Top Giants Middle Infield Prospects

Top Giants Middle Infield Prospects

In Part III of our series on the top San Francisco Giants Prospects, we examine the organization's top middle infielders. Many of these prospects have played for the big league club this year, as both second base and shortstop are areas of dire need for this franchise.

Second Base

After being manned by Ray Durham for the past five and a half years, the Giants' second base job is now officially up for grabs, since the veteran was dealt to Milwaukee just prior to the deadline for a couple of fringe prospects (OF Darren Ford and LHP Steven Hammond).  This past off-season, the team had hoped that Kevin Frandsen could build on his strong 2007 finish (.367/.429/.561 in his final 31 games after receiving special batting practice instruction from home run king Barry Bonds), but a ruptured left Achilles tendon in March derailed his season before it began. 

Frandsen has been diligent in his rehab.  The scrappy 26-year old has recently begun hitting, taking ground balls, and running the bases, still hoping to return before the season is done.  Whenever he does return, he will find the competition has stiffened in his absence.  Rookies Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez, Ivan Ochoa, and Travis Denker have all seen time there this year, and come 2009, the Giants will have no shortage of competitors for the starting second base job.  Denker could be a real dark horse, especially if Frandsen stumbles and Burriss returns to shortstop.

In the long-term, though, each of those players will eventually make way for a second-year pro out of Francis Parker High in San Diego who has frequently been compared to the Phillies' Chase Utley.

San Francisco Giants Top Five Second Base Prospects

1. Nick Noonan

2. Kevin Frandsen

3. Emmanuel Burriss

4. Travis Denker

5. Eugenio Velez

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Nick Noonan – 2008 - .279/.315/.415 – 27 2B, 7 3B, 9 HR, 68 RBI – 29-of-33 SB (88%)

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

1st round (supplemental) – 32nd overall – 2007 – DOB – 5-4-89 – Bats – Left

Noonan, the Giants' fourth of six first round picks in 2007, has been called a five-tool player and was deemed the among the most polished of all high school hitters in the ‘07 draft (he hit .505 with 32 home runs and 156 RBI in his prep career).  He came out of the gate strong, batting .316/.357/.451 in the AZL his first pro season, and he backed that up with a fairly solid second season in Augusta at the tender age of 19.  Despite struggling with increased strikeout (98) and decreased walk totals (23) this season, he is generally considered a solid contact hitter with good plate discipline to match nice foot speed and strong base running instincts (as evidenced by his 87% career SB rate in 54 attempts). 

A shortstop in high school, he has made playing second look easy.  Noonan has above average range, moving better to his left than his right, but he can still make the difficult off-balance throw to first.  On-field knowledge may be his greatest asset.  He's been described as a smart defender who plays the cut-off extremely well.   Noonan could begin next year with San Jose, although there have been rumors that he could jump straight to Double-A.  Could top out as a .290-.300 hitter with 30 doubles, 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

Kevin Frandsen – 2007 - .269/.331/.379 – 5 HR – Positions Played – 2B, 3B, SS, RF, LF

National League – San Francisco Giants – 60-day disabled list

12th round – 2004 – DOB – 5-24-82 – Bats – Right

Frandsen may ultimately be best suited to a utility role, but when healthy, he is the most polished of the Giants 2B prospects and will be given every opportunity to win the starting job in 2009.  In four minor league seasons (979 at bats), Frandsen is a career .327/.391/.458 hitter.  He was voted the best defensive 3B in the WAC Conference while at San Jose State, so the hot corner could be an option as well, although he's only played there 26 times as a professional.  His style of play resembles that of his childhood idol, Robby Thompson.  Likely to be assigned to the Arizona Instructional League this fall to sharpen his skills after missing most, if not all, of this year.

Emmanuel Burriss – 2008 - .283/.357/.329 – 23 BB, 24 K, 12 SB – 240 AB

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

1st round (supplemental) – 33rd overall – 2006 – DOB – 1-17-85 – Bats – Switch

The speedy Burriss was the Giants' second player drafted in 2006 behind Tim Lincecum.  He has stolen 103 bases in his first two minor league seasons.  After losing out to Brian Bocock in a three-way competition to replace the injured Omar Vizquel, Burriss was sent back to Fresno, where he was asked to play second base for the first time in his career.  When Vizquel remained sidelined longer than expected  and Bocock began to tire, the team summoned him to help fill in at short.  And when Vizquel finally returned, it was an overmatched Bocock, rather than Burriss, who was optioned to Fresno. 

Burriss has seen time at both middle infield positions this year, but in August, he made all 27 of his appearances, including 24 starts, at second base.  As rated by John Dewan's +/- system, he is +5 at second base but -6 at shortstop, and if he had enough innings to qualify, his .841 zone rating at second base would be tops in the NL and his .848 revised zone rating would be second.

He is a good contact hitter, and with his speed he could potentially be a very solid top of the order, table-setting hitter.  He's made great strides at the plate, increasing his on-base percentage from .279 to .357 overall by posting a .370 mark since May 25.  He doesn't project much long-ball power, but with that speed, he should be able to increase his double and triple totals over time.  A switch-hitter, Burriss is batting .292 versus lefties and .278 against right-handers after initially struggling badly from the left side. 

September has seen him play more shortstop than second base and GM Brian Sabean this past weekend remarked to reporters that he projects Burriss as his starting shortstop in 2009. 

Travis Denker – 2008 w/AAA Fresno – .287/.379/.485 – 19 2B, 7 HR – 202 AB

Pacific Coast League – Fresno Grizzlies – 40-man Roster

21st round – 2003 – Los Angeles Dodgers – DOB – 8-5-85 – Bats – Right

Did You Know?

The last time the Giants and Dodgers swung a deal was in back 1985 when San Francisco acquired outfielder Candy Maldonado from Los Angeles in exchange for catcher Alex Trevino.

Denker was acquired by the Giants last August from the Dodgers in exchange for pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.  He has nice hands that generate good bat speed and surprising pop for a young man of his stature (he is listed at 5'9" and 205 lbs).  He was struggling to begin the year at Connecticut, batting just .184 with 25 K in 76 at bats, when the club logically decided the best course of action would be a promotion to Fresno.  The unusual move worked, as Denker hit .333/.433/.529 in 51 AB before earning another promotion, this time to the major leagues.  Adequate defensively, he slugged an impressive .486 with four doubles, a triple and a home run in just 37 at bats with the big league club .  He made an immediate impact with seven hits in his first 18 at bats, but then struggled to adapt to occasional playing time.  He was sent back to Fresno at the break to play more regularly after collecting just two hits in his final 19 at bats.  He hit .301 with 5 home runs in the final month of the minor league season to finish off a very strong year for the recently-turned 23-year old.

Eugenio Velez – 2008 MLB - .228/.266/.342 – 10 2B, 5 3B, 12 SB – 202 AB

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active roster

Signed as amateur free agent – 2001 – Toronto Blue Jays – DOB – 5-16-82 – Bats – Switch

Velez was the SAL Player of the Year in 2006 (.315/.369/.557 with 29 2B, 20 3B, 14 HR and 64 SB) after the Giants selected him in the December 2005 Rule V draft, and he is one of the fastest players in all of baseball with 118 stolen bases over the past two seasons.   He impressed the club last September by going 3-for-11, with 2 triples and 2 walks in 13 plate appearances, while also recording a perfect 4-for-4 in SB. 

He began this year by hitting safely in 7-of-his-first-8 games (batting .292), consequently earning playing time and starting 25 times in the club's first 49 games.  By mid-May, however, his batting line had slipped to .207/.244/.322 and he had been caught stealing five times in 13 attempts, prompting the team to send him back to Triple-A.  At Fresno, he found his hitting stroke, batting .310 with a .881 OPS to earn a return ticket back a month later.  Since his return, he has hit .259 overall, including .304 over his last 21 games.  With his tremendous speed, he could be a serious offensive weapon if he can hit major league pitching.

Defensively though, Velez is bad.  No mincing words here; he's not good with the leather.  With six errors, his fielding percentage at second is just .959 while his .765 RZR and .750 ZR would rank at the bottom of the league if he qualified.  John Dewan's +/- system rates him a -5 in 300 innings.  Ground balls can be an adventure and pop ups seem at times to mystify him as well.  Hoping to have found a Chone Figgins-in-the-rough, the Giants tried him at third base in spring training, but found the match incompatible defensively.  His best option – if he can first overcome his struggles at the plate – may be as an outfielder (where the club is already stocked), especially if the team is serious about emphasizing defense up the middle.  Seriously, he's just not good with a glove.

Honorable Mentions

Matt Downs – 2008 MiLB - .299/.352/.487 – 35 2B, 20 HR, 82 RBI, 25 SB

California League – San Jose Giants

36th round – 2006 – DOB – 3-19-84 – Bats – Right

A versatile player who can play left and right field as well as all four infield positions, Matt Downs is quickly rising up the organizational charts because of his bat (.312/.373/.496 career).  He is solid contact hitter with blossoming power and good speed who enjoyed a solid 2008 season.   He enjoyed a brief promotion to Fresno after Denker was recalled to the majors (.244, 3 HR – 22 G).  At San Jose, he ranked 8th (tied) in the league in home runs and 11th in runs batted in.  His .310 batting average ranked fifth and his .866 OPS was sixth best.  He tore it up down the stretch with a .352 average in August.  A natural second baseman, Downs played shortstop in a game I had a chance to see and he showed off a more than adequate throwing arm and nice range, although he also bobbled away an easy putout on a force play.

Brock Bond – 2008 MiLB - .315/.398/.364 – 15 SB, 7 XBH

California League – San Jose Giants

24th round – 2007 – DOB – DOB 9-11-85 – Bats – Switch

Despite getting off to a slow start for the Giants Rookie League team in '07, Bond got hot after a promotion to Salem-Keizer (.342/.453/.430 in 42 games) and hasn't cooled yet. After a good start to this season at Augusta (.333 BA, .795 OPS), he was promoted to San Jose, where he continued to hit well (.297 overall) save for a down August (.269).  Not much power here, and he hasn't utilized his speed much, but he will continue to rise if he continues to hit and reach base.

Julio Izturis – 2008 - .284/.471/.355 – 46 BB, 21 K, 24 SB (83%)

Dominican Summer League – DSL Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – DOB – 8-29-89 – Bats – Switch

 

A patient contact hitter with very good speed.  Expect Izturis to make his pro-debut next season in the AZL after showing outstanding on-base ability this year playing in the Dominican Summer League. 

Shortstop

Defensively, 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel has looked like a player in his prime  this year despite missing the club's first 36 games while rehabbing a spring training knee injury.  With just one error on the year, his .996 fielding percentage and .900 RZR would lead the league by wide margins if he had enough innings to qualify while his +10 on the Dewan +/- scale still ranks eighth best in the majors despite having played just 526 innings in the field.  At the plate, it's been a far different story, with the 41-year old batting under the Mendoza line for much of the year (.192 currently) while racking up just seven extra-base hits in over 200 at bats.

Baseball America 2008

Triple-A Best Tools

Best Defensive Shortstop

Brian Bocock

Best Infield Arm

Brian Bocock

Best Base Runner

Ivan Ochoa

Vizquel, who passed his Venezuelan idol Luis Aparicio in May for the most games ever played at shortstop, was batting just .181 at the end of July when the club made the difficult decision to bench him.  Some players with bigger egos might have made waves, but the classy Vizquel took the demotion in stride and has been a fantastic mentor both on and off the field for the team's many young infielders.  But while Vizquel maintains a desire to play again in 2009 – perhaps even going to Japan to do so – he won't likely be doing it in a Giants uniform.

With Vizquel on the bench, the team ironically turned to a one-time rising star in the Cleveland organization, Ivan Ochoa.  Like Vizquel and Aparicio, the 25-year old Ochoa is a native of Venezuela and was signed by the Indians as a young teenager.  He failed to live up to his potential with the Tribe, however, and he signed as a minor league free agent with San Francisco prior to the 2007 season.  For Fresno, he hit .310/.376/.439 in 131 games, well above the career line he posted while in the Indians' organization (.242/.320/.296).  This earned him his first shot in the majors, and despite losing out in training camp to both Bocock and Burriss for the Opening Day nod, Ochoa started 20 times at shortstop in the month of August.  He has flashed some nice leather (.991 FP, .845 RZR, +2 in 202 innings), but his bat has so far failed to match his minor league improvement (.222/.274/.303).  The Giants will play him more at second base in the final weeks and likely view him as a utility infielder rather than a starting shortstop, especially given Sabean's recent statement on Burriss.

San Francisco Giants Top Five Short Stop Prospects

1. Emmanuel Burriss

2. Brandon Crawford

3. Brian Bocock

4. Charlie Culberson

5. Ehire Adrianza

Emmanuel Burriss – 2008 - .283/.357/.329 – 23 BB, 24 K, 12 SB – 240 AB

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

1st round (supplemental) – 33rd overall – 2006 – DOB – 1-17-85 – Bats – Switch

Though better defensively at second, Burriss remains the club's best option at shortstop, at least in the short-term, and he has started eight of 10 games since August 29 on the right side of second base.  He might play in the Instructional League this year to get more action at short, but after suffering what appeared to be an oblique injury last Monday night (he was seen clutching his side running from the box and removed himself from the game after the inning), his status for the remainder of the '08 may be in doubt.  Giants fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that the injury is minor.

Brandon Crawford – 2008 w/UCLA - .302/.394/.491 – 7 HR, 51 RBI, 11 SB, 13 E, .957 FP

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

4th round – 2008 – DOB – 1-21-87 – Bats – Left

The UCLA Bruins began the 2008 season ranked number one in the country, but they ended the season in disappointment with a loss to Cal State Fullerton in the Fullerton Regional, failing to reach the College World Series.  Similarly, Crawford's season has also been described as a disappointment, although he finished it riding an 11-game hitting streak and put up respectable numbers in his junior year.  A .319/.393/.499 career hitter in college, he started all 179 games while at UCLA, 177 of them at short (the other two as a DH) and scouts count his speed, defense, and plus-arm among his best attributes.  There are questions about his bat, though, particularly after a poor showing in the '07 wood bat Cape Cod League, where he hit only .189. 

Once projected as a potential first round pick, Crawford and the Giants took negotiations down to the final day, but were able to reach a deal.  Once inked, he began his pro career by going 6-for-14 with a double and triple for the AZL Giants before finishing the year with a very brief stint at Salem-Keizer.  In his only game for the Volcanoes, Crawford went 0-for-2 at the plate while committing errors on his only two chances in the field.  He did not play in Salem-Keizer's Southwest League Championship Series loss to Spokane.

The Giants appear to be very high on the young, lefty-hitting shortstop.  He could see a quick rise through the minors, especially if Noonan stumbles and the team decides that Burriss is better suited defensively to second base.

Brian Bocock – 2008 – majors - .143/.258/.156, 29 K – minors .163/.254/.187, 39 K

Pacific Coast League – Fresno Grizzlies

9th round – 2006 – DOB – 3-9-85 – Bats – Right

 

Bocock won the Opening Day starting nod in place of the injured Vizquel based on his defense and served the team well in that regard during his short tenure (.966 FP/.857 RZR – 32 G).  But his bat is still light years away from being major league ready.  More immediately, he was placed on the minor league disabled list in June with a blood clot in his finger and did not play the rest of the year. 

Charlie Culberson – 2008 - .234/.290/.319 – 57 K, 81 G – 35 E, .901 FP

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

1st round (supplemental) – 51st overall – 2007 – DOB – 4-10-89 – Bats – Right

Culberson had a dreadful April in which he began the season with just seven hits in 67 at bats (.104) but rebounded to hit .286 in May and .293 in June before dropping off again in July (.250).  He has good feet, nice bat speed, and a strong throwing arm, but overall, it was a very inconsistent and frustrating season both offensively and defensively for the 19-year old.  Things came to a boiling point at the end of July, when Culberson broke his hand during a run-in with a metal paper towel dispenser.   The injury forced him to miss the rest of the season.  Culberson was the last of the Giants' six first round picks in 2007.

 

Ehire Adrianza – 2008 MiLB - .279/.380/.410 – 9 BB, 5 K, 15 R – 17 G

Arizona Rookie League – AZL Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – 2006 – DOB – 8-21-89 – Bats – Switch

With the Grizzlies temporarily short-handed at shortstop, the club recalled the Venezuelan born Adrianza from their Rookie League club to sub for a couple of games.  The youngster impressed by going 3-for-6 at the plate while showing off quick wrists.  Soon after his return to Arizona, he suffered a broken foot on a play at second base, but hitting coach Bert Hunter has called Adrianza was the club's best overall player this year.  A very strong defender with tremendous instincts, he has nice speed, makes good contact, and has a good eye at the plate.  A real sleeper prospect, he could rise very quickly up the charts.

Honorable Mentions

Sharlon Schoop – 2008 - .246/.305/.349 – 7 HR, 52 RBI, 35 BB, 88 K, 7 SB – 21 E – 125 G

California League – San Jose Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – 2004 – DOB – 4-15-87 – Bats – Right

 

The 21-year old native of Curacao is a defensive specialist, but he has struggled at the plate since batting .310/.437/.405 in the AZL two years ago. 

A very special thank you goes out to Phillip Ramirez, my Arizona eyes and ears, whose contributions to this report were absolutely invaluable.  Be sure to check out his AZL Giants Blog for all the latest the Giants top Rookie League prospects.   Additional thanks also go out to Wes Snow in Augusta for all of his help.

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