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Requiem for the John Barr Era

Johnnie we got to know you fairly well, tra la!

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

As has been well documented elsewhere, Farhan Zaidi made a major move to set the future direction of his front office by bringing in two new, highly-respected baseball minds to head the pro and amateur scouting departments. Along with an expected hire to fill the vacant Farm Director position, these moves bring new voices, new ideas, and a new strategic vision for the organization pretty much top to bottom — and they will go a long way in defining how successful Zaidi’s administration will ultimately become.

But while we peer forward into the future with keen anticipation, let’s spare a moment to appreciate the outgoing overlord of amateur scouting and czar of the Giant’s last decade of drafts — John Barr, who played a significant role in setting up this Golden Age of Giants’ baseball.

Barr, it must be noted, is a legend in the field of baseball scouting — and I mean that quite literally!

Here’s a picture of John Barr standing next to his plaque in the Baseball Scout Hall of Fame — and that was all the way back in 2009. Whatever the vagaries of draft successes (or lack thereof) from year to year, John Barr is a not a man who ever needs to feel insecure about his legacy or his reputation within the industry.

But that doesn’t make him immune from a little cheap, backseat draft-jockeying from people who know far less about scouting than he. And that’s what I’m here for! Before the John Barr era fades into history, let’s take a look year by year at what went right and... uh... what could have gone righter.

2008: The Rainmaker

1st Rd Buster Posey (41.3 rWAR)
4th 4d Brandon Crawford (23.3 rWAR)
Others: Conner Gillaspie, Eric Surkamp, Juan Perez

It’s somewhat ironic that Brian Sabean was more or less forced to bring Barr in to help run drafts directly on the heels of the 2006 and ‘07 drafts that had netted the org Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner (not to mention Sergio Romo in ‘05, Jonathan Sanchez in ‘04, Brian Wilson in ‘03. Matt Cain in ‘02). Nonetheless, the new voice paid dividends immediately when Barr led off his Giants’ career with the best draft of his life. Posey finished off a troika of 1st round picks which the Giants will likely never match, and together Posey, Bumgarner, Lincecum and friends would be hoisting a World Championship trophy just 28 months later.

And as a cherry on top, we got hometown hero, All Star, Gold Glove winner, and stealer of hearts Brandon Crawford. Crawford was a well-known dude in amateur scouting going back to youth baseball, through high school, and onto UCLA and the Cape Cod League. Without a doubt, every organization in baseball had multiple amateur scouts turn in reports on Brandon multiple times. And I feel confident in saying that among those reams of scouting reports, there isn’t a one of them that suggests in its wildest dreams that he would ever be an above average major league hitter or that he might hit 20 HRs in a major league season. Through his own diligence and the help of his coaches, Crawford would ultimately turn himself into something approximating his 110 percentile outcome. Which leads us to the “Chicken and Egg” question that always has to hover over any and all Draft evaluations — was Brandon a great draft pick or a great development story? Or both? And how many potentially great picks didn’t — for whatever reason — unlock the potential careers they might have had because the right coach with the right words of advice wasn’t on hand at the right moment?

And you know for a replacement level bench piece addition, you could do worse than this:

2009: War’s a Coming!

1st Rd Zack Wheeler (6.3 rWAR)
2nd Rd Tommy Joseph (-0.9 rWAR)
3rd Rd Chris Dominguez (-0.3 rWAR)
5th Rd. Brandon Belt (22.7 rWAR)
Others: Chris Heston

Barr added another huge piece of the championship puzzle in the 5th round when he nabbed Brandon Belt out of the University of Texas where he’d been a high average, high OBP, low power 1b. Another great example of drafting and development working hand in hand, the Giants stood Belt more upright and watched him go. In his first year of pro ball he’d post a 1.075 OPS across three levels (A+, AA, AAA), put up another 1.000+ OPS in the Arizona Fall League, and start in the big leagues on the following Opening Day.

Still, if the rumors that swirled around the Giants fourth consecutive top 10 pick are to be believed, 2009 also marked the great what-if of the Giants championship era, as the talk at the time was that pick came down to a choice between Wheeler and Mike Trout, who the Giants had scouted heavily in the Spring. Brian Sabean would say on draft day that they ultimately decided to stick with what they do best (develop pitching), and that quote, among other things, points to the fact that some of these decisions involved wider organizational discussions and philosophies. Wheeler has turned himself into a very nice major league pitcher, but if those rumors were true chose poorly.

Probably just an old scout’s tale.

This draft ultimately ended up providing much trade fodder as Wheeler was famously (or infamously) used to acquire Carlos Beltran while Joseph was a key part of the Hunter Pence acquisition (the less said about 4th rounder Jason Stoffel going to Houston for Jeff Keppinger the better). Dominguez’ selection in the 3rd round fit neatly in a long standing Barr tradition, wherein the Giants would take a swing at a college slugger in the 3rd rounds of drafts, a list that included Roger Kieschnick, Dominguez, Ricky Oropesa, Mac Williamson, Dylan Davis, and Heath Quinn. Thus far, the Round 3 Dinger strategy has paid few dividends.

2010: The Lull

1st Rd. Gary Brown (0.1 rWAR)
2nd Rd. Jarrett Parker (1.4 rWAR)
11 Rd. Adam Duvall (5.9 rWAR)
Others: Heath Hembree, Brett Bochy

The 2010 draft ended a string of five consecutive drafts in which the Giants would nab a future All Star — for themselves, that is! The 11th round inclusion of Adam Duvall would push the streak of All Stars drafted to six years overall (and it would get longer!), even if the Giants didn’t necessarily receive the full value of Duvall’s All Star season. He represents another job of finding talent late and developing it.

On the whole, however, this is where the bitter tang of stalled talent starts to invade the narrative. Gary Brown is the inverse example of Brandon Crawford above. I will maintain to my dying day that Brown was an excellent late 1st round pick in a draft that was generally considered to be weak overall. He had incredible tools, was a gifted defensive player up the middle, had top of the line speed, took walks, stole bases, and had wiry strength. His 2011 campaign in San Jose is one of the finest overall minor league seasons any Giants’ prospect has had this century. But his unorthodox batting mechanics didn’t work well against more advanced pitching, and whether the fault lay in Brown or the development team, he could never quite make the changes necessary to unlock all that potential. Does this demerit belong on Barr’s resumé? How can we know the dancer from the dance?

2011: Doin’ what they do

1st Rd. Joe Panik (7.0 rWAR)
1st Rd Supp Kyle Crick (1.9 rWAR)
Others: Andrew Susac, Josh Osich, Ray Black, Derek Law, Joe Biagini, Kelby Tomlinson

“It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid” as Spinal Tap reminds us. There’s enough talent in here for this to be another landmark draft. As is, it was certainly solid, providing the Giants with yet another All Star and crucial World Series starter in Panik, and a lot of legit major league arms. But injuries have really withered the vine — particularly cruelly in Andrew Susac’s failure to launch, but also in Panik’s major league career thus far. Ray Black didn’t even get on a competitive field for three years after being drafted due to a series of health issues, and Law’s herky jerky mechanics have taken a huge toll on him (as scout’s always feared would be the case). Crick, Osich, Black and Law each has flashed brilliance, but consistency has eluded them all so far. But Barr’s group certainly identified and selected talent in this draft.

2012: Turning of the Tide

1st Rd. Chris Stratton (0.5 rWAR)
3rd Rd. Mac Williamson (0.5 rWAR)
4th Rd. Steven Okert (0.2 rWAR)
5th Rd. Ty Blach (2.6 rWAR)
18th Rd. Matt Duffy (8.7 rWAR)

2012 ended the Giants run of selecting a future All Star in seven consecutive drafts — all they ended up with was a Rookie of the Year runner up! Matt Duffy was another example of the Giants finding undervalued, contact-oriented college guys and turning them into found gold.

But despite a truly fantastic 18th round find, the 2012 draft highlights two of the major failings of Barr’s time running the Giants’ drafts. First, while they consistently found some nuggets in lower rounds, the drafts stopped delivering much value at the top — with Joe Panik and Kyle Crick (just barely) being the only first rounders this decade to rise above replacement value thus far. And second, the organization that had been considered one of the best in the game at identifying and developing pitching in the 00s when Dick “The Ninja” Tidrow was the point man for pitching prospects, just stopped turning out major league Pitchers. Between 2009 and 2015 the team spent five 1st round picks on Pitchers (and two 2nd rounders), and have gotten far too little out of that investment. You can draw a straight line from the 2012 draft topped by Stratton and St. Mary’s RHP Martin Agosta to this piece of Grant’s that ran earlier this year (though your personal preference may be to start the line from Kyle Crick or even Tyler Beede instead). Instead, it was 5th round pick Ty Blach who has (thus far) provided the greatest value to the org of any pitcher drafted in the teens.

2013: Shipwrecked

1st Rd. Christian Arroyo (-0.2 rWAR)
2nd Rd. Ryder Jones (-1.1 rWAR)

Barr’s drafts have more or less leaned towards college players, but not steadfastly so. 2013 was one of the times that they zagged back towards high school players at the top, though even there they went their own direction taking a couple of players who were lower on many prognosticators’ boards. There’s still youth at the top, but it’s getting pretty close to the point where we can declare this draft a total bust. Only four members of the class have made the majors at all (DJ Snelten and Dan Slania in addition to Arroyo and Jones) and they have a combined -1.6 rWAR. The 4th, 6th, and 8th round picks have already retired (several years ago in a couple of cases). The 7th and 9th are in other organizations after minor waiver claims. 3rd round pick Chase Johnson was recently outrighted off the 40 man for the time being but still has hopes of providing some bullpen value as he works back from Tommy John surgery. Cult favorite Tyler Rogers will be available to any team in the Rule 5 draft for the third consecutive season.

Arroyo was used to obtain Evan Longoria (for good or ill) and Ryder Jones remains with the org. But there’s a chance that this draft will provide no value above replacement in the big leagues. At this point the misses were starting to accumulate.

2014: In Flux

1st Rd. Tyler Beede (-0.3 rWAR)
2nd Rd. Aramis Garcia (0.3 rWAR)
Others: Logan Webb, Sam Coonrod, Austin Slater (0.3 rWAR)

And here we move firmly into the realm of the unformed, where many outcomes are still possible. Tyler Beede’s major league debut certainly didn’t go as planned (and his 2018 in general went about as poorly as it possibly could have) but he has time yet to swerve himself back into a positive arc. Perhaps there’s a Kyle Crick reclamation act in his future, perhaps a Stratton-esque up and down player. But the two-time first round pick remains as mercurial and exasperating as he’s ever been, four years into his pro career.

Aramis Garcia has been slowed continually by injuries, but made an impressive major league debut in September. Sam Coonrod and Logan Webb became the Giants’ most recent 40 man adds last month and could be showing up in the not too distant future. While Austin Slater has followed the path of many Giants’ low round over-achievers before him. Aside from Webb (maybe), it’s perhaps a little hard to see any starter types in this class, but the chance for roster contributors still exists.

2015: Looking for some value

1st Rd. Phil Bickford (N/A)
1st Rd. Supp Chris Shaw (-0.4 rWAR)
2nd Rd. Andrew Suarez (0.3 rWAR)
Others: Jalen Miller, Steven Duggar (1.1 rWAR)

As noted before, one of the hallmarks of Giants development has been the way that the amateur scouting team and the development team have seemed to be in great sync with each other — as one might imagine given how much internal continuity exists inside both groups. The Bickford pick feels like one major exception to that. Bickford impressed Barr’s team by pitching up into the upper 90s in short relief stints in the Cape Cod League, and he was selected at the top of the 2015 draft with the hopes that he could maintain that velocity as a starter (which many in the scouting community seriously doubted). He never showed anything close to that with the Giants (often working in the 89-90 range) and within a year he was gone in the (highly successful) Will Smith deal. That in itself isn’t odd, but the fact that Giants’ reps were willing to say they didn’t see him as anything more than a potential back end guy does suggest that something was out of joint. He’s struggling as a middle reliever in the Brewers system now and has a long way to go if he ever wants to see the majors.

As it happened however, they got a better arm in the 2nd round, even if Andrew Suarez ultimately is also just a back end guy, at least he’s gotten to that point quickly. The draft also brought Steven Duggar, who may be a starting CF that we’ve been waiting decades to see, as well as Chris Shaw, who still brings the best power in the system, albeit with limited other virtues. With Suarez, Duggar and others (like toolsy young Jalen Miller and MI depth piece CJ Hinojosa) this is yet another draft where the value came after the top pick.

2016: Last Man Standing

1st Rd. None
2nd Rd. Bryan Reynolds
3rd Rd. Heath Quinn
Others: Ryan Howard, Garrett Williams, Malique Zigler

The first Giants’ draft in more than 10 years in which the Giants didn’t have a 1st round pick (thank to the signing of Jeff Samardzija), this draft has acquired several more missing pieces in the two years since as the 2nd (Reynolds), 4th (Matt Krook) and 6th (Stephen Woods) round picks were all used as trade pieces last winter. With 10 rounder Alex Bostic having recently been released by the org, the survivors from this draft are getting a little few and far between. Heath Quinn, Ryan Howard (who the team had also drafted in 2015), and Garrett Williams represent the best hopes of the top 10 rounds, while some intriguing depth pieces came later on, like Junior College speedster Malique Ziegler, LHP Conner Menez, and RHP Pat Ruotolo, who has run up some mighty impressive stats on his fast rise through the levels.

2017-’18: The Future

2017 1st Rd Heliot Ramos
2018 1st Rd. Joey Bart
Others: Jacob Gonzalez, Seth Corry, Sean Hjelle

The Giants (and their fans) fervently hope that Barr left going away presents in the form of Ramos and Bart, who many view as the highest upside prospects the system has had since the days of Bumgarner and Posey. We might know quickly with Bart who should be poised to move fast. Ramos’ development is likely to take a good deal longer, as he’s considerably younger and much more raw of a player. In a best case scenario, four or five years down the line they will be teammates in a Giants’ lineup that fires up the fanbase.

Are there also classic Giants’ depth finds in these drafts? History says there’s a decent chance there is, perhaps in the 2018 back to back 3b selections David Villar and Sean Roby, or maybe (god forbid) an OF selection like 2017’s 12th rounder Aaron Bond.

Looking Back

The shorthand narrative on Barr’s years running the Giants’ draft is that he started with a bang that helped set the org up for three championships in five years, but went out with a whimper of mediocre drafts through the teens. Nothing here particularly puts the lie to that narrative, though of course there’s much more than just the picking that makes a good pick. Beginning in 2010 the impact talent began to taper off and the 2013-16 drafts have yet to provide much bounty at all.

Barr was responsible for bringing fan favorites Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Matt Duffy into the organization, not to mention Should Be Fan Favorite Brandon Belt — the fabled homegrown infield of 2015. Which is not a bad legacy.

But there are demerits on the ledger as well. In Barr’s 11 years of drafting the organization that used to be known for developing pitchers went a decade without bringing an important new arm onto the team (is Andrew Suarez the end of that stretch?). He also was unable to end the long-term inability to develop a homegrown OF, much as he tried (I’m personally much more willing to put this on the development team given that it’s 30 years in the making now).

And, of course, there’s this as well — Barr was the head of international scouting for the organization, too (though I can’t speak for the level of his direct involvement in that arena). And in his time over-seeing that part of the amateur scouting department the international program produced almost nothing — a few trade pieces (Keury Mella, Adlaberto Mejia, Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo who were used so memorably to acquire Casey McGehee). Reyes Moronta represents the only international amateur signed under Barr’s watch who has made a contribution on the Giants roster, and that failure has hurt the Compete and Develop mantra possibly worse than anything else.

But, of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that a Coda is still possible. Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, Marco Luciano and others hold the promise that Barr’s legacy with the Giants might well change again: In with a Bang/Out with a Bang. Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?

For now though, we’ll always have Buster! Thank you, John, and good luck!