Top Giants Corner Infield Prospects
by Richard Van Zandt,
September 10, 2008

In Part II of our series on the top prospects of the San Francisco Giants, Richard examines the organization's top corner infielders. A first baseman who just turned 18 and a third baseman just drafted this year headline the group as fast-risers.

First Base

When camp opened back in February, 27-year old converted outfielder Dan Ortmeier looked to have the inside track to the Giants starting first base vacancy.  A poor spring showing left him on the bench behind 36-year old Rich Aurilia when the season opened, however.   Sporadic playing time left him looking even more lost at the plate, and the club soon persuaded him to abandon switch-hitting.  He would then lose even more at bats to rookie John Bowker.  Finally, after enduring a 0-for-17 streak that dropped his season batting line to .219/.315/.313, a broken finger landed him on the DL.  That’s the kind of year it’s been for the former third round draft pick (2002) who subsequently lost his spot on the 40-man roster when the club sent him outright to Fresno upon his return.  With the Grizzlies, things didn’t improve one bit.  Despite convincing the club to let him resume switch-hitting, he hit just .206 with a .523 OPS in 28 games, striking out 21 times.  Mercifully his disastrous 2008 season is now squarely behind him, but his once bright future is now cloudier than ever. 

Bowker, who became the first San Francisco Giant ever to homer in his first two major league games, has had an up and down debut in the majors.  After his initial flurry, he went on to hit just .193 in April, but followed that up with marks of .297 and .325 in May and June.  At one point, his nine home runs were good for a share of the club lead, and among all rookies, they are still good for a tie for 4th in the National League.  But he went into a deep funk in early July and was optioned back to Fresno on August 13 after batting just .186 in his last 102 at bats.  Prior to that, he had earned high praise from none other than the all-time home run king Barry Bonds, who said in a televised interview that Bowker’s swing reminded him of his own.

He is back with the club for the final month as a September recall after batting .310 in his final 10 games with Fresno.

Did You Know?

Former Giants first baseman Will Clark, the 2nd overall pick of the 1985 draft, made his major league debut on April 8, 1986 and homered off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in his first big league at bat.

A career outfielder in the minors, Bowker, 25, hadn’t played first base since high school, but under the tutelage of six-time Gold Glove winner J.T. Snow, he performed adequately and over time showed improvement, if not a lot of range.

In all likelihood, however, Bowker’s future is as an outfielder who can play first base rather than as a first baseman that can play the outfield.  Meanwhile the Giants top prospect at first base is still several years away.  Does that mean the Giants will be forced to abandon the rebuilding effort at first base and go after Mark Teixeira?  Positionally speaking, first base is possibly the source of the Giants' greatest organizational depth, but much of that depth is still years away.  One potential option they’ll turn to is a one-time former bonus baby who has already both earned and lost the moniker of the Giants' first baseman of the future.

San Francisco Giants Top Five First Base Prospects

1. Angel Villalona

2. Travis Ishikawa

3. Thomas Neal

4. Andy D’Alessio

5. Brett Pill

Angel Villalona – 2008 - .263/.312/.435 – 29 2B, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 18 BB, 118 K – 123 G

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

Signed as amateur free agent – August 2006 – 8-13-90 – Bats – Right

Villalona, who hit 17 home runs while often batting cleanup for Augusta, was the youngest player in full-season baseball this year.  He turned 18 just last month.  The Dominican-born slugger, who signed days after his 16th birthday, has been held in high regard by the club since they saw him hit for the first time at age 13.  Scouts have compared his raw power to such players as Raul Mondesi, Adrian Beltre, and Vladimir Guerrero; many believe he has the potential to hit 40 home runs a year in the majors. 

His $2.1 million signing bonus was $100,000 more than Tim Lincecum received as the 10th overall pick that same year, and until recently, it was the largest ever awarded by the Giants to an amateur player.  The team reportedly outbid the Yankees, Mets, and Mariners for his services, with Seattle rumored to have offered him as much as $3 million.

He was originally signed as a third baseman, but after posting a .870 fielding percentage in 54 games in 2007 (mostly in the Arizona Rookie League), he has seen all of his action in the field this year at first base.  Although Villalona has at times expressed a preference for first, third base could still be an option, and the teenager routinely takes ground balls there before games.  Former Giants manager and current special assistant to the GM, Felipe Alou recently stated, “I don’t know if we know right now what his final destination is going to be.” 

The young phenom with awesome bat speed hit .285/.344/.450 with 5 HR and 37 RBI in 200 AZL at bats last year before a brief promotion to short-season Salem-Keizer, where he finished by going 2-for-12.  He struggled a bit at the plate early this year at Augusta, but his power potential is clearly evident, and the team is quite pleased with how the young man adjusted to the professional game.  Despite beginning the year batting just .235 through June, he turned it around to hit .293 over the final two months, including a line .308/.363/.529 in the month of August. 

“There’s a lot of stuff they don’t know that they have to learn the hard way as professionals,” said Alou of players who like Villalona grew up outside of the United States.  “He’s on his way to being a man and a good player.” 

With 10 home runs through June, the then 17-year old Villalona was rewarded with the experience of a lifetime when he was named to the World Squad at this year’s Futures Game in Yankee Stadium.  Following his big regular season, he went 2-for-7 in the Green Jackets' two-game sweep of Ashville in the opening round of the playoffs.  They’ll play West Virginia in the SAL Championship Series beginning September 8.

Going forward, he will need to improve his plate discipline, explicitly meaning drawing more walks while reducing his strikeout rate.  Considering his age, experience, and strong finish, the Giants have to be pleased with what they saw of their prized prospect in 2008.

Travis Ishikawa – 2008 MiLB - .299/.377/.578 – 24 HR, 94 RBI

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

21st round – 2002 – DOB – 9-24-83 – Bats – Left 

The Giants gave Ishikawa $995,000 in 2002 to forsake college, a record for a 21st round pick.  After a strong ’05 campaign in San Jose, he made his big league debut with two short stints in 2006, batting .292 with a .820 OPS in 12 games.  He made a favorable impression and was quickly anointed the team’s first baseman of the future, but soon after a return to the minors, he fell into a deep abyss.  His struggles at the plate, along with a knee injury, saw him tumble all the way back to SJ in ‘07, and he began this season with Connecticut by hitting just .205/.313/.289 in April.  His prospect status had, by that time, plummeted, and the fan base that had once trumpeted him had given up on him.

But that’s when he started to turn things around, batting .330/.425/.479 in May and .337/.392/.674 in June to earn a promotion to Fresno and re-establish himself within the organization.  With Fresno, he hit .310 with 16 home runs in only 48 games, prompting the Giants to summon him back to the majors when Bowker was sent down. 

Considered a strong defensive player, he has shown occasional flashes of power with the Giants, hitting 3 doubles and 2 home runs while displaying good plate discipline.  He has struggled with 2-strike breaking pitches, however, whiffing 13 times in 48 at bats, most of them looking.  Through September 6, he was batting .271 with a .810 OPS in 19 games while strictly platooning with Pablo Sandoval.  He hit .244 against lefties this season in the minors while batting .333 vs. RHP and has had just two plate appearances against lefties with the Giants (0-for-1, 1 BB). 

Still just 24-years old but out of options after this year, the Giants would love to see Ishikawa finish the season strong to re-anoint himself as the club’s first baseman of the near future, filling the void until Villalona is ready.  Baring a big-name off-season acquisition, though, a platoon with the multi-positional Sandoval in 2009 has become a strong possibility. 

Thomas Neal – 2008 - .276/.359/.444 – 25 2B, 15 HR, 81 RBI, 43 BB, 103 K – 117 G

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

36th round – 2005 – DOB – 8-17-87 – Bats – Right

The Giants signed Neal in 2006 as a draft-and-follow from the previous year after a big season at Riverside CC and awarded him a $220,000 signing bonus.  Signed as an outfielder, he began his career jumping straight to low Class-A Salem-Keizer and batted .317/.362/.475 in his first two months before incurring a wrist injury and finishing the year with just 6 hits in his final 56 at-bats.  After missing most of the ’07 season with shoulder injuries, the 20-year old got off to a good start this year, but slumped through both May and June.  He rebounded though with a strong July and finished by tearing through August (.351/.383/.532) to help lead Augusta to the SAL Southern Division’s best record.  He has the build of a young Bobby Bonilla, and the Giants have high hopes for him.

Andy D’Alessio – 2008 - .261/.309/.436 – 33 2B, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 32 BB, 133 K – 121 G

California League – San Jose Giants

19th round – 2007 – DOB – 9-23-84 – Bats – Left

Despite tying a Clemson school record with 59 career home runs (co-held by the Rockies' Jeff Baker), D’Alessio slipped to the 19th round after a sub-par performance in the Cape Cod league.  The Giants are happy to have him.  In 2007, he led the Arizona Rookie League with 14 home runs and 51 RBI before a brief stop at low Class-A Salem-Keizer, where he went 10-for-18 with two more home runs to finish the year with a line of .328/.396/.676 and 16 long balls.  After skipping over Augusta this year, the strapping 6’3” lefty began the year well, hitting .308 with an .868 OPS and 10 home runs before the All-Star break.  He ended the year slumping, however, batting just .201 after the break, including .183 in the final month.  Nevertheless, he finished the year in the top-15 in the Cal-League in home runs and tenth in RBI.  Not considered a great defensive first baseman, D’Alessio batted .280/.321/.455 as a DH but just .250/.307/.433 while playing first base. 

Brett Pill – 2008 - .266/.321/.395 – 32 2B, 9 HR, 65 RBI, 33 BB, 85 RBI – 131 G – .993 FP

California League – San Jose Giants

7th round – 2006 – DOB – 9-24-84 – Bats – Right

Widely regarded as the best defensive first baseman in the system, Pill led the SAL in 2007 with 47 doubles and ranked 6th in RBI with 91, clubbing 10 home runs.  Overall.  his bat has been less than lethal, as his career line of .259/.316/.398 indicates.  Still, the club has hopes the 6’4” Pill’s power numbers will blossom in time, turning doubles into home runs.

Honorable Mention

Mike Loberg – 2008 - .291/.360/.460 – 15 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 49 RBI, 27 BB, 79 K, 6 SB – 73 G

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Giants

33rd round – 2007 – DOB – 3-24-85 – Bats – Left

Loberg signed quickly last year after he was taken out of Augustana College. There, he was named the NCC Most Valuable Player after batting .405/.490/.718.  He immediately reported to camp in Arizona, where he then promptly blew out his knee on the first day of practice, delaying his pro debut until this year.  At 6’4”, 225 lbs, the lefty is an imposing figure at the plate.   His 49 RBI led the Northwest League, but most impressively, he clobbered lefties this year, batting .406 with a 1.132 OPS in 69 AB.

Third Base

Giants Factoid

Matt Williams, the 3rd overall pick of the 1986 draft, was the last position player drafted by San Francisco to appear in an All-Star game with the Giants

(1995 & 96).

After failing to fill their huge hole at third base this past winter, either by trade, free agency, or even just breaking down and giving Pedro Feliz the three years he craved, the Giants “solved” their problem in spring training by claiming Jose Castillo – jettisoned earlier in the off-season by Pittsburgh – off waivers from Florida, where he had failed to beat out Jorge Cantu for the Marlins starting 3B job.  Castillo proved to be even worse at the plate than Feliz, while lacking the same stellar glove work in the field.  He was designated for assignment on August 13. 

Replacing Castillo on the roster was rookie Ryan Rohlinger, a sixth-rounder from 2006 who impressed the team with solid play in spring training.  Rohlinger has looked overmatched at the plate at the major league level and is still years away from being ready (if he ever will be at all).  With the cupboard otherwise bare, it would seem likely that the Giants would have to turn to the trade market this winter for a player such as Adrian Beltre or sign a Joe Crede or Hank Blalock-type free agent to fill the hole at third.  But as the team looks to make a decision in that regard, they’ll also assess another possible in-house solution who became the 16th different Giant to make his major league debut this year.

San Francisco Giants Top Five Third Base Prospects

1. Conor Gillaspie

2. Ryan Rohlinger

3. Josh Mazzola

4. Brad Boyer

5. Andrew Davis

Conor Gillaspie – 2008 w/Wichita – .419/.500/.697 – 16 2B, 8 3B, 11 HR, 82 RBI – 16-of-18 SB

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

1st round (supplemental) – 37th overall – 2008 – DOB – 7-18-87 – Bats – Left

While the Giants were delighted to get Buster Posey with the fifth selection of this year’s draft, their top choice, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, didn’t last past the Pirates, who took him with the 2nd  overall pick.  When you look at what little the Giants had in their system at third base prior to the draft, it’s no wonder why they coveted Alvarez.  The Giants nevertheless were thrilled to have found Gillaspie available with their second pick, the 37th overall.  With both Posey and Gillaspie currently signed and thriving, Alvarez is beginning to look like a fantastic non-pick, especially considering the embarrassing Alvarez/Boras/Pirates fiasco

Gillaspie had a break out year in leading Wichita State to the Super Regionals this season (where they were knocked out by Posey’s Seminoles) after being named the MVP of the wood bat Cape Cod League the previous summer, where he also won the batting title (.345).  Gillaspie, who batted over .400 versus both right and left-handed pitchers this year, displayed a knack for stepping it up when it mattered the most in ’08, batting .500 (41-for-82) in conference games, .508 (62-for-122) with men on base, .523 (45-for-86) with RISP and a whopping .619 (13-for-21) in post-season play.  On Fridays, when college teams typically start their best pitcher, Gillaspie hit .444 with 4 home runs and a .800 slugging percentage, his highest power marks on any day of the week with more than five at bats.  Additionally, his 82 RBI were seventh among all Division I college players, and he struck out just 22 times in 234 at bats.   

Gillaspie signed with the Giants on August 6 for a reported $975,000 and was sent immediately to the Giants rookie league squad in Arizona.  In just his third professional game, he drove in five runs.  After going 6-for-22 (.273) with three doubles, three walks and just one strikeout, he was promoted to Salem-Keizer to finish the season, where he hit .277 (18-for-65) with four doubles and six walks in 16 games.  Representing the defending champion Volcanoes in the Northwest League Championship series, he had gone 2-for-10 with a double, an RBI, and a walk through the first two games of the best-of-five series before the Giants decided to purchase his contract and add him to the major league roster. 

So he will spend the final month of the season as a major leaguer, getting the call just 92 days after being drafted and becoming the first player from the 2008 draft to reach the majors.  “I think [with] the bat ... every staff person who has seen him come through Arizona and Salem has been very impressed,” said Bobby Evans, Giants director of player personnel.  “We have some decisions to make this offseason.  Having a chance to evaluate [Gillaspie] at this level is very important.”

The scouting report on Gillaspie projects as a high average doubles hitter in the mold of former Giant Bill Mueller.  He is a good base runner but his defense is a bit suspect (20 errors and a .880 FP in ’08 for the Shockers) with merely adequate range and an average arm.  Some have suggested he would be better at second.  Scouts however have noted his intensity and work ethic and believe his defense at third will improve.  He’ll report to the Instructional League following the season, but without a doubt, as his recall suggests, he is on the fast track to a full-time major league career.

Ryan Rohlinger – 2008 MiLB - .289/.364/.447 – 28 2B, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 47 BB, 70 K

National League – San Francisco Giants – Active Roster

6th round – 2006 – DOB – 10-7-83 – Bats – Right

After two decidedly less-than-stellar pro seasons, the club’s dearth of depth at third gave Rohlinger an opportunity to get some playing time with the big league squad this year in spring training.  There, he opened eyes by batting .300/.333/.530 with 9 RBI in 12 games.  He followed that up with a strong start at San Jose (.285/.368/.419 – 7 HR), which earned him a mid-season promotion to Connecticut, where he continued to hit well (.296/.358/.497 – 6 HR).  After the Giants cut Castillo loose, Rohlinger got a chance to show what he can do in the majors.  What he has shown, however, is that he not only is not ready; he’s not terribly close, either.  Through September 6, Rohlinger was batting just .107 with 8 strikeouts in 28 at bats and had not started in any of the team’s previous 14 games.  Obviously needing more seasoning, he’ll likely begin next year at Fresno but may get a full year of Double-A.

Josh Mazzola – 2008 - .324/.394/.547 – 15 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 14 BB, 39 K – 47 G

Arizona Rookie League – AZL Giants

Signed as amateur free agent – 2008 – DOB – 4-10-86 – Bats – Right

Mazzola was used as a first baseman and outfielder at Missouri State, but he was a four-year starter at third base in high school.  That’s where the Giants have used him exclusively since signing him following a breakout senior season for the Bears (.304/.405/.633 – 15 HR), and the club has been very pleased with his progress so far.  Struggling initially with outside pitches, he learned to go with the pitch and drive it, always making hard contact.  Mazzola hit 15 home runs in his sophomore year at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, the second highest single season total in Pacific Coast Conference history behind only former major leaguer Marcus Giles.  As much a comment on the state of the third base position organizationally as it is of his hitting ability, the non-drafted free agent has in just two months already become one of the club’s top third base prospects.  Look for him to begin the year in Augusta next year, but he could rise quickly if he continues to hit.

Brad Boyer – 2008 MiLB - .331/.414/.478 – 27 XBH, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 15 SB – 87 G

California League – San Jose Giants

13th round – 2006 – DOB – 10-4-83 – Bats – Left

Boyer began the ’08 season in Connecticut, but after batting just .240 with a .583 OPS, he was sent back to San Jose, where he spent the majority of the ’07 campaign.  There, Boyer tore California League pitching apart, batting .348/.436/.511.  I had a chance to see him play in August, and saw him hit an opposite field home run that sounded impressively loud.  He has good speed as well, stealing 35 bases in 43 attempts (81%) over the past two seasons.  Defensively, however, he is a work in progress at third base after previously spending his entire pro career at second, but he could wind up making a nice utility player.

Andrew Davis – 2008 - .253/.303/.351 – 28 2B, 3 HR, 56 RBI, 33 BB, 77 K – 121 G

South Atlantic League – Augusta Green Jackets

12th round – 2007 – DOB – 2-11-84 – Bats – Switch

Davis batted .278/.361/.400 in 72 games for Salem-Keizer last year in his debut campaign and showed enough athleticism to play 11 games at shortstop as well (with only 1 error).  However, he regressed at the plate this year while playing third base exclusively for Augusta.  With Gillaspie and Mazzola quickly pushing him to the side, another try at short could be an option for ’09.

Honorable Mentions

Jose Flores – 2008 - .302/.396/.370 – 40 R, 13 2B, 40 BB, 60 K – 72 G

Northwest League – Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Signed as amateur free agent – 2003 – DOB – 8-17-87 – Bats – Switch

Signed out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday in 2003, he missed the ’04 season with an injury and spent the ’05 campaign in the Dominican Summer League.  He made his pro debut in 2006 in the Arizona Rookie League, then spent last year with Salem-Keizer, splitting time between second and short.  The club had him repeat at S-K this year while learning to play 3B.  His .302 batting average was good for 7th in the league.  Solid defensively, he showed an improved sense of the strike zone and hit .321 after June.  With little power or speed, he’s no corner infielder, but he could end up making a living as a utility player.

A very special thank you goes out to Phillip Ramirez, my Arizona eyes and ears, whose contributions to this report were absolutely invaluable.  Be sure to check out his AZL Giants Blog for all the latest the Giants top Rookie League prospects.   Additional thanks also go out to Wes Snow in Augusta for all of his help.

San Francisco Giants Minor League Affiliates




Fresno Grizzlies

Pacific Coast League


Connecticut Defenders

Eastern League


San Jose Giants

California League

A (Advanced)

Augusta Green Jackets

South Atlantic League


Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Northwest League

A (Short-Season)

AZL Giants

Arizona Rookie League


DSL Giants

Dominican Summer League


Other Articles in the Series:

Monday, September 8 – Catchers
Wednesday, September 10 – Corner Infielders

Friday, September 12 – Middle Infielders
Monday, September 15 – Outfielders
Wednesday, September 17 – Relief Pitchers
Friday, September 19 – Starting Pitchers

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at