LAS VEGAS — The Rule 5 draft is generally a time for dozens of reporters and scouts to gather in a massive conference room and discuss assorted hangovers. On Thursday, though, it was a chance to learn a bit more about a franchise moving forward under new leadership.
For the first time in their history, the Giants made two selections in the Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to add minor leaguers who must stay on the big league roster the entire season or be offered back to their original club. We learned a couple of things about Farhan Zaidi, who flew home Thursday morning but sent a half-dozen longtime team employees to the draft to select left-handed reliever Travis Bergen from the Blue Jays and outfielder Drew Ferguson from the Astros.
Zaidi clearly — and for obvious reasons — was not particularly enamored with the roster he inherited, and while the Giants last month protected only three prospects from the Rule 5 draft, they did not lose anybody in the major league portion of the proceedings. Nobody was clamoring for their older prospects. Instead, Zaidi added two players who have a shot to win Opening Day jobs for a team that has plenty of holes to fill this winter.
The other thing we learned, both Thursday and from Monday’s waiver claim of Mike Gerber, is the new emphasis offensively. In marathon discussions inside their suite on the 62nd floor at Mandalay Bay this week, Giants officials repeatedly came back to the need to add players who have displayed an ability to reach base and have a better walk-to-strikeout balance. That used to be a hallmark of the lineup; in 2018, the Giants ranked 28th in the majors with a .300 collective on-base percentage, their worst mark in 33 years.
Ferguson, 26, had a .436 OBP in Triple-A last year and is at .393 in four minor league seasons. Gerber, claimed off waivers from the Tigers earlier in the week, has a .346 career OBP in the minors.
“We’re valuing, as Farhan outlined, plate discipline,” assistant general manager Jeremy Shelley said. “It’s certainly something we’re trying to value more.”
Ferguson, who hits right-handed, had five homers in 71 minor league games last season, with 14 doubles and three triples. Shelley said he can play all three outfield spots — like Gerber — and adds versatility to an outfield that needs plenty of help. It is somewhat rare for position players to stick as Rule 5 picks, and the Giants would have to offer Ferguson back to the Astros for $50,000 if he is not on their big league roster, but he certainly has a shot at a bench job. Steven Duggar is the only current Giants outfielder locked into a spot.
Bergen joins an organization that was willing to let Julian Fernandez compete for a bullpen job last spring before his elbow blew up. The Giants are listening to trade offers for lefty relievers Will Smith and Tony Watson. Bergen — who has a two-pitch mix, fastball in the lows 90s, and deceptive three-quarters delivery — will get a long look.
Bergen has struck out 12 batters per nine innings throughout a minor league career that was set back by Tommy John surgery in 2016. He has a 1.27 career ERA, and in 2018 he compiled a miniscule 0.95 ERA in 43 appearances at High-A and Double-A. Shelley said Bergen’s fastball has a whiff rate that is double the major league average.
“He has swing-and-miss stuff,” Shelley said.
Any Rule 5 pick is a long shot by nature, but Zaidi has no connections to the prior roster, giving Bergen and Ferguson relatively equal footing with much more familiar names like Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, Steven Okert and Josh Osich. It’s a new era, and that will mean plenty of new players. On Thursday, the Giants added two they’re excited about.