The Giants Have a Historic Issue Developing Outfielders

Earlier this week, a friend and I were sharing a good laugh about the Giants’ horrendous outfield production this season, when the topic of the upcoming MLB draft arose. The conversation went from humorous to thought provoking when he asked me the following question:

“Who was the last decent homegrown player the Giants have developed at any outfield position?”

I paused. The internal wheels began to spin. “Well, there was…no, they didn’t draft him. But they had…no, he came in a trade. Hm. Um, last legitimate starting outfielder was, uh…”

I flailed. Darren Lewis was the first name I could muster. But Darren Lewis was drafted by the Oakland A’s, and was traded to the Giants in late 1990 after appearing in 25 games with Oakland that season. And he stretched the term “decent” to begin with.

Another friend posited Chili Davis, whom the Giants drafted in 1977. Sure, Chili was a fine homegrown outfielder. Chili was a bright spot on some bad Giants teams in the early 1980s, and was very good when the team returned to the playoffs in 1987. But he was drafted 40 years ago; the franchise has lived at least three life cycles since then. Who is the last true, long term (Which we’ll define as more than two full seasons) starting outfielder the Giants have drafted since the mid-1980s?

Chili

Davis spent his first 7 big league seasons in San Francisco, and went on to reach 350 home runs in his career. Photo Courtesy of pinterest.com

So, with plenty of help from my favorite sources of draft and minor league info: TheBaseballCube.com and BaseballAmerica.com, I dug. I pored through every outfielder the San Francisco Giants drafted from 1985-2015, which came out to more than 100 picks. I left out 2016, because it’s unreasonable to think any pick from last year would have already hit the big leagues. A 30-year period seemed perfect, as it would span five general managers, five managers, and six farm directors (A position, I found, that isn’t officially designated every season).

The results were startling. It wasn’t just my memory failing me when I struggled to come up with an answer to who was the last above-average outfielder drafted by the Giants. San Francisco hasn’t developed a single All-Star outfielder in 30 years, and of the small percentage of their outfield draft picks who have even cracked the big leagues, none have really come close. Let’s take a look at the list of Giants outfield picks since 1985 who had at least one major league plate appearance:

1985-1989

  • Trevor Wilson (drafted as both an OF and pitcher)
  • Ted Wood
  • Reggie Williams
  • Steve Hosey

1990-1999

  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Dax Jones
  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Chris Singleton
  • Keith Williams
  • Dante Powell
  • Jacob Cruz
  • Chris Magruder
  • Doug Clark

2000-2009

  • Jason Ellison
  • Adam Shabala
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa (1B/OF)
  • John Bowker (1B/OF)
  • Clay Timpner
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Juan Perez
  • Ryan Lollis

2010-2015

  • Gary Brown
  • Jarrett Parker
  • Mac Williamson
  • Austin Slater

Go ahead, rub your eyes and scroll through again. Unfortunately they aren’t deceiving you. From that illustrious group, let’s break it down further to the players on the list who had a total of 200 or more major league plate appearances with any team:

  • Trevor Wilson (as a pitcher)
  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Chris Singleton
  • Jacob Cruz
  • Chris Magruder
  • Jason Ellison
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • John Bowker
  • Juan Perez
  • Jarrett Parker

And of those, the players who had at least 200 plate appearances with the Giants:

  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Jason Ellison
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • John Bowker
  • Juan Perez
  • Jarrett Parker

Next, let’s knock off Bowker and Ishikawa, who appeared in more games as first basemen than they did as outfielders. Finally, let’s whittle it down to the players who had more than 1,000 plate appearances in a Giants uniform, a rough equivalent of two full seasons:

  • Marvin Benard
  • Fred Lewis

There you have it folks, the two most accomplished outfielders drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the last 31 years. Benard, a 50th round pick in the 1992 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho), and Lewis, chosen 10 years later in the 2nd round out of Southern (Louisiana).

For a player chosen in a round so late it doesn’t exist anymore, Marvin Benard had a solid major league career. During his four-year peak from 1998-2001, he averaged 12 home runs and 50 RBI per season, posting a 105 OPS+. His best season came in 1999, when he finished the year with a .290 average, 16 homers and 64 runs driven in across 625 plate appearances as the Giants primary center fielder. Not bad for a guy who could have easily been just another minor-league wash out.

Benard Bulldoze

Listed at 5’10, 180 lbs, Marvin Benard was a charter member of the Giants “Fightin’ Hydrants” of the late 1990s. Photo Courtesy of Daily Sports Pages

The expectations for “Freddy Lew” were quite different. Chosen 66th overall, Lewis jumped straight from High-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno in 2004, finishing the year with a .301 average, .876 OPS, and 34 steals over 121 games. The following season he became Baseball America’s #78 ranked prospect and spent all of 2005 with Double-A Norwich, notching 42 extra-base hits and stealing 30 bags with a respectable .757 OPS.

Next came a full season at Fresno, where Lewis knocked 12 homers and stole another 18 bases, bringing his minor league total to 30 HR and 121 SB across four seasons. Now 25, it appeared the Giants had a talented outfielder capable of being a top-of-the-order hitter with serviceable power, who also brought an element of speed the major league club lacked at the time. Lewis earned a call-up that September and went 5-11 with five runs scored, stirring excitement in a fan base that would soon say goodbye to their larger-than-life left fielder.

After a strong start to the 2007 campaign with Fresno, Lewis was called up in early May to a big league club on it’s way to a last place finish. He burst on to the scene with a cycle against Colorado just four days after his promotion, and hit .287 with a .782 OPS over 180 plate appearances, positioning himself for a starting left field role 2008. All he had to do was take over for arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

San Francisco once again struggled in 2008, but Fred Lewis gave the indication that finally, after 20+ years of homegrown outfield futility, the franchise had found an every day player with big upside. Lewis slashed .282/.351/.440 with 45 extra-base hits and 21 steals, adding 81 runs scored.

But 2009 saw him regress to a .258/.348/.390 line in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances, and the now 28-year-old appeared to run out of time in San Francisco. Andres Torres rose to the starting left field role heading in to 2010, and Lewis was dealt to Toronto in early April. Just like that, the Giants most successful outfield prospect in two decades was gone without ever reaching his anticipated peak.

Since Fred Lewis the Giants have had a couple more false alarms when it came to touted outfield prospects, most notably 2010 1st rounder Gary Brown. The Fullerton product rose to #38 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects following an outstanding 2011 season in San Jose, but stalled in Triple-A and ended up making a grand total of seven big league plate appearances.

Most recently the Giants have been awaiting the development of 2010 2nd rounder Jarrett Parker and 2012 3rd rounder Mac Williamson. Parker, finally given a chance at a regular starting role in 2017, had a significant portion of his season taken away by the left field wall at AT&T Park. Parker will turn 29 this winter, and after seven seasons in the Giants organization is beginning to run out of time.

Williamson has yet to stick in the big leagues as a result of both injuries and inconsistency, and there have been indications San Francisco is preparing to move on from the soon-to-be 27 year old. Rather than allow Williamson to get significant big league at-bats this season, they opted for a parade of aging replacement players in left field, and after that failed miserably the team has apparently moved on to younger prospects like Orlando Calixte and Austin Slater.

You saw Calixte throw that ball into the stands in Milwaukee, right?

So here’s to Heliot Ramos, whom the Giants selected with the 19th overall pick yesterday. Just 17 years old, with a potentially long baseball life in front of him.

Fingers crossed.

-AC

 

 

 

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