Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Down on the Farm: DrB's 2011 Giants Top 50 Prospects- #3 Thomas Neal

#3 Thomas Neal, OF. BD: 8/17/1987. 6'1", 225 lbs. B-R, T-R.

AA: .291/.359/.440 with 12 HR's, 11 SB.

Thomas Neal was one of the last "draft and follow" signings before the current Basic Agreement with the Players Association put a shortened deadline on signing drafted players. A graduate of Poway HS near San Diego, Neal was drafted in round 37 of the 2005 draft, but played a year of JC ball for Riverside JC and then signed just before the 2006 draft. What a lot of people don't realize is that Neal was highly touted as a hitting prospect before his "breakout" season for San Jose in 2009. His professional career was slowed at the beginning by a shoulder injury, but by 2008, he was able to play a whole season, mostly as a DH for Augusta and put up a fine line of .276/.359/.444 with 15 HR's. So yeah, his .337/.431/.579 line the next year in San Jose was a quantum leap ahead, but it's also not like he was never able to hit at all before. Even if the Giants AA affiliate played in the Texas League, it is likely Neal's numbers would have regressed from that lofty line, but Richmond and the Eastern League are a whole other story. There have been 1 or 2 success stories, but for the most part, the EL has been where Giants hitting prospects go to die. That's why I am not at all discouraged by what I think is a fine line for Thomas last year. He should move up to Fresno, a much more hitter friendly environment. I think it's quite possible he may put up a line very similar to his San Jose season. John Sickels, who has never been exactly enamored by Giants hitting prospects, thinks so too.

One thing you may not know about Thomas is that once his shoulder completely healed, he became quite adept at gunning down baserunners from LF and probably has a strong enough arm to play RF. He also nearly won the SB title in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. He won't win any SB titles in MLB, but he is far from slow. He has also built quite a following on his Twitter account and seems to be a very personable young man. The nickname Thomas the Tank Engine seems to have caught on a bit in the Twitter universe, but I still call him Thomas Neal the Real Deal!


  1. With Belt and Huff around the team can ease Neal into a role by 2013. If they can adequately fill another spot with a homegrown player all the better.
    My hope is something around Hunter Pence, maybe a tad less athletic and a little less power, but young enough so that he can put up a little better OBP and provide around the same value.

  2. sabean stays true to form....the man hates arbitration

    signed ross, durty and ramirez to one year contracts

    i really hope the next thing on his agenda is figuring out some way of ridding the org of rowand

    it will kill to lose nate, especially with ross being a certain fa come 2012

  3. I'm sure this is irrationally optimistic, but I see Neal having at least Hunter Pence power at his peak. The Giants have so many good OF prospects now they are going to have to make some very difficult choices as to who they keep and who they trade or let leave.

    Brian Sabean has constructed the roster this offseason as if Aaron Rowand doesn't exist. Again, I could be wrong, but I have a feeling Aaron Rowand is not going to be on the opening day 25 man roster, one way or another.

  4. 2012 or 2013 sounds about right. We are kind of crowded in the outfield and we will just have to wait to see him unless Aaron, Nate, or Pat get traded/released. It is not such a bad thing because he is young and has time to get better.

  5. I think having two prospects playing as well as Belt and Neal had a lot to do with Cody only getting a one-year deal. I think almost everyone expected 2 years, and they just don't want to completely lock these youngsters out.

  6. If Neal has a big year for Fresno, he will make Cody Ross expendable going into Ross' FA years. If not Neal, then Peguero or Brown may be ready by then and yes, Belt can play OF too or else he can play 1B with Huff going to LF for 2012. The Giants have a lot of options in 2013 and beyond.

    I agree that the Giants are trying to keep their contracts as short as possible so as to not block prospects coming up. Man! Who would have thought we'd ever be saying such a thing 3 years ago?

  7. It seems like Sabean is trying to introduce one rookie per year so as to not overly rely on young players. Then he'll evaluate them going forward and decide what to do. I think his plan is to introduce Belt this year at some point and if he handles himself, will cement his place on the team in 2013. At that time, he can bring up either Neal or Crawford and see how/if they fit into the picture (also depending on free agency opportunities to fill those positions).

    I used to be of the opinion that there was going to be no way we could keep out pitching staff together beyond this year because everyone is going to start getting really expensive. However, if we have 3-4 young players making league minimum in our lineup, I think it becomes at least possible.

  8. Dave,

    We had a discussion on one of the boards about a month or so back relating to this subject. If you assume the average MLB career is 10 years (a number that is basically taken out of thin air, admittedly), than the "average" farm system needs to produce 2.5 MLB players per season (a complete 25-man turnover every 10 years). On top of this, to be any kind of competitive, said farm system would need to produce an all-star level player every 2 or 3 years (having 3 to 5 of these on a competitive team) and 1 HOF player every 5 - 10 years.

    Last year, which by all accounts would be considered a successful graduating class for the Giants, they produced 2 all-star level players, and one MLB level player (Posey and Bum, with Runz as the MLB player). This year, we are looking at POTENTIALLY 1 all-star (Belt) and one MLB (Edlefson). 2009 also seemed to hold it's weight by graduating Panda (all-star?) and Whiteside and Romo (MLB?).

    My point? If Sabean is planning on only releasing one player a year, they are WAY below where they need to be (and below where they have shown to produce).

    I think this is Belt's year, I agree. But I think Neal has the opportunity to start his rise, and Gillaspie and Crawford will both begin getting somewhat regular time. That is a possibility of Belt, Edlefson, Neal, Crawford, and/or Williams as graduates this year, not just Belt. Even if Neal and/or Crawford are put off until next season, I do not put either of them in the Panda/Posey/Belt class. They would be more in the Nate/Ishi class (Neal should be higher then either of them, but considerably lower than Panda/Posey/Belt).

  9. My grand nephew (Jake) saw a few games at Ricmond last year and was surprised how much Neal had changed from the San Jose days. According the Jake, Mr Neal must have found a weight bench somewhere. He has turned what little bulk he had into a well defined physique. Also, Jake told me Richmond is really hard to drive the ball out. Really hard!
    We both agreed that Neal is close to big time and definitely not 2 years from now.

  10. calsnowskier, I should have clarified that I was talking about the position player side of things. Sabean also seems to be willing to audition one rookie pitcher per season for a regular role. And that system isn't too bad and isn't too far off of the minimum you suggest above. Interesting write up. Thanks!

  11. 2006 was Matt Cain's first full season in the majors which I would say is a reasonable starting point for the Giants rebuild. They had 12 homegrown players on the active roster in 2010, 13 if you count Dan Runzler. That's 12 or 13 players added through the farm system in 5 seasons, so Sabean has kept up the pace since 2006 of 2+/season.

    In addition, I don't know of any team that excluslively relies on homegrown players.

  12. The average MLB career for position players is actually 5.6 years. 20% of position players have careers lasting 1 season or less.

    What makes this difficult to analyze is that there is a large core of players who have careers that are much longer. It would be interesting to know the average career length for players who are able to hold down a starting position for more than 1 full season. I bet it's a whole lot longer!

    Anyway, if you think back over the last 5 seasons, the Giants have had a whole bunch of players come up from the farm and play 1 season or less: Frandsen, Rohlinger, Downs, Jason Ellison, John Bowker, Fred Lewis, etc, so if you count all those players, the Giants are still doing well even if you count 5.6 years as the average MLB career.

  13. Doc,

    For the sake of this discussion, it does not matter if you have FAs or not. Those FAs had to come from some one's system, and you will lose FAs as well. It all (theoretically) averages out.

    The MLB "short-timers" is the big fat pink elephant of a variable in the whole concept. You also need to determine when guys like Ishi, Nate, and Runz etc actually graduated.

    Maybe what we need to do is look at this a bit more closely. LEts assume a "competitive" team has 22 MLB players, and 3 MiLB players, so they only have to account for 22 instead of 25. Let's also assume that FAs are disregarded due to the fact that these players had to be created by some franchise, so they get lost in the averaging portion of this equation. Finally, let's assume that "MLB" players have a 7 year average career.

    This means that a competitive organization needs to produce 22 players every 7 years, or approximately 3 per season. Players like Denker, Sadowski, Frandsen, Ellison etc would not count towards this total since they are essentially glorified MiLB players. Ishi, Nate, Lewis and Runz are hard to factor since they do not have clear graduation dates. Since each player has, what, 3 option years(?), we can count these guys as partial graduates in these years until their 100% graduation. (This entire equation is rough at best anyway, so we need to allow for a decent "cushion")

    Reviewing again for 2010, the Giants used the following players who would likely count in the equation...

    Posey (1)
    Bum (1)
    Runz (0.3)
    Rohlinger (0.3)
    Ford (MiLB)
    Martinez (MiLB)
    Joaquim (MiLB)
    Downs (MiLB)

    Obviously, any of the .3 guys and the MiLB guys could be changed in the future, but that is my quick value-assignments. That means the Giants produced 2.67 players in 2010, which is actually slightly below where they "should" be (3.14).

  14. I think there is something wrong with the assumptions here. Most teams, especially competitive ones, do not graduate more than 3 players per season from their farm system. The Giants fielded competitive teams throughout the Bonds era and graduated less than 1 per season! Maybe a handful of non-competitive teams, like KC, Pittsburgh, etc, graduate a whole lot more and serve as a secondary farm system for the competitive teams?

    It's an interesting topic and I'd like to see more in-depth research on the subject.

  15. The average service time of the 25 players most likely to make the Giants 25 man roster this year is 6 years. That's if you count every year that the player made even 1 appearance. The Giants are right at or even below league average, so I'd say they are not an old team by any stretch. If Rowand were to get bumped to make room for Brandon Belt, the average would be even lower.

  16. Correction: The average service time for the Giants is 6.8. For the Dodgers it's 6.9.

    I'll do a few others like the Pads, Yanks and Tampa Bay to see if there is a range.

  17. OK, I decided to go at this from a different direction. I looked up all the players on every MLB team last year who came into the season with prospect eligibility by BA criteria and played enough to lose eligibility.

    There were 92 such players, or an average of 3.1 per team. Here's the breakdown:

    Giants- 2 (3 if you count Matt Downs who ended the season with Houston).
    Orioles- 2
    Red Sox- 2
    Yankees- 1
    Rays- 2
    Blue Jays- 0
    White Sox- 1
    Indians- 7
    Tigers- 7
    Royals- 1
    Twins- 1
    Angels- 2
    A's- 0
    Mariners- 4
    Rangers- 1
    Braves- 3
    Marlins- 4
    Mets- 7
    Phillies- 1
    Nationals- 6
    Cubs- 4
    Reds- 4
    Astros- 8 (7 if you don't count Downs).
    Brewers- 5
    Pirates- 3
    Cardinals- 3
    D'Backs- 2
    Rockies- 4
    Dodgers- 3
    Padres- 1

    I believe it is important to look at quality as well as quantity. A homegrown player who is going to have a long, productive career is of way more value than a guy who plays for 150 AB's or 60 IP and then disappears. The vast majority of these 92 players will likely have very short MLB careers, whereas the Giants 2 graduates will likely have very long ones.

    The Giants are producing enough prospects to sustain an ongoing rebuilding process.

  18. Hope to see Neal in a Giants uniform in the middle of the year! The guy has been compared to an NFL runningback! I don't expect explosive numbers in the majors, but I see him as a very VERY solid starting outfielder who can hit around 20-24 hrs with 70-85 rbis, good/solid D, and an average around 260-285 with good K/BB rates. Basically, a younger version of Ross and Rowand with much more potential.