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Giants rely on developing arms in Minor Leagues

Giants rely on developing arms in Minor Leagues

Giants rely on developing arms in Minor Leagues

During the Giants' run of two World Series championships in the past three seasons, the organizational blueprint of identifying and developing top-flight pitching helped San Francisco outlast other premier clubs during the season and in October, when it mattered most.

In 2010, all four postseason starting pitchers were homegrown talent, drafted and developed by the Giants' farm system. In '12, it was a similar story: Of San Francisco's four playoff starters, only Barry Zito -- who was omitted from the 2010 postseason roster -- did not emerge from the depths of the Giants organization.

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As the Giants' blueprint has proven, it pays to develop your own pitching. As the 2010 and '12 runs displayed, it's much easier to find affordable position players in the offseason and the July non-waiver Trade Deadline than it is to acquire quality pitching.

Think of the names. Sure, there are some stars like Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval who rose through the farm system, but the rest is mostly a hodgepodge of acquisitions and castaways.

You have players the Giants traded for before the Deadline, such as Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro, but you have even more examples of afterthoughts who found success in San Francisco -- Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria and Cody Ross, to name a few.

In short, the Giants' shrewd strategy of making arms the backbone of the organization was the foundation of the success, and all it took was some tinkering with the offense to put together championship-caliber clubs. It's an outline that continues to hold true in San Francisco.

Seven of the Giants' top 10 prospects are pitchers. The team's top overall prospect, 2011 first-round pick Kyle Crick, is currently on the Minor League disabled list with an oblique injury, but he has impressed in the lower levels of San Francisco's farm system since being drafted out of high school. Scouts expect him to be a frontline starter someday if he can improve his command and offspeed pitches.

Similarly, 2012 first-round pick Chris Stratton has succeeded in his short time in Class A ball. This season, he has struck out 63 batters in 59 2/3 innings and projects to move up the ranks quickly with his four-pitch repertoire.

While Crick and Stratton almost certainly will not impact the 2013 Giants, there are some pitching prospects who have reached the big leagues or are on the brink of doing so.

Left-handed starter Eric Surkamp started six games for San Francisco in 2011, but he has not seen big league hitters since, due in large part to injuries, as he underwent Tommy John surgery a year ago. The 2008 sixth-round pick appeared in a game for Class A San Jose on Thursday -- his first professional appearance since the surgery.

With Surkamp returning from the injury and Mike Kickham, who has already seen big league action this season, available if San Francisco needs them, the Giants once again have no shortage of pitching.

Zach Wheeler is another name that is familiar to the San Francisco fan base, though the name is a bit of a sore spot. The 2009 sixth overall pick is ranked the seventh-best prospect the game by MLB.com and is expected to make his Major League debut this week, but it won't be for the Giants.

Wheeler, whose fastball reaches 97 mph and is complemented by a nasty curveball, was traded to the Mets at the 2011 Trade Deadline for outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Giants sustained several injuries down the stretch and missed the playoffs (and did not receive a compensatory Draft pick when Beltran signed with the Cardinals because of a provision in his contract).

While the Giants have nothing to show for Wheeler, the trade showed the confidence San Francisco's front office has in a farm system that has produced the likes of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. The Giants typically have no shortage of power arms in the organization, and Beltran appeared to represent the difference between making and missing the postseason.

In last week's First-Year Player Draft, the Giants had a clear strategy in their first few picks: find quality position players. San Francisco used three of its first four picks on offensive players, including first-round selection Christian Arroyo.

However, it most likely represents a blip on the radar rather than a trend. The Giants' blueprint of developing power arms has not changed, but with several solid pitchers in the farm system, San Francisco attempted to balance the offensive inequity a bit.

While Juan Perez made his Major League debut Sunday, the path isn't as clear for San Francisco's top positional talent in the Minor Leagues. Outfielder Gary Brown is the team's second-ranked prospect, but he has struggled with a .209 batting average and .278 on-base percentage in 2013. With his down numbers this year and Angel Pagan entrenched in center field, there's no clear answer as to when Brown will be called up.

Outfielder Francisco Peguero has shuttled between the Minor Leagues and big leagues the past two seasons, but he also factors into San Francisco's future plans. If he can refine his approach and stay healthy, he might be in line for another callup in 2013.

Andrew Owens is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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