Since Brian Sabean came to the Giants in 1993, the Giants have aimed at developing young pitching with 10 first-round draft picks used to select pitchers. An admirable goal, to be sure, but the results have been disappointing.
Here are the 10 picks:
1993: Steve Soderstrom.
1994: Joe Fontenot.
1996: Matt White.
1997: Jason Grilli.
1999: Kurt Ainsworth.
2000: Boof Bonser.
2001: Brad Hennessey.
2002: Matt Cain.
2003: David Aardsma.
2006: Tim Lincecum.
Cain should be a standout pitcher for years. Hennessey is the only other one on the current roster; he has looked good in long relief — but not as a starter. Bonser is in Minnesota’s starting rotation. The Giants were so high on Ainsworth when he was drafted that one club executive told me he could be competing for a place in the rotation within a year. Ainsworth made it to the Giants’ rotation briefly but was traded to Baltimore for Sidney Ponson and has done nothing since then.
Drafting is not an exact science, but a team should be able to do better than one successful starter out of 10 first-round picks. In that same period, the A’s drafted starters Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Joe Blanton and closer Huston Street in the first round. In lower rounds, they picked up Rich Harden and Tim Hudson.
The Giants haven’t done any better with young pitchers who were not first-round picks. Here are some who have been considered very promising by the Giants in their early careers: Noah Lowry, Merkin Valdez, Jesse Foppert, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter and Jerome Williams.
Lowry, Sanchez, Munter and Valdez are the only ones left with the Giants. Lowry was a sensation as a rookie, going 6-0, but he’s been Kirk Rueter ever since (13-13 last season, 7-10 with a 4.84 ERA in an injury-plagued season this year). Sanchez is still developing. He looked good Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, though he suffered from poor infield defense behind him. Munter looked good in relief last year but regressed this year.
The biggest successes have been the two who went to the Twins in the infamous A.J. Pierzynski trade — Nathan and Liriano. Nathan has been a lights-out closer and Liriano was leading the league in ERA when he went on the DL with elbow problems.
Not a very good record for an organization that has been touting its young pitching for years. Somehow, few of those young pitchers ever quite make it for the Giants.
What’s gone wrong? I doubt that the problem is with the original evaluations. The first-round picks, for instance, were rated highly by other clubs at the time, too.
The Giants’ impatience with young pitchers when they get here — especially in the Felipe Alou era — has been damaging. And I’m not convinced that Dave Righetti does much to help them as pitching coach.
But the biggest problem seems to be the coaching, or lack of it, on the minor league level. Prospects, both pitchers and position players, don’t seem to be well prepared when they get to the majors.
Sabean’s first step in rebuilding the Giants should be a complete overhaul of the minor league system. It does no good to draft top pitchers if you can’t develop them.