It’s insanely cool to see the San Francisco Giants reach down into their farm system and pull out exciting prospects. That was never a guarantee no matter who took over after Bobby Evans and a concept that was implausible as recently as mid-April.
Luis Matos?? In this economy?? And after Casey Schmitt? AFTER PATRICK BAILEY??? I didn’t forget about Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn (congratulations on a stellar debut last night), but the Giants having multiple position player prospects debut with an eye towards being everyday players is practically a foreign concept to me at this point. I’m glad the news didn’t make me apoplectic because I wouldn’t have been able to write this post.
Sure, the Giants have had a successful run of player development as recently as last decade, but in my lifetime (now — gulp — 40-something years), the Giants have really only had two clusters/hiccups of success in that regard: the Will Clark batch and the Lincecum-Posey batch; so, maybe once a generation. That has felt to me like a success rate indistinguishable from luck.
Indeed, the Farhan Zaidi era of Giants Baseball didn’t get off to a great start with player development and for a variety of reasons: high floor/low ceiling talent already in the system, injuries, a pandemic, some more injuries, and everyone adjusting to a new normal in the pandemic’s tail. As recently as last season, the development process looked like it was stuck in a ditch or simply doomed to fail, suggesting that any future bright spots might just be a turn of luck detached from any rational “process.”
This past January for The Athletic (subscription required), Melissa Lockard described last season’s poor showing by their prospects as “a speed bump.” They were so bad as a group that it prevented the team from improving either through trades or callups. The linchpin of Farhan Zaidi’s model is young talent that he didn’t have...
... until now?
If you’re young enough to not get the reference in the headline, it’s from late 1900s TV show called “The A-Team,” which the opening monologue sets up thusly:
In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team.
Most of their plans involved silly disguises and serious dynamite but executed with military precision befitting an elite unit. They were clever enough and experienced enough to improvise as the situation needed and the show was fun for what it was in the time it aired. Anyway, they were led by Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (played by George Peppard, the actor in the header image), who had a signature move — chomping on a cigar — after saying his signature line: “I love it when a plan comes together.” Here’s a relevant supercut:
I’ve never seen Zaidi chomp a cigar, but he’s got to be saying “I love it when a plan comes together” right now, and if he’s not, I am. These are the Giants we’ve been waiting for — not just these specific players, but the organization that was promised. This is the building that’s been under construction seemingly forever, and now it’s complete.
Luis Matos, Casey Schmitt, and Patrick Bailey combine average-plus contact skills and average-plus power with plus defense and fall somewhere between slightly to notably better, raw talent-wise, than players they share positions with on the roster. Bailey isn’t Buster Posey, but wow, is he playing well enough that it’s okay to think about thinking about the possibility; Schmitt’s energy, defense, and contact skills are exciting and we’re all sitting here thinking he has a good chance of adjusting to the league’s scouting report after his fast start; and Luis Matos is coming in as an outfield prospect with a head of steam the likes of which we haven’t seen since... Chili Davis back in 1981?
The Giants have talked about wanting to be able to win and develop and Zaidi’s focus has been making “one good baseball move after another” and I think the past five seasons have featured a lot more of Zaidi’s reality to Baer’s fantasy, but Zaidi shares that view — it’s the promise of the premise in his pitch to become their President of Baseball Operations: he can build a team for cheap that can still compete, and whatever talent surplus they have plus whatever reputation their success generates can net superstars in the future.
Luis Matos is a success of the player development pipeline the new front office has constructed. Remember, he’s a Bobby Evans signing — but so was Joey Bart. And David Villar; but also, Marco Luciano. There are no guarantees in Baseball, particularly in player development, but developing existing talent is, to me, almost as important as developing the talent you draft.
Schmitt and Bailey are sort of no-brainer “great, good job — your model works” successes, still worth crediting the team, but Logan Webb, Keaton Winn, Luis Matos... these are guys Farhan Zaidi inherited and whether or not he would’ve chosen to acquire them, optimizing their skills to fit the team’s roster model is a separate accomplishment. It’s a key point in combatting the lazy and infuriating “tank for 5-7 years to get the best draft position”-style rebuild that a lot of fans support when their team does it.
The Giants are now back on the path of a winning organization. They might not yet have the right number or combination of players to compete at the very top of the league, but you are safe to throw them in the mix as interesting-to-competitive. Some of these guys might not pan out, ultimately, but that’s okay. It’s not these guys or bust. The player development pipeline is fully operational; and, like a crack commando unit, the front office has the knowledge and resources to acquire players to help them in the areas of the roster where they don’t quite yet have the depth they’d like.
This is the first season of the Zaidi era where the Giants are folding in prospects with more experienced players and I’m so glad we’re here. I can hardly believe it. We have reached the finish line. I know a lot of people on this site never lost hope. I was beginning to argue that the concept of “player development” might be snake oil and that it really does just come down to pure dumb luck. Maybe I’m not 100% wrong there and maybe the Giants aren’t 100% sure how they turned things around from “speed bump” to “fast lane,” but the reality is that the Giants are finally — FINALLY — where they’ve hoped and planned to be.
What’s not to love?