Top Prospects Know The Way To San Jose

Giants starting rotation could be one of the most talented in Minor League Baseball this season

By Joe Ritzo / AFL Media Relations | January 30, 2013 9:00 AM ET

Baseball America announced their top 10 San Francisco Giants prospects today with four of the players - all starting pitchers - projected to start the 2013 season in San Jose. #1 prospect Kyle Crick and last year's first round draft pick Chris Stratton are expected to anchor the Giants rotation this spring while two other talented young arms in Clayton Blackburn and Adalberto Mejia could also begin the season in the California League.

2012 San Jose Giants co-MVP Joe Panik was rated the top position player prospect in the system according to Baseball America as he garnered the #2 overall ranking. Other former SJ Giants on the top 10 list include #4 Gary Brown, #7 Heath Hembree, #8 Francisco Peguero and #9 Roger Kieschnick.

With the quartet of Crick, Stratton, Blackburn and Mejia leading the way, Baseball America proclaims that the San Jose Giants should have "one of the minors' most talented rotations" this year. Stratton was rated the #3 prospect in the organization while Blackburn checked in at #6 and Mejia at #10.

Last year, the San Jose Giants opened the season with two players on Baseball America's top 10 prospects list: Panik (#4 prospect entering 2012) and catcher Andrew Susac (#6). Susac is not ranked among the top 10 prospects in the system this year.

Crick received the #1 prospect ranking due to a mid 90's fastball that can reportedly reach 99 mph and a hard curve ball that was rated the best breaking pitch in the South Atlantic League last season by league managers. The 20-year old right-hander fashioned a 2.51 ERA and struck out 128 batters in just 111 innings for the Class-A Augusta GreenJackets last year. The former supplemental first round draft pick also limited the opposition to a .193 batting average, but did issue a team-high 67 walks. Baseball America notes that Crick is a "frontline starter in the making" and that "San Francisco won't be far off if he improves his control and consistency."

Stratton could give the San Jose Giants starting rotation another power right-handed arm this season. The 22-year old was the SEC Pitcher of the Year last spring at Mississippi State before making eight appearances late last summer with the Short-Season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Armed with a low 90's fastball that BA describes can "touch 95," Stratton also has a good feel for two different breaking pitches and a change-up.

Blackburn perhaps gave San Jose fans a glimpse into the 2013 season with his dominant effort in the playoffs last year. The 20-year old right-hander excelled in the Augusta rotation as arguably their staff ace compiling a 2.54 ERA with a remarkable 143-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Blackburn led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts and WHIP (1.02) before earning a promotion to San Jose for the postseason where he defeated the Modesto Nuts in Game 1 of the North Mini-Series with a spectacular seven-inning stint on the mound (one run allowed and nine strikeouts). Blackburn isn't overpowering with a high 80's-to-low 90's fastball, but BA notes his advanced feel for two breaking pitches and mound presence, which has resulted in his lofty prospect ranking. Baseball America also considers Blackburn to have the best command of any pitcher in the Giants farm system.

Finally, Mejia could give this year's San Jose rotation a fourth top 10 prospect. A 19-year old left-hander, Mejia started slow last season in Augusta, but rebounded to post a solid 3.97 ERA with just 21 walks compared to 79 strikeouts over 106 innings. He finished the year on a high note recording a 1.64 ERA in five August starts. Mejia possesses a high 80's-to-low 90's fastball that can "touch 93," and he's expected to gain velocity as he matures. Another pitcher with tremendous control and an impressive off speed repertoire, Mejia would be one of the youngest players in the California League this season if he were to open the year with San Jose.

While Baseball America's top 10 indicates that San Jose could enjoy a banner 2013 campaign on the mound, it also shows some of the top hitting talent that has come through Municipal Stadium in recent years. In addition to his #2 overall ranking, Panik is regarded by the publication as the "best hitter for average" and for having the "best strike zone discipline" in the Giants farm system. Brown also received mention as the "fastest baserunner," "best athlete" and "best defensive outfielder" on the Giants Best Tools list. Brown was ranked as the #1 overall prospect in the system entering last season, but now checks in at #4. Baseball America expects Panik and Brown to start this year at Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno respectively.

Peguero and Kieschnick were both standout players on past San Jose championship teams and will be looking to make an impact in the big leagues this season. Peguero, a San Jose Giant during the 2009 playoffs and throughout all of 2010, is rated as having the "best outfield arm" in the system. He received 16 at-bats in San Francisco last year as a September call-up. Meanwhile, Kieschnick, a California League All-Star in 2009, led Fresno in home runs last season (15) despite missing three months due to a shoulder injury.

Finally, Hembree is still regarded as the top relief pitcher prospect in the system despite an up-and-down year in Fresno. He'll be looking to make his major league debut at some point in 2013.

Pitcher Mike Kickham (#5), who has never played in San Jose, rounds out the top 10. Kickham skipped over the California League and went straight to Richmond at the start of last season. He enjoyed a terrific year in the Flying Squirrels rotation with a 3.05 ERA and a staff-best 137 strikeouts.

Baseball America's Top 10 San Francisco Giants Prospects
1. Kyle Crick, RHP
2. Joe Panik, SS
3. Chris Stratton, RHP
4. Gary Brown, OF
5. Mike Kickham, LHP
6. Clayton Blackburn, RHP
7. Heath Hembree, RHP
8. Francisco Peguero, OF
9. Roger Kieschnick, OF
10. Adalberto Mejia, LHP

* Adam Duvall, who set a San Jose Giants single-season record with 30 home runs last year, is regarded as having the "best power" in the system according to BA's Best Tools list.
* Chris Marlowe, who is a candidate to join the San Jose bullpen this season, possesses the "best curveball" in the Giants farm system. Marlowe logged a 4.20 ERA with Augusta last year and struck out 86 batters in 83 innings.
* Other former SJ Giants on the Best Tools list include: Chris Heston (best change-up), Jeff Arnold (best defensive catcher), Ehire Adrianza (best defensive infielder) and Chris Dominguez (best infield arm).
* Of the 10 players on Baseball America's top prospects list, six are pitchers, three are outfielders and one is a middle infielder. Three catchers were on the top 10 list last season (Tommy Joseph, Susac and Hector Sanchez), but there are none this year.
* Brown (#1), Hembree (#3), Panik (#4), Peguero (#5) and Crick (#8) were all ranked on last year's top 10 prospect list. Joseph was #2 entering last season, but was traded to Philadelphia in July. Susac (#6), Eric Surkamp (#7 - missed all of 2012 due to injury) and Adrianza (#9) dropped out of the top 10 while Hector Sanchez (#10) graduated to the big leagues.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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