Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Every few weeks, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites 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 we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.
In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our San Francisco Giants site Around the Foghorn:
The Giants minor league system is void of many big names offensively, the biggest probably being Gary Brown who most likely won’t see MLB action this year. What player (non-pitcher) outside of Brown do you feel could contribute to the Giants possibly this year or next, if any?
While he’s no longer rookie eligible and will no longer be included in prospect lists, we shouldn’t forget about 1B/OF Brandon Belt. He won’t turn 24 until the first month of the 2012 season and will certainly play a big role in the Giants future. Belt still has a lot to work on at the major league level but hitting 7 HR in the final 2 months was an encouraging sign. Beyond that, his SO-to-BB should improve as he gains more experience since he showed excellent discipline in the minors (140 BB to 147 SO in 189 G). Heading into the 2011 season, Baseball America has him ranked as the 23rd best prospect in baseball while Nathaniel had him at #19 on his Top-100.
Though he really doesn’t count as a legitimate answer to the question he’s the best one I can offer because there isn’t a Belt-esque prospect ready to make the jump to the big leagues and contribute in 2012.
At the top of Giants prospect lists you will almost universally find OF Gary Brown and SS Joe Panik. Brown just finished up his first full pro season in High-A and Panik had 69 games in the short season Northwest League on his professional resume. Both players are at least another season or two from being in the conversation.
After that you have a trio of catchers who are all decent looking prospects. Tommy Joseph, like Brown spent 2011 in the Cal League. Hector Sanchez jumped from the Cal league (52 G) to the PCL (46 G) and was even pressed into major league action (13 G) out of necessity. But he needs more time in the minors. Andrew Susac, the team’s 2nd round pick this past June has yet to make his professional debut. Of course, even if any of these three were truly ready, the elephant in the room is that they are all catchers and Buster Posey’s hopefully healthy return limits the impact they could have.
OF Francisco Peguero just reached AA. He has plus speed and is an asset defensively but he’s overly aggressive at the plate with limited on-base skills and doesn’t figure to generate a lot of power.
OF Jarrett Parker and SS Ehire Adrianza, spent 2011 in High-A. OF Charles Jones spent 2011 with Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League and struggled. The team’s 3rd round pick, 1B Ricky Oropesa, has yet to make his professional debut. 3B Chris Dominguez hit 0.291/.337/.465 over 63 games in the Cal League and 0.244/.272/.403 in 78 games for Richmond in the Eastern League (AA).
So far, we still haven’t found a good option to play in the majors in 2012, let alone contribute which means we’re going to have to dig a little further.
OF Rafael Rodriguez struggled last year in A-ball. OFs Juan Perez and Roger Kieschnick did the same in Double-A. INF Nick Noonan struggled in A+ and AA and I don’t even want to mention what SS Ydwin Villegas did at three different levels last year – okay I will, 0.190/.216/.239.
2B Charlie Culberson hit 0.259/.293/.382 in 137 with Richmond (AA) last season and does a little bit of everything well. Unfortunately his 129 to 22 SO-to-BB is painful to look at and it’s not an aberration. In both the 2009 (A) and 2010 (A+) he drew 33 walks while striking out 110 and 99 times respectively. Outside of his success in the Cal League and his 1st pro season in the Arizona League he’s failed to show much offensively.
Clearly still nothing … which brings me to the one name I could find that could be the answer to this question: 3B Conor Gillaspie.
While he does have major league experience, 8 G in 2008 and 15 G in 2011, he’s the best bet to provide some sort of tangible impact for the Giants in 2012 from the minor league/prospect ranks. He hit 0.297/.389/.453 with 22 2B, 9 HR and 9 SB in 124 G with the Fresno Grizzlies. He also drew 66 walks while striking out a mere 79 times and handled himself well in his limited time with the Giants. Though he was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter, he finished with a line of 0.263/.333/.421 (21 PA).
So there you have it – Conor Gillaspie is the best answer I can come up with. However, I’m sure Nathaniel has a few off the beaten path candidates to bring to light so I will now turn it over to him …
Brett Pill takes far too much crap from Giants fans. I understand that he shouldn’t have been playing over Belt (who I still fully endorse) in September, but we also shouldn’t write him off as a standard Quad-A slugger. After all, a big part of the reason power guys can fail to make it in the big leagues is striking out too often, and Pill is a player who struck out just 54 times—under 10% of the time!—in Triple-A. He then went 15-for-50 with seven extra-base hits and just eight strikeouts with the Giants, so he wasn’t overmatched in his first exposure to big leaguers. I could see Pill as a valuable right-handed bat off the bench.
I’m not sure where Conor Gillaspie fits on a major-league roster, but I could see him as a Jack Hannahan sort of player, whose good approach and third base defense mitigate his iffy power production. At 24, he could still grow into a bit more pop.
A lot of people bring up Francisco Peguero as a potentially solid contributor, but I can’t endorse guys with his approach problems. To me, if a player is this bad at controlling the strike zone in the Eastern League, he’ll be eaten alive by MLB pitching. This isn’t to say that some players (like Jeff Francoeur in 2011) can’t beat that stigma, but I wouldn’t bet on any individual one doing so.
There’s also Hector Sanchez, who’s gone from underrated to overrated quite quickly, mainly to coincide with his odd promotion from High-A to Triple-A and then the majors. While I think Sanchez has the tools to be a solid MLB catcher, I don’t see his 2011 performance in High-A as being much more than Cal League inflation (see 49/11 K/BB in 52 games and huge power spike), and he predictably came crashing back to earth at the higher levels. That’s not a big deal—he was a 21-year-old catcher, and catchers can develop later than most other positions—but we shouldn’t expect him to be a useful MLB player until 2014 or so.
Topics: Andrew Susac, Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, Buster Posey, Charles Jones, Charlie Culberson, Chris Dominguez, Conor Gillaspie, Ehire Adrianza, Francisco Peguero, Gary Brown, Hector Sanchez, Jarrett Parker, Joe Panik, Juan Perez, Nick Noonan, Rafael Rodriguez, Ricky Oropesa, Roger Kieschnick, San Francisco Giants, Ydwin Villegas