a line drive swing, his batting numbers will come around and he will zoom.

Pitching: I think Phil Bickford is actually underrated until he starts getting to it at A and AA. I have a feeling that the Giants, never shy with challenging guys they like, will challenge the hell out of Bickford. He might have the most movement of all pitchers in the system, he's sort of a black sheep/wild card, I predict some serious zoom. Both these guys are my picks to end up ranked in top 100 lists by the end of the year, which constitutes a big leap forward.

Shankbone You Gotta Like These Kids
Kevin SF Lunatic Frindge

My bet is going to be on the much-maligned Chris Stratton. Stratton has had problems since getting hit with a batted ball early in his career, but now he’s been positively mediocre up to AAA. It may be too late for Stratton to really regain the heat a first round pick would usually have. But if Stratton adds a little more bite to his slider, and finds his out-pitch again, we’ll see Stratton in the discussion for the inevitable pitching injuries and problems in the future, competing with Blackburn and Heston

OGC Obsessive Giants Compulsive

So I’m going to focus on position players with this question, sorry if it mucks up your plans. Lots of interesting position prospects: Arroyo, Williamson, Garcia, Shaw, Fox, Miller, Parker. But many of these are developed to a strong degree already. Though I would note that many rankings place Williamson below the Top 10, where most of these preside (except for Parker), and to your second question, if Pagan is out for any reason, I expect Williamson to get to share time out in LF with Blanco, and maybe get a shot first before splitting time, and I expect Pagan to be out for some reason, he’s just been a brittle player for the most part (though hopefully with him planning on continuing to play after 2016, he’ll take care of himself like he did in 2012 for the big contract). And you never know, they could pull a Bengie and trade Pagan mid-season if Williamson forces the issue in AAA.

Two names pop up for me: CJ Hinojosa and Hunter Cole. Cole is not highly ranked, somewhere in the 20’s but at least he’s ranked, Hinojosa is not mentioned anywhere.

Cole took the system by storm in 2015, moving through to AA, rising three levels beyond where he was in 2014. He hit well and very similarly at all three leagues he was in. So he’s pretty developed, in that he has made AA, but given that he’s lowly ranked, I see him rising much higher with another good season of hitting, and might make the majors as a bench player late in the season, as he has played 2B as well as the OF, making him very versatile. Add in a little power and ability to steal (in a full season, based on 2015, he could be in low teens in both HR and SB), and he could be the next Duffy in 2016-17.

But in terms of biggest leap forward in development, I would have to bring up Hinojosa. He was only noted by one ranker (Sickels, as next group behind Top 20, and thus far to say a Top 25 for him I guess), and BA noted that he was in consideration for the back of the Top 30 (didn’t make it), stating: “I’m very encouraged by his pro debut, Hinojosa has significant tools and a track record of success in the past, so there is reason to believe he still could be a very useful shortstop.” Also, he was considered by one service to be the best pick after the first ten rounds of the draft last season.

I see him as another version of the Brandon Crawford pick. Crawford was actually considered a Top 10 overall pick by BA before the season, and though, to my eye, his numbers weren’t bad, I guess the talent evaluators felt it was a huge disappointment that he didn’t blossom as a junior. As a result, he fell to us in the 4th round, and, boy, he’s been a great pick and a great story. Hinojosa had an even worse junior year, was injured some, did poorly both offensively and defensively. But with his track record of success, the Giants picked him up (since Barr joined us, the Giants have been picked up a lot of players who had prior good performances but ended up in our hands because of poor recent performances, seems to be part of their evaluation methodology). CJ was ranked #27 pre-season by BA for college players.

What I liked is that he hit .296/.328/.481/.810 in Salem-Keizer last season, while slightly below the average age in the league. The average batting line in the Northwest League last season was .250/.327/.358/.685. He really out performed the league. In addition, he only struck out 15 times in 189 AB (203 PA). That’s a great 92% contact rate, which is a sign of a very good hitter. And a 185 ISO shows that he has a lot of power for a SS. The only real negative is he only had 8 walks, which is a low rate, but since he strikes out so little, his BB/K ratio is above 50%, which is where better hitters are.He also did well in the Cape Cod League, which is probably why the Giants were so interested in him (they love guys who perform well in the Cape Cod, where they use wooden bats), and grabbed him so fast after the first ten rounds (he was nabbed in the 11th). Here is what BA had to say about him after his 2014 Cape Cod performance (he ranked higher than Shaw at that time): “Hinojosa stood out for his sterling play at the College World Series and continued to impress scouts in the Cape. His best assets are his savvy and confidence, which make his tools play up. He has a mature frame and slightly below-average speed, but his instincts give him adequate range at short, where his arm is above-average. He reads pitchers well and is a heady baserunner. Hinojosa has some lift in his swing and offers fringy power to the pull side.”

​I have no idea whether he can stick at shortstop, though he does appear to be a tweener, but as Panik, Duffy, and Tomlinson (and probably Arroyo and Fox will) showed, if he has a bat, the Giants could find him a position for him, and at minimum, be a great asset off the bench. Being a SS, he probably could play anywhere in the infield, plus the corner OF, in a utility role. And have the bat to stick, if he keeps up the good performance in making contact.

#4. The Giants have a track record of developing pitchers, projectability wise, which one do you see moving the fastest through the system?

Wrenzie Wrenzie Blogs Giants

The Giants do have a track record for developing pitchers and in very recent memory, hitters. The one who I see to move swiftly through the system is Andrew Suarez. MLB.com's Jim Callis replied to my question on whether he's going to be the first player in the draft class to reach the Majors and he said that he's a strong favorite to reach the Majors first with his command of a four-pitch mix. I agree 100% with Mr. Callis and it's no surprise why as he reached all the way up to San Jose in his debut season and looks poised to start at Richmond this season. His pitchability and intelligence on the mound is something to take note. While his stuff is not primetime, the way he utilize it is very, very intriguing. I think he'll reach the Major League bullpen this season.

Haven't seen Bickford yet, so I'll say Chase Johnson. His 14 strikeout performance in a "relief" appearance after a Hudson rehab start turned a lot of heads, including Hudson. I see him in AAA with Arroyo by the end of the season.

Michael Saltzman Candlestick Will
DR. B When the Giants come to Town

Bickford has the highest ceiling, but the fastest mover will likely be Andrew Suarez, the lefty out of Miami. He was terrific in the High A California League playoffs last year and will probably be pitching in AA by the end of this season if not higher.

Andrew Suarez, last June's 2nd round pick out of Miami, was able to pitch his way up to high-A San Jose in his debut summer. He’s a lefty with a low-90’s fastball and control of four average-or-better pitches. He suffered through his share of injuries during his amateur career, but if he can avoid any major setbacks in the near future, Suarez seems like a guy who could quickly find himself on a MLB pitching staff.

Kyle Goings Cove Chatter
Kevin SF Lunatic Frindge

The problem with starting pitchers is, unless they are studs, you generally don’t see the Giants push them. The “lightning in a bottle” episode with Merkin Valdez likely had some good lessons for the team. But, if there’s any starters at the low levels who can, my money would be on Andrew Suarez. He’s a smart pitcher with polish and good stuff.

What I’d rather point out is, do the Giants really have that track record of developing pitchers right now? Since 2008, the Giants haven’t drafted a pitcher in a top spot that has developed well. Here’s the list of Top 5 round pitchers from ’08-13: Edwin Quirarte, Zack Wheeler, Jason Stoffel, Seth Rosin, Heath Hembree, Kyle Crick, Bryce Bandilla, Chris Marlowe, Chris Stratton, Martin Agosta, Steven Okert, Ty Blach, Chase Johnson, Daniel Slania.

Out of that list, Zack Wheeler has been injury-prone, but good when he’s been in the majors, and Heath Hembree has been solid in the Boston bullpen…but both were traded before making it. Out of the rest, Okert and Johnson are the only prospects with generally positive reviews, while Blach and Stratton have very mixed feelings from people.

The Giants had some great development with some top picks in Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner, and it’s unfair to compare everyone to them. But a lot of the other top picks, particularly the first rounders, have underwhelmed. The jury is still out on Beede, and it’s unfair to judge Bickford just yet. But the media is well-known for trotting out some outdated generalizations. I’m afraid “The Giants can develop pitchers” may be one of them.

The Giants HAD a track record of developing pitchers. Who's their last big win? Madison Bumgarner. They can ride that horse for a loooooong time. There was an old saw about how the Giants could not develop hitters. Well... they have the best infield in the major leagues and its entirely homegrown. That is an amazing, fantastic accomplishment. They have invested, since 2012, big time picks in Stratton, Beede and Bickford. My call is Bickford for the zoom. But there are plenty of sleepers such as Jake Smith. Sergio Romo stood out for his outstanding K/9 and K/BB ratios back in the day. You can find a ton of value later on. There are too many pitchers to list that have those type of ratios.

Shankbone You Gotta Like These Kids
OGC Obsessive Giants Compulsive

Lots of pitchers I like: Aforementioned Blackburn, Tyler Beede, Phil Bickford, Chase Johnson, Jordan Johnson, Sam Coonrod, Andrew Suarez, Chris Stratton, Steven Okert, Derek Law, Ray Black, Ian Gardeck, Jake Smith. But many of these guys are in the upper minors already, so they can’t really move the fastest through the system, one maybe two levels at best. And the Giants have a lot of potential SP and RP, so the depth is very deep, making it harder for anyone to jump levels, particularly SP. Even Coonrod, he ended the season with San Jose, so the most he’ll could possibly jump is to AAA, just two levels, as there are so many ahead of him to get a chance in the majors. Else I would give him strong consideration. So for this, we are really looking at guys who were at Augusta or lower at the end of 2015.

So that really only leaves Bickford among the names at Augusta and below. Diaz, Martinez, and Santos are interesting names on the 2015 Augusta roster (beyond Coonrod), but none of them have Bickford’s pedigree or good performance. Bickford was a consensus #3 prospect, among the lists I compared, with a high of #2 and low of #5 (the other three were #3). So he obviously has a lot of talent.

Plenty to like with Bickford. He pitched in the rookie league last year and despite being one year younger than the average player there, he dominated with a 2.01 ERA, 12.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 5.33 K/BB. And the ERA was inflated by some bad luck, he had a 1.21 FIP. He has a 92-95 MPH plus fastball, as it has movement. He works in the 91-93 MPH range but bumps it up to 95 to get the strikeout. And he has gotten to 97 before as a reliever in Cape Cod League. His slider can be a plus pitch, but he’s a little inconsistent with it right now, making it average at best.

Now the kicker is that most rankers have a similar split view on Bickford: electric fastball and good slider means that he could be a good reliever, but if he can develop a third pitch, he can be a #2 starter. That reminds me of another pitcher who flew up the system: Jonathan Sanchez. He was a starter, but they liked him so much that they pushed him to the majors as a reliever and then eventually moved him into the rotation. Most profiles note that many see him as a future closer with the stuff he has.

The main problem with this scenario is that Bickford will only be 20 YO for this season, and the Giants have not been pushing prospects that young up the system that fast. Of course, that’s mostly because it’s hard to find players that young who can fly up a system fast plus even Bumgarner rose one level at a time, and Bickford’s got that special fastball. So I like him for this question, because if he continues to dominate in A-ball like he did in rookie, the Giants could decide to push him up through the farm system quickly if they need a reliever and, for whatever reason, the guys ahead of him aren’t as ready, plus they could just decide that they want to see what he can do up in the majors and bring him up in September to help with the playoff push.

I could have included Andrew Suarez as well as a candidate, and I can see others doing that too. He was a senior and thus already an older prospect when drafted, and the Giants do push college guys up faster because of that age factor. However, he already reached San Jose, jumping from rookie to A-ball to Advanced A, and doing well along the way, so at best he makes it to AAA, a two level jump, as I don’t see the Giants bringing him up to the majors at any point.

#5. What are realistic expectations for Lucious Fox for the 2016 season?

Fox will be brought along slowly if he's anything like some of the team's other free agents like Villalona, Rafael Rodriguez and others. I know he is more highly touted, but I think they want him to get innings. IF he turns out to be a phenom, he'll be the everyday CF next year and Span will play LF.

Michael Saltzman Candlestick Will
Wrenzie Wrenzie Blogs Giants

It is very nice to see the Giants get aggressive in the international market and sign Fox. Fox probably could have been a top-10 pick in last year's draft. I am tantalized by his immense athleticism and a strong set of five-tools. I have seen on videos that he adjusted his hands in his swing in Instructional Leagues and his line drive swing is very good. His best tool is his speed which is plus-plus. I honestly think that he'll be a great fit at CF especially that the OF is aging. My good estimate is that he'll debut in Rookie Ball to get his feet wet but some people in the Giants community speculate that he might begin his pro career at Low A Augusta which is a very aggressive move if it really happens. Either way, he's probably the guy to watch this season for the Giants.

My realistic projection on his stats is he'll hit close to a .290/.350/.750 triple slash with at least 15 doubles and close to 5 home runs with 40+ steals and a good defensive numbers.

The more I read about $3M international signee Lucius Fox this winter, the more excited I became. Early in the offseason, I would have called rookie ball a very likely outcome for him in his debut summer. Recent comments from Giants GM Bobby Evans really changed my expectations on Fox, however. Evans suggested that his new prized IFA would be competing for an A-ball roster spot this spring, “most likely Low-A Augusta.” That’s a huge develop for the organization if true, as Fox has no prior professional experience on his resume.

The 18 year-old SS is known for his maturity, smooth defense, and elite foot speed. If the organization’s evaluators think he’s ready for a full-season assignment, I have every reason to believe he could immediately become an impact player in the South Atlantic League.

Kyle Goings Cove Chatter
DR. B When the Giants come to Town

I think Fox will likely struggle, especially if he is assigned to Augusta, which the Giants seem to be considering. The SAL in general and Augusta in particular is a very tough environment for all hitters, especially young ones. I love Fox's ceiling, but the Giants and their fans need to be patient because he will likely take some time to develop. If he hits .220 or above in Augusta, I will consider that a successful professional debut.

I hope the Giants consider keeping him in extended spring training with a rookie ball assignment in June. There is no need to rush things with this kid.

Kevin SF Lunatic Frindge

That by the end of the year, we’ll be as sick of the Batman puns as we are of #EvenYear puns, but it’ll be bittersweet because if they’re still coming, it means that Fox (and the Giants) are doing well.

Remember that Fox is an 18-year old who hasn’t played organized baseball yet. I’m not even sure he’ll start the season in Augusta. If he does, I’m expecting to see a season of ups and downs (especially in the humid Augusta summer). What we will see from him is a fair batting average, good stolen bases, but as many hot streaks as cold streaks from a young player. I’ll say 280, with a sub-.400 slugging percentage, but 30+ steals

Will he shut down that information machine that knows where everybody is in time?

Shankbone You Gotta Like These Kids
OGC Obsessive Giants Compulsive

The experts really love his abilities and project him to be good enough to be a starting shortstop and leadoff hitter (most like his bat as switch-hitter, though he’ll need to figure out how to get on base a lot). Some consider him the best athlete in the system (BA Best tool) as well as the fastest in the system, and above average in other skills (only his power is lacking, but with his speed, he’s going to get a lot of triples in Triples Alley). He is viewed as likely to being able to stick at SS, but some think that CF is his eventual landing spot (I would agree because we need a young CF at some point, and we have plenty of SS candidates behind Crawford with Duffy, Arroyo, Miller, and Hinojosa, among others).

However, there are some things to be aware of here. He is a very raw talent just out of high school plus he missed a year against top-ranked competition in his senior high school year because he moved back home in order to be in the International Free Agent market instead of the regular Amateur Draft, which he would have been in had he stayed in Florida (might start to see more prospects taking this route as long as the CBA allows this). BP thinks that he could have been in the Top 20 picks, while MLB.com Pipeline thought only a second round pick, and BA had him 63rd pre-season HS ranking. Some might see his bonus and think that he’s a sure thing, but even in the amateur draft, a $6M prospect is not assured of making it (see Tim Beckham).

I think the Giants are going to take it slow with him, similar to Christian Arroyo. I think he’ll start out in instructional league (helps that he’s already used to living in he U.S. from his time here before, else they might move slower with him), then move on to Salem-Keizer for short season A-ball, and if he does well there, move on to Augusta. Given that he’s more polished plus older than the other international free agent bonus babies, but not as polished as Arroyo (plus Arroyo had that initial stumble in Augusta), that’s why they will take this route instead of jumping him to Augusta to start the season.

It’s his first season as a pro, lots of personal adjustments that will need to happen, but since he’s done some of that before as a amateur (unlike most IFAs), hopefully he can ramp it up faster like an amateur draftee, and the Giants can move him up to Augusta by the end of the season. He’ll only be 18 YO for the season (just barely though, he turns 18 on July 2nd; two days earlier and this would be his 19 YO season), so I think the Giants will not feel any need to rush him in any way in his first pro season.

We appreciate everyone taking the time to share their thoughts, opinions and commentary on the 2016 San Francisco Giants Top Prospects in our Round-Up Chat.

  • Thanks for including me! Just wanted to note that an interview that came out soon after I had submitted my answers Fox noted that the reason he moved back was for financial reasons (meaning his family couldn’t afford it anymore). So, at least publicly, he stated that he did not move back home to take advantage of the market driven IFA market over the structured amateur draft process.

    Also, for those new to prospecting, I would note a draft study that I did long ago (under a different handle) which showed that no one should see “first rounder” and think that they are suppose to be great or even good prospects. Once you get past the first five picks overall, the draft quickly devolves into a big crapshoot. Teams which are playoff competitive get the last ten picks of the first round, and historically picks in that range have become good roughly 10-11% of the time, per my study. So a first rounder is not a sign of quality for a prospect.

    So, for me, a first round pick failing isn’t that much more disappointing than any other round, because the odds are so low (unless it’s one of the top five picks overall) anyway. And it’s tough even for the first five picks overall, less than a coin flip, it is just that hard to find and develop baseball players. Thus, an average team that is competitive every year develops one good player with their first round pick every 5-10 drafts (and it takes another 3-6 years generally before reaching the majors).

    I would also like to add comments regarding player development. I believe it is silly to say that a team can’t develop this position or that. This is because, as I noted above, a first round pick is not a sure thing, and there are 9 positions on a team (10 if you count closer, 11 if you need a DH). Even if you generalize to C, P, IF, OF, that’s still four positions. Per above odds, you can get one of each of the four every 20+ years of first round picks (assuming none are punted :^). And that’s if you can chose which position makes it. You might just end up with four of one position.

    Thus, no one should care that the Giants have not developed an OF. What they should care about is that they have developed a C and the four IF positions. And per my notes above about how hard it is to develop first round picks, I would note that before 2009, the vast majority of first round picks (as well as majority of picks overall) made by the Giants were pitchers. You pick more pitchers, you increase the odds of developing pitchers. But starting in 2009, they have been roughly 50/50 between position and pitchers, and as a result, their hit rate on pitching has dissipated.

    Drafting is kind of like trying to shoot with a musket: if you miss, it takes a long while (a year to the next draft) to get the musket ready to shoot again. And again I refer back to my study above, about the low odds involved. Bumgarner was developed a long time ago, but it takes up to 3-7 drafts to find that next good player, generally (assuming mostly competitive, but some mediocre years in there too), then another 3-6 years to develop that player. So it could take up to 6-13 years to find that next good player with the first round pick. And that’s not even considering what position that prospect plays. It is hard just to develop a player, period, harder still to try to develop one particular position. Thus it is a strawman to me to see anyone talk about a team not developing any type of position, because development is too hard to reduce it down to one position.

    So the way I like to gauge how well the Giants are doing in terms of development is to look at how many self-developed players do they have among their starting 8 position players, starting 5 rotation, and closer. Out these expected 14 players, the Giants have developed 7 of them, or 50%. I don’t know what the average is for other playoff competitive teams, but that seems pretty good to me. And a Fangraph analysis looked at WAR production by developed players, and the Giants were ranked first in that study for homegrown talent: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-the-teams-were-built/ That is all I care about, whether it’s one position or another, that don’t matter, what matters most is the big picture, and there the Giants shine for homegrown talent.

  • Awesome chat! I had no idea who the other commenters were when I submitted my responses, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to see the company I was included in. Some real heavy hitters here as far as Giants prospecting goes, and many of these blogs served as my inspiration for starting Cove Chatter. Great minds really do think alike… but if we do this again next year, let’s collaborate a bit beforehand. Looking back now, I wish I would have found an opportunity to mention guys like Sam Coonrod and Chase and Jordan Johnson.

    Again, great discussion, and thanks for including me!

  • carmot

    Some great opinions here, thanks for this. Not sure my notions are of any substance. Plus, the depth of mid-level prospect talent- or better- makes a lot of potential names to list. Heck, that is a great “problem” to have.

    Pitchers that could earn big attention? Jake Smith and Ray Black.
    Prospects of special interest: Hunter Cole, Miguel Gomez… Still curious and will follow Jean Angomas.

    Dream big…