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Looking Ahead To The 2018 Farm: A Chat With Roger and Kevin

Okay, it’s the 29th-ranked farm system, but it’s our farm system and it’s the only one we’ve got! Kevin and Roger take the time to discuss the future of the farm.

MLB: FEB 20 San Francisco Giants Photo Day
Tyler Beede during Spring Training, 2017
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hello there, McCoven! I’m Kevin, and sitting across from me is Roger (and by across from me, I mean across the country). We’re the writers of Minor Lines and the Prospect Round-Up here at McCovey Chronicles, and we’re here to get you pumped up for the upcoming season in the Giants’ farm system. Yes, that 29th-ranked system. What can I say, we’re ambitious!

Since we live on opposite sides of the country, we don’t get to sit down and chat about things too often. But we took some time to share our thoughts on the upcoming season for the Giants farm system, which features a new stadium, some new uniforms, a new team, and even a new head of the system!

Kevin: I’ll start off with this tweet from Kerry Crowley…do you read a lot into this?

Roger: Mostly I read into it that Tyler Beede is a 1st round draft choice in an org that is going to give opportunities where they’ve made investments (and cognizant that hope for future had to be part of what they’re selling this year). I don’t read into it anything about his chance to be part of the opening day roster. I still think Chris Stratton and Ty Blach have the clear advantage in securing 4th and 5th spots In the rotation based on what they did at the big league level this year. Beede will get a lot of long looks all the way through ST and push the guys in front but i don’t see too much chance that he starts ‘18 in SF without an Injury to one of the other 5. His opportunity is coming though.

I will just note that, as we saw in 2017, while the Giants are going to give opportunities to the guys they’ve invested high round picks in, those opportunities don’t last forever, as Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones could probably attest.

Kevin: I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Ryder Jones. Even his opportunities last year were pretty much Plan F, after the previous 5 went bust or injured.

But as far as the Beede tweet goes, I think this underscores something that is overlooked after this off-season: Despite a perception of being old at the plate, and the farm system being as shallow as ever, this is a team that will still be relying on a lot of prospects (or recently graduated prospects) to make the pitching work. Definitely, Beede is an underdog to make the team right out of camp...but the team still sees him as a top prospect and a big piece despite some evaluators almost seeming to ignore him this off-season after a bad year.

Roger: I should clarify, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Ryder either, but he clearly wasted his opportunity to grab a spot. A strong 2017 and he could have been looked at as a part of the mid-term answers. Instead they went into the winter with 3b as the #1 upgrade need and COF close behind. With a long-term answer at 3b and 1b and Chris Shaw waiting in the wings for LF, his path to a role has narrowed quite a bit. He probably needs to find success in a bench role now.

Kevin: So, how do you feel about the farm system now, after this off-season? There were a lot of moves that affected the farm, more than I’ve seen in a while.

Roger: They are definitely out on a limb on that pitching staff. Hopefully Chris Stratton’s metamorphosis is legit! I think the farm is pretty thinned out. It still has major league help to offer, and I think we’ll definitely be seeing Steven Duggar, Beede, Shaw, and some relief arms like Reyes Moronta on the big club at some point this year (possibly a very early point for Duggar), but outside of Shaw I think all the near major league ready talent is of the “hoping to be average” nature. Contributors, not stars, and precious few of those. Still getting an average starter out of Duggar sometime over the next couple of years would be huge for the org. Getting a legit power bat, even with warts in the rest of the game, out of Shaw would be huge. And getting some innings eaten productively from the Beede, Blach, Andrew Suarez group will help contain some costs.

Anyway, the greater answer to your question I think is that the farm is very thin and lacking in ready impact. The front office has done a fantastic job of walking the thin line between bolstering the big league roster to make it competitive while protecting the resources for the future. They hopefully can be competitive this year, there are some complementary pieces around that can help the big league club either on the field or as trade chips in July, but the future strength of the farm system is basically the 2017 top picks, the 2018 top picks and 2018 IFA class. Protect the kids far away; use the upper level folks as you can.

Kevin: I was relieved to see part of the off-season strategy was protecting the acquisitions that haven’t happened yet. By not signing a protected free agent, and by not blasting through the luxury tax and resetting future penalties, the Giants have set them up for good acquisitions this year, both in the draft, and the IFA market. It won’t turn the Giants farm into a Top 10 system right away, but it could get them out of the bottom 10.

Seeing Bryan Reynolds go during the offseason was a little disappointing to me. I know some saw a tweener in him, but I saw a profile that would work well in right field at AT&T Park, and while he wasn’t a superstar in the making, I thought he would be that inexpensive role player that is important to keep having come up through the system to balance a team’s budget. That said, I thought the McCutchen trade was good value both ways, and I am excited to see Cutch play at AT&T Park.

So this season, which prospects do you think will step forward, and which ones will disappoint?

Roger: I never think anybody will disappoint!

I can see an entirely reasonable path by which the Giants could jump to middle of the pack or better. First and foremost Heliot Ramos moving to A ball and looking electric and keeping his upward momentum. Getting decent looks from Jacob Gonzalez and Seth Corry. And then the draft will obviously help, and hopefully getting a strong pro debut from the 1st/2nd rounders. Then signing one or more of the top group of IFA guys. Getting another solid step forward from Garrett Williams, good looks from Anderson and Fabian. Maybe a step forward from Adon. And then the big one, Canario and Gregory Santos delivering on their hype. You could see some real system Rx next year.

Of course, not all of those things are going to happen. But if Ramos gives a strong showing in A ball, Canario has a strong domestic debut, and the #2 pick kid doesn’t fall on his face, just those things will help the system’s value a good amount.

If I had to say who I think will disappoint, it seems most logical to point at pitchers, given their volatility. Williams, Adon, and Beede are all the types who can go sideways, and then there’s the ever present health danger.

But I very much want to believe that the Ramos, Fabian, Shaw, Canario group will all do their bit to lift the system out of its doldrums.

Kevin: Any thoughts on who the Giants will draft at #2? In the Fanposts during the offseason, I got the impression quite a few of our readers really want a hitter. At least at this very early point, I just can’t not see it being either Brady Singer or Ethan Hankins, whichever is available.

Roger: I think that die is still a long way from being cast. I have heard some of the beat guys saying they believe all else being equal the Giants would like to take a bat, or better said they’d like to like a bat with the 2 pick. And that makes sense to me: the data over the last 10-15 years is pretty decisive that bats taken at the very top of the draft are much more likely to bring a return than arms are. Also, Pitchers taken in the top 10 picks really aren’t that much more likely to provide impact than pitchers taken in the 2nd round, but hitters taken in the top 10 picks are much more likely to provide impact than 2nd rounders. Which is why in the final days and weeks before drafts two things very reliably happen: college hitters float up boards and HS pitchers float down. Of course you never know who a team might fall in love with. I like some of the HS bats myself like Nolan Gorman and Nander de Sedas and Jarred Kelenic, but certainly several arms are intriguing too. The spring will move a lot of pieces around.

Kevin: That’s all true, TINSTAAPP and all, but that doesn’t stop me from looking forward to the draft and looking. Nolan Gorman certainly looks to have enticing power, and I like reports that Nander De Sedas has a good plate approach (which sounds like a Giants draftee), but there are definitely some “buts” to the hitting prospects. I’ve got to say, at this point, I watch the video of Hankins and I see a special fastball that has what Lincecum’s barely had (and lost as the years went on) with movement that won’t let hitters square up. Plus, the build of a right-handed Madison Bumgarner is very, very likable.

I plan to include a draft prospect update, looking at both the first and second round possibilities throughout the first half of the year in the Prospect Round-Up.

Okay, let’s change to a different newcomer. Do you think that fans will be able to see the effects of David Bell and his changes, other than an entirely new team in the system?

Roger: That’s a tough one. I have no doubt that there will be major effects down the line (and perhaps immediately) from the new group, but development tends to be mostly obscure to fans in general, so it’s hard to imagine how things will “look” different. I guess we’ll start to get a sense of how Bell likes to handle assignments in just a couple of months, but I would guess that the real effects of trying to integrate more analytics into the development are likely to take place almost entirely “backstage.” That said, a whole new team is a pretty big first development (of course, Bobby Evans was the one who pushed for that). Certainly this is a suggestion that others have been making for years: add another rookie level team to get those raw teenagers more consistent playing time to try to develop. I’d assume that will translate into DSL kids coming over more aggressively and also, potentially, more HS picks in general, since they’ll have the bandwidth set up to give them development time.

I certainly do look forward to hearing interviews with Bell and some of his new staff to try to compare their philosophies to Shane Turner’s. Certainly one thing to listen for, to my mind, is whether they’ll focus more on balancing advanced approach at the plate with the aggressiveness that they’ve longed prized. Particularly kids like Fabian and Jalen Miller need to improve at that, and probably Ramos as well, so I’ll keep an eye on those kinds of players.

And then I think watching how they handle pitchers’ workloads will be interesting to keep an eye on.

Kevin: I certainly agree that the pitcher’s workloads will be interesting. The thing that I’ve been most interested by with the minor league overhaul is an apparent push into science throughout the system. Geoff Head moving into the coordinator of Minor League Strength and Conditioning is one that I’m very interested by. It’s hard to quantify, but I wonder if this will lead to seeing a system-wide reduction in injuries but also a stronger late summer performance.

I’m sure you are looking forward to yet another team to put into the minor lines for the second half of the season.

Roger: Yeah, I think the push to advance science is one of those areas where huge effects can be mostly, if not entirely, hidden from the fans’ view.

Kevin: Maybe Matt Pare will help us see some of it in his YouTube show?

Roger: In addition to strength and coordination, I’ve long advocated greater integration of nutrition science as well, which has always seemed like a real avenue of potential competitive advantage.

The Yankees have had remarkable success turning coordinated strength and conditioning work (particularly with weighted balls) into a system that has far and away the most power arms in baseball. That all happens behind the scenes but hopefully the results start to show up in a rising tide of interesting boats.

Kevin: Low-Key, I wonder if they’ll have different jerseys than the current team. I absolutely love the AZL Giants jersey, with orange and black shoulders, with a black spike down the sleeve.

Phil Bickford in 2015, wearing those sharp AZL Giants threads!
Kevin J. Cunningham

Roger: I’ll defer to you in terms of uniform appreciation though, Kevin!

Kevin: Oh, please don’t defer to me on that, because I definitely want your opinion on the new GreenJackets logo and caps! Unfortunately, the uniforms are not yet out...

Roger: I’ll do my best, but I like to stay in my lane. Still, I have watched every season of Project Runway, so I ought to be able to handle the fashion critique!

Kevin: For your consideration…

The new logos of the Augusta GreenJackets, announced in January, 2018

They seem proud to say they are the first team to incorporate plaid into their uniforms...we’ll see if this means plaid pants later.

Roger: I really like the A with insect wings logo. I like that an awful lot! But the hornet wearing the golf hat? That’s really not working for me. I fear that players’ entire development future could be jeopardized by the presence of plaid pants in the uni.

Kevin: I agree about the A...that is sharp! But yeah, the new mascot? The old mascot, Auggie, looked like an insect. This new one just looks like an angry larvae!

Speaking of new GreenJackets things, the GreenJackets are moving to another state (and, like, 1.5 miles) and into a new stadium. It will be interesting trying to judge player performance there with no Park Factors to judge by. Lake Olmstead was a terrible place for home runs, and it’s not like the new stadium will be in a significantly different climate.

Roger: Yeah, I wonder how quickly we’ll be able to tell the difference? Last year you’d see the Augusta team head over to the more offensive friendly places like Lexington or Greenville and suddenly the HRs would start flying and then back home and they’d disappear again. So I wonder if by the end of April we’ll start to have a feel for the new environment or if it won’t really become apparent until the summer heats up.

Kevin: The dimensions of the new Stadium, SRP Park, are also as-yet unpublished.

But one other unknown about SRP Park is the wind. The new stadium is right along the river, so I wonder if there will be more wind along the basin. What I may do is connect with someone who’ll have first hand knowledge of both parks: New Augusta hitting coach Thomas Neal, late in the season to get his thoughts.

Roger: Yeah, how the wind off the river plays will be a big issue, but in general I would assume that the new stadium should be more hitter friendly just because of an upgrade to new lights. For years and years observers have noted that poor lighting conditions was one of the biggest problems for hitters in the Sally and I don’t think it’s a big coincidence that the new stadiums that have come online the last decade have been much more offensive than the older ones.

You’re heading down to the new stadium, right? How soon will we get the eye-witness report from you?

Kevin: Yes! I’ll be taking a trip to Augusta and Richmond at the end of April and early May. I will certainly send along reports and reviews in the Round-Up...and maybe you and I will get a chance to have a this time! Podcast?

That’s a great point about the lights, for sure. It may also help having both Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez there.

One indulgence from me, about leaving Lake Olmstead Stadium. Lake Olmstead was not a Stadium in the truest sense, it was a small concrete concourse with a lot of metal bleachers (with covered roofs and ceiling fans). It was quaint, but not up to current minor-league standards. That said, some of my best experiences covering minor-league baseball happened there, including my first time on a live radio broadcast helping doing color when I visited and the media relations guy said “Hey want to do this?” I found out my home run call is “There it goes!”

Whether it was watching a game, or sitting in the dugout with the players watching a Thunderstorm, when I look back on being a sportswriter, Lake Olmstead will be a special spot to me.

Roger: Ramos will make the Augusta team must-watch practically by himself, but what other teams or groups of players are you most interested in watching this summer? Which box scores will you be turning to first in the morning (or at night for you West Coasters)?

Kevin: Well, the obvious is the 2017 class in Augusta. Not just Ramos, but hot starts from several of the class made it feel like a strong draft class after its first three months (which is not a good timeframe to be judging draft classes). From Jacob Gonzalez to Bryce Johnson to Aaron Bond, there’s a lot of guys to pay attention to.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard. Whichever pitchers don’t make the big league team and end up in Sacramento will be worth watching. I would have said the 2016 draft of outfielders would also be interesting to watch, but with Reynolds traded and underwhelming 2016s from Heath Quinn and Gio Brusa, it’s harder to say. I kind of want to see both Quinn and Brusa, who got really big pushes in 2016, repeat San Jose to see if their bats can explode. If they are back there, I’ll have some hope, rather than getting smothered in the Eastern League.

What about you?

Roger: Like you, Augusta is a big draw. I’m not sure which of those guys will be there but Ramos and Gonzalez should, and I like Malique Ziegler there as well. Beyond that I think wherever Garrett Williams ends up becomes an interesting staff. If (or maybe better said when) he’s in Richmond then pairing with Shaun Anderson in the rotation in the upper minors will definitely catch my interest. If he starts in SJ then he’s once again with Melvin Adon and possibly Raffi Vizcaino for an interesting rotation with Patrick Ruotolo in what could be the most interesting pitching staff at the start of the year. Along with the interest of watching Sandro Fabian try to tackle the next challenge and others like Quinn and Brusa and Miller trying to come back and improve on repeats makes SJ maybe the most intriguing overall roster.

But once we get to short season ball the AZL is really going to attract my attention. Alexander Canario and Gregory Santos are probably the two most exciting “unknown” guys in the system, so getting more reports on them and seeing how they do in their domestic debut is pretty big for the system overall. Add in more interesting DSL guys like Ghordy Santos and Franklin Labour and Samuel Jorge and those two AZL teams are going to have a lot of raw talent on hand -- and that’s without even mentioning the top of the 2018 draft who will likely make appearances there.

Kevin: I have to admit, after two years of Lucius Fox-limited international signings, I was not expecting a lot from the group. Obviously, a lot of what we can see is stats with a few scouting reports here or there. Seeing Alexander Canario’s name come up like it did in this offseason was unexpected to me. But I certainly won’t complain.

One other name I want to see, even if his age was ridiculously out of sync in the Dominican Summer League, is Norwith Gudino. Sure, he’ll be 22 for this season and he hasn’t been stateside, but especially after his 2017 I’d like to see what he can do.

Any final thoughts for the readers of McCovey Chronicles to think about as we get into this 2018 season?

Roger: One thing I’m keeping an eye on is to see if Bobby Evans eventually makes a move to reshape John Barr’s draft team similar to the development shake up this offseason. Those two teams need to work in coordination so if Evans wants to integrate more advanced analytics into development it would make sense that he’ll want to do something similar on the draft side.

But beyond that I guess my message for 2018 is let’s hope things go a little more right than they did in 2017. Building a farm system is slow work (especially if it does come with some major tear down at the top). Building a system while trying to compete at major league level is even harder. It’ll be interesting to see how heavy they wade into the IFA waters this year bc spending money there can certainly pay dividends in deeper system (witness the current Yankees). Meanwhile there are a small handful of contributors (and maybe more?) who should be making their MLB debuts this year. Let’s be hopeful that a little Even Year Magic can shed its light our way.

Kevin: That draft team is hard to evaluate. It’s been disappointing that some of the first round picks have been slow to develop (like Stratton, Crick, and Beede), and injuries have played into some of the development issues. That said, there’s only been one outright bust the Giants have taken in the first round since Posey in 2008 that wasn’t related to injuries (Gary Brown, 2010).

A lot of the current rut has come from trading some of the top picks (like Phil Bickford from the 2015 draft) and losing a top pick in 2016 from the Samardzija signing. That said, they got some good values in 2016 and have interesting names from the later rounds (like Ziegler and Ruotolo) and 2017’s draft at least initially felt like a great one, both from the top pick and some of the later round guys. My initial thought would be that the current draft team hasn’t been doing poorly…but then again, nearly everyone got reorganized this year, so who knows.

In the end, the Giants have made 2018 about the Major League squad, and I love what they’ve constructed for this year. That may make it harder to watch some of the minor league levels, but I think for us organizational fans, we should feel good that the team has made clear that protecting draft picks for the future is one of the priorities, and they may be low-key starting a rebuild with last year and this year’s acquisitions. It will be worth watching that start…and a lot of praying that midseason doesn’t cleave too many guys away in trades.


That’s all from the two of us for now. Enjoy Spring Training, and you’ll be seeing a lot from myself and Roger this season.