Alright, I'm going to go out on a limb and make a fool of myself once more, but I think this question should be asked.
The Giants are in a rough draft position right now. With the number six pick in the draft, there are a lot of pitfalls around them. But I have an off-the-wall suggestion for them: Tim Wheeler, center fielder from Sacramento State. Now, hold off on bashing this idea for just a moment, and hear the reasoning.
Truthfully, there will be a number of talented players available. From high school stars (Tyler Matzek, Zach Wheeler) to college aces (Kyle Gibson) to post-college pitchers (Tanner Scheppers, Aaron Crow), there will be a plethora of pitching likely available, even if some of those guys are taken.
The problem is...pitching? Now, I’m not one to jump on ‘Draft a hitter only!’ bandwagon, especially in a year as down on hitting as this year, but another pitcher may not help the Giants much. The rotation is loaded right now, with three young pitchers and another in a long-term contract. Behind that, the team has two pitchers who are among the best in baseball (Madison Bumgarner & Tim Alderson), and a strong amount of second-tier guys. The Giants’ system had the ERA leaders in five of the six leagues it played in, as well as the full-season ERA leader in any league, and currently has six-man rotations in Connecticut, San Jose and Augusta. It was indicated the recent release of pitching prospect Adam Cowart was partially due to the fact the team did not have the room to develop him as a starter, and was to give him a chance to catch on elsewhere.
While a team can always stockpile, prospect-for-prospect trades are becoming ever harder to make, and the Giants have not been exemplary at doing this in the Sabean reign. That makes drafting another pitcher more likely to cause a logjam than make a trade easier.
Add in that none of the pitchers have an intangible feel like Lincecum or Bumgarner. Sure, the Giants may be able to see what few others do (such as they did with Alderson), but to do that for the third time in five drafts, pulling a top pitcher out of a mid-level pick? That's not likely at all.
Even so, clearly the value at the Giants’ pick will be pitching, and if one were to go for the best player available, it’d be a pitcher. But what about the hitters?
Dustin Ackley, the top college hitter in the draft, will likely be going #2 overall to the Seattle Mariners. Behind him, there are some questions. One is USC shortstop Grant Green, who has underperformed mightily and been rated by some as a power-plus player after a strong Cape Cod league last summer. In a lot of ways, he sounds a bit like a higher-ceiling but less-dedicated Brandon Crawford, who slipped to the fourth round in a strong all-around draft. He has a lot of talent, but has had enough struggles to be scaring teams off. Still, he may even be drafted before the Giants get their chance.
The other main position player is Donavan Tate. The consensus top prep prospect, he is this year’s toolsy, raw prospect. The thing is, there’s no denying his athleticism, but he’s no guarantee to develop all his tools, notably his power. For every Jason Heyward drafted like this, there’s three or four guys like the Giants’ Wendell Fairley, who starts very slow and will take very long to develop. No one disagrees that Tate is a project at best, and that’s before discussing that his agent is Scott Boras, and no one is really sure that he’ll choose baseball over football.
Both of those players seem to have as much, if not more, bust potential than chance to actually reach their potential, and both seem to duplicate recently drafted players. But is there another option?
That’s where Tim Wheeler comes in.
Wheeler finished his regular season with Sacramento State by batting .385/.494/.765 with 16 doubles, three triples and 18 home runs, 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts and 29 walks against 28 strikeouts in 200 at-bats.
Wheeler has been rising on draft boards. In Baseball America’s recent draft, he was at #15 overall, and was the fourth position player taken, behind the three listed above (BA had the Giants taking Tate). That’s a far cry from #6, but not as far as some might make it out to be.
Wheeler has been a hidden commodity, partially from playing at a small school in one of the smaller west coast leagues, the WAC conference. But few disagree he’s now the fourth best position prospect out there. While BA doubts his ability to stay in center, Keith Law and MiLB.com indicates he should be a good center fielder. He makes good contact, and he’s answered some doubts about his power between a good Cape Cod League and a strong junior season. That, and he’s one of the draft’s more accomplished base-stealers.
Wheeler’s playing on the left coast and being a bit of a hidden player may account for some underrating, but that is countered by moving up simply in a weak hitting draft.
So, is it worth it to take Wheeler in what few would disagree is a reach?
Well, in baseball, there isn’t as much value in draft position as in other drafts, where you can trade down to try and get a player you want. With no trades in baseball, you need to take who you want where you want.
But the key to Wheeler is that he’d bring a different look to the outfield prospects the Giants have, particularly in center field. Where the current batch the Giants have are either raw athletes who are having problems adapting (Fairley), or under-tooled speedsters who don’t have the discipline to use their speed (Timpner, McBryde), Wheeler brings a guy who already has the basic tools to succeed. Assuming he stays a center fielder, he’s got the defense, the base-running, and an ability to get on base both with hits and walks. And the fact he has questionable power does nothing to differentiate him from most of the class, including Green and Tate, who both have power that needs developing and that is no sure thing.
If it were to come to position players, I’d rather the Giants take Wheeler and sign him at a reasonable rate, and use the money saved that might’ve been spent on Green or Tate and use it for the July 2nd signing period of Dominican prospects, such as Angel Salome.
As I’ve said, taking Wheeler would not be taking the best player available. And Wheeler has a bit of work to do on his own swing. But he appears to have a better chance to succeed on his talent than the other hitters that would be available, which is no small thing, especially considering the bonuses that Boras-represented clients will demand. I have no doubt I’d prefer Wheeler over Tate or Green. The question will be more about Wheeler versus the available pitchers. And, to that end, I do think Wheeler might be the better fit for this Giants team.