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Prospect Park: Pitching Down On the Farm

February 14, 2011

This run-down of the pitching talent in the Giants farm system got us started thinking and, well, who are we to argue with the baseball inspiration fairies?

The Giants have certainly garnered a lot of attention for the quality of our pitching staff (personalities and hair syles aside*), so it’s no surprise that the farm system has a pleasant depth of talent, albeit mostly in the lower levels,  and the draft predictions expect the powers that be to continue to build on that. On that note, seriously guys, would it kill you to draft some infielders occasionally? If Crawford and Adrianza don’t pan out, we don’t want to have to do the short stop scramble again. (Although Britt semi-secretly has designs on J.J. Hardy when his contract is up with the O’s). But we digress. Pitchers, we got ‘em.

Eric Surkamp is a particular favorite around these parts (in part due to this interview), and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do in Richmond. Baseball America ranked him the number nine overall prospect in the Giants organization, as well as having the best changeup, curveball and control. Nothing gets us on board faster than a good off-speed pitch, so we’re going to be watching him closely. With a high 80s – low 90s fastball, he has what already seems to be a solid arsenal of pitches to keep working his way through the Giants system, and we’re having a hard time not falling all over ourselves at early Andy Pettitte comparisons.

Zack Wheeler, who came in just behind Brandon Belt in the prospect rankings, is one to watch in San Jose this year. It’s too early to say much, since a finger injury cut his playing time short in 2010, but a 3.11 FIP isn’t a bad start to his career with the Giants, and the combination of his higher velocity fastball with Surkamp’s changeup is a potentially pretty deadly pairing.

Justin Fitzgerald has some pretty nice stuff as well (aside from having the side bonus of being a J.T. Snow fan).  With a 3.45 ERA and BB/9 under 3, we’re excited to see what he can do as he moves to Richmond.  We’re especially impressed with the fact that he pitched almost three times as many innings in 2010 as in 2009 and managed to maintain his numbers.  That speaks to a consistency that we are very, very pleased to see.

On the reliever side, Heath Hembree raged with the AZL Giants and it’s good to see that there are some solid budding bullpen characters. He’s another one without very many innings to his credit, so we’ll keep an eye out for any progress, as well as reports on whether his facial hair could keep up with the beard-pen.

Michael Main is one who, quite frankly, we forgot about in the midst of the late season insanity and post-World Series hangover. Hey, it’s hard to remember who we got for Bengie when we’re still busy doodling pictures of the trophy in the margins of our mental notebooks. In any event, Main is one of two first rounders (along with Zack Wheeler) now in the Giants system and we’ll be watching to see how he adjusts to his likely spot in the starting rotation in Richmond. Based purely on numbers he was pretty up and down while in the Rangers system, but there’s still plenty of time for him to get things together.

We (or at least Maiya) also have high hopes for one Ryan Verdugo. In short, he’s a lefty with very, very shiny strikeout stuff and very little control. Sound familiar? Maiya is a sucker for these things. Anyways, he’s been used in relief these past couple of years, but there is talk of him being converted to a starter, and he was starting in the Arizona Fall League. The good news is that Verdugo appears to be holding up as he rises through the ranks, and the Giants liked him enough to take him in the draft in both 2007 and 2008. And if you can’t trust the Giants ability to draft pitchers, what can you trust? The bad news is that he’s 23 and has yet to pitch above San Jose (unless you count 22 innings in the AFL). Still, we can see a ceiling for him as a Jonathan Sanchez-esque starter, and a floor as an effective lefty reliever.

One interesting note, if by interesting you mean distressing for compulsive worriers like us, is that, despite the remarkable health of the Giants rotation in the bigs, last season especially saw a string of promising guys sidelined. Of course, it’s been an exceptional streak of luck that the San Francisco rotation hasn’t had to suffer through anything major, but between Surkamp’s hip injury, Wheeler’s finger, and Main’s handful of miscellaneous injuries (anyone with specifics, feel free to share), there are some questions waiting to be answered when we see how these guys are really going to perform once they’re healthy.

Thankfully, the talent in San Francisco is young and healthy (and ready to go into full on beast mode, based on Fan Fest reports), so the fact that so much of the pitching talent waiting in the wings is at AA and below isn’t worrisome, as long as there’s an upward momentum that gets maintained.

*We are extremely, unspeakably thankful that Timmy’s moustache was a short lived experiment.  We’re just really praying it stays that way.

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