San Francisco Giants baseball begins today. Fans will rejoice across Northern California. But a separate, more rare breed of fans might be looking forward to Thursday with more anticipation than Monday night's matchup in Phoenix. As four Giants affiliated squads kick off their season — starting with Class-AA Richmond visiting the New Britain Rock Cats at 6:35 EDT — the organization's future have meaningful games of their own ahead of them.
Jonathan Mayo and the MLB Pipeline crew already laid out their yearly rendition of the Giants' Top-20 prospects, but which young players already on the list will prove their worth? I made some educated guesses on four in particular.
1. RHP, Clayton Blackburn
The remarkable thing about the 2014 Richmond Flying Squirrels starting rotation is that any of the five arms are capable of being the top pitcher in the Eastern League come September. Everybody is aware of the dominance Kyle Crick displayed in the California League in 2013 once he returned from his nagging oblique injury, but Clayton Blackburn is arguably the most polished of the group. At just 21 years old, the Oklahoma native will enter the thick-aired pitcher's paradise on the east coast with hopes of putting up a noteworthy season.
Here's what he's done in three professional seasons since his 16th-round selection in 2011:
Blackburn throws four pitches, with a fifth in the works — a two-seam fastball (a sinker, really), a circle changeup, a 12-6 curveball, and a slider. The slider, Blackburn says, is just his curveball that "he shapes a little differently," but the other three pitches, particularly the sinker and the curve, are Blackburn's bread and butter. Generally keeping the ball low in the zone, Blackburn prides himself in being a ground ball pitcher, though his numbers indicate he's more than capable of striking opposing hitters out (He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts in 2012). The fifth pitch is a cutter, which Blackburn mentioned he was working on last June.
It will be difficult to stand out amongst Crick, Adalberto Mejia, and Ty Blach, but Blackburn has stuff capable of placing him in San Francisco's starting rotation as early as 2015.
Projection: 11-4, 23 starts, 2.61 ERA, 131.0 IP, 102 H, 50 R, 38 ER, 30 BB, 140 K
2. C, Andrew Susac
I expect Andrew Susac's offensive numbers to explode in 2014, and my reasoning is simple. He slugged .380 with the San Jose Giants in his rookie season, then moved to Richmond in 2013 and upped his percentage by 78 points, hitting three more home runs and one more double in 99 fewer at-bats.
And just look at that swing. Putting a move like that on the ball, and considering this two-year trend, the Pacific Coast League should be a launching pad for Susac this season, barring any injuries.
Here's what his first two pro seasons have looked like:
I don't even believe Susac's offense is his upside, but a fantastic 17 games in the Arizona Fall League further progressed that part of his game as he led all players in on-base percentage (.507). His defensive skills, however, are what have always been the defining part of Susac's baseball package. Doesn't hurt that Buster Posey mentored him all spring, either.
Projection: 110 G, 385 AB, 115 H, 25 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 67 BB, 95 K, (.299/.402/.514)
3. RHP, Keury Mella
Say it with me. "CURE-ee MAY-yuh."
Keury Mella is still an incredibly raw arm. He won't turn 21 until August, and pitching for the Augusta GreenJackets starting later this week will be his first experience on a full-season team. The power arm is there, throwing fastballs with movement in the 92 to 94 range. The hook looks pretty nice, too, but even Keith Law told me he still thinks it's a work in progress, which I'm sure it is. His third offering is a changeup, and that pitch is most certainly still in need of polishing.
The 2014 year will be very telling for Mella. How will his talents project over 20-25 starts? He's in a similar place fellow Dominican Kendry Flores was, who pitched his first full season in Augusta last year. Flores had never thrown more than 66 innings in a season before logging 141.2 with the GreenJackets. I expect the same for Mella, but with slightly different results. Flores showed exceptional control in 2013, allowing 130 base runners in those 141.2 innings, including just 17 walks.
Mella will likely rack up more strikeouts than Flores, but with that will come more walks. Here are his first two years:
Scouts are high on Mella. I tend to trust scouts more than not. A confident, less-firm changeup could do wonders for him in Augusta.
Projection: 9-5, 22 starts, 2.98 ERA, 130.0 IP, 117 H, 56 R, 43 ER, 31 BB, 148 K
4. SS, Christian Arroyo
Bonus footage of Ryder Jones comes standard with this video from Jason Cole of Baseball Prospectus.
Christian Arroyo's bat speed is evident. It's what makes him so exciting at age 18. His 25th overall selection was a surprise to most in last June's draft, but he quieted that buzz and turned it positive by winning MVP in the Arizona League. Here's how he did it:
Arroyo raked. He led all players in runs, doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS. Now he'll start every day in Augusta, bypassing short-season Salem-Kezier, giving him a chance to play 120-130 games. I could see him putting up Manny Machado-type numbers, though the Orioles' star shortstop only played 38 games in the South Atlantic League at age 18 before a call-up to Advanced-A ball. Projected out to a full season, Machado could've finished the year in the 18 home runs, 72 RBIs range. Considering San Francisco will likely keep Arroyo in Augusta for the majority of 2014, barring a possible playoff recall to San Jose, Arroyo is capable of putting up similar numbers.
Projection: 130 G, 520 AB, 155 H, 45 2B, 9 3B, 16 HR, 80 RBI, 60 BB, 90 K, (.298/.375/.512)