San Francisco’s front office may have a spotty record when it comes to trades and the free-agent market, but the same can’t be said of their efforts in amateur scouting and player development. The Giants have a solid core of homegrown talent — with reinforcements on the way — and in recent years much of the credit goes to John Barr. A member of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, Barr has been in charge of the Giants’ drafts since 2008.
Barr on draft philosophy and trends: “This is what I’ve focused on for 28 years of my life. I’ve been in involved in the draft — and have been in the draft room — every year since 1985.
“From a standpoint of changes over that time… let me first say that you still have to draft good players and they have to be mentally and physically ready to go out. You’re still trying to draft the best players, because you’re trying to add value to your organization. That allows your general manager to have the flexibility to either decide to continue the development of that player — and then have him go to the big leagues for you — or put him in a trade to bring back talent. You can’t draft solely on what the major-league team may need, because that need will change over time as players go through the system.
“That said, there are trends [in the industry]. The scouting directors putting together their draft boards put weight on certain things that are important to them. They’ll do that each year, so their drafts may end up being similar. There is also the idea that you are looking at your organization and asking, ‘OK, where are our strengths and where are our weaknesses?’ Even though you don’t want to line up your draft based on that, you are certainly mindful of it.”
On catchers and drafting up the middle: “The old baseball theory — from guys like Joe McIlvaine, Frank Cashen and Paul Snyder — is that you build in the middle and then you spread out. Some of the players that you draft up the middle will end up moving to the corners if their bat allows them to. The skill positions up the middle are definitely hard to find.
“Going back to my days with the Orioles and Dodgers, I’ve often seemed to end up [drafting] catchers. We took Gregg Zaun when I was with the Orioles, and he ended up catching for a lot of years. When I was with the Dodgers, we drafted David Ross who caught for quite a few years. Russell Martin has caught for quite a few years.
“Catchers help your organization and they’re hard to find. We all say that, and it’s true. You want good catching in your organization because it helps you develop your pitching. That’s one of the reasons you draft them — and it has happened that we’ve been able to select catchers we feel can help us offensively, as well as defensively.
“You try to look for a guy who has athletic ability. You need to be athletic to catch. You need the feet, as well as arm strength and hands. You also want leadership qualities behind the plate. A lot goes into it, so quite a bit of homework goes into scouting catchers. I feel that catching is a strong area in our organization right now.
“When we drafted Buster Posey [in the first round, in 2008], he was a guy we had earmarked early on as someone we really liked. We were very excited to have Buster available when we selected. We felt he could be a difference-maker — both from an offensive and defensive standpoint, as well as from a team-leadership standpoint.”
On catching prospects Andrew Susac and Tommy Joseph: “Andrew Susac [second round, 2011] is a player we had watched, and liked, when he was in high school. We continued to follow him in college, and then he had the [wrist] injury. We felt that even though he was a sophomore-eligible [player], we had a shot at signing him. We liked his skill set. Not only can throw, he can hit for power. He brought that same element of being both an offensive and defensive contributor. He’s an athletic kid that we feel can be a leader of our pitching staff.
“Tommy Joseph [second round, 2009] had good offensive potential. We really liked his bat. We also liked his arm strength and his makeup. We saw a guy who had a chance to stay behind home plate, and we still do. His bat was a middle-of-the-lineup type of power bat that we were looking for. He took over as the everyday catcher in San Jose last year and had a fine season. He has also played some first base, but to us he’s a catcher.
“One of the things our organization does — and this is more on the developmental side of things, with Dick Tidrow and Fred Stanley — is take a catcher, especially one that’s an offensive catcher, and introduce him to first base. That way you can keep his bat in the lineup while giving him a rest behind home plate.”
On Gary Brown and speed: “I couldn’t say that Gary Brown [first round, 2010] is the fastest guy I’ve drafted, but he’s one of them. Speed is his game and it helps him both offensively and defensively. It’s exciting to watch him play the game that way, and when I say it helps him both offensively and defensively… in our ballpark, we have big gaps. AT&T is a big ballpark and you need a center fielder who can go get the ball.
“The other day he made a play on a base hit up the middle. He comes in on the ball so well — he charges the ball so well — and fields it cleanly and makes a strong, accurate throw. That was him using his speed to cut down the distance the ball came into the outfield, and it allowed him to cut down the runner by a step. He makes the most of his speed defensively, as well as offensively.
“You’re always looking for players who are athletic. Athletic players can make adjustments. The terminology we would use is being able to play the game as it speeds up. As a player goes up to a higher level, he’s able to make the adjustments needed to handle the increased speed of the game.”
On Joe Panik and mental makeup: “Joe was our first selection last year and we were really happy with the fact that he was there. We thought he could swing the bat and we also liked his makeup and instincts to play the game. He’s a left-handed-hitting middle infielder, whether at short or at second. Again, we like flexibility.
“Going back to the model, skilled players play in the big leagues. You try to select the players who have the abilities. Those include: ‘How well does he hit? ‘Does he hit for power?’ ‘How well does he field?’ Another tool is makeup. Makeup is the sixth tool and it’s what will determine if a player can turn his tools into skills. Skilled players play at the major-league level, so our philosophy is to not only look at the players from a physical standpoint, but from a mental one as well. They need to be able to get the get the most out of their ability.”
On Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn and the team‘s success in drafting pitchers: “We selected Kyle out of the Dallas area [as a first-round supplemental in 2011]. He’s a big, strong right-hander who hasn’t been pitching all that long. We felt, after evaluating him, that he has both the ability and the makeup to have a chance to develop into a big-league starter.
“Another player we took this past year was Clayton Blackburn, out of Oklahoma. He was a high school pitcher we got in the 16th round. Dan Murray, our area scout, as well as [Midwest supervisor] Arnold Brathwaite, did an excellent job. They felt that this player really wanted to sign. He had a commitment to the University of Oklahoma, but we selected him and he went out and pitched very well for us in the Arizona League.
“Dick Tidrow, and our whole development staff, does an excellent job of developing pitchers. In the past, Dick ran our drafts. He did so for a number of years, and does he have a feel for pitching? Absolutely. He’s one of the best pitching guys out there. At the same time, we have a veteran [scouting] staff, and that veteran staff has a good idea of what they like to look for and what they don’t like. In turn, that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to do a good job of drafting players.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.