- 2003: Cain drafted. "He has a live arm, but many observers were surprised at how high he was taken, even those who don't believe in a hard-and-fast rule of avoiding high school pitchers." They noted that six-rounder Jesse English, another high school pitcher drafted by the Giants that same year, was much more impressive in the Arizona Rookie League that year, a subtle dig at the Giants for chosing Cain. The Giants have walked to the beat of a different drum in the draft, earning comments like this, but it has netted them Cain and Lincecum. It is an especially hard jab at them because they noted that even experts who are OK with drafting high school pitchers thought that Cain was a head scratcher.
- 2004: "Baseball America named Cain the number-two prospect in the Giants' system. We don't rank him that high - chalk it up to squeamishness about 18-year-old pitchers who miss half a season with an elbow injury - but we understand the enthusiasm... The elbow, and injuries in general, are the concerns, as is always the case for pitchers fresh out of high school." As noted above, BP don't recommend drafting high school pitchers and they are clearly not on the Matt Cain bandwagon, thought they "understand the enthusiasm".
- 2005: "While Tony Torcato makes a case for the Giants' strategy of sacrificing first-round picks, Cain makes that tack look terrible. The 25th-overall pick in 2002 has zoomed past Merkin Valdez to claim top-prospect status in the Giants' system... Granting TINSTAAPP, you're looking at one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball." He was 28th best prospect that year, behind guys like Andy Marte #1, Dallas McPherson #4, Casey Kotchman #5, Joel Guzman #7, Daric Barton #9, Jeremy Reed #10, Eric Duncan #13, Yusmeiro Petit #15, Michael Aubrey #17, Chris Burke #18, Lastings Milledge #19, Chad Billingsley 120, Edwin Encarnacion #22, Brandon McCarthy #23, Anthony Reyes #25. "The Giants have shown no ability to develop hitters over the past ten years, but pitchers are another matter." Well, finally some praise for the Orange and Black, though they had to turn in into a negative, backhanding the Giants for avoiding draft picks in the past.
- 2006: "The second-youngest rookie in 2005 proved that he was worth the hype... If he figures out a decent change or slider - both of which come in way too fast and flat right now to be consistently useful in games - he could be outstanding. The Giants have worked with him on the changeup, and if the coaching takes, he'll do more than just survive in the major leagues in '06." He ranked 12th among prospects this year, behind some very good prospects this time, though Andy Marte is still ahead #7, Chris Young #8, Dustin Pedroia #11. "If Felix Hernandez is the King, then Cain may be the Crown Prince....With first-round draft picks like Cain, it makes you wonder why Brian Sabean is so eager to give them away." Again, praise with the backhand. By now, my study had been published on Yahoo, but they lack the fundamental understanding of statistics that distribution is not all bell curves but that the draft is really finding the needle in the haystack pretty fast in the draft, sometimes as soon as the 6th pick, sometimes as late as the 10th pick. Shouting out the Giants for avoiding the 29th pick overall is similar to getting mad at your friend for not buying a lottery ticket: "See that guy in the newspaper! He won a million bucks with his ticket, why didn't you buy a ticket?!?"
- 2007: "Cain went into the 2006 season as one of the game's top-rated prospects - we called him the twelfth-best pitching prospect [SIC] in the game, Baseball America said tenth-best, John Sickels said third. After a full season in the majors, he was no longer a prospect, but, if anything, his reputation had risen even further." Wow, praise with no backhand this time. I think they made a mistake, they rated him the 12th best prospect, period, so that is what they meant for themselves and gives them more credit for recognizing his potential.
Not that I'm knocking them for being reasonably cautious about Cain in the beginning. They had good reasons for it. Rather I wanted to note that he was not the slam dunk that they make him out to be today when they are knocking the Giants for selecting him (after knocking them in the first place for selecting him; can't have it both ways, they didn't see it at the begining and the Giants did).
As I hope to show in a future post, a rewriting of my draft study results for those who haven't read it and for those who didn't believe it the first time, draft picks in the range where the Giants had been picking when they were winning or competing strongly for the division championship, which typically puts you in the 20's overall, are pretty risky with low chance of getting any return on the player. So sometimes you pick a Matt Cain, most times you get a Matt Campbell (who happens to be the player the Royals picked with the pick the Giants gave up; he didn't even last a full professional season with them). It is all in the distribution, and the odds of finding a good player like Matt Cain would seem more random and lucky than insightful and well scouted, when you look at the results.