Top 30 Prospects, Part V: 6-10

...in which I reveal that Caddyshack references are more important than "scouting reports" or "stats."

10. Tommy Joseph - C

There are only 245 Google search results for "tommy joseph" and "light tower power". That must mean he’s underrated. The only things I know about Joseph are that he’s a batting practice superstar, he was a second-round pick, and he impressed the heck out of anyone who watched him in instructional league. Yeah, but I don’t even really know what instructional league is, so I don’t feel comfortable ranking him any higher without a tiny sample size of professional at-bats to over-analyze. I have some standards.

Joseph is a catcher like Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado were catchers, which is to say he’ll probably be a first baseman soon. But I can’t get enough o’ that light-tower power, and Joseph is the player I’m most eager to follow this season. There’s a decent chance that he might be the #2 prospect next year behind Buster Posey. And once Posey is the starting left fielder in 2012, Joseph might be the #1 prospect in the organization.

9. Dan Runzler - LHP

Runzer pitched at low-A, high-A, AA, AAA, and the majors in 2009. That’s a neat little factoid, but it’s also an indication of how Runzler surprised everybody. Last year he was a live-armed lefty with no idea where the ball was going. When he made it to Augusta in 2008, he almost averaged a walk per inning. A year later, he didn’t allow two earned runs when he was at any level, which is just slightly insane.

Other than a dominant stretch in San Jose, though, his control wasn’t very good at all. If you put a $5 bill down, you can join the McCovey Chronicles/Dan Runzler pool: pick the first game in which he walks the bases loaded and strikes out the side. The winner gets the spreadsheet that I keep track of the money in, and I get the five dollars. Win/win. I pick April 8th.

Though I’m usually biased against minor league relievers, it isn’t hard to see how Runzler can be a two-win reliever in the future. He makes hitters look like fools when he has command of his hard fastball and goofy slider. For some reason, Bruce Bochy feels comfortable putting young relievers in high-leverage situations the second they step off the bus from Fresno -- you know, just like he does with young catchers -- so Runzler will get every chance to stick as a late-inning option this year.

8. Roger Kieschnick - RF

Oh, what another organization could probably do with Kieschnick. He has a ton of raw power -- he had 23 home runs, but his 37 doubles and eight triples hint at a higher ceiling -- and he’s a tremendous athlete. He runs, fields, and throws extremely well. The only part of his game that’s a glaring weakness is his plate discipline. Kieschnick coming to the Giants to learn plate discipline is like a guy who needs a couple more classes for a computer science degree venturing into Amish country. Anything’s possible, but, yeah.

Strikeouts at the major league level don’t mean a whole lot. Sure, for every ball you aren’t putting in play, you aren’t getting a runner over, but you’re also not hitting into a double play. It almost evens out. High strikeout totals in the lower minors are cause for major concern, especially when they aren’t paired with acceptable walk levels. It’s a sign that there’s something in a swing or approach that kids in their early 20s can exploit, which portends doom at higher levels. All things considered, it was a successful first season for Kieschnick, but he’s raw, and I’m not sure if I trust the Giants organization to fix that.

7. Brandon Crawford - SS

Crawford is probably the biggest FRODO in the organization, as he didn’t hit nearly as well as expected at UCLA and dropped to the fourth round. I go back and forth on Crawford’s ranking in relation to Ehire Adrianza. Both are highly regarded defensive shortstops with enigmatic bats. Adrianza has the advantage of youth; Crawford has the advantage of a crazy-hot start in the California League last year that hinted at a more significant offensive upside. Crawford wins out because he has the promise of power. With Adrianza’s writeup, I included a link to Jack Wilson’s FanGraphs page, in which Wilson is consistently rated as being a player who adds about two wins to his team. With Crawford, I can daydream of a ceiling that’s something akin to Jack Wilson, but with 15- or 20-homer power. Yes, please.

His hot start in A-ball was as fascinating as it was confusing. You might see references to BABIP on this site -- batting average on balls in play -- and wonder if it’s really a big deal. Just because a hitter has a BABIP of .350, doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s due for a crash. Derek Jeter has maintained something close for his whole career, as have several others. But Crawford’s BABIP in the California League was .478. Every other ball that he put in play fell for a hit. A reanimated Ted Williams with a robotic exoskeleton and an aluminum bat forged by Hephaestus wouldn’t be able to keep that up. When you click the "neutralize for luck" button on minorleaguesplits.com, it spits out a nice but reasonable line of .293/.377/.514. So don’t put all of your evaluation eggs in the San Jose performance basket.

But he shouldn’t be totally discounted as a prospect because of his flailing in AA, either. The Giants figured that 100 at-bats in A-ball were a good enough sample to know that Crawford was a future middle-of-the-order force, so they moved him up to AA prematurely. They didn’t really worry about Crawford’s high strikeout rate, and they certainly didn’t care about no bee-eh-bee-eye-pee, snort, and the results in Connecticut were disappointing, if a little predictable.

The contact is an issue. Crawford strikes out way, way too much, and he isn’t a super-patient hitter. He’s still young enough, though, that he might be more than a glove-first hacker.

6. Nick Noonan - 2B

I still believe. He hasn’t been able to hit lefties yet, and his raw stats (.259/.330/.397) weren’t very impressive for the Cal League, but he’s been aggressively promoted. I have a feeling that he’d have a much higher profile if he were a 20-year-old who hit .300/.380/.450 in the Sally, so it’s probably unfair to punish him too much for being the third-youngest player in the Cal League. He doesn’t turn 21 until May.

Fans of micro-splits have something to chew on, too: in the last two months of the season, Noonan cut his strikeout rate by a ridiculous amount. Giants’ farm director Fred Stanley took a lot of ribbing on this site for saying that Noonan had "the best strike zone discipline of any hitter in the system," but for the last half of the season, Stanley wasn’t too far off. The whole second-half was a success for Noonan, as he ended the season with more walks than he had in 2008, but he did it at a higher level. When Chase Utley was two years older than Noonan is now, he had a very similar season in A-ball. Does that mean that Noonan is going to be better than Utley? No. Just as good? Of course.

 

 

Baseball America didn’t have Noonan in their top ten, so take my appreciation for him with a few kilos of salt. But if you’re hankering for an advance seat -- perhaps an ill-advised, logically unsound seat -- on the Noonan bandwagon, I’m driving.

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