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10 Hottest Giants Prospects of the Decade

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Generally speaking, clubs need several outstanding prospects in their system to hope to produce one great baseball player. It’s the nature of potential that there will be some spillage on the way to actualization. The game is insanely difficult, the body prone to breakdowns. There will be wreckage along the way. Looking over historical lists of “Best Prospects” for any organization is apt to produce that familiar “oh I was REALLY high on that guy — I totally forgot about him!” sensation.

It’s really nothing short of shocking then to look at the Giants’ systems from 2005-2011 and realize that the six prospects who topped their system went on to produce an extraordinary 160 career fWAR — with that production coming (to date) — ENTIRELY as members of the SF Giants (the positive production anyway; Tim Lincecum did contribute a sub-replacement year to the Los Angeles Angels).

Not that the streak was totally pristine. Only five of those six #1 prospects actually did all the heavy lifting. The sixth was erstwhile Top 50 Prospect Angel Villalona whose career took a memorably tragic detour. Fortunately, Villalona’s time atop the Giants system came to an abrupt end in the late fall of 2009, which means I get to behind the convenient charade of demarcated time, and avoid mentioning him at all in this Best of the Decade Post!

All of which is prologue to make this point — the Giants’ farm system has mirrored the organization’s decade perfectly. The decade started out with the system topped by some of the best prospects in baseball, things got spotty after that, and signs of hope show up at the end.

Honorable Mention: Thomas Neal

Neal’s time as a “barely on the back end of the Top 100” prospect didn’t last long enough to really include on this list, but how can I avoid a prospect who spawned not one (“Neal is Real”) but TWO (“Neal before Zod”) memorable McCovey Chronicles memes?

The promising OF slugged 41 XBH as a 20 year old in the Sally league and then posted a 1.010 OPS in the Cal League at 21, earning a #96 entry in Baseball America’s Top 100 before the 2010 season. Ultimately, a shoulder injury suffered diving back into 1b in short season ball would short circuit Neal’s promising career, though not before he made it into 15 major league games with three different clubs (Cleveland, NYY, and the Cubs). Ultimately, he was out of the game for good (even having passed through Indy Ball) before he ever turned 30, and is now a coach in the Giants’ minor league system.

10. Christian Arroyo

When Kiley McDaniel dropped the word that he heard the Giants were going to reach for Florida HS player Christian Arroyo with their 1st round pick in 2013, much of the draft nerd/baseball prospecting nation was agog. Arroyo was coming off an MVP performance for the Team USA’s 18 and Under international Gold Medal winner, but most teams saw him as more of a Utility profile without the power to play the corner or quite the glove to stick at SS. It was a classic “Giants Go Their Own Way” draft moment (which seemed to define much of the first half of the decade). But Arroyo quickly showed himself to one of the better bat to ball prospects in baseball, and while he was stretched at SS his excellent arm and instincts played pretty much everywhere in the infield.

Arroyo would be a five-time top 10 player in the Giants system (their #1 prospect in 2015) and rise as high as #62 in Baseball America’s Top 100. Injury troubles and a struggle to control the strike zone have hindered his ability to make the final step however. After going to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria deal he was sent to Cleveland in 2019 in what was essentially a 40 man roster crunch cleanup (the return included International Pool money). He’s still just 24 however, and could figure into Cleveland’s infield mix with some health.

9. Heliot Ramos

For a kid who has yet to play a regular season game at the age of 20 yet, Ramos has already had a career full of prospect highs and lows. He’s been on the Top 100, disappeared from it entirely, and now popped back mid-list, currently sitting at #56 on Baseball America’s list. Like Arroyo, Ramos was the MVP of the rookie level Arizona League, bursting onto the scene and immediately shooting up to the top of the Giants weak system in the dark days of 2018.

Following a rough introduction to full season ball in the Sally in 2018, Ramos came back with a tremendous age 19 season in the Cal League, showing strong improvements in plate discipline and power and generally pushing all of his stats up. By the end of the year he was a 19 year old in AA, becoming the first teenage player in Richmond Flying Squirrels’ history. Heading into 2020, Ramos has hopes to become the youngest player to debut with the Giants since Madison Bumgarner.

8. Gary Brown

For a variety of reasons, Brown’s inclusion likely causes winces from the crowd. The Giants very first draft pick of the decade was famously chosen as a “must keep” prospect over pitcher Zack Wheeler to complete the Carlos Beltran trade, and then followed up his sensational 2011 campaign with an immediate dramatic decline in the upper minors. But that 2011 campaign really was extraordinary: .336/.407/.519 with 34 doubles, 13 triples, 14 HRs, and 53 SBs. Incredible! It shot him up to #38 on BA’s Top 100 the following winter, his one and only inclusion on the list.

AA pitchers quickly found ways to exploit his odd swing setup, causing his numbers to plunge across the board, with the SLG falling all the way to .385. He followed that up with a .660 OPS in the Pacific Coast League that was pretty much the death knoll to his hot prospect days.

7. Kyle Crick

Oh boy, we’ve hit the Horse Latitudes here. Crick was a mainstay of the Giants Top 10 for the first half of the decade, including back to back years in which he was the Giants #1 prospect (2012 and 2013). Along the way, he made two different Top 100 appearances, peaking at #33. The fire-armed Texas righty, selected in the Supplemental 1st round in 2011 (a comp pick for the loss of Juan Uribe) struggled mightily with control. Those issues were primarily responsible for a three year sojourn in the AA Eastern League, during which he seemed to perform worse each time he repeated the level.

He moved to the bullpen, and then he moved across the country, going to Pittsburgh in the Andrew McCutchen trade. Crick gave the Pirates an excellent year in relief in 2018 before playing a significant role in the Pirates’ 2019 cataclysm — both on and off the field.

6. Zack Wheeler

It seems a pretty positive sign that a guy who just signed a $120 million can’t even make the top half of the list (though that may be in part because I’m being overly optimistic!). The Giants made Wheeler the #6 overall pick in the 2009 draft and at the time, he seemed destined to become just the latest Giants’ pitching development success story. The team had graduated Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Sanchez, and Tim Lincecum int he previous four seasons, and was months away from debuting Madison Bumgarner at the tender age of 20 years, 38 days.

But in the summer of Wheeler’s second pro season, that expectation was somewhat shockingly short-circuited when he was sent to the Mets to help bolster the Giants’ ill-fated attempts to defend their first title. Wheeler would end up being a four-time member of the Top 100, peaking as high as #11 after the 2012 season, but as a Giant his highest ranking was #49. Despite early struggles with injuries and consistency, Wheeler has gone on to be very much the major league pitcher that his early potential suggested, though he remains a wistful “could have been” for the Giants.

5. Joey Bart

The Giants’ previous regime approached the 2018 draft as a pivotal turning point. Their #2 pick was the franchise’s highest since 1985, when Will Clark had been selected. John Barr and Bobby Evans came away convinced that in Catcher Joey Bart they had acquired a Thrill like franchise player who would turn the club’s fortunes. If the new regime is to navigate a successful plan back to competitiveness, it will be in large part because the old regime was right in their assessment.

So far, Bart has lived up to the hype, finishing his first full year in pro ball with a blistering final month in AA and an electric Arizona Fall League campaign. He’s also shown a flair for the dramatic. Bart’s hit 2 HRs in his debut game in short season Salem-Keizer. He homered in the NWL All Star game. He had two hits in his San Jose debut and his his first Cal League homer two days later. And in front of the industry he blasted off twice more in his first game in the AFL.

4. Marco Luciano

Perhaps this is a controversial rank — Joey Bart is universally regarded as a top 20 prospect in baseball at this point and there’s certainly nobody professionally ranking Luciano above him. But this post is the 10 Hottest Prospects, not the 10 Best. Allow me to enlist Eric Longenhagen to defend my decision to tip Luciano’s heat ranking ever so slightly higher than Bart’s:

Last January, when most baseball facilities across the country were dark, just feet away from oblivious Peloton riders and tennis-playing retirees, a lucky few scouts and media folks had a religious experience watching the sweetest-swinging teenager on Earth absolutely roast balls fed to his barrel by a high-speed pitching machine. Because of how close you can sit next to the field there, you can feel the sonic force of bat-to-ball impact radiate into your body. When Marco Luciano connects, you feel it to your core. He is not normal.

Yep, he’s white hot right this minute! And he’s perhaps the first Giants’ prospect I can ever remember who inspires casual mentions of potentially becoming the best prospect in baseball in time. That’s heat!

3. Brandon Belt

It’s hard to remember the incandescent explosion of Brandon Belt’s pro debut. The 5th rounder out of Texas signed late in 2009 (the signing deadline was mid-August back then) and never played a game that year. There were rumors that the Giants’ development staff were extremely encouraged by his performance in Fall Instructional League, but nobody could predict the impact he would have when he finally suited up in a game. A high OBP, singles hitting 1b in college, Belt showed up in San Jose and started crushing. He lasted just 77 games in San Jose, hitting .383 and whacking 42 extra base hits while walking (58) more than he struck out (50).

And then amazingly, he moved up to AA and did the same thing, posting a 1.036 OPS in 48 games before forcing a second promotion all the way up too AAA in his first year. The strikeouts climbed with the levels, but when it was all said and done, he’d produced a year for the ages: a 1.075 OPS with 93 walks and 76 XBH across three levels. He ended up one of the three finalists for Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year — to my knowledge the only Giants prospect ever to achieve such consideration. He lost out to Jeremy Hellickson (not one of the finest years for BA’s signature honor), but still ended up leaping from out of nowhere to take the #23 spot on the Top 100 that winter. He would start the following season in LA, making his major league debut on Opening Day, one year after his first professional appearance.

1a and 1b. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner

Don’t make me pick between them! The Giants’ franchise altering Top 10 picks in the 2007 and 2008 drafts entered the 2010 season as the Giants dynamite 1-2 prospects (as they had been the year before) and two of the top 15 prospects in baseball. Each of the pair peaked on Baseball America’s Top 100 at #7.

It’s fair to note that Bumgarner was actually losing a bit of heat as the decade opened (moving him down to 1b). The Great Velocity-Loss Freak Out was at its height, and he fell backwards from #7 to #14 on BA’s list. Ironically, Bumgarner switched places with Posey who moved up from #14 to #7 that same year. Regardless of order, the pair heralded great fortunes — and soon! In less than a year the battery would move from the top of prospect lists to starring roles in the 2010 World Series and a ride down Market Street in a cable car.

The Giants had the great good fortune of having their two best prospects at the start of the decade become their two best players over the course of the decade and team and players all prospered together handsomely. We can only hope that some prospect writer a decade from now can say as much about the Giants hottest prospects of the 20s.

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