Merkin Valdez, RHP
Valdez has been dangling a carrot in front of the Giants since they acquired him from Atlanta in the Russ Ortiz deal. He's got unlimited potential and has shown big, bold flashes of the form the club hopes will lead him to be a front-end starter someday. He's coming off some elbow problems at the end of last season and has been inconsistent with his off-speed offerings in the past. The stars are almost aligned with Valdez, who was 5-6 with a 3.53 ERA at Double-A Norwich last year. He'll see if he can bring them all together this season in the Pacific Coast League. "He's done very well this spring, we're very pleased," Hiatt said. "We haven't defined a role for him yet, so his future is up in the air. He can start, but he's doing so well in short relief for the Major League club, which has been very satisfying."
Kevin Frandsen, IF
The 12th-rounder out of San Jose State (2004) grew up in the shadow of Candlestick Park and his impending arrival in San Francisco would make for one heck of a feel-good story. He made three stops in '05, going coast to coast and back, starting in the California League, heading to Connecticut to play in the Eastern League, then finishing up with Fresno in the Pacific Coast League. He hit .335 along the way and even found time to make a stop for the Futures Game in Detroit. Frandsen also played in the Arizona Fall League, giving the Giants their money's worth last year. A scrappy player if there ever was one, don't be surprised if he sneaks off the Fresno roster and onto San Francisco's early this season. "He's an outstanding young player and though he's primarily a second baseman, he's been taking grounders at other positions," Hiatt said. "He has great gifts and he's a gamer with a very good bat. He's done very well this spring. I assume he'll start in Fresno, but we'll see how things work out. We're grooming him for the big leagues and one day he'll be there."
Kevin Frandsen hits a three-run HR for Norwich
Frandsen with a two-run blast for Mesa
Brian Wilson, RHP
The Giants gambled on Wilson making a full recovery after Tommy John surgery, drafting him shortly after he went under the knife in 2003. It paid off as the 24th-round pick from Louisiana State proved to be a force as he continued his comeback in '05. Though he was a starter in college, Wilson spent last season in the 'pen as he worked his way back, appearing in 50 games and tossing 60 innings at three levels. He was 6-2 with a 1.35 ERA, had 21 saves and didn't allow a home run. He's got a plus fastball and a solid curve and changeup, and could jump onto the San Francisco staff quickly, though some more seasoning at Fresno might be in order. "[Vice President of Player Personnel and former Major Leaguer] Dick Tidrow moved him from the starting rotation into the pen for short relief and he waltzed his way through the system last year," Hiatt said. "He's aggressive and he throws strikes, and we're pleased to have him. His arm scared some people away but we knew he'd come back, and by golly, we got fortunate to have a real good young arm."
Brian Wilson closes out the SAL ASG
Eddy Martinez-Esteve, OF
This Florida State product can hit, there's no doubting that. He collected 17 homers and 94 RBIs last season in the California League and is ready to take on the best the Eastern League has to offer. There have been questions about his defense, though, and whether or not he can handle playing every day in the outfield. He's had a few injury setbacks (shoulder and hamstrings) that have hampered his ability on the field. Martinez-Esteve will get some new life in the infield -- though he's pedestrian the Giants are hoping he may adapt well to first base.
Eddy Martinez-Esteve with a solo HR for San Jose
Nate Schierholtz, OF
With a name like that, he should have gone to the Braves. The Giants are thankful they have him, though, after grabbing him in the second round of the 2003 draft. He's made a steady ascent through San Francisco's system, putting up big numbers last season for San Jose of the California League. Schierholtz hit .319 (sixth in the league) with 15 homers, 86 RBIs and 160 hits (tied for fourth on the circuit). He was also tied for the lead in outfield assists (15), despite it being his first full season in right field after moving from third base. "Nate has a beautiful swing and is a gifted hitter with power," Hiatt said. "He's a line-drive type of hitter, and he has a better-than-average throwing arm."
Nate Schierholtz hammers a solo shot
Others to watch include: Marcus Sanders, IF; Fred Lewis, OF; Dan Ortmeier, OF; Jeremy Acardo, RHP; Brian Anderson, RHP; Clay Timpner, OF
Dan Ortmeier lines a double for Norwich
Clay Timpner homers on his 5-for-7 day vs. High Desert
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Sandoval won't turn 20 until August but began to show flashes of brilliance last season at Salem-Keizer after two seasons of playing Rookie ball. He hit .330 in 75 games while driving in 50 runs. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (33:21) was also better than you would expect from someone so young. Though he hit only three homers, the Giants are counting on him reaching double digits in that department. He figures to develop more as a third baseman, last season being his first at the position. We'll see how he fares in Class A this season.
Jon Sanchez, LHP
A 27th-round pick in 2004, this former NAIA star had 166 strikeouts in 126 innings last season for Augusta. His fastball reaches the mid-90s and he has a fluid, effortless delivery. "Jon was one of the premier pitchers in the Sally League last season," Hiatt said. "He's a willowy left-hander with an explosive arm and a great breaking ball. The ball just explodes. This young man is on a quick trip to the big leagues. He's needs a little better command and some more experience. So far, though, he's been a sensation in Major League camp."
Primed for breakout
Travis Ishikawa, 1B
Some might categorize Ishikawa's 2005 season as a breakout year. After all, he did hit .282 and post career highs in homers (22) and RBIs (79). But he was on a successful team in the hitter-friendly California League, so a truer test of his ability will come this year when he starts out in the Double-A Eastern League, a circuit know for strong pitching, some cold early-season games and a spacious home park. The Giants expect Ishikawa to handle Double-A with aplomb, and if he does, this will be a much bigger breakout season than the one he experienced in '05.
Travis Ishikawa cranks a two-run homer
2005 Draft recap
1. Ben Copeland, OF
.315 BA, .372 OBP, .514 SLG
The Giants' first selection in the draft didn't come until the 132nd pick in the fourth round but that didn't seem to stop them from landing a productive player. Copeland led the Big East -- not traditionally a college baseball powerhouse conference -- in many offensive categories and set several school records at Pittsburgh. He hit five homers and drove in 37 runs in 181 at-bats last season, splitting time between the Arizona and Northwest Leagues. He's a slightly better than average outfielder, committing two errors in 67 chances overall, having played mostly center field in the Arizona League before spending the bulk of his time in left upon his promotion. "He did an excellent job for us last year and he knows how to hit," Hiatt said. "In fact, recently in an intra-squad game [Noah] Lowry came over to pitch from the Major League team and Ben got the only two hits off him. He's a good-looking kid."
Ben Copeland belts a three-run HR for Salem-Keizer
2. Daniel Griffin, RHP
3-2, 1.99 ERA, 49 2/3 IP, 42 H, 18 BB, 69 K
At 6-foot-7, Griffin is certainly impressive and imposing on the mound. He led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (13.8) at Niagara and continued to flash that power upon turning pro. His fastball touches the mid-90s and he has a promising curveball. With all pitchers his size, though, mechanics can become an issue. Once he figures out how to get all the parts in proper working order, he should move quickly.
Organizational MVP: Grit counts as much as anything else, and Kevin Frandsen certainly has grit. He's a jack-of-all-trades who seems to get better each time he takes the field, so it's not a stretch to assume he'll take this honor as well.
Best pitcher: Wins won't tell the whole story this season. Saves will factor into this decision, and that's why Brian Wilson gets the nod. The intriguing right-hander had such a dominating season in 2005 that we're anxious to see how he tops it in '06. Here's to thinking he will.
Get a load of these guys: The Giants will have some fine clubs in their system this season, but it would appear that Connecticut (formerly the Norwich Navigators) in the Double-A Eastern League will have the edge, at least for now and on paper. With all the talent that helped San Jose win a California League title last year moving up a level, the Eastern League had better beware the Defenders.
Big things are coming for: David Maroul, the 23rd pick out of Texas. Maroul had an impressive yet relatively unscrutinized debut last season after helping the Longhorns win the College World Series, where he was named Outstanding Player. He combined to hit .275 with six homers and 32 RBIs in 204 at-bats between the Arizona and Northwest Leagues. He's outstanding defensively and will garner a great deal more attention this year.
Hiatt on Ishikawa:
"Our Double-A park [Thomas Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Ct.] is not hitter-friendly. It's one of the biggest baseball parks in America. So if you're a 22- to 30-home run guy like Travis Ishikawa, then you probably won't reach that in that park. But there are other parks in the Eastern League where he will have his good luck, but home games will be difficult to hit home runs. It does have an impact on young hitters, but it doesn't bother us. It only helps the player use the whole diamond and cut down on strikeouts. So far, though, he's done an excellent job."