The Giants’ have a deep farm system right now. The Giants don’t have a widely regarded farm system right now. Both can be true, even if they seem mutually exclusive. It’s not a problem, the wise Giants fan chuckles, because nobody saw Joe Panik coming. Nobody saw Matt Duffy coming. This organization has a way of sneaking their best prospects under nose of most observers.
This is true. So when you see that Baseball America has ranked the Giants’ farm system 24th out of 30 organizations, it’s not time to freak out. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any contributors from the farm. This doesn’t mean there aren’t high-ceiling players in the system. It just means that, when stacked up with other organizations, the other guys have more high-ceiling types.
They Giants have been here before, and it’s worked out for them. That makes it easy to dismiss the ranking, and it’s fair to compare the success of the organization with how they were previously ranked. The Giants’ farm ranked 19th before the 2014 season, and they used that farm system to win the World Series.
However, I’m here to restate my opinion that the general consensus matters. Baseball America isn’t just staffed with three people who watch too much baseball and share their opinions with you. They’re talking to GMs, assistant GMs, scouts, scouting directors, and other prospect wonks. They’re getting a feel for the trends in baseball, the teams that other organizations are envious of. They’re aggregating these opinions. If four scouts are getting cartoon-wolf eyes over a prospect, that makes its way into these rankings.
It’s also true that prospect evaluation is hard, and that every prospect ranking has parts that look very silly with the benefit of hindsight. If it’s hard to get a handle on the 750 players on a major league roster, it’s ludicrously difficult to keep up with the thousands in minor-league ball. The players with tools will stand out, and they’ll buoy rankings like this. That’s how a player like Duffy will slip through. It’s how Pablo Sandoval wasn’t even ranked in the Giants’ top 30 prospects a couple months before he was demolishing pitchers in the majors.
The Giants, for example, like Tyler Beede a lot. Brian Sabean loves the guy.
"Trust me, as we all kind of put our own heads together internally and evaluate everybody's prospects -- we don't necessarily do a Top 100 like these periodicals or the talking heads do -- but he's the furthest thing from the 89th prospect in baseball," Sabean said.
That’s encouraging. The Giants have their own internal evaluations, and they’ll put Beede up against anyone. I trust their smarts, even if they’re in a bit of a dry spell when it comes to starting pitchers, and reading that got me as excited about Beede as I’ve been since draft day.
The problem is that Baseball America is reporting on what other teams are thinking, more or less. So while Sabean and the Giants might love Beede, the White Sox might not be as enamored. They’re getting the same glimpse that Baseball America is, more or less, and there isn’t enough time to get a 40-page dossier on every player in every organization.
What that means is that when the Giants need to make a trade, they’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt. Their prospects won’t have the buzz that others do, and it’s why they didn’t even bother making a serious play for Chris Sale, for example. If they’re going to make a big trade, they’ll have to trade players off the major league roster.
Longer story short: If the Giants have a widely admired farm system, they might still have Matt Duffy. It wouldn’t mean that they would produce more major leaguers, necessarily, but that they wouldn’t have to give up the ones they’ve already produced to make a trade of substance.
So the Giants can wave off the rankings and be bullish on Beede, and that’s fine when it comes to helping the major league roster. They’re good at what they do.
The perception matters, though. And it would be a lot cooler if they had that Red Sox sheen, where it always seems like they have an embarrassment of riches, and it’s easy to convince other teams that they’re doing well if they get two or three of their notable prospects.
It’s not a crippling problem. But it’s one of the reasons why the offseason was relatively quiet. If the Giants think Tyler Beede and Christian Arroyo are four-star prospects, and the rest of baseball thinks that they’re two- or three-star, that doesn’t mean the Giants are wrong. It just means that it’s going to be exceptionally tricky to swing a big deal. The organizational rankings reflect what the rest of baseball thinks about these guys, and it’s the rest of baseball that the Giants are trading with.