Top Ten Prospects: San Francisco Giants
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Manuel
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Matt Cain, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180.
Background: Cain has blossomed from No. 2 pitcher on his high school team (behind Conor Lalor, now at South Carolina) to No. 2 prospect in the Giants organization, and he was pushing for the No. 1 spot before a stress fracture in his elbow sidelined him midway through the 2003 season. Cain showed he had returned to health with seven dominant innings in instructional league.
Strengths: Cain might have a better arm than Valdez, and he profiles better as a starter. He starts with a 92-97 mph fastball that he throws on a good downhill plane. He also throws a power downer curveball with good velocity (77-80 mph). When it’s on, it has late break and good depth and is a true strikeout pitch. The Giants laud his aptitude and maturity.
Weaknesses: Cain has shown a feel for a changeup with late movement but hasn’t used it much. He also tends to get under the ball and rush himself in his delivery, which puts stress on his elbow. The Giants are confident he’ll grow out of that as he matures physically.
The Future: One of the South Atlantic League’s youngest players in 2003, Cain dominated at times anyway. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be pushed aggressively and could reach Double-A sometime in 2004.
3. David Aardsma, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200.
Background: The closer for Rice’s 2003 College World Series championship team, Aardsma broke 1997 No. 1 overall pick Matt Anderson’s career and season saves records in two seasons after transferring from Penn State. If he makes the big leagues, he’ll move ahead of Hank Aaron in the all-time alphabetical listing of big leaguers.
Strengths: Aardsma throws his fastball anywhere from 93-98 mph, and it has explosive late life. He switched from a slider to a knuckle-curve that many Rice pitchers throw, and it’s a plus pitch at times. His changeup is major league-ready.
Weaknesses: Aardsma’s closing background has hindered the development of his breaking ball; he only recently ditched his slider. He started at Penn State, and some scouts think he has the stuff and size to succeed in a rotation. Others cite his “pie thrower” delivery, which puts a lot of strain on his elbow, as precluding him from having the needed durability.
The Future: Aardsma showed big league closer stuff during his debut in high Class A. He should move quickly to San Francisco after a short apprenticeship in Double-A in 2004.
4. Dan Ortmeier, of
Age: 22. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220.
Background: Ortmeier has been on the radar for some time, but still ranks as somewhat of a sleeper. He was drafted out of high school in 1999 (27th round, White Sox) and was a two-time all-Southland Conference selection. He started 2003 as a DH primarily while recovering from left shoulder surgery.
Strengths: Ortmeier has the organization’s best combination of tools and skills. His swing is consistent and smooth from both sides of the plate. He shows a quick enough bat to hit inside pitches and lashes line drives from gap-to-gap. He also made strides with his two-strike approach. He runs well enough to play center field, though he profiles best in right.
Weaknesses: Ortmeier’s shoulder injury sapped some strength from what had been a plus arm, though it should bounce back. Some club officials fear his all-out playing style could work against him in the form of more injuries in the future. He hasn’t learned to pull the ball yet for the power teams want from their corner outfielders.
The Future: Ortmeier has the potential to hit .280-.300 with 20-homer power from both sides of the plate. He’ll try to prove he’s on track to that kind of future projection in 2004 at Double-A Norwich.
5. Todd Linden. of
Age: 23. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220.
Background: Linden was the Pacific-10 Conference batting champion and the Cape Cod League’s top prospect in 2000, then led Louisiana State in home runs after transferring in 2001. He has moved rapidly through the system since signing late in 2001, when he negotiated his own signing bonus after a needlessly protracted holdout.
Strengths: Linden has good raw power and projects to hit 30 homers in the major leagues. He generally holds his own against lefthanded pitching. Though he’s a bit bulkier than when he signed, he still has good athletic ability, runs well for his size and has an average throwing arm.
Weaknesses: One club official summed up Linden’s offensive plan thusly: “He swings very hard in case he hits it.” That wild approach was exploited by Triple-A pitchers. His high leg- kick swing can get out of sync in a hurry, leading to slumps and strikeouts.
The Future: The free-agent signing of Michael Tucker and the re-signing of Jeffrey Hammonds throw two more obstacles in Linden’s way to San Francisco. He’ll likely return to Triple-A Fresno for 2004.
6. Kevin Correia, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Big league injuries and his good command made Correia the first player from the 2002 draft to reach the majors. He didn’t even play baseball while at Grossmont (Calif.) JC in 1999, but transferred to Cal Poly and was its top pitcher in 2001 and 2002.
Strengths: A good athlete, Correia throws strikes with three average pitches. His fastball usually sits in the 88-92 mph range, and he has good sink on his fastball and changeup when he’s going right. His slider has fringe average movement, but he usually throws it where he wants it. He’s aggressive and fearless.
Weaknesses: Correia doesn’t have a plus pitch, and unless he develops one he’s destined for the back of the rotation or the bullpen. His relative inexperience shows with inconsistent mechanics, which lead to him leaving his fastball and slider up in the zone.
The Future: Correia will come to spring training with a chance to become the No. 5 starter. If he doesn’t, he could return to Fresno to start or stick in San Francisco as a middle reliever.
7. Travis Ishikawa, 1b
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
Background: The Giants weren’t sure if Ishikawa was ready for a full-season league in 2003 but decided to send him to low Class A rather than keep him in extended spring training. After many strikeouts and struggles, he matched his regular-season output with an organization-record six homers in 60 instructional league at-bats in the fall.
Strengths: Ishikawa received a $955,000 signing bonus because the Giants believe in his bat. He has a smooth lefthanded swing that remind some in the organization of John Olerud, and he has more raw power. A high school wide receiver, Ishikawa has good actions around the bag at first base.
Weaknesses: Ishikawa was overmatched in low Class A, leading to some confidence problems. He didn’t have a consistent approach at the plate, leading to hot and cold streaks. He took some of his bad at-bats into the field, helping account for 16 errors.
The Future: Ishikawa needs to re-establish his confidence back at Hagerstown. He’s off the fast track, but not off the radar, with a San Francisco ETA of late 2006.
8. Craig Whitaker, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 170.
Background: Whitaker catapulted into the first round of the 2003 draft with an April no-hitter that featured 14 strikeouts and concluded with a mid-90s fastball. He signed for $975,000, eschewing a scholarship offer from Texas A&M.
Strengths: Whitaker isn’t quite a classic Texas fireballer, but while he lacks the sturdy build of the Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens/Kerry Wood/Josh Beckett lineage, he has the electric fastball. Long, lithe and lanky, he pumps easy mid-90s heat with a quick arm action. His curveball has as much potential as his fastball. When he stays on top of it, it’s a potential 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, with excellent power and depth.
Weaknesses: “Raw as rain,” in the words of one Giants staffer, Whitaker has a lot to learn about the craft of pitching. He has to be more consistent with his delivery to avoid the elbow pain that sidelined him after just five innings of Rookie ball. His changeup needs work.
The Future: Whitaker is behind Matt Cain at a similar stage of their careers, but his ceiling is just as high. If he has a strong, healthy spring training, he could start 2004 in low Class A. More likely, he’ll go to extended spring before heading to short-season Salem-Keizer.
9. Fred Lewis, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Lewis remains one of the organization’s more raw players, owing to his playing more football than baseball at Mississippi Gulf Coast JC. He spent one year at Southern and made as much progress between instructional league in 2002 and 2003 as any Giants farmhand.
Strengths: The fastest runner in the system, Lewis’ speed rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He worked extensively with former Giants outfielder Darren Lewis (no relation) to improve his reads and jumps in the outfield and to become a better baserunner. Club officials say Lewis’ 2003 numbers don’t do justice to the juice in his bat and his good raw power. He earns comparisons to former all-star Devon White.
Weaknesses: Lewis drew a good number of walks in his first full season, but the Giants say that happened by accident. His inexperience leaves him with little feel for the strike zone, which is why his raw power hasn’t translated into game power yet. He has work to do turning his speed into stolen bases and making more consistent contact.
The Future: Lewis needs time to mature physically and emotionally. He’ll move up to high Class A in 2004 and could be ready by mid-2006.
10. Brian Buscher, 3b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 201.
Background: Buscher comes from a baseball family, as his father, uncle and brother all played professionally. Brian was drafted twice and starred at Central Florida CC before transferring to South Carolina. He helped lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back College World Series trips and won the 2003 Southeastern Conference batting title at .393.
Strengths: Buscher has a consistent approach at the plate, using a short swing to hit line drives from gap to gap. He doesn’t give away at-bats, is hard to strike out and is always taking extra swings in the cage. Defensively, he’s reliable at third base with an accurate arm.
Weaknesses: Buscher didn’t hit for power in his pro debut because he doesn’t pull the ball well right now. Down the line he projects to hit 10-15 homers annually. He doesn’t run particularly well.
The Future: Buscher could move quickly if he starts turning on balls and showing more pop. The Giants, who see him as a lefthanded-hitting Joe Randa, already have challenged him by starting his pro career in low Class A. He could begin 2004 in Double-A with a strong showing in spring training.