By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Madison Bumgarner, Starting Pitcher, San Francisco Giants
2011 season: 33 GS, 204.2 IP, 13-13, 3.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 191 K, 46 BB
It’s hard for a young hurler to get overlooked in baseball. People are always looking toward the next big thing, which is why Stephen Strasburg’s first big league start was a nationally televised sensation. Still, it appears Bumgarner has managed to fly under the radar for the most part. He was a pivotal part of the Giants’ championship team in 2010, and he put together spectacular numbers last season, but he is nonetheless overshadowed by teammates Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Even Ryan Vogelsong got more attention last year – including an All-Star invitation – thanks to his against-all-odds story. If he keeps pitching the way he has, however, Bumgarner won’t remain out of the spotlight for long.
A top prospect a few years ago, Bumgarner lost some of his luster when his fastball velocity declined for no apparent reason in early 2010. Once a flamethrower, he was suddenly struggling to crack 90 miles per hour in Spring Training. That was likely the reason that Bumgarner started the year in the minors and that Todd Wellemeyer managed to make 11 starts for a legitimate contender. Eventually, though, Bumgarner straightened things out and got his velocity back up to the low-90s. He earned a spot in the Giants rotation and the rest is history.
While he was not a huge strikeout pitcher down on the farm, Bumgarner got a lot of whiffs last year thanks to the development of his slider. He started throwing it harder – from about 85 mph in 2010 to 87 mph in 2011 – and reaped the benefits, as it was his go-to out pitch. He also commanded his two-seamer better and started using it much more, which kept hitters off-balance. Bumgarner rounded out his arsenal with a curveball and changeup, though they were mostly show-me pitches to keep hitters from sitting on his main offerings.
This season, there’s every reason to think that Bumgarner will keep on improving. As he continues to learn the nuances of pitching and further develops his repertoire, he could jump from third wheel to staff ace. At 22 years old, he’s already accomplished an incredible amount in the Majors, but his career is just getting started. Don’t be surprised if his name comes up in the Cy Young conversation at the end of the season.
Next up on March 30: Colorado Rockies