Champs set to reload with prospects

Giants system has more to offer than Posey, Bumgarner

Brandon Belt led the Giants system in hits, homers, walks and RBIs. (Kevin Pataky/

By John Parker / Special to | December 6, 2010 5:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Just one full-season Giants farm team advanced to the postseason, but like its parent club, San Jose came away with the title. While homegrown talent like Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner helped San Francisco to the World Series crown, prospects like Brandon Belt and Francisco Peguero loom on the horizon.

Along with San Jose, Augusta and Fresno had winning seasons, while new affiliate Richmond and perennial powerhouse Salem-Keizer finished below .500. The GreenJackets compiled the second-best overall record (79-59) in the 14-team South Atlantic League but failed to capture the division crown in either half of the season. The Giants' Arizona Rookie League affiliate went 34-20 but came up short in the semifinals.

Giants organizational All-Stars

Catcher -- Johnny Monell, San Jose (115 games), Fresno (5 games): Setting aside Buster Posey, who hit .349/.442/.552 in 47 Minor League games before embarking on his Rookie of the Year campaign, no catcher in the Giants system had a finer season than Monell. After a sluggish start, the 24-year-old caught fire in the second half, batting .330 (.375 in 28 July games) with 14 homers following the All-Star break. His 19 longballs overall ranked third in the organization.

"I think I just needed time to adapt," Monell said. "I'm trying to get that focus and to be consistent. ... I continued to work hard and got a lot of help from our coaching staff and manager. They were behind me and stayed positive until I figured it out."

A left-handed hitter, Monell was a key contributor as San Jose won a second straight California League title and fourth in six seasons. He went 7-for-21 with three homers and four RBIs en route to being named MVP of the Championship Series.

First baseman -- Brandon Belt, San Jose (77 games), Richmond (46 games), Fresno (13 games): The 2009 fifth-round pick had arguably the best offensive season of any Minor Leaguer in 2010. He began the year at Class A Advanced San Jose, finished it at Triple-A Fresno and crushed the ball throughout.

Among all full-season Minor Leaguers, Belt's .352 batting average ranked first, his .455 OBP second and his .620 slugging percentage seventh. He led Giants farmhands with 23 homers, 112 RBIs, 43 doubles, 173 hits and 93 walks and he even stole 22 bases and slugged 10 triples. Pretty good for a guy in his first professional season.

"My goal this season was to stay at the level I was at and not move back down," Belt said after his promotion to Fresno.

Though the sheer length of the season often proves a challenge for rookies, Belt kept on hitting. Dispatched to the elite Arizona Fall League, he batted .372 with 16 RBIs in 22 games for the champion Scottsdale Scorpions.

Second baseman -- Ryan Cavan, Augusta (136 games): Another slow starter, Cavan batted .311 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs over 68 games in the second half of the season. His 17 homers and 79 RBIs overall ranked fifth and fourth, respectively, in the San Francisco system. Cavan's season was highlighted by Sally League Player of the Week honors in late June after posting a .474 average with two homers, three doubles and six RBIs.

Although he committed 26 errors, Cavan was a stalwart in the field for the GreenJackets, playing 133 games at second base for the SAL's top defensive team.

Honorable mention: Charlie Culberson, Brock Bond

Third baseman -- Jesus Guzman, Fresno (125 games): Although he also got off to a slow start, Guzman proved remarkably consistent -- and consistently good -- for Fresno. After batting .321 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs in 2009, the Venezuela native hit .321 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs this year. That batting average was good for fourth in the organization and fifth in the Pacific Coast League.

The 26-year-old Guzman also was versatile in the field for the Grizzlies, playing 61 games at third base, five at first base and 37 more at the corner outfield positions. He even made his Minor League pitching debut on June 29, tossing a scoreless ninth inning in Fresno's 14-3 loss to Las Vegas. (He walked two and threw only eight of 22 pitches for strikes but did not yield a hit.)

After two seasons in the system, including 12 games with the big club in 2009, Guzman signed with the Padres in November.

Honorable mention: Christopher Dominguez

Shortstop -- Ryan Rohlinger, AZL Giants (3 games), Fresno (77 games), San Francisco (12 games): A natural third baseman, Rohlinger was pressed into service at shortstop due to the Giants' lack of depth at the position. He responded admirably in an injury-shortened campaign that also saw him make 12 appearances for the Major League club. The 26-year-old hit .315 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs over 80 Minor League games sandwiched around his time in San Francisco and his time on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring.

Despite having only 320 career Minor League chances at shortstop (compared to 1,272 at third base), Rohlinger has committed seven errors for a solid .978 fielding percentage. But while he's a proven Minor League hitter, the Wisconsin native has batted just .136 in 45 big league games. Nevertheless, with the Giants slated to start former MVP Miguel Tejada at shortstop next season, Rohlinger may get more chances to prove he's up to the task.


Francisco Peguero, San Jose (122 games): A 22-year-old speedster, Peguero had a breakout season for San Jose, hitting .329 (third-best in the system and fourth-best in the Cal League) with a career-high 10 homers, 77 RBIs, 16 triples and 40 stolen bases. He led the organization in the latter two categories and smashed the team record for triples (Clay Timpner had 12 for San Jose in 2005).

The native of the Dominican Republic participated in the All-Star Futures Game and was a key contributor to San Jose's second straight Cal League title, batting .350 in eight playoff games after being named the MVP of the 2009 Championship Series.

Peguero already is a member of the Giants' 40-man roster.

Tyler Graham, Richmond (2 games), Fresno (109 games): After struggling in 17 games at Triple-A in 2009, Graham returned this year and set the Pacific Coast League ablaze with his speed and hitting. The 26-year-old Oregon State product batted .343 and finished third in the organization with 36 stolen bases.

"I think that I finally realized that I am not the kind of player that needs to hit for power, that I'm just the kind of player that needs to get on base," Graham told the San Mateo Daily Journal.

Graham played all three outfield positions for the Grizzlies, spending the most time in center and recording nine assists in 97 games.

Juan Perez, San Jose (131 games): Perez had a solid all-around season, batting .298 (seventh-best in the organization) with 13 homers, 10 triples and 37 doubles. But he stepped up with big contributions in key situations throughout the season. The Bronx-born Perez was named Top Star of the Cal/Carolina League All-Star Game in June and tripled and scored in the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game of the Cal League Finals, securing the championship for San Jose.

"You dream of hitting a walk-off home run or scoring the winning run, but really you just want to do what you can to help the team," Perez said. "I just wanted to get on base or hit a ground ball."

Splitting time between center and right, Perez also flashed a dangerous arm, despite playing 72 games at second base at Augusta in 2009. He racked up 17 assists to lead all San Jose outfielders.

Designated hitter -- Jose Flores, San Jose (96 games): Flores did a little bit of everything for San Jose in 2010 -- he spent time at all four infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. What he did best, however, was hit. The 23-year-old Venezuelan's career-high .331 batting average ranked second in the organization and third in the Cal League.

A switch-hitter, Flores proved particularly dangerous from the left side, hitting .347 against right-handed pitching. He batted .389 with 19 RBIs in 24 games in August.

Honorable mention: Nick Liles

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jorge Bucardo, Augusta (19 games), San Jose (8 games): Relying on ground-ball outs and a heavy dose of strikeouts, Bucardo led all Giants full-season hurlers with a 2.77 ERA and went 11-6 in 27 appearances between Augusta and San Jose. His 121 strikeouts over 152 2/3 frames ranked third in the system.

The 20-year-old Nicaraguan was dominant in the South Atlantic League, going 9-4 with a 2.21 ERA while holding opponents to a .203 average and being named to the mid- and postseason All-Star teams. His stats suffered in the hitter-friendly California League, but he still yielded only six homers in 27 outings across two levels.

"Jorge Bucardo was the premier right-handed pitcher in the league when he was here -- all you have to do is look at his stats to see that," Augusta manager Dave Machemer said. "You really had to be here every night to watch him, though, just to fully appreciate how good he was."

Honorable mention: David Mixon, Craig Westcott, Eric Hacker

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Eric Surkamp, San Jose (17 games): Despite being limited to 17 starts due to a season-ending hip injury in mid-July, Surkamp was so dominant that he gets the nod among Giants southpaws. Pitching in the notoriously hitter-friendly Cal League, the North Carolina State product went 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA for San Jose. He ranked seventh in the organization with 108 strikeouts, walked only 22 and served up just five homers while holding Cal League hitters to a .218 average over 101 1/3 frames.

He fanned a career-high 14 batters, including eight of the first nine he faced, and did not allow a hit until the sixth inning in a 3-0 win over Stockton on July 7. That performance earned him his second Cal League Pitcher of the Week award of the season. He also was named a mid- and postseason All-Star.

"Command -- that's the thing that separates the guys in the Minor Leagues from the guys in the big leagues," Surkamp said during Spring Training. "That's the thing I'm really working on going into this year, being more consistent."

With a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1, the 23-year-old's command placed him among the Giants' top prospects in 2010.

Honorable mention: Clayton Tanner

Relief pitcher -- Ryan Verdugo, Augusta (22 games), San Jose (22 games): A 2008 ninth-round pick out of Louisiana State, Verdugo recorded just one save (in two chances) in 2010, yet had all the trappings of a closer. He led all full-season Giants with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, fanning 94 over 62 2/3 frames. He went 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA and actually posted better numbers after his promotion to the California League.

After holding Sally League foes to a .226 average, the 23-year-old allowed 15 hits over 30 2/3 innings at the higher level, good for a .149 average against.

Verdugo was part of two championship teams. Having helped San Jose to the Cal League crown, he didn't miss a beat in the elite Arizona Fall League, where his Scottsdale Scorpions captured the crown. Verdugo worked as a starter in the AFL and went 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in seven outings. While he tied for the league lead in wins and ranked fifth in strikeouts, he also paced the circuit with 16 walks.

Honorable mention: Jose Casilla, Rafael Cova

John Parker is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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