While Giants General Manager Brian Sabean takes his fair share of criticism – and deservedly so – about the lack of value he places on prospects, he has, in fact, been quite successful drafting amateur players. Whether it’s hitting on first round picks – Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, or Buster Posey, his picks from 2006 to 2009 – or finding surprise gems like 2009 fifth rounder Brandon Belt, 2005 twenty-second rounder Sergio Romo, or Jonathan Sanchez in the twenty-seventh round the year before, Sabean has shown a better draft acumen than many other GMs, even if he doesn’t truly value his higher-end picks.
And the next pleasant surprise in the Giants’ system to make a big impact at the big league will likely be Heath Hembree, a 2010 fifth round reliever from the College of Charleston who currently ranks second among Giants prospects according to ESPN’s Keith Law and a video of him pitching can be found here.
Hembree’s a tall, 6-foot-4, 210 pound reliever armed with a plus fastball, a hard – albeit inconsistent – downward biting slider with plus potential, and a work-in-progress changeup to help combat left-handers.
His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and has reportedly touched as high as 99 mph; it shows an exceptional late burst and is difficult to get on top of, especially when he works it up in the zone, which he likes to do late in the count.
Hembree, 23, was sparsely used in college, appearing in one game for one out while at South Carolina during his freshman year and pitched only 29 innings during his only year at the College of Charleston.
His command was a bit of a concern prior to the draft: during those 29 innings, he walked 18 batters (5.59 BB/9), though he did average more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
However, during his brief, 64.1-inning professional career, Hembree has maintained an average walk rate, 3.5 BB/9, while still showing elite strikeout numbers (14 SO/9 throughout his career).
Last season was really the first true test for Hembree in the professional ranks – he had a 12-game stint in the Arizona League in 2010 – and he handled it with aplomb. While with San Jose (High-A), he tossed 24.2 innings, struck out 44, walked 12, and unsurprisingly, posted an impressive 1.74 FIP.
The Giants promoted him to Double-A midseason, where he continued to dominate: 28.2 IP, 10.67 SO/9, 4.08 BB/9, 2.83 ERA, and 2.64 FIP.
Overall, he pitched 53.1 innings, struck out 78, walked 25, and had a 1.86 ERA.
While he failed to make any of the more known top prospect lists this season – Keith Law’s, Kevin Goldstein’s, John Sickels, or Baseball America’s – Hembree is one of the top, if not top, relief prospect in the minors, and most assuredly a future closer.
He does need to improve not only his control (read: his walks) but also his command (read: his ability to pitch to a certain quadrant of the strike zone). And he’s probably going to start the year in Triple-A, where he could remain longer than what is needed because of the overall depth at the big league level.
Additional prospect analysis can be found here or the Prospect Watch tab at the top of the page.
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