Down on the Farm: 2010 Giants Top 50 Prospect Review- #2 Madison Bumgarner
Postseason 2-0, 2.18, 20.2 IP, 5 BB, 18 K's.
Madison Bumgarner was the Giants first, first round pick in 2007, #10 overall. I wasn't happy with the pick. At the time, the Giants organization was desperate for hitters. I was stumping for either Beau Mills or Jason Heyward. Mills, obviously, would have been a mistake. It's a close call whether they Giants are better off with MadBum or Heyward, but as things stand now, I'm not at all sorry they took Bumgarner. For one thing, it's very doubtful that the Giants would have gotten through the postseason without MadBum even it they had Heyward instead, so I'll trade whatever happens in the future for this one partial season of Bumgarner any day.
In 2008, Bumgarner had possibly the best season any pitching prospect has ever had pitching for low A Augusta: 15-3, 1.46, 141.2 IP, 21 BB, 164 K's. He reportedly was working with a fastball that ran in the mid 90's with impeccable command on both sides of the plate. His secondary stuff was reported to be raw, but he was working on it.
He started off 2009 in San Jose and in 5 games put up similar numbers: 3-1, 1.48, 24.1 IP, 4 BB, 23 K's. He was promoted to AA Connecticut where he dominated in his first start, but then something didn't seem right. His K rate went way down and his walk rate went way up. The results were still good: 9-1, 1.93, 107 IP, 30 BB, 69 K's. For prospect watchers, though, the secondary stats were cause for concern. He came up to SF in September and got into 4 games including one start that went reasonably well: 0-0, 1.80, 10 IP, 3 BB, 10 K's. To the surprise and dismay of a lot of Giants fans, the velocity on his fastball was only 88-90 mph, although he appeared to have more advanced secondary stuff than what we had been led to believe. The difference in velocity, though, was the difference between a good pitcher and a potential ace and one couldn't help be feel some disappointment as well as concern over what caused the velocity drop. The official explanation from the Giants was a mechanical flaw that could be easily worked out.
Bumgarner came to spring training in 2010 amid much anticipation and some anxiety over his velocity. It was still down and got lit up. He was sent down to Fresno amid comments from Brian Sabean about getting married in the offseason and being out of shape. He got shelled in his first two starts for Fresno and full scale panic had set in. His stat lines in Fresno started improving. When Todd Wellemeyer went down with an injury, MadBum got the call. His velocity was better at 90-92 mph on the fastball and his secondary stuff was much better. He got progressively stronger as the season went along and made several really clutch starts down the stretch. By the end of the season, his fastball velocity has climbed back to the 92-94 MPH range, but could still be inconsistent, especially later in games.
The lingering memory of Madison Bumgarner's rookie season couldn't be much better. The postseason performance was outstanding. In Game 4 of the World Series, it was downright dominating against a righthanded heavy Texas Rangers lineup. He was still coming at them with 94 MPH darts on the corners of the plate through 8 innings before Bruce Bochy wisely let Brian Wilson finish it off. Possibly even more impressive, though was his clutch performance out of the bullpen in the NLCS going 2 IP, against the best that Philadelphia had to offer. His velocity was a bit off at 90-92 and he got into trouble both innings, but kept his cool and pitched his way out of it both times. In one of the innings, when a runner reached 3B with only 1 out, Bum told Aubrey Huff not to worry, he would strike out the next batter and get the next batter after that out and the Giants would be out of the inning. He did just that!
Madison Bumgarner can be a very good major league pitcher with ordinary velocity. If he can maintain a fastball in the 92-94 range with his command and secondary stuff, he can be a dominant ace. He's crazy big and already has impeccable command, something that is very rare in a hard throwing LHP. What excites me the most about MadBum, though, is his attitude. This kid may look like a country bumpkin out there, but behind that facade is a deadly competitor. Bum's quietness is different than Matt Cain's. Cain is just unflappable and incredibly determined. Bumgarner has, as Bruce Springsteen would say, the cold hard look of a cobra! This guy isn't just determined to win, he's determined to destroy his opponents. He will be a Giant for at least the next 6 seasons. By the end of that time, assuming no major injuries, he could very well be the #1 starter on the team, if not in all of baseball. The Giants are very fortunate to have Madison Bumgarner!
Again, graduation takes him off the 2011 prospect list, but how much better is it to have him pitching for the Giants?
PS: I'm still not sure what caused the mysterious drop in velocity. It may be multiple factors. He was clearly working on secondary stuff and may have unconsciously been gripping the fastball a bit tighter. The fact that he progressively gained velocity as the season went on, combined with reports of him running in the stands with Matt Cain between starts tends to lend credence to the deconditioning theory. It will be something interesting to watch going forward. Again, with his command and rapidly improving secondary stuff, he can be a good pitcher without the velocity. With the velocity, though, he can be an ace!