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11/21/11 7:00 PM EST

Inbox: Any prospects set to make big impact?

Beat reporter Chris Haft answers Giants fans' questions

Is there someone in the Minor Leagues who might be a breakthrough player in 2012? Or is it wishful thinking on my part?
-- Ken H., San Lorenzo, Calif.

Right-hander Heath Hembree generated plenty of excitement last season by amassing 38 saves and 78 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings at high Class A San Jose and Double-A Richmond. By this time next year, the Giants might need a replacement for Brian Wilson, whose eligibility for salary arbitration will make him extremely expensive and thus difficult to squeeze within the payroll. Hembree, who turns 23 on Jan. 13, could be San Francisco's next closer.

By now you've heard plenty about center fielder Gary Brown, the Giants' No. 1 selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, who dominated the California League last season with San Jose. It's doubtful that Brown will begin next year with San Francisco, but he could earn a late-season promotion with another strong performance. And keep an eye on infielder Joe Panik, this year's first-round Draft pick, who was named to the Arizona Fall League's Top Prospects team.

Have a question about the Giants?
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With Buster Posey coming off his injuries and the Giants' brass hinting at playing him only one more year behind the plate, why not move him to a non-catching position now? Buster's best suited for first base or third and would play an admirable right field. But how about shortstop? He was a freshman All-American at the position at Florida State. The Giants would have to carry only one primary catcher, with Posey moving behind the plate occasionally in the late innings and Brandon Crawford coming off the bench to play shortstop. Pablo Sandoval could be the emergency third catcher.
-- Mark G., Ventura, Calif.

Your creativity is admirable. However, conventional wisdom dictates that a ballplayer should face only so many monumental challenges at once. Next spring, Posey must prove that he's healthy enough to play almost every day and has regained his hitting stroke. Including a position switch among his tasks would be far too burdensome. Please trust me on this one; I speak from experience. I began my beat-reporter life in the early 1990s covering the Houston Astros, who switched Craig Biggio from catcher to second base before the 1992 season. Guided by third-base coach Matt Galante, Biggio made a smooth transition. But doing so required Biggio's utmost concentration and dedication, which I realized as I watched him spend hours taking extra grounders and performing drills with Galante. Give Posey a chance to regain his footing as a ballplayer, literally and figuratively, before he tries anything new.

I'm getting more excited about Melky Cabrera being on the team after seeing he had the fifth-best batting average among Major League outfielders last year. How do you see the outfield shaking out? I would think that manager Bruce Bochy will give Aubrey Huff every opportunity to earn the starting first base job, so that puts Brandon Belt in the outfield. Do the pending four-year contracts for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum mean a deal for Carlos Beltran probably won't happen because of the ever-rising payroll? At this point, is it fair to think the starting outfield will be (left to right) Belt, Cabrera and Nate Schierholtz, unless Beltran comes back?
-- Ray F., Miami

Though a lot can and will happen between now and the April 6 season opener at Arizona, a Belt-Cabrera-Schierholtz outfield seems possible. My crystal ball has malfunctioned numerous times over the years, but I don't foresee Beltran returning to San Francisco. His price tag and the sight of him walking gamely through the clubhouse with huge ice packs on each knee probably will prevent the Giants from offering much more than a two-year contract. The Red Sox, rumored to be Beltran's leading suitor, probably can top that. Finally, I wouldn't refer to multiyear deals for Lincecum and Cain as "pending," despite what you may have heard or read. "Pending" implies that these agreements soon will be finalized. They're actually far from a sure thing, particularly since each contract will be astronomical.

I like what I saw from Brett Pill last season. He's a big guy with solid mechanics. How much should we expect to see of him this upcoming season with both Huff and Belt and possibly a free-agent first baseman blocking the way?
-- Ezra E., Los Angeles

Pill will receive a chance to win the first-base job in Spring Training. But given Belt's potential and status and Huff's experience (along with the Giants' reluctance to waste the $10 million he's owed in 2012), Pill won't just have to outplay his rivals to win a job -- he'll have to outdistance them. Pill's task becomes only slightly easier if either Belt or Huff plays primarily left field. At the very least, Pill will push Belt and Huff to excel, which should prompt lively competition.

Would Barry Bonds be available as hitting coach? How would he fit in?
-- Ron C., Cedar City, Utah

I doubt that Bonds would want to serve as the Giants' hitting coach. Former superstars generally hunger so much for privacy that they resist making the time commitment that a coaching job would require. That said, I can envision Bonds as a part-time hitting instructor, visiting Spring Training, perhaps stopping at Minor League affiliates and occasionally dropping by AT&T Park. First, let's see what happens on Dec. 16, when he's expected to be sentenced for obstruction of justice stemming from his testimony to a 2003 federal grand jury that he never knowingly used steroids.

How would Bonds fit in? The man hit 762 home runs and won seven National League Most Valuable Player awards. Most players revere his hitting expertise, regardless of the performance-enhancing drug stigma he bears. He'll fit in any way he wants.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.