I have been one of those fans on the Yahoo/Insider's Giants Community Board who have derided the Giants farm system and derisively dismissed its accomplishments thus far under Sabean (but I don't consider myself part of the Lunatic Fringe). Part of this is that I recall the Giants of the 70's and 80's, despite how bad they were, were always developing players - not great players but players good enough that I used to check the Giants corollary to the Cubs curse - the World Series team with the most former or present Cubs will lose but with Giants players instead - and would see former Giants starting and playing everywhere, everywhere that is except for the Giants.
However, today even the majors are virtually barren of former Giants farmhands who were actually good at some point. Bill Mueller, Russ Ortiz, Keith Foulke, and Steve Reed lead the bunch plus Joe Nathan but it falls off pretty quickly after that to journeymen and utility players and these players probably cannot even fill out a 25 man roster or boast even a replacement level lineup. The Giants farm system has been unsuccessful during the Magowan ownership in developing many significant players.
So, as I am wont to do, I decided to research this question. This is because I questioned whether my impression was correct or not. Partly because when I look at the picks of the teams drafting around the time the Giants do, they didn't seem to be extra special either. Partly because I couldn't believe that someone like Sabean, who has otherwise been a master of talent evaluation - witness his sterling record in trades - is that abysmal in talent evaluation when drafting. Partly because I know I don't know everything but would like to, especially about the Giants.
Are the Giants Drafts Really That Bad?
My source of information is the great site The Baseball Cube, part of the sports-wired.com set of sports databases. I decided to first examine how the Giants drafts compare to other teams which has had a long string of success during Sabean's tenure as GM. I wondered if my bad impression was partially induced by proximity to the Oakland A's long string of draft successes. They got me curious and helped me form my hypothesis: does winning consistently mean poor drafts?
In this article I will examine each draft Sabean has run after a winning season and compare his results with three other continually successful teams of the period known for their good drafts: Brave's, A's, and Yankees. I will follow up with another article that does a general examination of how successful MLB teams have been in the draft during that time period of 1998-2003. Then I will produce a third article about the implications of the conclusions of the second article on the Giants draft strategy while they are still winning.
The Drafts From 1998 to 2003
The Giants first pick during this period ranged from 19th to 25th player selected in the first round. The Braves first pick has ranged from 23rd to 81st (due to free agent signings costing them their first pick). The A's, from 2000 on, have drafted from 16th to 60th (again free agent signing). Lastly, the Yankees first pick has ranged from 23rd to 71st.
In general, each team has drafted in the 21st to 29th range, except for when they lost the pick due to a free agent signing. I will note for each year and each team the names of all the players who made the majors for even a cup of coffee plus the number of players whose peak was AAA from that draft. If not any AAA, then I will note AA players, which is necessary for the most recent of drafts as the players need time to develop.
Obviously, I have much greater knowledge of the Giants prospects but I perused the Insider's network of community boards to get a feel for the other teams' best prospects. However, before these teams' fans jump on me, I must say that I still don't feel that I know enough about their prospects to provide judgement and mainly focused on those players who advanced the highest among that batch of draftees and those who were Round 1 draft picks. As I used The Baseball Cube as my source, only the players' highest level reached by the 2003 seasons were counted, though I will make mention of those I know to have reached the majors this season.
Giants: Six years later and they are either starting to break into the majors or had only a cup of coffee thus far, so not a good draft. Tony Torcato was their 1st pick at 19th. Others who have made the majors at some point in their careers are Nate Bump (25th), Chris Magruder (72nd), Ryan Vogelsong (158th), and Cody Ransom (278th). Ransom is up with the Giants as is Vogelsong with the Pirates (he was traded to get Jason Schmidt) and Nate Bump with the Marlins (he was traded to get Livan Hernandez). But none of them is doing very well in 2004. Tony Torcato was up briefly with the Giants at the start of the season but, despite hitting well in very limited ABs, was sent down when his spot was needed to bring up an emergency starting pitcher.
Braves: Like the Giants, for the most part, cups of coffees and only one in the majors today and doing well: Matt Belisle was their first pick at 52nd, Ryan Langerhans (101st), Scott Sobkowiak (221st), Steve Smyth (401st), John Ennis (431st), Tim Spooneybarger (881st), and Brad Voyles (1348th). Spooneybarger is the only one to make and stay on the MLB roster for a whole season.
A's: Still losing so they had a high draft pick.
Yankees: Best of the bunch in terms of numbers though they missed out on the one true star of the bunch when they couldn't sign him as the 43rd pick: Andy Brown was their first pick at 24th, Mark Prior (yes, that one; 43rd), Randy Keisler (67th), Drew Henson (97th), Brett Jodie (187th), Brandon Claussen (1026th), Eric Eckenstahler (1087th). But like the Braves, none of them other than Prior are currently on the roster of any MLB team and Drew Henson is now with the NFL.
Analysis: The Yankees had the best draft by far in terms of major leaguers and yet relatively lackluster like the rest of the teams because they were all replacement level or worse thus far, other than their missed chance at having Mark Prior on their pitching staff. Everyone knows about the failed Drew Henson experiment and they used Brandon Claussen in a trade to pick up Aaron Boone in a trade in 2003. The Braves got some major league promotions early but none of the them panned out as even a good utility player.
For the Giants, they got almost immediate return on their picks when they picked up Livan Hernandez by trading Nate Bump (along with Jason Grilli who was #1 draft pick in 1997) in 1999 and Jason Schmidt by trading Ryan Vogelsong in 2001. As far as current help, Tony Torcato truly is the embodiment of a singles-only hitter thus far in his career (little walks or extra-base hits) but did well in his cup of coffee with the Giants this season while Cody Ransom is on his second try with the big club after starting horribly in his first stint. But in terms of good MLB players, all the teams have been shut out thus far, and most probably the best that can be hoped for is a utility/journeyman player.
Giants: Got good return in value from #1 draft pick Kurt Ainsworth (24th), Olympics pitcher who impressed Tommy Lasorda and who pitched well for the Giants in 2002 and 2003 when given the chance and when not incapacitated by problems. Then he was traded to rent Sidney Ponson in 2003. However, the Giants hit the proverbial jackpot thus far out of all the draft picks by all the teams examined here by selecting Jerome Williams with the 39th pick in the supplemental 1st round. He had a bust out year in 2003 when injuries forced his promotion but his performance forced the Giants to keep him there. There are a total of seven players who have reached the AAA level five years after signing but no other who has reached the majors.
Braves: A poor draft, partly because they lost their first round pick and didn't get their first pick until selecting Matt Bulter with the 81st pick: he's only reached A level up to 2003. Only players to reach the majors are Ben Kozlowski (384th) and John Foster (774th) and two others made AAA.
A's: Still losing so they had a high draft pick.
Yankees: Pretty bad draft, none with major league experience of any sort, only two with AAA experience. They drafted David Walling with their first pick at 27th and he was one of those with AAA experience.
Analysis: Best draft by far by the Giants during the Sabean era solely for Jerome Williams but Kurt Ainsworth was useful to them also when not injured. Certainly the best of the three clubs for 1999's draft thus far and it does not look like it will get any better for the Braves or the Yankees. But still, that's only one player.
Giants: A good draft for tantalizing and thus far disappointing Giants fans. Boof Bonser was the Giants first pick (21st) and as we all know, he was used to acquire A. J. Pierzynski. He was talented but was considered a bit of a headcase as reported in articles - for example, changed his real name to Boof after being drafted - and leads a battalion of prospects who have frustrated Giants afficionados: Lance Niekro (61st), Ryan Hannaman (121st; also traded in infamous Sir Sidney Ponson deal), Erick Threets (211th). Only players to reach the majors thus far are Niekro and Jason Ellison (661st) and only Boof, of the rest, has reached AAA at any point in their career. The Giants also have two good prospects from this draft still rising in their system, Brion Treadway (91st) and Dan Trumble (751st) both only as high as A-ball last year but in AA this year.
Braves: Probably the Braves best draft in this period. They selected Adam Wainwright as their first pick (29th) and recently used him to acquire J.D. Drew from the Cardinal's. The only one to make the majors was Trey Hodges (520th) though Adam LaRoche (880th) did make the opening day roster for the Braves this year. LaRoche and Bubba Nelson (51st) were the only prospects who had reached AAA by 2003.
A's: Lousy draft affected by the lack of a 1st round pick; they picked Freddie Bynum with the 60th pick in round 2; his highest level reached is AA. No players have made the majors before 2004 and only two had even reached as high as AAA: Kyle Crowell (240th) and Marshall McDougall (270th).
Yankees: Another poor draft, they picked David Parrish with the 28th pick and the highest he has reached is AA. Only Jason Anderson has reached the majors (308th) and four others have reached AAA - Danny Borrell (68th), Andrew Beal (158th), Scott Barber (728th), and Eric Schmitt (758th).
Analysis: None of the teams had great picks though as least the Giants were able to use them in trades (Bonser and Hannaman) so the Braves by default had the best draft, but only because I know that LaRoche made their team this year but still he's struggling mightily so he could get sent down at some point. Otherwise, all the teams had a putrid draft, with no significant players of note selected and only a passel of lukewarm prospects, though Bonser, Hannaman and Wainwright are considered top prospects by minor league evaluators, so things might change, and Niekro and Threets at one time were considered top prospects but still haven't put it together yet.
Giants: The Giants picked Brad Hennessey with the 21st pick and almost immediately he is hospitalized with an operable tumor in his head. After a couple of years of recovery plus a recurrence, he was able to pitch in 2003 and nicely too in A-ball. However, it is probably the Giants second best draft after 1999 as it netted them with Noah Lowry (30th), Todd Linden (41st), and Jesse Foppert (74th), all of whom saw MLB duty in 2003. In particular, Foppert completed a mercurial rise from draft pick by his home team to holding a regular spot in the pitching rotation and doing decently and Linden is one of the rare Giants prospects who can actually play a position and has been touted as a potential starting corner outfielder good for 20 homers/20 stolen bases. Only one other has reached as high as AAA - Keith Anderson (826th) - and two have reached AA - Jamie Athas (226th) and Ryan Meaux (766th).
A's: Great draft for the A's as they netted Bobby Crosby with the 25th pick and Jeremy Bonderman (who was traded to get Ted Lilly) with the 26th pick. Two others - Neal Cotts (69th) and Mike Wood (311th) have seen MLB play - and three others have reached AAA as a high point - I only recognize Dan Johnson (221st) of the three but as I noted I don't know the other systems at all.
Yankees: Another poor draft with only one player getting as high as AAA (Jason Arnold (63rd pick)). They picked John Ford Griffin with the 23rd pick and the highest he has reached is AA. They have seven players in AA in total.
Analysis: Seems to be a tie between the Giants and A's as they both picked two pitchers who were starters in the MLB (Foppert and Bonderman, respectively) and had two strong position prospects (Linden and Crosby, respectively). However, based on results from 2004, the A's are now ahead since Crosby is starting for them and after a slow start have been hitting well and Bonderman is still pitching for Detroit while Linden just got called up and isn't even starting and Foppert is still recovering from his season-ending injury of last year. I've heard reports of Foppert returning to the MLB ranging from this August to next season. But both had much better drafts than the Braves or Yankees.
Giants: Good draft as the Giants selected a number of good prospects. Matt Cain was their first pick at 25th. Kevin Correia, who pitched well in a yo-yo season (going from minors to majors and back multiple times) in 2003, was 127th. In addition, Dan Ortmeier, who some experts think is the Giants' best position prospect was selected 97th and Travis Ishikawa - he of the near-$1 million draft bonus despite being picked in the 21st round - was selected 637th. Only two players have reached AA - Greg Bruso (487th) who was traded in the Eric Young "rent-a-player" deal of last year and Zach Borowiak (1455th).
A's: Big and good draft for the A's as they picked up seven 1st round picks: Nick Swisher (16th; their first pick), Joe Blanton (24th), John McCurdy (26th), Ben Fritz (30th), the infamous Jeremy Brown (35th) of "Moneyball" fame, Stephen Obenchain (37th), and Mark Teahen (39th). As of the end of the 2003 season, no one with AAA experience but already six players with AA experience including Swisher, Blanton, and Brown.
Yankees: Brandon Weeden was their first pick at 71st (they lost their first round pick by - surprise - signing a free agent) and they traded him in a package to get Kevin Brown over the off season. There were no prospects with AAA experience and three with AA experience.
Analysis: As of 2003, the Giants had the best draft by far. Correia was significantly contributing to the MLB club in 2003 and, by some experts, their best pitching (Cain) and position (Ortmeier) prospects came from this draft. However, including this season's results, Blanton appears ready to pitch in the starting rotation for Oakland and Swisher is one of their top prospects, while Correia was blown out in his only taste of MLB action this season, Cain is only in High-A ball and his season ended early last year due to arm problems and Ortmeier is only at AA this season, so the A's currently look ahead. The Braves and Yankees did OK too, as Francoeur, Meyer, and Weeden are all considered top prospects, though Weeden is now with the Dodgers.
Giants: The Giants had a great draft starting with David Aardsma (22nd) as their first pick and Nate Schierholtz (63rd) as their surprise 2nd round pick. In addition, a number of other good prospects were selected: Craig/Roger Whitaker (34th), Todd Jennings (55th), Brian Buscher (93rd), Mike Wagner (153rd), Billy Sadler (183rd), Pat Misch (213th), Jesse Schmidt (303rd), Ryan Sadowski (363rd), Spider Martin (423rd), Ben Thurmond (453rd), Pat Dobson (543rd), and Jon Coutlangus (573rd). But none made AAA or even AA in their first season, though obviously Aardsma eventually pitched in the MLB in 2004. There were many who made A-ball.
Braves: First pick was 35th, Luis Atilano, then quickly followed by Jarrod Saltalamachira (36th). None reached even A-ball, all were in rookie league or below, which could be an organizational thing when compared to the other teams here. They are known to favor getting high school players.
A's: Selected Brad Sullivan as their first pick (25th), then snagged Brian Synder with the following pick. Many made A-ball.
Yankees: Picked Eric Duncan 27th in the first round. There were a large number who played A-ball last season.
Analysis: As of end of 2003, all the players were doing about equal, in terms of advancement, with no fast learners. As I'm following the Giants, I know that the prospects above either did very well in 2003 and/or 2004. The stars of this draft for the Giants thus far: obviously Aardsma but a strong 2nd has to go to Nate Schierholtz, who has done well in each league he's been in and brought things up a notch this year, hitting homers at a Bondsian pace and hitting for a high average as well.
Overall Drafts Analysis
Based on the results up to 2003, the Giants look like they not only did as well as others who drafted in about the same draft positions as others did but arguably had the best results thus far if you only include players signed. They had the best player out of the drafts for the period and comparable draft positions - Jerome Williams - plus arguably the second best - Kurt Ainsworth - though some might prefer Tim Spooneybarger instead since he has lasted a whole season already, though as a reliever, while Ainsworth hasn't but has been very successful as a starter when in there.
The Braves selected only one of MLB consequence - Spooneybarger - in the period studied, though, after the period, Adam LaRoche started 1B for the team in 2004 (but he hasn't been doing well). He pitched well for Florida last year for a full season as a reliever and did well for the Braves for much of the previous season. But otherwise, it has been just cups of coffee for all the other draft picks during the period.
The A's were able to use Bonderman in a trade and then was starting Bobby Crosby at SS at the start of the 2004 season and, while he started out terribly, he has been good since around the start of May. But overall they got little return at all for the drafts from 2000 to 2003 until this year. While Bonderman did play a full season in 2003, given how poorly he pitched for Detroit, it is debatable whether he would have stayed with them the full season if they were not losing at a record pace.
The Yankees had the best pick with Mark Prior selected in the 1998 draft 43rd and he is by far their best up to 2003, but they didn't sign him. Other than him, the Yankees have not developed anyone of consequence from the draft, instead most of their best prospects have come from international free agents.
On the whole, this totally looks like hit and miss drafting. Over seven drafts, covering about 1300 players, this seems like very little return even if you count Mark Prior into the draft analysis. While I see a number of players from these drafts on the teams' top prospect lists, to paraphrase the song, "you ain't got no return if you ain't got a useful major leaguer." Up to 2003, only Jerome Williams can be considered a starter - either position or pitching - of consequence, the others merely had cups of coffee or journeyman results though Spooneybarger has been a very reliable and well used reliever and Ainsworth was very good when he did play.
In terms of development, it looks like teams start getting most of their returns, in terms of even cup of coffee major leaguers, around the 4 to 6 year mark. There are a number of Giants prospects on the verge of making the majors around 4-6 years after they were drafted. Their regular MLB players have been Jerome Williams, Kurt Ainsworth, and Jesse Foppert. The Braves major leaguers came up for their cup of coffee in the 3-6 year range and have been totally shut out, except for Tim Spooneybarger and Adam LaRoche, in terms of regular major leaguers and LaRoche did it in 2004 and has not been doing well. For the A's it was harder to tell since they only have four years of high Round One draft picks, but they totally struck out in 2000 while doing well in 2001 and 2002 based on prospects I recognize, though no major leaguers until 2004 when Crosby made the team and Blanton looks to force his way onto the roster. The Yankees, again, was a total embarassment in terms of developing even players with an MLB cup of coffee, let alone even a useful utility player or journeyman pitcher.
The conclusion I have to reach on this based on the results above is that winning does seem to doom teams to a poor draft position for even journeyman and utility players as even teams well known for their draft ability have drawn blanks. The Giants have actually been relatively successful, developing about two seasons worth of play vs. one for the Braves and basically zero for the A's and Yankees. But still, three starting pitchers over a six year period is not a ringing endorsement either. My next article will look at drafting across all teams for the Sabean era.
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.
The views expressed in the columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the site's publisher, writers, or other staff members. The content on this site may not be redistributed without the expressed consent of SFDugout.com.