Before the 2005 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now, it's time to recap all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.
11/21/2005 5:38 PM ET
A huge year for the little Giants
San Francisco's Minor League affiliates post top winning percentage in 2005
By Jason Ratliff / MLB.com
While winning clearly takes a backseat to player development in the Minor Leagues, the fact that the Giants' affiliates tied for the top overall winning percentage in 2005 certainly says something about the quality of players they have in their system. And they were especially successful at the lower levels, where much of the club's top young talent resided. Their Arizona League team posted a .696 mark, the prospect-packed San Jose Giants won the California League title after going 85-55 and Salem-Keizer played to the second-best record in the Northwest League.
The Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies were the only team that didn't finish .500 or better, but they featured one of the best pitchers in the Minors. Matt Cain showed a glimpse of what the Giants are banking on him to become, effectively moving in as the parent team's ace down the stretch after a promotion from Fresno. And the organization's other top pitching prospect, Merkin Valdez, wasn't bad at Double-A Norwich until he was slowed by a strained elbow late in the season. And then there was Jeremy Accardo, who used his mid-90s fastball to scorch his way through the system after being signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2003, and probably earned himself a spot in San Francisco's bullpen.
|2005 Organizational Record
|Won the Cal League championship
|2005 Organizational Leaders
J. Bateman/B. Wilson
|Complete MiLB statistics||
The top three picks from the 2004 draft -- Eddy Martinez-Esteve, John Bowker and Clay Timpner -- all had solid first full seasons in San Jose, and now find themselves in an overcrowded crew of outfield prospects along with Nate Schierholtz, Dan Ortmeier, Fred Lewis and Todd Linden.
San Francisco's top three picks in 2005, on the other hand, were the only players the club got from the first eight rounds of the draft. Thanks to free-agent signings of Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel, the Giants weren't on the clock until the 22nd pick in the fourth round. And when they failed to sign two of their first five picks, they were left with a bit of a skeleton crew. Fortunately, if the 2005 season is any indication, they already seem to be well-stocked.
At the start of the season, MLB.com identified five prospects to keep an eye on. Here's how they fared in 2005:
Merkin Valdez, RHP
After the 2004 season, when he pitched in Class A, Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues, Valdez spent the entire year in Norwich, and he looked very good there until July. The 24-year-old, formerly known as Manuel Mateo (and formerly thought to be nine months younger), was 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 14 starts through the end of June before struggling. He went 1-3 with a 7.43 ERA in five July starts, with opponents hitting at a .312 clip. A move to the bullpen -- where many see his future -- seemed to solve the problem as he allowed just one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings (1.42 ERA). But while the numbers improved, the young Dominican's health did not and he was shut down in mid-August, when an MRI revealed a strain in his pitching elbow.
Video: Valdez gets a little help in the Eastern League All-Star Game
Fred Lewis, OF
The Giants' "toolsy" outfielder salvaged his season at Norwich by coming on strong in the second half, ratcheting his average from a season-low .208 on June 1 to a respectable .273 at season's end. But even when his average was dipping toward the Mendoza line, the 23-year-old Mississippian continued to show the propensity to get on base (he drew a league-leading 69 walks) and steal once he reached (his 30 stolen bases were eighth-most in the Eastern League). A good example was in May and June, when Lewis hit just .207 but swiped 14 bags in 16 attempts and scored 30 runs in 55 games. And if he can learn to put the bat on the ball more often (his 124 strikeouts were eighth-most in the circuit), he could use his speed to increase his already impressive on-base percentage (.361). Not quite as impressive has been his defense. Five errors in 22 Arizona Fall League games raised red flags at the end of the 2004 season, and Lewis did nothing to allay those concerns in '05, committing 14 errors while collecting just three assists, by far the worst ratio among EL outfielders. Though it's true that he's still relatively inexperienced after concentrating primarily on football in college, the 2002 second-round pick does have four Minor League seasons under his belt.
Matt Cain, RHP
The organization's top pitching prospect proved to be the real deal in 2005, leading the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts (176 in 145 2/3 innings) before going 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in six starts for the Giants. The 25th overall pick in 2002, Cain started the season by going 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA for Fresno in April. He endured a month-long winless stretch and posted an ERA over 5.50 in June and July. But the big (6-foot-3, 230-pound) right-hander turned it around and won five straight decisions before being promoted at the end of August. In his first Major League stint, Cain was one of the least-hittable pitchers in the bigs. He went at least five innings in each of six starts and allowed only one or two runs until his final start, in which he yielded three over 6 1/3 IP. And his .148 average against in September was the lowest in the Major Leagues. Best of all was his 2-1 victory over the Cubs on Sept. 9 in which he allowed just two hits and struck out eight to become the youngest player in Giants' history to toss a complete game. All that should be enough for him to be considered one of the front-runners for the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year award.
Nate Schierholtz, OF
Based on the stats from his first two professional seasons, Schierholtz's 2005 performance was probably just about exactly what the Giants expected, no more and no less. And that's good. The 21-year-old outfielder spent the entire season at Class A San Jose, hitting .319 with 15 homers and 86 RBIs in a strong lineup and hitter-friendly league. His average and RBIs represented slight improvements over his 2004 numbers (.296, 84), and while his home runs dropped from 18 to 15, he only hit three longballs in 62 Cal League games in '04, meaning he showed increased power at the same level in '05. The 2003 second-round pick is becoming predictable with his .300 average and 15-20 homers, which certainly are not bad expectations. But in a crowded outfield crop that includes Fred Lewis, Dan Ortmeier and San Jose teammate Eddy Martiez-Esteve, the Cabot Junior College (Calif.) product will have to continue putting up similar, if not better, numbers as he climbs the ladder to stay ahead of the pack. And his defense might help -- his 15 outfield assists were tops in the league, while he committed just three errors, giving him the best ratio in the circuit as well.
Audio: Schierholtz "gets under one"
Dan Ortmeier, OF
While his name doesn't often get tossed around with the likes of Tampa Bay super prospects B.J. Upton and Delmon Young or White Sox outfielder Chris Young, Ortmeier did something in 2005 that none of them -- nor any other Minor Leaguer, for that matter -- can boast. He hit 20 homers and stole 35 bases. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Ortmeier has a rare blend of power and speed, and he stayed healthy enough in 2005 to put together unparalleled numbers. A rash of injuries limited the Texas-Arlington product to an average of 110 games in his first two full seasons, but he played in 135 for Norwich in '05 before getting his first taste of the Majors. He struggled with the Giants, collecting just three singles in 22 at-bats (.136), but looked good in the Arizona Fall League, batting .385 with a homer, five RBIs and four stolen bases in six games before being pulled with a tender wrist. The move was largely precautionary as San Francisco may be looking at Ortmeier to play a regular role in 2006.
Audio: Ortmeier lines a double down the line
Audio: Dan sits down with Alan York during the AFL season
Brian Burres, LHP
Burres came out of nowhere to go 12-1 with a 2.84 ERA at San Jose in 2004, and his performance at Norwich this year was a reasonable midway point between that phenomenal season and what you might typically expect from a 31st-round draft pick who was 11-14 in his first three seasons. In his first crack at Double-A ball, the 24-year-old went 9-6 with a 4.20 ERA in 26 games (24 starts). He was sitting pretty at 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA through June but fell off in the second half, giving up nearly three times as many earned runs (44) in his final 13 games as he did in his first 13 (16). Burres then went to the AFL, where he, like most pitchers, struggled, going 1-2 with a 8.24 ERA in six starts.
Video: Burres records a K during the Eastern League All-Star Game
Audio: Burres strikes out four straight with the off-speed stuff
Travis Ishikawa, 1B
Ishikawa put it all together in 2005. He showed his first signs of developing power in 2004, when he hit 16 homers between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A San Jose, but he only batted .254. And in 2003, he hit just six homers while batting .233 in his first full season. This year, the 22-year-old first baseman upped his homer total to 22 while raising his average to .282. Plus, he walked 70 times for a .387 OBP. The left-handed-hitting first baseman did a good job of handling southpaws, batting .317 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 101 at-bats.
Audio: Ishikawa's two-run shot puts the Giants up 11-5
Kevin Frandsen, 2B
Frandsen, a San Jose native, is trying his best to stay close to home. After hitting over .300 for three straight seasons at San Jose State, the 6-foot, 175-pound second baseman was taken in the 12th round by his favorite team, the Giants. After a solid pro debut at Salem-Keizer (.296-3-14), he got a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, where he hit .364. That was a fitting prelude to his 2005 season, in which he went from Class A San Jose to Double-A Norwich and on to Triple-A Fresno, hitting .335 overall, including .351 clips in both the Cal and Pacific Coast Leagues. Despite hitting primarily in the second spot, Frandsen managed to drive in 76 runs, attributable mostly to his 40 doubles. His 172 hits were tied for seventh-most in the Minors, and his 23 times hit-by-pitch were sixth-most. He also muscled six home runs, stole 21 bases and was the ninth-toughest strikeout in the Minors, fanning only 41 times in 514 at-bats. He also earned a trip to the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game in Detroit and played in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .266 in 19 games.
Audio: Frandsen navigates one out of the park
Audio: "A monster homer for Kevin Frandsen!"
Jeremy Accardo, RHP
Not many players made more stops than Frandsen in 2005, but Accardo was one who did. In just his second pro season after being signed as a non-drafted free agent, the 23-year-old reliever pitched at San Jose, Norwich, Fresno, San Francisco and, finally, at Mesa in the Arizona Fall League. He appeared in 72 games, including 28 with San Francisco, where he went 1-5 but posted a 3.94 ERA and was unscored upon in seven of his final eight outings. Of his 28 games, he didn't allow a run in 20 of them. Accardo earned his big league promotion by going 3-0 with eight saves and a 1.64 ERA in 35 Minor League games. Opponents hit just .210 off him between San Jose, Norwich and Fresno. In the AFL, the Illinois State product was 1-2 with one save and a 4.30 ERA in nine games.
Audio: Accardo talks about his rapid ascent on Around the Minors
Brian Wilson, RHP
There were aboslutely no indications that Wilson was going to break out with the kind of season he had in 2005. A 24th-round pick in 2003, the 23-year-old right-hander went 2-5 with a 5.34 ERA in 2004 at Hagerstown. And he hadn't been exactly dominant in college, going 15-8 with an ERA in the mid-threes in two seasons. He started the '05 campaign at Low-A Augusta and was simply too good for Sally League hitters, going 5-1 with 13 saves, an 0.82 ERA and a .190 opponents' average. It was more of the same at Norwich, where he recorded eight saves, a 0.57 ERA and a .115 average against in 15 games. Wilson ended the season at Fresno, where he held his own, going 1-1 with a save, a 3.97 ERA and a stingy .190 average against. All told, he was 6-2 with 21 saves and a 1.35 ERA. A stint in the hitter-heavy AFL wasn't so kind to Wilson, who went 1-3 with a 6.11 ERA. A big part of his problem in Arizona was that he walked 12 batters in 17 2/3 innings, compared to just 20 in 60 IP during the regular season.
Listen to Brian Wilson . . . no, not THAT Brian Wilson
Video: Wilson closes out the Sally League All-Star Game
2005 draft recap
1. Ben Copeland, OF
Copeland was the 132nd player taken in the draft -- but the first taken by the Giants, who lost their first three choices as compensation for signing free agents Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny and Omar Vizquel. The 21-year-old outfielder from the University of Pittsburgh clocked a successful month in the Arizona League, hitting .436 in his last 10 games there to give him a .333 average. He carried that hot hitting into the Northwest League, where left-handed swinger batted .306 with 13 extra-base hits (five doubles, four triples and four home runs) and 23 RBIs in 29 games. Overall, the fourth-round pick hit .315 with five homers, 37 RBIs and four stolen bases in five attempts.
Audio: "You can kiss this one goodbye, it's way out of here"
2. Daniel Griffin, RHP
Griffin made huge strides in his velocity and command while at Niagara University and continued to show improvement in his first pro season after being taken in the fifth round. The 6-foot-7 right-hander was 1-7 with a 9.26 ERA and 27 walks in 34 innings in 2004 but improved to 6-4 with a 4.37 ERA and 120 strikeouts vs. 30 walks in 78 1/3 innings as a sophomore. And he was said to have put 10 mph on his fastball during his two years in college. Griffin's still not exactly Greg Maddux in terms of his control -- he walked 18 in 49 2/3 innings between the AZL and NWL -- but the 21-year-old looked like a bargain with his 1.99 ERA and .235 average against in his rookie campaign. And he rung up 69 strikeouts in just 49 2/3 innings. In his first start at Salem-Keizer, he shut out the eventual league champion Spokane Indians on one hit over six innings while punching out 11.
3. Kyle Cuthbertson, RHP
Right-handed pitchers under 6 feet tall are hard to find in professional baseball, and Cuthbertson is both -- he's 5-foot-11 and not to be found in professional baseball. The Giants' sixth-round pick became the third-highest draft choice ever from Alberta, Canada, when he was taken 192nd overall out of Lethbridge Community College, but he didn't sign, and it's starting to look like he'll honor his Washington State scholarship instead.
4. Joseph Dyche, OF
San Francisco went back to the Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho) well yet again, taking former volleyball and basketball player Dyche from the same school that produced Giants draft picks Marvin Benard (50th round in 1992), Steve Decker (21st, 1988), Jason Ellison (22nd, 2000) and Keith Foulke (9th, 1994). The 6-foot-1 outfielder had a huge year at the perennial NAIA power, leading the Warriors in nearly every offensive category while setting a school record with his .500 average. He then put together a nice inaugural season at Salem-Keizer, batting .289 with three homers, 26 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in 70 games.
Audio: Dyche hits one of his three homers on the season
5. Scotty Bridges, INF
Bridges was batting .410 with 22 stolen bases in 22 games during his senior year at Arkansas before being dismissed for violating team conduct. He, like Cuthberton, didn't sign, meaning the Giants only got three players in the first eight rounds of the draft.
2004 draft recap
How the top three from 2004 fared in their first full season of pro ball.
1. Eddy Martinez-Esteve, OF
The Mariners may have had another E. Martinez in mind when they drafted Eddy Martinez-Esteve in the third round in 2002. But fortunately for the Giants, the gifted hitter elected to go to Florida State, where he nearly won the ACC Triple Crown in 2004 before San Francisco snatched him up with its first pick. And this year, the 22-year-old did an uncanny Edgar Martinez impression, hitting .319 with 17 homers, 94 RBIs and 89 walks vs. 82 strikeouts while spending most of his time as San Jose's designated hitter. Edgar's 162-game averages over an 18-year career as primarily a DH: .312-24-99 and 101 vs. 95. Martinez-Esteve's season was even more impressive considering the fact that he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder just four months before Spring Training began.
Audio: Martinez-Esteve hits a solo shot against the Mavs
2. John Bowker, OF
Bowker has been touted as one of the best pure hitters in San Francisco's system, thanks in large part to his excellent hand-eye coordination. But the 2005 season was a struggle for the Long Beach State product, despite hitting in a stacked San Jose lineup. He batted .267 and his OBP was just .319, with a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 36-to-108. These numbers are extensions of his stats in college, where, even though he hit .323, he struck out 76 times in 381 at-bats. Bowker turned on the power late in the season, hitting eight of his 13 long balls in his final 24 games, including five in the last eight. Defensively, he committed just four errors in 104 games.
Audio: Bowker hits one high and deep at High Desert
3. Clay Timpner, OF
If Timpner figures to make it in the big leagues, he's going to have a definite role to play, which is exactly what he did with San Jose in the Cal League. The 6-foot-2 outfielder was the table-setter at the top of a lineup full of run-producers like Schierholtz, Martinez-Estevez, Bowker, Ishikawa and Eliezer Alfonzo. He hit .291 and frequently got himself in scoring position with 22 doubles and league highs in triples (12) and stolen bases (34). Considered the best young outfielder in the system, Timpner committed just three errors in 315 chances for a .990 fielding percentage and combined with Bowker (.971) and Schierholtz (.986, 15 assists) to form an outstanding defensive outfield.
Audio: "Crushed out toward right field and 'goodbye baseball' ..."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.