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John Manuel Interview, III

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Baseball America co-editor-in-chief John Manuel has once again been gracious enough to agree to a short interview with Stephen Shelby, who had a few questions about the general health of the Giants farm system. (In the previous interview before the Giants top ten list was revealed, John discussed a bit how he ranks prospects.)

SS: You said in your Giants top 10 chat on December 16th the overall talent in the Giants organization is holding steady. That would seem to imply that once again the Giants might rank somewhere in the 16-20 range. You also said that Matt Cain is pretty clearly the Giants top prospect. With 46.1 IP he barely qualifies as a prospect. (The Giants also lost Brian Burres on waivers within the last couple weeks.) Without Cain, where would the Giants farm system rate?

JM: Without Cain, I'd say the Giants would clearly be a third-tier system. It's usually pretty easy to divvy up the system into thirds, and the Giants would be in the 21-30 range. There's not a sure-fire big league regular in the rest of the system, in my mind. I love Sanders, but there's the injury question. I love EME, but there's the defense and injury questions. The rest of the prospects all have some warts.

SS: I think baseball fans can be a lot like fishermen--obsessed with the one that got away. Let's talk about about a few of the prospects the Giants have traded. I think there are four who significantly improved their stock in 2005: Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Clay Hensley, Carlos Villanueva. Am I missing anyone? You have suggested that Liriano and Cain have nearly equal status as prospects. If they were still in the Giants organization, where might Bonser, Hensley and Villanueva rank?

JM: Carlos Villanueva doesn't belong in that discussion; he didn't even make the Brewers top 30, to be honest with you. Great stats, underwhelming stuff, he's a lot like Jose Vaquedano in the Sox system, very fringy stuff as far as I have been told. He might not make the Giants top 20, but he would have been in the 21-30 range because of his pitchability and the lack of depth the Giants currently have among starting pitchers, but he's replacement level. Boof and Hensley would have been contenders for the Top 10 because they are ready to help now, but it's kind of hard to know how the Giants would use them, and also, they both look like relievers right now, and the Giants have plenty of those. The one to really lament, obviously, is Liriano, I think he ranks as a shade better prospect than Cain and would be No. 1 in the system for me. David Aardsma would still make the list, he didn't make our Top 30 with the Cubs system, which I believe is a mistake, and I disagree with Jim Callis about that, but we had our discussion, and ultimately it's his Cubs list, he made those calls, so I defer to him. For me, Aardsma would be in the Giants 11-20 range, but he needs to be a reliever and needs to get some of his power back, he's just not throwing in the mid-90s anymore according to our reports. Brian Burres was considered before being lost to the Orioles and didn't make the 30.

SS: I would like to compare some of the Giants other young players with their current prospects. Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, Noah Lowry, Tyler Walker, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden and Jason Ellison are seven players on the Giants roster who no longer qualify as prospects but do not yet qualify for salary arbitration (and Tyler Walker is the only one with two years or more of service time.) If this were a list about the long-term potential of Giants players not yet eligible for salary arbitration, approximately how would these young players rate among the Giants top prospects? Do you think any one of them particularly saw his stock increase or decrease this past year? A year ago you suggested that Tyler Walker had little or "no pitchability."

JM: I guess Walker's stock did increase because he pitched relatively well in the major leagues. Jason Ellison decided to pick the one year in four that we didn't rank him to actually play well in the majors, and I was pleased for Lance NIekro that he carried over his successful 2004 and generally stayed healthy. Still, for me, none of those guys other than Lowry proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can be impact players in the major leagues. I'd say Walker and Hennessey would rank next, and the rest of those guys have kind of played out as expected.

SS: The Giants farm system for many years has been rich in right-handed starting pitching prospects. Now the system suddenly seems void other than top prospect Matt Cain. By the end of the season Merkin Valdez, Craig Whitaker and Alfredo Simon were pitching in relief, although you have reported that Valdez and Whitaker are likely to return to starting roles to begin the 2006 minor league season. The Giants other right-handed pitching prospects fall into three categories:

  1. pitched only in relief in 2005 (Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter, Brian Wilson, Kelyn Acosta, Billy Sadler and Justin Hedrick)
  2. profile more as middle relievers than as starters because of a lack of stuff (Garrett Broshuis and Chris Begg)
  3. have yet to pitch in full-season ball (Daniel Griffin, Waldis Joaquin and Shairon Martis)
How concerned should Giants fans be about the lack of right-handed starting pitching prospects? Or are the Giants richer than normal with their right-handed relievers, left-handed pitching prospects and position prospects?

JM: I would be fairly concerned, but I would also have faith that even critics of Tidrow (and it appears there are many; I'm kind of on the fence) have to admit the guy can identify pitching, draft pitching and develop pitching. That has not been a problem since he took over the scouting/farm departments. I can see a re-emphasis on pitching at the top of the Giants' '06 draft, and I also think the organization is richer than it has been in a decade in position players. It's nice to have relievers, obviously that's an important part of the game, but they seem to be easily had elsewhere (like, say, Tyler Walker was easily had).

SS: Okay, here's a booklength question that begins with a reference to a book. Two of the themes in the book Moneyball are an emphasis upon statistical analysis over scouting reports and an emphasis upon drafting college players over high school players. Many fans whom I know, and whom I might describe as being sabermetrically oriented, believe strongly in these two themes. A year ago we touched upon the first theme, briefly discussing how Brian Sabean and his lieutenants run the Giants in a manner that seems largely to ignore statistical analysis. This year I would like you to discuss briefly the second theme. In this regard, the Giants management seems in step with the concerns of my sabermetrically oriented friends as the Giants have used very few picks on high school players in its last seven drafts. Since the 1998 draft in which the Giants used two first round picks on high school position players (Tony Torcato 19th overall and Arturo McDowell 29th overall), the highest the Giants have drafted any high school position player was in 2001, when the Giants drafted Jeff Timmons in the 14th round. He did not sign. Their next highest pick on a position player is Marcus Sanders, drafted in the 17th round in 2003 and signed nearly a year later as a draft-and-follow. In 2004, the Giants drafted and signed Jeremiah Luster in the 18th round (and he really struggled with an .056 AVG in 36 AB this year). That is a total of three picks in seven years before the 20th round, and none of them in the first 13 rounds. (The Giants have also used three 20th round picks and two 21st round picks on high school position players during that seven year time period, the only one of whom they signed was Travis Ishikawa with a signing bonus that was the second largest the Giants have ever given to an amateur position player.) The Giants have been more likely to pursue high school pitchers, even with 1st round picks. From 1999 through 2005, the Giants used 13 of their picks through the 20th round on high school pitchers (Jerome Williams, John Thomas, Anthony Yacco, Boof Bonser, Ryan Hannaman, T.J. Large, Matt Cain, Jesse English, Mike Musgrave, Bryan Millikan, David Timm, Craig Whitaker, Jamie Arneson), signing 10 of the 13; but just two of those picks have occured in the last three drafts. The Giants have a similar track record with junior college players, having used just 18 draft picks to select junior college players before the 20th round in the last seven drafts (the most notable examples being Nate Schierholtz, Julian Benavidez and Erick Threets). This means that the Giants have used three fourths of their picks on the first day of the draft on college players. In 2003, two high school players, Brandon Wood and Chad Billingsley, who both are now among the top 20 prospects in all of baseball, were selected immediately following David Aardsma. How do you evaluate the Giants reluctance to draft high school players? Will the breakout by Marcus Sanders make them any more likely to draft high school players, particularly position players, on the first day of the draft in the future?

JM: A long question but a good question. I wonder how much of the Giants' reluctance to draft a high school position player has just been not finding the right fit. Obviously Ishikawa was the right fit; there was no reticence there to draft and pay the guy they wanted. I also can understand if they feel burned by Torcato and McDowell. I would feel that way too; they were kind of right about Torcato, he was almost as good as Sean Burroughs. It's just that neither of them were that good, and neither one was Hank Blalock. All that said, I've had many scouts repeatedly tell me the hardest part of being an amateur scout is projecting the bat on an amateur, because of the level of competition those guys are facing, the metal bats, etc. It's just hard to project hitters. My gut feel on this is, the Giants haven't felt sure enough about high school hitters, and the ones they have liked enough to draft have been gone when they wanted to take them. Also, for the Giants, if there's a tie, two talented players, tie obviously goes to the pitcher. This organization is confident in the way it evaluates pitchers and drafts accordingly. I would say they are not as confident in evaluating and drafting hitters (particularly high schoolers) and again, drafts accordingly.