Giants Boast Pair Of Standout Arms In Bumgarner, Alderson

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson got to know each other last fall during Giants' instructional league.

But Bumgarner, the 10th overall pick in last year's draft out of South Caldwell High in Hudson, N.C., and Alderson, who went 12 picks later out of Horizon High in Scottsdale, Ariz., went their separate ways. The Giants kept Bumgarner on the East Coast, sending him to Augusta to play in low Class A, where most high school first-rounders spend much of their first pro seasons.

Madison Bumgarner
The Giants kept Alderson on the West Coast, showing enough faith in his polish to send him into the fire of the hitter-friendly high Class A California League to play for San Jose.

The two are nearly 2,500 miles apart for now, but only six spots separate the two on Baseball America's midseason top 25 prospects list, where Alderson ranked 19th and Bumgarner No. 25.

While Alderson has lived up to his billing as arguably the most polished prep pitcher from the 2007 draft class, Bumgarner has shown good control as well, walking just 15 batters in 81 innings, an average of 1.7 per nine innings. With 91 strikeouts and a 1.77 ERA, Bumgarner has been one of the South Atlantic League's best pitchers despite being the league's second-youngest pitcher at age 18.

"In high school you just throw your fastballs by everyone, then you throw some breaking stuff in just to mix them up, but here you've got to hit your spot," Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner, who is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, works primarily off a plus fastball that has sat in the low 90s this year. In the SAL all-star game in Greensboro, in front of family and friends from his home state of North Carolina, Bumgarner reared back and sat at 94-95 mph during his one-inning stint. That was the highest velocity that one NL scout said he had seen this year out of Bumgarner, who touched 97 in high school.

One question mark for Bumgarner has been the future potential of his breaking ball. Bumgarner scrapped the curveball he had in high school and now uses a slider. His changeup is also in an early stage of development. At the all-star game, Bumgarner threw 26 pitches, 25 of which were fastballs.

"I really like the way he competes and challenges with his fastball," said the NL scout. "I really haven't seen much of a changeup, a true offspeed pitch from him—at least not with any consistency. And a lot of times, kids are just playing around trying to find a comfortable grip with that pitch.

"The slider is a slurvy, hard breaking ball. I think he's in transition between the curveball and the slider right now. I think it's a good breaking ball, but in the transition from the curveball to the slider, the slider gets a little bit big on him. But in time, he'll shorten that up with the arm strength he has."

Alderson, 19, has kept his ERA down at 3.35 in 91 innings with 79 strikeouts and 29 walks. The 6-foot-6, 217-pound Alderson earned a spot in the California-Carolina League all-star game and, though he didn't pitch in the contest, one veteran talent evaluator said he had the best stuff of anyone in attendance.

While Alderson also has above-average velocity with a low-90s fastball that has touched 94, his knockout pitch is a wicked curveball.

"He's got good stuff," said Pablo Sandoval, Alderson's catcher at San Jose. "His curveball is the best pitch he's got. He can throw it for a strike or a ball, good location, and I can call for it early (in the count) or for the strikeout."

Alderson describes the low-80s breaking ball as a curveball/slider hybrid, but it's undoubtedly a plus pitch.

"Sometimes it'll slide, sometimes it'll just go more of a 12-to-6, and sometimes I don't even know what's happening with it," Alderson said with a smile.

With premium fastball command and a knockout curve, Alderson has turned his focus to developing a changeup. Alderson has toyed around with a few different grips, trying to find something that feels comfortable coming out of his hand and that generates good movement.

"My pitching coach and I have been working a lot on my changeup this year, and getting a lot of movement on my fastball to go along with that," Alderson said. "My curveball's always been my go-to pitch—I think a lot of people know that—so I try to mix that in at the right time, and being able to throw it when the hitters are expecting a fastball and just keep them guessing."

Since Alderson and Bumgarner signed, the Giants have made tweaks to their mechanics. Alderson's high school coach Eric Kibler mandated that his pitchers throw exclusively from the stretch in their freshman through junior seasons, as a way to simplify their deliveries and improve their command. During a pitcher's senior year at Horizon, Kibler gives his pitcher the option of pitching from the full windup, but Alderson elected to still pitch out of the stretch.

"When I first signed they wanted me to see how the windup would treat me because they wanted me to be a starter, at least for now, and see how that goes," Alderson said. "They just told me to do whatever's comfortable. They didn't really tell me to do much—just find something comfortable and stick with it, and it's been working so far."

With Bumgarner, the Giants "changed my whole windup," according to the lefty, but the early returns weren't so good. After allowing 10 runs in 11 innings through his first three starts, Bumgarner reverted to his old windup and immediately dominated.

In his next 12 starts, Bumgarner had only one start in which he allowed more than one earned run (he allowed two in six innings at Greenville), including seven scoreless outings.

Learning To Fly

When Peter Bourjos arrived in big league camp at spring training this year, there was a special place reserved for him in the dugout: the end of the bench. No, Bourjos wasn't in Angels manager Mike Scioscia's doghouse. He was there to learn about stealing bases.

"Every game they made me sit at the end of the dugout and watch the pickoffs every time there was a runner," Bourjos said. "I was just sitting down there learning. It opened me up, my stance, so it was a lot easier—I'm almost like a sprinter. So now I can just go, instead of having to worry about getting this foot clear and all of that. So I'm kind of just standing there like a sprinter, so that when (the pitcher) lifts his leg, I can go."

Bourjos, the Angels' 10th-round pick in 2005 out of Notre Dame High in Scottsdale, Ariz., is a plus runner, but he wasn't an efficient basestealer based on pure speed alone.

"I think it's more reading the pitcher and getting those instincts, because last year I didn't do too good stealing bases," Bourjos said. "This year I've gotten comfortable with the pitchers from watching, and learning from guys who are taking their leads and the pickoffs."

In big league camp, Bourjos worked with bench coach Ron Roenicke, field coordinator Bruce Hines and Double-A Arkansas hitting coach Eric Owens on his baserunning instincts. Their tutelage appears to be paying off. Last year, Bourjos stole 19 bases and was caught nine times in 63 games. Through 70 games this season, Bourjos had stolen 42 bases in 45 attempts, a 93 percent success rate.

"He's an exciting player to watch," Angels farm director Abe Flores said. "He definitely mirrors what we're trying to teach, and that's putting pressure on the defense at the plate and on the bases."

But of course the only way to steal bases is to get on base in the first place. A line drive hitter with gap power, Bourjos was hitting .337/.372/.478 this year for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in the hitter-friendly California League, earning a trip to the league's all-star game.

"I'm just really thinking about right-center, staying up the middle and just trying to hit something hard and hit my pitch and try not to swing at anything in the dirt, just try to get my pitch in the zone," the righthanded-hitting Bourjos said.

With presently below-average power and a 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame, Bourjos projects to possibly have average power, but at the plate his value will be tied heavily to his ability to get on base. Bourjos, who had 14 walks and 46 strikeouts in 312 plate appearances, does a good job of putting the ball in play, but he does have a tendency to chase offspeed pitches out of the zone.

Flores said Bourjos' plate discipline had improved from a year ago, when Bourjos batted .274/.335/.426 in 270 plate appearances in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Bourjos appeared in just 67 total games in 2007 after rupturing the ligament between his left middle and ring fingers and fracturing the ring finger while swinging. After playing through the injury, Bourjos finally had surgery on the finger in mid May and missed two months of the season before returning in late July.

Now having graduated to the California League, Bourjos said he finds it advantageous for him to face more advanced pitchers.

"I think they just throw their offspeed more for strikes," Bourjos said. "I'd say that's the biggest thing. It just kind of makes it easier because you're not chasing it in the dirt. Maybe that's the reason why I'm doing better—they're throwing more strikes."

In the field, Bourjos' speed and outstanding first-step and instincts make him a plus defender in center field. Bourjos gets good reads off the bat and accelerates quickly to track down balls in the gaps.

"He's always had good defensive instincts, but he's polished them up," Flores said. "He gets good jumps, he covers a lot of ground and he can make the acrobatic play if needed. He's a guy who can shrink the field with his ability to run balls down."

Playing in the Cal League, where the winds can play tricks on outfielders trying to track fly balls, has created another challenge for Bourjos to tackle.

"It's tough defensively," Bourjos said. "You've got to go play deep, and you don't really have a chance to run too many balls down. If you do, you're playing on the (warning) track and you catch it, and usually you just come in on balls.

"Offensively it's nice because the outfielders are playing deep, so you either hit a ball good and it's gone, or you hit it bad and it falls in front."