Giants 2004 Minor League Season Performance

As it goes every season, some prospects improve their chances and others fall back. This article will examine those who did so in the Giants Farm System. It will cover mainly the players who helped themselves and also spotlight those prospects who had high expectations that were either not met completely, i.e. a hiccup occurred, or did not do well at all.

Giants Hot Prospects With a Bullet

The Giants top rising prospects in 2004 were Fred Lewis, Matt Cain, Joe Bateman, James Garcia, Brad Hennessey, Justin Knoedler, Merkin Valdez, and Eddy Martinez-Esteve. They all started the season at a lower level and was promoted at least 2 levels higher during the season. Prospects who jumped two levels from the end of 2003 included David Aardsma, Pat Misch, Brian Mazone, and Josh Habel (since traded to Milwaukee in Burba deal). Other players earning promotions during the season included Mike Cervenek, Adam Shabala, Scott Munter, Brad Vericker, Angel Chavez, Dan Ortmeier, Jackson Markert, Julian Benavidez, Brian Buscher, Billy Sadler, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa, Brion Treadway, and Craig Whitaker.

Giants Big Six Prospects

In honor of Giants' great, Christy "Big Six" Mathewson, here are the six prospects that I think will make the biggest contributions over the next two seasons.

1) Matt Cain - He's only 20 years old - FOR NEXT SEASON - and yet he has done well at every level he has pitched at, including AA in 2004. Common phrases I've seen on him: "mature beyond his years" and "already has a major league fast ball and curve ball". It will be disappointing if he's not in the starting rotation in 2006, if not earlier.

2) David Aardsma - Since being drafted first in 2003, he has been touted to become the Giants next closer and so far he has not disappointed much, other than being brought up to the majors too soon in 2004, where he was overmatched. Now esconced as the closer for AAA Fresno, he should be the Giants closer in 2006, and could be brought up earlier if the need arises again.

He already has a great fastball and - according to Baseball America - a major league ready changeup. He has been working to develop other pitches to complement them this year. In addition, there has been some talk as well that he might be made into a starter a la Russ Ortiz, who was a closer in the minors but came up and became a starter at the major league level. But with the surplus of starters and need for relievers, he should probably come up permanently as a reliever.

3) Merkin Valdez - If not for Cain, he would probably be the wunderkind of the Giants farm system. Baseball America rated him as the best fastball in the farm system for 2004 and had him rated above Cain at the start of 2004 - he will be only 23 for next season. He could be in the starting rotation for 2006 if he's not already in the bullpen as a setup reliever in 2005 - I think his contributions will depend on what the needs of the big club is at the time he is called up. If the young starters ahead of him keep up their performances, he could become Aardsma's main setup man.

4) Brad Hennessey - Quickly recovering from two surgeries for a benign tumor, he has caught up with the players drafted in the same draft, making it to the majors this year for extended play. The worry was that he might have lost the MLB quality slider he exhibited before the draft because of the surgeries. However, the worry was for naught because he still has that and his fast ball and used them to good effect in the majors this year, though not consistently.

His main problem going forward is that there are plenty of starters ahead of him on the depth chart. But if he can keep up the good work, he could be forcing other players, like Correia, Foppert, and Valdez, into the bullpen. He should be on the major league staff in 2006, his role depending on what the team needs at that point. Plus he should be the Giants 2005 "Yo-Yo" pitcher - past "winners" include Kevin Correia in 2003 and Noah Lowry in 2004.

5) Fred Lewis - Considered the best athlete in the Giants farm system, his raw tools were what drew the Giants to make him their 2nd round pick in 2002 after Matt Cain, despite his lack of baseball experience, him being more a football player than baseball player in college. Proving he could take walks at higher levels this season, he excelled at both San Jose (most of season) and Fresno (last couple of weeks), hitting for average and power plus also stealing bases as well. He has been working with instructors on his defense and base running.

While he currently profiles more as a lead-off hitter, scouts would not be surprised that as he fills out and matures, he would become a middle of the lineup hitter. If continues his progress, he should end up on the 2006 roster, perhaps as the starting CF if that position is open.

6) Eddy Martinez-Esteve - College baseball's "Manny Ramirez" said he was ready to be a professional baseball player when he was signed. He showed he was right by tearing through rookie, short-season, low-A, and high-A leagues, living up to the lofty expectations that hitting .391 with 19 homers and 81 RBI's in college engendered. At his rate of progress, he could possibly make the team as a reserve by the end of 2005, and looks to make the team in 2006 as an outfielder.

Others who should see playing time at the major league level over the next two seasons include Cody Ransom (management said he was the shortstop of the future), Jason Ellison (reserve outfielder), Todd Linden (reserve outfielder), Brian Dallimore (reserve infielder), Lance Niekro (could be starting 1B in 2006 if he continues progress of this year), Kevin Correia (probably will be moved to relief full-time), and Pat Misch (was only at Salem Keizer in 2003 and yet did well all season in Norwich, even better than Matt Cain).

Six Year Free Agents

There are a number of prospects who are six year free agents. They are Omar Anez, Doug Clark, Dave Doster, Lee Gardner, Jason Jacome, Craig Kuzmic, Matt Montgomery, Jay Pecci, Kevin Pickford, Deivis Santos, Jeff Urban, and Chad Zerbe. The only ones of the bunch to do well last season are Doug Clark and Dave Doster, but Doster is 33 years old and was a free agent signing from last off-season. Omar Anez was a Rule 5 pickup from last off-season.

Fresno Grizzlies
Summary: The Grizzlies finished the season at 62-82, .431 winning percentage, 17 games behind. They were in last place in the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast League. They were equally bad at home and on the road, 31-41.

Helped Prospects:
Mike Cervenak - After hitting .337/.414/.583/.997 with 21 HR in 410 AB, Cervanek was promoted to Fresno. While the 3B didn't set AAA on fire, he did make a big impression by hitting .250/.267/.614/.881 and, more importantly, hit 5 homers in 44 AB with 10 RBI. However, having just turned 28 years old, he might need to move to another team if he hopes to make it to the majors soon because the Giants are logjammed at 3B with Alfonzo and Feliz. He is getting exposure against other top prospects in the AFL this season, most probably to see better where he stands.

Jason Ellison - His .315/.368/.459/.827 with 9 HR in 505 AB, 90 runs scored (2nd on team), and 27 SB (led the team) in 39 tries, earned him a September call up this year. However, with Bonds, Tucker and Mohr returning next season, and a $2.5M option for Grissom, there could be no space for Ellison on the roster, depending on how the outfield situation shakes out.

Fred Lewis - After hitting .301/.424/.451/.875 with 8 HR in 439 AB, 88 runs scored (San Jose best), and 33 steals in 47 tries at San Jose, he was promoted to Fresno and didn't miss a beat as he hit .304/.429/.478/.907 with 1 HR in 23 AB, 1 SB in 2 tries. He looks ready to play AAA but he might have to start the season in AA if Ellison does not make the majors because they play the same role, CF and leadoff hitter, and I think the Giants would rather he play full-time rather than split time with another player. He is playing in the AFL against other top prospects right now.

Lance Niekro - Basically had a breakout year offensively. He showed little power previously, looking like he'll be another Tony Torcato but this season he hit .299/.339/.568/.907 with 12 HR in 241 AB. Unfortunately injuries slowed his progress but he is playing for the AFL now to make up for that. He could be ready to take over for Snow in 2006; he would be 27 at the start of that season.

Cody Ransom - Hasn't been down much but when Ransom was at Fresno, he convinced the brass that he's the shortstop of the future. He had a breakout year in AAA by hitting .309/.397/.603/1.000 with 10 HR in 136 AB. The Giants have already said that he's the shortstop for next year, though that could still mean that there is a cheap vet on the roster that the Giants could turn to if Ransom falters. Also, his crucial errors at inopportune times - his one area of perceived strength - especially in the penultimate game, might have convinced the Giants to go with another option at the position.

Adam Shabala - A chat on sfgiants.com recently noted that Alou is high on Shabala. He had a good year, hitting .314/.365/.449/.814 with 21 SB in 24 attempts and 63 runs scored in 401 AB. He should spend 2005 at Fresno again and get further seasoning.

David Aardsma - Did very well with 11 saves in 44 games (he was not the closer until most of the season was over), 3.09 ERA, and WHIP of 1.36, and 53 SO and 29 BB in 55.1 IP with only 2 HR given up. He could make the Giants next season as a set-up man, but most probably will spend another season in AAA as the closer before moving up full-time to the Giants as their closer in 2006. He is playing in the AFL now to get more experience against better competition.

Brad Hennessey - The Kevin Correia of 2004, he first did well in AA with 3.56 ERA and WHIP of 1.39 but only 55 SO in 101.0 IP, but then sparkled in AAA, with a 2.02 ERA in 5 games, WHIP of 1.15 and only 16 SO in 35.2 IP. That earned him a promotion to the big club as the team was beset by injuries and poor performances. The feel good story as he has battled back from two surgeries for benign tumors to catch up with the players he was drafted ahead of - Noah Lowry, Todd Linden, and Jessie Foppert. He most probably won't make the major league roster next year and will bounce up and down depending on the big club needs.

Noah Lowry - Noah didn't pitch outstandingly well for Fresno - 4.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 73 SO in 89.1 IP, 28 BB - but he was good enough to get the call up to the big club. After mystifying MLB teams with his changeup, they appeared to be catching up with him, so he will need to make adjustments, which he appeared to have done his last two starts. He will be competing for a spot in the starting rotation in 2005 and should do it if he can just continue his success of this season.

Scott Munter - After shining at Norwich earlier - 2.35 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, in 42 games - he continued his success for Fresno, 3.45 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, in 13 games of relief. This continued his much improved performance that he had in Hagerstown in 2003. He will be 25 years old next season, which he will probably spend all at Fresno unless the Giants have severe bullpen problems that require a callup (Aardsma should get the first call) because the Giants look pretty set in the bullpen except for perhaps another good setup man. He is getting additional seasoning at the AFL right now.

Brian Dallimore - After winning the batting championship last year, he was not able to match that performance but still was very respectable with .324/.396/.447/.843 and 8 HR in 432 AB and apparently impressed the brass with his call-ups to the MLB during the season. However, he'll be 31 when the next season starts, so time is running out, and whether he'll make the majors or not will depend on how the Giants decide on the composition of their bench for 2005.

Hurt Prospects:
Todd Linden - He had things he was suppose to work on this season - Sabean said before the season that he needed more ABs - but he disappointed by hitting .260/.349/.466 with 23 HR (led the team) in 489 AB. But he's only just turned 24 years old and probably will make the majors in 2006, which he would start the season at only 25 years of age.

Tony Torcato - Same old, same old, he hit .289/.314/.367/.681 with 3 HR in 395 AB. He was called up to be a bat off the bench for September and apparently did impress the staff with his pinch-hitting but he doesn't really have a position - a quality Sabean would want on the bench - nor any power so his best bet would be joining an American League team that could play him at DH occassionally.

Kevin Correia - After a breakout year in 2003, he fell back towards the mean with a 4.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 70 SO in 105.1 IP, 35 BB. He most probably will start 2005 with Fresno and perhaps yo-yo up and down again, though there are other players poised to do that as well ahead of him.

Jeff Urban - He did much better but he didn't improve enough and age is catching up with him: he'll be 28 at the start of next season. He had a 4.07 ERA with a 1.39 WHIP, 56 SO in 66.1 IP, a big improvement over his 5.24 ERA with a 1.68 WHIP, 87 SO in 127.0 IP in 2003, so he at least improved his performance. Next year appears to be a make or break type of year for him, assuming he is still in the farm system; he is a six year free agent so he could leave the system.

Norwich Navigators
Summary: The Gators finished the season 69-73, .486 winning percentage. They were so-so at home and so-so on the road: 38-34 at home, 31-39 on the road. The ended up tied for fourth place in the Northern Division of the Eastern League, 15 games back, 5 games ahead of last place.

Helped Prospects:
Julian Benavidez - He hit .272/.348/.433/.781 with 7 HR in 217 in a strong pitcher's park (according to Baseball Prospectus). Unfortunately, he is playing positions that are jammed packed above him: 1B and 3B (mainly 1B). He actually didn't do that well at San Jose before joining Norwich - .161/.264/.329/.593 with 6 HR in 149 AB - either. So he most probably will spend another year at Norwich and try to work his way up. However, Mike Cervanek, the 3B for most of the season at Norwich, had great stats at Norwich and he didn't get called up until the last couple of weeks of the season so it's quite a hill to climb.

Doug Clark - Doug had a very solid year, hitting .292/.348/.439/.787 with 10 HR in 537 AB but also 13 triples and 33 SB (led the team) in 41 tries. He has been in AA for five seasons now, however, and could be looking at a sixth next season because of the potential logjam at outfield in AAA if none of them make it to the majors. He is a six year free agent so he might bolt to another team given his lack of progress.

Justin Knoedler - His hitting .274/.335/.423/.758 with 9 HR in 409 AB earned him a promotion to the majors when the September call-ups were done. He only had 7 errors in 115 games. However, Trey Lunsford is currently ahead of him at AAA, so the Giants will have to decision to make about whether to split time between the two at AAA or perhaps make Justin the full-time catcher at AAA.

Joe Bateman - After pitching great for Hagerstown in relief and making the All-Star game - he had a 2.14 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP, 80 SO and 20 BB in 71.1 IP - he didn't skip a beat despite rising two leagues to AA and had a 2.78 ERA with 1.24 WHIP, 17 SO in 22.2 IP and 8 BB. He'll probably start next year in AA but obviously his star is shining brightly at the moment.

Chris Begg - This Olympian - for the Canadian team - pitched very well at Norwich, with a 2.30 ERA in 14 starts and 16 total games pitched with a WHIP of 1.04, 61 SO in 94.0 IP and only 11 BB. The Giants are high on his prospects, currently playing him at the AFL, but he will probably start at AA again next season because there looks to be a logjam of MLB and near-MLB ready starters at AAA, unless the Giants start getting rid of pitching prospects at that level.

Matt Cain - After dazzling batters in Hagerstown and San Jose, Cain, who only just turned 20 at the start of October, ended up with Norwich and did very well. The wunderkind had a 3.35 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 72 SO in 86.0 IP, 40 BB. He should be in AAA next season and could force his way into the starting rotation as early as mid-2005 and probably no later than 2006.

Brian Mazone - Promoted to AAA, where he was battered around, nonetheless, he did well in Norwich after he was acquired from an independent team, Joliet Jackhammers, with a 2.08 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 19 SO in 17.1 IP, only 2 BB, in 7 games pitched, one of them a start. The lefthander is already 28 years old, though, but the Giants have had a little success in the past picking up middle relievers in this way, like Chad Zerbe.

Pat Misch - Pat had another great season, especially considering that he was only at Salem-Keizer last season, jumping three levels. He had a 3.06 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 123 SO in 159.0 IP, only 35 BB (though 13 HR). He should be with Fresno next season but with the aforementioned logjam of logjam of MLB and near-MLB ready starters at AAA, he should start the season at Norwich unless the Giants start getting rid of pitching prospects at that level.

Billy Sadler - Mainly a reliever, Sadler had the 2nd best ERA of pitchers throwing at least 50 IP for San Jose: 2.38 ERA in 56.2 IP, only 29 hits but 40 walks, with 66 strikeouts. That earned him a promotion to Norwich at mid-season where he did OK, 3.86 ERA in 30.1 IP, 22 hits and 18 walks, with 24 strikeouts, showing the strengths and weaknesses he showed at San Jose. He should start in AA next season.

Jack Taschner - He did great for Norwich, mainly starting, with a 2.48 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 55 SO in 58.0 IP, 16 BB. However, he was battered around pretty badly at Fresno after he was promoted. He will probably be a tweener, making Fresno or getting pushed back to Norwich, depending on how the Giants pitching staff composition comes together next season.

Hurt Prospects:
Angel Chavez - Did very well with San Jose but then was totally outmatched at Norwich. He hit .389/.433/.537/.970 with 1 HR in 54 AB in San Jose but only .198/.261/.237/.498 with 0 HR in 308 AB, 6 SB in 10 tries, in Norwhich. He could start next season at Norwich as there's little talent anywhere in the system at his position, SS, or the Giants might drop him back to let him regain his stroke.

Dan Ortmeier - Was rated as a Top 10 prospect in the pre-season by some. Injuries marred his season though and he struggled to find his stroke, ending at .252/.352/.424/.776 with 10 HR in 377 AB, which was not bad for this league and team but less than what would be expected by a Top position prospect. But he had 18 SB and only 2 caught stealing, so he shows decent speed and power. Plus he'll be only 24 years old next year so he still has time. He probably will repeat AA given his performance and the logjam that exists in AAA unless one of them becomes a MLB reserve (or is no longer in the system) in 2005.

Carlos Valderrama - After starting out the season en fuego, he drifted downward and ended up at .289/.345/.423/.768 with 7 HR in 321 AB and 20 SB in 21 tries. He probably will play next year in AA and will be 27 years old for 2005, so time is running out. In addition, there is the aforementioned logjam in AAA, especially with Ellison and Lewis now ahead of him on the depth charts.

Merkin Valdez - After being touted by Sabean as a pitcher ready to contribute at the MLB level, Merkin has had a very disappointing season, though part of the blame can be laid on his injury that kept him out the early part of the season. For Norwich, he had a 4.32 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 15 BB and 31 SO in 41.2 IP. He was much better at San Jose before that, 2.52 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 5 BB and 44 SO in 35.2 IP, but bombed in short stints with Fresno and with the big club. He most probably will repeat at AA because of the previously mentioned logjam of starters at AAA but he is still only 23 years old for next season so there's plenty of time for him and the team is still high on him.

San Jose Giants
Summary: San Jose finished the second half strongly, buoyed by recent call-ups from Hagerstown, ending at 37-33, .529 winning percentage, 9 games back in third place. They were 23-14 at home and 14-19 on the road. For the season, they were 74-66, .529, so they had the same record in the first half as well.

Helped Prospects:
Steve Holm - Had a good season splitting time at catcher with two other catchers. Showed power with 12 doubles and 9 homers in only 201 at-bats with an OPS of .827, fifth best on the team. Had the least errors on a per game basis, should move up to Norwich but Lunsford and Knoedler are ahead of him so it will depend on what the Giants think is best for all of them.

Travis Ishikawa - After a slow start with Hagerstown, Travis finally had things click and, from May 21st, he hit 12 homers in 236 AB for .288/.378/.517/.895. Earning a promotion to San Jose late in the season, he batted OK there with .232/.353/.411/.764, good OPS for a strong pitcher's park but a poor batting average. He most probably will start the season with San Jose next year.

And while no year should be totally a make or break year for a 21 year old, his age for next season, he needs to put more momentum back into his career by putting in a good season at San Jose in 2005. While his season would have been good for most prospects, as a player considered a top prospect by a number of publications in the pre-season, he did not entirely meet the high expectations. He regressed from what was expected from him, at least initially in the season, but recovered very nicely. If he hopes to rated high on the Giants prospect list again, he will have to show the average, ability to take walks, and power that he showed in Hagerstown after his slow start.

Eddy Martinez-Esteve - Jumped from the Arizona Rookie League to short season Salem Keizer to low-A Hagerstown and finally to high-A San Jose in the short time he has been in the Giants farm system. He dominated with the Giants, hitting .420/.446/.580/1.026 at San Jose in 69 at-bats, with 7 doubles and 2 triples. He most probably will start next season at Norwich, given how aggressively he has been promoted and how he dominated at San Jose.

Nate Schierholtz - Advanced to San Jose after a monster two months at Hagerstown - .296/.353/.584/.937. His progress stalled at San Jose, though, as the power he showed with the Suns - 22 doubles and 15 homers in 233 AB - didn't come along, though he did end up with 18 doubles, 9 triples, and 3 homers in 258 AB, keeping his slugging percentage respectable at .469, with an OPS of .807 (.295/.338/.469/.807 for San Jose). His lack of defensive prowess at 3B makes a permanent move to the outfield likely for next season, which is where he played the last final weeks of the 2004 season.

Dan Trumble - His fourth full season in the Giants system, Dan had a breakout year, making the All-Star team. He finished the year leading the team in homers with 17 and had an OPS of .799 (.240/.347/.452/.799). However, there is a logjam of outfielders at the higher levels that may prevent him from moving up unless there are promotions to the MLB level, trades, or releases of players above him.

Brad Vericker - Brad hit well enough at San Jose to earn a promotion to AA late in the season, hitting .277/.375/.482/.867 with 14 homeruns and 29 doubles in 308 AB. In limited play at AA, however, Brad was overmatched, though he continued to walk a lot. He most probably will start at AA as he don't have much to prove at San Jose. Brian Burres - Had an outstanding season with San Jose, going 12-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 36 games, 15 of which were starts. In 123.2 IP, he gave up 115 hits and only 30 walks, striking out 114. He should be on the AA starting rotation in 2005.

James Garcia - James earned a promotion to AAA by going 5-5, 2.94 ERA mainly as a reliever at San Jose (70.1 IP, 57 hits, 24 walks, 84 strikeouts). However, as mainly a starter, he didn't do very well at Fresno. He most probably will start at AA next season, probably as a reliever as there are a surplus of starters at the higher levels projected for the farm system next year.

Brion Treadway - Brion did well enough at San Jose, with a 7-5 record, 3.95 EAR, 1.3 WHIP, to get a call up to AA late in the season but he was battered there. He will probably repeat at San Jose and build on his achievements of this past season, plus there are a lot of starters ahead of him.

Hurt Prospects:
Alfredo Simon - Acquired in the F-Rod salary dump, Simon has shown none of the potential that he showed prior to the Giants trading for him. He was 7-9, 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 107 K's in 134.2 IP, for the Phillies high-A affiliate before the trade, 1-2, 5.68 EAR, 1.81 WHIP for San Jose, with only 21 K's in 31.2 IP. He should start at San Jose next season.

Brian Buscher - While at the beginning of the 2004 season there were more highly touted prospects in or near Buscher's draft class, such as Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa, Buscher was the only one starting the season in high-A San Jose. While he performed nicely, hitting .292/.359/.408/.767, he did not display the power one normally looks for in a 3B, with only 14 doubles, 7 triples, and 4 homers in 343 AB. He will need to hit for more power plus work for more walks in order to get his career back to the high note it was at when the 2004 season started.



Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for theSan Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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