Prospect Retrospective: Brian Giles
Brian Giles was a 17th-round pick in 1989, by the Cleveland Indians out of high school in El Cajon, California. Assigned to the Appalachian League after the draft, he hit .310 in 36 games for Burlington. He didn't show any power (.364 SLG), but it was a credible performance given his draft status and youth. I was a junior in college back then; this was a long time before I did prospect analysis for a living. Assigning a retrospective grade using my current methods, he'd rate a Grade C.
Moving up to the New York-Penn League for 1990, Giles continued to hit for average at .289 in 70 games. While he hit just 1 home run, he did knock 15 doubles, while showing exceptional plate discipline: 48 walks against only 23 strikeouts in 246 at-bats. Given age and competition factors, that'd rate about a Grade C+ in retrospect.
Giles moved up to full-season ball at age 20 in 1991. For Kinston in the Carolina League (a large jump from the NY-P for a 20-year-old), he hit .310. Again, he didn't have much power, with only a .376 SLG. But the plate discipline remained strong with 68 walks against 70 strikeouts in 394 at-bats. Retrospective Grade C+. If I were writing a comment about a player with similar numbers today, I'd be impressed with the batting average, walks, and youth, but concerned about the lack of power.
'92 was a bit of a lost season for Giles, as he was limited to just 65 games by injury. He split those games between Kinston and Double-A Canton, not playing particularly well at either level, although he did continue to show excellent plate discipline, drawing 40 walks. A downgrade to Grade C would have been possible following this year, but I may have left it at C+; it is hard to say given our retrospective knowledge.
Giles began his big breakout in 1993, hitting .327 with a .438 SLG for Canton, with 57 walks against 43 strikeouts in 425 at-bats. Still only 22, he would have rated at least a Grade B at this stage, pending on only the development of power to rise higher than that.
The power came in '94, as Giles hit .313 with 16 homers and continued excellent plate discipline, in Triple-A at the age of 23. I would definitely have rated him a Grade B+ prospect at this stage, and perhaps an A-. Despite this good performance, he was sent back to Triple-A for 1995. . .and had another great year, hitting .310 with 15 homers and continued excellent strike zone judgment. I gave him a Grade B in my first book in 1996. That was too low; nowadays I would have rated him at B+ or possibly A-, along with a big paragraph about how he was a much better player than some guys with jobs.
Giles hit .314 with 20 homers in 83 more games of Triple-A in 1996, along with .355 in 51 games for the Indians that year. His huge leap forward finally came when he got regular playing time after being traded to the Pirates in 1999.
Like his little brother Marcus, Brian Giles never excited scouts, even when he was putting up big numbers in the minors. He didn't have "great tools" or any plus attribute, except of course his bat, which is the most important tool of all. Statistical analysis pointed him out as a sleeper prospect rather early in his career, due to his excellent plate discipline, although it took some time for his power to come around. He was ready for Major League action at the age of 23, yet he had to wait until he was 28 before he was allowed to play regularly.