Talking about outstanding San Francisco Giants prospects is a lot like talking about what presents Santa Claus might bring you next Christmas. What it really comes down to is more a question of existence than potential gifts.
It gets worse. San Francisco grabbed the #86 spot with pitcher Kyle Crick and the #100 spot with outfielder Gary Brown. Thank god it's not a top 85 list.
I have previously described the rusted out pick-up truck up on blocks sitting in the front yard that has been the San Francisco Giants minor league system. And how it got that way. I prefer to think of San Francisco's farm system now as in the process of being finely detailed, repainted, and about to be fitted with a new V-8 engine from the BMW Corporation.
That's because a major story is developing right now in the Giants farm system. It involves four very talented young power pitchers from the South (two from Texas, one from Mississippi, one from South Carolina) who could develop into the team's next pitching dynasty.
So let's check out the San Francisco Giants starting staff and closer spot as they might look on Opening Day April 2016. As I noted in the previous post this group of pitchers features young players drafted and developed by the Giants as part of their retooled minor league template.
There's no doubt reality will be quite different: over the next three years San Francisco will sign some number of free agent pitchers and will make some number of trades. Expect the Giants to also accelerate the development of certain minor league pitchers who are ready to move up. It's intriguing to think about, but it is unlikely these players will ever all be on the same staff together:
Opening Day 2016 - Pitchers
1. Matt Cain RHP
In April 2012 the Giants tore up Matt Cain's existing contract and signed him to a six year $127.5 million extension through 2017. As it stands Cain will be the Opening Day pitcher in 2016. In the Spring of 2017 the media and fans will start to seriously talk about whether San Francisco should re-sign Cain to a new contract.
The $21 million club option the Giants have on Cain in 2018 should be non-consequential-- by then that will be bargain basement money for a top MLB starter. Matt Cain's performance in 2016 will likely be a big determining factor in whether he stays with the Giants, gets traded, or is allowed to head to free agency.
Absent an injury, Cain's body type seems like the kind that can carry his stellar career well into his mid-thirties. And Matt Cain will be only be 31 years old on Opening Day 2016.
2. Chris Stratton RHP
San Francisco made Chris Stratton their #1 pick in the 2012 draft (#20 overall). Stratton is an outstanding pitching talent with great potential; in other words, he's the real deal. The Mississippi State star is developing a four pitch menu which includes a 95 MPH fastball to complement his slider, curve, and change-up.
With the Giants likely losing starters Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum after the 2013 season, Stratton may have the chance to be a major contributor as a member of the Giants' starting staff well before Opening Day 2016 comes around.
The Giants' organization is also hoping Stratton will be a distraction for their fans as former #1 draft pick Zack Wheeler becomes a dominant National League starter for the New York Mets in the next few years.
Wheeler, who throws a 98 MPH fastball and is rated #8 in MLB.com's top 100 prospects, was traded by San Francisco to the Mets in 2011 for Carlos Beltran. In April 2016 Chris Stratton will be 25 years old.
3. Madison Bumgarner LHP
Is there a more solid, talented #3 starter in the National League? No-- not now, and not in 2016. Bumgarner's 2012 season defines the depth of San Francisco's starting pitching: 191 SO and 49 BB in 208.1 IP; a 1.114 WHIP and 16 wins. He's fearless, tough, and wants to win.
Madison Bumgarner could easily be #2 behind Cain and would be the ace on any number of MLB teams. The beautiful thing about Bumgarner is his incredible level of experience-- became a starter for the Giants 2010 at the age of 20 and has been on two World Series Championship teams and won 3 Series games. All by the age of 23. Bumgarner will be 26 on Opening Day 2016.
4. Kyle Crick RHP
In the past year Crick passed up Gary Brown on just about every legitimate Giants' top ten prospects list in North America. Crick is a strapping 6' 4" former Texas high school player with a power fastball and a slider that could develop into a deadly out pitch.
The Giants picked Kyle Crick second in the 2011 draft (after Joe Panik), and #49 overall in the draft. That pick was a gift from the Dodgers as compensation for signing former Giants Juan Uribe as a free agent in 2011. Crick put up some breakout numbers in Single A Augusta last season, including a 128 SO and 75 hits allowed in 111.1 IP.
Much like Chris Stratton, if Crick continues to develop quickly he could get a chance to make the team before the 2016 season. But absent a setback, expect to see the big Texan during introductions at AT&T Park on Opening Day 2016. On that day Crick will be 23 years old.
5. Clayton Blackburn RHP
Blackburn joins Crick and Stratton as the Giants' three Southern power starters currently tearing up the minor leagues. From Amarillo, Texas, Blackburn has a wicked 95 MPH fastball that sinks at the plate and effectively smothers power hitters-- he only allowed 3 home runs in 22 starts last season. Blackburn is also working on the usual complementary pitches to round out his resume.
Joining teammate Crick in Single A Augusta in 2012, Blackburn put up some stunning numbers: 8-4, 131.1 IP, 143 SO, and only 18 walks! The 1.020 WHIP says it all. Clayton Blackburn is giving notice that he could become a dominant National League starter in a few years. He's only 20 this year and will be all of 23 in April 2016.
Heath Hembree RHP - Closer
He's been part of the Giants organization since he was drafted in 2010 (5th round) along with Gary Brown. Hembree has 56 saves in three minor league seasons, and was sailing along until he joined Triple A Fresno last season and put up a 4.74 ERA and 20 walks in 38 IP. An elbow injury last season hobbled Hembree, but the 24 year old power pitcher's time to crack the San Francisco bullpen should be at hand in 2013.
It will take time for Giants fans to adjust to the fact that Sergio Romo is not only San Francisco's closer, he's rated as one of the top closers in the game right now. Romo doesn't have that dominating fastball fans have come to expect in a closer, but his 2012 line was simply extraordinary: 55.1 IP, 0.849 WHIP, 63 SO, 10 BB, 37 hits, 1.79 ERA, 14 saves. And he only became the closer in August.
Romo also had 4 saves and a win in the 2012 postseason, including 3 saves in the World Series sweep against Detroit. In the entire postseason he gave up 1 run, 4 hits and 1 BB in 10.2 IP with 9 SO and a 0.469 WHIP. Hello.
Hembree could be worked into the bullpen easily over the next two years and end up being that power closer big league clubs and fans traditionally look for; but if he's going to be San Francisco's Opening Day 2016 closer Heath Hembree's 2013 season will be a critical test.