Thursday Oct. 30, 2008
Augusta, Ga--It would be hard to argue that Giants prospect Madison Bumgarner isn't worthy of the MiLBY for Best Class A Starter.
Not after leading the Minor Leagues with a 1.46 ERA. Not after finishing third in the Minors with 164 strikeouts and tied for fifth with 15 wins. Not after absolutely shutting down two opponents during the Augusta GreenJackets' run to the South Atlantic League title. Not after recovering from a rough outing to allow no more than three earned runs in any start the rest of the year and reeling off 38 consecutive scoreless innings near the end of the season. And especially not after earning the Minor League Baseball Most Spectacular Pitcher award for sporting the lowest ERA.
"I'm running out of superlatives," Augusta manager Andy Skeels said of the talented left-hander. "I've never seen a player do the things he's done. I've never seen a player grow that fast and quickly. What he did was staggering."
Bumgarner's first full season in the Minors didn't start out that way. It's hard to imagine what his final stats would have looked like if he hadn't scuffled in his first three starts. The southpaw, who was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, gave up 10 runs in those three outings. However, after working with pitching coach Ross Grimsley to refine his approach, Bumgarner reeled off four straight starts without allowing an earned run.
More than just a hot streak, it was a sign of how the rest of the season would go for the teenager. "It didn't start out too smoothly," Bumgarner said. "I couldn't imagine having a better pitching coach. I learned a lot from him. I don't think I could have had the kind of year I had without him."
One of the most impressive facets of Bumgarner's development was the increased mastery of his secondary pitches. The report on the 6-foot-4, 215-pound North Carolina native heading into the Draft was that he had a plus-fastball but little else in his repertoire. Over the course of the season, Bumgarner made great strides on two breaking pitches.
"My slider and curve got a lot better," he said. "I didn't really have a breaking ball coming into the instructional league last year. It just got better and better [as the year went on]. "It just kind of clicked. You just have to have confidence in what you're doing. If you don't believe in yourself, you're not going to be able to get it done."
"I think scouting reports can be overrated because they can be incomplete," Skeels added. "It's not just that he has tremendous talent, he's an A-plus kid. His intangibles are off the charts. The development he made as a player and person go hand in hand."
Talent alone will only get you so far. What makes Bumgarner stand out is his drive to get the most out of his tremendous natural ability. It would be easy for a young player to rest on his laurels after the season he just completed. But the lefty seems to have an innate understanding that one year of Class A ball does not a career make. "There's a lot of improvement to make," Bumgarner said, pointing to his off-speed pitch and his location. "Even if I had a 0.50 ERA, there'd still be room to improve."
"The thing I like about him most as a player is that his standards and expectations are very high," Skeels said. "As well as he did, he came to instructs knowing there were things he needed to improve. That's an unstoppable force, when you have that kind of talent and that kind of desire to get better. I think he's going to be a very special player for a very long time at the Major League level."