Top 30 Prospects, Part VI: 3-5

I really didn't want to stretch this out any more, I promise, but work is crazy right now, so this is all I had time for. Refunds at place of purchase.

5. Rafael Rodriguez – CF?/RF?

The reason Rodriguez is on the list for the second straight year is that the Giants outbid several teams for Rodriguez’s services. I’m going to guess that one of those teams was a smart team. Ergo post ex prompter hoc pluribus: Rodriguez has the kind of baseball tools that a smart team would pay millions for. Science.

Now one of the good things about being an amateur prospect hack is that I can overreact to small samples. So if I make the leap of logic to get the above paragraph, then I’m just thrilled when a 16-year-old puts up a .392 on-base percentage in 127 at-bats. And if there’s anything in those 127 at-bats that could hurt Rodriguez’s prospect ranking – like, oh, a complete and total lack of power – I’m free to ignore that. Sample size! And that’s also science. Any time a Giants player shows a propensity for taking pitches, I’ll overrate him by a factor of five.

There is already concern that Rodriguez might not have the speed for center field, which is kind of important, but I’ll just focus on Rodriguez’s tools, his mathematically proven plate discipline, and his ridiculously young age. Dude was 16. If it take him four years to post a .392 on-base percentage in low-A, he’ll still be young for his league. I’m not worried about the power right now – if he’s still not showing doubles power in a couple of years, maybe it’s time to readjust expectations.

4. – Zack Wheeler - RHP

All of that science that applies to Rodriguez’s inclusion in the top five also applies here. There must be some reason that Wheeler was a top-ten pick. A right-handed flamethrower with a projectable, scout-friendly frame? I say Matt Cain, you say Craig Whitaker, but that’s because you’re a joyless, lost soul whose mother didn’t hold you right after birth.

Until he pitches a professional inning, the only thing we know about Whitaker is that he’s a right-handed flamethrower with a projectable, scout-friendly frame, which is what I read here. Top-ten picks are usually the first-best or second-best prospects in a weak system the second they sign. The Giants have some premium prospects in the top two spots, and I can’t rate Wheeler higher than Neal without having pitched an inning, so this seems like a fair compromise.

3. Thomas Neal - LF

He’s probably the most underrated prospect in baseball. Well, I don’t follow other teams, but from my Giantscentric world view, that seems like a perfectly appropriate piece of hyperbole. I just can’t see a flaw in Neal’s profile. He hit for average last year, took walks, stayed healthy, hit well at home and on the road, lead the league in on-base percentage, came in fourth in slugging percentage, he cut down on his strikeouts while advancing a level, and he stayed healthy. He is the light and truth, and you should order his jersey right now.

Part of the problem might be the Cal League, which historically inflates hitting statistics. Ben Badler of Baseball America noted that San Jose helped Neal’s numbers, but MinorLeagueBaseball.com thinks that San Jose is one of the hardest places to hit in the league, if not the minors. The folks at Baseball Think Factory agree somewhat. So while Neal’s gaudy road numbers might be because of goofball places like High Desert, it doesn’t discount everything he did in San Jose, and he had very nice home splits (.306/.380/.545).

And he came so, so close to my wild-eyed prediction. If you agree not to double check my other predictions and proclamations, you might be a wee bit impressed at my superior baseball knowledge. It’s okay. Run with that feeling.

For all of the disdain it’s appropriate to give the front office for the Ryan Garko/Freddy Sanchez debacles, it’s worth noting that Neal is still in the organization when it wouldn’t have been much of a PR hit to trade him. He should start in AA, it’s not unreasonable to think Neal might come up this season if he goes Pablonova.

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