On Monday evening, the San Francisco Giants will change the lives of two baseball players forever.
As the nation’s eyes are fixated on one Bay Area sports team attempting to claim a championship for the second time in three seasons, high school and college baseball players from around the country will wait anxiously by their phones, hoping to hear a ring.
“Draft day is a special day and I’ll never forget it,” Giants’ reliever Cory Gearrin said. “My introduction to professional baseball. Day one of what hopes to be many days for a lot of players and I’m just thankful I got to share that experience.”
The first two rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft kick off on Monday night, and the Giants will make selections with the 19th and 58th overall picks.
General manager Bobby Evans, Scouting Director John Barr and the rest of the franchise’s front office are tasked with revamping an underperforming Minor League system that is struggling just as much as the Major League team in 2017.
Heading into Monday’s off day for San Francisco, the Giants’ AAA affiliate, Sacramento, and A affiliates, San Jose and Augusta, all sit in last place in their respective divisions, while the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels rest in fifth place in their six-team Eastern League division.
To put it bluntly, every level of the Giants’ organization, from the Major League team on down, needs more talent.
For the past several years, San Francisco has been a “buyer” at the MLB trade deadline, and one look at the organization’s performance in 2017 suggests that strategy has finally caught up to it.
Over the past three drafts, the franchise’s front office has attempted to infuse the organization with more ready-made prospects, as the Giants have drafted collegiate players with their first selections.
In 2016, the Giants tabbed Vanderbilt outfielder Bryan Reynolds with the 59th overall pick, and in the previous two drafts, San Francisco snagged college pitchers, moving on junior college arm Phil Bickford in 2015 and another Vanderbilt product, right-hander Tyler Beede, in 2014.
The Major League Baseball Draft is unique in that teams are able to draft a mix of high school and college players, but it also makes the draft nearly impossible to project. Last year, the Giants didn’t draft their first high school player until the 13th round, but in 2013, Hernando High School (Brooksville, Florida) infielder Christian Arroyo was the team’s first round pick.
In general, the draft order is influenced by a prospect’s signability, because each pick in the draft is assigned a slot value, and the Giants have $6,363,300 to spread around to all of the players the team does end up selecting. The higher a player is drafted, the more money their slot is assigned, but negotiations become complicated.
In 2014, the Giants drafted Stanford outfielder Austin Slater in the eighth round, but the team and the player could not come to a quick agreement on Slater’s contract, and he made a business decision.
Instead of waiting around until the August 15 signing deadline, Slater traveled to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League in an effort to stay sharp. Slater took a gamble –struggles at the plate or an injury could have decreased his signability to the Giants– but the gamble paid off and he wound up agreeing to a contract.
“It was one of those things where I saw it coming down to the deadline so it was either sit at home and twiddle my thumbs or go play somewhere,” Slater said. “Try to stay sharp and get off to a good start in my pro career.”
Heading into the start of a three-day, 40-round event, the only certainty about the Major League Draft is its unpredictability. The mix of high school and collegiate talent, the complicated slotting system and the fact even the best prospects will still likely need at least two years to reach the big leagues makes baseball’s draft an admittedly bizarre, yet considerably entertaining affair.
The next in orange and black
Mock drafts in baseball are about as useful as a Barry Bonds sacrifice bunt, but the Giants’ recent history provides at least a baseline indication of the type of prospects that should be on their radar.
In seven of the last 10 seasons, San Francisco has used its first selection on a collegiate player, as the organization only dipped into the high school ranks for Arroyo (2013), Zach Wheeler (2009) and Madison Bumgarner (2007).
2012 fifth round draft pick Ty Blach said his ascension in professional baseball is directly tied to the experience he gained in college at Creighton, where he said he picked up on nuances of the game and developed the maturity needed to prepare for a Minor League lifestyle.
“Getting out in college you kind of get out on your own for the first time,” Blach said. “You understand what it takes and you’ve kind of got that community of people around you. It’s kind of tough for the high school guys, it’s their first time away from their families and being away for a long period of time so it’s a little bit of an adjustment for them but the Giants do a great job helping guys mature and understand what it takes in order to become the best at this level.”
The Giants aren’t just keen on drafting college players based on what their scouts have picked up on from the months of February through June, though. San Francisco, perhaps more than any other organization, has developed a reputation for scouting and drafting talent from the Cape Cod Baseball League, a collegiate summer circuit that has produced more Major League talent than any other summer league in the country.
Gearrin, who played his collegiate ball at Mercer, attributes much of his professional success to the experience he gained playing for the Cotuit Kettleers, which gave him the chance to face off against the best hitters in the country.
“I played in the Cape League, that was another huge experience,” Gearrin said. “Got to play against guys like Buster Posey, and just big time talent that, coming from a small town in East Tennessee, going from level to level both in college and professionally, you get to see how good guys are and it just pushes you to work even harder.”
Gearrin is one of eight Giants on the team’s 25-man active roster who played in Cape Cod, joining the likes of infielders Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, who all spent their summers on the eastern seaboard.
Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, the fifth overall draft pick in 2008, was a two-time Cape Cod Baseball League champion, winning back-to-back titles with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, including in 2006 when he was the team’s starting shortstop.
“It was great, I remember watching Summer Catch as a kid and always wanting to go there and it was a cool experience,” said outfielder Jarrett Parker, who played for the Brewster Whitecaps.
Should the Giants pursue a Cape League talent in 2017, North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth, outfielder Jeren Kendall of Vanderbilt, and first baseman Gavin Sheets of Wake Forest are all potential candidates.
Getting the call
Regardless of who the Giants select on Monday evening, players were in agreement that the opportunity to begin their professional careers is a life-changing experience.
Gearrin grew up in the South, rooting for the Atlanta Braves, and he remembers the joy on the faces of his family and friends when the local organization tabbed him in the fourth round.
“That last round you’re like, alright let’s get a phone call so we don’t have to do this again,” Gearrin said. “It was great, getting drafted locally was a special experience. All my friends and family grew up Braves fans so to be able to share that was great.”
Blach was the highest Creighton player drafted in 2012, and he said surrounding himself with his teammates for his phone call was a moment he won’t forget.
“That was pretty exciting,” Blach said. “I remember sitting in my dorm room with a couple of my roommates and just getting that call. They were pretty pumped to know that I had a chance to play in the major leagues so it was pretty fun.”
Parker and Slater, meanwhile, were both still playing at the time the Major League Draft rolled around. With Super Regionals finishing up for Parker, a Virginia product, and Slater, a Stanford outfielder, Parker received a call while he was hanging in his apartment while Slater found out after he came off the field.
“I actually didn’t get a call, we were playing Vanderbilt in the Super Regionals so I think I got drafted right after the game,” Slater said. “Phone was on the bus, ended up getting a call from the scout who drafted me later that day but it was still an exciting day. Something you look forward to your whole life.”
On Monday, two players will receive a phone call from the Giants, inviting them to join an organization that is short on high-level prospects and loaded with history. Though a player’s road to the big leagues is often as unpredictable as the draft itself, the draft picks who have made it the show said the Giants’ organization is a great place to start.
“It was awesome, the Giants are a class act, a class organization and you’re not going to get much better so I’m definitely proud to be a part of it,” Parker said.