Headed For The Hills

HUDSON, N.C.–Tuesday was a nice day for a road trip, and with the matchup scheduled for 6:30 p.m., about three hours west of BA Headquarters, I found out quickly I wasn’t the only one with last night’s game at South Caldwell High on the itinerary.

At least 40 scouts, many of whom were regional or national crosscheckers, stopped in to see talented senior lefthander Madison Bumgarner take on Reynolds High of Asheville, N.C. High school competition can be hit or miss in every part of the country, but Reynolds has a strong program, with three Division I college signees on its roster, including senior righthander Sam Runion, a top 100 prospect and a teammate of Bumgarner’s at last year’s Aflac Classic in San Diego. Unfortunately, Runion didn’t pitch, which left the stage wide open for Bumgarner, who put together his best outing of the season, by most accounts.

Tall, lean and strong, Bumgarner has long been considered a potential high-round draft pick based on his frame and arm strength, but last night he turned a corner in his feel for pitching and secondary stuff.

“He pitched, that’s what he did,” said one scout in attendance. “We saw him work the ball around the zone a little better than he had in the past, and his slider . . . he threw a few pretty good ones, and that was nice to see.”

It was evident from the start that Bumgarner had made a priority of mixing his pitches more than usual. Four of his nine pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning were sliders, the final of which showed some decent tilt at the strike zone and got him the first of his seven strikeouts in the five-inning outing.

Bumgarner’s slider was inconsistent in velocity (74-81 mph) and shape–his best ones had some hard, late action down and in to righthanded hitters, but several were slurvy, as well as the occasional cement-mixer variety that just spun and hung. But overall, his willingness to use it and the fact he showed some feel for it were positives in his development as a potential first-round pick this June.

“My first three years of high school, I’ve just relied on my fastball, and that has usually been enough to get outs,” said Bumgarner after the game as fans, family and even a couple of scouts gazed at the evening’s hero beyond the dugout. “I’ve worked hard to improve my slider, and tonight I wanted to mix it up more.”

The soft-spoken, quietly confident Bumgarner doesn’t repeat his low three-quarters release point, but he pitches with feel and his delivery and arm action are clean and fluid, for the most part. He creates tremendous angle on his fastball, which has late life and finish at the plate and sat at 92, touching 94. In his final inning, Bumgarner reached back to get a couple of 93s, just one of several indicators of his tenacity and competitiveness.

He hit a three-run home run–a deep shot to left-center field (he bats righthanded)–in the third inning, just for good measure.