Want to know why people who are in charge of developing the Giants' farm system are excited? Just look at Augusta's 2008 roster to find out.
Before the supplemental first round was over in last June's draft, the Giants had made six selections. Several other later-round picks helped the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes win the Northwest League title by playing .750 ball last summer and now will move up to full season in the South Atlantic League. Joining them could be 17-year-old Angel Villalona, who's created about as much buzz as any position prospect in this system has in years. Villalona could join up with two of those early draftees -- Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson -- to form an all-teen core of an infield that should be very exciting to watch.
Those looking or wanting a quick fix, hoping there's another Tim Lincecum waiting, you might be a touch disappointed. But just wait a little bit and your patience will most certainly be rewarded.
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:
Tim Alderson, RHP
Alderson was one of the more interesting high school arms in last year's draft because of his ability to throw three pitches for strikes and his projectable body. But his very unorthodox delivery surely scared some off. The Giants had no problem taking him at No. 22 overall. He had a very brief debut in the Arizona League, but made an impression by striking out 12 without walking a batter in five innings.
Alderson's fastball rides up to 93 mph, he's got a curve that may be a plus pitch in the future and a changeup that's not bad, just under-utilized in high school. His command and poise are off the charts, helping everything play even better. He used to pitch solely out of the stretch, but he's taken to a windup just fine and while his delivery is not smooth, there's not too much concern about it being a problem as he prepares to make his full-season debut this year. That could happen in Augusta or perhaps San Jose because of his advanced command.
Brian Bocock, SS
The Giants have some middle-infield depth in their system and Bocock certainly belongs in any conversation about the best ones. The 2006 ninth-round pick out of Stetson leapfrogged over supplemental first-rounder Manny Burriss in 2007. Bocock began the year in Augusta, but after hitting .292 through mid-May, he got bumped up to San Jose while Burriss made the reverse trip.
|ON THE VERGE
Here are a few players on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:
• Ryan Rohlinger, 3B -- Come again? Rohlinger was a senior sign as a sixth-round pick in 2006 and played at Augusta a year ago at age 23. He hit 18 homers but batted just .235. Still, he managed to open some eyes this spring, going 4-for-10 with a grand slam. With various injuries in the Giants infield and Rich Aurilia likely starting at first, Rohlinger suddenly has the chance to break camp and form an all A-ball left side of the infield with Bocock on opening day.
• Nate Schierholtz, OF -- He pressed a little this spring, then got caught in a numbers game as one of the few remaining outfielders in camp who had options left. He got sent down, but he'll be back.
• Eugenio Velez, UT -- They're unsure what role he'll actually play, but the Giants are certain they want Velez and his speed in the lineup whenever possible. You might see him at second, at third or perhaps in the outfield.
The California League was harder for Bocock, and he hit just .220. He does run well -- he stole a combined 41 bases in his first full season -- and he is superb defensively. It's that last skill set that makes him a leading candidate to begin the year as the Giants' Opening Day shortstop. That's the San Francisco Giants, not the San Jose version. It will be short-lived as he'll fill in only until Omar Vizquel gets back, which isn't expected to be long. He could then possibly go back to Fresno if he does make the big-league club.
Audio: Bocock homers for Augusta
Audio: Bocock hits a three-run blast for San Jose
John Bowker, OF
Bowker turned 24 in July of 2007 while spending the year in Double-A, making him too old for the level according to some prospect watchers. But the third-round pick from the 2004 draft had a breakout season, hitting .307 with 22 homers, 90 RBIs and a .523 slugging percentage, good for third in the Eastern League.
Bowker has always been able to hit for average -- he's got a career .296 mark -- but last year was the first time his power was really was on display. He got some playing time in big-league camp before getting sent down, an experience that perhaps will help him as he begins the year just a phone call away in Fresno.
Audio: Bowker hits a grand slam
Audio: Bowker hits a game-winning homer
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
The knock on Bumgarner coming into last year's draft was that he had just one pitch. Of course, that one offering was a plus fastball that reached 95 mph with late life from the left side. The Giants liked that pitch, along with his size (6-foot-5, 220 lbs.), athleticism and projectability, enough to take him No. 10 overall.
Bumgarner signed too late to make his pro debut, but did throw well in instructs. He does actually have a breaking ball. Some see it as a curve, some as a slider, but it can be effective at times. He's working on his changeup and it might serve a purpose eventually. Bumgarner is all projection, though the fact that he has good fastball command puts him ahead of some high school pitchers. It should be interesting to watch him make his pro debut, most likely in Augusta.
Manny Burriss, SS
The beginning of his first full pro season did not go well for the No. 33 pick overall in the 2006 draft. Burriss hit .165 in 36 games with San Jose before getting demoted to Augusta. To his credit, he regrouped there, hit .321 the rest of the way and stole 51 bases in 89 games to be named to the South Atlantic League postseason All-Star team.
From there, he played exceptionally well in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .365 and stealing eight bases in 17 games. He also got some time in at second base, giving him some flexibility that may help him get to the big leagues faster. He's a candidate to go to Fresno, though he still could go to Connecticut or even San Jose depending on how things finish up this spring.
Audio: Burriss drives in a run
Wendell Fairley, OF
The Giants broke from their run on high school pitchers in the first round of last year's draft (OK, it was only two) by taking Fairley with the penultimate pick of the round (No. 29 overall). Like Bumgarner, Fairley didn't sign in time to play last summer, but his raw tools were on display in instructs.
The Giants don't have -- and haven't had -- this kind of player a whole lot in recent years: an extremely athletic and toolsy guy with a really high ceiling. As a football standout and a pitcher in high school, Fairley didn't get to focus on his hitting skills. When he does, the Giants are excited to find out what the center fielder can accomplish. With some nicks and bruises that cost him some at-bats this spring, it's likely he'll stick in extended Spring Training to play a little catchup.
Nick Noonan, SS/2B
The Giants are beginning to think they may have gotten a steal by nabbing Noonan at the beginning of the supplemental first round. He was a rookie-level Arizona League postseason All-Star after hitting .316 and stealing 18 bases over 52 games. He then proceeded to make a huge impression during instructs.
A shortstop in high school, Noonan will play second base as a pro alongside Charlie Culberson at Augusta. He should be fine defensively as he adjusts, but it's his bat that could carry him quickly. He makes consistent hard contact and has tremendous knowledge of the strike zone, things that could make him a fast-tracked offensive-minded second baseman.
Henry Sosa, RHP
After spending two summers in the Dominican Summer League, Sosa made his United States debut in 2006 in the rookie-level Arizona League. He was very good there, but it's unlikely anyone was prepared for how he'd open up the 2007 season.
Making his full-season debut, Sosa went 6-0 with a 0.73 ERA over 62 innings for Augusta. He yielded just 30 hits (.144 batting average) and struck out 61 before getting bumped up to San Jose and going to the Futures Game. His fastball-curve combination didn't serve him quite as well in the California League, though he did strike out 78 in 63 2/3 innings there before contributing to San Jose's championship run. He had a torn patella tendon repaired this offseason and that could get him off to a slightly slow start -- he probably will miss all of April -- though the 22-year-old will likely head back to San Jose whenever he's ready.
Audio: Sosa strikes out a career-high eight
Clayton Tanner, LHP
A South Atlantic League All-Star in his first full season at age 19, Tanner went 9-2 with a 2.19 ERA in the first half of the 2007 season. He faded in the second half, with a 3-6 record and 5.10 ERA, but there's no question the Giants were pleased with the 2006 third-rounder's season (12-8, 3.59 ERA).
Tanner is a smart pitcher with excellent command and easily repeatable mechanics. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, there's room for growth and with that, more velocity is likely. That should make him even more effective and as he tightens up his slider and changeup, he's got the chance to be a durable starter in the big leagues. He should make the next step up to San Jose this season.
Audio: Tanner notches his third K
Angel Villalona, 3B
He won't turn 18 until August. He's got a grand total of 212 professional at-bats in the United States under his belt. And the Giants haven't been this excited about a potential impact bat in a long time.
Villalona's got pop to spare and already has the body of a power-hitting corner infielder. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic and given a $2.1-million bonus as a third baseman, he's already making the move over to first, having worked at instructs with former Gold Glover J.T. Snow. He is going to have to watch his conditioning, but considering his age, the Giants are not too concerned. He's already shown an ability to learn and adjust, something that will come even faster as he matures and gets more acclimated to playing here. The organization is leaning towards sending him to play first base for that exciting Augusta club, but he could be held back just a bit in extended to get some more time adjusting to his new position.
Audio: Villalona drives in a run for Salem-Keizer
Under the Radar
Brian Anderson, RHP
Taken in the 14th round of the 2005 draft out of Long Beach State, all Anderson has done is save games. He led the Northwest League in his pro debut with 19. In 2006, he was the MiLB.com Class A Advanced Relief Pitcher of the Year after recording 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA for San Jose. Last year, the ERA did go up to 3.93, but he still led the organization with 29 saves. That's 85 saves since he left Long Beach State, for those of you scoring at home. He's got some elbow tendinitis, but the Giants were relieved he didn't need Tommy John surgery. Brian Wilson is the closer now, but Anderson will be in Fresno waiting for his first call to the Giants bullpen.
Audio: Anderson picks up his league-leading 24th save
Brian Horwitz, OF
No one wanted the guy. Fifty rounds came and went in the 2004 draft and Horwitz didn't hear his name called. He had been drafted by the A's in the 26th round of the 2003 draft after Horwitz hit .347 as a college junior, but opted to return for his senior season at Cal. He hit just .288 as a senior and all of baseball passed on him. So he signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Giants and has done nothing but rake. He won the Northwest League batting title (.347) that first summer of '04. Batting title No. 2 came in 2005 in the South Atlantic League (.349). He hit just .297 overall in 2006, across three levels (.324 with San Jose in 56 games). Last year, between Connecticut and Fresno, he hit .320, good for second among full-season players in the organization. For his career, he's got a .326 average and .393 OBP. He'll play all year -- starting back in Fresno -- at a not-exactly ancient age of 25.
Audio: Horwitz scores the game-winner
Kevin Pucetas, RHP
The Giants took Pucetas in the 17th round of the 2006 Draft out of Limestone College in South Carolina and he had a nice debut with Salem-Keizer, finishing second in the Northwest League with his 2.17 ERA. He one upped himself last year with Augusta, leading the South Atlantic League -- and all of the Minors -- with a 1.86 ERA. That earned him Minor League Baseball's Most Spectacular Pitcher Award, along with MiLB.com's Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year honors and a host of SAL hardware. He's not a huge strikeout guy -- he whiffed 104 in 145 1/3 innings last year -- but he also doesn't hurt himself with walks (21 last year; a total of 40 in 216 1/3 career innings). He's the type who'll have to prove himself at each new level, but it might be foolish to count him out.
Audio: Pucetas strikes out the side
Sergio Romo, RHP
When the Giants drafted Romo in the 28th round of the 2005 draft, he had spent two years pitching in junior college, then two more at two different Division II schools, not exactly a resume for prospect status. A slightly undersized starter initially, he led the Northwest League in wins in 2005, eighth in ERA and 10th in strikeouts. He began making the move to the bullpen in 2006 and took to it well. Then last year, pitching for San Jose, he put up video game numbers, with 106 strikeouts and just 15 walks over 66 1/3 innings. The California League hit just .155 against him, earning him MiLB.com's Class A Advanced Relief Pitcher of the Year. The Giants sent him to the Arizona Fall League and he was just as dominant in that hitter-friendly environment. He's fearless on the mound, not blessed with the best pure stuff, but relying on smarts, command and arm angles aplenty. Will that work at higher levels? He's the kind of guy you'll want to root for on the way.
Audio: Romo helps Giants advance to championship
Audio: Romo, Giants avoid elimination
2007 Draft Recap
C Jackson Williams
(supplemental first round) only hit .231 for Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League, but threw out 42.9 percent of would-be basestealers. ... Fellow supplemental pick SS Charlie Culberson
hit .286 in the Arizona League and went 18-for-19 in stolen-base attempts. He'll form an exciting double-play combination with Nick Noonan in Augusta this year. ... RHP Steve Edlefsen
(16th round) pitched out of Salem-Keizer's bullpen and posted a 1.62 ERA in 18 games. He also tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs. ... LHP Andy de la Garza
(18th round) went 9-3 (tied for the league lead in wins) with a 3.57 ERA for Salem-Keizer. ... 1B Andy D'Alessio
(19th round) probably shouldn't have been in the Arizona League, considering he's a college guy, but he did hit .306, good for ninth, with league-leading numbers in homers (14), RBIs (51) and slugging (.624). ... RHP Danny Otero
(21st round) came out of South Florida and won MiLB.com's Short-Season Reliever of the Year honors for leading the Northwest League with 19 saves and posting a 1.21 ERA in 22 games. He capped things off with two saves in Salem-Keizer's championship run. ... A senior out of Arkansas State, RHP T.J. Brewer
(35th) was a Northwest League All-Star after going 9-1 with a 3.05 ERA for Salem-Keizer. He tied for the league lead in victories and finished third in ERA.
Audio: Williams hits a game-winning homer
Audio: Edelfsen notches back-to-back Ks
Audio: De la Garza picks up a strikeout
Audio: D'Alessio hits an RBI double
Audio: Otero Ks two for Salem-Keizer
Audio: Brewer whiffs a batter
Organizational Player of the Year:
It used to be hard to find a position player in this system to tout. Now there are several options. Look for Noonan to start the year in Augusta and end in San Jose to put him on a bit of a fast track as a high schooler with an advanced bat.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Kevin Pucetas
The temptation is so great to go with one of the young guns, particularly Tim Alderson, but it will be Pucetas once again proving doubters wrong, winning another ERA title and putting himself firmly on the prospect map.
The Green in GreenJackets: This year, it means inexperience. It also may be used as envy, as in other clubs and organizations in the South Atlantic League will be green with envy about Augusta's young talent. Augusta's made the playoffs two years in a row, but there have been rumblings it's been because of a slightly older roster. With Villalona at first, Noonan at second and Culberson at short, not to mention Madison Bumgarner in the rotation, no one will be able to say anything about them clinching another playoff birth with one of the younger rosters in the league.
Put that guy on a roster: Brian Horwitz has hit over .320 in his career. He hit .326 in Triple-A last year and he'll head back. This time around, he'll win the PCL batting title and finally earn a spot on the Giants' 40-man roster.
With last year's Draft, it will be well represented in that Augusta club. That -- and not to mention a lot of players from that Salem-Keizer club last year that played .750 ball -- it is going to be a very exciting club to watch. It's going to be a fun club for Andy Skeels to manage in his first year as a manager for us. There will be some young guys in that lineup and they'll be facing some older pitchers, so you may not see the immediate numbers that you'll see as the season goes on. They're getting the opportunity to develop in a great environment. It's a club that's had some success in the last couple of years and I think the people in Augusta this year will not be disappointed." -- Bobby Evans, Giants director of player personnel