The San Francisco Giants, at one point a few years ago, had one of the weakest minor league systems in all of baseball.
Towards the latter stages of the Barry Bonds era, the Giants made a commitment to building up their minor league system.
The strategy of building form within has paid off handsomely. In the past four or five years, the Giants have had several home grown players come up through their system and play big dividends for the team.
Building from within starts with the draft and finding players of big league caliber. The key is to then develop those players into contributing Major League players.
In recent years, the Giants have done that and they have been rewarded.
Tim Lincecum was drafted by the Giants in 2006 and made his debut in 2007. The 21 year old Madison Bumgarner was a Giants draft pick in 2007 and made a brief debut in 2009. He came on strong in 2010 and was a key pitcher in the Giants World Series winning run.
In fact, outside of Barry Zito, all four of the Giants starting pitchers, including Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez were home grown products. San Francisco closer Brian Wilson was also drafted by the Giants and came up through their system.
The Giants have had much more success developing pitchers than position players, up until recently.
Up till the middle of 2010, the only starting position player that had come up through the Giants farm system is Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval, who lost 45 pounds in a rigorous nutrition and exercise program, was off to an excellent start this season prior to an injury that will sideline him for the next few weeks.
Buster Posey has emerged as a star and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010. Posey was signed by the Giants in August of 2008 and his rise to stardom has been meteoric.
The benefit of having home grown players coming up through the system is twofold.
First, they are taught the game the way the organization wants to play it. Secondly, having young players coming up through the system is much more cost effective than trying to acquire players via free agency or trade.
The Giants have one more position player on the verge of making a big splash in the Majors.
Brandon Belt made the big club out of spring training, but struggled. After being sent back to the minors, Belt seems to have found his stroke and his confidence. He is very close and I expect him to be playing in San Francisco regularly by mid-season.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Belt is the last of their prospects poised to make some noise in San Francisco. The other pitchers and position players are still developing. They are a long way away from making a big impact in the Majors.
The GM of the Giants, Brian Sabean has also had a tendency to lean towards pitchers in the early rounds of the draft. Starting pitcher Zach Wheeler, a first round pick in 2009, is the Giants most prized pitching prospect, but he's probably a couple of years away from being ready for the Majors.
The 2011 draft becomes very important for the Giants, as they hope to uncover the next gems for the future success of their franchise.
The Giants will have the 29th pick in this years draft, which will occur in June. Drafting baseball players is more of a crap shoot than the football or basketball drafts. In addition, there are 50 rounds, so you can get lucky and find a late bloomer who develops into a star.
There is a huge gap between college baseball and the big leagues. The multiple levels in the minor leagues filters out many a would be Major League baseball player. In addition, several players selected are straight out of high school and its very difficult to project the development of an 18 year old kid.
In the first round or two, the Giants may look for players who play positions of need. If this is the case, the top players the Giants would focus on are middle infielders as they have nobody who's that close to being an impact player in the Majors.
A few of the top middle infielders likely to be selected this year are:
SS: Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Nick Delmonico, Levi Michael
2B: Cory Spangenberg, Kolten Wong, Tony Renda
The players selected this June may never make the Major Leagues, but if the Giants can find another player or two like Buster Posey or Tim Lincecum, it will be well worth all the scouting they do in this area.