SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' success in 2012 was a testament to their renewed player development efforts. Homegrown players such as Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo were integral to San Francisco's push for a postseason spot.This, combined with the need to control payroll, has kept the Giants acutely aware of their need to mint more potential contributors. The Giants have several prospects who excite them, but many are in the lower Minors and might need more than a year or two to reach San Francisco. When injuries forced the Giants to dip into the Minor Leagues for reinforcements, they had no homegrown players to fill the gaps. This served as proof that the Giants are still strengthening their talent base after winning a World Series with contributions from several key veterans of the farm system such as Posey, Sandoval, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Romo, Jonathan Sanchez, Nate Schierholtz and Brian Wilson.
Nobody ascended to the Majors from the Giants' preseason top 20 list. It was believed that right-hander Heath Hembree would arrive in San Francisco at some point during the season, but the budding closer still needs to work on his command and secondary pitches.Many fans clamored for Gary Brown to be promoted to the Giants after left fielder Melky Cabrera received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. But the leap from Double-A simply was deemed too prodigious for Brown, who remained San Francisco's No. 1 prospect.
The Giants still have high hopes for left-hander Josh Osich, their sixth-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. But recovering from Tommy John surgery has been a gradual process for Osich, who made only 27 appearances (two starts) this year.
Chris Stratton showed promise at short-season Salem-Keizer before he was struck in the head by a line drive, prompting hospitalization. Stratton, the 20th overall selection in this year's Draft, was released from the hospital after a few days and is believed to be free from any long-term effects stemming from the incident.Right-hander Chris Heston was one of the organization's highest achievers, as he was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year for 2012. Heston captured the first postseason honor given to a Richmond Flying Squirrel in the franchise's three-year history. Martin Agosta wowed observers by striking out 19 in 10 2/3 innings. He also walked nine, proving that he has plenty of work to do. The same is the case for fellow right-hander Chris Marlowe, who struck out 86 but walked 59 in 83 2/3 innings for Class A Augusta.
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Shortstop Ehire Adrianza has so much range that he could make plays on grounders hit to the third-base coaching box if he had to. But his bat remained a concern, prompting his drop from eighth to 11th.Right-hander Clayton Blackburn continued to progress and therefore leaped from 11th to fourth as he paced Augusta with 131 1/3 innings pitched and 143 strikeouts. With only five home runs in 362 at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A this year, infielder Chris Dominguez, whose power was supposed to be an asset, dropped from ninth to 12th.
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The Giants have been patient with Brown, who's ranked 87th. They've bumped him up one classification per season, meaning that he'll likely begin next season at Triple-A Fresno. That doesn't mean he positively has to stay there all year. If Brown can improve his numbers against right-handed pitchers, who limited him to a .264 average this season, he could arrive in San Francisco before September 2013.With his build and makeup, Kyle Crick (No. 93) has reminded some observers of Cain, which obviously is a favorable comparison. Though he spent this year at low Class A Augusta, he could progress to the Majors quickly. The Giants haven't hesitated to elevate their top pitching prospects through the system at a rapid rate.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.