Bumgarner is only 22, and already an elite pitcher.
Whenever the Giants play the Braves, it brings up an interesting question: did the Giants get it right in 2007 when they selected Madison Bumgarner over Jason Heyward with the No. 10 pick of the draft?
In many ways, this is an apples to oranges comparison, because Heyward, who was selected 14th by the Braves, is a position player, and Bumgarner is a pitcher. Heyward can influence the game everyday, while Bumgarner only gets a chance to make an impact once every five days. Since both players have had successful starts to their careers, this choice really comes down to whether or not you prefer a position player or a starting pitcher.
Bumgarner received his first cup of coffee in the big leagues at the end of the 2009 season. In 2010, he was slated to be the Giants' fifth starter, but a miserable spring training forced him to the minor leagues and forced Giants fans to endure the forgettable Todd Wellemeyer experience.
The Giants were able to correct Bumgarner's mechanical woes in the minor leagues, and he established himself as an outstanding pitcher upon his permanent arrival to the big leagues midway through the Giants World Series campaign in 2010.
Heyward won a starting job in spring training of the same season and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Bumgarner's battery mate, Buster Posey. Heyward battled injuries and a sophomore slump in 2011 but has re-established himself as one of the best younger players in the game this season.
For his career, Heyward has a slash line of .260/.359/.443 and has been worth 10.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs.
Bumgarner has a 3.11 ERA for his career, which has been propped up by an outstanding 3.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to 9.4 WAR for the Giants. The slight difference in WAR is negligible and virtually irrelevant to a comparison of these two outstanding talents.
The Giants made the right decision for their organization by drafting Bumgarner over Heyward, because they do a much better job of drafting and developing pitching prospects. Since Brian Sabean took over as General Manager in 1997, the Giants have struggled to develop position players until recently. The Giants have developed positional talent in recent seasons, which has included Posey, Pablo Sandoval and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Belt.
However, the strength of the organization is their ability to evaluate pitching prospects.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Jonathan Sanchez, Zack Wheeler, Brian Wilson, Jason Grilli, Ryan Vogelsong and a new wave of pitching prospects led by Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn and 2012 first round pick Chris Stratton are just some of the names that Sabean, scouting guru Dick Tidrow and the organization have drafted and developed since 1997.
Personally, I prefer position players to pitching prospects, so I would have taken Heyward over Bumgarner. Pitching is a violent, unnatural act that leads to a higher rate of injury compared to position players. Hitting prospects are not a guaranteed commodity, but they aren't as likely to suffer a career-ending or altering injury.
In the end, the Giants made the right call back in 2007, even though my personal preference would be to take a position player if two prospects were equal in value. Bumgarner was a key contributor to the Giants World Series team in 2010 and has become a foundational piece for the organization. Heyward had an outstanding rookie campaign and has established himself as the No. 3 hitter in the Braves potent lineup.
The young guns have been pretty much equal in value so far in their careers. Who will be the more valuable player going forward? My bet is on Heyward because of his ability to affect the game everyday. However, betting against Bumgarner has proven to be a fool's errand.