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Crick could be next great Giants starter

Righty tops among team prospects; outfielder Brown still on track

Crick could be next great Giants starter play video for Crick could be next great Giants starter

The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at each team's farm system, from the Top 20 prospects to under-the-radar types.

When it comes to the Giants and player development, the first thing that comes to mind is pitching, and lots of it.

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That's what happens when an organization develops high schoolers into potential Cy Young Award winners like Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, and produces another pitcher from college who already has two such trophies in Tim Lincecum.

MLB.com's ranking of the Giants' Top 20 prospects once again is littered with pitchers, with right-hander Kyle Crick atop the list and 11 other hurlers joining him.

It's easy for outsiders to label the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Crick the next Cain or Bumgarner. But those lofty comparisons for Crick also come from within the organization.

"He's mentally mature, he understands pitching. It's really refreshing when you're talking to him and you're around him," Giants director of player development Fred Stanley said. "He's understanding how to pitch and sometimes that takes kids three or four years to figure it out. This kid's already doing it."

Crick isn't the only arm Stanley and the Giants are excited about. Right-hander Chris Stratton ranks third on MLB.com's list and future closer Heath Hembree comes in at No. 5, but the Giants also are very high on righties Chris Heston (No. 8) and Clayton Blackburn (No. 11) and lefties Edwin Escobar (No. 10) and Mike Kickham (No. 12).

"Crick is a lot like Cain, meaning the arsenal he's got at his age," Stanley said. "But Blackburn, this kid's got plus command and he pitches down in the zone, both sides of the plate."

Stanley labeled Kickham as "a definite Major League prospect with Major League stuff," while calling Heston a "strike-throwing machine." He also said Escobar, 20, has gained velocity on his fastball and added a breaking ball since being acquired by Texas in 2010.

Hembree also is maturing.

"Everybody that becomes a closer goes through that phase where you're just bringing as much gas as you can," Stanley said. "Now he's still trying to throw it as hard as he can but with better location."

Right-hander Joan Gregorio (No. 16), a 6-foot-7, 180-pound righty, also has a high ceiling should he grow into his body.

Top 20 prospects

It isn't all about pitching for the Giants. Center fielder Gary Brown (No. 2), the club's first-round pick in 2010, struggled the first part of last season at Double-A, but was solid in the Arizona Fall League. Despite San Francisco's offseason signing of Angel Pagan to a four-year deal, Stanley said Brown is on track and still in future plans.

Joe Panik (No. 4) is a slick-fielding shortstop who can play all over the infield. Stanley said the 2011 first-round pick is one of the organization's smartest players and likened his fielding quickness and throwing accuracy to Major League shortstop Brandon Crawford's. Ricky Oropesa (No. 18) is a left-handed hitting first baseman with power who will play this season at Double-A Richmond, while two left-handers -- Adalberto Mejia and Ty Blach -- round out the list.

Under the Radar

This season is an important one for third baseman Adam Duvall, the club's 11th-round pick in 2010. He pounded Class A Advanced pitching in 2012, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs while posting a .258/.327/.487 line.

"He's a guy to watch and it's going to be a big year for him, whether he turns the page and continues to develop," Stanley said.

Andrew Susac cracks MLB.com's list at No. 17, but still has to find consistent offense while also continuing to improve as a catcher. Stanley said Susac has big upside and possesses "all the things you want in a catcher."

Predictions

Hitter of the Year

Stanley gushed about Oropesa's power -- he hit 16 homers for Class A Advanced San Jose last season -- and the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder should have plenty of opportunities to display it. Duvall also could be a dark-horse candidate if he maintains, or builds upon, last season's power numbers.

Pitcher of the Year

Despite the organizational pitching depth, Crick has to be the favorite. He posted a 2.51 ERA and struck out 128 in 111 1/3 innings last season and should continue on his path to becoming another homegrown Giants ace.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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