Giants top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Gary Brown, OF
Brown is easily the top prospect in the Giants organization. He is a speedy outfielder who showed more pop and patience than his detractors expected. Brown stung the ball in the High-A California League to the tune of .336/.407/.519 with 14 home runs and 53 stolen bases in 638 plate appearances. The Cal League is a hitter friendly environment, but Brown's play isn't considered to be a mirage that's a product of the league alone. He makes a ton of contact, and profiles as a leadoff hitter with teens home run pop, a high batting average, and big stolen base totals. The Giants took it slow with him in 2011, leaving him at High-A all year in spite of the fact he was likely ready to be challenged at the Double-A level. He struggled in the Arizona Fall League, but the sample size of 55 plate appearances is small, and he may have been exhausted from the long season. If he is able to settle in at the Double-A level quickly, he could be a September promotion candidate. However, more likely is a summer 2013 debut.
2- Tommy Joseph, C
The Giants spent a second round pick in 2009 high school catcher Tommy Joseph. His power appealed to them then, and remains his most promising tool now. He creates excellent backspin on the baseball, and isn't a batting practice power only type having hit 22 home runs in 560 plate appearances as a 20 year old most of the year at the High-A level. Like Brown, he'll begin the year in Double-A. To get the most out of his bat, he'll need to make strides in his walk rate. He's already made significant progress in his strikeout rate, cutting back from a 24.5 percent rate in 2010 to 18.2 percent in 2011. His long term defensive home hinges on Buster Posey, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the development of fellow prospect Andrew Susac. Because he is a plodder, the only other position Joseph would be capable of playing is first base. That change would drop his fantasy stock, but if his power plays, wouldn't make him irrelevant by any measure.
3- Joe Panik, SS
Some draft evaluators saw the Giants selection of Panik as a reach, and one with a low price tag in mind. Others were less harsh, and believed they were selecting a player at a position of need that could move through the system quickly. What position he'll ultimately play at the major league level is up for debate. Most seem to think he'll slide down the defensive spectrum, and move over to the keystone spot. Others think he'll play a passable short stop and stick there for at least a while. Regardless of where he plays, he'll have enough bat to be a fantasy relevant player if he develops according to plan. Panik's pro debut was everything the Giants could have hoped for. Having signed quick, Panik played in 69 games at the Low-A level. He raked there, slashing .341/.401/.467 with six home runs and a tremendous walk-to-strikeout (BB:K) rate of 28:25. He also swiped 13 bags, but was caught stealing five times leaving his success rate at a modest-to-poor 72.2 percent. As a college draftee, tearing up a short season league isn't going to cause heads to spin. However, his excellent follow up in the Arizona Fall League has created a bit of buzz. There, he continued to blister the baseball hitting .323/.394/.473 with two home runs in 104 plate appearances. Panik also continued to showcase a strong BB:K of 9:10. He doesn't possess blazing speed, or jaw dropping power. That said, he has a bit of both, and the ability to hit for a plus batting average. That total package looks pretty darn good at a middle infield position.
4- Heath Hembree, RP
Looking for a potential heir to the Beard's thrown? Look no further. Hembree already looks like a steal as a 2010 fifth round selection out of the College of Charleston. As I alluded to above, he has the goods necessary to save games, something he led the minors in this past season. Hembree throws a sizzling fastball that operates in the 93-96 mph range, a slider that flashes plus potential, and a developing change-up that he won't necessarily need much out of the pen. Like his secondary offerings, Hembree's command could use a little bit of work as he walked over four batters per-nine-innings at both High-A and Double-A. He makes up for the walk rate by striking hitters out. His combined strikeout rate between High-A and Double-A was a gaudy 13.0 K/9. He's near major league ready, and should see the show this season.
5- Andrew Susac, C
Susac was considered the best college catching prospect in this year's draft, and the Giants didn't hesitate to take him with their second round selection. The former Oregon State Beaver has good power potential, but a questionable hit tool that could make him a classic power-plus-poor average catcher. He has no professional game experience, but according to Baseball America, impressed at instructional camp in the fall. He'll likely begin the year in High-A, putting him one level behind Joseph.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Eric Surkamp, SP
After dominating the Double-A Eastern League, Surkamp didn't find the going as easy in the majors. The most obvious knock on Surkamp is his lack of velocity. He throws his fastball in the upper-80s (87.9 mph average fastball according to FanGraphs), and can touch the low-90s occasionally. His best pitches are his curveball and change-up. If he's able to get batters to strike two, both offer the potential to get strikeouts, though, not at the eye popping rate he got them in the minors. His control failed him in his first taste of the majors. Since it was never a problem in the minors, I'd expect that to return as he becomes comfortable in the majors. His ceiling isn't high, but he doesn't need much more time in the minors. As the odd man out of the rotation, he'll probably start in Triple-A (something that won't hurt), and be the first option the Giants turn to should an injury befall a member of the rotation or Zito/Vogelsong play themself out of a spot.
2- Heath Hembree, RP
Dark horse for saves this season if the elbow injury that cut Brian Wilson's season short rears its ugly head again.
3- Hector Sanchez, C
Sanchez was a pleasant surprise for the Giants last year. After failing to crack the team's top 30 prospects in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he now finds himself ranked as the organization's tenth best prospect by Baseball America. Sanchez started the year in High-A, received 34 plate appearances in the majors, and finished the season in Triple-A. If Posey ends up out from behind the plate for an extended period of time this year, whether it be by injury, or by playing another position to prevent injury, Sanchez could see time donning the tools of ignorance for the parent club. Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart proved inadequate with the bat, so when Sanchez is ready, he should have no problem dispatching of both for the backup catcher gig. His power comes mostly in the form of doubles, but the requirements of being a useful second catcher in large two catcher leagues is low. His placement on the 2012 admittedly be high. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the Giants minor league talent is further way from the big, Others that may see time for the Giants like Brett Pill and Conor Gillaspie play positions where the offensive bar is too high to make them fantasy relevant even if they happen to get extended playing time.
4- Francisco Peguero, OF
Peguero is a toolsy outfielder with no plate discipline and power that has shown itself much in the form of home runs. He makes a ton of contact, and should hit for a high average. He'd be best suited in real life cutting down a bit on the aggressiveness and exercising a bit of patience. Regardless, for the time being, fantasy owners won't care if he sports a matching .290 average and on-base percentage. He'll begin the year in Triple-A. As a member of the 40 man roster, he's a likely bet to get the call in the event the Giants need to summon an outfielder from Fresno. His plus speed would immediately make him a threat to steal bases, and that alone is why he is listed here.
5- Joe Panik, SS
He wasn't selected as high as Gordon Beckham, and the current struggles of the former Georgia Bulldog are reason for pause, but there is some recent precedent set for a polished college middle infielder flying through the minors. Panik's play in the AFL suggest it's not out of the question. Couple that with the injury prone Freddy Sanchez at second base, underwhelming all glove with no bat shortstop Brandon Crawford at shortstop, and I'm telling you there's a chance!