Michael Holmes wouldn’t call it “bizarre.”
The Giants’ amateur scouting director has been stuck at his Atlanta home for months due to the pandemic in the lead-up to a critical draft, his scouts unable to go for at-home visits or watch players because baseball everywhere hit the pause button, Zoom meetings becoming the new normal before a draft that has been slashed from 40 to five rounds.
There have been a lot of drafts, but the baseball world might not see another like the one that’ll arrive Wednesday and Thursday.
“I’ll label it as ‘unique,'” Holmes, entering his second draft with the Giants after a long stint with the A’s, said over the phone recently. “Such a unique, different way than how we’re used to. But we were really prepared coming into the year. In January, I felt as good about this year as I ever had with the Giants or my old team. A lot of that credit goes to our staff, all of our scouts worked extremely hard in the summer, the fall, and I thought we were in a really good position.
“So even though the season came to a halt, and we went to shelter in place and didn’t get to as many games as we normally get to in a scouting season, I still feel like we’re in a really good spot.”
In the draft itself, those spots will be picks 13, 49, 67, 68, 85, 114 and 144. Their seven picks are tied for the most, with the Cardinals, and give Holmes & Co. a real chance to put a stamp on a system that is surging into the top 10 in baseball.
Without baseball to watch, the Giants’ scouting team has, well, watched baseball. Area scouts have pored over video they already had obtained of high-school and college prospects as well as continued studying the player as a person over the phone. Cross-checkers have talked among themselves and others throughout the organization in debating players, thinking up comparisons, going over different draft-day scenarios. The Giants already had a good amount of video from their own scouts, but more was dispersed through MLB from social-distancing pitchers and hitters.
And because the scouts, like so many others, have more time than ever, there was room for creativity. Holmes said they’ve been doing side projects of looking through old drafts, seeking what has worked and what hasn’t. He didn’t want to share specifics, but he hopes the past will inform the present.
“It helps us look for some indicators that we can lean on as we move forward, not just in 2020, but even in ’21,” Holmes said a year after taking Serra’s Hunter Bishop with the first-round pick. “It’s always nice to kind of go back — you try not to judge the draft the year after because you want players to go out and play a little bit before we make rash, quick judgments. But I just think it’s been good to kind of take a look at some things and help us make better decisions in the present if we go back and take a look at some of the past.”
Along with the past and future, the sheer amount of time has allowed the Giants to look toward their present as well. Gabe Kapler, a former farm director, is a bit more free than managers typically are in June. Director of player development Kyle Haines and director of pro scouting Zack Minasian have been able to pitch in and give their input on potential prospects.
“Collaborative” is a buzzword around the franchise, and it came up again.
“We’re certainly not territorial in amateur scouting,” said Holmes, who said his personal biggest challenge of the draft was not being able to physically be around everyone. “We have a lot of good people in the organization, a lot of people with good ideas. A lot of people have a lot of experience. So one bonus is it’s given a lot of different people a chance to kind of come together and help, add ideas and be creative and also take a look at some players.”
There are a lot of avenues for the Giants to go with their prized first-round pick. Farhan Zaidi’s regime loves keeping it local, and Turlock High School’s Tyler Soderstrom, a lefty-swinging catcher — but with the athletic ability to move to the infield and possibly outfield — has been strongly linked to the 13th pick. As have college arms like Tennessee’s Garrett Crochet and Oklahoma’s Cade Cavalli. As have high-school pitchers like Mick Abel out of Oregon.
Last year the Giants did not select a pitcher until the eighth round, feeling it was a stronger draft for hitters and that batters are generally safer than pitchers. The focus on position players has helped lead to a system that has just two pitchers (Sean Hjelle and Seth Corry) among its top 10 prospects. Holmes acknowledged the team is aware of the imbalance, but didn’t hint that would sway any choices.
“I think every year we’re taking a look at our system and seeing where we’re at and looking at where our strengths are, where our depth’s at,” Holmes said. “But I think when you talk about the draft, and this is just my philosophy, it’s an opportunity to put talent into your system. And I think you become a little short-sighted if you start looking at where your talent need is or isn’t. … It’s about us trying to get the best player available.”
There will be many quality players available after the last pick is made, beginning a mad dash for teams to sway college and high-school undrafted players into their organizations with just a maximum of $20,000 to coax. Baseball teams will turn into college teams, painting themselves in the best lights to convince prospects this is where you need to be.
In Holmes’ words, it will be the unique end to a draft that is deeply unique.