Baseball America
San Francisco Giants Top 10 Prospects
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 Q:  Big Al from Waterloo, Ontario asks:
What do you think will happen with Erik Threets this year? Any chance he will be the next Jose Valverde?
 A: 

John Manuel: Thanks everyone for coming, by the way. Glad to be back doing the Giants top 30, third time in four years for me.

John Manuel: Erick Threets could blow up at any time, and I mean that in a good way. He just doesn't have the track record to be in the Top 10, not for me anyway. He just doesn't throw strikes, and so saying he can be a Valverde, I mean, that's just not anything anyone can predict. If Threets starts throwing strikes, he can be Alan Embree and more . . . a lefty throwing 95-100 mph with a wicked slider. Word is, the Giants tried to lower his arm angle a bit more to his natural slot late in instructional league, and that produced better control. But let's see it in games that (sort of) count.

 Q:  Nick Gee from Huddersfield, England asks:
What's your take on the Giants apparently 'throwing away' their first round pick in next years draft by signing Michael Tucker only hours before the arbitration deadline?
 A: 

John Manuel: Lots of Nick questions, we'll try to ration them. I was a bit surprised by the Giants' decision--for those who missed it, Michael Tucker got two years ($3.5 million, I believe) to be a platoon OF at the cost of a first-round pick. I believe it's another sign of the Giants' urgency to win while Barry Bonds is still around. Draft picks help in the short-term if you trade them, which the Giants do, but Tucker could help more in the short term than a first-round pick, at about the same cost. I believe that was the thinking. If Tucker hits and isn't asked to be an everyday player, it will turn out to be a solid move.

 Q:  Matthew B from La Mirada asks:
I was really impressed by the debut of Brad Vericker. I played against him and did not expect the power output that he has showed in pro ball. How does he rank prospect wise with the Giants?
 A: 

John Manuel: Vericker set the HR record at NAIA Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego and is a bat-first guy, but he won't make the Top 30 until he shows he can play a position. Of his 70 games, he only played the field 27 times, not good in an NL organization.

 Q:  tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
Where in the heck is Tony Torcato? A lot of other players have been mentioned for the 25-man in 2004 but not him. Isn't he out of options? I still like Torcato and I think he can be useful.
 A: 

John Manuel: Tony Torcato just doesn't hit enough to be a corner OF or 1B. Very little strength or plate discipline, and singles-hitters who are middling fielders with no speed who hit about .280 in MLB (which is about what Torcato would do) aren't in demand. He's a role player at best.

 Q:  David Dobbs from Santa Rosa, CA asks:
Good morning (it is here)!! The Giants re-launch thier south american presence 5 years ago, and in those 5 years they have produced a big fat goose egg of prospects. With the Alou brothers in the fold and Cepeda doing his thing I would have assumed that the Dominican Academy would be hopping, but apparently not. Your thoughts on thier efforts in SA would be deeply appreciated.
 A: 

John Manuel: Morning David. The Giants have tried to up their Latin American presence, to no avail in terms of their current Top 30. They did have Felix Diaz, since dealt to the White Sox, and then there was the Deivis Santos fiasco (new name, 6 years older than thought . . . ouch). The Rookie-level AZL team had some lively Latin American arms, though, led by RHP Kelyn Acosta (mid-90s gas) and reliever Leslie Nacar (advanced breaking ball, 88-92 mph FB). But overall, those Latin American efforts haven't been very successful.

 Q:  Dobbsie the Giants fan from San Francisco, CA asks:
I noticed that the PTBNL in the David Cash for a pail of bat guano was-- Jeff Verplanke. It now appears obvious that Verplanke was damaged goods when the Giants traded him for Billy Mueller in 02 and the new Chicago manager, some guy named baker, spilled the beans on the home team. Is the post TJ, post return Verplanke worth more or less than the replacement David Cash?
 A: 

John Manuel: Mr. Dobbs again, I presume. Your read on the Cash trade is correct. The Giants had to make good with the Cubs, from what we understand, and I think they did. Verplancke has had two Tommy John surgeries now and doesn't have a great track record of success. I believe he is less of a prospect than David Cash, who had an interesting year at Double-A West Tenn.

 Q:  Nick Gee from Huddersfield, England asks:
How close did Noah Lowry come to making the top ten list?
 A: 

John Manuel: Nick, Noah came close, but that's mostly because the Giants' system lost quite a bit of depth. He was pushed to Double-A and made the big leagues, but he really didn't have a great season in Norwich and doesn't have overwhelming stuff. Lowry seems to have lost some athleticism since his Pepperdine days (those who follow the college game may recall that Lowry's last start was a loss to Mark Prior and USC in a regional that the Trojans won with a walk-off homer by MIchael Moon . . . but I digress.). He's a fastball-changeup guy and a little stiff right now, so there's not a lot of projection left for his 87-89 mph fastball. But he's in the 11-20 range.

 Q:  brian sabean from hummingbird hotel asks:
when jesse foppert was a #1 prospect, everyone said he threw at 95mph or even higher. for the giants, he seemed to hover around 88 - 91. was the slowdown for the giants a sign of the elbow trouble developing that lead his to surgery or was everyone overstating his mph in the minors. can merkin valdez really throw 95 or is that just more prospect talk that will prove to mean 88-91 when he gets to the bigs.
 A: 

John Manuel: Foppert did throw that hard. We saw the comments made impugning the scouting reports on Foppert's heat, but they were universal. Foppert clearly was injured this year--hence the Tommy John surgery--and that explains his drop in velocity. My velocity readings on Valdez come from three different pro scouts in three different organizations, three guys we at BA trust. Certainly pitchers can lose velocity due to injuries to mechanical troubles, but Valdez has that kind of velo in him. So do several other Giants farmhands, like Erick Threets, Matt Cain, Craig Whitaker, Kyle Gross . . . the organization does not lack for power arms.

 Q:  Bud from Wheat Ridge, Colorado asks:
John, If Boof Bonser and Fransico Liriano had not been traded how would they be ranked among the other Giant prospects?
 A: 

John Manuel: Bud, they would have been in the Top 10 definitely, and Bonser probably would have ranked in the top three. I didn't ask anyone about those guys because they already had been traded, but Bonser has had success at higher levels and has good stuff. He could have ranked ahead of Aardsma. Liriano would have been lower because of his injury history.

 Q:  tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
The Giants have signed some promising non-drafted free agents such as Brad Vericker, Jesse Floyd and John Armitage. Can these guys be more than just organizational players?
 A: 

John Manuel: Armitage is currently the best prospect of this trio, possibly because he hasn't played pro ball yet. He looked good in instructional league. Jim Callis, a fellow Georgia Bulldog like Armitage, had Armitage in his Cape Cod League Top 30, I believe, and reports out of instructional league are that Armitage has big power potential and enough athletic ability to play an outfield corner. But let's see what he does in 2004.

 Q:  Cory from Toronto, Canada asks:
Todd Linden. Real deal? It's been a while it seems since the Giants developed a homegrown bat. Thanks.
 A: 

John Manuel: It has been a decade since the Giants drafted and signed a position player who became an everday big league regular--1993, Chris Singleton and Bill Mueller were both drafted that year. So yes, it has been a long time. Linden could end that drought, but it's not certain. He needs to tone down his swing (which gets out of kilter) but still maintain his power. He did the former but not the latter for most of 2003. The Giants' confidence in him was shown by the Tucker signing. If they thought Linden was ready, there would have been no need to go sign Michael Tucker. He probably will return to Fresno unless he has a boffo spring.

 Q:  Elliott Strankman from Idaho asks:
What plans do the Giants have for Jason Ellison? Is he still in the 2004 picture? Has his stock dropped or risen? Will Julio Cordido ever play for the Giants? Are his days numbered?
 A: 

Moderator: Elliott, Ellison is a fourth or fifth outfielder. His tools are too fringy for him to make an impact as an everyday player. Cordido, a Venezuelan, looks like a utility guy at best. Scouts were not exactly enamored of that San Jose team. It was bad and largely devoid of elite prospects, aside from Dan Ortmeier and David Aardsma.

 Q:  Chris B from SLC, UT asks:
It's great to have you back doing the Giants list John. The Giants list has seen quite a makeover from last year. Where did Schierholtz and Jennings rank?
 A: 

John Manuel: Thanks for the kind words, Chris. Schierholtz and Jennings just missed the Top 10. It was tough . . . Jennings has a lot of athletic ability, but he isn't 100 percent certain to remain at catcher (and may not need to with A.J. Pierzynski), and his value is lessened if he's, say, a 2B. Schierholtz has the org's best raw power, but he's kind of far away and defensively, he's got a long way to go. We ranked Buscher ahead of him because, despite his modest Hagerstown numbers, Buscher's plate approach is much more advanced and Buscher has a better chance of being a big league 3B defensively. But it was close.

 Q:  Brett from Newport, RI asks:
What MLB pitcher would you favorably compare Valdez too? And do you see any truth to him coming out of the SF pen this coming season?
 A: 

John Manuel: Merkin could be a better Felix Rodriguez, and could start doing it in 2004, certainly. I think there is truth to that rumor, and it's a reason Joe Nathan was deemed expendable. Several scouts think Valdez profiles better as a reliever, that he may have more value and be more dominant as a closer (eventually) than as a starter, where his lack of a consistent offspeed pitch could hinder him.

 Q:  Charles Crimes from Palmdale, Ca asks:
What position player impressed most in Instrux?
 A: 

John Manuel: Armitage was one. Travis Ishikawa essentially hit his way onto the Top 10, though, with 6 HRs in 60 ABs, so I'd say it was Ishikawa, from what the Giants said. Now he needs to take that kind of performance, or something close to that, back to Hagerstown in 2004.

 Q:  Rob Bishop from Washington DC asks:
John--What in the world are the Giants doing? Are they the only team that despises draft picks? They should have 5 in the Top 40 this year (their own, Santiago, Worrell).
 A: 

John Manuel: Wow, lots of questions about the Tucker move and the draft . . . I guess I should expect no less from BA readers. I think Rob has hit on something. I don't have the particulars here (who was offered arbitration and who was not), but the Giants will get compensation picks for losing some of their FAs. That also helps explain why they would be somewhat cavalier in giving up their first-round pick for Michael Tucker. It's not as bad as giving it away from Mike Magnante, as the A's did a couple of years ago. Tucker will help the '04 team.

 Q:  Bryce from Pomona, Ca asks:
Will Brian Wilson pitch this year? Relief or starting?
 A: 

John Manuel: We also have several Brian Wilson questions. He's a classic Giants pick, in my mind. Power arm. College guy (Giants have gone to the LSU well before for Jake Esteves, who got hurt, and Todd Linden, among others). Tommy John alumnus (remember another LSU guy, Kurt Ainsworth, already had TJ before the Giants drafted him). Wilson didn't have the surgery until April, though, so the Giants haven't even seen him throw. I'd expect him to debut either in the Rookie-level AZL or with short-season Salem-Keizer next year. Whether he starts or relieves, he'll be handled gently. A real assessment of him won't be possible, really, until 2005.

 Q:  Scott Parker from Walnut Creek, CA asks:
John, Thanks for taking the time to answer Giants questions. How is Brad Hennessey progressing?
 A: 

John Manuel: Scott, the main thing now is Brad Hennessey has not had another tumor. His slider had yet to regain its sharpness yet in instructional league, but that's to be expected from a guy who had missed so much time. Hennessey can be a very good setup man at least if he regains his strength, 88-91 mph fastball and that slider. For me, best case, he's a Turk Wendell type of setup man.

 Q:  Nick Gee from Huddersfield, England asks:
Lets assume it's the last day of spring training - Do you see any of this years top ten breaking camp with the Giants and heading west as a major leaguer?
 A: 

John Manuel: Not really, Nick, other than maybe Merkin Valdez in the bullpen and Kevin Correia as a 5th starter or middle guy. I think the Tucker signing headed off Linden from doing that, and Lance Niekro just isn't ready for a big league job, either. If he were, J.T. Snow wouldn't have been re-signed, either. Niekro needs to get stronger and hit for at least a little power. He has a career .383 slugging percentage in the minors, and 3B is no longer his primary position. Not a good combo.

 Q:  Nick Gee from Huddersfield, England asks:
I was suprised to see the inclusion of Brian Buscher in the top ten and the exclusion of both Todd Jennings and Nate Schierholtz. What swayed it for Buscher? or is it a case of the Giants' system actualy being deeper than it's being given credit for?
 A: 

John Manuel: One more from Nick. I went into this a bit earlier. I'll also admit a Buscher bias. He was a great college player at South Carolina and is a real dirt rat, he's always at the field or in the cage working on his game. He could move very quickly if he learns to pull the ball and shows some power. I think he has a chance to be a Joe Randa kind of player (pre-2001), only he hits lefthanded, which makes him more valuable. That may not be too exciting, but then neither is the Giants' position player talent.

 Q:  Cory from Toronto, Canada asks:
What can you tell me about Mike Cervenak? He has pretty good numbers, but it is he a prospect or a dime a dozen hitter? Thanks.
 A: 

John Manuel: He's an organizational guy. Nicknamed the Mayor of Norwich now as he's been there for the last three years, two with the Yankees and one with S.F. He did have a nice college career at Michigan and was once in our Alaska League Top 10, but he's 27 and not going to make this Top 30.

 Q:  Danny from Jerusalem asks:
Hi John. I was surprised to see that after BA had ranked Nate Schierholtz and Todd Jennings 3rd and 5th respectively in the Northwest League in 2003, and Travis Ishikawa 18th – you have Ishikawa as 7th overall in the system with the others not in the top 10. You also have Brian Buscher ahead of Schierholtz. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
 A: 

John Manuel: One more question on this subject . . . Ishikawa, as I said, really had a good instructional league. I have done the NWL list before, and those managers don't necessarily like it when a player like Ishikawa repeats the league. I think Ishikawa has more upside than those other players, though. Maybe Will Kimmey (who wrote up the NWL) and I will have a side bet on who turns out better. We have some reports that Schierholtz is a bit stiff physically, not a great athlete and doesn't profile well at 3B. He and Ishikawa have similar raw power. I think Ishikawa's will get more out of his raw power. Both are very far away from the big leagues, three years or more. As I said before about Jennings, if he's not a C, and some are not convinced that he will be a C, then his value dips, because he's an average offensive player.

 Q:  Russ from NY asks:
Is David Aardsma the future closer of the Giants, and what's his ETA?
 A: 

John Manuel: He is if Merkin Valdez isn't. It would not shock me if Aardsma reached San Francisco in the second half of 2004, frankly. He's got a very good fastball, and if he commands his knuckle-curve he'll have two plus pitches.

 Q:  Jeremey from San Jose, CA asks:
Do you think the Giants should continue to go after middle infielders? The class they had last year to be honest was not a good, with the Long Beach guy and LaBarbara combining to hit about .200?
 A: 

John Manuel: The Long Beach guy is Tim Hutting, who had a very solid instructional league. The Giants still have a gaping hole in their middle infield in the minor leagues. Does any Giants fan want to see Cody Ransom as the starting SS in 2004? And he's been the organization's best middle infield prospect for about three or four years now. It's not an organizational strength, and having more prospects there would help the organization.

 Q:  Steve Moffat from Spring Training, AZ asks:
Matt Palmer had an outstanding year. Prospect or no?
 A: 

John Manuel: Not right now . . . minor league closers aren't often prospects, though Aardsma is an exception. Palmer throws strikes and competes, those are his best attributes as a pitcher. He's also a nice guy and has passion for the game, and had a solid college career at Southwest Missouri State. But he probably won't be in the Top 30.

 Q:  Tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
Who impressed during instructional league? I haven't heard much about it. Is Jesse English back? I was puzzled why he didn't move up since he was in the AZL league last year.
 A: 

John Manuel: one last Tiffy question. Jesse English had better stuff in '02 than he showed in '03, and the biggest reason for that is Jesse got hurt and he got big. He's a fastball-changeup lefty who lost some velocity, and he needs to be stronger and regain some athleticism to avoid another poor season.

 Q:  Justin Roberts from Lancaster, Ca asks:
Would the Giants move Brion Treadway back to the bullpen to boost his ascent to the majors or will they keep him as a starter because he has more value that way?
 A: 

John Manuel: It seems the consensus on Treadway is that he's not durable enough to be a reliever, and he's more of a back-of-the rotation starter if it all works out. Treadway has a good slider at times, but struggles with mechanics and his arm slot. It was good to see him finally pitch a full season, though.

 Q:  Nick from Madison, WI asks:
I have a few assorted questions about past prospects I haven't seen for awhile on the Giants... Sean McGowan...why was he released by the Giants while in 2001 he was listed as their 6th best prospect? Arturo McDowell...has he given up on baseball forever to pursue a career in football? Giuseppe Chiaramonte...future Giants catcher MIA? and finally Jake Esteves...he suddenly disappeared, and as recently as three years ago, was supposed to be our (the Giants') next ace... Thanks John
 A: 

Moderator: Those guys just weren't good enough. McGowan played in the Red Sox chain after his release, but he's got a "slow pole" as they say up there. McDowell never hit, and his baseball career is over. Chiaramonte and Esteves had major injury problems. I believe Chiaramonte is actually a coach at a Fresno area high school, which is great for him. Wish him luck.

 Q:  Brian Shore from Regina Sask asks:
It seems that Foppert and Williams were both # 1 prospect at one time now that they both arrived in the major league how do they compare ( I know Foppert was injured but who will be the #1 starter in the future).
 A: 

John Manuel: Well, you have to say Williams looks like the better bet right now because he hasn't had arm surgery. The Tommy John surgery track record is certainly encouraging, but Foppert won't even pitch in '04, most likely. If he returns to full help, I'd take Foppert but those are two pretty great homegrown arms. The Giants deserve props for developing each of them.

 Q:  Danny from Jerusalem asks:
Hi John. How about Luke Anderson? He had such impressive numbers in AA in 2002 before his injury, and seemed to bounce back in the AFL this year. What can you tell us about his prospects?
 A: 

John Manuel: Danny, Anderson was a fringe guy anyway because of his average (or below-average) fastball. He always had a plus split-finger fastball. Maybe if Roger Craig were still around, the Giants would find a place for him. He's not considered a prospect who can make a real impact in the major leagues.

 Q:  Chris B from SLC, UT asks:
John--Is Ellison or Valderamma still possible major league CF's?
 A: 

John Manuel: FYI, BA.com general manager Kevin Goldstein reports that Giuseppe Chiaramonte is the head coach at NAIA Bethany (Calif.) College in Scotts Valley . . . good for Guiseppe.

John Manuel: Ellison we've touched on. Valderrama has some interesting tools and is having a big Venezuelan League performance this winter, but he's a small guy who tries to hit like a big man. He's also 26, I believe, and still hasn't played above Double-A. I suppose it's conceivable he could be the Giants' CF one day, but not likely.

 Q:  Angela from Antioch, California asks:
John--The female fans want to know who is a possible replacement for the dreamy JT Snow?
 A: 

John Manuel: The Giants wish they had one. It's like Mark Marquess manages the Giants, the way they value Snow's defense at first base. If the organization thought Lance Niekro or Tony Torcato would out-hit Snow by a lot, one of them would have replaced him for '04, but clearly they do not believe that is the case. Snow's eventual replacement could be Ishikawa or Schierholtz (if he gets moved across the diamond), if it comes from within the organization.

 Q:  Cory from Toronto, Canada asks:
What do you think of Dan Ortmeier? Can he or Todd Linden someday replace the old veteran OF's the Giants keep putting on the field?
 A: 

John Manuel: Canada representing a lot today . . . actually it's just Cory. Enjoy your new Prime Minister. We think highly of Ortmeier obviously, as he's the highest-ranking position player on the list. Let's see what he does in Double-A next year, but Ortmeier has good tools, the skills to put them to use and plenty of intensity. He played for the late Clay Gould at Texas-Arlington, helping lead that team to a Southland Conference championship in 2001 while Gould was dying of cancer. Ortmeier was one of the leaders of that team, and the Giants love his makeup.

 Q:  Will from San Jose asks:
John, to my surprise (and relief) the Top 10 wasnt the carnage I was expecting it to be w all the trades and disappointments, as usual it looks like we have some promising arms but are thin on position players - How would you evaluate the strength of this system compared to others in the west and secondly what are the relative upsides to Todd Jennings, Nate Schierholtz. Thanks
 A: 

Moderator: Will, I believe I've blathered on enough re: Jennings and Schierholtz. The Giants farm system ranked in the 11-12 range the last couple of years out of the 30 in MLB. I'd say it takes a major hit when we do our rankings in the spring. It's still a pitching-heavy organization, but last year it had Ainsworth, Foppert and Williams ready for the big leagues, plus Hannaman, Bonser, Liriano and other arms like R.D. Spiehs and David Cash were still around. It's just natural that the organization would slip in our rankings after losing and graduating so much talent, to other organizations or to the big leagues. Comparing it to others in the NL West, I'm not sure that the Giants don't rank last right now.

 Q:  Jim from San Francisco asks:
Would you consider Valdez to be a better prospect than Foppert? And who has the higher ceiling- Valdez or Cain? Does Cain really throw 97? I heard he is more low 90s. Lastly, do you know if Aardsma will start when he is brought into the majors? Thanks.
 A: 

John Manuel: No, because no one talked about making Foppert a reliever, and scouts (and the Giants themselves) say this about "El Mago." Cain touches 97; when healthy, he pitches in the 92-94 range and touches the 95, 96 and 97. That's why we gave a range of 92-97 for his fastball in our scouting report. He was hitting those mid-90s numbers during his seven innings in instructional league. I don't believe Aardsma will start, I think he's in the pen because he could move rapidly, but he did start some at Penn State and at Rice (2002), so it's not out of the question.

 Q:  David Dobbs from Santa Rosa, CA asks:
I notice that the Giants did fairly well with prospects in the NWL who went undrafted- both Jesse Floyd and Brad Verriker were amoung the league leaders. Are either of these walk ons rating a top 30 spot?
 A: 

John Manuel: David, Floyd's stuff is fringy but he wins. He's going to have to prove it at every step and if he's in the Top 30, it will be toward the back. Vericker is similar only he's a hitter. Like Floyd, he doesn't ooze tools and will have to perform in the minors at every step.

 Q:  Grant from Waiting for Boof asks:
Travis Ishikawa can look like a future All-Star in one at-bat, but future minor league washout in the next. Can he ever make consistent contact?
 A: 

John Manuel: Grant, that's the $955,000 question. The Giants believe in Ishikawa's swing. He was overmatched starting in Hagerstown last year; his 2004 season is critical in that he doesn't have to put up huge numbers, but he does need to do what you said--make contact and cut down his K's. The scouts we talk to like his swing a lot and do think with experience he will hit.

 Q:  Spencer Stokes from CA asks:
John, Give us the bad news. Where does the Giants system rank? They gave up a ton of prospects this year and with the loss of draft picks I'm worried where this system is headed.
 A: 

John Manuel: Josh Boyd, Jim Callis, Will Lingo and Allan Simpson do our Top 100 rankings and our 1-30 rankings for organization talent, and from talking to them, I'm guessing the Giants will be in the bottom five. This was an important draft, and the Giants got some intereting pieces, but the new guys in the organization don't make up for the talent traded away or the guys who made it to San Francisco (thus they don't count when we rank the minor league talent). As for the future, the Giants' poor track record for developing hitters is an obstacle it has to overcome to be successful after Barry Bonds retires.

 Q:  Grant from Waiting for Boof asks:
Who is your favorite sleeper in the organization?
 A: 

John Manuel: Sean "Spider" Martin. Great guy, good college player at Cal State Fullerton, possible future BA staffer (the guy knows his college baseball) . . . I don't know that he's a major leaguer, but he was a fine setup man at Cal State Fullerton for Chad Cordero. As far as a prospect sleeper, I'd say John Armitage.

 Q:  Greg from Green Valley, Ca asks:
Can Daniel Trumble ever put it together?
 A: 

John Manuel: probably not . . . 80 raw power, but just not much else in the toolbox.

 Q:  Tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
How does someone like Freddie Lewis "accidentally" draw a fair number of walks?
 A: 

John Manuel: Step one, be in the South Atlantic League, where pitchers generally don't throw strikes. Step two, have little idea of the strike zone. Third, repeat step one. It's not like Lewis didn't earn some of them. The overall point we were trying to make is that Lewis doesn't have an advanced plate approach, despite his high walk total. He does have big-time tools. Don't look at the numbers and think, "Lots of walk, good speed, slap hitter." That's just not how he profiles. He's very much a work in progress. His ceiling is probably the highest of any of the Giants' position players, but his likelihood of reaching his ceiling is still uncertain.

 Q:  Michael from Salt Lake City asks:
How would you compare Matt Cain and Melkin Valdez? Do both project as top of the line starters? Which would you rather have? Michael
 A: 

John Manuel: Cain's breaking ball and feel for his changeup are both ahead of Valdez' secondary pitches. Merkin commands his fastball very well, it's a 70 fastball in both velocity and command, but he needs to refine his breaking stuff. If he were to move slowly through the minors, Valdez could probably develop those offspeed pitches enough but perhaps not as much as Cain. We ranked Valdez first in part because Cain missed half of the season with that elbow injury. Long-term, if both are healthy, I'd probably take Cain.

 Q:  Brian from Regina ,Sask asks:
Players from Jr. college do not have a very good track record in the majors but , I find Nathan Schierholtz interesting does he have the tools to be agood major league 3b .
 A: 

John Manuel: Brian, I'd disagree with you on the JC track record. Tons of JC guys are drafted each year, and there are fewer JC guys in the big leagues than HS or College draftees, but some JC alums are very prominent--Curt Schilling, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt . . . just to name a few. Schierholtz may not have the tools to be a good major league 3B; that's why he's not on the Top 10. He has a lot of work to do defensively, but a lot of offensive potential as well.

 Q:  Will from San Jose asks:
John, the comment by 1 Giant official you noted on Craig Whitaker being “Raw as rain,” doesnt inspire confidence that he is anything more than an expensive project right now that will take a lot of time to develop - Wouldnt the Giants been better off taking a more polished HS pitchers like Adam Miller or James Houser - Were the Giants worried by Whitaker's injury status which would explain why he pitched so little last season. Thanks
 A: 

John Manuel: No, the GIants weren't too worried about Whitaker's injury, he's still growing into his body and should be OK for 2004. Would the Giants have been better off picking someone else . . . we won't know for three or four years, probably.

 Q:  Phillip from Riverside, Ca asks:
How nice of a DFE pickup is Mike Musgrave?
 A: 

John Manuel: Quite nice. Projectable, athletic body, power arm . . . pretty early to tell, but his debut was encouraging.

 Q:  tom from san francisco, ca asks:
living here in the bay area, one is subjected to the constant yammerings about what a genius brian sabean is; yet he and mr. dick tidrow preside over one of the most astonishingly inept farm systems in the industry. where's the genius in that? i guess the cell-phone wielding denizens of pac bell park are content to watch marquis grissom, andres galarraga, and other 1990s relics paraded before them, but it all seems to comes at the expense of developing players that you can take pride in.
 A: 

John Manuel: Tom, hope you enjoyed getting that off your chest. The Giants have used their farm system to trade for talent surrounding Bonds. It's been an effective use of the farm system from my standpoint. The place where you can fault the organization, IMO, is in its inability to draft (or sign) and develop a position player. Yorvit Torrealba and Pedro Feliz are it for the '03 team, other than Marvin Benard and the rookies like Cody Ransom, etc.

 Q:  george from Texas asks:
What do the giants have in the way of catching prospects?
 A: 

John Manuel: Well, Justin Knoedler had a nice season with the bat and is challenging Todd Jennings as the organization's No. 1 catcher prospect. Knoedler will have to show he can keep making progress offensively; he's got a plus-plus arm and is fine as a receiver. The Giants also like Dayton Buller who is raw, has some ability both with the bat and defensively, with Trey Lunsford, who profiles as a backup.

 Q:  Kent Iverson from Los Altos asks:
Hi John, I am interested in your opinions regarding Leslie Nacar, James Garcia and Josh Habel. Thanks and happy holidays!
 A: 

John Manuel: Almost done here. . . Nacar and Garcia are relievers with good breaking balls who racked up impressive K totals in '03. Both must improve their fastballs to profile as big leaguers, though. Both have fringy other pitches. If only they were lefthanded like Habel, who has a great changeup and had a nice season. Habel is kind of a Jamie Moyer type so he'll have to be fine, but he's the most likely of the trio to rank in the Top 30.

 Q:  steve from Owltown asks:
How successful to you think David Aardsma can be as a starter and are the Giants serious about converting him? Can you comment on Rice University's ability to develop pitching? None of David and the big four (other than Josh Baker) were drafted out of high school.
 A: 

John Manuel: We've covered the first part; I like Aardsma better as a reliever, but Dick Tidrow knows pitching a whole, whole, whole, whole lot better than me. As for Rice's pitching prowess, Wayne Graham's track record is wicked awesome. He coached Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in JC at San Jac, and he's produced several great college pitchers. One scouting director recently told me that Rice's collection of arms is the best he's ever seen in college baseball, dating back to the early 1970s, when scholarships started to be limited by the NCAA (before, schools like Arizona State and USC would give out like 40 scholarships for baseball). But Rice's pitchers haven't really dented the big leagues, so before we anoint Rice as the new Stanford or USC, let's see if Matt Anderson turns around, or Mario Ramos, or if Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs ever get healthy.

 Q:  Grant from Waiting for Boof asks:
Which of these Volcanoes impressed scouts the most: Pat Misch, Jesse Floyd, or J.B. Thurmond?
 A: 

John Manuel: Misch is a lefty, a huge advantage, and he throws four pitches for strikes. Ben Thurmond (as he was known in college at Winthrop and Arizona State) has lost some velocity since he went 14-2 for Winthrop in 2001, but he had a nice debut. If his arm strength comes back, he's a sleeper prospect. Floyd, as discussed before, competes with fringy stuff.

 Q:  John from Canton,Michigan asks:
What are your thoughts on Greg Bruso?
 A: 

John Manuel: I got a lot of Bruso questions. He was dealt to the Brewers in the Eric Young deal, and I didn't ask about him for the Top 30, so I have no idea where he would have ranked had he not been traded.

 Q:  trip from Lock Haven asks:
What do you project maximum upside Lance Niekro
 A: 

John Manuel: Big-time knuckle ball pitcher . . . but it might be too late for that. I'm not a big Niekro fan and don't see him as anything more than a 4A guy. He's got to get a lot stronger and more selective, hit for a lot more power than he has shown, to be an effective big leaguer.

 Q:  Kent from Los Altos asks:
John, Do you feel it is likely that Cody Ransom could improve his offensive game enough to stick with the Giants as a utility guy?
 A: 

John Manuel: Not really. He's had many chances. If he does, more power to him.

 Q:  dandy from penthouse in manhattan asks:
none of the giants free agents were offered arbitration, even though it was clear some would get signed. so there seems to be utter contempt for the value of draft picks. us disgruntled giant fans are wondering if they are scouring for a cheap class b free agent to sign so they can give up another pick... is this lunacy? and what about this dallimore character in fresno last year, he put up the best numbers on the team but it sounds like he has been a career minor leaguer. does he deserve a shot?
 A: 

John Manuel: Glad you mentioned this . . . the Giants did not offer arbitration to Santiago or Worrell, so they will get no compensation picks . . . thanks to the Giants for calling me back during this chat. I don't know that it's utter contempt for draft picks, but clearly the Giants have a finite budget, and Sabean & Co. have decided to concentrate it on winning in San Francisco now.

 Q:  Nick Gee from Huddersfield, England asks:
Not a question, just a thank-you for taking the time to answer our questions. Thanks Nick
 A: 

John Manuel: thank you Nick, I need to go, but thanks for all the questions. I'm impressed by the passion and interest of Giants fans. Take care.

Moderator: Thanks so much for all the questions. Giants fans showed up and showed up bigtime. Josh Boyd will be chatting on the Dodgers Top 10 on Wednesday.