Known for developing arms, Giants build bats too

San Francisco has MLB-best 20 hurlers on its Top 30 Prospects list

March 11th, 2016

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the San Francisco Giants.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants are renowned for their ability to scout and develop pitching, and rightfully so. Hitting on first-rounders such as Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner and stealing late-rounders such as Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez and Sergio Romo led to World Series championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that's Giants Top 30 is as pitching-heavy as any of our prospect lists. San Francisco has 20 arms on its Top 30, and only the Braves match that total.
Five questions with Giants prospect Lucius Fox
"Part of that is philosophical," Giants farm director Shane Turner said. "It's not necessarily a point of emphasis, but we always try to develop pitching. We still try to go out and get the best player we can, and a lot of times it is a pitcher.
"There was a short period of time after Barry Bonds where we did draft position players high. Now we're back in position with a solid core of position players and we needed pitching. There's a sense of urgency to develop a couple of starting pitchers in the next few years."

When San Francisco needed to fortify its rotation this offseason, it had to turn to the free-agent market and guarantee $130 million to Johnny Cueto and $90 million to Jeff Samardzija. Going forward, it hopes to rely on several internal options, including its most recent two first-round picks (Tyler Beede, Phil Bickford), a third hard-throwing righty (Sam Coonrod), crafty left-handers (Andrew Suarez, Adalberto Mejia, Ty Blach) and a finesse righty who led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in ERA last year (Clayton Blackburn). Beede has the highest ceiling but is at least a year away, while Blackburn and Blach already have spent a full season in Triple-A.
For all the credit the Giants get for finding pitchers, they don't get nearly enough credit for what they've done with position players. It's quite possible that they'll have more homegrown hitters batting in their Opening Day lineup than they'll have self-developed arms on their pitching staff.
MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports
Buster Posey was a No. 5 overall pick, but none of the rest of the starting position players were regarded as can't-miss prospects. Joe Panik was a first-round choice by the Giants, but most other clubs had him rated as a second- or third-rounder. Brandon Crawford was a fourth-rounder, Brandon Belt a fifth-rounder and Matt Duffy an 18th-rounder.
San Francisco has more hitting talent on the way too. Its top two position prospects are a pair of shortstops in sweet-swinging Christian Arroyo and switch-hitting speedster Lucius Fox. Power-hitting outfielders Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker are the leading candidates to offer immediate help.
Camp standouts
Arroyo reinforces his reputation as one of the best pure-hitting prospects in the game every time he swings a bat. A career .303 hitter in the Minors, he has gone 5-for-10 with more extra-base hits (two) than strikeouts (one) in big league camp this spring. That's not really a surprise to the Giants, who saw him do the same thing (4-for-8, one double, one whiff) last spring as a 19-year-old.
"He's similar to Joe Panik in that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness -- they have the hand-eye coordination to put a lot of balls in play," Turner said. "Christian can be more patient. He thinks he can put any ball in play and that's not always a good thing. He'll learn that.
"He's getting better at controlling his emotions. He's very competitive and you can see that, but now he's a little calmer. I think that's more confidence."
The Giants have one of their most promising power hitters in years in first baseman Chris Shaw, a 2015 first-rounder who led the Short Season Northwest League with 12 homers and a .551 slugging percentage in his pro debut. Turner said Shaw may have the most raw pop the system has seen since Damon Minor and Pedro Feliz in the late 1990s.
"Chris Shaw has been swinging the bat outstanding this spring," Turner said. "There are a lot of guys who can show you raw power in batting practice, but Shaw shows you in games. We asked him to do some things to improve his agility as first base, and he came in in great shape."

Breakout candidates
Right-hander Jordan Johnson missed most of his first two years at Cal State Northridge because of Tommy John surgery and had a nondescript season as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, yet San Francisco signed him for $100,000 as a 23rd-round choice. He started to come on last year, recording a 32/1 K/BB ratio in the Rookie-level Arizona League and finishing with six strong innings in the Class A Advanced California League championship series.
Armed with a lively 93-96 mph fastball that can reach 98, Johnson could really take off once the Giants turn him loose this year.
"The scouting department did a great job of thinking outside the box and what this kid could be if he's the best he can be," Turner said. "He has a great body, he's tall, he works with great angle and with very good sink. The secondary pitches are there, he throws a lot of strikes and he's very competitive. If he stays healthy, he has a chance to move real fast."
Ronnie Jebavy is another Giants prospect starting to make a name for himself. He gained a small measure of fame last spring when he twice made ESPN's "SportsCenter" top 10 plays of the day with spectacular catches in center field while at Middle Tennessee State, then showed flashes of all-around talent after signing as a fifth-round pick.

"He's an athlete and he's a strong kid who's going to get stronger," Turner said. "He can run and he might hit 15 homers and find the gaps and play a Gold Glove center field. He brings a lot of energy to the park. We like him a lot."