Fall Classic enveloped by homegrown talent
Giants' pitching staff comes via Draft; Texas' group a bit eclectic
For all the talk about how key acquisitions, from offseason signings like Vladimir Guerrero with the Rangers to waiver pickups like Cody Ross with the Giants, have impacted the two teams getting ready to face each other in the World Series, this Fall Classic is really all about homegrown talent.
It's not that the Giants and Rangers have the most homegrown rosters in baseball or even among the eight postseason teams this year. But both clubs have done an extraordinary job at scouting, drafting, signing and developing talent that has been used to make important contributions and to bring in big league pieces via trades.
As the two teams prepare for Game 1 tonight at AT&T Park, they have a combined 18 players who would be considered truly homegrown -- defined as a player originally signed by the team they are currently playing with. The Giants have the slight edge with 10, while the Rangers come in with eight.
The real imprint from the farm system in San Francisco comes on the mound. All four starters the Giants will use were scouted, drafted and signed by the Giants, from Matt Cain (first round, 2002) to Madison Bumgarner (first round, '07), with Jonathan Sanchez (27th round, '04) and Tim Lincecum (first round, '06) in between. Throw in Sergio Romo (28th round, '05) and closer Brian Wilson (24th round, '03) and the Giants have shown some serious acumen in finding quality arms all over the Draft.
"I think that our Drafts were, for the most part, balanced year to year, but with a little lean toward pitching," said Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans.
Evans points to a very important triumvirate who helped shepherd these pitchers through the system. It starts with Dick Tidrow, the vice president of player personnel and former big league hurler, who has helped make the call on which pitchers to draft over the years. It continues with pitching coordinator Bert Bradley and goes right on up to big league pitching coach Dave Righetti. The trio are in step with each other throughout the entire process.
"It's a great combination of development in the pitching area," Evans said. "From the day they get drafted to the time they get to their first big league camp to the time they establish themselves in the big leagues, it's a great combination to get these guys to where they're at now."
Getting impact players, of course, became easier when the Giants struggled for a stretch earlier in this decade. It enabled them to net top 10 picks in 2006 (Lincecum) and '07 (Bumgarner). It also gave them the No. 5 pick in '08, which turned into starting catcher Buster Posey. Of course, having high picks doesn't guarantee success, but the Giants have done pretty well in turning those selections into major parts of the roster, not to mention the aforementioned higher picks who have exceeded expectations.
"Look at those selections and every one of them is contributing now," Evans said. "The Draft isn't an exact science, so I have to give our scouts a lot of credit."
The Rangers' eight homegrown players are a slightly more eclectic group. There's Darren Oliver, who started with the Rangers back in 1988 and then went on to play for six other teams before returning "home" in 2010. Colby Lewis came via the supplemental first round of the '99 Draft, left for Detroit, Oakland and then Japan before coming back to Texas this season. The others all came via the Draft, with the haul from '07 (Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter and Mitch Moreland) extremely impressive.
"I look at the summer of 2007 as a turning point for us for a lot of reasons," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "The Draft is right up there. We had five first-round picks, but it's the depth of that Draft you see playing out right now. There were nine or 10 players from that Draft who are on our club or were traded for players who have helped out."
In addition to the trios getting set to play Wednesday night, the Rangers used their top two picks from that Draft to bring in big league talent. Blake Beavan was a part of the Cliff Lee deal, and Michael Main was sent to San Francisco for Bengie Molina. Even Ryan Tatusko (16th round) helped net Cristian Guzman, who served as an infield sub in August and early September before he was reassigned.
That 2007 season was also important in terms of the Rangers making a clear commitment to using the farm system to get to the point where they are now. In July of that season, Texas sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta for a slew of Minor Leaguers, most notably a pair of youngsters in Class A ball at the time -- Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus.
"I consider Feliz and Andrus as homegrown players with the way we acquired them," said Daniels, adding 2005 Rule 5 Draft pick Alexi Ogando, taken in the Triple-A phase and converted from the outfield to the mound, in that list. "We got them in [Class] A ball at 18, 19. Our guys did a great job of identifying the talent and makeup of these guys. Maybe they're not original Rangers, but they're very much a part of the core."
It's often a part of a farm system that goes underappreciated or unnoticed, the ability to bring in prospects via a trade or to use the depth of an organization to bring in big league parts. Both World Series participants have had some success in this regard. The Rangers used their system to steal their big prize, Lee, as well as some of the other contributors mentioned above.
The Giants turned one of their 2007 first-rounders (Tim Alderson) into their second baseman (Freddy Sanchez) and two other homegrown players (John Bowker and Joe Martinez) into their most effective postseason reliever (Javier Lopez). Fellow reliever Ramon Ramirez, ironically an original Ranger, came to San Francisco by way of the Red Sox for Giants draftee Daniel Turpen. Without the ability to add and develop players, neither team would have had the ammunition to pull the trigger on any of these deals.
"That does get lost," Evans said. "When you look and go back, you thank your coaches and development people, because it doesn't happen without them. It's gratifying. It's good scouting from the Draft, and you also have your pro scouts, who saw enough of guys like Lopez and Ramirez to think they were good fits."
To make it all work, there are a lot of moving parts that must work together. The Rangers have tried to make all scouts -- amateur, international and professional -- a cohesive unit, one that can work in concert. Their efforts are what everyone will see play in the club's first World Series.
"We try to bring them under one umbrella," Daniels explained. "They have varying responsibilities and roles, but there's a lot of communication, guys who might bounce from one arena to the other. Our pro scouts didn't go in naked in the Teixeira deal. We had background from our amateur group and our international group. That information sharing and organizational structure proved to be very important.
"The Giants are the same way. You have to have a philosophy and stick to it. They've done an outstanding job, particularly on the pitching side, in identifying difference-makers. It's not a coincidence you're seeing it play out this way."