This offseason, MiLB.com is 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.
Behind a 90-win season from the Class A Advanced San Jose Giants in 2011, San Francisco had one of the most successful Minor League farms in baseball. Fast-forward 12 months and the organization fell out of the top 10 despite a number of standout performances.
Among their seven affiliates, the Giants' Minor League system posted a combined 394-372 record, the 11th-best winning percentage among all organizations and seventh among National League outfits.
The Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies finished four games above .500 in the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Division but missed out on a playoff spot, while the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels ended in third place in the Eastern League Western Division with a 70-71 record.
The Class A Advanced Giants posted the best record in the California League North Division (75-65) before falling to the Modesto Nuts in the first round of the playoffs. The Class A Augusta GreenJackets lost their final four games to finish with a losing record at 69-70 in the South Atlantic League, and the short-season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes finished 12 games below .500 in the Northwest League.
Giants Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Johnny Monell, Richmond (108 games): No Giants catcher hit more homers than Monell's 11. He also topped the backstops with 27 doubles and ranked second with 50 RBIs. The left-hander batted .257 in 108 Eastern League games, and he improved on virtually all of his offensive numbers in his second consecutive year at the Double-A level.
Selected in the 30th round of the 2007 Draft, the 26-year-old New York native posted a .345/.449/.794 line this season. Monell, who also played 21 games at first base, committed four errors in 711 chances (.994 percent). Behind the plate, he threw out 23 of 68 would-be base-stealers.
"He is a guy that, at times, has faced some pretty good competition at Double-A," said Giants VP of baseball operations Bobby Evans. "Tommy Joseph was the first guy there, but Monell is very competitive, and as a left-handed[-hitting] catcher he has a lot of value. Hitting comes more naturally than the daily grind of catching, but he has worked hard on calling a game and he has improved how he receives the ball."
First base -- Ricky Oropesa, San Jose (134 games): Oropesa ranked second on the Giants farm in homers (16) and RBIs (98) behind teammate Adam Duvall, who recorded a 30-100 season. Oropesa, selected in the third round of the 2011 Draft out of the University of Southern California, impressed a lot of people with his gap-to-gap power and run-producing abilities in his first pro season. His 30 doubles were second only to Gary Brown, and he ranked inside the top 10 in a number of categories including total bases (220, second), walks (59, tied for third), runs scored (70, tied for sixth) and hits (136, eighth).
The 22-year-old California native was particularly efficient with runners on base, batting .309. With runners in scoring position, he lifted his average to .312.
"It was a significant season for Oropesa because it was his first full year at the California League level," Evans said. "His numbers were above a lot of other guys in the system offensively, and that's a lot to ask a first-year player to do.
"If you look at his splits and how he performed in the first half and then the second half, he gained some consistency and then improved. He was better with runners in scoring position and he improved his overall approach. It's hard to argue with 98 RBIs."
Second base -- Carter Jurica, San Jose (108 games): Jurica, a Texas-born right-hander, looked much more comfortable in the Cal League this year than he did in 2011, when he appeared in 55 games for the Giants and hit .250. He raised his average to .300 and plated 56 runs -- the second-highest tally among San Francisco's second basemen -- in 108 appearances.
"Jurica's natural position has always been shortstop, so it was a change to play second base," Evans explained. "He repeated the California League, and that was hard to do because people always want to move up the ladder. But it gave him an opportunity to play every day and he improved on his numbers from the previous year in every offensive category.
"Playing defense at second base is easier for him, but he can still play shortstop. But with [Joe] Panik in the system, we'll likely keep Jurica the other side of the bag."
Third base -- Adam Duvall, San Jose (134 games): You can make a strong case for Duvall being the MVP of the Giants Minor League system in 2012. His 100 RBIs and 101 runs scored both ranked first in the organization, while his 30 homers were twice as many as any other player in the farm not named Oropesa. His .487 slugging percentage was first among all San Francisco third basemen.
The Giants' No. 16 prospect, who hit .258 and tied for fourth in the California League with 58 extra-base hits, was named to the league's postseason All-Star team. Interestingly, as good as Duvall's season was, his line of .258/.327/.487 still paled in comparison to his .285/.385/.527 numbers from his time in the South Atlantic League with Augusta in 2011.
"What a great year," Evans said. "We saw a lot of what he was capable of doing the previous year in Augusta when he put up some solid numbers, but in the California League to score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs and compete and improve defensively, that was key for him. He is a college player out of the University of Louisville and he profiles well for third base with power and excellent defense.
Shortstop -- Joe Panik, San Jose (130 games): In his second Minor League campaign and his first in a full-season league, Panik batted .297 with seven homers, 93 runs, 76 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. His average, runs and RBIs each ranked first among Giants shortstops, while his seven longballs were second only to Fresno's Nick Noonan, who had nine.
Panik also ripped 27 doubles and legged out three triples, while his 54 strikeouts in 605 plate appearances gave him the lowest ratio (one per 11.2 PAs) among all California League hitters. After beginning the year ranked seventh in the Giants' Top 20, Panik ends 2012 ranked No. 6 overall and first among shortstops.
"We've tested Panik wherever we can," said Evans. "He signed quickly and went to the Northwest League and went right into competing. He skipped the Sally League and went to the California League after playing in the AFL. He's been tested every chance we've had. This year, he didn't put up the big numbers early on that we were used to, but as the season went on he got better."
"We like him at shortstop, but with [Brandon] Crawford there, his future position may have to be on the other side of the bag. But he doesn't care. He was working on the turn in the Fall League and we know he can adjust to it. As he gets closer and closer to the big leagues, given what Crawford has accomplished, we will prepare him for that [switch to second base]."
Roger Kieschnick, Fresno (55 games), AZL Giants (three games): Despite spending more than half the season on the disabled list, the 25-year-old Dallas native Kieschnick put up big numbers in the limited time he was on the field in 2012. His 15 homers tied for the third-most in the organization and were first among outfielders, and his .581 slugging percentage was the highest in the organization by anyone with more than 150 at-bats.
The 6-foot-3 left-hander, a midseason Eastern League All-Star in 2011, hit .295 with 49 runs scored and 44 RBIs this year, including a brief rehab stint in the Arizona League. He's getting some extra at-bats with the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.
"He got off to a great start. He was one of the hottest hitters there, but he couldn't finish the season because of an injury," Evans explained. "He impressed us in Spring Training, and his season, although cut short, was duly noted. ... To hit 15 homers in that short time is pretty impressive."
Justin Christian, Fresno (72 games), San Francisco (34 games): Now in his eighth year of professional baseball, 32-year-old Christian split time between Triple-A Fresno and the Major Leagues this season. In 303 at-bats in the Minors, the outfielder hit a career-best .343 -- the highest mark of any full-time Giants outfielder -- with seven homers, 35 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. His on-base percentage (.409) and slugging percentage (.508) were also personal highs, and his performance was rewarded with 34 games in San Francisco. Christian's patience at the plate made him one of the more productive hitters in the system. In the Majors, Christian hit .125 with two RBIs in 34 outings.
"He had excellent at-bats at the Minor League level, so it was a mystery why he didn't hit more at the Major League level," said Evans. "But it's just a matter of time. ... You see a whole new level of pitching up there. Guys change speeds and have better command, it's a different type of pressure."
Shawn Payne, Augusta (116 games), San Jose (two games): Payne made the jump from the Northwest League to the South Atlantic League without missing a beat. His .309 average was the second-highest mark of all Giants outfielders this year, while his .411 on-base percentage ranked first.
The Georgia native hit six homers and six triples, while flashing gap-to-gap power with 20 doubles. He drew 61 walks while striking out 73 times and he scored 67 runs. The 23-year-old stole 53 bases in 56 attempts, leading the organization in both categories.
"He was very consistent on offense, that was noticeable, and he worked on his defense a lot," said Evans. "Defensively, he worked on going back on the ball and he approached his outfield play with the same mentality as his offense. He still needs to make some adjustments on defense, but he will be able to adjust to a new level offensively because he was successful in Augusta where there were some of the best pitchers in A-ball.
"He finished with an on-base percentage over .400 and that tells you a lot. You saw in the playoffs how important it is when your top guys get on base and give your middle of the order opportunities to drive them in."
Utility -- Nick Noonan, Fresno (129 games): A sandwich pick at the end of the first round of the 2007 Draft, Noonan proved he was ready to handle the daily grind of a Triple-A season in 2012. He hit .296 with nine homers -- which tied his career best -- and 62 RBIs while batting .296 for the Grizzlies. The 23-year-old scored 65 runs and smacked 26 doubles for Fresno, and he also swiped seven bases in 10 attempts.
"I like what Noonan did at the Triple-A level. It is hard to argue with either Noonan or [Ryan] Lollis, but Noonan is a super utility guy," said Evans. "He can play all over the infield. He came in as a shortstop and we moved him to second base and third base. He's very valuable. He has a left-handed bat that is a weapon, and for a guy that is not the strongest player at this point, he can really whip the bat through the zone.
Right-handed pitcher -- Chris Heston, Richmond (25 games): Heston led all qualifying Giants pitchers with a 2.24 ERA this year, and he ranked fourth among all farmhands with a personal-best 135 strikeouts. The 185-pound East Carolina alum posted a 9-8 record in the Eastern League, and he held opponents to a .230 average, his lowest mark as a pro.
The former 12th-round Draft pick walked 40 batters in 148 2/3 innings, the same number of free passes he issued in the hitter-friendly California League in '11, and he reduced the number of homers allowed from 10 to two. He was named to the Eastern League's mid- and postseason All-Star teams.
"I think he won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award. He was our go-to guy and a guy that we looked at for consistency," said Evans. "He came from the Draft only a couple years ago and the reality is that he showed great consistency throughout the year and performed well. He is a big righty with solid stuff and he moved the ball in and out. He isn't afraid to pitch to contact.
"He made all of his starts and he took us deep into games. He was a model of consistency. He's not an overpowering guy, but he has command and that is where his strength is. It's fun to watch him pitch, he's a competitor."
Left-handed pitcher -- Edwin Escobar, Augusta (22 games): The 20-year-old Venezuelan posted a 7-8 record and 2.96 ERA in 22 starts for Augusta. He fanned 122 batters while allowing 32 walks in 130 2/3 innings. After going 2-4 with a 3.77 ERA in the first half, Escobar turned things around after the break. In his final 11 outings, Escobar was 5-4 and he lowered his ERA more than a full run to 2.33.
Signed by the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2008, Escobar entered 2012 with a 7-16 record and having never recorded an ERA below 4.75 in any of his previous three seasons. Much of his success this year can be attributed to a higher strikeout rate and holding opponents to a .241 batting average, his lowest since turning pro.
Said Evans: "Other clubs have asked about him a lot. He is a guy with excellent command and he was able to mix in all of his pitches -- his fastball, curveball and changeup. His command improved during the course of the year, and he was one of the top starters in the league."
Relief pitcher -- Cody Hall, Augusta (36 games), San Jose (nine games): The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander saved an organizational-best 21 games this year, including 20 with Augusta. The 24-year-old struck out four times as many batters as he walked (64 to 16), and he surrendered 48 hits in 47 2/3 innings across the two levels.
Overall, the Southern University product went 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 45 relief appearances, during which time he held hitters to a .264 average. Hall, who did not surrender a home run, was named to the Southern League's midseason All-Star team.
"He has power stuff and he was in a role where he pitched late in games. That is where he projects going forward," Evans said. "He had 20-plus saves, and we look at him as a guy who can help us at the end of games down the line. He is a great kid with a plus fastball, but he's only 24 years old, so he only really has one full season under his belt. Next year, we'd like to have him playing at San Jose or the Double-A level."