Many publications have the Giants' farm system way down the list when ranked against other Major League teams. Do you agree with that assessment? What is the Giants' farm system lacking? How do they overcome those inequities?
-- Matt R., Benicia, Calif.
To a considerable extent, the club's critics are woefully misguided. The Giants have two unassailable responses for skeptics: World Series titles in 2010 and '12. Other organizations have churned out highly touted prospects for years without even reaching the postseason. If the Giants' farm system were as bad as the so-called experts claim, they wouldn't have won either title. San Francisco's '10 postseason roster included 10 "homegrown" players. Six -- Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Sergio Romo -- were still around to help the Giants triumph two years later. Consider that the Giants struck gold with three consecutive first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft: Lincecum ('06), Bumgarner ('07) and Posey ('08). Such success, even with first-rounders, is virtually unmatched.
That said, the organization's lack of Major League-ready talent last year was especially glaring. When center fielder Angel Pagan's hamstring injury sidelined him, Juan Perez was the Giants' best option for a replacement. Perez had his moments. But his age (26) and skill level (.348 slugging percentage with San Francisco) made him less than compelling. Also, the club had no suitable alternatives when Ryan Vogelsong went on the disabled list. After Mike Kickham received his chance and displayed poor command, San Franciso had to summon Chad Gaudin from the bullpen.
The Giants face a similar situation this season. They must hope their regulars remain healthy, because nobody in the upper Minors looks promising enough to fill in on the Major League level if an emergency arises. By contrast, the Giants are rich with pitching talent. Left-hander Edwin Escobar probably will pitch for San Francisco before the season ends, and the organizatioan's abundance of mound prospects includes, among others, Kyle Crick, Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Clayton Blackburn and Derek Law.
To summarize, the Giants don't get enough respect for their farm system's productivity, though its inability to generate position players consistently is a definite shortcoming. A few solid Drafts can improve both the quality and perception of the Giants' Minor League chain. Accomplishing that is easier said than done, of course.
Despite his late-season success last year, Hunter Pence still has major gaps in his swing. They haven't been addressed in two years. When?
-- Mike Z., Modesto, Calif.
Never. I've discussed Pence with Major League talent evaluators, and they've reached a consensus: What you see is what you get. His style is unorthodox, but it mostly works for him. If somebody could have "changed" him, it would have happened by now.
You mentioned Joe Panik and Nick Noonan as leading candidates to be the future second baseman. I'm curious where Christian Arroyo fits in. I know he was drafted just last year, but what are the chances that he steps up and pushes for that spot by the time Marco Scutaro's contract is up in two years?
-- Chet B., Redlands, Calif.
Drafted out of high school, Arroyo probably will need more than two years of Minor League seasoning to become Major League-ready. Moreover, before the Giants consider Arroyo as a prospective second baseman, they must evaluate his suitability for shortstop, his current position. Meanwhile, I expect Panik to get a long look at second base.
I have never heard any sentiment to elect Horace Stoneham and Peter Magowan into the Hall of Fame in the Executive and Pioneer category, respectively. Among other things, Stoneham decided to move to the West Coast before Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, and Magowan saved a legendary franchise by getting AT&T Park built.
-- Brooke B., Lake Hopatcong, N.J.
Since relatively few baseball executives receive these honors, I have doubts that either one will make it to Cooperstown. The odds against them are too overwhelming. However, I have heard of a particular group that wants to launch a bid on Stoneham's behalf. Everybody, and I mean everybody, I have talked to about Stoneham describes him as a exceedingly good and generous man (I highly recommend reading Roger Angell's 1975 piece on Stoneham, "The Companions of the Game").
Many of those same people also agree that the Giants franchise was mismanaged in the final years of Stoneham's ownership tenure. Whether that's true or unfair, any negative perception would hamper his chances for election. As for Magowan, I believe he someday might have a slight chance to gain this recognition, but a well-conceived and timely campaign would have to be organized.