I donít hear much buzz about San Francisco Giants outfield prospect Thomas Neal. Frankly, I like what Iíve seen of the power- hitting outfielder.
Neal was a 37th-draft-and-follow selection in 2005. The club signed Neal after he played for Riverside (California) Junior College.
Neal is a 23-year-old right-handed hitter. He has a rather wide body at 6-foot-1 and 223 muscular pounds. In fact, Iíve heard him compared to the former Pirates, Mets and Marlins player, Bobby Bonilla. Unlike most men of his size, Neal can run. He is as quick as he is fast. I have heard people criticize his running speed, but he has a track record of being able to steal bases. Again, I think itís the quickness and good instincts on the bases more than pure speed that generates the steals. He is one of the rare big men having the capability to hit a home run and steal a base. Those two tools alone provide the Giants with a player in their system to watch carefully. When it comes down to it, however, it will be his power and ability to use the entire field that will move Nealís career to the major leagues. Any speed he flashes will be a bonus.
After signing with the Giants, Neal has had success in four minor league campaigns beginning in 2006. That does not count his current season that Iíll discuss later in this piece. Neal has a composite four- year batting average of .299 to go along with 42 home runs and 195 runs batted in. Prior to this season, he had stolen seven bases as well.
Neal had brief hiccups in his career when he suffered wrist and shoulder injuries that cost him development time. He is fully healthy now and playing for the Double-A Richmond Squirrels of the Eastern League. Thatís a very good level for his age and progress to date.
I saw Neal play in the 2009 Arizona Fall League as well as during spring training. In the fall campaign, Neal hit .284 over 74 at-bats in 20 games played. He only hit one home run while driving in 10 runs. However, he was quick enough to steal 12 bases. I was most impressed that he struck out only 14 times while accepting 11 walks. Defensively, Neal played the outfield and first base. I found him to be very adequate in both roles. While the rosters havenít yet been announced, it wouldnít surprise me to see Neal make a return appearance to Arizona this coming fall. He would again get to face good pitching in a very competitive setting and get some additional at-bats.
With the Giants always looking for an inexpensive additional bat for the middle of their lineup, Neal is on target in his career to offer help to the traditionally power searching club. It really is a matter of when they call him up rather than ďif.Ē He has enough potential to be given a chance next spring training at the latest and this September at the earliest. Frankly, Iíd like to see the club give him some extended time at first base and keep Buster Posey behind the plate for now. The Giants really have a weakness at first and Neal has the ability to help. While Neal has enough arm strength and accuracy to play a corner outfield position, perhaps the club wants to try him at several positions in the near future. Face it. The Giants have a need for power, regardless the position.
I have seen Neal turn on fastballs with quick hands through the ball. I donít think high velocity pitchers will cause him trouble. I do think heíll struggle some in the higher classifications with crisp, sharp breaking balls tailing away. As a right-handed hitter, Neal is hitting extremely well against lefties at Richmond. In fact, he isnít hitting badly against righties, but heís 135 points better hitting against lefties at .342 (120 at-bats) compared to .274 (379 at-bats) against right handed pitching. His line for the Squirrels is .291/.360/.437 for an OPS of .797. As of last Saturday, he had stolen 11 bases while being caught only four times. Thereís that quickness and speed I mentioned above. If nothing else, Neal has earned himself a 2011 promotion to Triple-A Fresno in the Pacific Coast League.
When prospect outfielders are discussed, Neal rarely makes the conversation. He isnít in a class with Jason Heyward or Michael Stanton. But he certainly isnít chopped liver. Iím sure there are a number of clubs that would value a patient middle of the order bat with some pop. Thatís Neal. He isnít going to consistently knock fences down, but heíll be able to put the bat on the ball, use the entire field by taking pitches where they are thrown and give his team some potential power from the middle of the batting order. He may be able to take an extra base on average outfield throwing arms as well as steal a base now and then. On defense, he will throw out an occasional runner, take fairly good routes and be able to hold his own in the outfield. In short, I see him as a grade 50 (average everyday player on most teamís charts) on the 40-80 major league player evaluation scale. He will rake against mediocre pitching and he may struggle initially with higher quality breaking balls. Worst case is that he is a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman on a team with more power than he can offer. He may be an average player that thrives against other average players and becomes a little less valuable against the better players and pitchers in baseball. Average isÖ.average. But home runs are difficult to come by, and thatís what Neal has the potential to offer. Home runs also mean runs scored and runs batted in. Baseball teams and fantasy teams thrive on those three categories.
The fact the Giants think they are still in the playoff chase this season may impact Nealís potential to be called up in September. Some clubs prefer to keep their regular players in the lineup day in and day out in September and not clutter the landscape with prospects. Other clubs like to have that extra bat on the bench for late inning pinch-hitting pop or to fill in during extra inning games. The Giants are hard to figure. They are usually very quiet about their plans and roster expansion is no exception. To date, there are few clues regarding Neal or any other Giants prospects being recalled.
Neal is still very young and he may not have seen enough quality pitching yet to be trusted on the big league roster with the playoffs at stake. Should the Giants fall off the pace, maybe he gets a shot. Probably not. Heís only 23 and heís missed time with injuries. Maybe the Giants will leave well enough alone and pick up his development next spring. Or perhaps they include Neal on their Arizona Fall League roster. Weíll know soon. Regardless of when he arrives, Neal may be able to provide a middle of the order bat that is so desperately needed in San Francisco.
By including Neal in my RotoWire reports, I am indicating I feel Neal has potential as a late-round fantasy sleeper for 2011 in deep leagues. He would be a gamble in other than the deepest NL-only formats. However, beyond 2011 is another story. The guy can hit, and with power. Watch his stats during the fall if heís playing anywhere and in spring training for sure. As I said in the beginning, Neal doesnít get much love among prospectors. But when Iím digging for gold, I donít mind coming up with some silver or copper every now and again.
Looking Forward: Guys To Target
The minor league season will conclude at the end of this week.
We have already seen a number of high-skill players promoted to their major league clubs. Others will be recalled after September 1st.
Next year, we will see another parade of exciting players make the big leagues.
Here are some guys Iíll be watching if theyíre in the Arizona Fall League or during spring training. Iíll be bringing you reports of these and other players in this space next season. For now, you may want to keep your eye on these targets. You may just hit a bullís eye.
Consider Jordan Zimmermann a high quality pitcher. Donít forget that itís the Nationals that have first-round draft pick Bryce Harper waiting to play the outfield in the big leagues. Who knows how long he will play in the minor leagues?
Jesus Montero of the Yankees organization is a catcher by experience. However, there are many who feel he is best suited as a designated hitter. But heís way too young for that role. Or is he? His bat will carry him to a major league club. The Yankees? Letís wait and see.
Tanner Scheppers, a right-handed pitcher of the Rangers can pitch in relief or start. He is similar to Neftali Feliz and the Rangers are still not certain where he pitches in the big leagues. We have to watch this carefully. But we are fairly certain Scheppers will be with the Rangers when they open the 2011 season.
Julio Teheran may be the next big name pitcher for the Braves. As if they donít have enough pitching, Teheran has a power arm and heís consistently pitched well for the Braves organization. Look for him to make an appearance next season.
Eric Hosmer is one of several Royals players I like for their future. He has the ability to hit for power and for average for the Royals. He and Mike Moustakas (profiled in my column this year) make a potent one-two punch for the Royals.
Desmond Jennings is ready to break in to the outfield for the Rays. They could very easily lose both Carl Crawford (free agent) and B.J. Upton (trade bait) for next season. If there is an opening, it will belong to Jennings.
Tyler Matzek is a starting pitcher in the Rockies' organization. He has an outstanding arm and a repertoire of multiple pitches. The Rockies pitching has really improved at the major league level so they can be very patient with him. Matzek made his professional debut in May 2010 and is pitching for Asheville in the Sally League.
Itís possible some of these players will be assigned to the Arizona Fall League. In the fall Iíll be bringing weekly reports from that league to this space. Iíll also see some of the Instructional League as well.
The minor league season is over and Iíll be watching the last month of the major league run for the playoffs with tremendous interest. The prospects continue to get bigger, stronger and more talented year in and year out. No doubt many of this yearís first-year players will make a tremendous impact on their respective teams in the last month. I wish you well as you head down the home stretch with your own team(s).
Stop at this space during the Arizona Fall League and weíll get a jump together on the competition for 2011.