Next week Baseball America will be unveiling it's top 10 prospect list for the Giants (scheduled for Dec 4.). Now a sensible approach to this news would probably be simply to check back in a week and see what it is. But what fun is that? That's like saying it's sensible NOT to have this fourth helping of stuffing stuffed inside my third turkey sandwich of the day. No. Much better to take a guess at what the list will be so I can look silly in a week. Yes, much better. It's a list, it's a guessing game. It's catnip for the prospect loving mind!
1. Christian Arroyo, SS, DOB 5/30/95, Drafted 1st rd (#25), 2013
Last year's ranking: 10
Just to step back in time a moment, here's what former FSN, former Fangraphs and current Atlanta Braves employee Kiley McDaniel had to say about Arroyo in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 draft. McDaniel, you may recall, was the first person to suggest that the Giants might draft Arroyo, who was not being considered as a 1st round guy by most of the industry prior to that.
Weeks before the draft the scouting consensus was that Arroyo was a physically maxed out, limited tools set 3rd round type who needed to head off to college to improve his game and prove himself worthy of the big bucks (much as, for instance, Alex Bregman had been considered the year before. Bregman did just that and was rewarded this year when Houston took him with the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft).
But anyhoo, the Giants loved his makeup and his bat and they popped him at the end of the first round, almost exactly mirroring their selection of Joe Panik two years earlier. That was 1000+ PA of .300 BAing and .800 OPSing ago, including a league MVP, three high placements on BA league prospect lists, and an excellent performance in front of the industry in this year's AFL. These days scouting conversations about Arroyo have a tendency to look more like this:
I have a future 7 on Christian Arroyo's bat. He's been on everything today. Again.— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) November 21, 2015
Most recently, BA listed Arroyo as the #10 prospect in this year's AFL.
PROS: In the words of Keith Law: "he can hit. he can really really hit." As Kiley noted in the above video, the Giants love his makeup and work ethic and believe he'll whatever is to be gotten out of his tools. They have some good history with that instinct recently.
CONS: The lateral movement and general physicality still tends to make scouts think he's not a SS long term, but the glove should play at 2b/3b and the bat could play most anywhere. The possibility still exists that he's ultimately a tweener if the bat doesn't really really play.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: I feel good about this one!
2. Tyler Beede, RHP, DOB: 5/23/93, Drafted 1st rd. (#14), 2014
Last year's ranking: 2
One of two guys on this list who's been a 1st round pick twice (both times ironically, spurning the Blue Jays out of HS before signing with the Giants later on), Beede's full season debut did not lend itself to easy interpretations. He was challenged with extremely aggressive assignments, spending half his first year in AA. In addition, The Giants worked with him to change his approach and repertoire, seemingly trying to build a ground ball machine and sacrificing strikeouts in the process of gaining control. Beede was tremendous in the Cal League, but his second half (including his Future's Game appearance) was a little up and down, as the walks and ERA jumped back up and he showed some significant velocity drops near the end of the year (which may well have been the natural result of a first full pro season)
Still, through those struggles, first person reviews of him were generally quite positive:
PROS: Great pitcher's body and oft-noted athleticism. As with Arroyo, the Giants love his work ethic.
CONS: History of inconsistency with mechanics and command. With the move to focus on two-seamers and sinkers, Beede's ability to miss bats dropped significantly in '15. Will 2016 bring a hybrid Beede who can induce groundballs aplenty and miss bats at a high rate as well? That would be nice!
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Pretty High
3. Adalberto Mejia, LHP, DOB: 6/20/93, Signed as IFA, Feb. 2011
Last year's ranking: 6
Mejia had a tremendous pro debut at 18 in the DSL and the following year the Giants challenged him with a nearly unprecedented three-level promotion from the Dominican camp to full season A ball. For a variety of reasons (injury, suspension, ineffectiveness) he's never really had an extended period of success in the minors. That shows up in his low innings totals (he's only thrown 100 innings twice, with a high of 108 IP) and a lot of meh-ish stat lines.
But one thing that has been consistent throughout Adalberto's career is the wowza's he's gotten from scouts, who love his size, his arm, and his ability to move a three-pitch mix around the zone to keep hitters off balance. Former BPro writer (and current Cubs scout) Jason Parks was an early and loud appreciator of Mejia's talents, and Eric Longenhagen recently proclaimed from the AFL that Mejia is "major league ready now!"
PROS: Plus stuff for a lefty, with a solid 3-pitch mix and good command. He's also got a big body that can eat up innings. If it all comes together there's a back-end starter, if it doesn't he could very likely have a long career as a high leveraged lefty out of the pen.
CONS: Needs to build his innings up, and like Beede he could miss more bats. Body will always be high maintenance (his PED suspension was related to a dietary supplement that was available OTC in the DR).
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: I can actually see him jumping up over Beede for 2 or falling below Bickford to 4. I feel like I'm the neighborhood here
4. Phil Bickford, RHP, DOB 7/10/95, 1st rd (#18), 2015
Last Year's Ranking: N/A
Like Tyler Beede, Bickford spurned Toronto as the 10th overall pick in 2013 before becoming a Giant this year. Bickford's career has already been quite an odyssey, turning down 1st round money, attending Cal St. Fullerton as a Freshman and then leaving Fullerton and playing his sophomore year at a JC, the College of Southern Nevada, which made him draft eligible a year early. And like most Giants' picks, he starred in the Cape Cod League, winning the Cape Prospect of the Year in 2014 and pitching the YD Red Sox to the league championship:
In the Cape, Bickford featured some sky high velo readings that he's never shown as a starter, but his fastball has explosive movement even at lower registers and plays up to miss bats. He finished his rookie league season with some gusto, striking out 18 of the final 28 batters he faced in the AZL.
PROS: Twice taken in the top 20 picks of the draft. Noted for his excellent fastball command and movement.
CONS: Scouts who are down on Bickford doubt his stamina. His fastball ticks down noticeably from relief to starter roles and many doubt he's a starter long-term. The Giants believe he can absorb the innings and has the command and repertoire to excel as a starter.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Sorta high. Draft pedigree likely pushes him up, despite distance from majors and concerns.
5. Mac Williamson, OF, DOB: 7/15/90, 3rd rd pick 2012
Last Year's Ranking: 11
As John Hart likes to say: "he's what they look like." At 6'5", 240 lb, Williamson combines size and strength with tremendous athleticism. He was a part of a 16U Team USA as a Catcher. He was drafted by the Red Sox as a Pitcher. And he made the majors as an OF. Along the way, however, there have been a number of injuries delaying and slowing his development, which helps explain why he didn't make his major league debut until 25. Mac has boosted his walk rates as he's moved up the minors, but that hasn't necessarily caused his enormous raw power to show up more consistently in games. Fortunately, Mac isn't just a bat only prospect, as he's got great speed for a man his size and plays an impact defense in the corners.
On the verge of the big leagues, Williamson should provide major league value as a platoon bat with plus corner defense at the least. Getting to his game power consistently will help determine how much more than that he can be.
PROS: Big RH power. Great athleticism. Impact glove.
CONS: Very spotty injury history. Swing and miss in his game that could keep him from in-game power.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Listing to starboard. High likelihood he provides major league value, more doubtful where that ceiling lies. That's a combination that BA, which values ceilings, often pushes down.
6. Sam Coonrod, RHP, DOB: 9/22/92 5th rd pick 2014
Last year's placement: Not in top 30
Sam Coonrod improved his draft stock a ton by outdueling Kyle Freeland (who would be selected with the 8th overall pick a couple weeks later) in front of a huge gaggle of industry scouts in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. But he was already on the Giants radar thanks to (/drink) a fantastic Cape Cod League performance in the summer of 2013:
I think we can all agree that we never need to see that beard again though.
In Coonrod's first full season, he put himself on the prospect map with a strong Sally league campaign, and excellent work in the Cal League playoffs. In BA's mid-summer "Tools" Issue, Coonrod was named the "Best Pitching Prospect" in the Sally, though he didn't ultimately make that prospect-stuff league's prospect list at the end of the year. As JJ Cooper explained it:
He didn’t miss by much, but the votes for Best Pitching prospect were scattered all over the board. It was very hard to find any consensus on that in mid July.
PROS: Swing and miss stuff. Excellent arm speed and a big fastball. Good frame. Change for three average pitches. There aren't that many guys in the system who you can squint at sort of see an impact starter at some point, but Coonrod's probably one of them.
CONS: There's some max effort and some short-arming to his motion that makes some believe he's headed for the bullpen ultimately. His control was quite poor in college, though the walk rates were a perfectly satisfactory 2.7 BB9 this year.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Making up for my lack of confidence with great enthusiasm! In the midseason Giants top 10, BA had Coonrod at #5 on a list that didn't include 2015 draftees (of course that list also had Christian Arroyo at #6).
7. Clayton Blackburn, RHP, DOB: 1/6/93, 16th rd pick, 2011 draft
Last year's ranking: 5
In many ways, Blackburn is the anti-thesis of Adalbert Mejia. The 16th round pick out of High School (the only low round, or low signing player on the list), has consistently put up stellar numbers up every rung of the ladder while failing to get a "wow" on any of his scouting reports. Blackburn combines an excellent curveball, good command, and a plus plus feel for pitching. His stuff backed up a bit in 2014, and scouts who saw him in the AFL were down on him. But Clayton showed up in 2015 with a very evident commitment to fitness and after starting the year on the DL with shoulder stiffness he went on to lead the PCL in ERA, allowing just 6 HRs on the year, which is well nigh impossible in the high altitude PCL.
And, not for nothing, #HECANHIT!
PROS: Keeps on putting up the numbers: 2.95 career ERA with a K9 near 9 and a BB9 below 2. Excellent feel for setting hitters up.
CON: Beyond CB, stuff doesn't excite scouts much, probably limits him to back-end SP role.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: This is the fourth slot I've had Blackburn in while writing this. Confidence has left the building.
8. Aramis Garcia, C, DOB: 1/12/93. 2nd rd pick 2014
Last Year's Ranking: 14
Garcia has been on scouts radar for a long time. The Cardinals drafted him out of HS, but he chose to do his developing in college, where he developed into a bat-first Catcher. In his Jr. year he lead Conference-USA in BA, OBP, and SLG, while his defensive skills were charitably regarded as "needs work." So it's been a bit alarming how slow Garcia has been to warm up to each level thus far in his pro career. After a forgettable short season debut, he began his first full season in the same offensive doldrums, but somewhere he June he got hot. Then he got hotter. Then he got insanely hot, burning THINK OF SOMETHING FUNNY until finally he was promoted to the Cal League where he once again floundered in 20 games, though he came up big in SJ's dramatic playoff series triumph over Visalia.
Garcia has that flat-plane swing that the Giants have shown they know how to develop, capable of producing hard contact to all fields. It's true! Watch this:
PROS: He's a Catcher! If he can get his defense major league ready, he should hit enough to be a big league catcher, (granted, not the highest bar). It's a good swing.
CONS: While he has a strong arm and good pop time, his footwork and framing haven't always wowed the scouts. He's had difficulty adjusting to each new level offensively.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Feel somewhat sure I'm still in the top 10 with this one
9. Chris Shaw, 1b, DOB: 10/20/93. 1st rd pick (#31) 2015 draft
John Manuel presents the case for Shaw in the above video: he brings potential plus plus power. The #8 prospect this year in the Northwest League instantly became the best power prospect in the season. And even coming off a broken hamate bone in the spring, he showed it off in the NWL, leading the league in HRs in just 200 PA and posting a .264 Iso (also leading the league).
Shaw also showed off a flare for post-season drama that will no doubt come in handy in 2018, HR off a LHP in the top of the 9th for what should have been the series winning run in the elimination game of the NWL semi-finals (CAVEAT: turned out it wasn't the winning run unfortunately):
PROS: Giant power, hopefully Giants power someday. Also brings a good approach, and has shown the ability to adjust his hitting within at bats to pitchers' plan of attack.
CONS: All of his potential value is tied up in his bat. He's not going to bring much else to the party.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: Hiding under the sofa
10. Chase Johnson, RHP, DOB: 1/9/92, 3rd rd pick, 2013 draft
Last year's ranking: 20
Had Chase stayed in the Cal league for one more game, he likely would have matched Blackburn's effort with an ERA crown in a hitters' league. Instead, he won a promotion up to AA following his 14 K performance (in relief of a rehab start from Tim Hudson and finished just a couple innings short. ChJohnson (not to be confused with JJohnson, who we'll get to later) is on the short list for most electric fastballs in the system, and his improving slider and changes give him a chance for three solid pitches. Johnson pitched very sparingly in college, having run afoul of his somewhat autocratic coach at Cal Poly. As a result, 1) he was little seen in his draft year, and 2) he reached pro ball much less experienced than most college guys and needed to build up innings and repetitions in the pros.
This helps explain why BA had him ranked fairly high last year despite the very lackluster numbers in the Sally league. He was a high upside arm on the come who needed more development. His second full year, particularly the 111 innings in the Cal League showed tremendous development strides. His K rate spiked up to match the stuff, and his bb rate down while he shaved two runs off his ERA. An end up of the season promotion to AA showed a few hickups in 13 innings, but he still showed he had the stuff to miss AA bats in bunches. Johnson still has fairly low mileage on the arm and lots to learn, but he can create easy gas and probably has as much future upside as any arm in the system. And if he doesn't hit all of that ceiling, he's almost certainly got a future as a high leverage relief arm.
PROS: Power frame, power arm. A fastball that will play in the majors.
CONS: Command and secondary pitches still need refinement.
CONFIDENCE IN PLACEMENT: I'm confident that I think Chase should be on this list if I were making it.
The ones I probably missed: Lucius Fox. Toughest omission from the list for me and likely the dumbest. An elite athlete with up the middle potential. I suspect BA goes a little conservative on him and places him in the 11-15 range. Ty Blach. Ty takes "pitching to contact" to extremes. A 20-something Jamie Moyer, can he make that profile play at the top level? Jarrett Parker. If you focus on what he does, rather than what he doesn't, the AAA numbers were solid. The 30% K rate is scary, but the patience/power/defense package has appeal. Is it possible we're missing a Steven Souza under our nose (if so, let's trade him for Joe Ross and Trea Turner, stat!) Ray Black. Dude threw 104. Do you know how many HRs were hit last year off 100 mph pitches? Hint: it rhymes with "none." Kyle Crick. Finally converted to short relief in '15. Still has fastball that is incredibly hard to barrel up. Still can't throw strikes. Jordan Johnson JJohnson legitimately Sid Fynched himself into prospect conversations from out of absolute nowhere in the late summer. Could be the most buzzworthy prospect in the system in '16.
So there it is. That's my guess at what BA's guess of the industry's guess of the future potential of the Giants system really is. Science.