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A video, quick phone calls and ‘tears of joy’: How Giants signed undrafted free agents


KNBR


Days earlier, dreams were dashed.

Baseball players whose lives had been marinating in Little League, in travel ball, in high school, in college, training for the day they get drafted and turn pro, were the victims of Major League Baseball and the Players Association needing to save funds by taking from those who are less represented. The draft was cut from 40 to five rounds, ushering in an unprecedented recruitment period: Teams could dish out a maximum of $20,000 to undrafted players, coaxing them away from college commitments and programs more with salesmanship than salary.

For players who were just told no by the league, it would be crucial for teams to persuade them that they both care for and believe in them.

Which is why the Giants made it clear to their three known undrafted free agents, both before the draft and as soon as the clock allowed, that there was room for them in the organization.

Carter Williams, an outfielder from NC Central, knew the Giants were interested. A Giants area scout had been in his ear about the quality and history of the organization. He knew it was unlikely he would be chosen, so Sunday, June 14, became the date he circled on the calendar. He was up at 7 a.m. on the East Coast, two hours before teams were allowed to begin making contact. He said he had heard from the Blue Jays, Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees, “just naming a few” of teams with potential interest.

The Giants made it clear he was a priority.

“I got a call around 9:15 from Mike Holmes,” Williams said recently over the phone, referring to the Giants’ amateur scouting director. “He said that I was the first guy that they had called for a free-agent signing. Soon as he told me that, I had tears of joy. It was a very surreal moment.”

About 15 minutes prior, the Giants made it known to Tyler Forner that he, too, was on their list.

The outfielder from Camas High School in Washington was set on going pro, having turned down several Division-I offers. Before the shortened draft, the Giants told him they were interested and, if his name was not called, he would be welcomed in the Bay Area. That means something for a baseball and football star who grew up a Giants fan in San Mateo, one of his earliest memories taking place at (the now-named) Oracle Park, watching Barry Bonds, his favorite player, launch Splash Hits.

At 6:01 a.m. on the West Coast arrived a scheduled email from the Giants. It contained a video that walked Forner through the organization virtually, seeing the facilities and showing off the new major league spring training digs and the $50 million project for minor league spring training in Arizona.

The buildings were impressive, as were the people. Before signing (over the computer), Forner hopped on a Zoom with, among others, manager Gabe Kapler, GM Scott Harris and farm director Kyle Haines.

“That was a big factor. I like how I got to know them a little bit,” said Forner, who said the Giants were the first to contact him. His neighbor is a scout for the Mets, who also had been involved, but he wanted to play for the team for which he grew up rooting.

For Ty Weber, a pitcher from the University of Illinois, the “17-ish-minute” video that went in his inbox contained a familiar face.

“It had some current players in the organization — I remember seeing Tyler Fitzgerald’s name, who was drafted last year,” Weber said of the Illinois-native infielder who was a fourth-round pick the year prior. “They had a couple major league guys talk. It was just an overall virtual welcome, seeing as we couldn’t be there in person. The video showed all their facilities and just kind of what the organization is about. It was cool.”

Weber does not personally know Fitzgerald, but played against him in tournaments growing up and watched his career at Louisville. Any advantage the Giants could find, right? The fact Mark Allen, a former Giants pitching coordinator, is now Illinois’ pitching coach surely helped, too.

“We had a really good relationship at college and I’m sure our relationship will just continue to grow. It’s very, very nice to have that contact,” said Weber, while the Giants are glad to have that contact as well.

Weber said the Mariners and White Sox also had made contact with him, but the Giants were clearest in making sure he knew he was a priority.

Two hours after the welcome video arrived, the area scout who had been in contact with Weber called and offered him the $20,000 max.

The Giants, who have committed to paying their minor leaguers through the end of the season, who had announced across-the-board raises for their prospects before the coronavirus pandemic hit, who have not laid off staff during this period, had successfully sold themselves.

 

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