Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mixed Six: A Look at the Giants' 2007 Rule 4 Draft

This upcoming Rule 4 draft will mark the fifth anniversary of the 2007 draft. While everyone will remember that draft for the big names such as David Price, Jason Heyward and Matt Wieters (and most likely Mike Moustakas...I'm that big a fan), this draft was also a pretty significant one for the Giants.

In many ways, the end of the 2006 season signified the beginning of the end of the Barry Bonds era. The Giants canned Felipe Alou at the end of the season (the Giants finished 76-85; the Giants tried to make a playoff push by acquiring Shea Hillenbrand, but the deal ended up doing more harm than good), and hired Bruce Bochy, who was coming off a successful campaign for the rival Padres. Additionally, many of the Giants' mainstay players in 2006 opted for greener pastures in the off-season. Seasoned (and often injured) veterans such as Moises Alou and Steve Finley left San Francisco, and suddenly, the Giants' window of opportunity for competing in the NL West looked closed for at least the next couple of years. Yes, the Giants management did sign Barry Zito to a massive contract (a mistake the Giants are still paying for), but it was obvious by the start of Spring Training that the Giants were in rebuilding mode, even in Bonds' last year of his contract.

With the Post-Bonds era looming, Brian Sabean and his management team's biggest moves in 2007 had nothing to do with the Big League roster (sans the Zito deal of course; also getting rid of Matt Morris and his albatross contract wasn't bad either). Instead, the main goal for Sabean and Co. was to restock a farm system that had been left bare by numerous mid-season and off-season transactions in the recent past, and organizational flame outs in the Majors and Minors. (Does Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert, Lance Niekro and Eddy Martinez-Esteve ring any bells?) The 2007 was the right kind of draft to start such a rebuilding process, as the Giants had six (that's right SIX) picks in the first 51 slots of the first and supplemental rounds.

Yes, there was some talent in the Giants system going into 2007 (Matt Cain had made his debut already and Tim Lincecum was set to do so in 2007), but no one would question that behind their top two prospects (Lincecum and Cain) that the system was incredibly weak. So, in 2007, the Giants loaded up on talent, knowing that they had to get younger and build depth in their system if they ever wanted to compete when Bonds left town after the 2007 year.

The 2007 draft class, especially the first six picks, basically are a symbol of the start of the current mold of the Giants system Giants fans see today. Remember, this used to be an organization that preferred veterans to talent within the farm system during the early years of Sabean's regime. However, that took a turn in 2007 (though you could argue Cain and Lincecum really planted the seeds; the 2007 draft class burst the new plan through the dirt) as the organization went through a huge overhaul in terms of how they evaluated and signed players. As most Giants fans will tell you, the plan obviously proved to be a success (2010 World Series).

I could do this in one post, but I don't feel like I would be doing the subject much justice. So instead, I will be breaking down the analysis of the 2007 draft class into four posts. Here is how the breakdown will look like:

Part I: The "First Rounders" (Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson).
Part II: The "Future Duo Up the Middle" (Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson).
Part III: The "Tools" Guy and the "College" Guy (Wendell Fairley and Jackson Williams).
Part IV: The "Outsiders" (Notable guys drafted outside the first and supplemental round).

Each part will be posted within a couple of days within each other. As you can see from the list above, the results from that 2007 draft have been a bit mixed. Nonetheless, despite the results, the draft above started a process within the Giants system that has not only produced better teams at the Big League level (three straight winning seasons for the Giants from 2009-2011), but a better framework for the organization in terms of acquiring talent, be it through the draft, free agency or international signings.

I also find this all interesting because one has to wonder when the Giants will undergo another change in organizational philosophy similar to 2007. The safe bet seems to be going into the 2014 season, when Lincecum will be a free agent. Will the Giants continue the ride the train that they first started churning in 2007? Or are they preparing for Lincecum to chase the dollar and perhaps prepare to change their identity again?

As for the questions above, only time will tell. I'm not a fortune teller, and as stated before on this blog, I focus more on the Giants' Minor League rosters here, not the Big League one (go to Giants Nirvana, Crazy Crabbers, McCovey Chronicles, or Bay City Ball for that). For now, I'm going to be looking at and analyzing that 2007 class that helped start the process that Giants fans currently see now.

I think that's enough on my plate for now.


  1. There was not really a shift in emphasis between vets and farm talent. Really, despite the losing seasons in the mid-1990's, the Giants farm system was very bare when Sabean took over as GM, Grilli and Torcato being the big examples of huge misses by Sabean as scouting director and as GM. In other words, there was no talent to prefer over the vets, they were forced to go to vets. Things started changing once Tidrow was put in charge of the draft.

    That lack of talent in the farm system was especially true with his big trades and moves when he became GM making the team a winning for the next 8 years, making their draft picks very unlikely to produce a good player (my research showed odds to roughly mean finding one good player in those 8 back in the first round draft picks, which was about right, they got Cain out of those drafts in the back of the first round).

    In other words, the string of failed prospects and reliance on vets was more a function of poor drafting position due to winning, than preference for vets, other than the vets were generally more talented than the farm.

    One sign of this is that Sabean has generally kept all of our top prospects who actually seemed to have some potential, trading away the ones who they determined to not be very good. That is why most of his trades, even while it may fail on our side, there was no real loss involved because the prospect proved to not be talented either.

    That is why they kept Kurt Ainsworth, Jerome Williams, and Jesse Foppert around for so long and gave them multiple chances to make the team, they were the ones who proved to be the most talented and the Giants gave them many chances before giving up on them.

    In any case, it is not just baseball where vets are preferred over youth. I once met a former big boss once at a tech conference, and even though he knew that I was one of the young turks hired to the former company, he told me that after leaving that company, he learned that it was much better to hire experienced people for the jobs and not hire college kids and training them (which is how I got into the company). In other words, he preferred the vets over the young people.

    Another area that fans do not seem to understand is that in business, you don't want to just give a job to someone who you think is maybe capable, they need to be challenged in some ways, to get the best out of them. Don't have to do it as much with top prospects in all of baseball, but for the guys who are not sure things, those are the cases where you have to bring in the vet as competition, because if you hope to compete, you can't have a young guy there who can't perform, so you bring in the vet so that you have an alternative if the young player fails to win the position. And as we've seen with Matt Williams and now Brandon Belt, even the best prospects are not always ready for the majors in their first try, they will need further development.

  2. Actually, no, most fans would not say that Sabean's plan was a success. I said something to that effect on MCC, that they should thank Sabean for getting us to the World Series, and most of the comments ripped me a new one and led Grant to remove my link off his site.

    And I've found that many fans still think that 2010 was a fluke and lucky, particularly the crowd at MCC. Which I find ironic because the people there made a huge stink about drafting Posey over Smoak, they really wanted Smoak, and I think most would agree that the Giants don't win in 2010 without Posey.

    And I find that many Giants sites are anti-Sabean to a significant degree. He's not perfect by any means, but the big picture is that he's got the franchise going in the right direction, with the team coalescing into what looks like will be a fine young team for the 2010 decade: Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Sandoval, Posey, Belt, Brown, Panik, maybe Melky, Crawford (I think he will be part of it), Hembree, Peguero, Adrianza.

    This is why I've been saying that the Giants could be the Team of the 2010 Decade for the past few years. I did not feel it was hyperbole then, but I knew I was stepping out on the ledge there, but as an analyst you got to do that, and with the drafting and development of players like Belt, Crawford, Brown, Panik, I feel better and better about that statement with each season.

  3. I look forward to your discussion of the draft, I agree with you about the significance of that draft, it was around then that a columnist asked what the Giants identity was now that Bonds was gone, and I posted my reply: pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

    And that has actually been the rebuilding focus of the Giants from the start of Sabean's GM reign, trading for Rueter, drafting Grilli, and especially once Tidrow came on board (and probably Pat Dobson too). The drafts were marked by a preponderance of pitching drafted, despite there being more position players than pitchers on a roster, the Giants have consistently drafted more pitching than position players over the years.

    Not only that, but the vast majority of their first round picks had gone for pitching until they got their big 3 of Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner in place. And even then they drafted another pitcher (Wheeler), before getting Brown and Panik. And from the rumors I saw, the Giants were actually more interested in a number of young pitchers but they got all selected before their pick, and they luckily ended up with Panik, who has been another big find, just like Brown the year before.

    So I don't see any changes in philosophy if Lincecum does leave the Giants after 2014, and as Lincecum's agent made clear after the reports of the agreement, he and the Giants plan on continuing talking about a longer term deal, it was just that with the arbitration meeting hanging there, they had to at least get that settled before trying to go longer.

    As I saw mentioned, I think on DrB's site, the Giants did that with Wilson, settling on a one year deal to avoid arbitration, before finalizing a longer term deal in spring training.

    Not that I think Lincecum is a slam dunk to sign, but I find that most comments are that he is leaning towards leaving when, really, none of us have a direct inkling of what he is going to do. All we can be guided by are his public comments and past behavior.

    And that, basically, is that if he's getting paid fairly (in his opinion), then he would sign the dotted line. I think he likes it here, and I doubt that his long hair and personal habits (he was caught with weed) would be as accepted as it is here in SF area. But it is not the only place where he would be accepted, so he does have options.

    Another clue to behavior is that in a string of excellent interviews that Hank Schulman has had with him, he noted that he's not sure he wants to have that huge contract sitting on his shoulders, with all the attendant pressures and scrutiny. Kruk noted just that in his KNBR morning show the day after Lincecum signing was reported, that Lincecum saw what happened to Zito after his big contract, and might take a lesson from that.

    Given that, NYY and BOS would not be likely places for him, as the pressure from a big contract would only be magnified in those environments. Chicago? LA? Probably less pressure relatively, so the four teams there are probably the biggest competitors for his services. Washington DC and Texas maybe too, since they seem to be swinging a big payroll stick lately. Have to think Seattle would want their homeboy.

  4. Wow! A lot of good stuff OGC. I'll try to respond to each one is different posts just so it responds to each comment appropriately.

    In response to Comment #1: I agree with you that Sabean really struggled early on in his career in terms of evaluating talent. Yes, the cupboard was pretty bare when he arrived (though he did inherit a nice piece in Shawn Estes, who was the main cog in the Salomon Torres deal the year before Sabes arrived) and he certainly didn't do himself any favors with picks like Grilli and especially Torcato. So, yeah, I do hear you when you say that he relied mostly on vets because he didn't have a choice.

    Also, you're right about Williams, Ainsworth and Foppert being allowed to succeed. That being said, injuries did hurt those guys a lot (especially Foppert), so I do wonder how they would have turned out had the injury bug not got them and if they were handled better by the field staff (Baker has been and is still known for not really handling young pitchers very well).

    I like your business analogy, but to throw it back to you, as an econ major myself, I do disagree partially with your assessment about how "vets" are better for the jobs than younger "up and comers". From what I have seen and studied upon, I feel younger guys have a lot more upside than "experienced" people at times because with "experienced" people, they cost more money, can be more demanding, and have less time to give to the company outside their job description and job description hours. A lot of it isn't their fault: they have been doing what they have done for years, so they are used to what suits them and for the most part, they have other commitments that prevent them from giving more to the company (families, etc.). On the other hand with younger workers, yeah you have to do the training, but if you look right, you can get "bulldog" types who are willing to work more hours outside the designated "work hours" and who are more tech saavy in different areas. Of course, the double-edged sword with this is that with younger workers, they have a tendency to be more distracted. However, if inspired in the right way, they can not only be more effective in the long run than "veteran" employees, but they will come at a lot cheaper expense to management, especially starting out. You get more bang for the buck with the younger guys, but you get less risk with the older vets.

    So, I understand what you're saying. You're right, you don't just want to hand the keys to the Ferrari the day your kid just passes his driving test. That being said, if you have younger, cheaper options available than why pay more for a guy who won't be able to do it as long? It just doesn't make sense to me. Now granted, they probably didn't have that younger guy who was as valuable as the veteran at the big league level (especially position players). But, it was very obvious through trades (Foulke, Nathan, Liriano, Aardsma, etc.) that they could have bolstered their bullpen and rotation better and much cheaper Pre-Lincecum and Cain had they just stayed in house rather than seek options through free agency (especially in the bullpen). I feel like Sabes now has trusted the pitching in his system more than in the past, which is wise because the talent they have is a lot better than what most vets offer on the market. I think he's starting to get that way with position players, as evidenced by giving out relatively modest deals to most vets (nothing seems to go beyond 1-2). To me, these moves are a big change from what we've seen from the organization, especially during the 1997-2006 stint under Sabean.

  5. To Comment #2: I am not a massive Sabean fan by any means, but I do give credit where credit is due, and I believe Sabean has done a lot of good things in the post-Bonds era. He and his management team have been supreme evaluators and developers of pitching talent, and they have showed a good eye for picking up temporary talent off the scrap heap and making the most out of it. My big problems with Sabean really have nothing to do with the farm system. I think he and his team (Barr, Evans and Tidrow) have done a very good job building the farm system, especially from where it was at when Sabes first started. My only issue has just been his inability to part with guys sooner rather than later. Sabean to me is like that guy who wins 1000 dollars at the Blackjack table and instead of leaving with a 1000 dollar profits. He stays in a little longer and loses like 500 of it. Huff, Burrell, Molina, Affeldt, Medders all have been examples of guys he should have parted with after getting surprising value for them in short tenures, but for whatever reason, he sticks with them too long, and they end up hurting the roster, thus negating partially the value they produced the previous season.

    Now, I think this isn't totally Sabes' fault. Most fans don't look at certain players in the mindest I do, and like players for more than just baseball and production reasons. People liked Aubrey Huff for their characters, and coming off a WS victory, you're going to look bad if you let go of a fan favorite, even if the season he had before was an aberration. I will say though, I think Sabes does tend to overestimate this at times, simply because fans are smarter now and more educated with prospects than say 15 years ago. I think if Huff walked, people wouldn't have been too steamed because a lot of people had heard of Brandon Belt and his meteoric rise in the minors. Of course, a cheap temp solution wouldn't have been bad (a 1-year guy like Russ Branyan or something), but even if a fan favorite like Huff left, I think Giants fans would say "It sucks he and the rally thong are gone, but hey we got Brandon Belt coming up!" I just wish Sabes would give more credit to fans at times, since he does come off as a bit arrogant and ends up making reasonable defenses look rather confusing and unflattering (like his "Triple-A" comment when talking about Posey, though admittedly, I am not too harsh on him, because some fans and radio guys do say some stupid transaction ideas).

    In terms of judging Sabean, I think Giants fans need to look at the whole picture. If you're just looking at how the Major League roster is compiled, then yes, I can see one being upset (as is most of the fans on McC, who have been getting more and more harsh over the years; I like Grant as a writer, and I think it's a great community, just very exclusive; they tend to pounce on a lot of varying opinions; of course, I still think it's a great blog and I read and comment there still). But when you look at how the system is looking in the minors and the future outlook, well...I am more hopeful than most. The only really disagreeing move I had with Sabes last year was him trading Beltran for Wheeler. I feel Wheeler is a slam dunk prospect, and even if we re-signed Beltran, he is a huge injury risk who is not worth the price (He is listed as a F in terms of injury probability according to Shandler's forecaster this year). The other deals I really had no problem with because I think a lot of those prospects weren't that good or had major questions (Neal being the biggest one; I wish we didn't trade him for Cabrera, but I wasn't as sad as most to see Neal go, especially with Brown's progress).

  6. To comment #3: I agree with your assumption that not a lot will change should Timmy leave. I think the way the game is played nowadays, pitching is simply more a premium, and a lot more teams are investing a lot more money into their respective pitching talent through the draft and international signings. I think you need to have good pitching to make the playoffs, simply because the power isn't there in a lot of lineups anymore. With tho loss of Wheeler, the pitching depth has thinned quite a bit, and I'm not sold on Surkamp as a prospect, despite his very good minor league numbers. That is an area where I think Sabean needs target in the next drafts. I really believe the pitching should starting getting stocked again, just as contingency should Timmy leave.

    Now, do I think Timmy will leave? To be honest, I'm more pessimistic rather than realistic just judging by the recent trends of how free agency works. It seems that whoever offers the most is usually the one that gets the prize. I just can't see the Giants outbidding anyone, though the Yanks and Red Sox have been pretty calm as of late in terms of dishing out deals. I do agree with you in the sense that I can't see Timmy jumping to a market like NYY or BOS, but I think Seattle could really make a big push. Hometown, great pitcher's park and him and Felix would make a killer 1-2.

  7. Loving the posts. Keep up the good work! Thank you.

  8. Thanks Anon for reading. Appreciate it!