Wait and See on Giants 2007 Draft

Last season, the mild outrage by fans that the Giants didn't take a hitter first were quelled by the knowledge there weren't any worthwhile hitters available, and Lincecum's quick ascent into stardom. This year, there's not much to quiet the upset fans, yet. But is the draft really that bad?

Probably for a couple of years, the comparisons will be Madison Bumgarner to Beau Mills.

Is it fair?  Not really.  Bumgarner is undoubtedly talented, as even the most critical of San Francisco Giants fans admit.  But for years, the complaints about a lack of homegrown hitters have grown to a dull roar (well, dull to Giants G.M. Brian Sabean, anyway), so for the Giants to take a pitcher with their top pick was practically a cardinal sin.

Last year, the complaints were tempered with a realization that there weren't any really worthy hitters available at #10 in the 2006 draft.  The fires were put out as Tim Lincecum had a spectacular rise to the majors, and could be the best player, period, to have been drafted in 2006.

2007 won't be that way.  Bumgarner, while talented, isn't going to progress quickly.  He could very well dominate, but the team already leads their respective minor leagues in team ERA at three of the four levels currently playing, so fans don't feel they need another star.  Meanwhile, Beau Mills was available.  Mills wasn't a perfect player.  He had minor makeup issues after having to transfer out of Fresno State for academic reasons, and though he dominated, he did it at the oft-considered lesser level of NAIA competition.  But he was a power hitting first baseman, and the fans have been crying out for a power hitter like it was the last Tickle-Me-Elmo on a Walmart shelf.

The Giants exasperated such feelings by taking another high school arm with their second overall pick in Tim Alderson.  Again, no one is doubting that Alderson is talented, and the Giants have done fairly well with hard throwing pitchers with unusual motions.  But it was another pitcher.  At this pick, however, there were less hitters available as an alternative.

That the Giants went with four straight hitters after this seems to be of little importance to those who are upset.  There was a trend of people suggesting the Giants should pick pitchers, in a back-handed compliment of a way by saying they can't do anything with hitters, but the majority of fans don't see that as an excuse, either.

So, for a couple of years at least, Madison Bumgarner is going to have to be good enough to outplay Beau Mills.  And if Mills succeeds, Bumgarner may have to outperform Matt Cain and Lincecum…and even that may not be good enough.

More rumblings and responses on the 2007 Draft:

• Complaint #2 about the draft was about the Giants final two picks in the supplemental round.  Jackson Williams, the catcher the Giants took at #42 overall, seems to have infuriated fans in particular, as a few writers who barely knew who he was before the draft and had no advance scouting reports have criticized both him as a hitter and the Giants for ‘reaching.'

There's an important philosophy to keep in mind, though, with the drafting of Williams.  The biggest is that, after the supplemental round, the Giants didn't have another pick until the 5th round, more than 110 picks later, so if they saw someone they really wanted, they would either have to reach or hope for an immense slide that even a Scott Boras client would have a hard time doing.

More so was that drafting a high catcher was important in this draft (and a catcher, not a hitter who might not stay at catcher).  Catching was both an obvious need in the system, but moreso, with another investment in highly-rated young pitching, drafting a good defensive catcher is like drafting a left tackle for a franchise QB.  It protects the true star, and makes them better.  And the Giants have been very clear about valuing defense up the middle, starting at catcher.

When the Giants came up at 43, there were pretty much three options left:

    • Yasmani Grandal, a highly rated high school catcher defensively, who had questions about offense and signability (as in actually signing, not demanding a lot).  He didn't go until the 27th round.

    • Mitch Canham, a popular guy with great leadership and intangibles, and good offensive upside, but some worried about his ability to stay behind the plate.  Canham went 57th overall, still in the supplemental round.

    • Williams, another highly rated defensive catcher, one who is already calling his own games (very rare at the college level), but not a power hitter and some offensive questions.

That the Giants went with Williams is not a surprise.

While people have criticized Williams' offensive upside, the Giants have made clear for years that they value defense up the middle, especially at catcher.  And Williams is not a total offensive black hole, as he improved every year.  He was 12th in the competitive Big 12 in batting average, and was the highest player from the pitching strong conference to be drafted.

Again, some people seem to be unwilling be dissuaded from the negative insinuation that having no advance scouting report from Baseball America implies, but fans should definitely take a wait and see approach on him.

• This isn't to say there weren't some appealing sides to the Giants picks.  The first two hitters they took have very intriguing upside. 

Wendell Fairley, the 29th overall pick and the first Giants hitter, is an incredible athlete that some have said has his talent could be Top 10 level, but he dropped because he focused on football rather than summer showcases that many high school players play in, and because of his part in a hazing prank on a younger teammate (that most of his team participated in).  He could play center in the pros, but could also be a quality corner outfielder, and is considered a five-tool player.

Meanwhile, the 32nd overall pick Nick Noonan was considered one of the most polished high school bats, and hits well for contact and has excellent plate discipline, and has good speed on the basepaths with the smarts to make the most of it.  He played shortstop in college, but will almost certainly go to second base in the pros.  He doesn't have the power a lot of fans like, but is one of the safest high school picks in the drafts and should do very well.

• The new draft rules significantly affected how the team drafted.

The Giants bucked earlier trends of theirs in terms of where they selected high players from.  They took five high school players out of their top six, and Fairley is the highest position high school player the Giants have taken since they took Arturo McDowell at the same spot in 1998.  They are probably emboldened on this front due to the extension of years before players must be protected on the 40 Man roster from the Rule 5 draft.  It used to be that a player had to be protected by their 4th year in the majors on the 40-Man roster (a valuable spot that sets in many other things, like options, into effect), but now, players don't have to be protected until their fifth year, which is very important for slow developing high school players.

However, after those top six, the Giants selected just one other high schooler out of the remaining 46 players drafted.  This is because high schoolers are unlikely to sign if they aren't taken in the top rounds.  It used to be the teams could follow high schoolers they drafted for the following season, if they went to community college, and sign them up until a week before the following draft, but that rule has been eliminated for this year's.  That made the late-round risks on high schoolers all but unneeded, and the Giants eschewed them for the most part.

• One of the most intriguing guys the Giants drafted was 19th rounder Andy D'Alessio.  D'Alessio was one of the best power hitters in college baseball in 2006, with is 23 home runs that year just one shy of the nation lead.  He slid a bit his senior year with a couple of minor injuries, but neither should continue to hamper him.  He's also a much-lauded defensive first baseman, and a highly regarded team leader.  Even Los Angeles Dodgers scouting director Logan White lauds his power hitting ability.

So why did he fall to 19?  The injuries didn't help.  D'Alessio's power didn't show up in the wood-bat Cape Cod summer league, either, though he batted .344 in 22 games (73 plate appearances).  That number would have easily been the league lead had he made the minimum 119 PA to qualify (it was the highest of anyone with at least 50 PA).  And a career of slow starts in college weren't too good, either.

Still, D'Alessio is eager to play.  Despite costing himself some money in bonuses (he was drafted in the 10th round both out of high school and in his Junior year in 2006), he says he doesn't regret it because he would've missed out on the college experience.  He continues playing for Clemson to try and make the College World Series.  He was the regional tournament MVP last weekend, going 6-for-12 with two home runs.

And he's motivated.  His high school coach recently said that D'Alessio says ‘he has a lot of people to prove wrong."

• Another power-hitting sleeper is catcher/first baseman Michael Ambort, who broke Lamar University's single season record with 18 home runs in 2005.  The switch-hitter has been sidelined after having Tommy John surgery in 2006.  Despite being a solid catcher, he is very possibly going to move to first for the Giants, especially if the TJ surgery has affected Ambort's ability to throw out runners.

• The Giants picked up an interesting prospect in Dan Runzler, a LHP selected in the 9th round.  Runzler has a good fastball with late life, but he has serious command problems and needs to work on his mechanics.  No one disagrees that pitching is what the Giants know, and they might have a steal if they can figure Runzler out.

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