The Giants' Madison Bumgarner rolled into spring training in 2010 as the Giants' highest-profile minor league prospect. With two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the perennially overshadowed Matt Cain already on board, the Giants were on the brink of having three first-round picks on the same staff together.
An enviable position indeed.
That spring, Bumgarner came out looking more like Kirk Reuter. His fastball topped out in the mid-80s, and he was getting hammered from Phoenix to Tuscon and back. For fans like myself who take the word of minor league scouts and journalists as doctrine, we felt duped. To us, Bumgarner looked more like a bargain bin version of Barry Zito.
Then Bumgarner's arm was healed by Stan Conte's magic dust. Some other things happened, the Giants won the World Series, and the hype surrounding Bumgarner's future is one of the biggest storylines entering 2012.
But how does he stack up to other recent southpaw phenoms? Is MadBum ready to join the ranks of the elite?
For comparison, I chose four other lefty starters who broke onto the All-Star scene over the last five years. Barring injury, this looks to be the cream of the crop for the foreseeable future when it comes to left-handed aces. The list includes Dodgers Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Red Sox ace Jon Lester, Tampa Bay fireballer David Price and Phillies star Cole Hamels.
I compared each of these five pitchers over their first 51 starts, leaving out early career September starts and the occasional relief appearance.
I make no judgments about who is better in this group right now. I am just happy that the Giants' No. 3 starter is in this kind of company.