SAN FRANCISCO -- The World Baseball Classic didn't just provide a worldwide stage for the National Pastime. It also provided a showcase for many of the Giants' leading prospects.
The departure of a sizable eight-man contingent representing various countries at the Classic offered the Giants a chance to allocate more Cactus League playing time to numerous Minor Leaguers -- many of whom are likely to advance to AT&T Park in the foreseeable future.
"It did allow us to play some young guys, get a good look at them and give them some great experience," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Of MLB.com's Top 20 prospects within the San Francisco organization, 11 were in big league camp. And the Giants' brass paid attention to them. Example: Even after reassigning infielder Nick Noonan to Minor League camp, the Giants beckoned him when they grew dissatisfied with their existing candidates for a utility role. Within days, Noonan established himself as the favorite to win that job and ultimately secured it.
where to watch
Where the Giants' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Various factors have sharpened the focus on San Francisco's farm system. Homegrown products have been essential as the Giants have captured two World Series titles in the last three years. Pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo participated in both Fall Classics. So did catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Two more Giants who were drafted and developed within the system -- first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford -- were regulars on the 2012 championship club.
Potential personnel turnover has increased the Giants' need to keep generating productive big leaguers. Two starting pitchers could depart after this season: Lincecum, who's eligible for free agency, and Barry Zito, who has reached the end of his seven-year, $126 million contract, with a lukewarm possibility that his $18 million club option for 2014 will be exercised. Hence, this is a big year for starting pitching prospects who are close to reaching the Majors, such as Chris Heston and Michael Kickham. The ever-present priority for pitching also heightens the profiles of younger prospects such as Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton and Clayton Blackburn.
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Giants' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Giants' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Giants.
Often, the roster of an organization's Triple-A affiliate is filled with failed ex-Major Leaguers and Minor League journeymen. This isn't the case with the Giants. Their Fresno outpost is filled with heirs apparent -- not just Heston and Kickham, but also outfielders Gary Brown and Francisco Peguero and closer Heath Hembree. Including outfielder Juan Perez, the Grizzlies have six of MLB.com's top 20 Giants prospects on their squad.
The Giants remain intensely curious about Brown, their first selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft who has graduated one classification per year. If Brown were to continue on that pace, he'd reach the Majors sometime next season. Some observers believe he could join the Giants later this year if their outfield needs reinforcements. But that won't happen if Brown's struggle to handle right-handed pitching, which in fairness might be blown out of proportion, proves to be a reality.
Peguero performed impressively in Spring Training, batting .328. If the Giants grow impatient with their left-field options, which consist of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, they might summon Peguero to handle the position every day. This is less likely to happen, however, if the club remains in contention for a postseason berth.
Double-A Richmond has four of MLB.com's top 20 prospects from the organization, including San Francisco's first two 2011 draftees, infielder Joe Panik and catcher Andrew Susac.
Debuts and draftees
Right-handers Stratton and Martin Agosta, San Francisco's first two Draft selections last year, will be tested extensively for the first time as professionals. They made eight and five Minor League appearances, respectively, in 2012. Both are at Class A Augusta.
Gustavo Cabrera, a 17-year-old outfielder who the Giants obtained last summer during the international signing period, was not placed on a Minor League affiliate, but could see action in the Dominican Summer League. Cabrera signed for a reported $1.3 million bonus.
Teams on TV
The Grizzlies and San Jose Giants are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.