PHILADELPHIA — The San Francisco Giants are still paying Bobby Evans and John Barr, but both executives were stripped of their titles last fall.
With a week remaining in the 2018 season, Evans was removed from his position as general manager. Two months later, Barr was replaced as the Giants’ director of amateur scouting by Michael Holmes.
The reasons for their dismissals were rather clear. Evans presided over a club that was headed for its second straight losing season following a second half collapse in 2016 while Barr was in charge of a bottom-five farm system that wasn’t producing nearly enough homegrown major leaguers.
An organization that has long prided itself on maintaining continuity at the highest levels finally determined it needed new blood in the front office. The decisions to replace Evans and Barr were not controversial and instead regarded as a much-needed infusion of change.
Nearly a year after the duo lost their jobs, however, it’s increasingly evident that some of the key decisions Evans and Barr made toward the end of their tenures helped lay the foundation for the Giants to enjoy a brighter future.
With MLB’s trade deadline less than 48 hours away, the Giants’ first-year president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, is no longer in a dire position. Zaidi has helped reshape the major league roster through unheralded bargain additions like Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano, but the farm system is in better shape thanks to the efforts of Evans and Barr.
After opening the season with a 22-34 record, the Giants have posted a 32-18 mark in their last 50 games and completely shifted the conversation as to what the franchise will do ahead of this year’s trade deadline.
Instead of selling off their top assets to restock a barren farm system, the Giants have the choice to hang onto veteran players like Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith and compete for a 2019 playoff spot. The Giants’ desire to add talented young prospects to the organization still exists, but it’s no longer as imperative as it once was due to the emergence of several players signed or drafted under Evans and Barr.
After a recent re-ranking of farm systems by Baseball America and FanGraphs, the Giants have four top-100 prospects and a system that now checks in around the middle of the pack in baseball. If evaluators looked only at the A-ball level and below, it’s possible the Giants have a top-five-caliber system that now includes several budding international signees.
The organization’s top overall prospect, 2018 first round draft choice Joey Bart, was the obvious choice for the Giants when they were on the clock with the No. 2 overall pick last summer. The vast majority of baseball executives would have tabbed Bart after the Tigers chose pitcher Casey Mize with the No. 1 pick, so it’s difficult to give Evans and Barr too much credit for that selection.
However, the Giants’ front office and international scouting director Joe Salermo deserve praise for landing the No. 2 ranked international prospect last summer, shortstop Marco Luciano. At 17, Luciano is torching Arizona League competition and FanGraphs recently surmised that he has the potential to develop into the game’s top overall prospect.
After years of striking out in the international market, the Giants appear to have struck gold in Luciano, who has remarkable bat speed, above average power and a solid glove at one of the game’s most important positions. Luciano could wind up being the best pro of any Giants prospect, but he’s ranked behind Bart and 2017 first round draft choice Heliot Ramos, another potentially elite player drafted by Barr.
The Giants took Ramos, a Puerto Rico native, 19th overall in 2017 and the teenager has blossomed into the franchise’s top outfield prospect. Even after the Giants chose Arizona State product Hunter Bishop with the No. 10 pick in their first draft under Zaidi and Holmes, Ramos hung onto his grip as the organization’s second-ranked prospect behind Bart and skyrocketed up league-wide prospect rankings published by several national outlets.
The selection of Ramos could turn out to be one of Evans’ and Barr’s finest moments, particularly if he achieves his potential and ends a 30-plus year drought to become the Giants’ first homegrown outfielder to make an All-Star team since Chili Davis.
Even if Ramos doesn’t reach those heights, there are several other homegrown outfielders with promising major league futures. Alexander Canario, 19, was recently promoted to Salem-Keizer while Franklin Labour, 21, leads the Northwest League in home runs this season. Both players were low-profile international signees who have taken impressive strides in 2019.
Outfielders Jairo Pomares of Cuba and Luis Matos of the Dominican Republic have polished contact skills for their age and have increased their stock with strong performances in pro ball this year. It will take years before either debuts in the majors, but the Giants have gone decades without cultivating meaningful outfield depth in their system.
In their final two-plus years together, Evans and Barr also developed a small but intriguing pitching pipeline that could rectify some of the early mistakes they made.
Seth Corry, a 2017 third round pick, is dominating competition at Low-A Augusta while Sean Hjelle, the team’s second round selection in 2018, is one of the best pitchers in the California League and could conceivably make his major league debut by the end of the 2020 season. Hard-throwing relievers like Melvin Adon, an international signee, and Tyler Cyr, a local product and 10th round draft pick in 2015, have major league potential while an under-the-radar starter like 2016 14th round pick Conner Menez is already helping the 2019 club.
The Giants’ 2014 first round draft choice, Tyler Beede, struggled for much of his minor league career but is finally demonstrating consistency as a late-blooming rookie this season while Shaun Anderson, a pitcher acquired from the Red Sox in the Eduardo Núñez trade of 2016, has held down a major league rotation spot for the last two and a half months.
The recent progress made in the Giants’ farm system is a testament to work Evans and Barr did under difficult circumstances toward the end of their tenures.
The duo certainly played a role in creating those circumstances with misevaluations of prospects like Christian Arroyo, Lucius Fox and Ryder Jones, but they also faced enormous pressure from the front office to contend for a playoff berth on an annual basis.
At one point in time, the Giants had an excellent read on Pirates rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds, but with a directive from ownership to stay under the 2018 luxury tax threshold and acquire a difference-maker like Andrew McCutchen, the organization wound up parting with a potential difference-maker.
The organizational depth the Giants created in the midst of two losing seasons went unnoticed for some time, but as Zaidi approaches the trade deadline, an up-and-coming group of minor leaguers has given him the flexibility to keep his options open. He’s not forced to prioritize the future ahead of the present, and he’s not completely locked out of being able to buy a major leaguer who can help immediately either.
It’s Zaidi’s acquisitions who have suddenly turned the Giants into a threat in the National League Wild Card race. But it’s the players signed and drafted in recent years by Evans and Barr who give Zaidi the confidence that homegrown help is on the way in the years to come.