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MLB Draft, rounds 7-10: Quantum Leapers and a Yalie

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The year was 1969. The Giants were coming off a second place, 88-74, season and were hovering around .500 around the the time of that year’s draft. They selected zero pitchers in the first ten rounds of the draft. Fast forward 50 years and the Giants, coming off of consecutive hella losing seasons, used nine of their first ten picks on position players.

Full circle? Not really. But 50 is a nice, round number. Farhan Zaidi and Michael Holmes’ first two days of their first draft running the Giants was memorable, though, and linked in some small way to the franchise’s past. That part is far less important than the talent they selected, and if you read Roger’s write-ups on Hunter Bishop and Logan Wyatt last night and Kevin’s analysis of picks 3-6, then you know the team really did come out swinging.

Or looking for swinging. Something like that. The Giants went heavy on bats. But before we delve into the final four picks of today, let’s look at that top 10 from 1969:

#1 - Mike Phillips (SS), #2 - Jack Woolsey (OF), #3 - Horace Speed (OF), #4 - Randy Mohler (SS), #5 - Raymond Lombardo (C), #6 - Steve Ontiveros (3B), #7 - Gary Thomasson (OF), #8 - Guy Homoly (OF), #9 - Peter Franklin (OF), #10 - Michael Fisher (OF).

Half of them would make it to the major leagues, and the bunch combined for a major league bWAR of 11.7 (Thomasson and Ontiveros accounted for all of it, Speed’s -0.7 wiped out Phillips’ +0.7).

But in just the previous year, the Giants drafted eight position players with their first 10 picks, the first of whom was Gary Matthews. The bulk of his value (30.4 total bWAR) came with other teams and only two other players from the Giants’ entire 1968 draft even made it to the majors (Jim Howarth and Rob Ellis), same as the 1969 draft (Skip Pitlock and Derek Bryant); so, you know, historically, this could portend to something bad, but on the other hand...

Baseball is totally different from 50 years ago, not just in how teams approach the draft, but also in how they develop their draftees and how draftees approach the game itself. The analytical evolution hasn’t just been a deluge of data points and confusing new statistics involving constants, biometrics, and proprietary algorithms, it has also ignited an evolution in players as students.

This excerpt from the just-out The MVP Machine, co-written by Ben Lindbergh and about how the Astros revolutionized the game, really helps describe what I’m getting at:

Mindset is a psychological concept that’s already earned its own TED Talk. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck turned “mindset” into a business buzzword when she codified an attitudinal difference that could help explain the separation between high and low achievers. “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset,” she wrote. “They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”

The Astros value a growth mindset in their players, and more than anyone else, they also embody it as a franchise. They’re baseball’s best proof that even elite performers possess untapped talents.

The thinking seems to have seeped into the industry hive mind, because if you consider last night’s draft coverage, maybe the only good thing about it was how the analysts’ focus was on the positive traits of every draftee. That has to do a little bit with first and second round talent being more heavily scouted overall coupled with the live TV aspect and everyone associated with the production having to be heartless monsters to not be moved by how excited young people are as their dream comes true, but not just because of that.

It really does seem like the value of being drafted isn’t just in one fixed tool, but in the total potential of development, and these later scouting reports feel like they speak to a “growth mindset”, versus the old “he’s a project” or “this is what we have to work with.”

It looks like the Giants have made this adjustment to their program and used it to find “hidden value” in the draft. All of their picks this afternoon weren’t controversial, but perhaps just a touch unconventional, but ultimately, understandable. It seems like the Giants went after players who had made a quantum leap in their development over their college career:

7th Round, #206: Armani Smith, OF, UC Santa Barbara

Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215 B-T: R-R

Smith is from Martinez, which is just across the Benicia Bridge on the East Bay side. I’d pass it every morning on my way to high school, which was the same one that Smith went to, De La Salle. His favorite team is the Giants and he’s C.C. Sabathia’s nephew. So, really, this is my favorite pick of the draft for entirely selfish reasons.

The reason(s) why you should like this pick are pretty clear. Says this tweet:

And the statistical evidence of these adjustments can be clearly seen here:

2017 | 201 PA | .285/.328/.397 | 4.5 BB% / 16.9 K% / 25.5 XBH%
2018 | 144 PA | .234/.300/.383 | 5.6 BB% / 20.8 K% / 36.7 XBH%
2019 | 238 PA | .325/.395/.636 | 8.0 BB% / 15.1 K% / 51.5 XBH%

He had a sophomore slump and made adjustments. Now the Giants want to seize on that to see if they can unlock even more talent.

8th Round, #236: Caleb Kilian, SP, Texas Tech

Ht: 6-4 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R

Wow, a pitcher. Can’t believe it. The Giants broke their string of position players to grab what would traditionally be considered a “project” pitcher. According to the tweets:

Kilian’s three-year college run doesn’t feature the same bump that Smith’s did, but he did show steady improvement in one key area:

2017 | 38 IP | 1.52 K/BB
2018 | 72 IP | 2.25 K/BB
2019 | 71.2 IP | 3.63 K/BB

Maybe the Giants see a front line reliever in there or maybe with their new biometric training they think they can tweak his motion to maintain a high average velocity and sharp slider — the fastball-slider combo is the industry standard combo now.

There’s also this story from earlier in the year talking about Kilian’s adjustments and stick-to-it-iveness:

So, after four starts, Kilian was 0-2, 9.19 coming into the start of Big 12 Conference play [...]

Kilian stepped up to the challenge. He threw seven scoreless innings, struck out four batters and held Texas to one hit and two walks. [...] and the Red Raiders won, 3-0.

Kilian attributed his turnaround to a change in mentality.

“I talked to some coaches and they told me, ‘(It’s) a fresh start. That was spring training, we’re starting over today,’” Kilian said. “I think that helped a lot. I was more focused.”

Again, it seems reasonable that the Giants are trying to seize on not just projectable physical talents but also growth mindsets — or, at the very least, players in the midst of making career adjustments that have already produced some success.

9th Round, #266: Simon Whiteman, SS, Yale

Ht: 5-10 Wt: 165 B-T: R-R

Growth mindset or just smart dudes. Either way, the Giants were scouting player brains just as much as player bodies. This Whiteman was a Rhodes Scholar candidate and the captain of the Yale baseball squad.

Per this tweet:

That’s 213 hits over his four-year career (789 PA). Virtually no power through most of it (18.8 XBH%) but he did steal 71 bases and was a perfect 34/34 this year. This isn’t to say that he didn’t make a similar leap as Smith an Kilian, posting an .853 OPS after a three year run of .622, .777, and .674, but the final result wasn’t quite as remarkable as the other two.

Still! Here’s more evidence of a fanatical work ethic and “growth mindset”:

With great help from Yale assistant and infield coach extraordinaire Tucker Frawley, Whiteman, a Trumbull native and Fairfield Prep graduate, has made the transition from second base to shortstop over the past two seasons and has emerged, in Stuper’s eyes, as the best player in the Ivy League.

“When you put the hardest worker I’ve ever had with the best infield coach in the country, this is what happens,” Stuper said. “He goes from a decent high school player to a great college player to a kid I think is going to get picked in the top 10 rounds (of the 2019 MLB Draft).”

Stuper has also never had a Rhodes Scholar nominee. But in between improving from a .266 hitter as a freshman to a .321-hitting senior who’s stolen 28 bases in 28 attempts entering Wednesday’s bout with Sacred Heart, Whiteman has found time to dominate in the classroom, as well. A STEM major (chemical engineering), he boasts a 3.99 grade-point average — one A-minus, everything else As, over his four years — and is a First Team Academic All-American.

“It’s been demanding,” Whiteman said of his academic load. “I actually enjoy it quite a bit. It’s forced me to stay organized … I’m extremely efficient with time management. I really don’t do much besides baseball, school and my faith. Beyond that, I don’t have time for much.”

Whiteman also looks like a ruthless killing machine of baseball proportions:

Maybe we still don’t know what the Giants’ new organizational philosophy is, but we’re getting closer. The Giants definitely have a type.

10th Round, #296: Jeff Houghtby, SS, University of San Diego

Ht: 5-11 Wt: 175 B-T: L-R

The final pick of the day became the fourth shortstop to be drafted by the Giants so far. That’s not an indictment of Brandon Crawford, it’s an indictment of the lack of shortstops in the organization.

Houghtby’s senior year showed a similar jump in OPS — .950, versus .682, .695, .671 in the three years prior — along with a jump in walk rate (11.3%, up nearly 3% over 2018) and decrease in strikeout rate (10.39%, down nearly 5%).

Sayeth le tweets:

Senior signs are “cheaper” in that the player has exhausted his NCAA eligibility and his choices are to join an independent league or some other non-MLB league for far less money or take the low bonus money offered by a major league team and a chance to maybe make it to the majors some day.

I couldn’t find a feature article on Houghtby, but my guess is that should one come about in the next week or so it will highlight his hard work and the adjustments he’s made.

The Giants have a type.