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.