Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – San Francisco

The San Francisco Giants organization has a reputation for being a geriatric ward for professional athletes – and deservedly so. General manager Brian Sabean’s love of veteran players (at the expense of promising youngsters) has come under fire in recent seasons and there appears to be a slow change a foot.

Corner infielder Pablo Sandoval has shocked just about everyone with his immediate success in the Majors. Just 23, he has a .333 batting average and .924 OPS in 194 big league games. The only thing that could seemingly derail this roly-poly star is his conditioning. The club also appears committed to right-fielder Nate Schierholtz, who is just 26.

Beyond that, though, the club is trotting out a number of veterans on the wrong side of their career peaks – Mark DeRosa, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, Aubrey Huff, and Bengie Molina. The re-signing this past off-season of Molina is the most recent head-scratcher. Former top draft pick Buster Posey appears ready to be an everyday contributor behind the dish, but he will now either spend the majority of the year in the minors or he’ll play numerous positions in the Majors (thanks to his athleticism). The choice to trade for second baseman Freddy Sanchez last season was also a little interesting considering that the club gave up a promising arm in Tim Alderson for the injury-prone veteran.

Despite shedding Alderson, though, the club still has a lot of good, young arms in the Major League rotation. Mr. Cy Young Tim Lincecum is perhaps the best young pitcher in all of baseball at the age of 25. Matt Cain has been in the rotation for four full seasons but he’s still just 25 and is a workhorse. Jonathan Sanchez, 27, also has promise, but he’s quite inconsistent. Rookie Madison Bumgarner is a favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation, but there is concern over his long-term loss of his fastball velocity. The club also has some promising arms in the bullpen with the likes of Sergio Romo, Henry Sosa, Waldis Joaquin, and Dan Runzler. The latter could develop into the club’s closer of the future.

The Giants organization also has some more offensive help in the upper minors, including shortstop Brandon Crawford, and outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Thomas Neal. The club’s top young pitcher, ’09 No. 1 draft pick Zach Wheeler, is probably about four years away from the Majors. Organizational depth is certainly not a strength for this club.

The ’09 draft was OK, but nothing to get too excited about after Wheeler. The ’08 draft nabbed the likes of Posey, Kieschnick, and Crawford so it was quite impressive. Eighth round pick Scott Barnes was a great value but the club then tossed him to Cleveland for veteran first baseman Ryan Garko, who was then non-tendered at the end of the season.

The club had six choices in the first round and supplemental first round of the ’07 draft. That netted the club Bumgarner and Alderson with the first two picks but the last four players have yet to develop as expected (two of those choices, though, were questionable at the time). The club then lacked second, third, and fourth round picks due to free agent signings. The selection of Runzler in the ninth round helped to make up for that.

Scouting director John Barr has overseen the last two drafts for the club, after taking over for Matt Nerland, and Barr returns for 2010. The farm director has changed three times in the past five years. Fred Stanley will return for his second season overseeing the club’s prospects.

For the organization to remain competitive long-term, it’s going to have to rely on developing (and holding on to) its own cost-controlled talent. Once an offensive juggernaut (thanks mostly to Barry Bonds), the club now has a pretty weak lineup and it lacks the minor-league resources to acquire players via the trade market. Fewer and fewer clubs are letting key players make it to free agency for their peak seasons, so that leaves in-house development as the best place to find talent. Hopefully the Giants front office has gotten the memo.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

9 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – San Francisco”

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  1. marcello says:

    I have to disagree, the 2009 draft was great. Beyond Wheeler they had some great selections in Joseph, Stoffel, and Graham. All three were guys that had been discussed as 1st round talents that fell (which seems to be the MO of Barr in his first two years).

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    • Paul says:

      I agree. I think the 2009 draft has the potential to be an exceptionally strong one, considering what other experts have said about the Giants possibly having the best 6 players drafted out of any organization from this draft. A lot of first-round (at one time) talent picked up in later rounds, plus Wheeler; they’re taking risks, but even if only one other player lives up to his promise from before that’s a win.
      Unfortunately, we’ll just trade them for veterans and then release them after the season…

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  2. Christian says:

    I’m curious why you hate the 09 draft so much- Andy Seiler thinks it was the best draft in the league, as the Giants came away with Wheeler, Joseph, Stoffel, Graham and Dominguez, all players who were at one time in first round consideration

    I personally don’t like Dominguez, and Graham has his fair share of questions, and I can see how you could skip Stoffel as he is a reliever, but no mention of Tommy Joseph?

    That said, I do agree with the rank overall- Sabean kills the team

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  3. Marc Hulet says:

    Joseph is good but I want to see more from him before I get excited… I prefer Wil Myers and Luke Bailey as prep catchers from the draft. I am actually a big fan of Stoffel, but not sold on Graham and Dominguez. And no offense to Andy Seiler (who I had to google to find out who he is) but he’s the only person that I’ve read that says the Giants had the best draft… or even Top 5, from what I can recall. If I’m getting opinions on the draft and the minors, I’m looking to Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, John Sickels, and Bryan Smith/FanGraphs.

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  4. Oh the problems with your assessment, where to begin…

    Slow change afoot? At some point this season, the Giants rotation will consist of four great homegrown starters – Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner. And it could start with another homegrown in Pucetas. The bullpen will be lead by Brian Wilson with very good farm products in Romo and Runzler, plus perhaps Waldis Joaquin or Hinshaw, and either Pucetas or Martinez as long relief. The lineup will feature Sandoval and include Schierholtz (probably), plus Ishikawa got one spot and perhaps Lewis and Frandsen another two spots.

    Overall, that’s at least 40% of their spots taken by young players, and there are not a lot of other teams that has more than that on their roster, particularly those who are competing for the playoffs. And this is not just this year, it has been happening over the past few years for the Giants. Only most people (including many fans) don’t notice it because they look at the old lineup and somehow forget that the pitching staff is part of the team too.

    For Giants fans who followed the farm system in 2007-8, it was not so much a surprise that Sandoval has been so successful, though the magnitude definitely is a surprise, given his lack of power in the minors. He has had a good strikeout rate throughout the minors, despite being much younger than the averaged aged players in that league, plus a good batting average as well.

    You say Posey is a gimme to be ready for the majors this season – yet everyone said that Weiters was a gimme too last season, and he was considered a much better hitter than Posey. However, he started out slow when he reached the majors, and he didn’t even start the season in the majors while doing way better than Posey has in the minors, yet he failed to produce until September.

    I prefer the re-sign of Molina over starting Posey because then Posey can continue to develop his catching skills in the minors under the watchful eye of former MLB catcher Steve Decker, then if we bring him up mid-season, we have 7 seasons of control over him, plus we avoid the super-2 designation as well. Plus, then we got him and Molina available at the end of the season.

    The Giants will need every offensive edge it can get in 2010 if they are to make the playoffs, Molina is a pretty sure thing to produce, but if Posey hit as badly as Weiters did – .264/.315/.366/.681 to mid-September, and remember, he’s supposedly not as good a hitter as Weiters PLUS did worse than Weiters in the minors – that would hurt the team’s chances.

    Or are you guaranteeing that Posey will hit well? And are you willing to pay the Giants, say, $5-10M, if you are wrong, because that is the loss they would have based on missing the playoffs, bad will with the fans clamoring for the playoffs with Lincecum, and so forth? People always forget about the consequences when they are wrong with their predictions/projections.

    Promising arm Tim Alderson? Are we talking about the same pitcher? When is a middle of rotation starter – and that is all he has been seen as since he was drafted – that big a deal? And did you see his numbers after he got promoted, he hardly struck out anybody, certainly not at a pace that a pitcher can survive at in the majors – and he was doing it in AA, which is a whole lot easier than AAA, which is then a whole lot easier than the majors. I wish him no ill, but I was hoping to trade him for someone valuable, middle starters are not what makes a championship team (same goes for Barnes).

    Now, I wish we had gotten more, but Sanchez prior to 2009, played a lot of games because he was a healthy player overall, rarely going on the DL. And offensively he is OK at 2B while good defensively. And at that time, we only had Burriss and Frandsen in the system to play 2B, and both either had or were coming off big injuries.

    And it works with how the Giants are constructed in 2010, if Sanchez does go down, the Giants could move DeRosa to 2B if need be, because we have a lot of OF that we could start in LF, Lewis, Bowker, maybe even Neal by mid-season if he’s hitting well. They also have Uribe and I still have hope for Frandsen, who has hit well at every level in the minors, and has not been given a chance in the majors – he blew his window in 2008. And I say keep an eye out on Noonan in 2010 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, I think he’s ready to break out in 2010.

    Sanchez has been inconsistent but one needs to understand why. In 2008, it was his first year back starting and he wasn’t ready to go a full season. He had a sub-4 ERA going into the All-Star break, then tired out the rest of the season. In 2009, he adjusted his mechanics to copy his idol, Johan Santana, who he pitched with in the WBC in spring. However, he being much taller than Santana, that mechanics didn’t work for him. Once he went back to his old ways, he threw his no-hitter and never looked back, again delivering a sub-4 ERA, though faltering in September this time. This off-season he has prepared even more for strength deep into the season, and I feel that the no-hitter was the validation he needed, much like the Wizard handing out the diploma to the Scarecrow, for his confidence. He should be much more consistent this season.

    And how do you define good organizational depth? Having good prospects down into the low-A does not impress me because most prospects end up doing nothing much in the majors. Depth to me is when there are players in your system who you can conceivably bring up that season, from the farm or bench, with some hope of being an OK major leaguer, and we have a lot of depth to my view. C: Posey; 1B: Ishikawa, Pill; 2B: Frandsen, Burriss, Noonan, Crawford; 3B: Gillaspie; SS: Crawford; LF: Bowker, Lewis, Neal; CF: Ford; RF: Kieschnick; P: Pucetas, Sosa, Stoffel, Joaquin, Hinshaw

    And for the future: C: Hector Sanchez; 1B: Joseph, Villalona, Dominguez?; 2B: Brock Bond; SS: Adrianza; OF: Rafael Rodriguez, Francisco Peguero, Wendell Fairley, P: Wheeler, Tanner, Graham.

    About the 2009 draft, there were a number of opinions by established analysts who said that they liked the Giants draft, and the commenters above noted why.

    The Giants not only got the memo but has been successful doing what most people have denigrated as poor or mismanaged. They have one of the better rotations in the majors, which will lead to one of the best runs allowed in the majors again. Look over the past few seasons in the majors, use Pythagorean for the top teams in runs allowed (not just Giants) and you will find that to win 90 games with one of the lowest runs allowed in the majors, you only need an average offense to do that. If the players expected to start does as well as the projection systems say they will, their offense should be around average for 2010 and therefore, with that pitching, be able to win 90+ games.

    When you have great pitching, you can make the playoffs on average hitting, which almost everybody misses. And it is relatively easy to pick up average hitting on the free agent market, and hitters are much more reliable assets to acquire via free agency. Meanwhile, the Giants could soon potentially have four starters who would be aces for most teams in Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner plus another potential ace in Wheeler coming down the line in 2-4 seasons. Plus two closer-quality pitchers in Wilson and Runzler in the bullpen (plus Romo, who has been fabulous, good, and consistent, for the most part).

    The Giants are set up nicely, even with the free agent disasters that has happened when you don’t have hitters because you focused more on pitchers. As the big money goes off the books over the next few years, that will open up money to sign Cain and then Sandoval and Lincecum to long term contracts. While the young players start to develop and mature and take the spots of the vets, Posey at C, Noonan at 2B, Crawford and Adrianza at SS, Neal or Bowker in LF, Ford and Peguero in CF, Kieschnick in RF.

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    • B says:

      “the Giants rotation will consist of four great homegrown starters – Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner” (note: Bumgarner included as great homegrown starter)

      “Promising arm Tim Alderson? Are we talking about the same pitcher? When is a middle of rotation starter – and that is all he has been seen as since he was drafted – that big a deal? And did you see his numbers after he got promoted, he hardly struck out anybody, certainly not at a pace that a pitcher can survive at in the majors – and he was doing it in AA, which is a whole lot easier than AAA, which is then a whole lot easier than the majors.”

      If there’s one thing I would ask of you in the future, it’s consistency. Make up your mind right now on what criteria you’re gonig to judge players, and judge them all based on the same thing. No cherry picking, no coming up with excuses to make a story tell the story you want it to – like your little thing about Sanchez, if you think mechanics are a sign he’ll be better going forward, make note of it and an argument that he may outperform statistical projections because of it, but don’t point to it as definitive that Sanchez is going to be great going forward. No need to come up with some weird thought process about how great run prevention teams need an “average offense” – just look at the players we have, look at how good the pitching is, how good the defense is, how good the offense is, figure out how many runs we’ll allow and score, and then see how many wins that should produce. Another example was your point that established analysts liked our draft – well, there are some that don’t exactly like our farm system all that much, like Keith Law, for instance. You have to recognize both sides to have anything resembling a real argument.

      Essentially, you just gave us a 1500 word essay of cherry picked numbers and reasoning. Consistency is important, and it’s the only way you can make anything resembling an objective argument.

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    • Excellent analysis, and well argued OGC.

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    • realitypolice says:

      “And for the future: C: Hector Sanchez; 1B: Joseph, Villalona, Dominguez?; 2B: Brock Bond; SS: Adrianza; OF: Rafael Rodriguez, Francisco Peguero, Wendell Fairley, P: Wheeler, Tanner, Graham.”

      Congratulations, you have six organizational roster-fodder guys, one guy who is not allowed to enter the country, three interesting-but-big-question-guys and a high school pitcher with good stuff.

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