With the annual MLB Amateur draft coming up soon, it’s time to anticipate the new haul of talent that will undoubtedly flood into the org and save us all and point the team towards a brighter future. And what better way to crank up the ol’ Anticipat-o-meter than to revisit the Ghosts of Drafts Past, and see how the recent hauls are doing. Right?
Hey wait, don’t go! This will be fun! Promise!
Ok, well, maybe this isn’t revving up the Anticipat-o-meter as much as I’d hoped. Regardless, plow on we shall with a series of posts that revisit some of the most recent drafts. The hits, the misses, the too-soon-to-tells (or is that “too-soons-to-tell”?).
First up, it’s 2016!
Let’s set the scene: on the day the 2016 draft ended, the Giants walked off a victory against Kenley Jansen and the LA Dodgers (Joe Panik singled in Denard Span), pushing their record to 37-26, 4 games up in the NL West. The big contracts were working out perfectly and the Even Year Bullshit was in peak form. Yep, it was a looooong time ago.
Now I like to think of the 2016 draft as the one in which I more or less correctly predicted the first several picks while interviewing Christopher Crawford — no need to click that link, that’s just how it happened, trust me.
2016 stands out as an unusual draft, as it was the first draft since 2005 in which the Giants did have a 1st round selection. Their first pick came at #59 that year thanks to the team signing Jeff Samardzija the previous winter to a 5 year, $90 million deal. I can hear you out there gnashing teeth and rending garments over that last sentence, but remember this: Samardzija has provided the Giants with somewhere in the range of 5-6 WAR (depending on which metric you like to use), or basically 500 league average innings, while every 1st rounder the Giants drafted between 2012 and 2015 have provided (thus far) NEGATIVE 2.1 to the org (not counting the quick Sell High Turnaround that created Will Smith where once there was a Phil Bickford). So don’t cry too much for Samardjentina.
The loss of the 1st round pick combined with having a low-ish 2nd round pick meant the Giants had one of the smallest bonus pools in MLB in the 2016 draft. The domino impact of that meant not only were they missing a shot at the best talent up top, but they also wouldn’t have the financial resources to try to pick off one of the “signability” high school players who fell out of the 1st round due to bonus demands.
Unsurprisingly, the result was a college-heavy slate of picks:
2016 Draft Results
|2||59||Bryan Reynolds||Vanderbilt U|
|3||95||Heath Quinn||Samford U|
|4||125||Matt Krook||U Oregon|
|5||155||Ryan Howard||U Missouri|
|7||215||Garrett Williams||Oklahoma St|
|8||245||Stephen Woods Jr||SUNY-Albany|
|9||275||Caleb Baragar||Indiana U|
|10||305||Alex Bostic||Clemson U|
Did I say heavy? I meant exclusive. Still the Giants did pursue an interesting upside strategy in the draft going which we’ll get to in a minute.
In their first two picks, however, fortune appeared to favor them as players who were generally ranked higher than the Giants pick fell to them — that’s a twist on recent Giants drafts! Bryan Reynolds was universally considered a 1st round pick and the Giants nabbed him at #59. Heath Quinn was frequently mentioned as a reasonable target for the Giants at #59 (go back to that Christopher Crawford post again), and he was inexplicably available at 95. This almost instantly gave the Giants the best pair of OF prospects they’d had since possibly the days of Nate Schierholtz and Fred Lewis — or at least since the heady days of Gary Brown and Roger Kieschnick.
Setting aside the 4th round selection of SS Ryan Howard (the second year in a row that the Giants had selected the University of Missouri infielder) for the bulk of the rest of the first 10 rounds, the Giants pursued a strategy of drafting extreme variance, high upside college pitchers: i.e., if you threw hard but had little idea where things were heading (and you were a college guy to fit within the bonus pool), the Giants wanted you!
Matt Krook with the crazy plus movement on his sinker that he couldn’t control? Wanted him! Garrett Williams, Little League World Series legend who Oklahoma State could barely put into games during their College World Series run due to his bouts of wildness? Wanted him! Stephen Woods who bizarrely spurned the Tampa Bay Rays out of High School so he could pursue his baseball career in Albany, NY where he walked 116 batters in 148 IP. Wanted him!
It was a logical and creative strategy in light of the club’s constraints going into the draft. Unfortunately, like many creative strategies, it failed to bear much fruit. Three of the five pitchers drafted on that second day of the 2016 draft are already gone. Alex Bostic retired after reduced velocity, intractable control issues, and TJ prevented him from ever making it far beyond short season ball. Krook and Woods were both used in trades (for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen respectively) and both have continued to be plagued by health and control issues in their new organizations.
Garrett Williams is the best remaining prospect among this pitching crop, but after a terrific full season debut in 2017, he’s struggled to matchup against AA hitters and seen some regression in his stuff. He had a highly successful Arizona Fall League stint in 2018, however, and being “left-handed and breathing” always helps. The chance to develop Williams into a productive player is still out there.
Oh wait, hang on, Kevin would like to interject something here. Go ahead, Kevin!
KEVIN’S TAKE: Remember when the Giants were thought to be the masters of developing pitching? I guarantee you’ll hear that again during this year’s draft, even though it’s so goddamned untrue it’s practically a malicious lie.
The Giants were tepid at best in the first decade of the 2000’s (Remember when Kurt Ainsworth, Jesse Foppert and Jerome Williams were going to be a huge rotation for a generation?), and after the Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner picks helped that notion, the Giants really have sucked at drafting and developing pitchers. Both Stratton and Beede came into the system with flaws, and the Giants have just been unable to truly develop them. That they tried, and failed, has been a flaw of the Giants drafting for too long, and I hope Zaidi can change it.
Excellent! Thanks for that, Kevin!
But we can go no further without addressing the proverbial elephant of the 2016 draft. The adage says that you have to evaluate your own players better than other teams do because you have the most data on them. With the Luis Castillo deal already haunting the club’s psyche at this point, one can almost feel the front office starting to side-eye Bryan Reynolds’ success in Pittsburgh. Is he going to become an evaluation mistake that a team entering a long rebuild can scarce afford?
There’s no use in Monday Morning QBing the strategy of trying to extend the window at this point. No, the greater question is why the Pirates have seemingly been able to unlock Reynolds’ power stroke, when Giants officials viewed him as something of a tweener, and thus expendable (in fairness, their quickness at deciding something similar with Bickford was a masterstroke). Is it just those MLB balls doing the trick? Or has Reynolds really made the one necessary improvement needed to become a quality starting center fielder? If Reynolds indeed turns into the starting center fielder the Giants badly need then that last hurrah is going to really hurt for some years to come.
Best Prospects from the top of 2016 draft
- Heath Quinn
- Ryan Howard
- Garrett Williams
Quinn has had a checkered development path, battling frequent injuries and a performance record that hasn’t been as robust as a bat-first COF needs to succeed. The 23 year old is currently on Richmond’s IL list with a leg injury, having hit .206/.301/.330 in his first AA campaign. He was the #15 prospect in the system on Baseball America’s ranking of the system and #7 on Baseball Prospectus’, while Fangraphs’ list didn’t mention him at all.
Ryan Howard is the latest incarnation of that classic Giants’ product: the contact oriented infielder. He does enough things well to carve himself out a career, but the lack of power probably limits the ceiling to a utility profile at best.
Garrett Williams has struggled against advanced hitters in AA over his first 1+ season at the level.
Best Prospects from the rest of 2016 draft
- Conner Menez (14th round)
- Jacob Heyward (18th round)
Ironically, the unheralded lefty from the tiny Santa Clarita school without the big stuff, is looking to be the real pitching prospect in the draft class. Menez led the organization in strikeouts in 2018, and has picked up right where he left off in 2019, striking out 11 per 9 in AA Richmond.
Jacob Heyward, Jayson’s brother, has always been a Three True Outcomes type of player, but he’s been begun to balance the two good outcomes a little more with the bad one. Heyward is posting a 172 wRC+ so far in AA with a 19.5% walk rate and a .211 Iso.
Malique Ziegler (22nd round) was used to acquire Kevin Pillar earlier this year. So we have Malique to thank for this.