As teams lock up the best talent earlier and earlier, chasing after the remaining flawed and expensive free agents is not where the Giants want to be. The historical track record has its wins (Barry Bonds, the best signing in MLB history) as well as the obvious downers (Squatting Rowand Hidden Zito). The chance of any player even half as good as Bonds ever hitting the market again is nil. The draft is where teams will win and lose, more than ever before. Develop or suffer the second division team consequences.
For the 2012 draft the Giants hold the 20, 84, and 115 picks in the first 3 rounds. After that they pick 148 for the 4th, and every 30 down the line, 178, 208, 238, etc. The draft has been cut from 50 suggested rounds to 40 rounds. The Giants have historically participated to the bitter end. As most late round picks are flyers or favors to agents, cutting out the last 10 should be a welcome move.
I’m curious what they will do, especially with regards to John Barr’s pattern of picking college position players. So I decided to look at the entire Sabean era for patterns on picking from the HS, JC and 4 year college ranks.
What I did: I split each draft into 3 segments: Rounds 1-10, the meat of a teams draft; Rounds 11-30, the value area; and Rounds 31-50, the flyer/throwaway section. I went through the 1993-2011 drafts and sorted by HS, JC and 4 YR. Then I looked for broad trends.
What I didn’t do: split out pitchers versus position players. That is a lot more work but would be interesting. I also didn’t bother with signing versus unsigned. Hopefully I can revisit those 2 in the future.
What emerged are 4 rough groupings. The first one runs from 1993 to 1998. This grouping was marked by heavy concentration on HS at the back end as well as a fair amount of trade fodder to support the big club. The second one runs from 1999-2003 and can be described as the getting serious about pitching drafts, also marked by changing up the back end to skew even split among the HS/JC and 4 YR. The third grouping is a mixed bag; it contains the punt draft pick years of 04-05 as well as the 06-07 save Sabean’s job years. The final group coincides with the new sheriff in town, John Barr being hired to run the 08-11 years. This grouping is marked by heavy emphasis on college across the board.
However, one thing that is surprisingly consistent under Sabean is the ratio in the early rounds. For the entire period, the 1-10 rounds run 19.7% HS, 9.9% JC and 70.4% College. Under the Barr group the 1-10 runs 20% HS, 10% JC and 70% college.
In the entire period between 1993-2011, the Giants have drafted 249 HS players (25.7%), 203 JC players (21.0%) and 515 college players (53.3%). In edition to the early 1-10 listed above, the 11-30 rounds feature a split of 19.5% HS, 21.1% JC and 59.5% college. The late rounds 31-50 feature a split of 34.5% HS, 26.9% JC and 38.6% college.
FIRST GROUPING, 1993-1998:
1993 Draft: Steve Soderstrom/Chris Singleton/Billy Mueller
1996 Draft: Mike White/Mike Caruso/Damon Minor
1998 Draft: Torcato/Bump/McDowell/Jones/Urban (5 in top 41)/Vogelsong
The Giants drafted 1-10: 21.7% HS, 8.7% JC and 69.6% 4 YR.
11-30: 22.5% HS, 27.5% JC and 50% 4 YR.
31-50: 50.4% HS, 28.5% JC and 21.1% 4 YR.
Ancient history at this point, but one thing I am looking for is an explanation for the Giants failure to develop position players besides “they suck at it” (although that may just be the plain truth). Sabean joins in 93 as the assistant GM/VP scouting. One factor I hadn’t thought of was the scouting budget getting cut 75% under Bob Quinn during the 94 strike year. Don’t know enough details on this but if that indeed happened that would explain the emphasis on pitching, devoting scarce resources to the area they might have felt is their comfort zone. Dick Tidrow joins in 94 as the head American League scout but isn’t put into director of player personnel until prior to the 1997 season. This is an important detail, as Tidrow runs the drafts for Sabean from 1997 until 2008.
And trade fodder the picks were. Singleton is traded in 97 for Charlie Hayes. Billy Mueller is traded in 2000 for Tim Worrell after being a Good Giant. Howry, Foulke and Caruso are traded in the White Sox white flag of 97. Joe Fontenot with others for Rob Nen. Russ Ortiz is a Good Giant until Dusty hands him the game ball, he gets traded for Damien Moss and Merkin Veldez (Still the closest Sabean has ever come to a prospects grab). Nathan is bundled up later on in one of the worst trades in history, which put a stop to Sabean’s big moves. Linebrink is traded for Doug Henry. Grilli is bundled with Nate Bump for Livan. Vogelsong is the big item for Jason Schmidt.
Coupled in with the trades are some first round busts. Soderstrom, Powell and White never panned out. The grab HS guy’s late strategy doesn’t pan out. The only interesting picks were JD Drew and Brad Lidge, both of whom didn’t sign.
So in 1998 the Giants try something new. For losing Doug Henry, Roberto Hernandez and Wilson Alvarez, they are blessed with 5 first rounders, all in the top 41 picks, as well as 8 in the top 100. Its worth noting that 3 were HS: Torcato, McDowell, and Jones. This complete bust might have convinced Sabean that chasing after draft picks is a waste of time, further cementing his proven vet in the hand mentality. 2nd rounder Chris McGruder was later a part of the Big Cat deal in 2001. It also might have soured him early on HS talent before he ever came across the name Wendell Fairley.
So although they drafted a fair amount of pitchers to this point, they also drafted a bunch of outfielders early, who didn’t work out. Was it bad luck or bad scouting? The trades made in this period paid serious dividends to the product on the field.
SECOND GROUPING, 1999-2003:
2000 Draft: Boof Bonser/Lance Neikro/Brian Treadway
2001 Draft: Hennessey/Lowry/Linden/Foppert
The Giants drafted 1-10 17.9% HS, 12.5% JC and 69.6% 4 YR.
11-30: 24% HS, 25% JC and 51% 4 YR.
31-50: 31% HS, 33% JC and 36% 4 YR.
Looking at this, lots of pitching and some of the biggest names for position player development frustration between Neikro/Linden/Lewis/Ortmeier and the jury still out on Nate the Great. The pitching though, this is a hard luck story if there ever was one.
Ainsworth, Foppert and Williams were all extremely highly rated. Noah Lowry’s injury still makes me sad. Matt Cain is Matt Cain. Boof was packaged with Nathan and Liriano and showed some flashes but never panned out, is famously back with the Giants recovering from TJ surgery. Aardsma was packaged up with Williams for LeTroy Hawkins. Ainsworth with Damien Moss in the ill fated Sidney Ponson deal. JT Thomas was swapped for Dustan Mohr. Hennessey and Correia, after some 5th starter and pen adventures were allowed to dangle. Foppert after his awful injury is packaged with Yorvit for Randy Winn.
I can’t say this is a bad set of drafting. Things didn’t work out, and the trades weren’t nearly as useful as the past grouping, but they weren’t terrible either with the exception of the Nathan/AJ fiasco. At the end of this the Giants are about to call up Pedro Feliz as their first home grown prospect since Mueller. It is getting ugly on the position player front.
Worth noting two things: first, the 2003 draft the A’s got the Giants pick and a supplemental for signing Ray Durham. The Giants got the Astros pick and a supplemental for losing Jeff Kent. Losing Jeff Kent is a watershed moment. While Ray Durham was a nice player, Kent was on an entirely different level. He gave huge positional advantage. This grouping ends with a mini “stock up” in the draft and the Giants come up with Aardsma and Whitaker for their troubles. Further evidence that draft picks are not worth the trouble for the greybeards?
THIRD GROUPING, 2004-2007:
2006 Draft: Tim Lincecum/Manny Burriss/Pill/Rohlinger/Bocock/Downs
2007 Draft: MadBum/Alderson/Fairley/Noonan/Williams/Culberson
The Giants drafted 1-10 18.4% HS, 7.9% JC and 73.7% 4 YR.
11-30: 15% HS, 13.75% JC and 71.25% 4 YR.
31-50: 23.75% HS, 27.5% JC and 48.75% 4 YR.
There are 2 stories here: a horrible strategy of punting draft picks followed by 2 incredible swoops with the #10 pick. There is an up tick in taking college players overall especially in the middle rounds. I don’t think it is an accident. I think the Giants are targeting college pitchers in the middle rounds. Also of note is in the late rounds the Giants are moving more 4 YR centric as well. JC is getting de-emphasized.
Not much to say here, you have the deliberate plucking of sad faced Michael Tucker to lose the draft pick instead of the bold move of grabbing Vlad Guerrero. The lunatic fringe springs forth fully formed. Eddy EME is drafted with the 70th pick. There are some very nice 2nd round players that year, but overall it’s not a stellar year and I shouldn’t cherry pick the good ones. I will note that 14 of the 30 picks have played in the majors and have put up 63.1 WAR so far. EME is not among those. The really bad news is Sabean thinks its such a great idea he does it again in 2005, one of the most legendary draft classes ever. Signs Omar first day to a 3 year deal nobody else would have offered, grabs Metheny away from the Cards with an overbid and then goes and snags Armando Benitez to cap it off. The Giants don’t pick until the 132nd pick, one Ben Copeland, they finally snag Alex Hinshaw (third times a charm!) in the 15th, pull off a nice snag with Romo in the 24th. Of note the Tucker year is of course Johnny Sanchez, a steal in the 27th. The Giants also grabbed arms such as Dan Runzler, Joe Paterson, Joe Martinez and Steve Edlefsen in this period in the middle rounds.
As the team breaks down around Barry with the Steve Finley grand slam in 2004, the Bonds injury in 2005, the oldest OF ever fielded in 2006, the Zito signing in 2007 along with fabulous Dave Roberts and Bochy Ball coming on board, Sabean reverses course because he can’t punt his protected pick.
Cue the Rocky theme. Tim Lincecum. Job saved. 2007 brings a bunch of draft prep that impresses Peter the Pink (unaware of knives sharpened behind his back at this point?) and is another clear win with MadBum, although the rest of the early crew picked alongside him aren’t looking so hot. Alderson is shipped for Freddy Sanchez with not good results in 2009, and quite stellar results once Fragile Freddy takes the field in 2010.
The other clear change is Sabean holds onto most of the prospects from this point. He makes small moves such as the Accardo/Hillenbrand trade. He trades off his lousy signings, Morris for Rajah Davis. Tucker for Kevin Pichardo. Benitez for Randy Messenger. Where he used to be almost hyperactive now there is nothing going on, a ghost town with an outdated Razr. And still no position players being developed successfully. More of the classic names: Bowker and Frandsen. Burriss and Pill still hanging around.
FOURTH GROUPING, 2008-2011:
2008 Draft: Buster Posey/Gillespie/Kieschnick/Crawford/Surkamp
2010 Draft: Gary Brown/Parker/Jurica/Rosin/Kickham/Hembree/Jones
2011 Draft: Joe Panik/Crick/Susac/Oropresa/Marlowe/Osich
The Giants drafted 1-10 20% HS, 10% JC and 70% 4 YR.
11-30: 13.75% HS, 13.75% JC and 72.5% 4 YR.
31-50: 25% HS, 16.25% JC and 58.75% 4 YR.
Barr has overseen an up tick in college players, at the expense of JC picks. The HS ratios haven’t changed much, but it is clear the Giants as an organization have a pretty healthy distrust of unproven youth, even in drafting. This really is emphasized in position players, where the only pick in the first five rounds of the Barr drafts is Tommy Joseph.
With the Timmy pick, the signings of AnVil and RafRod, the huge bonus for Posey, the Giants finally stop being cheap with development. I am not sure how much scouting was hired, but there are some hints that an increase in this area happened during 2006-08. Pablo Sandoval breaks through, and the Giants finally have a legitimate home cooked all-star. Posey wins the rookie of the year and the world series.
If you take a cautious view the Giants haven’t turned the corner yet but might be trending upwards with positional player development with Posey and Sandoval as cornerstones. Brown and Panik are highly rated picks, coming in the tail end of the draft. Brandon Belt may turn out to be a huge steal, or another in the long line of AAAA all-starts the Giants have specialized in. The quest for power hitters hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. John Barr has a rep for taking highly touted prospects who drop due to injury or other tarnishes. Crawford, Dominguez and Oropresa all fit that mold.
The apparent strategy is to merge Barr’s eye for the college bat with Tidrow’s eye for the power arm. The early returns look quite promising on the past 4 years of drafting. But there is the chance that this is just Kool Aid drinking on the part of Giants prospect hounds. The odds of breaking through to the majors are extremely hard, especially after the wave of first round picks.
The Giants have always been very conservative with draft picks. Overall, only 40 High School players have been drafted in the first 10 rounds in 19 drafts. While on one hand the drafting of the past six years has improved immensely with high profile success, the overall ratios haven’t changed much over the years. The ability to develop their own hitting prospects is a huge part of sinking or swimming, not only due to the free agent market being weak but a very mixed track record of overpaying for mediocre bats.
That is not to say everything is bleak. The Giants have had great success in the middle rounds in the past 10 years. They have a stellar record of pitching development. They appear to be locking up all their homegrown talent they have developed. The ability to compete strongly with the goal of championships will be won and lost on how well the Giants continue their drafting and player development. A legitimate criticism of ownership has always been that they are content to compete, fill the park and profit. The extra step, such as signing Vlad Guerrero, has alluded them. The free agent market may not be the answer, but falling on their face with drafting and development is definitely the route to failure.
They have a core group of players that are young and highly skilled. It is balanced towards the pitching end however. They have to juggle immediate fill in needs of role players versus taking a swing at unproven and high upside high school talent. It is a big challenge. They have to balance restocking the pitching versus the desperate need for hitting. They have to balance more immediate help of a college bat versus the chance for a truly special HS talent. All that from a not very good draft position, although better than in the past 2 years.