I wanted to set up a community poll on this, but apparently the poll function will only allow you to pick one option in any given poll. Once I get some community input on the principals in this argument, I guess we'll do a separate post with a poll.
We're all well-aware of who the Giants' top prospects are, and I think it's fair to say that we agree for the most part on the ceilings of Brown, Joseph, Panik and Hembree; while it seems that Hector Sanchez is in the big leagues to stay. I think it's also fair to say that the most charitable thing you can say about the Giants' overall farm system is that it's thin on high-impact players backed up by a vast reserve of potentially interesting maybes.
So what I wanted to look at is after the jump: Which second- or third-tier prospects' development is the most important to the overall health of the Giants' system moving forward? I'm trying to pick five guys who will make a big difference if they have a breakout year. Please leave additional noms for most vital breakouts in the comments.
1a and 1b: Clayton Blackburn and Mike Kickham - Kickham had the top spot all to himself four weeks ago when I came up with this idea, but in the time it took for me to get off the dime and actually write it out, Blackburn got himself advanced to low-A ball (and has pitched well in two starts) while Kickham also skipped a level, jumping from Augusta to Richmond. He's also pitched very well in two starts there. With a hat tip to all who contributed to the Kickham future thread in today's Minor Lines, he's the closest thing to an above-replacement starting pitcher in the upper levels of the Giants' system. Until recently, he was the only legitimate starter prospect who had thrown a professional pitch outside of the AZL. Blackburn is a little farther behind, but a good year in Augusta and maybe he skips to Richmond as well. The Giants' rotation is set for this year and the next, but starting in 2014 things can get weird in a hurry. Lincecum will be a free agent; I have no way of predicting the future, but if he maintains his production from the previous four years, my opinion is that he will be prohibitively expensive for the Giants. Regardless of my opinions...if Lincecum stays, the Giants will need several young cost-controlled players who can play key roles to fill out the roster. If he (and Vogelsong and Zito) all leave after the 2013 season, I'd rather have homegrown young guys who can step in behind Cain and Madbum over trying to sign free agents.
3: Charlie Culberson - I'm a little more bullish on Culbie than the community at large (he was ranked 23rd on this winter's community prospect list) and I think that with a good year in Fresno, he should be in the mix at 2B for 2013. Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Theriot almost certainly won't be back; I'm not a believer in Manny Burriss as a starter. Best-cast scenario: Culbie shows that he can hit a little and give the Giants some pop from a middle infield spot until Joe Panik is ready. If Culbie does hit enough to be a regular, maybe Panik stays at SS...or Panik bumps Culbie to 2B and leaves the Giants with a nice trade chip or a solid utility player who can back up at third and in left.
4: Jarrett Parker - Among the legions of interesting speedy young outfielders in the system, Parker has what the others lack: Some pop in his bat. Yeah, he's got the well-documented contact issues, but that's why he's a good breakout candidate. Cut down just a little on the Ks, continue to take walks (.360 OBP in 2011 is nothing to sneeze at) and keep driving the ball out of the park (four HRs in just 39 PA so far this season. A miniscule sample size, I know, but we can all dream). If Parker continues to play well in San Jose, my guess is he gets the bump to AA this summer. Continued improvement puts him in line for the big-league call maybe in late 2013, just in time to replace Nate Schierholtz on the roster.
5: Josh Osich - I loved this pick and was elated to learn that the Giants had signed him last summer. He's currently coming out of the bullpen for San Jose, but I really hope that that's a precautionary measure due to the history of elbow problems. I really do think he should get a chance to start at some point in his Giants career. If he has a big year in San Jose with no arm problems, I could see him in the Richmond rotation in 2013, with a shot at joining Kickham and Blackburn in the mix for bolstering the rotation in 2014.
These are my thoughts...I welcome yours.