Giants rookie hurler is no Bum
There hasn’t been a quieter season debut of a Top 10 prospect than when Madison Bumgarner took the hill for the Giants on
June 26. Maybe it’s because Bumgarner is
old news after a miniature-sized cup of tea in September of last season. Or maybe Stephen Strasburg has soaked up all
the hype available for starting pitchers at the moment.
Or maybe — in fact, very likely — it’s because no one knows
what to say about the enigmatic 20-year-old right now.
Bumgarner had about as solid an outing as you
could ask for from a youngster making his second career start. He tossed seven innings, limiting the Red
Sox to just five hits and a walk while striking out five. The only damage came on two long balls over
the first two innings — a solo shot and a three-run blast– after which he put
up five scoreless frames and retired 16 of the last 17 batters to face him. He kept
Boston hitters off-balance all afternoon with a slow curve hovering in the low
70s and an impressive mid-80s slider.
What continued to confuse the
heck out of scouts and analysts is that Bumgarner’s fastball continually came
in at 90 mph that day (except for an adrenaline-aided first inning when he was
dealing at 91-92), which echoed his Minor League performance earlier this
season. This is what is preventing analysts from making a true big-league projection for the kid.
A prominent feature that led the southpaw
to be ranked as the No. 6 prospect in all of baseball to begin 2009 was heat
that consistently lived in the mid-90s.
He posted a 15-3 record, 1.48 ERA and 164 Ks in 141 2/3 innings at
Class A in 2008, leaving scouts and fantasy experts alike drooling and
projecting him as a future ace. He was
equally effective the year after in the Minors, going 12-2 with a 1.85
ERA. However towards the end of ’09, Bumgarner’s velocity began to drop, resulting in just 69 Ks over 107 frames
after a promotion to Double-A.
He entered Spring Training 2010 with similar velocity issues,
throwing about 88-90, which resulted in a drop in his prospect
status. The 6-foot-4 hurler countered that with a
very solid, though not eye-popping, performance at Triple-A, compiling a 7-1
record this season with a 3.16 ERA and 59 Ks in 82 2/3 innings. That was enough to earn him a call-up to the
Majors, but apparently not enough to crank up the hype machine.
So what’s to make of this talented young lefty who
currently holds the fifth spot in the San Francisco rotation? It’s probably time to adjust
expectations. This kid is good, there’s
no question. Dealing in a pitcher’s park
in the offensively challenged NL West with one of the best pitching coaches in
the game, Dave Righetti, tutoring him, Bumgarner is in a great position to be successful. Righetti has tamed the “stuff” of Jonathon
Sanchez, and resurrected Barry Zito’s career (both left-handers), so a talent
like Mad Bum shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
While Bumgarner may no longer be a huge strikeout threat or
post Cy Young-caliber stats, he should be a very solid starter at the Major
League level, even this season. You’ll want
him in fantasy leagues over other heralded blue chips like fellow southpaw and
Top 10 prospect Brian Matusz, or recent callups like Jake Arrieta, Brad Lincoln,
and Andrew Oliver.
If Bumgarner can keep the ball on the ground and improve on
a 10-10 ground ball-to-fly-ball ratio in start No. 1, there’s a good chance he’ll
post an ERA in the mid-high threes with adequate complementary numbers across
the board. If all goes according to
plan, he’ll have three upcoming road starts against the Rockies, Brewers and
Nationals, which will be a nice test. If
he passes that, you won’t want to wait on any experts’ projections to grab
him in all fantasy formats.