SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Even-numbered years used to be cause for celebration with the Giants. They won World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and they valiantly battled the eventual champion Cubs before falling in the Division Series in 2016.
But 2018 was a season to forget for San Francisco. It had the third-highest payroll and third-oldest roster in the big leagues, yet lost 89 games after going a MLB-worst 5-21 in September. The Giants' 187 defeats in 2017-18 represented their worst two-year stretch since 1995-96 and led to a front-office makeover, with GM Bobby Evans dismissed in September and Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi hired as president of baseball operations two months later.
The news wasn't much better down in the Minors, where the Giants' six U.S. affiliates combined for a .457 winning percentage (third-worst in baseball), zero playoff appearances (tied for worst) and two Top 100 Prospects (tied for fifth-worst). They've drafted and developed just one All-Star in the last decade, 2011 first-rounder Joe Panik. Their international track record is even bleaker, with Pablo Sandoval the last homegrown All-Star from that market -- and he signed in 2003.
Now some cause for optimism: San Francisco did infuse its farm system with several impressive newcomers in 2018. The Giants used the No. 2 overall pick and a $7,025,000 bonus to land catcher Joey Bart, whose power and defensive ability make him their best prospect since Buster Posey was rising through the Minors a decade ago. They also spent $2.6 million on Dominican shortstop Marco Luciano, their highest-ceilinged international prospect in years.
Bart, a 21-year-old college product, and Luciano, a 17-year-old who has yet to make his pro debut, obviously will be on entirely different development paths. While Bart batted .294/.364/.588 with 13 homers in his 51-game debut last summer and posted a 1.150 OPS in Cactus League play, new farm director Kyle Haines said San Francisco won't rush Posey's heir apparent.
"A lot of people want to see him in San Francisco sooner rather than later, but we want to make sure we put him in a position to best grow in the Minors," said Haines, who was promoted from assistant farm director for instruction after former farm director David Bell left to manage the Reds. "The big thing is just to get experience because the catching position is so demanding.
"There's so much to learn, especially all of the information. We're flooding players with data and technology, so just getting exposure to the pro game, exposure to data, exposure to game strategy is important."
Bart likely will begin his first full pro season at Class A Advanced San Jose. There's a good chance he'll be joined by the two college right-handers the Giants drafted immediately after him, Sean Hjelle (second round) and Jake Wong (third). They already rank among the system's most advanced starting pitching prospects, with Hjelle standing out for his size (6-foot-11) and polish and Wong featuring slightly better stuff.
Luciano, by contrast, may not play in the United States until 2020. While he's advanced and talented enough to handle an assignment to the Rookie-level Arizona League, there would be benefits to breaking him in in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
"It's easy to say it’s the Arizona League, but he'll be 17 and it's tough," Haines said. "You can't work with guys in practice because of the heat. We want to work with Luciano defensively, so is that good for his development?
"We hope he's a plus offensive shortstop. He's a 17-year-old who wasn't just born to pick it at shortstop. He's going to need some extra help but he's a great athlete."
Cuban outfielder Jairo Pomares, who signed for $975,000 last July, finds himself in a similar situation. The best pure hitter in the system, he'll spend time in extended Spring Training with Linares before the Giants determine where to send them in June.
One promising youngster who's definitely ticketed for the AZL is Dominican third baseman Luis Toribio, who ranked third in the DSL with 10 homers during his 2018 pro debut.
While Bart's performance in the Cactus League has reinforced the notion that he can make an impact in the not-too-distant future, right-hander Tyler Beede has been a bigger surprise and should provide more immediate help.
A two-time first round choice whom the Giants drafted 14th overall in 2014, Beede saw his control and confidence disappear last year. He logged an 8.22 ERA in two big league starts and a 7.05 ERA in Triple-A, where he got demoted to the bullpen.
Beede decided to scrap his two-seam fastball and his cutter/slider to focus on his mid-90s four-seamer, improved curveball and plus changeup. The new approach has resulted in a new Beede, who has impressed the big league staff while striking out 10 batters and allowing just nine baserunners in 8 1/3 innings. A rough outing against the Mariners last Wednesday hiked his spring ERA to 5.40.
"He's had a terrific spring," manager Bruch Bochy told MLB.com's Maria Guardado. "It looks like he's on a mission to show that he's put a lot of hard work in and doing all he can to open eyes again.
"He's got the equipment. This guy, it's his time. He's really taking advantage of this spring and showing that he's a different guy."
Left-hander Travis Bergen is helping his cause to stick with the Giants after getting plucked from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. Armed with a deceptive and lively fastball, he has produced seven scoreless outings while fanning six and permitting just five baserunners. San Francisco can't send him to the Minors this year without first exposing him to waivers and then offering him back to Toronto for half his $100,000 Draft price.