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Once Again the Giants Have a Prospect Problem

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Buster Posey is a big leaguer. Madison Bumgarner is close. And that's about it. No one else has given the Giants confidence they can fill upcoming gaps with youth next year, and there could be several major gaps.

Shortstop and first base (or third base, if the Giants slide Pablo Sandoval across the diamond) are two positions that will be open for competition. I'll assume (o! foolish me!) Edgar Renteria isn't coming back and Posey will move behind the dish. Meanwhile, Juan Uribe and Aubrey Huff are on one-year deals with growing mojo to make contract demands the Giants might not agree with. 

In the outfield, there's all sorts of drama. Andres Torres could nail down a starting job into 2011, which should be his first arbitration-eligible year. But he might turn back into a pumpkin, or the Giants for whatever reason don't want to risk the arb award. Rowand will be under contract, as will Mark DeRosa, but counting on either to bounce back from a career-threatening slump (Rowand) or major surgery (DeRosa) is wishful at best.

John Bowker -- back in AAA and again expressing his frustration in constructive ways -- could compete for a starting job, but, fair or not, the Giants aren't going to give him a ton of slack. Same for Nate Schierholtz. Beyond them? Unless you remain on the Jesus Guzman bandwagon, there are no other position players in Fresno whom you can think about penciling into a big-league job next year.

More disconcerting is the crater that has swallowed the promising Double-A hitters. The guys who collectively did so well in High-A San Jose last year -- Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick, Conor Gillaspie, Darren Ford, Brandon Crawford, and Nick Noonan -- are in a big-time scuffle. The best of the regulars is Neal with a .278 / .340 / .394 line, which translates to a .228 / .262 / .315 major-league line. Yes, it's early, and yes, it's tough to adjust to AA. (And yes, Neal doesn't turn 23 until August.) But the larger point is that most of these guys are in a galaxy far, far away from the major leagues right now, let alone anywhere near the top of their own league. Who knows? A light bulb might click on for Neal between now and September, or Brandon Crawford might hit just well enough to make his defense, apparently the real deal, a reason to keep him in the bigs.

But the work of the Double-A crew (warning: some statistics not suitable for work) plus the dearth of talent in Fresno are likely to make Brian Sabean think about more short-term veteran gaps next year. Because the way Sabes is playing it these days, he sure as hell ain't trading a valuable starting pitcher for a young hitter.

One reason is that, for the first time in a while, there's not much pitching in the high minors to get fo-shizzled about. Waldis Joaquin showed promise, but he's got work to do. Henry Sosa has a nice live arm to go with a worrisome injury history, and the Giants have just shifted him back to the Fresno rotation after a couple months of relief. After him....Daryl Maday? Clayton Tanner? David Mixon? If you've never heard of these guys, there's a reason. Kevin Pucetas you might know, but he looks like he might have hit his head on the AAA ceiling.

Sabes showed this year and last that when you gather enough scrap-heap free agents and support-cast veterans in one place, a few of them will reward you. Several others will not. The same can be said of young players, of course, but we tend to exercise powerful selective memory in their thrall. Those who fall away, fall away into a hazy of forever-potential talent and homegrown goodwill (remember Ryan Jensen?); those who thrive make the organization look like a merry band of geniuses.

All we need is one or two of the current Double-A hitters to kick it into gear and create a little buzz toward the end of the year, perhaps come sip a cup of old joe by the bay in September. Without the near-term enthusiasm for upper-level hitting prospects, there will be little to distract Sabes from the shiny lure of the three-year Adam LaRoche contract.  

Just for fun:

Opening Day 2011

CF Torres
2B F. Sanchez
3B Sandoval
1B Huff (one-year extension signed in August 2010)
LF DeRosa
C Posey
RF Schierholtz
SS Crawford
P Lincecum

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