Prospecting: The Top 5
Before the last three to four seasons, the Giants front office was infamous for punting drafts away on the likes of Michael Tucker. When we did keep our first round picks, we selected guys like Tony Torcato, Kurt Ainsworth, or Jason Grilli. The Giants’ farm system was universally recognized as one of the weakest in baseball. I remember going to games where they’d have “Down on the Farm” featurettes on the jumbotron that would feature such “Top Prospects” as Juan Melo and Cody Ransom. Pretty scary stuff if you ask me.
Mercifully, the player evaluation office has finally evolved somewhat over the last decade to the extent to which we draft well in both the early and late rounds. No more waiting for Cody Ransom or Jesse Foppert to save our franchise from oblivion. With a farm system that has been revamped from the top down, there are a considerable amount of guys in the system now who could down the road have the potential to be at the very least, useful if not above league average. So without further adieu, I present to you the top five the Giants minor leagues has to offer.
1. Buster Posey, Catcher
No huge surprise here, with the only question being when he’ll finally be allowed to start behind the plate at the big league level. All signs point to soon, but with Bruce Bochy it’s hard to tell. In terms of pedigree, it doesn’t get much better than Buster. A former Golden Spikes winner at Florida State University, Posey has the plate discipline, the ability, and the poise to be a star for years to come. Some scouts doubt his ability to hit the long ball, but what he lacks in pure power he makes up for in potential. I have no doubt in my mind that at some point down the road Posey will be a 20-25 homer catcher who can consistently get on base while hitting above .300.
2. Madison Bumgarner, Pitcher
Again, no huge shocker. I’ve detailed the concerns over his lost velocity, and I urge you as fans not to worry. Even throwing a sub-standard fastball in his brief call-up last September, he was still able to keep hitters off balance. Assuming he gets a few miles back on his heater, he should be a welcomed addition to the rotation as long as he stays healthy. Drafted straight out of high school, he’s still fairly young, having seen his first taste of Major League action at the ripe old age of 19. With that being so, he has a lot to learn about the finer points of pitching, namely the importance of refining his secondary pitches. The way this organization has handled young pitchers (see Matt Cain) leaves me confident in his ability to develop in due time.
3. Thomas Neal, Outfielder
If you’ve never heard of Thomas Neal before, that’s about to change. Last season in San Jose he put up a line of .337/.431/.579, which in and of itself is pretty damn impressive. He’s big, athletic, and has tons of power to go around, as well as the ever-important ability to take a walk. He lacks the first-round pedigree of both Posey and Bumgarner, but possesses the raw talent to be a force once he gets to the big league level. John Sickels of Minor League Ball dubs him a “solid all-around hitter,” which while vague, is also indicative of a pretty good prospect.
4. Zach Wheeler, Pitcher
Wheeler is a bit of a question mark given that his ranking here is completely dependent on scouting reports. Even though he has yet to throw a pitch at the minor league level, all signs seem to point towards good things for the Georgia-bred righty. He has a fastball that touches the mid-90’s and a funky delivery that has scouts worried about his durability. Sound like anyone you know? Sure it’s not fair to compare him to Tim Lincecum based solely on those two factors, but I’ll do it anyways. Until he gets a full year in the minors though, the jury’s still out.
5. Eric Surkamp, Pitcher
A daring ranking? Maybe. But hear me out. Surkamp has been largely ignored by Minor League gurus and fans alike, but it’s time the man got some recognition. Last year he tore through hitters in San Jose to the tune of 11.6 K/9 to go with a 2.7 BB/9 rate. As a 21 year old at high-A ball, he’s the right age for the level, so why the lack of renown? Scouts point to his 86-88 mph fastball as an indicator that he’ll struggle as he moves up the ladder. Grant over at McCovey Chronicles compares Surkamp’s career path with that of Pat Misch at the floor level and Mark Buerhle for the ceiling. To that, I point to the fact that neither Misch nor Buerhle demonstrated the ability to miss bats that Surkamp has, even without a plus fastball.
A pretty good argument can be made for 4-5 other guys to take Surkamp’s spot at 5th, which speaks volumes to the depth that this farm system has. Kudos go out to the Giants director of scouting John Barr for leaving the Dodgers in 2007 to help revitalize an organization littered with Todd Linden and unfulfilled potential. The question at this point is how the organization will handle these guys as they move up the ladder. The only real “can’t-miss” guys in the system are Posey and Bumgarner, so a lot of uncertainty still surrounds a vast majority of the Giants’ top prospects. Of course I guess that’s why they’re called “prospects.”