The Giants kicked off free agency by extending qualifying offers to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith. But on day two, they did what they spent a great deal of last year doing: adding players to the 40-man roster who had been discarded by other organizations.
The new Moneyball isn’t about exploiting the market’s inefficiencies to collect overlooked players and skills, it’s about self improvement and internal discipline. Can the Giants renovate their development pipeline to make good players great and former fodder-types good? That’s the gambit they and most of the top teams employ and it’s the path the Giants have taken in order to catch up.
I’ll admit it’s tough to get excited about waiver claims because the idea that one of them could become a star doesn’t stick after the first couple of times. A year into the Zaidi Method and my opinion of the lottery ticket development system is that the metaphor doesn’t really work. It’s more like a raffle. There’s always the potential for a prize to be really great, but most of the time, it’s just free junk you never really needed or if it is, it’s something you could’ve bought with your own money and to your own specifications.
Like the two qualifying offer players, the trio of adds don’t figure to stick around in 2020, but let’s dive in anyway. That’s the thing about the churn: it doesn’t matter what you do because it never stops.
Rico Garcia - RHP
We got word of this single transaction via a tweet earlier in the day and little did we know it would be the tip of the iceberg. At the time I saw the tweet, it felt a little exciting, as though the Giants had fleeced the Rockies for the second time this offseason. MLB.com currently ranks him as Colorado’s #20 prospect.
While he is just 5-foot-11, Garcia still manages to get good downhill plane, and his fearlessness on the mound helps his stuff play up. Thanks to a structured throwing program, he’s managed to add 3-4 mph on his fastball since signing and will sit in the low-90s with the ability to reach back for more with his four-seamer on occasion, while his two-seamer has cutting action to it. His breaking ball can be a plus pitch, with late knee-buckling action to it, thrown in the 80-81 mph range. His changeup gives him what should be a solid third option.
FanGraphs had some nice things to say, too:
Garcia will sit 93-96 and touch 97 early in outings but lose command and zip later in starts. There are a variety of opinions about Garcia’s delivery, as one source thinks his deliberately paced mechanics are easy for hitters to time, while another thinks Garcia hides the ball really well. He’ll flash an above-average changeup and slider, and shows an ability to manipulate the fastball to sink and cut at various times. He’s more of a middle relief candidate than potential rotation piece, but it appears Colorado has found a big league piece in the 30th round.
Hmm. Short stature but big heart? A starter who could also be a reliever? Structured throwing program? Has all the makings of a teachable player with an industry consensus projection as a borderline major league-caliber player (40 Overall on MLB.com; 35 Future Value on FanGraphs)? Woo-hoo!
He was a 30th round pick by the Rockies in 2016 out of Division II Hawaii Pacific University, the only school to offer him the chance to pitch after high school. On the day of the draft, he was in touch with a professional team in Germany who wanted to sign him (read this interview with him on MiLB.com). Three years later, he made his major league debut, an August start against the Red Sox.
His legal name is Josh, but there were too many Joshes in his youth so he went with Rico. He turns 26 in January and has three option years remaining. He’s just 5-11, 190 lbs, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with heart and an open mind.
“Being a 30th-round pick and having the first season that I did and going to extended and back to Boise, it was kind of a downer,” Garcia admitted. “But I’m not the type of guy who will put my head down and be quiet. I’m going to continue gathering all the information that I can. I just talk to my teammates and coaches. That’s probably been the biggest part of my journey so far.”
The way the Rockies saw it, the struggles only made Garcia study even harder at how to get pro hitters out with his three-pitch combination.
We can only assume the Rockies called him “RiGa”, as per the franchise’s storied nicknaming convention.
He ran though Colorado’s system as a starter but he might wind up being more of a long reliever type. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, but it does play up in shorter stints. He’s on the Giants because he’s better than what they already had. But also,
He turns 26 in January and has three option years remaining.
Taken together, his interesting backstory, willingness to learn, hard-to-pin down projected role, and quality skill set make him a perfect project player and raffle ticket grab.
It’s important to remember that any player the Giants add meets some base level of criteria they use to evaluate players. A track record of some sort is mandatory. From there, the distinction is all about ability, which again, the organization seeks to manage as part of their new development system.
So, here’s the main standout number that points to the cover quality bound to the book of all the player’s traits: 9.0
That’s his minor league career K/9. He has 400 strikeouts in 400.2 MiLB innings to just 128 walks. That’s . . . really good. Earlier this year, he set a Hartford Yard Goats single-game strikeout record with 11 as part of a strong Double-A campaign (1.85 ERA, 87 K in 68 IP).
A young arm with strikeout stuff, the potential to start or relieve, and three options remaining makes him a 4/4 on the Farhan Scale, but all of these churnover odds will be based on the probability that they hang on the roster through the entire season. The Giants used 64 players last year (an NL record) and with a 26-man active roster for 2020, figure that record will be broken.
Garcia really struggled once he got to Triple-A and used the Major League Ball (6.90 ERA in 61.1 IP), and his size doesn’t do him any favors, but if he’s truly Drivelined his delivery to success, he’s going to continue to find work. Will that be in the Giants organization? I don’t know how to calculate odds, so I’ll say he has a 33.3% chance of not being churned over. For now, let’s enjoy this hasty Photoshop job on MLB.com:
Hey! It’s Kolten’s brother! And another player from Hawaii. FanGraphs rated him as the Rays’ #28 prospect at season’s end, giving him a future value (FV) of 40, which means bench player. Before you guffaw, for the cost of a waiver claim, the Giants just added a 24-year old left-handed utility player with three options remaining.
We don’t think he plays every day, but lefty bats with that kind of positional flexibility are good role players, and Wong is ready for the big leagues right now. The infield situation in Tampa Bay is very crowded and Wong may need a change of scenery to get an opportunity.
It should be noted that although he made his major league debut for them, he didn’t end his season with the Rays: the Angels grabbed him as a waiver claim at the end of September. The Rays waived him because of their extreme crunch in terms of infield talent. Must be nice. The Angels waived him this week and after playing just one game (he started and had a strikeout) for reasons.
In the meantime, please enjoy this hasty Photoshop job on MLB.com:
5. That’s the number of positions he’s played in the minors: second, third, left field, center field, and right field. He’s the purest version of a utility player who doesn’t figure to hit much (career minor line of .287/.342/.383).
Zaidi loves him some positional versatility and Wong’s age, option situation, and pedigree (being Kolten Wong’s brother doesn’t guarantee a solid major league career, but he’s off to a good start, comparison-wise) seems to make him a decent bet to hang around. You could also get cartoony in the analysis here and think that a Rays castoff is better than the average castoff.
Wong’s situation differs from Garcia’s, too, in that the Giants already have a bunch of interesting arms in the system but very little by way of talented middle infielders. Again, not knowing how to calculate odds, I’ll give him a 66.7% chance of avoiding The Churn.
Burch Smith finally has a companion tree in Trevor Oaks, another right-handed pitcher who, like Burch, is a starter/reliever. The Dodgers drafted him in 2014, just before Farhan Zaidi became the GM, and then was traded by Zaidi to the Royals in the deal that netted the Dodgers . . . uh . . . well, it was a three-team trade with the White Sox, too, and uh . . . hmm, carry the one . . . I see it now — for utility infielder Jake Peter and the cursed 1980s TV mechanic character-looking mustache of lefty reliever Scott Alexander:
As convoluted as the trade was, Oaks’ skill set is not. He’s a groundball pitcher in a launch angle world, relying primarily on a sinker-slider combination, all pitches averaging 89 mph or less. We might all be aware of the dwindling efficacy of a major league sinker, but look at what Statcast considers to be his slider:
That looks like a changeup, but the data doesn’t credit it as such. Also, it’s pretty devastating.
His prospects going forward look to be pretty good, actually. While he’s been a sinker-slider guy for most of his career, he also throws a cutter. The Giants remade Trevor Gott by getting him to ditch his sinker in favor of his four-seamer and last week they claimed Tyler Anderson from the Rockies who also has an effective cutter that could be harnessed better than his other fastballs, so maybe, just maybe, the Giants have a plan in place for a former Farhan farmhand.
That’s his minor league walk rate. It pairs with a greater than 50% groundball rate in 532.1 minor league innings. Groundball pitchers do still exist in the modern game and aren’t any worse than pitchers who don’t get a high volume of groundballs. It’s the sinker pitch that’s going away, but there are other ways of inducing weak contact and grounders, and if the Giants can harness Oaks’ natural sink and he can translate his minor league walk rate into something similar at the major league level, then they might have something. It’s the lack of velocity that gets in the way of an orgiastic projection.
Oaks turns 27 at the end of Spring Training and even though he’ll have two options remaining, his generally soft repertoire might not help him keep up with whatever competition the Giants bring to camp. He certainly gets credit for being a guy Farhan Zaidi remembers and that might just well mean there’s something in his skill set they’re keen to unlock or continue developing, but on paper, I’m seeing a 90% chance of churn. So, get what will probably be your first and only look at the guy in a Giants hat:
The Giants’ 40-man roster is now full. The GM meetings begin next week, so either the Giants don’t plan to make any moves in the near-term or they’re getting ready to make many moves in the near term and plan to coincide their activity with whatever’s about to happen in Scottsdale. Yeah, there’s an excellent chance the Giants will try to sneak one, two, or all three of these guys through waivers as teams make free agent moves and trades.
The whole point of The Churn is to upgrade the back of the roster on the cheap. To that end, Garcia, Wong, and Oaks take the places of Kyle Barraclough, Mike Gerber, and Ricardo Pinto, who were all recently designated for assignment. Wong is three years younger and at least two positions more versatile than Geber; Garcia and Oaks can both start and relieve and have options available to them. They’re not the power arms, but they’re more versatile with more potential upside, and if the planned development system is fully operational, should make excellent candidates for improvement through it.
If it all works out, the Giants will have added a versatile utility infielder to spell or displace Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, and/or Donovan Solano, and two pitchers in the Shaun Anderson mold who could start or relieve, potentially filling out the back of the rotation or the middle of the currently vacant bullpen.
But don’t get attached. It’s just as likely that none of these guys play an inning for the Giants this year.