Since the Giants brought in President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, his team has done a great job of finding underappreciated players in the big leagues, and took the Giants to a franchise record 107 wins and a playoff berth.
Unfortunately, the recent results at the top of the draft have not panned out as well.
Being able to find success the draft is no sure thing. Even #1 overall picks are not sure things to even make it to the majors, much less be a success. When the Giants built the foundation of their World Series dynasty, it included the very unlikely result of hitting on first round picks in three straight drafts (Tim Lincecum, #10, 2006; Madison Bumgarner, #10, 2007; Buster Posey, #5, 2008), and even that included the Giants missing on two other first round pick in 2007 (Tim Alderson, #22, and Wendell Fairley, #29).
So not making a strong hit in every draft is not a condemnation of anyone, it’s pretty much par for course. But when rebuilding a team and a farm system, it’s important to get some results, especially when drafting in the top half of the first round.
Draft results fall off very quickly after the first few picks, and even throughout the first round, the further back picks get. This is easy to see in this graph posted by Kyle Glaser earlier this year.
The last three years, the Giants have had the #10 overall pick, #13, and #14. With those three picks, Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris, and senior director of scouting Michael Holmes have had trouble finding players that have panned out, at least in early results. However, each one has his own asterisk to consider.
In 2019, the Giants selected Hunter Bishop with the #10 overall pick, the same spot where they picked up Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. This wasn’t a controversial pick at the time. He was the #7 ranked prospect by Baseball America that year, and as a Bay Area native, was a popular pick. Of course, Bishop’s asterisk has been that he’s lost two seasons to things that no one could predict, in the pandemic (2020) and a shoulder injury (2021) that cost him most of the season.
This season, Bishop struggled early on as he got his timing back. In June, he finally began to look like what one would expect from a first round pick in High-A, hitting .284/.393/.547 on the month. He’s one of the most athletic outfielders the Giants have, strong defensively, and is approaching 20 steals and even has shown his power with 13 home runs through 71 games. But he still has strikeout issues, with 103 strikeouts in 301 plate appearances this season (34.2%), and has had problems keeping his batting average up even when healthy.
One can still see a lot of potential in Bishop, with his defense and pop being able to carry him and give him a pretty high floor. But he still has a lot of work to do to advance, and with two lost seasons, time is some pressure.
Skipping ahead to 2021, the Giants had the #14 overall pick and selected pitcher Will Bednar. Obviously, his asterisk is that he’s had very little playing time to show off what he can do, with just 16 total appearances between a late 2021 debut and half of this season, and he’s been out for the last month with an undisclosed injury. But his performance when on the mound has been a struggle as well.
Again, Bednar’s pick wasn’t controversial at the time. BA had ranked him as the #18 prospect in the draft, though some considered him a bit of a safe pick, as the high-ceiling Khalil Watson was picked just a couple of spots behind him (though Watson has had some issues himself, including his recent suspension). But Bednar has struggled with consistency this year, hitting five batters in his first game, and already having hit 12 batters in 43.0 innings, and walking 4.6 batters every nine innings. Again, a college first round pick would be expected to do better in Low-A in his first full season.
Obviously, like with Bishop, there’s time for Bednar to turn things around, but the initial results have not been ideal.
And that brings us to the complicated situation of 2020, where the Giants took catcher Patrick Bailey. Talking with others, some say that it doesn’t matter what happens with Bailey, as he was drafted and signed underslot to later pick and sign Kyle Harrison, who has been by far the Giants’ best draft pick under Zaidi and looks like a star. But the Giants surely could’ve signed other underslot players at that spot, they still took Bailey, and the results have been underwhelming.
Bailey was started at High-A last season, hit under .200, and then was moved down to Low-A where he excelled back down in San Jose for half a season. But back at High-A this season, he still struggles, hitting just .205/.318/.373 in his second go around. What’s more, the talk about Bailey behind the scenes has been as negative as I’ve heard around a top pick, with many criticizing his effort and his attitude.
Being a catcher, Bailey has a much lower bar to make it as a big leaguer, and he is very talented defensively. But his output, especially while repeating a level, is far lower than expected and if the talk about his attitude is true, the leadership expected from a catcher would be notably missing.
Missing on any of these three players in the draft is not a big deal. But as Zaidi tries to rebuild the farm system, these picks are really important. And it will not get much easier, as when the Giants pick in the 2022 draft next week, they will be picking at the very end of the first round, #30 overall, and is likely to not have as many high-ceiling players available to them.
It doesn’t help that other picks have also struggled early on in their pro careers. 2019 second round pick Logan Wyatt struggled in High-A in 2021 and has missed the first half of 2022. 2021 second round pick Matt Mikulski has seen a velocity drop and his own struggles in his first full pro season.
It’s not like the Giants have not had any success in the draft under Zaidi. Obviously, Harrison looks like a possible star in the making in his first couple of seasons. 2020 second round picks Nick Swiney and Casey Schmitt have been showing some promise this season, as each had 2021 struggles. And 2019 8th round pick Caleb Kilian took off, having already made it to the big leagues, although the Giants traded him before that happened as part of the Kris Bryant trade.
Hopefully, things begin to turn around. It’s not like it’s impossible to find good players at #30 overall. The last time the Giants had their top pick this late, in 2011, they drafted Joe Panik, and he turned into a regular player and a World Series champion. And there’s still time for Bishop, Bednar, and Bailey to turn things around.
But the early returns have not been good. And how this and future drafts go for the Giants will be worth watching closely.