3.03.2006

Spring News on Prospects

Two nice articles on sfgiants.com about prospects.

First is specifically on Fred (Freddie to friends) Lewis. It is a typical Rich Draper story - even though the stories are not subject to the MLB or team approval, he tends to be pretty much a homer when he writes, so there's nary a cloudy day when it comes to the Giants. And this one was no different, for the most part.

There were some interesting tidbits of info there. First, our new Giants Minor League hitting instructor, Bob Mariano, who, unlike his predecessor, is willing to travel and go help his charges, did a good job with Lewis. Lewis was struggling to hit in the first half, compiling a .226 average. Then Mariano works with him, getting him to move his arms, and he raises his average to .273. (Oddly enough, since Lewis is known more for his speed and leading off, Draper noted Lewis' "career-high 47 RBI" instead of noting his runs scored. BTW, neither was a career high, he scored 79 runs in 512 AB but in 2004 scored 91 runs and drove in 59 runs. He did have a career high 28 doubles.)

That was quite a climb. From my stats, which only capture week by week stats, I had him at a .227/.311/.337/.648 batting line as of June 27, which was about the closest I could get to the .226 that was quoted - after that his average took off, so I think that June 30 was the half way point used (most people use the ASG as the "first half"; also, the minor league season is shorter than the majors so the first half is reached before the end of June, about a week before). From June 28 to the end of the season, Lewis had 78 hits in 239 AB and 64 games, scoring 40 runs and driving in 28 runs, with 16 doubles, 4 triples, and 3 HR with a batting line of .326/.423/.464/.887, which was more like what we Giants fans were hoping from him in 2005.

Mariano said that Lewis listened, learned, and produced. That's good, if true, I have seen some observers note that he sometimes was lacksidaisical about learning or applying his learning. He also noted that Lewis "caught fire and hit some balls harder than I've seen in 25 years." Don't know Mariano enough to know if that is total B.S. or what, so take that with a grain of salt. He is, after all, talking about one of the team's top prospect, you can't really rip him in the press yet but, on the other hand, you don't shine them on either, or at least you shouldn't, since he can read this as well, so there must be some truth in that statement.

Interesting, Lewis boasts "I know in my heart I'm ready to play here, but it's not up to me." That's big talk for someone whose batting line in Norwich was only .273/.361/.396/.757 with 7 HR in 512 AB. Hopefully he can back up the talk in AAA in 2006 and be ready to come up in 2007. Alou or Bonds could be gone, or both, leaving just Winn in CF and Linden, Lewis, Ortmeier, and perhaps Ellison to battle for the two positions, assuming Sabean doesn't sign someone to play either or both corner OF positions.

He also appears to be taking advantage of being in spring training. He says he watched Barry Bonds and other Giants LHH (are there any other LHH we want him learning from? :^) and learned to use his lower body at the plate, boosting his power by using his legs more, generating more power from the bottom half of his body. He says it feels like the ball is jumping off his bat. Again, the proof in the pudding is if he can do this in AAA. And this is the year to do it, he is getting old for a baseball prospect, raw or not, at 25 years old.

The discouraging part of the interview comes at the end. He says, "I feel I've learned the game more and I'm still learning about hitting and running, knowing when to move the runner over, which base to throw to from the outfield." Well, after 4 professional seasons, one would hope that he would have learned such elemental things already. Hopefully he's not that polished a speaker and misspoke on that. He's got two seasons to show that he belongs in the big show before his prospect status becomes null and void when he turns 27 and the spector of journeymanship beckons.

Bits About Other Prospects

The second article covers a number of prospects. First off is Matt Cain. He's still saying all the right things. Though he has been labeled the fourth starter for the team, he noted maturely, "The way stuff has happened in the past and in general, you won't believe you're on the team until you're there -- in San Francisco" (FYI, he tossed 2 IP of shutout 2-hit ball today). "That's the way I have to think about it. If I don't throw well, somebody else will be throwing good, so I feel I have to throw the ball well to guarantee that spot."

That's well and good, but really, unless he totally loses it, there is almost no chance that he won't make the team. But I'm glad he's not taking it for granted, he is going to work to earn it, and that's great. But if he is not in the starting pitching rotation, our chances to win the pennant will take a hit.

There was also good news about Scott Munter. After being put on the DL for his arm problems last season, shutting him down for the season, fans would have to wonder how he will do coming back, there's always that question mark for any player coming back from injury. Well, his sinker is back and working well, he was three up, three down, all on grounders in his relief appearance today.

Apparently, SS Jake Wald has caught Felipe Alou's eyes. Alou likes Wald's power to the opposite field and will be playing him semi-regularly in Cactus League play. That's one of the benefits of the World Baseball Classic, Vizquel is playing for Venezuela and that opens up a lot of ABs for SS prospects like Wald and Angel Chavez. Chavez played 3B, however, in the first game, so it appears that they are grooming him more for a utility role at the moment. Alou noted Wald "had a big season in San Jose and earned respect as a player."

And boy, did he. He hit .293/.357/.493/.850 with 15 homers in only 304 AB, or 20 AB per homer. He also drove in 62 runs and scored 56 runs. His main flaw - as it is with most hitters - is that he strikes out a lot - 87 in those 304 AB. That's a horrible contact rate and he needs to reduce strikeouts while increasing his walks. Plus he's 24 years old in a league where most top prospects are 21-23, like Ishikawa, EME, Schierholtz, and Frandsen were. But he still ranked highly in a number of statistical categories. His SLG ranked 26th in the league among players with over 250 AB and his OPS ranked 33rd. His highest rank was in AB/HR, where he was 13th (tied with Ishikawa).

He's an interesting prospect, one that I consider underrated given the lack of notice he got. But that is kind of understandable because a lot of our top prospects were on that San Jose team. Players like EME, Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Frandsen, Bowker, Timpner, Jennings, Coutlangus, Hedrick, and Reina. Also, Bateman, Espinelli, and Waddell did well too, so it would be hard to get much notice there. But with his homerun rate, it would be very hard to ignore those numbers.

His future with the Giants, though, is foggy because Marcus Sanders is the heir apparent at the moment for the SS position. But in the event Sanders' injuries keep him from performing his duties, Wald look to be in the right place to take over that slot because Angel Chavez looks like he is going to be a utility player for the moment. Plus the Giants could use a 3B as well, as our top 3B prospect is so far down the farm system, that it could be years before he makes it to the big show, so perhaps, with his power, he might switch over to 3B, much like how Matt Williams did many years ago. The article noted his excellent defense - not sure if just game or always - so he might be able to shift to 3B without any defensive downgrade.

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