Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this weekend for the Giants. So we thought it would be a good time to run a list of 10 young players in camp that you should keep an eye on.
Now these are players who are unlikely to break camp with the big club, but could be contributing either later this year or sometime else in the future.
These aren’t necessarily the 10 best prospects. Just players you should watch for one reason or another.
Of course, the one player missing from this list is pitcher Zach Wheeler, who would have been the Giants’ top-rated prospect if he weren’t traded to the Mets last season for Carlos Beltran. Sigh.
GARY BROWN, OF: The Giants consider Brown their center fielder and leadoff hitter of the future. The 2010 first-round pick has an impressive first season with the organization, hitting .336 with 14 HR, 80 RBI, 53 SBs and a .407 OBP for Class A San Jose. Brown will get a challenge in the pitcher-friendly Double-A Eastern League, but don’t be surprised to see him in Fresno this summer and in San Francisco by late season.
FRANCISCO PEGUERO, OF: Peguero is a 23-year-old outfielder who doesn’t walk much, but doesn’t strikeout much either. He’s hit at .300 at every level in the minors, including hitting .309 in 285 at-bats at Double-A Richmond last season. A knee injury prior to last season slowed his progress a bit. But we should expect him in Fresno this season and he may be the first option to get called up this season.
HEATH HEMBREE, RP: Hembree is the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Giants’ farm system, even with just one full season in the minors. Hembree had a 1.86 ERA and 38 saves in 54 games for Class A San Jose and Double-A Richmond. His numbers dropped off a little in his move up in the ranks, but were still solid. ERA rose from 0.73 to 2.83, his strikeout rate dropped from 16.1 to 10.7. But his WHIP was basically the same (1.135 to 1.151). However his walk rate of 4.2 in 2011 was a bit high. It will be interesting to see how he fares in camp this season. We’d expect him in Fresno this fall.
ERIC SURKAMP, LP: Surkamp was lights-out at Double-A Richmond last season, going 10-4 with 2.02 ERA, 10.4 K-rate, 1.082 WHIP in 22 starts. He got called up to help out the big club in September and had mixed results. The Giants determined he needed more seasoning in the minors. So we can expect him to open the season at Triple-A, but to be the first option if the Giants need to fill a void in the rotation (although there are other options). He could compete for a rotation spot in 2013.
TOMMY JOSEPH, C: The Giants have a ton of talented catchers in their farm system who could provide the team with some flexibility if they decide to eventually move Buster Posey out from behind the plate. Joseph, who was drafted out of high school in 2009, had an impressive season for Class A San Jose in 2011 (22 HRs, 95 RBI, .270). He is 20 years old. They also have Hector Sanchez, 22, who hit 12 HRs, 84 RBI and .285 between San Jose and Triple-A Fresno. And they have Andrew Susac, who was drafted in the second round in 2011 out of Oregon State and didn’t play in 2011 as he was recovering from a broken wrist.
CONOR GILASPIE, 3B: The former first-round pick in 2008 had his best pro season last year for Triple-A Fresno (11 HR, 61 RBI, .297 AVG, .389 OBP). He has the plate discipline that the Giants need in the lineup. But he’s a third baseman so his path to the majors is blocked by Pablo Sandoval. He did dabble at LF and 1B last season.
EHIRE ADRIANZA, SS: Adrianza has a major-league glove at shortstop, but a minor-league bat. But the switch-hitting 22-year-old showed some signs of hope at the plate in 2011, hitting .300 with a .375 OBP in 56 games at Class A San Jose. He must continue to develop that part of his game if he’s going to be factor above a defensive utility man in the majors.
JOE PANIK, 2B-SS: Most folks felt Panik was a reach for the Giants in the first round of the 2011 draft. But Panik rewarded the Giants by leading the short-season Class A Northwest League in hitting. He hit 6 HRs, 54 RBI, .341 AVG and .401 OBP after quickly signing following the June draft. He played shortstop last season, but the Giants view him more as a second baseman and he could be in the mix as a replacement for Freddy Sanchez, who will be a free agent after the 2012 season.
CHARLIE CULBERSON, 2B: As the Giants consider possible replacements for Freddy Sanchez at 2B, Culberson is among the candidates. Drafted in the first round out of high school in 2007, the Giants have waited for his bat to develop. He appeared to make progress for Class A San Jose in 2010, hitting .290. But his average took a hit with the move to Double-A in 2011 (.259 AVG, .293 OBP). When he puts the ball in play, he has success. But he had 129 Ks to 22 BBs in 587 plate appearances in 2011. That must change.
ANGEL VILLALONA, 1B: Once considered the top prospect in the Giants’ farm system, Villalona’s path to the majors was derailed when he was a suspect in a fatal bar shooting in the Dominican Republic in September 2009. The charges were eventually dropped amid reports that Villalona paid a $139,000 to the victim’s family. But now he hasn’t played professionally in more than two years. Signed in 2006 as a power-hitting first baseman, Villalona is now 21 and the Giants need to figure out where he stands with his development. He hit 31 HRs and 144 RBI in 254 minor-league games between 2007-09, none above high Class A. We’d expect him to return to Class A in 2012. The Giants to seem him in camp by later this week, but at last report he still needed to complete the final steps of the process to get him a work visa through the US Immigration Service.