With the American League in the rear view mirror for now, next up is a system which may very well have the best pitching overall, both at the top and in terms of depth. I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:
SF: This is a system that historically has been very good at graduating pitchers to the Majors, but failed miserably at graduating position players. A part of that has come from the success they have had with pitchers (Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner were all first round picks), but there have also been some failures as well. The management (or mismanagement) of Brandon Belt during 2011 particularly drove his owners insane as they watched him shuttle between Fresno and San Francisco.
LA: The Dodgers have been hamstrung at times with problems in the ownership group, but hopefully those will be resolved soon. Their drafts of late have also been very pitching heavy at the top, which shows in their top prospect lists. They are pretty well set at shortstop and center field long-term obviously, and have had some solid pitching prospects come through in the past few years as well.
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt
Ready in 2012
Heath Hembree (SFG)
Drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, Hembree has been a quick mover in the Giants' system. 2011 was his first full season, and started the in San Jose in High-A. After posting extremely dominant strikeout numbers there (44 K in 24 innings), he was promoted to AA and quickly took over the closer's role there as well. He finished the season with 78 strikeouts against 25 walks in 53+ innings between both levels. Despite the amazing strikeout rates, there's some concerns about Hembree's long-term success. Here's a bit of what Marc Hulet of Fangraphs had to say about Hembree:
His control continues to be his biggest weakness but, when he finds the plate, he can over-power hitters with his mid-to-high-90s fastball. Hembree also features a potentially-plus slider and a developing changeup. He has the makings of a high-leverage reliever if he can find a way to get left-handed batters out on a consistent basis....
He split the 2011 season between high-A and double-A but produced a walk rate of +4.00 BB/9 at each level. He's also an extreme fly-ball pitcher.
It sounds to me like Hembree has the potential to be a closer in the big leagues, but he needs some time to work on his control. The strikeout rate is definitely something I want to see out of a potential closer, but I'd like to see at least a slightly lower walk rate to go with it. I think he'll likely start the season as the closer in AAA Fresno, and could see him working in the back end of the bullpen for the Giants before too long in the season. Unless he were to supplant Brian Wilson for some reason, I would say his value would probably would be in NL-only leagues or holds leagues for 2012.
Nate Eovaldi (LAD)
Eovaldi was an 11th round draft pick back in the 2008 draft, and was promoted to AA for the 2011 season. He pitched well in AA, posting a solid 2.62 ERA and 3.05 FIP to go with 99 strikeouts in 103 innings. Eovaldi was called up to the bigs in early August, making 6 starts and appearing in 10 total games. There's still some work to be done for Eovaldi however, after posting a 23K/20BB rate in 34 2/3 innings pitched in those games. Here's a bit of what Kevin Goldstein had to say about Eovaldi:
There is some effort to Eovaldi's delivery, and he does himself no favors by falling behind in the count and racking up high pitch counts. His changeup still needs improvement. While he has plenty of velocity, he loses movement on the pitch the harder he throws it.
I have to imagine that given that the Dodgers have 5 veterans for the rotation, Eovaldi will start the season in AAA working out of the rotation. He realistically will have to perform well enough to force the issue, as right now every starting pitcher in the rotation is under contract through the 2013 season as well. I don't think he'll have to work extremely hard to outperform either Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano, but I'd feel a lot better about his value if his control was improved this year.
Hector Sanchez (SFG)
Sanchez had a great season in 2011, splitting time between High-A, AAA and the Majors. He was called up initially in July to give the Giants a backup catcher, and briefly again in August before staying up for the majority of September. While in the minors, he hit nicely in High-A (.302, 11 HR, 58 RBI in 52 games), and held his own in AAA (.261, 1 HR, 26 RBI in 46 games) despite not playing above low-A prior to the season. It sounds like his defense will be the part of his game that will move him quickly, even if his bat can't keep up. Here's a brief excerpt from John Sickels' 2012 Baseball Prospect Book (via Ray's post about Buster Posey's Replacement over at Minor League Ball):
His best skills are defensive: he's mobile, has a strong arm, and receives well. He threw out 34% of runners last year (and his whole career). His glove will keep him in/near the majors for a long time. His bat isn't hopeless by any means: he makes contact and shows gap power, but isn't expected to be a big home run threat.
As of now, it seems like he would be a backup option potentially, and have at least average value as a fantasy catcher. Honestly, I think that the team will need to determine whether they believe he will improve to a level where he would be a starting catcher or not, and if not he may be ready to be a backup in the Majors right now.
Could Be Ready in 2014
Gary Brown (SFG)
Brown was drafted in the 1st round of the 2010 draft, and there were rumors that the team might have sent him to the Mets as a part of the Carlos Beltran trade. They ended up sending Zack Wheeler instead, and as good as Wheeler is, this could be the right decision. Brown absolutely destroyed the California League, hitting .336/.407/.519 with 14 HR, 80 RBI, and 53 stolen bases. He also appears to be able to stay in center field long-term, which could make him a truly elite fantasy option. Nathaniel Stoltz ranked him as his #76 overall prospect, and had this to say about him then:
Brown's speed and defense will give him a career, and he's certainly shown enough promise with the bat that he could well be an offensive asset as well. The question is ultimately whether he'll just be an Adam Jones sort of player who just treads water with the bat, or if he'll evolve into a truly dynamic five-tool center fielder a la Andrew McCutchen or Shane Victorino.
Obviously, there's some skepticism as to whether or not he will be a product of the California League or not. He'll start the season in AA this year, and the reports generally seem to agree that while we may see some dropoff from leaving the California League, he will be a solid fantasy contributor once he takes over in center field for the Giants. I could honestly see him potentially as a 10+ HR, 40+ SB outfielder with a solid batting average once he makes it to San Francisco.
Tommy Joseph (SFG)
Another candidate to potentially replace Buster Posey behind the plate if the Giants decide to do so, Joseph has shown excellent power in both of his seasons (16 HR in 2010, 22 HR in 2011). While the offensive potential is much higher than Sanchez', it sounds like there are some pretty gaping holes in his process at the plate. Here's what Kevin Goldstein had to say about Joseph:
Joseph's approach is a concern; he looks dead red and swings early and often, at times to his own detriment. He needs to make more adjustments to his leverage-heavy swing, or there will always be questions about his ability to hit for average.
He'll start the season at AA, and I will be a bit concerned that he may regress back to the .236 batting average he posted in Low-A two seasons ago. The power appears legitimate, and if he can stay behind the plate his power would probably put him into the top 10 for catchers in the majors if he can hit even .250 during a season. The Giants still have Buster Posey there, so Joseph could end up being forced to move down the line if they decide to keep Posey there permanently.
Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until At Least 2015)
Zach Lee (LAD)
The Dodgers surprised a lot of people by drafting Lee in the 1st round of the 2010 draft and signing him to a $5,000,000 bonus to get him to forego his commitment to LSU. Lee spent last season in the Midwest League, making 24 starts and striking out 91 in 109 innings pitched. It sounds like expectations may have been a bit higher than they should have been for him due to this bonus. From Al Skorupa of Bullpen Banter:
Lee does have good FB command and his cutter came along really well this year and that also mitigates these issues some. One reservation I do have about Lee is that he hasn't quite been the power pitcher he was portrayed as while an amateur. He's young and athletic but I agree that there may not be a whole lot of projection left here.
Lee will have a tough assignment for a pitcher next year, as he'll likely start the season in High-A in the California League. It seems like Lee could be moved very slowly to help with his development, but I have to imagine that the Dodgers probably won't want to leave him in the Cal League for very long. Realistically, I wouldn't anticipate him being in the Majors until at least 2014, and it's possible it could take him a little longer than that as well. He seems to me like he has the potential to be a #4 or #5 starter for fantasy owners, as someone who would provide solid numbers across the board but none of them would be elite level, or even well-above average.
Joc Pederson (LAD)
He displayed the ability to hit for average and power - and also showcased a solid eye at the plate and even some speed. His tool suggest he'll develop into an average ball player with good gap power and enough speed to steal 15-20 bases if motivated to do so. He has a good idea at the plate and isn't afraid to spray the ball around.
Others to Watch:
Chris Reed (LAD) - Reed was the top draft pick of the Dodgers last season, going 16th overall. Reed was used almost exclusively as a reliever while at Stanford, but the Dodgers plan to convert him to the starting rotation. As a result of this, it could take him a bit longer to be moved through the system, given that he will need to build up his endurance to throw 160+ innings a season.
Joe Panik (SFG) - Panik was the top draft pick for the Giants, and while he was viewed as a bit of an overdraft, there appears to be some potential here. John Sickels mentioned his potential after ranking him #2 overall in the Giants' system behind only Gary Brown, and had this to say about him:
Line drive bat with gap power, good plate discipline, uses speed well on the bases, plays with fire. I think he can be an average defensive shortstop or above-average at second base.
I will be very interested to see what he can do in a full season, and especially whether or not he can stay at shortstop long-term or if the team will even try to do that.
Francisco Peguero (SFG) - Peguero had an excellent 2010 campaign for the Giants' High-A affiliate, stealing 40 bases and hitting .329 with 10 home runs. He spent a brief amount of time back there to start 2011 before being promoted to AA, where the batting average showed it wasn't a fluke. He hit .309 there, but his steals total really dropped substantially last year to 12 total. He missed time due to early season knee surgery, so that could help to explain some of the dropoff. Hopefully we will see a return to form this year from Peguero, as a lot of his fantasy value would rely upon him stealing 15-20 bases a year.
Alfredo Silverio (LAD) - Silverio had a very solid year in 2011 at AA Chattanooga, hitting ..306 with 16 home runs, 85 BRI, and 11 steals while playing primarily center field. Unfortunately, his timeframe may be on hold indefinitely after he was in a car accident while still in the Dominican Republic. The biggest concern at the moment seems to be the concussion he suffered during that accident, so there's really no telling when he will return to the Dodgers AAA team. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.
Andrew Susac (SFG) - Susac was the Giants' 2nd round draft pick in last year's draft, but did not debut professionally last season. Drafted out of Oregon State, Susac appears to be very likely to stay behind the plate long-term, and could provide some solid offensive production from that position. Kevin Goldstein speculated that he could start the year in High-A, which could give us some indication on how good his offensive potential could be.
Garrett Gould (LAD) - Gould played in a full season league for the first time in 2011, pitching in the rotation for the Dodgers' low-A affiliate Great Lakes. He posted solid numbers, striking out 104 and walking 37 in 123+ innings pitched. The reports I've read seem to indicate that Gould does not have the ceiling that a number of the pitchers in the Dodgers' system have, but that his floor could be higher than most. I like the control numbers to this point (2.7 BB/9 last year), but I'll be interested to see how the Cal League affects him.
Chris Withrow (LAD) - Withrow pitched in the Southern league for a second consecutive season, and while the results were better than the previous year, they still weren't amazing. His strikeout rate actually improved in 2011 (from 8.3 to 9.1 per 9 IP), but his walk rate worsened to over 5.2 per 9 innings. It sounds like he has a lot of high quality stuff, but can't control it particularly. If he fails as a starter again this year, we could see Withrow end up in the bullpen before too long.
Josh Lindblom (LAD) - 2011 was the first full season Lindblom was used as a reliever, and after closing out games in AA was called up to the Majors in early June and again in late July. He posted a solid 28/10 K/BB rate in 29 innings there, but it appears that he will likely be headed to AAA to start the season thsi year. He could be a candidate for a midseason callup, but he'll be very similar to a number of relievers if he doesn't end up in the closer's role long-term.