Stacked In San Jose
Giants high Class A club is filled with prospects
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Presented this scenario, Tim Alderson broke into a pretty wide grin: What if at midseason the Giants told him to catch an east-bound flight out of the California League? With young lefty Madison Bumgarner sitting in the seat next to him?
"That would be awesome. It would be cool to experience this ride together and push each other," Alderson said as the Giants neared the end of spring training. "We are both high school picks and started out at the same time. And we'd like to finish it at the same time."
Yes, the dream pairing that many have envisioned since the Giants drafted the duo in the first round in 2007 will finally come to fruition, although not exactly at the location that appeared likely in the buildup to spring training.
On what already figured to be a waist-deep pool of prospects at high Class A San Jose, the Giants will throw the California League another curve by re-distributing the circuit's reigning ERA leader instead back west and matching Alderson with Bumgarner.
Double-A Connecticut was a potential Opening Day assignment, but concerns about the Eastern League's typical chilly April weather put the kibosh on that ambitious idea.
"Back East in Connecticut, you get caught in situations where you have to back them up," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. "If we can keep them pitching right out of the spring, that's better for us. At some point, I wouldn't be too surprised if they head to Connecticut this season."
What a rotation it will be. Alderson led the Cal League in earned run average last season in finishing 13-4, 2.79 and rates as BA's No. 2 Giants pitching prospect behind Bumgarner, who worked on the opposite coast last year and dominated (15-3, 1.46) on a low Class A Augusta team that won the South Atlantic League title.
The rotation also features lefthander Scott Barnes, their 2008 eighth-round pick who spun six solid innings in the deciding game of the Sally league championship.
The only question now is who will actually be the headliner on a given night, and not just on the mound.
The lineup features 2008 first-round pick Buster Posey behind the plate; 18-year-old first baseman Angel Villalona, who hit 17 homers last year in the South Atlantic League; a pair of first-round supplemental picks, Conor Gillaspie (2008) and Nick Noonan (2007), at third and second respectively; and 2008 third-round pick Roger Kieshnick in right field.
Add in Barnes, and their signing bonuses add up to $13,865,750.
"I think I'm going to buy a season ticket," Evans quipped.
"I'm going to look a lot smarter, let's put it that way," said San Jose manager Andy Skeels, who led Augusta to an 88-50 (.638) record.
It should be some show.
On the one hand, there's Bumgarner, a 19-year-old lefty with the blazing 97 mph fastball and easy delivery. On the other, there's Alderson, a 20-year-old with the organization's best curveball and terrific recognition of hitters' tendencies.
From their two arms last year came a combined 288 strikeouts in 287 innings. Their pinpoint control reflected in their walks (55) as well.
"I was always looking up what he did online last year," Alderson said. "It kept me on my toes. It was like, 'Oh, Madison struck out 10 last night, so what are you going to do?'
"He deserved everything (publicity) last year. It wasn't like he was doing OK and they were hyping it up. It was hard not to write about him. If I keep doing my thing, people will notice it."
That said, Alderson expressed a small degree of surprise in a return to San Jose, but he is confident that the experience with Bumgarner will push him to be better. Same goes for Bumgarner.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Bumgarner said. "He's a really good pitcher so we should have a lot of fun playing together. We've gotten to talk about pitching quite a bit and we've become good friends."
Change Of Pace
Their developing friendship should help them through the rigors of the summer as well.
An edict to incorporate a changeup was issued to both this spring, as the two are now advancing through the higher levels where setting up hitters becomes a necessity.
Bumgarner worked it in some last year, while Alderson regularly employed his curveball and changed speeds with his fastball.
"When I got into trouble last year, I would feel I had to go to the curveball. If (catchers) put it down (the changeup) last year, I was probably going to shake it," Alderson said, later emphasizing that in spring training he has maintained a consistent arm speed so that it looks as if he's throwing a fastball.
"It's working pretty well now actually. It's just tinkering with it. Is it fast enough? Is it slow enough?" Alderson added. "In spring training, you can afford to throw a lot of changeups."
Bumgarner is optimistic that his changeup is coming along. "It's gotten better every time I've thrown it," he said. "The arm speed is good now. Hopefully it'll be a pretty good pitch."
Skeels is excited.
"I would anticipate there will be some competition. As a rule that tends to happen," Skeels said. "I'm hopeful both of them like the competition. Bumgarner, I tell ya, he's extremely competitive."
Still, the Giants can move Bumgarner along slowly. But if he and Alderson get hot early, maybe that airline flight to the East Coast will happen sooner than later.
"Hopefully if we get the opportunity to go (to Double-A Connecticut), we can really see what we can do against better hitters," Alderson said. "There's going to be good hitters wherever we go. You have to challenge them and go right at them and not try to pitch around them. The big thing is not changing what we do as pitchers."