Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, six of FanSided’s team blogs send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as these go on a five-week cycle.
Please note that any statistics used may be a day or two out of date, as we prepare our answers over the course of a week.
In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our San Francisco Giants site Frisco Fastball:
With Zack Wheeler now in New York and Madison Bumgarner at the MLB level, the Giants high level affiliates (AAA and AA) are pretty void of any significant talent ready to contribute for the Major League club at least for a few years. However, many think the Giants lower level systems (most of their A ball affiliates) have a significant amount of talented young arms. How do you feel about the pitching depth in the lower levels of the Giants system? Also, there are a variety of opinions on Zack Wheeler, some say he has legit #2 stuff, other’s say he has solid talent but massive control problems like current Giant Jonathan Sanchez and could struggle as he continues on. Given Brian Sabean and Dick Tidrow’s previously solid trades of selling high on high ranking Giant pitchers (say like Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Vogelsong for Jason Schmidt, etc), do you think they did the same with Wheeler? Or will their impressive track record finally get a dent in it?
Nathaniel says: Well, I wouldn’t say the Giants’ upper minors have no potential impact pitchers–I’m a huge fan of Eric Surkamp, personally. As far as I’m concerned, Surkamp is far and away the best pitching prospect in that system. He’s got a couple of teammates in Double-A, Ryan Verdugo and Heath Hembree, who could make a real impact in the bullpen as well. The Triple-A team certainly doesn’t have much in the way of pitching, though; that’s for sure.
With the lower minors, I think the important word is “depth.” There’s nobody there that we should be jumping up and down about, but a number of guys are having nice years. Mike Kickham, Seth Rosin, Chris Heston, Jake Dunning, Reinier Roibal, Lorenzo Mendoza, Kendry Flores…somebody in that group is going to work out, just because of the sheer number of guys there. But there’s nobody in that group that is blowing everybody away or wowing scouts. Most likely, San Francisco gets a couple of back-of-the-rotation or middle relief/setup options out of that bunch. Mendoza and Flores are the most interesting because they’re very young and having nice years in the Northwest League, but getting excited based solely on youth and Northwest League pitching is just silly.
Speaking of my own getting excited over a young guy pitching well in the Northwest League, I was very excited about Edwin Escobar entering 2011 because he had done just that in 2010 at age 18. However, he was shelled for all of six innings in Low-A and has been sent all the way back to the AZL this year, where he’s pitching decently, if not up to his 2010 standards. He won’t turn 20 until early next season, so he’s still a guy to watch as a projection lefty. One of Escobar’s teammates in the AZL, Clayton Blackburn, is also a guy to watch, as he’s just 18 and has thrown 21 superb innings there to start his career. And Joan Gregorio has near-identical numbers to Escobar and is just four months older.
In summary, yes, there is “a significant amount of talented young arms” in the lower levels. But none are so talented as to be, say, top 100 prospects, and all should be looked at with suspicion until they prove themselves in the upper minors.
As far as Wheeler goes, I’ve always fallen more in the cautious camp. I think the guy is going to be a major league pitcher, but given that his secondary stuff isn’t particularly well-developed and his control has never been very good, it’s an open question as to whether he becomes a #2 starter, Jonathan Sanchez-esque erratic #3/4/5 starter, a power closer, or just a fastball-oriented setup guy. At his age, it’s far too early to make the call on which direction he’ll take–he may figure out the control and develop his secondary pitches, or he may not. Given how high the attrition rates on pitching prospects are, and also that his control is already a major issue in the low minors, Wheeler was far from a sure thing. Since the Giants gave nobody else up in that trade, they basically bet that Wheeler wasn’t going to make massive improvements–improvements his physical skillset may allow him to make, but a fairly steep challenge nonetheless. It was worth the risk in my opinion, although I also feel the Mets did well to get him.
I don’t presume to know how the Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran exchange will turn out in the long run but at the time it was announced I could easily see how both sides could walk away with their heads up. That said, I’m not a huge believer in Wheeler as a prospect for the same reasons Nathaniel mentioned. When you read a scouting report on Zack’s secondary stuff you run across adjectives like “functional” and “consistent” but you never see much mention in the way of potential or upside for those pitches. He’s going to have to show me something more, especially in AA or AAA before I change my stance on him. Acquiring Beltran did cost the Giants Wheeler, but no one else so they did well to keep the package to a minimum and retain their more intriguing prospects.
As an aside, since Nathaniel brought his name up, I am a huge Seth Rosin fan but given that he grew up in St Paul and attended the University of Minnesota I’m more than a little biased on that one.
For more FanSided coverage of the Giants, check out Frisco Fastball.
Topics: Carlos Beltran, Chris Heston, Clayton Blackburn, Edwin Escobar, Eric Surkamp, Heath Hembree, Jake Dunning, Joan Gregorio, Kendry Flores, Lorenzo Mendoza, Mike Kickham, Reinier ROibal, Ryan Verdugo, San Francisco Giants, Seth Rosin, Zack Wheeler