Sure, recruiting happens regularly in baseball. But not like this.
“These guys are basically free agents,” Farhan Zaidi said in passing Thursday night, which is correct but does not quite capture the scope.
The players passed over in this year’s draft are free to join whichever team they like. But the victims of this truncated draft, which ended with Thursday’s fifth round in a format that typically allows 40, cannot be swayed by money (for the most part, anyway). They will not be free agents who look at organizations for record amounts or even on-the-field records.
High-school and college prospects who went undrafted can be coaxed with a maximum bonus of $20,000, a pittance that Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed upon because it was someone else’s problem. And while these prospects surely will consider legacy, a team with recent success does not guarantee future success. These are players who will marinate in systems for years before the time is right. And more than that, a stacked team and system could serve as a deterrent for a player hell-bent on reaching the majors.
Which is why the Giants president of baseball operations and his team will be tasked with luring these prospects in ways unfamiliar to run-of-the-mill free agents. You’re selling vision over concrete; what could and will be over what is.
Beginning Sunday at 6 a.m. West Coast time — hopefully slightly later for the West Coast players — the Giants can begin competing with the 29 other teams in recruiting players who fell out of the draft away from college programs and college commitments. Seniors in the NCAA have been granted another year of eligibility after the coronavirus-plagued season, so they have the option to return to programs that surely will have more competition awaiting them, as graduating high schoolers, too, have less incentive to turn pro after a five-round draft.
The Giants can offer the same amount of money as every other team. They hope, though, the opportunity they offer is incomparable.
Opportunity to move through a system if they show they’re capable; the Giants’ 64 players used last year represented a National League record, topped only in major league history by Seattle’s 67 that season. Opportunity to grow in a system that is trying to prove it values its prospects, evidenced by the more-than $50 million minor league spring training facility in Arizona expected to open next year; evidenced by the Giants acting before Major League Baseball in raising salaries across the minor-league board this season (before it was wiped out); evidenced by their committing, albeit belatedly this week, to paying their minor leaguers through the end of what would have been their season. The pitch will consist of: Here is an opportunity to develop in a system that cares about you.
“I think the history of the organization speaks for itself,” amateur scouting director Michael Holmes told KNBR recently. “You’re talking about one of the most winning organizations in the game of baseball and the opportunity to play in front of the best fans in the world in one of the greatest markets in the world, the Bay Area. And an organization that will leave no stone unturned when it comes to helping their players reach their potential, whether it be from opportunity, whether it be from cutting-edge instructors or having the technology and the resources to find every way possible to help players reach their potential.”
This year’s new-look coaching staff, very much in tune with the Rapsodos and Edgertronics of today’s game, are very much part of the hoped draw.
“Like every organization, we want to sell our entire player-development experience,” Zaidi said on Thursday’s Zoom. “I think that there’s going to be kind of an overarching pitch that we have been an organization that’s always emphasized player development. We’re continuing to put a lot of resources, investing in these players as people and as baseball players.”
They will try to recruit these baseball players using baseball players, some major leaguers offering their help, potential boyhood idols of the prospects the team is after. Gabe Kapler, too, has lent his services.
“Without telling anything specific, I’ll just say we will use every resource possible to us,” Holmes said.
Because the signing bonuses will be equal, perhaps a tiebreaker becomes a player’s favorite team. Northern California and the Bay Area are not lacking in baseball talent, and that talent often grows up rooting for the Giants. The Giants have studied the field and hope they have the right scout or player or coach or executive for each situation. Maybe someone with the organization went to the same school, is from the same area as that prospect.
“You hope that you have some kind of connection with every player that you’re pursuing, and so whether that’s [our] players or staff,” Zaidi said, “we’re going to definitely try to leverage those relationships in the recruiting process.”
There is now a brief limbo period, potential sixth-rounders in other years grasping with their difficult reality — from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $20,000 max — and contemplating their next move. The Giants are organizing their big board, which Zaidi said will have a “pretty strong West Coast representation.” Zaidi did not divulge a target number they hoped to acquire, but did say they need to huddle with farm director Kyle Haines to ensure there’s opportunity — that word again — for everyone, not wanting to sign players who won’t find at-bats or innings.
Narrowing down the field of prospects they will chase is difficult, yet there are obvious connections out there. How about Cal’s Darren Baker, the son of Dusty? St. Mary’s righty Carlos Lomeli has pitched in their backyard for three years. Perhaps Giants pitching prospect Tristan Beck can help lure Stanford righty Brendan Beck, his brother. Expect Los Gatos shortstop Tommy Troy to get calls, though it’s unlikely he can be wooed away from UCLA.
Zaidi has tried to modernize just about every facet of the Giants organization since arriving in November 2018. The on-field major league record has not reflected much improvement in the organization. A year and a half later, this is an opportunity for prospects to show how the industry truly feels about his regime.
“Just from some of our informal conversations with agents … the priority for these players is understanding what organizations like and value in them as players,” Zaidi said. “And what kind of experience overall teams and organizations are going to be able to provide for them to help them be the best players that they can be and help them be as comfortable as they can be.”
In a year without a game, the Giants can begin trying to win on Sunday.