Top 50 Prospects Q&A 1/8/2006

As the Top 50 is now halfway done, we take more questions about Craig Whitaker, some players who didn't make the list, and more!

Craig Whitaker at #30? Other publications have him listed as high as the top 10! Why do you think he’s so bad?
Brian B. from Visalia, CA.

It’s not that I think he’s bad, it’s that I think there’s little chance of him paying off for the Giants.

Baseball is a complicated business, much more so than people realize. There are a lot of rules in place to make sure teams don’t do certain things, and one of those forbidden things is hording prospects. Rules such as the Rule V draft (which lets other teams pluck away players after 3 years (or 4 if they initially signed under the age of 18) unless they are protected on the 40 man roster) and minor league free agency are those sorts of stepping stones.

A good example of this is Brian Burres, a pitcher with a low ceiling, but likely to become a useful major leaguer even if just as a left handed reliever. Burres was added to the 40 man roster in 2004 to protect him (rightfully) from the Rule 5 draft after a spectacular ’04 season in SJ. He followed it up with a mostly solid 2005 campaign in Norwich. But, because General Manager Brian Sabean felt other young players like Kelyn Acosta and Jesus Reina could be taken in this year’s Rule 5 draft, he filled up most of the roster’s empty spots with them. That left the Giants with few open spots to add players. When they signed Jose Vizcaino, they needed to make room for him on the 40 man roster, which means dropping someone and putting them on waivers and risking losing them to any team. They couldn’t drop any of the players who had been added for protection from the Rule 5 draft, and Burres was the victim of the numbers game.

Last week, the Orioles picked up Burres, and the Giants lost him for nothing.

Whitaker will have to be protected on the 40 man roster or else he’ll be vulnerable in the Rule 5 draft. If he doesn’t do well, the Giants won’t protect him and it’s possible some team that likes his ceiling will take him for almost nothing in return ($50K)…and if not, well, it’s not like doing badly will help him advance. If he does need protection, he’ll still be 3 or so years away from the majors with no guarantees, and will be taking the spot of someone else who could be lost, or force someone else off the 40 man roster later. And that hasn’t even addressed how little time is relatively left before he’d have to be a free agent or out of options.

High school players, like Whitaker can and should be expected to take longer to develop, but they can’t outright stall like Whitaker has (especially a first round pick) and be expected to suddenly and very quickly turn everything around. The odds are getting worse and worse for Whitaker to pay off in some way for the Giants, and at this point, he’d have to roll a hard six to do it.

Just wondering if you had any info on Minor League prospects Mike Wagner, Patrick Dobson or Jake Wald...thanks for anything you can help me with.
Tyler D. from San Jose, CA.

None of those guys made the Top 50 list, but it’s good to get a chance to talk about them.

Wald, an 11th round pick in 2002, was well on his way to a Cody Ransom sort of reputation as a strong defensive infielder but with a very low offensive ceiling, and batting .210 in Norwich and .197 in San Jose in 2004 didn’t help. But 2005 opened some eyes. He replaced Angel Chavez as San Jose’s primary shortstop after Chavez’s promotion to AAA Fresno, and found his offensive stroke. In 86 games, he hit .293 with 15 home runs (more than his entire career before then) and had an OPS of .850. On a team loaded with highly touted prospects, Wald was a key piece of the Giants team. Wald’s task now is to prove those numbers weren’t a flash in the pan. The good news for him is that the Giants are shallow at shortstop and third, his two primary positions, and he’ll get every chance to prove himself.

Wagner, a 5th round pick in 2003, was having a season that might have placed him on this list had a knee laceration not interrupted his season. Wagner started the year in San Jose, but rarely got into games with the team’s crowded outfield. So, despite putting up good numbers (.321/.387/.536) when he did get in, he was moved back to Augusta, where he missed nearly half of June and most of July, but still hit .298 with a .878 OPS. He’ll get another shot at San Jose, probably a real one this time, but still could find himself competing for time with so many outfielders both ahead of him and behind him in the system. He’s shown solid power and good strike zone recognition, and could excel if he continues to improve on those numbers.

Dobson, an 18th round pick in 2003, also had problems finding playing time in San Jose thanks to all the prospects, but instead of moving to Augusta, Dobson took a utility role. Drafted as an outfielder, he proved some versatility playing all three positions in the outfield regularly and playing first base often as well. He even played second in a couple of games. Dobson responded by having his best overall year, posting a .784 OPS. Though Dobson’s future may become a utility role, as that sort of versatility is valuable, it might be better for him not to get a promotion to AA Connecticut right away in 2006 with the crowded group of prospects that should go there. There’ll be more playing time for him to show what he can do in San Jose at most positions, and San Jose also has a full-time DH to take advantage of.

Both Dobson and Wagner have become victims of a deep group of outfielders in the Giants system. Even next year, San Jose could still be home to several talented players. In addition to Wagner and probably Dobson, two-time batting champ Brian Horwitz will be in San Jose in 2006, John Bowker could be held back due to the crowd of outfielders due in AA, and Benjamin Copeland and Michael Mooney are both serious possibilities to be pushed straight to High-A out of Salem-Keizer. But both Wagner and Dobson have deserved reputations for being hard working players, something highly valued in the Giants system, and could very well find their own way through the Giants system and surprise people that will overlook them.

What’s up with all the players from the lower levels showing up? Are you trying to tell us the Giants don’t have any high level prospects?
David E. from Cupertino, CA.

Not exactly. The methods we’ve used to grade prospects naturally grade players at the A-levels and below slightly lower, since they are facing a lower level of competition and have a lot more to prove on their way to the majors. And things do shake out a bit as players reach High-A, AA and AAA, through injuries and natural selection.

That said, the Giants are very deep at their lower levels. The Arizona Rookie League team has won the championship decisively for two years running. San Jose won the High-A championship in 2005, and Salem-Keizer posted the 2nd best record in Short-A, just missing the playoffs and leading the league in batting and coming in 2nd in ERA. Unfortunately, most of this talent won’t be ready for the major leagues as the current major league team will be shaking out after 2006 and 2007, but the Giants should see continued success moving up their system the next few years.

Of all the pitchers that were on the Salem-Keizer staff, which onse do you think have the best chance to succeed?
Dale K. from San Francisco, CA.

The highest ceiling would appear to belong to Dan Griffin, who kept up his strikeout rate from college without much of a hitch, and has a deceptive motion that should help him move quickly through the system. Ben Nieto is the most polished of the rest of the potential starters.

Also, don’t count out Brian Anderson. He doesn’t have the monster stuff one would expect from a closer, but his performance shows how smart and effective he is with what he’s got. He could very well be the first player out of the 2005 draft to debut in the majors.

Thanks for all the questions, and keep sending them in!

Have any questions about these prospects, or perhaps some we haven't named? will be answering your questions throughout this series! Send your questions to!

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