Home Sports Bringing up the rear: Why is every single Giants minor league team in last place?

Bringing up the rear: Why is every single Giants minor league team in last place?

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			Bringing up the rear: Why is every single Giants minor league team in last place?

SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants just concluded May with a 13-16 record – their fifth consecutive losing month.

They are 52-75 since the All-Star break last season, good for a .409 winning percentage. Some context: The last time they played an entire season below that clip was 1985, and that squad lost 100 games.

If you have been paying attention, none of this should come as a surprise. But this part might:

Their Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento (19-32) is in last place. Their Double-A affiliate in Richmond (20-32) is in last place. Even their Single-A club in San Jose (23-30), a perennial contender, is in last place. And Low-A Augusta? You don’t want to know. Their 14-34 record is the worst in all of minor league baseball.

Put another way: the Giants’ affiliate with the best winning percentage, San Jose, has the worst record in the California League.

This is not to suggest there is zero talent in the Giants’ minor league system (although most publications and rankings systems have them in the bottom 10). The Giants are calling up one of their more interesting prospects, outfielder Austin Slater, after he piqued their interest by hitting .322 at Sacramento. Sources said that Slater, a 24-year-old Stanford product, will join the Giants in Philadelphia when their three-game series there begins on Friday.

But … what the heck is happening down on the farm?

Giants GM Bobby Evans said part of the problem is that the organization has been a bit more aggressive about promoting players.

“There’s been an effort to address some of our pitching deficits in the minor leagues, just because we’re very light on lower level pitching prospects,” Evans said. “And we’re also pushing some of our draft picks and trying to stay younger in the leagues overall. Those are some of the areas that put us at a disadvantage.

“Certainly, it’s not something we want to see continue. We want our affiliates to have winning teams. That’s always been our priority. But with some of the emphasis on pushing guys a little higher than normal, you’re going to take your bumps — maybe this year more so than any year.”

Evans cited last year’s first-rounder, outfielder Bryan Reynolds, as an example of a player who started with San Jose – and struggled early – when he could have begun at Augusta, instead.

“What happens is that you’re trying to advance your Dominican players, your (short-season league_ players, and everybody can’t go to Augusta,” Evans said. “Someone has to take the step up to the Cal League.”

Advancement in general has been a problem that is plaguing the entire organization. Consider this: only one player the Giants took in the 2013 draft has reached the major leagues, and that is struggling infielder Christian Arroyo, who was taken as a high schooler. Slater will become the first member of the Giants’ 2014 draft class to reach the majors.

Nobody in the 2015 draft is close to breaking through; the Giants’ first-rounder in that draft, pitcher Phil Bickford, was dealt to Milwaukee for Will Smith, a left-handed reliever who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The Giants’ track record on the international front is no better. The only player born in a Latin American country who has appeared on the big league roster this season and came from their farm system is reliever Reyes Moronta, who spent one day on the roster in New York and didn’t get in a game.

Johnny Cueto was a free-agent signing. So was Gorkys Hernandez. Eduardo Nuñez was acquired from the Twins last July. Orlando Calixte, who just joined the roster, was a six-year free agent.

Cueto has remarked that the clubhouse composition has made a definite impact on team chemistry.

“When I was with Kansas City, it was a team, I think, it was a very happy bunch because we had a lot of players from the Dominican,” Cueto said through Spanish interpreter Erwin Higueros in April. “The same with Cincinnati. But here, it’s different. As Latins, we like to get together kind of loud, and be a happy bunch. But here, you look around and everyone is on their own, just sitting at their locker, very quiet, just by themselves. That’s just how they are.”

It won’t get more diverse anytime soon. The Giants have been capped the last two years from offering signing bonuses in excess of $300,000 to international free agents – a penalty for the $6 million they spent on Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox in 2015.

(They flipped Fox to the Tampa Bay Rays with popular third baseman Matt Duffy in the trade that netted left-hander Matt Moore, who filled an important rotation need but has been inconsistent this season.)

In the meantime, the Giants’ NL West rivals suddenly have rosters that are filled with young talent. Not only did the Giants trail the Dodgers by 11 ½ games entering Thursday, but they were 11 games behind the Diamondbacks and Rockies, who would meet for the NL wild card if the season were to end today.

So the Giants face more than a massive challenge to get younger and compete at the major league level. They also must reconstruct a farm system that is literally behind everyone else.

Scouting director John Barr earned raves for his first draft, when he took Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, and more praise came his way when players like Joe Panik, scoffed at by experts as an overdraft, turned into an All-Star performer and Gold Glove winner.

No question, it is harder to find top tier players when you are picking at the end of the first round – or when you sacrifice draft picks, as the Giants did to sign right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

But it’s not as if the Giants had nobody left to choose. One example: the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who is ripping it up as a rookie, was a fourth-round pick in 2013.

The Giants pick 19th overall when the draft begins June 12. It will be Barr’s 10th time manning the board for the organization. Have they had to recalibrate, based on some of the picks in recent years that didn’t pan out?

“Overall, our approach is not to leave any stone unturned and that doesn’t change,” Evans said. “We have a lot of confidence in John Barr and our scouts to do a thorough job and assess where the best talent is in every round.

“We don’t take a round off. Every one is valued at the highest priority. That doesn’t change. This is the 10th draft that John has overseen and his success speaks well. But we’ve never settled on our past success. We’re always trying to push harder than the year before.”

The Giants will push up Slater as they try to have a winning June. If they do not, then expect to see pitcher Tyler Beede, third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang and maybe a few more fresh faces.

The Giants would be ready to embrace a youth movement — at least, as best a movement as their beleaguered minor league system can supply.

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