What to Look For in the Minors this Season

Spring Training is about to get into the home stretch before the regular season, so it's time to start setting expectations. So what should you expect? Here's 10 things that you should expect to see out of the minors.

10 things you should expect to see out of the Giants farm system this season:

#1. Tim Lincecum will start the year in it.  He'll be out of it before the minor league season ends.

Forget the September callup.  Tim, who has picked up the nickname ‘The Enchanter' among some Giants followers, will be starting the year in the minors, almost certainly as a starter in Frenso.  However, he will be part of the San Francisco Giants sometime this year.  The question is where, and that will depend on the players ahead of him and where a spot opens up.  That would appear to be the bullpen, where depth is really an issue as several young pitchers that were hoped to rebound have not. 

Expect Lincecum to be called up in August, perhaps July if the cause is injuries.

#2. Nate Schierholtz will have a banner year.

Fresno is made for Nate.  Nate has by far the best power in the system (over 18-years old), and Fresno is a hot park that plays small in a hitter's league.  Nate will continue to have strikeout issues, but expect his walks to increase this year to a certain degree, and his slugging percentage should end up north of .500, with more than 20 homers as long as he remains healthy.

#3. Dan Griffin will emerge as the next big, exciting Giants starting pitcher prospect.

This isn't a slight to guys like Misch, Pereira, Romo, Martinez or the many other starters who had good years last year.  They all remains good prospects.

However, Griffin is one of those big guys with a big fastball, a big curveball and who just screams exciting.  He had a disappointing 2006 that was ended in July by injury just when he was bouncing back from a poor start to the year.  He's coming back from injury with a little more velocity on his fastball, and is looking outstanding in camp.  His fastball has good life to it and his curveball is swing and miss variety.  If his changeup improves he could move quickly through the system…again, as long as he can stay healthy.

#4. The Giants Single-A teams could be some of the most dominating at their levels.

Last year, the Giants Single-A teams all made the playoffs.  Augusta had a strong 2nd half run and Salem-Keizer is accurately calling last year's team the ‘Best Ever' in the Northwest League.

This year, Salem-Keizer's core squad, as well as the majority of Augusta's Southern Division championship team, will be split between San Jose and Augusta.  Both squads will also get graduates from the traditionally strong AZL squad that came close to playoffs last season.  Powered by a strong draft in 2006, both squads should continue to be run fine between 2005's California League Manager of the Year Lenn Sakata, and 2006's South Atlantic League Manger of the Year Roberto Kelly.

And then Salem-Keizer should look very strong, as they are likely to sport most of the Giants 6 picks of the top 51 in the strong 2007 entry draft.

#5. If you like baserunning, run to San Jose.

Last year, Brian Anderson set a league record for saves in a season.  This year, the team could set a record for steals in a season.  While the rosters are not yet set, the squad is likely to include:

Antoan Richardson – 106 steals in 121 attempts in 177 career games.
Marcus Sanders – 113 steals in 131 attempts in 230 career games.
Emmanuel Burriss – 35 steals in 46 attempts in 65 games in his pro debut.
Michael Mooney – 38 steals in 48 attempts in Augusta in 2006, including being successful in his first 25 attempts.
• Ben Copeland – 30 steals in 51 attempts in 2006.

Other possible team members include OF Michael McBryde (rated as one of 2006's fastest players even after a hamstring injury in college), IF Eugenio Velez (64 SB in 79 attempts in 2006), and OF Joey Dyche (13 SB in 17 attempts in 47 games before injury in 2006).  With Sakata at the helm, this team could run laps around a lot of track treams.

#6. Brian Anderson will continue to be a successful closer.

Because of convention, the Giants will be conservative with pushing Anderson, as would any team.  However, they will push him.  Expect to see Anderson throwing in Connecticut this year, and there he should continue to be as effective as ever.  You may start seeing the strikeouts drop and the walks rise as he begins to face more disciplined hitters, but the walks shouldn't rise much as he is almost always around the zone.  However, his pitches will continue to be hard to hit, and the Eastern League's saves record is quite possibly in jeopardy.

#7. Fresno will finally have a competitive year.

It's been a long period of suffering for fans of the Fresno Grizzlies.  The Grizz have been cellar dwellers for most of their time of existence, and have been hurt by the Giants farm system problems in the past.  This year, they may not be top contenders in the league, but fans should be able to expect a quality team.

The outfield will almost certainly be anchored by two PCL vets in Fred Lewis and Dan Ortmeier, with both expected to have better years than last year, and power will be found in likely right fielder Nate Schierholtz.  Meanwhile, the rotation will be anchored (at least to start the year) by Tim Lincecum, but will have good depth with Pat Misch and Nick Pereira likely returnees.  Billy Sadler should be a very good closer for the team.  The team also added some veteran experience via free agency, most notably in minor league free agent third basemen Justin Leone (20+ HR twice in the last 3 PCL seasons) and Scott McClain (28 HR with Sacramento last year) and pitchers Sun-Woo Kim and Scott Atchinson (2.34 ERA with Tacoma last year).

Add in to this mix longtime Giants minor leaguers Chad Santos (17 HR at 3 levels last year, including 1 in the majors), Guillermo Rodriguez (13 HR in 65 games last year between San Jose and Fresno), and Chris Begg (Career 3.05 ERA in 4 seasons of affiliated ball), and this team should do more than just exist in 2006.  The only thing holding them back is the possible plundering by the big league team, but that is less likely this year than previous years.

#8. This year's sleeper who is about to wake up: Ben Copeland.

Copeland got little respect coming out of Pitt, and a poor start to 2006 overshadowed what was overall a very nice year.  This year, he'll get pushed, but expect him to respond.  He's got an intriguing mix of power and speed, and is an exemplary defender.  He should be a much more efficient base runner this year, which will raise his effectiveness.  As a #2 hitter for a good team, he could score well over 100 runs, and put together a fair number of RBI himself.

#9. The system will have the biggest influx of talent in a long time.

Last year, the system added two of the top-rated young players in all of baseball in Tim Lincecum and Angel Villalona, as well as having a strong draft to add very exciting talent in Emmanuel Burriss, Clayton Tanner and dozens f players who had impacts.  But that is nothing, as the team will have 6 of the first 51 picks in the major league draft in June.  That is easily the most the Giants have ever had at the top of the draft, with the only other draft coming remotely close being the weak 1998 draft, which added Tony Torcato (#19), Nate Bump (#25), Arturo McDowell (#29), Chris Jones (#38) and Jeff Urban (#42) to the system.  The Giants should do much better in what appears to be a much stronger draft.

The Giants will pick at #10 (the pick with which they picked up Lincecum last year), #22 (From the Dodgers for Jason Schmidt) and #29 (From the Mets for Alou) in the regular first round, and then will pick at #32 (they got Burriss at #33 in last year's weaker draft), #43, and #51 in the Sandwich Round.

Of course, it's hard to say who the Giants will get and what level of talent it will be as early as it is, but this year's draft is deeper in talent than last year's, with a very strong high school class coming out and serious depth of high-level catchers, a position the Giants need help in.  Expect to see at least one fast-moving prospect, and probably at least two young high schoolers who will be given time to develop slowly among these 6 picks.  The Giants will not draft again until Round 5 after those first 6 picks, but it's a good tradeoff to have that many picks in the all-important first rounds of the draft.

#10. After this year, the Giants will be considered one of the Top 10 systems in the Majors.

The Giants have already begun earning respect with a lot of depth at the lower levels of their system, and particularly a couple of very strong drafts the past couple of years.  They added one of the Top 10 prospects in all of baseball in Lincecum, and one of the most sought-after Domincan players in years in Villalona.

This year, a lot of that young talent will begin to mature, and move into the mid-levels of the system.  In addition to that, many of the organization's top prospects like Eddy Martinez-Esteve, Travis Ishikawa, Marcus Sanders and Dan Griffin are fully recovered from injuries that limited them in 2006.  Oh yea, and the Giants will add those 6 top draft picks to their system.

The Giants may not be Organization of the Year (yet), but will be considered one of the best this year.
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