Top Giants Outfield Prospects

In Part IV of our series on the top prospects of the San Francisco Giants, Richard examines the organization's top outfielders. Brian Sabean hopes to find a youngster who can match the apparent success of left fielder Fred Lewis.

Outfield

The biggest knock on Brian Sabean during his 12-year reign as GM of the Giants has been the team's inability to draft and produce an everyday position player.  Prior to this season, the last such player to achieve that distinction for San Francisco was Bill Mueller, a 15th round pick back in 1993 who made his debut in 1996, the season before Sabean took over.  Times have changed, and Fred Lewis, a second round pick in 2002, has changed them.  Lewis this year served as the primary starter in left field for San Francisco and was one of the team's most consistent hitters. His season ended early when he decided to undergo surgery to repair a bunion on his big right toe last Thursday.  The painful condition is one that he has lived with since childhood, but has hampered him from time to time during the year.  The move to get it fixed was made now so that the club's expected left fielder in 2009 should be ready to go by spring training. 

For the season, Lewis hit .282/.351/.440 with 25 doubles, 11 triples, and 9 home runs.  His 11 triples fell just one short of tying the all-time San Francisco franchise record held jointly by Steve Finley (2006) and Willie Mays (1960).  He served as the team's leadoff hitter for much of the season and stole 21 bases while scoring 81 times and reaching base safely in 90 of his 108 starts (83%).  Although he strikes out too much (124 times), he ends his season currently third in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.23 through 9/11) while his .350 OBP as a leadoff hitter ranks 7th best in the league (min 100 PA). 

Lewis hits the ball well to all fields, but when he's on, the left-hander's natural opposite field swing will generate a lot of line drives to the gap in left.  A late bloomer (he'll turn 28 in December), Lewis has also displayed a surprising but pleasing ability to learn and grow mid-season.  Despite the Giants' renewed emphasis on the running game, the speedy Lewis had attempted to steal just once in his first sixteen games (and was thrown out).  He looked tentative and timid, particularly with a southpaw on the hill.  Through early May, he was struggling versus left-handed pitchers, batting just .158 (3-for-19) while facing them only sporadically.  Yet he made tremendous strides in both departments, stealing 21 bags with a 78 percent success rate while raising his batting average against lefties to .270 overall by hitting .296 against them in his last 81 at bats. 

His improvement was best exemplified in a July 27 home contest against the D-Backs with left-hander Randy Johnson toeing the slab.  In the bottom of the first inning, Lewis led off the game with a base hit and promptly stole both second and third base.  By the time the Unit's night was over (having thrown 7 shutout innings), Lewis had become the first left-handed batter ever to collect four hits in a single game against Johnson. 

Trivia Question

Can you name the last Giants position player to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award?

San Francisco will count on even bigger things from Lewis next year with a full major league season now under Lewis' belt.  While he began the year spending most of his time in the leadoff role, Lewis had more recently begun to see time in the middle of the lineup, where the team feels he can be a dangerous run producer over the next few years. He'll need to improve his hitting on the road to do so.  At pitcher friendly AT&T Park, Lewis batted .331, but he hit just .233 on the road. 

The Giants have never denied that they focused on pitching in the draft during Sabean's reign in order to spin that much coveted pitching promise for ready major league needs (see Jason Schmidt, Joe Carter, Andres Galarraga, and Robb Nen, among others). Developing position players had not been the focus of the minor league system until recently; the team had focused its resources (read as money) on the major league roster.  Yet for all the criticism that has been recently lobbed at Sabean, the biggest volley is no longer in the critic's arsenal.  Sabean can thank Fred Lewis for that. 

The next big test will be to produce another everyday player.  With Buster Posey and Conor Gillaspie on the way, it shouldn't take too long.  Among the outfield candidates, the team's best prospect spent his summer smashing into catchers at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

San Francisco Giants Top Ten Outfield Prospects

1. Nate Schierholtz

2. Wendell Fairley

3. Rafael Rodriguez

4. John Bowker

5. Eddy Martinez-Esteve

6. Roger Kieschnick

7. Brian Horwitz

8. Francisco Peguero

9. Ben Copeland

10. Bobby Felmy

Nate Schierholtz – 2008 - .320/.363/.594 – 22 2B, 10 3B, 18 HR, 73 RBI – 93 G

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

2nd round – 2003 – DOB – 2-15-84 – Bats – Left

Easily the player most affected by the team's decision to sign free agent Aaron Rowand this past winter was Schierholtz.  Despite batting .333/.365/.560 with 16 home runs at Triple-A last year (and .304 in 112 major league at bats), the move guaranteed Randy Winn's role as the team's right fielder and left Nate headed back to Fresno, where he picked up right where he had left off.  His exceptional play not only earned him a spot in this year's Future's Game in New York City, but also a spot on the bronze medal winning USA Olympic team, where he earned a reputation for hard nosed play  (.216, 4 2B, 1 HR). 

He was recalled when rosters the expanded in September after having batted .432 in his last 74 at bats for Fresno and promptly collected 13 hits in his first 30 at bats (.433 through 9/12 including a four-hit effort in just his second game back with the club).  With nothing left to prove in the minors and the 34-year old Winn signed through next year, Schierholtz could wind up as trade bait this winter, but if the Giants are serious about building for the long-term, they'd be better off finding a way to move the still-productive Randy Winn.

Wendell Fairley – 2008 – .259/.388/.337 – 26 BB, 7 SB, 52 G

Arizona Rookie League – AZL Giants

1st round – 2007 – 29th overall – DOB – 3-17-88 – Bats – Left

Fairley might have gone higher in the '07 draft had it not been for some legal issues and questions about his character.  With six picks in the first 51, The Giants still felt the risk was worth it for the athletic, five-tool player and took him at number 29 with their third overall pick.  He was the first position player taken by San Francisco in the first round (non-supplemental) since they drafted Tony Torcato at number 19 in 1998.  As it turned out, his legal issues were minor and the questions regarding his character were unfounded.

Scouting reports rate him as a plus runner who can hit for average and power (he hit .538 with 9 HR his senior year in high school) and play a solid center field.  He works the count well and makes solid contact.  His left-handed pull stroke could bode well at Willie Mays Field, where it is just 309 feet down the right field line. His speed should make him ideal for covering the vast expanses in centerfield.  He has, at times, been compared to Carl Crawford

Fairley signed late last year, then was nicked up this Spring Training (shoulder and oblique injuries) and consequently, only made his pro debut this June.  Still very rough, the team has no plans to rush Fairley, particularly with Rowand signed through 2012, but it's conceivable that he could make his debut by late 2011.

Rafael Rodriguez – 2008 – N/A

Signed as amateur free agent – July 13, 2008 – DOB 7-13-92 – Bats – Right

The Giants scored a hit in the international market this year with the signing of Rodriguez, rated by ESPNDeportes.com as the 4th best Latin prospect available.  Signed on his 16th birthday to a $2.55 million bonus, he broke the club record for an amateur player previously held by Angel Villalona, but held it for just over a month before Buster Posey smashed it with his $6.2 M.  Already 6'5" tall and weighing 198 pounds, he has been called a complete five-tool player with power to all fields; power that is only likely to increase as he gets older and fills out.  Former Giants manager and current special assistant to the GM Felipe Alou said of Rodriguez after his signing, "I saw him play in a couple of games when I came to the island, and I haven't seen him swing and miss at a pitch yet, against guys four years older than he is."  He may follow a similar path as Villalona by beginning his pro career late next summer in the AZL as a 17-year old.

John Bowker – 2008 w/SF – .244/.294/.393 – 9 HR, 40 RBI, 70 K – 303 AB

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

3rd round – 2004 – DOB – 7-8-83 – Bats – Left

After stagnating for two mostly unimpressive seasons at San Jose, Bowker broke out in 2007, batting .307/.363/.523 with 35 doubles and 22 home runs for Connecticut in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League to open some organizational eyes.  He struggled in the majors against southpaws (5-for-33), although in his minor league career, he has hit as well against lefties (.284) as he has right-handers (.286).  Bowker showed good power potential in his first ML stint, but fell into a deep slump while often chasing pitches up and out of the strike zone.  Since his September recall, he is 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter.  He'll need to be more selective and show better pitch recognition to have sustained success at the big league level, but his defensive versatility and power potential will improve his chances of making the team next spring.

Eddy Martinez-Esteve – 2008 - .298/.388/.383 – 15 2B, 6 HR, 54 BB, 37 K

Eastern League – Connecticut Defenders

2nd round – 2004 – DOB – 7-14-83 – Bats – Right

Injuries and inconsistency have plagued EME since the former top pick put up big numbers for San Jose in 2005.  The first player selected by the Giants in 2004 (they surrendered their first round pick that year to Kansas City for the right to sign free agent Michael Tucker), he appeared in just 75 games last season and only 27 the year before, but appears to have righted himself this season despite some early reports of a weight problem.  He hasn't hit for much power, but much of that can be attributed to playing his home games at Dodd Stadium, known for its extreme-pitcher friendly tendencies.  His .277 home slugging percentage was nearly .200 points lower than his road mark of .476.  In fact, all but two of his extra-base hits, including all of his home runs, were hit in road contests.  A notoriously poor defender, he'll need to develop more power next season with Fresno in what could be a make-or-break season.

Roger Kieschnick – 2008 w/Texas Tech - .305/.407/.632 – 17 HR, 65 RBI

Big 12 Conference – Junior – Texas Tech Red Raiders

3rd round – 2008 – DOB – 1-21-87 – Bats – Left

A distant cousin of former Cubs first round pick Brooks Kieschnick, Roger had similar high hopes, going into his junior year at Texas Tech ranked as the top amateur player in the state. Spotty plate discipline and a relatively disappointing batting average dropped pre-draft expectations to the sandwich or second round, however.  With ability to hit for power to all fields and a prototypical makeup for a right-fielder, he could be a bargain for the Giants at the 82nd overall pick.  He was signed to a 2009 contract and didn't play in the minors this season, but he will begin his pro career this winter playing in the Hawaiian Winter League along with super-prospect Buster Posey.  With a nice showing in Waikiki, Kieschnick could wind up beginning the '09 season with Augusta.

Brian Horwitz – 2008 MiLB - .277/.353/.405 – 7 HR, 31 BB, 42 K – 86 G

Trivia Answer

Gary "Sarge" Mathews was the last San Francisco position player to win the NL ROY award when he hit .300/.367/.444 with 12 HR in 1973 as the Giants' left fielder

Pacific Coast League – Fresno Grizzlies – 40-man Roster

Signed as amateur free agent – 2004 – DOB – 11-7-82 – Bats – Right

Horwitz has been a successful hitter at every minor league level, and that success earned him his first crack at the majors this season.  After a strong start (6-for-14, 2 HR), he was sent back to Fresno at the end of June, when sporadic play began to take its toll (collecting just 2 hits in his last 22 AB).  Undrafted out of college, he has opened the organization's eyes by producing a career line of .319/.387/.422.  He doesn't have much power or speed, so he'll need to excel in getting on base if he hopes to make it in the majors.  He's not a likely starter, but he could make a nice fourth or fifth outfielder/pinch-hitter someday.

Francisco Peguero – 2008 MiLB - .285/.330/.388 – 25 XBH, 43 RBI, 25-of-29 SB – 99 G

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Signed as amateur free agent – 2005 – DOB – 6-1-88 – Bats - Right

A slashing type of hitter with a lot of speed, Peguero has the range to play centerfield, but enough arm to handle right field.  Defense will be his calling; the top of the order where he'll bat (think Endy Chavez).  He made his pro debut this year after spending the previous two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and struggled after debuting with Augusta, where he was among the youngest players on the team. Peguero rebounded nicely after being sent to Salem-Keizer in July, his .307 batting average for the Volcanoes ranking sixth in the Northwest League.  Likely to open with Augusta, he could instead move up to San Jose quickly with a nice start.

Ben Copeland – 2008 MiLB - .276/.350/.411 – 17 2B, 13 3B, 5 HR, 24 SB – 125 G

Pacific Coast League – Fresno Grizzlies

4th round – 2005 – DOB – 12-17-83 – Bats – Left

After batting just .173 in April and only .213 through May, Copeland bounced back to hit .302 in June and .333 in July to earn an August promotion to Fresno, where he hit .341.  Like EME  his overall line has suffered because home in Connecticut was anything but sweet.  On the road, he hit .308/.372/.456, but at Dodd Stadium, his line slipped to .223/.306/.389.  His best attribute is his speed, and he's been using it more effectively this year than any previous ones, swiping 24 stolen bases in 31 attempts (77%).  Copeland is most useful at the top of the order and can play all three outfield positions.

Bobby Felmy – 2008 - .283/.340/.385 – 25 2B, 6 HR, 18 SB – 126 G

California League – San Jose Giants – Class-A

22nd round – 2006 – DOB – 4-29-84 – Bats – Left

At 5'10" and 200 pounds, Felmy has been described as a bowling ball that does everything pretty well but possesses no standout tools.  He does have nice pop for his size, a little bit of speed, and a plus arm in left field.  He is also capable of handling left-handers (.309/.356/.463 this year; .294/.351/.487 career).  Felmy had a nice year in Augusta in '07 with 31 doubles, 15 home runs, and 83 RBI, keeping up a record of great consistency (he batted .281 in '06 and '07 before hitting .283 this year).  The speedster has racked up 54 stolen bases in his three-pro seasons. 

Honorable Mentions

Clay Timpner – 2008 - .245/.301/.323 – 13 SB, 3 HR – 119 G

Pacific Coast League – Fresno Grizzlies

 4th round – 2004 – DOB – 5-13-83 – Bats – Left

Timpner has been hailed as a multi-skilled athletic centerfielder reminiscent of long-time Sabean favorite Steve Finley.  Good speed and great defense are Timpner's top attributes, but his lack of power is evident, as he owns just 24 career minor league round-trippers in almost 2,400 career PA.  Timpner was added to the 40-man roster this past winter after a strong '07 at Fresno (.301/.363/.395), and despite being drafted two rounds after Martinez-Esteve, he made his ML debut this past April when Rowand broke a rib.  The 2008 season was an inconsistent struggle, however.  After batting .284 in April, he hit just .216 from May through July before finishing up with a .288 mark in August.  Throughout his career, Timpner has struggled against lefties, batting just .227 versus them while hitting .287 against right-handers.  He got outrighted off the big league roster when the club purchased the contract of Conor Gillaspie and will need a big bounce back season to regain his prospect status.  More likely,  his decent will continue.

Antoan Richardson – 2008 - .241/.356/.329 – 55 BB, 82 K, 33 SB

Eastern League – Connecticut Defenders

35th round – 2005 – DOB – 10-8-83 – Bats – Switch

Like many of his teammates, the speed burning Richardson struggled at the plate this year, particularly at run-suppressing Dodd Stadium.  Despite that, his career on-base percentage stands at .392.  He is possibly the fastest player in the organization, boasting 182 stolen bases in 3 ½ minor league seasons.  He is considered the best defensive outfielder as well.  These traits fit the team's current mantra of pitching, speed, and defense.

Juan Carlos Perez – 2008 w/WOS JC - .465/.530/1.102 – 24 2B, 37 HR, 102 RBI, 29 SB, 64 G

Southwest District – Freshman – Western Oklahoma State Junior College

 13th round – 2008 – DOB – 11-13-86 – Bats – Right

Giants Factoid

Juan Carlos Perez was a teammate  with infamous former Little Leaguer Danny Almonte.  Perez' 2008 college roomie went 7-1 for the Pioneers while batting .497 with 14 home runs.

The most intriguing of the Giants 2008 draft picks, Perez played at Western Oklahoma State Junior College after spending the past two years since his high school graduation playing in local men's leagues in the Bronx.   In his only season at WOS, Perez shattered the Division II record for most home runs, breaking the old mark by a whopping 14 and missing the overall Juco best by just one homer.  His 102 RBI set a new Division II record and helped lead the Pioneers to a 52-12 record and a berth in the NJCAA World Series.  Baseball America says that Perez "has a sound swing with bat speed and easy power, average speed and arm strength."  He wasn't expected to play until next year after signing a 2009 contract, but his pro debut may be delayed a little longer because he recently tore his ACL in practice.  He isn't expected to begin running until January at the earliest.

Mike McBryde – 2008 - .295/.368/.383 – 31 SB, 21 XBH, 37 BB, 84 K – 420 AB

California League – San Jose Giants

5th round – 2006 – DOB – 3-22-85 – Bats – Right

McBryde had his best season yet offensively despite high strikeout totals and low power numbers.  His defense is a work in progress, having committed 25 errors combined in '07 and '08.  In an August contest I attended, however, he displayed a very strong and accurate throwing arm from right field, nailing one base runner at the plate while narrowly missing another.

Michael Mooney – 2008 MiLB - .241/.295/.492 – 22 2B, 18 HR, 46 RBI, 14 SB – 91 G

Eastern League – Connecticut Defenders

16th round – 2003 – DOB – 6-8-83 – Bats – Right

A strong start with San Jose (.303 through May) earned Mooney an assignment with the injury depleted Fresno squad, where he hit just .236 but showed a little power with a .458 SLG.  After a return to SJ, where he batted .287 in July with 5 HR, he finished up the year in Connecticut, struggling badly (.167 in 66 AB), but did hit 4 HR theere to finish the year with 18 cumulatively.  He has some speed and a little bit of pop. Already done with his sixth pro season, he faces long odds in a well stocked position and will become a free agent if not protected on the 40-man roster. 

Garrett Baker – 2008 - .264/.329/.414 – 9 HR, 63 RBI, 33 BB, 89 K – 119 G

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

Signed as amateur free agent – 2007 – DOB – 11-16-83 – Bats – Right

Baker was signed as a fifth-year senior out of Dallas Baptist, where he hit .293 and slugged .569.  He also clubbed 16 home runs and stole 20 bases, both team highs.  Eligible to sign early because of his age, Baker inked as a free agent just prior to the '07 draft and excelled in his debut campaign (.308/.393/.523 – 7 HR) before stumbling a bit this year.  He finished the season strong with a .323/.380/.556 line in August, and the club hopes his power numbers will blossom with experience.  Baker should move up to San Jose in '09.

Caleb Curry – 2008 - .270/.349/.319 – 27 BB, 55 K, 13 SB, 10 CS – 68 G

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

14th round – 2008 – DOB – 4-23-86 – Bats – Right

A plus runner on the bases with good instincts in centerfield, Curry stole an Iowa school record 45 bases in his senior year while batting .396 with 7 home runs.  He is a work in progress as a leadoff hitter, but could add some pop as he fills out.  Curry hit .294 (5-for-17) in the Northwest League playoffs.

Ryan Mantle – 2008 – .310/.379/.452 – 17 XBH, 29 RBI, 17 BB, 32 K, 9 SB – 45 G

Arizona Rookie League – AZL Giants

19th round – 2008 – DOB – 7-12-86 – Bats – Right

This college teammate of 3B prospect Josh Mazzola and a third cousin of Mickey Mantle has good speed, a little power, and a strong arm, but is vulnerable to breaking pitches.

Ben Woodbury – 2008 – .317/.432/.381 – 24 BB, 11 K, 18-of-19 SB – 41 G

Arizona Rookie League – AZL Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – 2008 – DOB – 2-21-86 – Bats – Right

Another Missouri State product, Woodbury was signed as an undrafted free agent after batting .388/.452/.498 in his senior year.  Prior to that, he played two seasons of JC ball, seeing time at both centerfield and shortstop for Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff. In two seasons leading off and playing center for the Bears, he batted .350 with 28 stolen bases.  A terrific contact hitter with a good eye at the plate, Woodbury struck out only 30 times in 457 at bats for Missouri State, even putting together a streak of 100 consecutive without one during the '07 season.  He's a potential diamond in the rough and a player to keep an eye on. 

Darren Ford – 2008 MiLB - .227/.329/.293 – 69 BB, 130 K, 62 SB – 129 G

California League – San Jose Giants

18th round – 2004 – Milwaukee – DOB – 10-1-85 – Bats – Right

Acquired in the deal that sent Ray Durham to Milwaukee, Ford has 216 career stolen bases through four pro seasons, but a batting line of just .264/.350/.355 to match.  He has struggled to adapt to Hi-A pitching, batting just .228 in 744 at bats after having hit .292 in 951 at bats in low-A and Rookie League ball. 

Shane Jordan – 2008 - .253/.355/.299 – 35 SB, 65 BB, 60 K – 123 G

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

43rd round – 2007 – DOB – 11-26-84 – Bats – Left

A college teammate of Brian Bocock, the 5'7" Jordan has good speed (50 stolen bases over parts of two seasons) and nice plate discipline with (more walks in his pro career than strikeouts, 100:93).  His batting average and slugging took a nose dive this year after batting .300/.389/.413 last season for Salem-Keizer.

Tyler Graham – 2008 – .264/.324/.330 – 51 R, 47 SB – 84 G

California League – San Jose Giants

19th round – 2006 – DOB – 1-25-84 – Bats – Right

Another of the club's many speed burners, as evidenced by his 90 stolen bases in 200 pro games, Graham was the centerfielder for Oregon State in 2006 and caught the final out against North Carolina in the Beavers' first ever College World Series championship.

A very special thank you goes out to Phillip Ramirez, my Arizona eyes and ears, whose contributions to this report were absolutely invaluable.  Be sure to check out his AZL Giants Blog for all the latest the Giants top Rookie League prospects.   Additional thanks also go out to Wes Snow in Augusta for all of his help.


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