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Giants' success more than following lucky stars

They stick to philosophy and scouts' advice to draft likes of Posey, Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

8:08 PM CDT, April 10, 2013

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Before they became the best organization in baseball, the Giants were Barry Bonds' team. They seemed unable to break free from the flawed slugger for a long time, sticking with the disgraced star for six years after his record-setting 2001 season.

Then they wildly overpaid Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand on the rebound.

While the investment in Zito paid big dividends last October, in the sixth season of his seven-year deal, the key to the Giants' success lies in the foundation of the rebuilt team that has been constructed shrewdly through the draft.

There's no way the team that visits Wrigley Field this weekend would have won the World Series two of the last three years without some crazily good work from its amateur scouts, long-time general manager Brian Sabean, who was a San Francisco scouting director (1993-95), and scouting directors Matt Nerland (2003-07) and John Barr (2008-present).

Their finest hour came in '08, when they pounced on Buster Posey after four teams passed on him. But before that they scored huge in taking Tennessee high-schooler Matt Cain with the 25th overall pick in 2002, the University of Washington's Tim Lincecum with the 10th pick in '06 and North Carolina high-schooler Madison Bumgarner with the 10th pick in '07.

It would have been so easy to take a lesser player every time, but Nerland, Barr and Sabean (working with Dick Tidrow and other special assistants) made their first-round picks count. It's stunning that Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner and Posey were found, on average, with the 13th pick.

This wasn't like the Nationals meeting Scott Boras' asking price for no-brainers Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. It was somewhat like the Tigers picking Justin Verlander with the second pick in 2004 — over a cast of more successful college pitchers that included Jered Weaver and Rice University's trio of Philip Humber, Wade Townsend and Jeff Niemann — only better.

Posey has been the biggest difference-maker in the bunch. As a rookie, he was a force in the 2010 playoffs and he won both a batting title and an MVP award in 2012. His injury 48 games into 2011 turned the Giants from a first-place team into an also-ran.

Don't you think the Rays, Pirates, Royals and Orioles would love to have Posey? Those teams passed on the Florida State All-American catcher even though he had demonstrated his ability as clearly as he could leading into the draft.

A Team USA standout pitcher in high school, Posey began his college career as a shortstop. He converted to catcher as a sophomore and Baseball America ranked him as the 15th overall prospect heading into his junior season. By the time the draft rolled around, Baseball America was writing he projected "as an offensive catcher with Gold Glove-caliber defense,'' and ranked him behind only Pedro Alvarez, Brian Matusz and Tim Beckham as a prospect.

The Giants fell hard for Posey early, largely on the recommendation of senior scouting adviser Ed Creech (who, like Posey, lives in southwest Georgia) and were thrilled when the top of the draft went like this: 1) Beckham, Rays; 2) Alvarez, Pirates; 3) Eric Hosmer, Royals, and 4) Matusz, Orioles.

Money is frequently a factor in the draft but there was only one signability pick before Posey. The Orioles gave Matusz $3.2 million — a full $3 million less than Posey. But Beckham, Alvarez and Hosmer all signed for at least $6 million.

How good would the Rays have been the last three years if they had taken Posey instead of Beckham? The Yankees and other American League teams are glad it's a hypothetical question.

National League teams aren't so happy about that 2008 draft. It's almost unfair that one of the best young hitters in the game landed with a team that already had so much pitching.

Except it wasn't random. It was unbelievably strong scouting.

That's where success so often starts.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers