The Giants have established themselves as a source of premier pitching in the National League. However, their offensive production has remained a shortcoming and a possible hurdle to another World Series title. The good news? The Giants' farm system has witnessed an increase in high-upside bats to go with a deep pool of pitching talent.
The prospect garnering most of the attention is 2010 first-round pick Gary Brown. The 23-year-old outfielder, and No. 48 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list, comes off a season in which he hit .336 with 14 home runs, 80 RBIs, 53 steals and a .407 on-base percentage with Class A Advanced San Jose. Although Brown's big year combined with the Giants' need for offense may tempt the club to speed up his clock, the front office is confident its decision to leave him at one level all season will pay off in the long run.
"We had good fortune to keep him in San Jose all year. He earned the opportunity to move up, but we thought it was best for him was to stay in one place in first full season," said Bobby Evans, Giants vice president of baseball operations. "We felt like the success he had is something that we can build on going into this season. He put himself on very fast track. It's his second big league camp [in 2012]."
Joe Panik is another first-round bat opening eyes within the Giants' front office. The Giants' top choice in '11 has yet to draw widespread attention and admiration like Brown, but Evans believes the second baseman is worthy of being included at the highest level during Spring Training.
"He had a full half season of baseball when he could have easily taken time off. It's a strong message and part of why he will be looked at in Major League camp this spring. He went out and earned it," Evans said of Panik, who hit .341 with six home runs, 54 RBIs and 13 stolen bases with short-season Class A Salem-Keizer and later hit .323 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in the Arizona Fall League.
"He earned an opportunity. We didn't fast track in the Minor Leagues season, but we did in AFL, and he showed he can compete at that level. He's a go-getter and has tremendous bat control and we like his defensive skills. He's come quickly as well."
The rapid development of Brown and Panik represents two of the stronger chips in what Evans believes to be unprecedented strength in the Giants' system.
"The system is as strong is as it's ever been. The reality is that the Drafts have been very good and we've certainly been successful in the system for a sustained period of time," Evans detailed.
Top 20 Prospects
Brown takes the No. 1 spot within a top 10 that is loaded with bats. Following Brown is outfielder Francisco Peguero (No. 2), who spent the bulk of '11 in Double-A Richmond. Slugging catcher Tommy Joseph (No. 5), who smacked 22 home runs and drove in 95 runs with San Jose last season, is followed by a pair of second baseman in Charlie Culberson (No. 6) and Panik (No. 7). Culberson has to work on his plate discipline but comes off a season in which he hit 10 home runs and 34 doubles in Double-A.
Shortstop Ehire Adrianza (No. 8) is one of the best defenders in the system, while third baseman Chris Dominguez (No. 9), who hit 18 home runs and drove in 85 runs between San Jose and Richmond, is a spot ahead of fellow third baseman Conor Gillaspie (No. 10).
Right-handed reliever Heath Hembree (No. 3) is the system's top arm, ahead of 2008 sixth-round pick Eric Surkamp (No. 4). Surkamp went 10-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 165 strikeouts in Double-A last season. Right-handers Clayton Blackburn (No. 11) and Joan Gregorio (No. 12) both spent last season in the rookie-level Arizona League. Kyle Crick (No. 16), a 2011 compensatory pick, and Josh Osich (No. 19), last season's sixth-round pick, round out the Giants' top arms.
Hector Sanchez (No. 13) and '11 second-round pick Andrew Susac (No. 15) fill out the Giants' catching depth. Outfielder Jesus Galindo (No. 14) made his U.S. debut last season. First baseman Ricky Oropesa (No. 17) and Adam Duvall (No. 18) offer depth at the infield corners. Outfielder Jarrett Parker (No. 20) slugged 13 home runs for San Jose in '11.
giants' top prospects
Under the radar
Joe Biagini, RHP: The 26th-round pick in '11 pitched only in last fall's instructional league but showed enough to warrant praise from the Giants' player development staff. Biagini has yet to define his role, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander has a live arm with very high upside and a bulldog mentality.
Raymond Black, RHP: Black, the Giants' seventh-round pick in '11, has also yet to see live game action, but is another arm that has the potential to move quickly through the system. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Black has the arm strength and power in short stints that could translate to a quick ascension through the ranks. However, though regularly clocked in the mid-90s, Black will have to better harness his repertoire.
Hitter of the Year
Brown's climb to Double-A and the Eastern League could shrink his numbers a bit, but his upside is too strong to think he won't fill his stat sheet. Brown's combination of his contact skills, power and speed should help him set the pace for the rest of the organization's bats.
Pitcher of the Year
Crick has the raw talent to have a very good year, but raw is the key word regarding the right-hander. Instead, the more polished Surkamp is poised for another big year after leading all Double-A pitchers in ERA last season. He does not possess an overpowering fastball, but the combination of two dominant secondary pitches in his changeup and curveball should lead to a successful transition up to Triple-A in 2012.