- Full name Matthew Thomas Cain
- Born 10/01/1984 in Dothan, AL
- Profile Ht.: 6'3" / Wt.: 230 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Houston
- Debut 08/29/2005
Drafted in the 1st round (25th overall) by the San Francisco Giants in 2002 (signed for $1,375,000).
View Draft ReportEven if his teammate Conor Lalor hadn't gone down with an elbow injury, Cain would have surpassed him as the state's top prospect. He has gotten better with every start, throwing his fastball from 88-94 mph and his plus curveball at 76-77. At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he has plenty of room for projection, and his aggressive style and makeup are further assets. He'll probably go somewhere from the sandwich area to the second round, which should be plenty high enough to divert him from attending college at Memphis.
Organization Prospect Rankings
The Memphis area has become a hotbed for baseball talent, and two of its best prep products reached the major leagues in 2005 as Cain and the Pirates' Paul Maholm broke through. With all due respect to Maholm, Cardinals farmhand Stuart Pomeranz (Cain's former Houston High teammate) and the rest, Cain is clearly the best of that group. He opened 2005 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A and led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts. He made his big league debut Aug. 29 against the Rockies and was impressive in a 2-1 loss. San Francisco won four of his last six starts as he led the majors in opponent batting average (.148) in September. He became the youngest San Francisco Giant ever to spin a complete game when he two-hit the Cubs on Sept. 9. Cain was the youngest player in the National League all season, and only former PCL foil Felix Hernandez was younger in the majors in 2005. Hernandez also is one of the few pitchers in Cain's class in terms of upside. The Giants believe he has the stuff and intangibles to be a No. 1 starter. Cain has the kind of fastball that pitchers dream of, because he throws it hard with relative ease. He can throw it for strikes, and the more he uses it, the better he commands it. Cain realized that in the major leagues, pitched off his fastball and found he could dominate with it. His fastball velocity sits at 93-94 mph with good sinking life, and he can dial it up to 97. His curveball also is a plus pitch, a hard downer in the upper 70s. The Giants mandated that Cain use his changeup more often in 2005. He started to trust it more and it has become a solid-average third pitch. His delivery is fairly clean and repeatable, and he's a student of the game who isn't satisfied with being just good enough. After his first big league start, he was more interested to find out what he needed to do for his next outing than in reveling in his accomplishment. He even handles the bat well. The Giants' biggest worry with Cain is throwing strikes. While he can pitch out of jams, he gets in trouble with walks and also takes himself out of games early because of higher-than-necessary pitch counts. He ranked third in the PCL in walks because he nibbled at hitters too much early in the count, and when he was ahead, he sometimes thought too much about setting them up rather than challenging them. He was more efficient down the stretch as he realized he was better when he attacked hitters relentlessly. Jesse Foppert is the only homegrown Giants pitcher who has approached Cain's stuff in the last decade. However, Cain's mental toughness, dedication and preparation set him apart from Foppert, who got hurt in 2003 and was traded to the Mariners in 2005. Not only is Cain a lock to start for San Francisco in 2006, but he should front the Giants rotation for years to come. He's the player most likely to be the face of the franchise after Barry Bonds' retirement.
Cain came up through suburban Memphis' competitive amateur system, which in recent years has produced such pitchers as early 2003 draft picks Paul Maholm (Pirates, first round) and Stuart Pomeranz (Cardinals, second) and college prospects Mark Holliman (Mississippi), Conor Lalor (South Carolina) and John Lalor (Mississippi State). After playing for the Dulin's Dodgers, a national amateur power, and starring for Houston High (also the alma mater of Pomeranz and the Lalor brothers), Cain committed to play college ball at Memphis. The Giants changed his plans when they drafted him 25th overall in 2002 and gave him a $1.375 million bonus. He pitched briefly that summer, then had his first full season truncated by a stress fracture in his right elbow. Cain was healthy in 2004 and didn't miss a start. He had a string of 19 straight outings without allowing more than two earned runs, including his first seven after a promotion to Double-A Norwich at age 19. He tired in late August, in part because he worked 159 innings after totaling 93 in his first two seasons, but that couldn't take the edge off his tremendous performance. Cain matches a mature approach to pitching with electric stuff. His fastball consistently sits at 92-95 mph while touching 97, and he's learning to change speeds with it. His power breaking ball, more of a curveball than a slider, is a second plus pitch, a 77-80 mph downer with the potential to be better as he tightens its rotation and learns how to set it up. He has made great strides with his straight changeup, and scouts say it has a chance to be an average or even above-average pitch thanks to his simple delivery and clean arm action. For all his stuff, the Giants say Cain's best traits are his maturity and strong desire to be great. He's a student of the game who takes his side work seriously. He asks intelligent questions of his coaches, then shows the aptitude to take what he has learned to the mound. Cain dispelled doubts about his health by holding up for the entire 2004 season, but the toll it took on him was evident at the end. His velocity tailed off and he got hammered in his last three starts. The Giants are confident that as he continues to mature physically and becomes more accustomed to the rigors of pro ball, he'll be strong enough to handle the full-season grind. His control wasn't nearly as sharp in Double-A as it had been at high Class A San Jose, though that probably was the result of fatigue. The Giants have enough young arms competing for innings in San Francisco that they can afford to be patient with Cain--who has a higher ceiling than any of them. He's not yet on the 40-man roster, but he's accelerating his timetable and the Giants haven't been shy about promoting their top arms. Though he may begin 2005 back in Double-A, he could finish the season in the majors.
Cain has blossomed from No. 2 pitcher on his high school team (behind Conor Lalor, now at South Carolina) to No. 2 prospect in the Giants organization, and he was pushing for No. 1 before a stress fracture in his elbow sidelined him midway through the 2003 season. Cain showed he had returned to health with seven dominant innings in instructional league. Cain might have a better arm than Merkin Valdez, and he profiles better as a starter. He starts with a 92-97 mph fastball that he throws on a good downhill plane. He also throws a power downer curveball with good velocity (77-80 mph). When it's on, it has late break and good depth and is a true strikeout pitch. The Giants laud his aptitude and maturity. Cain has shown a feel for a changeup with late movement but hasn't used it much. He also tends to get under the ball and rush his delivery, which puts stress on his elbow. The Giants are confident he'll grow out of that as he matures physically. One of the South Atlantic League's youngest players in 2003, Cain dominated at times anyway. If he can stay healthy, he'll be pushed and could reach Double-A sometime in 2004.
Cain was a 2002 first-round pick, but he didn't enter the year as the top prospect on his own team at Houston High. But Conor Lalor came down with a sore elbow--he's now at the University of South Carolina--and Cain seemed to get better with every start. He was just 17 when the Giants drafted him 25th overall, and his youth and his tall, slender build make him projectable. Cain threw 93-94 mph in the Rookie-level Arizona League, touched 95-96 and had his manager, Bert Hunter, predicting that he might one day reach 99-100. He had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, so the Giants had him replace it with a slider. His overall command needs work, as his changeup is rudimentary and he tends to overthrow his fastball. San Francisco believes Cain is on the fast track because of his work ethic. He should be one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League this season.
Minor League Top Prospects
Cain takes a back seat to Hernandez but few other pitching prospects. He led the PCL in strikeouts and allowed just six runs in his first four big league starts, including a complete-game two-hitter against the Cubs. Cain's fastball has plenty of armside life and stays in the mid-90s well into the middle innings. He leaves it up in the zone too much, but he has enough zip on his heater to get it by hitters. His hard breaking ball and his changeup have their moments, though they're inconsistent, and he doesn't fully trust his changeup. Cleaner mechanics should allow him to repeat and command all of his pitches better, and one scout said Cain would benefit in that regard from working with Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti.
The Giants pushed their top two pitching prospects this season. Valdez landed in the big leagues briefly before returning to Norwich, where he and Cain formed a formidable one-two punch. Cain opened his second full season with a 7-1, 1.86 performance in the Class A California League before leaping to the EL. His fastball and breaking ball rate as major league average pitches now, and his changeup could be a plus pitch as well. He pitches in the mid-90s with a fastball that he controls well. He generates a good downward plane and maintains his high arm slot well for a teenager. He's still learning the nuances of pitching, and older hitters began solving his patterns late in the year when he was tagged for 14 earned runs in his final four outings. But Cain's stuff and aptitude make him one of the minors' best pitching prospects. "With his stuff and maturity level, and the way he went about his business--you look at that package and you think front-of-the-rotation starter," an American League area scout said.
Cain limited Cal League opponents to two or fewer earned runs in each of his last 12 starts before graduating to Double-A as a teenager. Showing no ill effects from an elbow stress fracture that cut short his 2003 campaign, he dominated with a 93-97 mph fastball and a power curve, both seen as plus pitches. "He uses both sides of the plate and commands his pitches well," Visalia manager Stu Cole said. "He's just going to shoot through the minor leagues." While some managers thought Cain was every bit as good as Hernandez, his changeup relegated him to No. 2 on this list. Though it has improved, it's still a work in progress. His athleticism and bulldog approach also drew praise.
Cain might have ranked higher if a fractured elbow hadn't ended his season in June. He avoided surgery and rehabbed in Arizona, with hopes of returning to the mound this fall in instructional league. If healthy, he should move quickly. Cain was overpowering, with an 89-93 mph fastball that will reach the mid-90s at times. His hammer curveball is a power strikeout pitch with hard downward rotation and deception, while his changeup shows potential but needs work. He works with a clean, quick arm action and strong delivery similar to Kevin Brown's.
Cain, the only first-round pick to play in the AZL this season, touched 95-96 mph. But he worked in only 19 innings, was often wild and some managers were lukewarm about him. One exception was his own skipper, Hunter. "He was the fastest pitcher in the league," Hunter said. "He's so effortless and yet the ball flies out of his hand. He needs to use his body more, but it's possible he could throw 99 or 100 one day." Cain's control problems were attributed to his curveball. The Giants eventually took the pitch away from him and replaced it with a slider, which is easier to control.
Top 100 Rankings
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Curveball in the San Francisco Giants in 2006
- Rated Best Fastball in the San Francisco Giants in 2006
- Rated Best Curveball in the San Francisco Giants in 2005