February 2013

Spring training: Giants 8, Dodgers 8 (tie) … A good sign for Tim Lincecum

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 in Glendale. Ariz. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 in Glendale. Ariz. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Another tie for the Giants. But that’s not what fans cared about from Tuesday’s game with the Dodgers.

All they wanted to know about was one guy: Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum, in his spring debut, gave up three runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.

Maybe not the results that some fans were hoping for. But it’s important to note that Lincecum rarely shines in the spring. He uses that time to get his complicated mechanics in order.

In six springs with the Giants, Lincecum has had ERAs of 6.43, 4.50, 4.03, 6.94, 4.37 and 5.70.

So while the three runs allowed may not excite you, the key stat is bases on balls: 0. However, it should be noted that Lincecum went to full counts on four of the eight batters he faced.

Lincecum got Skip Schumaker to ground to second, but an error by Kensuke Tanaka allowed Schumaker to reach. Hanley Ramirez then popped to second. Adrian Gonzalez singled to right with Schumaker taking third. The inning ended with strike-him-out/throw-him-out double play with Andre Ethier at the plate and Gonzalez thrown out at second.

In the second Juan Uribe flied to center. Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis hit back-to-back singles before Jeremy Moore doubled them both home for a 2-0 lead. That ended Lincecum’s day. Steve Edlefsen relieved and had a rougher time that Lincecum, allowing Moore to score for Lincecum’s third charged run, then allowing two more runs to scoring, giving up two hits and three walks.

“It’s a good sign when you feel the ball’s coming out of your hand better than the year before,” Lincecum told CSNBayArea.com.

Well, we’ve heard that before. Lincecum threw 22 of 38 pitches for strikes. His off-speed pitches had good movement, but most didn’t stay in the strike zone.

“There wasn’t that question if my body would be ready or if my mechanics would be working,” Lincecum said. “All that other stuff was a non-issue. The timing of my arm felt really good. I missed a few pitches high, but I meant to.

“I didn’t feel I was getting out of whack.”

Lincecum spent the winter working on core and leg strength, and he said he felt the benefits of that work on Tuesday.

“Last spring it was trying to make something out of nothing,” Lincecum said. “I didn’t have the strength or the mechanics to sustain anything. Now the question isn’t whether I’m going to throw strikes. It’s where I’m going to throw strikes.”

OTHER NOTES

  • Brandon Belt‘s two-run double in the fourth helped the Giants rally from 5-0 to 5-4 in the sixth.
  • Reliever Ramon Ramirez, hoping to earn a job in the bullpen, was less than impressive in the sixth, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk.
  • Brett Pill, trying to earn a bench job, went 2 for 5 with a pair of home runs, including the game-tying blast in the top of the ninth to complete a four-run inning. He also struck out twice. Not too surprising. Pill hits fastballs, and pitchers throw a lot of fastballs in the spring. During the season, they’ll throw to the scouting report. And when facing Pill, that means a lot of off-speed stuff.
  • Roger Kieschnick, another outfielder trying to make the team, went 2 for 3 with a double, run and strikeout.
  • Infielder Brock Bond hit a two-run homer in the ninth. The Giants, after going homerless in their first three games, belted three against L.A.

WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito both figure to get some work as the Giants face the Angels in Tempe. First pitch is 12:05 p.m., but you can watch on a one-hour tape delay on the MLB Network at 1 p.m.

Spring training: Giants 9, White Sox 9 (tie) … bullpen springs a leak

San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

All we can say about Monday’s spring training 9-9 tie against the Chicago White Sox is … get used to it, Giants fans.

The Giants blew a 9-0 lead as the White Sox rallied for seven runs in the eighth inning.

With the Giants set to lose a large chunk of its bullpen to the World Baseball Classic (Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Jose Mijares, Sergio Romo), the Giants loaded its spring training roster with pitchers. So a lot of young pitchers will get a chance to show what they can do — and what they can’t.

Through five innings Monday, the Giants were rolling to a 9-0 lead. Madison Bumgarner threw two scoreless innings, and Dan Otero, Romo and Michael Kickham followed with a scoreless inning each, marking 15 consecutive scoreless innings by Giants relievers this spring.

It wouldn’t last through a 16th inning.

In the sixth, the Giants sent in Chris Heston, who was thought to be near the top of the list of possible call-up candidates this season if the Giants need another starter. Heston had a solid season for Double-A Richmond in 2012.

On Monday, Heston gave up a single, hit a batter, then gave up a two-out, two-run triple to cut the Giants’ lead to 9-2.

After a scoreless seventh by Jake Dunning, the Giants called on Fabio Castillo to pitch the eighth.

Who is Fabio Castillo, you say. Well, that’s what we said, too.

Castillo, 24, was signed as a minor league free agent in November after seven seasons in the Rangers’ system. He went 4-1 with a 3.54 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season. His 14 games for Triple-A Round Rock marked his first stop above Double-A in his career.

On Monday, the White Sox greeted Castillo with a single, out, single and RBI double. After a walk loaded the bases and a visit from the pitching coach, Castillo walked in the second run of the inning.

That led manager Bruce Bochy to call on his son Brett for the first time his spring. Brett Bochy earned a spring training invite after going 7-3 with 14 saves and a 2.53 ERA for Double-A Richmond.

From there, the Hollywood script writers must have gone to get a beer, because Chicago’s Josh Bell greet Brett Bochy with a ground-rule double to score two runs. The next batter, Seth Loman, lauched a three-run homer to right.

“You’re nervous for him, and that probably goes with being a dad,” Bruce Bochy said. “I put him in a tough spot but he’s a tough kid. He’ll be fine.”

After a walk, and a coaching visit, Bochy settled down to end the inning with a strikeout and a forceout to third.

“Once I’m out there, the focus is on pitching,” Brett Bochy said when asked about his father handing him the ball. “Being the first time, I noticed it, but once I toed the rubber, it’s just like any other game.”

OTHER NOTES

  • OF Cole Gillespie continued his early push to become this year’s Gregor Blanco (a player signed to provide organizational depth but pushes his way onto the roster with a strong spring) by going 2 for 3 with two doubles, two runs and two RBI. We like Cole. He’s from Oregon State. Go Beavs!!
  • Hey look! Marco Scutaro is putting the bat on the ball again. He went 2 for 3 with an RBI.
  • Pablo Sandoval made his third straight start at 3B. He went 1 for 3 with a double and run.
  • Hunter Pence had a triple, walk and two runs scored in three trips to the plate.

LINK OF THE DAY

There were times late last season, when Pence would get behind in the count and had two strikes on him, you just knew he was going to swing and miss at a pitch down and away off the plate.

But as the postseason advanced, there was something about Pence that you just had to like, even when the sabermetricians told you not to. The Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins captures that here.

TUESDAY’S GAME

Tim Lincecum makes his spring debut against the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz., at 12:05 p.m. Lincecum is known for getting bounced around early in spring as he refines his mechanics, so it’s doubtful we’ll be able to draw any conclusions from this start.

Spring training: Matt Cain in pain

San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Yikes! On the same day the Yankees lost Curtis Granderson for 10 weeks with a broken arm after being hit by a pitch, the Giants got a scare when Matt Cain took a line drive off his knee in the Giants’ 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Cain hobbled around a bit after taking the liner. But made two warmup throws and remained in the game.

The results weren’t great. He gave up four runs in that first inning, although all of the runs were unearned because the rally was aided by a Brandon Belt error.

This is how Cain’s inning went:

David DeJesus flied to to center; Starlin Castro singled to center; Anthony Rizzo reached on Belt’s errant throw while trying to force Castro at second; Alfonso Soriano singled off Cain’s knee to load the bases; Nate Schierholtz grounded out on an infield nubber, scoring Castro; Dioner Navarro hits a 3-run homer; Brian Bogusevic doubled to left; Darwin Barney grounded out.

Cain came out after one inning, and had his knee wrapped in ice afterwards, but said he was fine.

“It was kind of an initial shock when you get hit,” Cain told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It takes a little bit to get the feeling back. I feel fine. It’s nothing to worry about.”

Other notes

  • Pablo Sandoval was told by manager Bruce Bochy that he would get to play in spring training games until the Panda got his weight down to a certain level. Sandoval hit that target weight and is the only Giant to play in both of the first two spring training games. He went 2 for 3 with a double and RBI on Sunday and is 3 for 5 this spring.
  • Francisco Peguero, trying to make the club as a reserve, went 2 for 3 with a double.
  • Angel Villalona made his spring training debut. He went 1 for 3, grounding to third, lining to center and adding a bloop single to left.
  • Seven relievers (Steve Edlefsen, Justin Fitzgerald, Santiago Casilla, Jose Mijares, Sandy Rosario, Dan Runzler and Heath Hembree) each pitched a scoreless inning. Most notable was Hembree, who pitched around a double in the ninth. He was topping out at 89-90 mph in his first outing of the spring.

Links of the day

A couple of nice posts on two former Giants: Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz.

Monday’s game

Madison Bumgarner takes the mound as the Giants face the White Sox at 12:05 p.m. in Scottsdale.

Spring training opener: Giants wins! Giants win! Giants win!

San Francisco Giants' Angel Pagan, right, is congratulated by Jackson Williams after Pagan scored during the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

San Francisco Giants’ Angel Pagan, right, is congratulated by Jackson Williams after Pagan scored during the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

OK, so it’s only spring training and the first game at that. But it’s always good to start with a win.

If you go back to last October, that’s eight wins in a row.

But spring training is not about wins and losses. It’s about what happens during those games.

The Giants, playing in front of a large home crowd in Scottsdale, sent out a lineup that looked a lot like the one they’ll roll out on April 1

  1. CF Angel Pagan
  2. 2B Marco Scutaro
  3. 3B Pablo Sandoval
  4. C Buster Posey
  5. RF Hunter Pence
  6. SS Joaquin Arias
  7. DH Brandon Belt
  8. 1B Brett Pill
  9. LF Juan Perez

Meanwhile, the Angels put out a lineup that looked nothing like they’ll have in the regular season.

Ryan Vogelsong gave up two hits and a walk in two scoreless innings of work.

One thing of interest. Non-roster invitee Chad Gaudin also threw two innings in relief of Vogelsong. Perhaps the Giants are looking at Gaudin as a long man and potential spot starter. He gave up the Angels’ lone run on two hits and a walk.

Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Scott Proctor, George Kontos and Jean Machi each pitched a scoreless inning.

The Giants scored two in the fourth inning on Pagan’s leadoff single and stolen base. He scored on Sandoval’s single. Sandoval scored on catcher Jackson Williams’ double.

Prospect Gary Brown relieved Pagan and helped produce a run in the sixth with a double. But he also whiffed on three swinging strikes in the seventh. Brown struck out 77 times to 46 walks for San Jose in 2011 and 87 whiffs to 40 walks for Richmond in 2012, both in 600+ plate appearances. It’s a part of his game that must get better.

The fourth Giants run came on consecutive two-out singles by Johnny Monell, Cole Gillespie and Ricky Oropesa.

Trade leaves San Francisco Giants with four players who are out of options

Conor Gillaspie

Conor Gillaspie

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he will have some tough decisions regarding the opening day roster.

Bochy’s decision became slightly easier Friday, when the Giants traded infielder Conor Gillaspie to the White Sox. The Giants received pitcher Jeff Soptic, a 21-year-old hard thrower who has battled with his control.

Gillaspie, a 2008 sandwich pick (37th overall), was one of five players on the Giants’ 40-man roster who were out of options, meaning he could not be sent to minors this season without first being sent through waivers.

Gillaspie, who was part of the Giants’ draft class that included Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, hit .287 with 37 HRs in five minor-league seasons in the Giants’ system. Gillaspie got a call-up last season when Pablo Sandoval went on the DL. Gillaspie went 3 for 20 (.150) in six games before being sent back to Fresno.

What worked against Gillaspie was that he was not versatile defensively. He was a third baseman, and was not going to pass Sandoval and Joaquin Arias on the depth chart. Even Marco Scutaro is an option at third base. Gillaspie said he was thankful for the trade and hoped to have a better chance making the White Sox roster.

The move leaves the Giants with four players who are out of options: outfielder Gregor Blanco, infielder Arias, reliever Jose Mijares and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. Blanco, Arias and Mijares are practically guaranteed of making the 25-man roster.

That leaves Petit, which will leave the Giants with an interesting decision.

One thing the Giants are lacking are big-league ready starting pitchers beyond their starting five of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong.

Last season, all five made at least 31 starters, making the Giants the only team to have five pitchers make at least 30 starts. Only twice did the Giants need an additional starter, when a doubleheader in May in New York forced the Giants to call up Eric Hacker to make a spot start against the Padres, and in September when Petit made a start after the Giants’ clinched the division title and Bochy rested his starters.

Hacker was designated for assignment in September and signed to play in Korea this winter.

Of the seven pitchers who made at least seven starters for Triple-A Fresno last season, only two are in camp this spring — Petit and Boof Bonser.

Petit went 7-7 with 3.46 ERA in a team-high 28 starts for Fresno.

If the Giants keep Petit, it will need to be as a long reliever. It would also mean the Giants would likely release non-roster invitees like Ramon Ramirez, Chad Gaudin and Scott Proctor. Or it could mean George Kontos, who pitched well for the Giants after his call-up last season, would be sent to Fresno, for the sole reason that he CAN be sent to Fresno.

If they lose Petit to trade or waivers, the top option to make a spot start could be Gaudin. Gaudin made 34 starts for the A’s in 2007, but he has not started a game since making 25 starts in 2009 for the Padres and Yankees. Chris Heston, who had a solid season for Double-A Richmond, could be first in line to get a call from Fresno.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and the MLB Network said that no team since the adoption of the five-man rotation in the early 1970s has ever had five pitchers make at least 30 starts in consecutive seasons.

Six good reasons to like San Francisco Giants’ rotation order of Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Zito and Vogelsong

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball's National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

So you’d think since we were advocating for Ryan Vogelsong to be the opening day starter that we’d be upset with Bruce Bochy’s announced rotation.

Bochy said the rotation will go like this:

  1. RHP Matt Cain
  2. LHP Madison Bumgarner
  3. RHP Tim Lincecum
  4. LHP Barry Zito
  5. RHP Ryan Vogelsong

But we don’t have any problem with this rotation, and here are six good reasons why we like this rotation.

NO. 1: Barry Zito earned the right to open the home opener when the Giants will hoist their 2012 World Series flag. It was Zito who saved the season in Game 5 of the NLCS with his gem in the fourth of the six elimination games the Giants faced last fall.

NO. 2: It sets up the right-left-right-left-right format in the rotation.

NO. 3: Putting Lincecum at the No. 3 slot instead of Vogelsong keeps Timmy’s fragile psyche in place. Vogey can handle being the No. 5 better than Lincecum, who has been the No. 1 guy the past four seasons.

NO. 4: The Giants have won the past 14 games started by Zito, and the Giants want to win their home opener.

NO. 5: Last weekend when Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum started the season opening series in Arizona — not necessarily in that order — and the Giants lost all three games, it was Zito who pitched a shutout in his season debut in Colorado. Pitching in San Francisco will be much easier.

NO. 6: It’s sets up the rotation against the Cardinals exactly as it aligned in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the NLCS: Zito, Vogelsong, Cain.

Making a case for Ryan Vogelsong to be San Francisco Giants opening day starter

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong pitches to the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong pitches to the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday that he has a pretty good idea of who is opening day starter will be. He just needs to talk to pitcher Dave Righetti and the pitcher first before announcing his decision.

Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area said “It has to be Matt Cain.” To watch Baggs talk about it, click here.

That shouldn’t come as a shock to many Giants fans, and I doubt many would argue with that choice. Heck, even Tim Lincecum was all on board for Cain getting that nod on April 1 against the Dodgers.

Lincecum has been the Giants’ opening day starter the past four years. Before that, it was Barry Zito (2007-08), Jason Schmidt (2005-06), Kirk Rueter (2003-04) and Livan Hernandez (2000-02).

Cain has earned the nod. He’s been with the Giants since 2005. He threw a perfect game last season. He started the All-Star Game. He started the first game of the postseason last season. And he started all three clinching games last postseason.

All good reasons for going with Cainer. But I’m going to offer another choice: Ryan Vogelsong.

OK, for the entire regular season in 2012, Cain was better than Vogelsong.

  • Cain: 16-5, 2.79 ERA, 219.1 IP, 193 K, 1.040 WHIP
  • Vogelsong: 14-9, 3.37 ERA, 189.2 IP, 158 K, 1.228 WHIP

But we’ll offer you several reasons for Vogey.

BEFORE THE FUNK: In seven starts from Aug. 13 to Sept. 16, Vogelsong went 2-4 with a 10.30 ERA. Yikes! But before the funk, Vogelsong was the Giants’ best pitcher. He was 10-5 with a league-best 2.27 ERA. At that same time, Cain was 10-5 with 3.01 ERA. Now while we shouldn’t punish Cain for finishing the season strong, we also shouldn’t downgrade Vogelsong for an isolated slump. After Vogelsong emerged from his funk, he finished the regular season 2-0 with 1.06 ERA in his final three starts.

POSTSEASON: Yes, Cain started the first postseason game for the Giants in 2012 and he was on the mound on all three series clinchers. But, as a whole, Cain finished the postseason 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in five postseason starts. Not bad, but no comparison to Vogelsong. Vogey went 3-0 with 1.09 ERA in four postseason starts. Cain never would have had the chance to start three clinchers if Vogelsong hadn’t kept the Giants in the game in Game 3 vs. the Reds when the Giants were being held hitless.

LAST TWO YEARS: Compare Cain and Vogelsong over 2011 and 2012, the numbers are very comparable.

  • Vogelsong: 27-16 3.05 ERA
  • Cain: 28-16 2.84 ERA

If you take out one disastrous start for Vogelsong — the Aug. 13 start last season vs. the Nationals when Vogelsong got tagged for eight runs in 2.2 innings — and the numbers are almost identical. Vogelsong’s adjusted numbers would be 27-15 with a 2.87 ERA.

SENTIMENT: Yes, Cain has never received an opening day nod despite eight great seasons with the Giants. But Vogelsong hasn’t even been on the active 25-man roster on opening day with the Giants, and that goes back to the 2000-01 seasons. In 2011, despite a great spring, he didn’t break into the rotation to open the season. He went to Fresno, but then got the call two weeks later when Barry Zito went on the DL. Last season, he got a late start in the spring because of back problems. That put him on the DL to open the season.

MORE SENTIMENT: Vogelsong has a great story. Traded by the Giants in 2001 in the Jason Schmidt deal, Tommy John surgery in 2001 that kept him out of the majors until 2003, out of major league baseball by 2006, pitched in Japan three seasons, signed and released by both the Phillies and Angels in 2010, signed by Giants in 2011, called up from Fresno in April 2011, earned All-Star bid in 2011 (although he never got in the game), hosed out of All-Star bid in 2012.

FUTURE IS NOW: Cain is 28. He’s under contract with the Giants through 2018. There will be plenty of chances for Cain to get the opening day nod. Vogelsong is 36. How many more opening days does he have?

GAME READY: Vogelsong will be pitching the World Baseball Classic for the USA. That means he will have pitched in meaningful games before the season starts.

VOGELSONG, DODGER SLAYER: In 2012, Cain was 1-0 with 2.73 ERA in four starts against the Dodgers. Not bad, but it can’t compare to Vogelsong, who was 2-1 with a 0.71 ERA in 25.1 innings against the boys in blue. Not only that, but all four starts Vogelsong made against the Dodgers came against Clayton Kershaw, the presumed Dodgers opening day starter. The point is to win the game, right? So why not go with Vogelsong, given the matchup.

Cain may be the “no-brainer” pick for opening day. But sometimes the right answer isn’t the obvious one.

So this might be the chance for Bochy to think outside the box.

So what do you say, Boch? Doesn’t chicken enchiladas sound great on opening day?

San Francisco Giants outfielder Andres Torres to play for Puerto Rico in WBC

Andres Torres

Andres Torres

It looks like this spring will be a great time to get a good look at prospects in the San Francisco Giants farm system.

The Giants lost yet another player to the World Baseball Classic.

The Giants were already losing nine players off their projected 25-man opening day roster to the WBC, plus two more in their farm system, making 11 total participants.

Well, make that 12 total participants.

Outfielder Andres Torres will play for Puerto Rico in next month’s WBC. He’ll join other Giants …

  • 2B Marco Scutaro (Venezuela)
  • 3B Pablo Sandoval (Venezuela)
  • OF Angel Pagan (Puerto Rico)
  • SP Ryan Vogelsong (USA)
  • RP Jeremy Affeldt (USA)
  • RP Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico)
  • RP Jose Mijares (Venezuela)
  • RP Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic)
  • RP Sergio Romo (Mexico)

And two prospects …

  • RP ClaytonTanner (Australia)
  • C Tyler LaTorre (Italy)

It will leave the Giants a bit thin in the outfield. When players depart for the WBC, the Giants will have just seven pure outfielders in camp — Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Francisco Peguero, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Gary Brown and Cole Gillespie. We can also expect to see Brett Pill play some innings in left field, as he tries to improve his chances of making the club with some versatility.

San Francisco Giants top 10 prospects for 2013

Kyle Crick

Kyle Crick

With the Giants’ pitchers and catchers set to report Tuesday in Scottsdale, it’s time to take a look at the top players in the Giants’ farm system.

Trades in recents have left the cupboard a little bare in the Giants’ farm system.

Most painful of all was the deal that sent pitcher Zach Wheeler to the Mets in 2011 for Carlos Beltran. That left the Giants without a postseason bid in 2011 and Beltran in a Cardinals uniform in 2012. Meanwhile, Wheeler opens the 2013 campaign as the No. 8 overall prospect by MLB.com and primed to work his way into Mets’ rotation.

Now, if he had remained with the Giants, he wouldn’t be working his way into the rotation in 2012. But the futures of Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito uncertain for 2013, it would have been nice to still have Wheeler in the wings in San Francisco.

Instead, the Giants’ top-ranked prospect is 20 and still a couple years away of helping out the big club.

Here’s a look at MoreSplashHits’ rankings of the 10 top prospects.

1. RHP Kyle Crick, 20

A sandwich first-round pick in 2011 out of high school, Crick went 7-6 with 2.51 for Low A Augusta last season. He just turned 20 in November, so he’s still very young. He has a plus fastball with a good slider. He had a 1.28 WHIP. He’s still a bit raw with a 2015 projected big-league arrival.

2. RHP Chris Stratton, 22

The Giants’ No. 1 pick (20th overall) in the 2012 draft went 0-1 with 2.76 ERA in eight games for shortseason Class A Salem-Keizer. Because the system had become a little thin of MLB-ready pitchers, the Giants plucked Stratton out of Mississippi State. But because he moved from reliever to spot starter to full-time starter for the Bulldogs, it may be a little while before Stratton’s ready for the big time. He’ll likely head to Class A San Jose this season.

3. OF Gary Brown, 24

The Giants’ No. 1 prospect in 2012 slipped a notch in 2013 thanks to an uneven 2012 season for Double-A Richmond. He finished with .279 average on .347 OBP, which isn’t great. But considering his season got off to such a cold start, his strong finish and solid Arizona Fall League were encouraging. Speed is his game, but to utilize it properly he must learn the importance of getting on base by increasing walks and his contact rate. He’s likely to head to Fresno to open the season, but a call-up in 2013 is not out of the question.

4. SS Joe Panik, 22

The Giants’ first-round pick of 2011 had a solid yet unspectacular season at Class A San Jose. But that’s his M.O. — solid but unspectacular, on defense and with the bat. But he’s a contact specialist, walking 58 times to 54 strikeouts. He hit .297 with a .368 OBP, 7 HR, 76 RBI in 130 games. He figures to move over to 2B before arriving in the bigs. But with Brandon Crawford at SS and Marco Scutaro recently signed to a three-year deal, it may be a couple of years before Panik gets his shot at starting job.

5. RHP Heath Hembree, 24

If there was one prospect who looked like he was on the fast track to the bigs after last spring, it was Hembree. When Brian Wilson went on the DL last April, some thought the hard-throwing righty would get an early call. But the Giants kept him in Fresno, where he ran into a funk in June that culminated with him battling arm troubles. After a month on the DL, he finished the season with a 4.74 ERA with 15 saves and 36 Ks and 20 BB in 38 innings. He bounced back with a solid Arizona Fall League, which put him back on track for a 2013 call as the Giants’ “closer of the future.”

6. RHP Clayton Blackburn, 20

The 16th round pick in the 2011 draft out of high school went 8-4 with 2.54 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. He looks like a 20-year-old Rick Reuschel. He has a 93-94 mph fastball with a curve and changeup, with command with all of his pitches. He’ll likely head to Class A San Jose with a big-league arrival date of 2015.

7. RHP Michael Kickham, 24

After a lackluster first full season in the Giants system in 2011, Kickham jumped from low Class A to Double-A Richmond in 2012, responding with an 11-10 mark with 3.05 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 27 starts. He’s got a good sinking fastball that can run up to 93 mph, and can add a slider, curve and changeup. He needs to cut down on walks as he had 75 in 150.2 IP last season. He’ll head to Fresno this season with a chance to make the big club by season’s end.

8. OF Francisco Peguero, 24

Giants fans got a small glimpse of Peguero late last season, and it wasn’t too impressive. He went 3 for 16 with 7 strikeouts in limited play. At Triple-A, he hit .272 with 5 HR, 68 RBI. He’s a good contact player who doesn’t walk much. He has good speed and defense, who was slowed by knee surgery prior to 2012 season. He’ll likely go back to Fresno, but we could see him again in 2013.

9. RHP Martin Agosta, 21

A second-round pick in 2012 out of St. Mary’s College, Agosta posted a 4.22 ERA in five starts in rookie league last season. A small sample. Agosta has a 94 mph fastball with a good mix of secondary pitches. Some see him as a reliever in the future. Either way, he’s a couple of years away.

10. C Andrew Susac, 22

The Giants felt good about trading Tommy Joseph to Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence deal because they had Hector Sanchez as well as Susuc in the farm system. They took a chance picking him in the 2nd round in 2011 after he missed his final year at Oregon State with an injury. His first full season in the system was bumpy. He has power, but it didn’t show at San Jose last year. He hit 9 HR, 52 RBI with .244 average in 102 games. He walked 55 times, but also whiffed 100 times. But he showed himself as a good defensive backstop.

Add one more name to San Francisco Giants’ spring roster: Angel Villalona

Do you remember when Angel Villalona was supposed to be the next Albert Pujols for the San Francisco Giants?

Yeah, it seems like a long time ago. That’s because it was more than six years ago when the Giants signed to a $2.1 million signing bonus as a 16-year-old, the largest contract the Giants had ever awarded to an international free agent at that time.

angelVSince then Villalona’s career and life have been through some dark twists and turns.

But finally, the 22-year-old first baseman has received his U.S. visa and will be joining the Giants in Scottsdale this spring.

It’s been a wild and weird tale to get to this point. Let’s recap.

He was signed on his 16th birthday as a corner infielder with huge power potential.

In 2007, his first season as a pro in the Giants system, he hit .278 with 5 HR and 38 RBI in 57 games at Rookie ball and short-season Class A Salem-Keizer.

He started 2008 as the No. 33-rated prospect by Baseball America as he was assigned to low Class A Augusta, where he hit .263 with 17 HR and 64 RBI in 123 games and played in the 2008 All-Star Futures Game.

He slipped to the No. 44-rated prospect to start 2009, when he moved to High Class A San Jose, where he hit .267 with 9 HR and 42 RBI in 74 games of an injury-filled season.

But his career took a big turn in September of 2009, when he was accused to shooting and killing a man in his native Dominican Republic in a bar altercation.

He was released from jail two months later when his family asked the judge to drop the charges after Villalona reportedly gave the dead man’s families $139,000. However, his U.S visa was revoked the next spring as his case remained unsettled.

Charges were eventually dropped, but the legal tussle and loss of visa cost Villalona two full seasons of baseball action. Despite that, the Giants added Villalona to their 40-man roster in November 2011 and invited him to spring training.

However, Villalona could not receive a new U.S. visa because his visa called for him to work as a professional athlete and Villalona had let himself go so much that the state department didn’t think he passed the eye test as an “elite athlete.”

So he stayed in the Dominican and played for the Giants Dominican League team in 2012, hitting .303 with 7 HR and 34 RBi in 44 games. He had a slash line of .303/.430/.497.

Now, he will be in a camp for the first time. And it’s impossible to know what the Giants will get from Villalona. But at 22, he’s no older than many of the college players the Giants drafted last June. The only difference is Villalona has received his most recent education from the School of Hard Knocks (and not the baseball variety).

The Giants will assess where he’s at as a player, but it’s likely he’ll start the season somewhere in Class A (Augusta or San Jose).

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