Rule 5 Draft

Drew Ferguson focused on skill Farhan Zaidi coveted to make Giants roster

Drew Ferguson focused on skill Farhan Zaidi coveted to make Giants roster

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For young players in camp, every inning in a Cactus League game is an opportunity to add to the resume and pad a stat line that hopefully will put you on the roster when decisions are made.

Perhaps you'll be the position player who hit .392 or slugged six homers and can't be sent to the minors. Or the pitcher who compiled a 1.50 ERA.

That's what has made Drew Ferguson stand out to the staff this spring. With the pressure on, he has been his usual, patient self, working counts and trying to have good plate appearances in situations where others might be swinging for the fences. That's exactly what Farhan Zaidi, the man who ultimately will decide Ferguson's fate, wants to see. 

"It's tough in this kind of setting with this kind of sample size to expect a certain stat line," Zaidi said. "I don't think he has a lot to show for a lot of those quality at-bats. But we're not going to evaluate him based on the batting average. We're looking for overall at-bat quality."

That's a good sign for Ferguson, who was in a tough spot to begin with. As a Rule 5 pick, he must make the Opening Day roster or else he'll almost certainly end up back with the Houston Astros. The Giants don't want Ferguson to feel that pressure. They want him to be himself, and he certainly has shown that.

While getting the opportunity to lead off on Saturday, Ferguson took a close 2-2 pitch from Cole Hamels and then drew a walk ahead of Buster Posey. The high was followed by a low -- Ferguson got picked off. 

Overall, the 26-year-old is hitting just .143 this spring, but he has a more respectable .333 on-base percentage thanks to five walks in 27 plate appearances. 

There will be growing pains, but Zaidi said he feels Ferguson has run the bases well and played good defense in center field. The coaching staff views him as one of the fastest players in camp. And, "he has had really good at-bats," Zaidi said.

That's something that has always been the key for Ferguson, who doesn't have prototypical size or a big school background. He's listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, and was a 19th-round pick out of Belmont University, but throughout his minor league career with the Astros, Ferguson showed an innate ability to get to first base. 

Ferguson has a .393 on-base percentage in the minors and posted a .432 OBP in 316 plate appearances across two levels last season. In 65 Triple-A games, the center fielder had a .305 average and .436 OBP. 

"I kind of realized when I was younger that it was important," he said. "I followed advanced stats in high school and already knew about sabermetrics and analytics, whatever you want to call it. I kind of just saw that it's really important to get on base. I think I just prioritized that over the years and developed the skill, and the Astros, they valued that skill as well, and helped me develop it further."

The Giants could use more of it. Much more. 

They finished 28th in the majors last year with a .300 on-base percentage, their lowest team mark in 33 years and the eighth-lowest in franchise history. All 10 postseason teams finished in the upper half of the majors in on-base percentage, and in an era when launch angle is all the rage and players are changing their swings to get loft, Ferguson remains focused on the stat that was at the heart of the previous revolution.

"Here's the thing," he said, "People talk about the game changing or how it's going in a different direction. But it's always been valuable to not get out."

[RELATED: How Giants' spring training cuts so far could have role in 2019 season]

Zaidi made that an emphasis as soon as he came on, adding hitters at all levels who do a better job of simply reaching base. He is looking for right-handed help in the outfield and views Ferguson as a potential boost, regardless of what the batting average has been this spring. 

"Drew factors in there," Zaidi said of the outfield race. "The Rule 5 guys, it's find a spot for him or lose him, so that definitely factors in."

MLB Rule 5 draft: Giants make franchise history with two selections

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USATSI

MLB Rule 5 draft: Giants make franchise history with two selections

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.

[RELATED: Giants interested in Japanese flamethrower Yusei Kikuchi]

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. 

Rule 5 Draft: A's add three minor league players -- here's what it means

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AP

Rule 5 Draft: A's add three minor league players -- here's what it means

LAS VEGAS - While the biggest news of the Rule 5 Draft was the A's losing former first-round pick Richie Martin to the Orioles, Oakland did add three players in the Triple-A phase of the draft.

The A's selected second baseman Corban Joseph from the Orioles, outfielder Mark Payton from the Yankees, and first baseman Anthony Miller from the Indians.

Joseph, 30, played 14 games in the majors last season, going 4-for-18 with a double. He spent the majority of the year in Double-A, slashing .312/.381/.497 with 17 home runs and 68 RBI.

Joseph has had a solid minor league career, batting .285 over the course of 11 seasons. At 30 years old, it's doubtful he takes the next step to become a bona fide big leaguer, but he does provide depth at middle infield, which the A's can certainly use.

Payton, 27, spent last season in Triple-A, slashing .259/.368/.401 with six homers and 25 RBI in 62 games. He can play all three outfield positions.

In five career minor league seasons, Payton has hit .274 with a .354 on-base percentage. While the A's outfield is crowded, Payton adds to their depth in Triple-A. And don't forget, Nick Martini was 27 years old last year when he had his breakout season.

Miller, 24, played in High-A last season, slashing .264/.363/.432 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 74 games. He is a career .228 hitter in four minor league seasons.

Miller seems unlikely to stick in the A's organization, though he is still just 24 and has time to put things together. Oakland could benefit from first base depth in the minors, as none of their top 30 prospects play the position.