The San Francisco Giants are not just leading Major League Baseball in errors on the field in 2012. The team’s errant attempt to fix their deteriorating and prospect-light minor league system in last week’s First Year Player Draft will likely put the organization even deeper in the hole.
Currently the Giants’ minor league organizational standing is considered mediocre– rated 25th of 30 MLB teams by Baseball Prospectus and 26th by Minor League Ball. And there is little doubt that, after the dust settles on the 2012 draft, San Francisco’s prospects’ rating will drop even lower.
First, several broad perspectives on the Giants’ approach to the draft (see all 40 drafted players at the SF Giants official site):
> the Giants selected 21 pitchers (53% of the total draft) and 7 infielders (18%);
> chose only one position player (outfielder Mac Williamson) in the first eight rounds of the draft;
> picked up one third baseman (Round #20 – Delfino Mitchell, UC Berkeley);
> used 25% of their picks to select six center fielders and four catchers– currently the two strongest positions in their minor league system.
Several years ago, the Giants farm system seemed to be rich in pitching but was dramatically lacking in quality position players. Now, San Francisco has also lost its edge in quality pitching prospects– there’s little of value in the minors now other than bullpen flamethrower Heath Hembree.
We saw the team’s stark lack of upcoming infield talent exposed when third baseman Pablo Sandoval went down last month with a broken hand, and with second baseman Freddy Sanchez still going through various rehabs. Triple A Fresno third bagger Conor Gillaspie and second baseman Charlie Culberson were called up but couldn’t get the job done at the plate or on the field.
(Luckily, the Giants picked up ex-Rangers/Mets infielder Joaquin Arias in the off-season, and his great glove and timely hitting stopped the bleeding at third base.)
Giants GM Brian Sabean’s core philosophy during his 20 year tenure is that you can never have enough pitching. And that’s hard to argue with both in theory and in practice (see Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson, etc.).
But… this is a team that has has now suffered through chronic offensive shortages for years. The Giants 2012 batting line-up is their best in almost ten years, but as good as Sandoval, Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera, and Angel Pagan have been there is no consistent power threat from anyone in that group. Which brings us back to the 2012 Draft.
San Francisco picked Mississippi State right hander Chris Stratton with their first pick in round #1– the 20th overall pick. Converted from reliever to starter, Stratton has 115 SO and 19 BB in 92 innings pitched this year, and throws a fastball in the early 90s. Definitely a very good selection.
But five picks later Tampa Bay used their first pick to snag Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer, a junior who scouts have described as having “massive power”, and one of the top infielders in the draft.
Shaffer started in all of Clemson’s 63 games in 2012 and his numbers were great: .336 BA, .480 OBP, 46 RBI, 49 R, 63 BB, 21 2B, and 10 HR; he has the look of a future offensive star for Tampa.
Shaffer would have been a dynamic first pick for the run-starved Giants, who still would have had plenty of time to restock their pitching.
And there were any number of quality infield picks available when it was the Giants’ turn to draft their first eight players. Instead the front office not only ignored the team’s offensive holes at first and third base, they used 25% of their remaining picks to draft players at the organization’s only two strong positions throughout the Minor Leagues– catcher and center field.
There are those who believe teams should choose the best player available at any given point in the draft– but that still involves a large amount of subjective evaluation. Smart baseball people, sometimes in the same organization, often disagree about who the best available player is at any point in the draft.
In the current era, MLB franchises make huge investments of money and time in draft picks; the idea that you can simply trade those players later for the ones you really need is hardly a reliable strategy.
But in this case, let’s hope that strategy pays off.
–Read more about the Giants’ top picks in the 2012 First Year Player Draft in The Giants Cove “Prospects” section in the right column–