Farm systems are pipelines and for years and years during their success era, the Giants allowed clumps of hair, clipped fingernails, and other assorted gunk to clog up theirs. That didn’t create some sort of buildup of great new baseball talent that just needed a clear path to the big leagues in order to blast through, it instead ruptured the pipeline and forced the Giants to finally call a plumber (Farhan Zaidi) and pay a lot of money to fix the damage.
As limp as the metaphor may be, it’s apt! Once the Giants started winning, far less emphasis was placed on the minor leagues in order to keep the sweet championship major league roster humming. But as with all short-term thinking, the very thing they were trying to avoid became an inescapable and unsolvable reality.
Except, did Farhan Zaidi really come in and unclog the drain, or did Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean actually fix the pipeline last year and it’s the new group who’s benefiting from the free flow of talent? Most of the top players in the system were brought in by the previous regime. MLB Pipeline’s current top 10 for the Giants system (with draft/sign years):
- Joey Bart (2018)
- Heliot Ramos (2017)
- Marco Luciano (2018)
- Hunter Bishop (2019)
- Logan Webb (2014)
- Sean Hjelle (2018)
- Alexander Canario (2016)
- Mauricio Dubon (2013 — traded for in 2019)
- Seth Corry (2017)
- Luis Toribio (2017)
That’s a pretty compelling case for the old group, and you can even expand upon the argument if you factor in that last offseason’s organizational revamp. One of the big moves was the hire of David Bell to oversee the farm system. After Evans was reassigned, there was a thought that all of the changes would go out the door with him, prompting our Kevin Cunningham to state a case for keeping Bell despite the front office turnover:
When the Giants hired Bell, he did not just replace his predecessor, Shane Turner, in the role. He instituted major changes throughout the farm system. The two most visible changes were adding a second team in the Arizona Rookie League to give younger players more playing time, and adding additional coaches at nearly every level — a “Fundamentals Coach” — to provide more coaching within the system.
Underneath those decisions is a farm director who extols the virtue of data in player development. That’s not to say that Bell has lost his love of gritty players with a hard work ethic, but he has done more than just sing the praises of ways to incorporate data and information in developing players.
His interests go beyond launch angles, spin rates, and sabermetric data. The organization also focused on nutrition, biometrics, and even sleep as ways to improve each team. The system focused a lot more on the health of a player, choosing to not leave a player to their own devices the moment they leave the stadium.
Bell, of course, went on to manage the Reds, but it looks as though most of his new policies remained intact as the new regime took over. This season has seemed like a year for review more than anything, with no great purge of scouts and coaches having occurred. That might very well change this offseason as everyone settles into their roles.
On the other hand, the hybrid organizational structure (Faidi people + holdovers) seems to have been paid off this year. The farm system has made a huge leap, not just in terms of the quality and quantity of players who have advanced, but also in the eyes of industry peers.
The Giants aren’t yet in MLB Pipeline’s Top 15 systems, but they’re no longer on the bottom rung, either. They’re still not in a position to turn on the faucet and fill up the major league roster with young talent, but they’re getting there. There’s not a lot of accuracy in the field of prospect forecasting, so at best I can say that given conventional wisdom and given industry norms and current trends, the Giants have at least started to “hit” a little in terms of young talent showing flashes of potentially exceeding the talent floors with which they’d initially been scouted.
The organization has some confidence now. That’s remarkable, considering the Single-A and Double-A teams still have losing records. Here’s a promo the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels just dropped:
Squirrels today, Giants tomorrow.#WhosThatKid #SFGiants #GoSquirrels pic.twitter.com/04vgkp4YO6— Richmond Flying Squirrels (@GoSquirrels) August 19, 2019
That team is 47-78. But they did just add Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and Sean Hjelle to their roster. The Triple-A River Cats have a shot at the playoffs for the first time since they became a Giants affiliate (2015).
Historically, the Giants have tended to opt for “low ceiling / high floor” talent that could move through the minors quickly to become league average or replacement level major league players as soon as possible. The rest of the industry focused on drafting “high ceiling” players regardless of floor and crafting developmental systems that could theoretically help more prospects make greater strides to if not reach their high ceilings then come closer to exceeding their talent floors.
I’ve mentioned this before, but FanGraphs employs industry jargon in their prospect rankings, using the term “Future Value” when generating a scouting grade for their big board of prospects. It uses the 20-80 scouting scale. For reference, here are the charts for hitters and pitchers:
Scouting grades for prospects tend to be conservative, though, and based on the presently available information. In other words, scouts see how a player is doing right now and grade based on that. So, there’s a degree of volatility to that. A player’s grade could change drastically even after a few months depending on their development, and certainly, there’s room for steady improvement year to year if a player can handle the rigors of the minor leagues. But scouts aren’t out there tossing out 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Given the difficulty of baseball, my threshold for a successful prospect and successful system boils down to this: do they have a good number of players who currently project to some day be major league-caliber players? And my definition of a major league caliber player is the same as FanGraphs and the scouting scale: a 40 Future Value.
A 40 FV says that scouts see this guy as being a Major League Baseball player some day, and not just as someone who might be a ‘tweener, but someone who can find a role on a 25-man roster. As Roger and I discuss regularly on the Prospects Podcast, it’s very difficult to make it to the majors. A player projected to make it is automatically a cut above.
So, with a 40 FV as the bar, you might think the Giants still have a long way to go. Again, they’re not in that top 15 of the Pipeline rankings; but, if you just count the number of 40-grade or greater Future Value players on FanGraphs’ rankings, you can see that they’re hanging with the prospect-rich teams.
Here are Pipeline’s top five, with the number of 40 or higher grade FVs:
5. Diamondbacks (33)
4. Marlins (30)
3. Dodgers (32)
2. Rays (44)
1. Padres (40)
Obviously, the number of major league-caliber prospects are weighted. The Rays have Wander Franco, who’s 18 years old and still in A-ball but has a 70 FV at the moment. The Padres’ top 15 breaks down like this: 60, 55, 55, 50, 50, 50, 50, and eight 45s. The Giants have just five prospects with a 45 Future Value, and only Bart (55), Luciano (55), and Ramos (50) are better than that quintet.
So, yeah, the Giants can’t compare to the best teams, but compared to where they’ve been, and compared to the rest of the bunch — by my tabulation, they’re ranked 22nd just solely by number of 40 or greater FV prospects — the organization is much better off. A year of positive development and a system that’s starting to create some separation from the lower part of the rankings is not elite or overly exiting, but it’s fine and normal.
Come 2021, we might not see an offseason where the team assembles a michaelreed of Connor Joes to fortify the back end of the 25-man roster. We might actually see the current talent buoying the major league roster become the depth behind some talented rookies.