If the day comes that Farhan Zaidi and the leadership group he has assembled is on the outs with the Giants, there’s a good chance that the first round of the 2020 draft will be pointed at as his biggest gaffe, and what stops the team he’s developing from coming together.
Okay, yes, it’ll be a few years before we know if that’s the case. And sure, Zaidi has made it clear that he’s happy to give absolutely zero poop emojis about what fans think of his moves. But this absolutely baffling pick in the first round of a crazy draft has the potential to be a career-defining move.
The Giants drafted Joey Bart with the #2 overall pick two years ago. A catcher, with star potential. A prospect who has not disappointed, and was expected to be in the Major Leagues this year. And now the Giants spend their second first round pick in three years on another catcher, a symbol of a drafting theory known as “Best Player Available.”
Jim Callis on MLB.com wrote “This pick intrigues me,” he says, in more careful language. “But I applaud the conviction,” as he goes over the best player available strategy himself, which feels like what someone says when a conviction becomes too strict beyond reason.
For Zaidi, the conviction is backed up by his conviction of versatility. “Who knows what the future holds in terms of whether we go to a universal DH, but I think [position changes are] something that we want all of our catchers to do, all of the guys in the system to be able to play a different position,” he said, in a post-draft call.
There’s a problem here, in between the convictions to “Best Player Available” and “Versatility”. What happens when a player’s value is tied up in the position he plays?
In the scouting reports on Bailey, the universal praise lays on his defense. He’s an excellent receiver. He has plus arm strength. He’s a leader, and he calls his own games. This, of course, is duplicative of Bart in a few ways. Bart’s receiving wasn’t great out of college, but he has the arm strength and the leadership, calling his own games in college as well.
The offense is a different story. There’s a lot of praise of how power as a switch hitter, but MLB.com grades it an average 50. His hit tool is a below average 45 on MLB.com‘s grades. Baseball America’s scouting report says he has “grades ranging from below-average to average on his future hit tool.” Fangraphs says “He has a very good chance to be an everyday catcher but likely lacks the offensive impact to be star.” MLB says “Even if he doesn’t hit, Bailey provides enough defense to at least serve as a backup.” And back to Baseball America for the kicker, writing “Still, catcher offense is a low bar to clear…”
Catcher offense is graded on different terms than everyone else. You get a pass, because instead you are the defender with the biggest impact on the game, with the most touches of the ball of any player in a game. So what happens when you put a catcher at another position?
You have a sub-par player. Especially if he can’t play such a position at more than an average level.
Zaidi, of course, falls back on two adages. “You don’t draft for need, or I should say perceived need, and you can never have too much catching.”
These are true, but only two a point. Not drafting for need usually refers to not drafting for a specific need, such as a third baseman or even a pitcher (which I admit wanting because of need). It doesn’t mean drafting for just anyone and being completely situation-agnostic. And you can, in fact, have too much catching, when getting too much catching means you can’t play them both at the same time, and getting the “too much catching” at the expense of other positions where there’s need.
The theory of Zaidi seems to be Bart and Bailey are going to be super awesome bats that will play well at other positions. Bart’s bat? I can believe that. And the idea of platooning him some days at another position like first base to help save his knees and hips make sense. Having a second catcher who is a good catcher to take those days catching, that makes sense.
But is Bailey the guy who can play elsewhere, as well? When you reading the scouting by the three major publications who do scouting, do you believe it? Or is he, as MLB’s report says, a backup catcher to Bart. And in that case, is that how to spend a first round pick?
And if Bailey plays other positions, such as first base (which would be expected)…I mean, really, Giants fans have been absolutely fine with getting what they think of as average offense out of their first basemen the last 20 years. I mean, especially when you have slick fielding first baseman like J.T. Snow and Brandon Belt, you never hear any complaints about the offense, right?
I mean, he could be a DH, as Zaidi says. Sure, Bailey could DH. I’m sure that would be an absolutely wonderful strategy for a player with a below-average hit tool. It worked wonders for Shinjo.
Let me just point out here that this isn’t to say that I don’t like Patrick Bailey as a player. I like defense-first catchers. I think it’s an underrated type of player. I don’t even disagree that Bailey is a first round level player, I think he is.
But not for the Giants. It’s perhaps the worst possible situation for him. It is nearly impossible for him to reach his ceiling. For him to reach his ceiling, which is as an everyday catcher with above average power and an average hit tool, here’s how it can happen:
- Something catastrophic happens to Bart, either health or development-wise.
- Either Bart or Bailey get traded.
There’s no other ceiling for Bailey as a Giant. If he is playing alongside Bart, he’s not going to be an everyday catcher. And that is his value. With the Giants, he’s only being set up to be less of a player than he can be.
That is on Zaidi, and his braintrust.
So no, I don’t like this pick by Zaidi. Not at all.
And one final note: We know Zaidi likes versatility. But when he talks about Bart needing versatility at catcher, he said “That was something that was already in the conversation.”
Joey Bart now has a season and a half under his belt as a pro. Even with injuries like his broken hand, he has played 150 games as a Giant, including two spring trainings. How many times has he played a position other than catcher?
Not a single inning.
So, if catching versatility has been in the discussion, it certainly hasn’t been in the practice. And with Bart almost in the Majors, it means he’s going to have to learn it in the Majors.
So I’m tempted to question that this has been a plan all along, or just a justification after the fact.
So sure, maybe in three years, this will all have worked itself out. But maybe, in another three years, we’ll be wondering why the Giants haven’t taken advantage of the player development resources they have had, and we’ll start looking back at Zaidi’s discussions, and remember when he drafted for redundancy instead of value.