Barr's foresight helped establish Giants' core
Sabean's special assistant played big role in San Francisco's 2008 Draft haul
DETROIT -- The 2008 First-Year Player Draft was his first major assignment with the San Francisco Giants, and John Barr was hoping, naturally, to make a good impression.
Employed by the Dodgers for a decade, Barr had come to San Francisco to serve as special assistant in charge of scouting to Giants general manager Brian Sabean. While working for the rivals down south, Barr had fallen in love, as scouts will, with a special athlete.
Buster Posey was one of the college game's best players at Florida State University. Barr had followed him since his high school days in Leesburg, Ga. Barr marveled at the quickness of Posey's bat, his composure and inner confidence, his across-the-board skill set and versatility.
"I'd spent a lot of time with Buster and thought the world of him," Barr recalled as the World Series shifted to the Motor City for Game 3 on Saturday night (4:30 p.m. PT air time on FOX, 5:07 PT first pitch), the Giants holding a 2-0 lead. "I had the opportunity not only to see his ability and talent, but to get insight into his makeup and personality. He was the top guy on our board, the guy we really wanted to have.
"When I was with the Dodgers in 2007, going into his junior year at Florida State, I told him that if there was any way, we'd get him. Now it's a year later, I'm just starting out with the Giants, and I had this feeling it was meant to be. I even told Buster before the Draft that this might be the way it's supposed to happen."
The Giants held the fifth overall pick. Barr's prayers were answered.
Tampa Bay chose Tim Beckham, a Georgia high school athlete, first. Pittsburgh opted for Pedro Alvarez, Kansas City took Eric Hosmer, and Baltimore selected Brian Matusz.
An elated Barr, cheered on by the club's scouting and personnel departments, selected Gerald Dempsey "Buster" Posey.
Barr was convinced he'd landed a future star, but he couldn't have imagined all that was ahead of this player he admired. Barr would watch Posey lead San Francisco to a World Series title two years later, then overcome a season-ending leg injury requiring complex surgery in 2011 to become the favorite to win the National League's Most Valuable Player Award with another World Series team in 2012.
"I was 16 when I met John for the first time, at a showcase event somewhere in Florida," Posey recalled following the Giants' 2-0 Game 2 victory at AT&T Park. "John Barr is a great man. He still comes around and checks up on me."
As Barr celebrated his fifth anniversary as a Giants employee on Thursday, Posey was bringing home Madison Bumgarner and the bullpen with a shutout of the heavy-handed Tigers.
As exciting as the Posey Draft coup was in the Giants' camp, another big break was coming three rounds later.
Barr and Giants area scout Mike Kendall, brother of former catcher Jason Kendall, had taken a liking to a shortstop at UCLA. Brandon Crawford, the Bruins' MVP as a freshman and sophomore, fell off slightly offensively as a junior, and that, combined with a poor showing in the Cape Cod League, diminished his stock.
San Francisco's talent evaluators were convinced he could play shortstop at the big league level.
Again, luck was on the Giants' side. Eleven shortstops had been taken when they made Crawford selection No. 117 overall in the fourth round. Between Posey and Crawford, they'd drafted third baseman Conor Gillaspie and outfielder Roger Kieschnick.
Five of those 11 shortstops taken ahead of Crawford have made it to the Major Leagues. Only the Nationals' Danny Espinosa and Gordon Beckham of the White Sox have made impacts -- primarily as second basemen.
"I wanted to go higher and was expecting to go higher," said Crawford, a huge Giants fan growing up in the Bay Area. "So it's satisfying to be here, in the big leagues. If I had gone earlier, somewhere else, I wouldn't have ended up with the Giants. So it happened for a reason. This is where I was supposed to be.
"Buster and I signed a day apart and went to Arizona at the same time, then played [in the Minors] together. He's one of my better friends on the team. It worked out well for all of us -- including John Barr, who's a great guy."
No player from that Draft has produced on Posey's level. If they held it all over again today, Crawford would be a high first-rounder.
"Mike Kendall deserves credit for doing a really nice job with Brandon," Barr said. "He's a big-bodied shortstop who's really athletic. We were impressed with his agility and body control, and his arm is plus. We feel he has a chance to win a [Rawlings] Gold Glove if he continues to develop.
"Offensively, his hand-eye coordination and strength are there. He has some power. It's just a matter of putting it all together. He's a great kid, very humble. He's got a sense of humor and a quick wit. He's mature and respected, a good teammate."
Crawford played 265 Minor League games with relatively modest numbers and hit only .204 in 66 games in 2011. But he has emerged this season as a valued contributor to manager Bruce Bochy's remarkably resilient club.
Hitting .233 as July ended, Crawford batted .281 in August and .288 in September and October to finish at .248. He hit the gaps often enough to rack up 26 doubles, and the Giants are confident he'll land in the 15-homer range as he develops.
Crawford is approaching elite status as a defender, with upside. Apart from pitchers, only catchers hold more value than shortstops, illuminating why that 2008 Draft has been so critical.
In Posey and Crawford, both 25, the Giants have pillars of a club that could find itself in a few more Fall Classics.
Barr, like Buster and Brandon, is right where he wants to be. Here's a man who gave up a promising career in the business world to take a shot at a tryout with the Yankees. A first baseman and center fielder at Rider University, he wasn't offered a contract and sought employment as a scout, launching his career with the Mets in 1985. He went on to scout for the Twins (1988), Orioles (1989-90), Padres (1991-93), Mets again (1994-97) and Dodgers (1998-2007) in a variety of roles.
Scouts live in the shadows, in constant search of a Posey or a Crawford. They love the game and the life in spite of its hardships and time away from family.
Barr owns a 2010 World Series ring. If another is on the way, Posey and Crawford -- two of his guys -- will have had very large and active hands in shaping it.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.