Top Giants Relief Pitcher Prospects

In Part V of our series on the top San Francisco Giants prospects, Richard examines the organization's top relievers. Brian Wilson has been a resounding success, but there is no shortage of young arms waiting in the wings should he falter.

Relief Pitchers

With just two weeks left to go in his first full season as the Giants closer, Brian Wilson is just one save away from doing something only two Giants pitchers have ever done: save 40 or more games in a single year.  He had 25 at the All-Star break to lead the NL. With 39 through Sunday, Wilson had already passed Tim Worrell for the sixth highest single season total in franchise history.  With one more, he will join Robb Nen (1998, 2000-02) and Rod Beck (1993) as the only San Francisco relievers to save at least 40 in a year.  He is currently third in MLB, trailing only Houston's Jose Valverde (42) and, of course, K-Rod of the Angles (58).

From May 3 through August 17, Wilson converted 24 consecutive opportunities and had the third best success rate in the majors at 93% before blowing back-to-back chances late last week.  Even with those two blown opps, Wilson's 88.6% conversion rate ranks second in the NL (min 20 saves) behind only Brad Lidge, who is perfect in his 36 opportunities.

He was drafted by the Giants in the 24th round out of LSU in 2003 after undergoing Tommy John surgery just prior to the draft.  He'll throw a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a Rivera-like cutter, and an 88-90 mph slider reminiscent of Nen's.  And like those two all-time greats, he has the fearless temperament that is crucial for the role of a bullpen stopper.  

While his ERA (4.40) and WHIP (1.43) don't look very impressive, he can strike you out (9.40 per 9 IP) or pitch for the ground ball (his seven double plays rank third among all closers), and hitters have batted just .224 against him in save situations. 

When he struggles, it's often with his control.  With four-and-a-half walks per nine innings through his career (4.25 in '08), he often winds up getting himself into jams.  He has started an inning 55 times this year and in 21 of those, the first batters he faced reached base.  Opposing teams in those 21 innings have scored a total of 24 runs.  The 34 times he has retired the first batter he faced, opponents have tallied just 5.  Focus could be part of the problem.  In non-save situations, he has a 7.71 ERA with nine walks in 14 innings, and hitters are batting .351 against him. 

Trivia Question

This year, Brian Wilson became the first home drafted, signed, and developed pitcher to save 30 or more games in a season for the Giants. 

He also became the first pitcher to make his debut with San Francisco and save at least 30 games in a year for the team since Rod Beck.

Can you name the only other pitcher to debut with San Francisco and save at least 30 or more games in a single season for the Giants?

Answer below

 

When the pressure has been on, Wilson, for the most part, has provided a solid and reliable anchor to an otherwise shaky bullpen since he assumed the closer role late last year.  The Giants hope this 26-yerar old can continue to do so for a long time, but improved command will be vital to his continuing success.  It's one thing to have a single 40-save season and draw comparisons to Robb Nen; it's quite another to put up a string of such seasons as Nen did.  However, if Wilson doesn't improve his control and falters, there will be no shortage of young arms waiting in the wings to step up and step in.

San Francisco Giants Top Ten Relief Pitcher Prospects

1. Sergio Romo

2. Merkin Valdez

3. Alex Hinshaw

4. Billy Sadler

5. Waldis Joaquin

6. Osiris Matos

7. Kelvin Pichardo

8. Joe Paterson

9. Edwin Quirarte

10. Dan Otero

 

Sergio Romo – 2008 MLB – 1-1, 2.54/0.85/.162 – 28.1 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 28 K

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

28th round – 2005 – DOB – 3-4-83 – Throws – Right

My personal favorite and not just because we share a birthday, Romo has an aggressive bulldog mentality to match his impeccable control.  Although his fastball sits in only the high-80s to low-90s, he has still managed to strike out over 10 batters per nine innings in his minor league career.  He manages this with deception and movement, dropping down and using a variety of arm slots, and he's not afraid to throw breaking stuff in any count.  His signature delivery is a nasty slurve that is simply vicious on left-handers who have managed to hit just .103 against him.  Last season with San Jose, Romo struck out 106 and walked just 15 in 66.1 innings while posting a 1.36 ERA.  He's able to set up, close, or even get stretched out to start (he once threw 7 hitless innings as a starter for Augusta in a combined no-hitter). Manager Bruce Bochy has shown increasing confidence in him by using him more frequently in tough late inning situations in what is likely an early audition for a key 2009 setup role.  Romo, whose parents were both born in Mexico, will play ball this winter in the Mexican Pacific League and hopes to be selected to the Mexican National squad that will take part in the World Baseball Classic next spring.

Merkin Valdez – 2008 – 1-0, 1.69/1.31/.237 – 16 IP, 14 H, 7 BB, 13 K

National League – San Francisco Giants – 60-Day Disabled List

Signed as amateur free agent – Atlanta Braves – 1999 – DOB – 11-10-81 – Throws – Right

Merkin Valdez was acquired in December of 2002 in the deal that sent Russ Ortiz to Atlanta.  All that stands between Valdez and 8th inning dominance is his balky right elbow.  Tommy John surgery wiped out his '07 campaign, while unrelated elbow problems have kept him out of action for most of 2008.  Although he's not likely to pitch in a game again this season, he did throw a 35-pitch bullpen session on September 9 while facing live hitters for the first time since the injury.  With a lively fastball clocked in the mid-to-high 90s to go with a splitter and slider, he has the potential to be one of the top late inning relievers in baseball.  To do that, though, he'll have to stay healthy.

Alex Hinshaw – 2008 MLB – 1-1, 3.62/1.53/.220 – 37.1 IP, 29 H, 28 BB, 46 K

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

15th round – 2005 – DOB – 10-31-82 – Throws – Left

Tall (6'3") but lean (170 lbs), Hinshaw, who had Tommy John surgery when he was 19, throws a low-90s fastball, a big sweeping low-70s curve, and an occasional changeup.  He also recently introduced a hard biting slider.  He allowed just 6.13 H/9 in the minors while striking out 10.99/9IP and has posted more of the same at the major league level (6.99 H/9 and 11.09 K/9).  His ability to miss bats shows his stuff is filthy and suggests that he has closer potential, but he'll have to overcome serious control issues that have seen him average over six walks per nine innings pitched as a pro before that becomes an option.  He'll pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League after the season ends.

Billy Sadler – 2008 MLB – 4.46/1.39/.222 – 40.1 IP, 32 H, 24 BB, 36 K, 8 HBP, 6 HR

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

6th round – 2003 – DOB – 9-21-81 – Throws – Right

A college teammate of Wilson, Sadler made his big league debut for San Francisco in 2006, but control problems kept him in the minors for the entire '07 season.  His stuff is unquestioned (92-96 mph fastball and a big 12-to-6 curve), but like Hinshaw, harnessing his spotty control (over 5 walks per 9 IP professionally) will be essential for him to be successful in the majors.  In 33 innings this year at Fresno, he allowed just 19 hits and struck out 41 in compiling a stellar 1.09 ERA.  He managed this despite walking an absurd 21 batters in 22 outings.

Waldis Joaquin – 2008 MiLB – 4.42/1.40/.255 – 71.1 IP, 69 H, 31 BB, 72 K

California League – San Jose Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – 2003 – DOB – 12-25-86 – Throws – Right

Possessing one of the organizations strongest arms, Joaquin's fastball generally runs in the mid-90s, but has been known to hit triple digits.  He also throws a strong slider in the 87-88 mph range.  He made seven starts this year in 36 appearances, and starting could still be an option.  Inconsistency has plagued him, and the numbers aren't there this year, but he is a true power pitcher with a bright future.  In the near future, he will be wintering in Waikiki and playing alongside 2008 draft picks Buster Posey and Roger Kieschnick in the Hawaiian Winter League.

Osiris Matos – 2008 MiLB – 0.97/0.93/.182 – 46.1 IP, 30 H, 13 BB, 50 K – 9 SV

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

Signed as amateur free agent – 2002 – DOB – 8-6-84 – Throws – Right

Matos was added to the club's 40-man roster in November of 2006 and made his big league debut this season after posting some impressive numbers in the closer role at Connecticut.  He was moved to the pen the last three seasons after struggling early in his career as a starter and has been impressive.  He has a nice low-90s fastball with good movement but he'll need to be more consistent with his slider and change up at the major league level where he has struggled (18 IP, 23 H - .319 BAA, 1.72 WHIP).  Matos will join Hinshaw this fall in the Scottsdale bullpen in the AFL. 

Kelvin Pichardo – 2008 – 2-4, 2.48/1.33/.214 – 61.2 IP, 49 H, 33 BB, 62 K – 7 SV

Eastern League – Connecticut Defenders

Signed as amateur free agent – 2003 – Phillies – DOB – 10-13-85 – Throws – Right

As much-maligned as the Michael Tucker-let's-toss-away-a-draft-pick-in-order-to-save-money-free-agent-deal was at the time, the fact that Sabean eventually turned Tucker into Pichardo makes that move belatedly much more acceptable.  Pichardo is one of the hardest throwers in the organization with a mid-to-high 90s fastball (complimented with a power curve and developing changeup) but can be prone to bouts of wildness.  He has 8th inning written all over him (think Felix Rodriguez circa 2001) and is likely to make his debut as early as next season.  Like Hinshaw and Matos, he will pitch for the Scorpions this fall in the AFL along with starter Kevin Pucetas, infielders Manny Burriss and Ryan Rohlinger, and outfielder Ben Copeland.

Joe Paterson – 2008 MiLB – 8-3, 2.74/1.14/.202 – 69 IP, 51 H, 28 BB, 78 K – 8 SV

California League – San Jose Giants

10th round – 2007 – DOB – 5-19-86 – Throws – Left

A side-arming lefty with good control, Paterson has struck out over 10 batters per every nine innings pitched in his short career while holding left handed hitters to a sub-.150 batting average.  His stuff, which consists of a low-90s fastball, changeup, and slider, isn't overwhelming, but he has all the earmarks of a late-inning lefty specialist.  He split this season with Augusta and San Jose and is likely to begin next year in Double-A. 

Edwin Quirarte – 2008 – 3-3, 2.12/1.08/.213 – 29.2 IP, 23 H, 9 BB, 33 K – 14 SV

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

5th round – 2008 – DOB – 12-20-86 – Throws – Right

The Giants fifth overall pick this year and first of the top five to sign, Quirarte was moved to the pen his junior year at Northridge State and he has thrived this year in his debut season as the Volcanoes' closer.  Quirarte allowed 49 hits in 56 innings this year for Northridge with just six of those hits going for extra-bases.  His 14 saves in the regular season were second in the league, and he earned the save in the opener of the Volcanoes Northwest League Championship series.  However, he blew a big opportunity in a pivotal Game Three as Salem-Keizer lost the series to Spokane, 3-1.  He has a very live fastball that sits in the low-90s and he compliments it with a nice slider and splitter.  This 21-year old could rise quickly through the organization.

Dan Otero – Career – 74 G, 53 SV – 1.77/0.98/.230 – 76.1 IP, 68 H, 64 K, 7 BB, 2 HR

California League – San Jose Giants

21st round – 2007 – DOB – 2-19-85 – Throws – Right

Call me a sucker for control freaks, but Otero first caught my eye after a stellar 2007 debut campaign that earned him the MiLB.com Class-A Short Season Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.  Finishing the year a perfect 19-for-19 in saves, Otero allowed just 12 hits in 22.1 innings while striking out 15 and not walking a single batter.  He won't blow you away with his high-80s fastball, slider, or change, but he does throw strikes consistently and he keeps the ball in the yard.  He began this season as the closer for Augusta and saved 18 more without a blown op while recording a 0.33 ERA in 27 innings (and only after allowing his first run of the year in his final Green Jackets appearance) to earn a promotion to San Jose.  There he stumbled a bit initially, giving up 24 hits in his first 15.1 innings, but he finished the season strong, posting a 1.54 ERA after August 1 and not allowing a run in his final ten outings while collecting 8 saves.  He recorded two saves in the SJ Giants' five-game playoff series loss to Stockton but also notched a blown save in Game Two. 

Honorable Mentions

Geno Espineli – 2008 MiLB – 2.66/1.10/.246 – 61 IP, 56 H, 11 BB, 48 K

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

14th round – 2004 – DOB – 9-8-82 – Throws - Left

Espineli was chosen to represent the USA in the Olympics after posting a 0.90 ERA through May but he was "forced" to withdraw when the Giants promoted him to the big league club in July.  Despite a fastball that tops out at 85 mph, the 6'4" lefty's deceptive three-quarters/side-armed motion and exceptional control make him very tough to hit, especially for left-handed hitters.  He has allowed just two hits to 13 left handed batters with San Francisco and could forge a niche as a lefty specialist. 

Trivia Answer

Greg "Moon Man" Minton was the last player before Beck to debut with San Francisco and save at least 30 or more games in a single year for the Giants.

 

 Drafted by Kansas City in the 3rd round in 1970, Minton was acquired by trade in 1973 and made his big league debut in 1975. 

 

In 1982, his 30 saves led the team and made him the first Giants pitcher ever to reach that plateau.  He ranks fourth with 125 saves in his San Francisco career.

Justin Hedrick – 2008 – 1.37/0.94/.176 – 65.2 IP, 41 H, 21 BB, 74 K – 9 SV

Eastern League – Connecticut Defenders

6th round – 2004 – DOB – 6-8-82 – Throws – Right

Hedrick has enjoyed a stellar '08 campaign at Connecticut and could compete as soon as next spring for a bullpen spot  He's got four pitches he can get you out with that have resulted in 379 career strikeouts in just 317.1 minor league innings and a career .191 BAA.

Steve Edlefsen – 2008 – 8-5, 3.36/1.40/.250 – 77.2 IP, 71 H, 38 BB, 77 K, 2.34 GO/AO

California League – San Jose Giants

16th round – 2007 – DOB – 6-27-85 – Throws – Right

A former all-state hitter as a shortstop in high school, the 6'2" Edlefsen attacks hitters with a  power sinker, short breaking ball, and according to manager Steve Decker, "serious attitude."  That combo has resulted in a lot of groundballs and strikeouts, plus not many hits.  Last year with Salem-Keizer, he allowed just 14 hits in 33.1 innings.  He'll take his sinker to the tropics this winter to pitch for Waikiki in the HWL. 

Aaron King – 2008 MiLB – 2.97/1.32/.216 – 33.1 IP, 25 H, 19 BB, 45 K

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

7th round – 2008 – DOB – 4-27-89 – Throws – Left

King was rated among the top Junior College pitchers in the country prior to this year's draft.  A 6'4" lefty, he works his mid-90s fastball and hard slider well together to strike out a lot of batters, but an unconventional delivery can cause him to become erratic around the strike zone.  King is likely to end up in the pen in the long run, but he'll also be given a chance to start.

Andrew De La Garza – 2008 – 3.33/0.98/.217 – 78.1 IP, 63 H, 14 BB, 79 K, 4 HR – 9 SV

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

18th round – 2007 – DOB – 10-20-84 – Throws – Left

Another strike thrower, De La Garza's fastball sits in the 89-92 mph range, plus he has a great changeup and nice slider.  He was used more often in late situations as the season progressed, saving 7 games in July while also closing out three post-season matches, including the SAL Championship clincher. 

Taylor Wilding – 2008 – 1-6, 3.39/1.27/.262 – 71.2 IP, 72 H, 19 BB, 74 K – 11 SV

California League – San Jose Giants

13th round – 2005 – DOB – 10-22-84 – Throws – Right

A hard thrower, Wilding was an All-Star in '07 for San Jose, then struggled after a promotion to Double-A Connecticut.  He has saved 23 games over the past two seasons for the junior Giants, but will need to show that he can succeed at higher levels beginning next season.

David Quinowski – 2007 – 3.27/1.06/.172 – 33 IP, 19 H, 35 K – 2.14 ERA, 0.99 WHIP Career

Injured – Shoulder – Out For Season

46th round – 2004 – DOB – 4-23-86 – Throws – Left

A tough to hit side-arming lefty with a mid-to-high-80s fastball, changeup, and curve, Quinowski has allowed just 67 hits in 122 minor league innings while striking out 130.  He broke out in 2006 with Augusta when he held opposing hitters to a .148 batting average in 75 innings. 

Brian Anderson – Career – 2.59/1.06/.999 – 128 G, 85 SV – 146 IP, 115 H, 40 BB, 173 K

Injured – Tommy John Surgery – Out For Season

14th round – 2005 – DOB – 5-25-83 – Throws – Right

The California League Pitcher of the Year in 2006 with San Jose, Anderson relies on control and movement to overpower hitters.  Despite a fastball that rarely tops 90 MPH, he set a Cal-League record with 37 saves for the junior Giants, including the first 31 consecutively after going 19-for-20 the year before with Augusta.  He's missed the entire ‘08 season with an elbow injury and recently underwent reconstructive surgery meaning he's likely to miss most, if not all, of the '09 season as well.

 

 

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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