When looking into the minor leagues to find bullpen help during the course of a season, major league teams not only have to be up to date the scouting department, but also a little bit lucky.
Over the years, the San Francisco Giants have struck lightning in a bottle more than once or twice since the gates at AT&T Park opened. Names like John Johnstone, Aaron Fultz, Scott Munter, Chad Zerbe, and Jack Taschner have all come out of the Giants bullpen at one point or another during the course of the big league careers.
The products from the system that are in the 2009 bullpen are viewed much more as long-term arms than the ones previously mentioned. There’s no doubt that Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson are two of the reasons why the Giants have the best bullpen in the majors.
Continuing the “Fate of the Franchise” series, we’re shifting our focus to the bullpen. It was a little easier to focus on who will most likely be making the biggest impact in the rotation next season, but the bullpen is a little different.
Because minor league relievers can be hot one minute and not the next, singling out one guy would tough. However, three pitchers have had standout seasons in the minors and have put themselves in position to be called upon if need be.
Steve Edlefsen (pictured)—RHP, Triple-A Fresno
Edlefsen is well traveled this season and it’s not because he is putting up terrible numbers.
It is in fact the other way around. The 23-year-old Edlefsen began the year in Connecticut with the Giants’ Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League. His numbers were ordinary—going 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in just six outings (11.1 innings) for the Defenders.
He was sent down to San Jose on May 7 and quickly established himself as the best pitcher out of the bullpen on the California League’s best pitching staff. In 21 outings for the little Giants, Edlefsen put up a tiny 0.98 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, struck out 40, and limited opponents in one of the best hitter’s leagues around to a .149 batting average.
Those kinds of numbers in the Cal League will certainly get you a promotion and that’s what happened when he was promoted on July 10.
However, it wasn’t back to Connecticut, it was Buster Posey style—skipping Double-A altogether and going straight to Triple-A Fresno. And based on early returns, the Pacific Coast League isn’t much of a challenge.
In just 10 games, Edlefsen sports a 3-0 record, 1.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and has held hitters to a .180 average. He is striking out just under one hitter per inning and has allowed just nine hits in 13.1 innings.
Armed with a power sinker and hard slider, Edlefsen has certainly put himself on the map to earn a call-up in 2010 if he continues to throw the way he has this year.
Waldis Joaquin – RHP, Triple-A Fresno
Of the minor league pitchers mentioned, he’s the only one Giants fans have seen so far this season—albeit extremely brief before he was optioned to Triple-A Fresno to the minors Wednesday morning to make room for Joe Martinez on the 25-man roster.
How did the 22-year-old Joaquin greet the first player he faced against the Astros?
Just 97 MPH gas. Ho hum.
Unfortunately for Joaquin, people might remember the run he allowed more than the stuff he threw out there against the heart of the Astros lineup.
Up until his one-game stint in the big leagues, Joaquin had spent the entire season with Double-A Connecticut. In 36 games, he was 4-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t spectacular, 40-to-28, but he’s relatively young when it comes to other relief pitchers the Giants have called-up in the past.
Even though he hasn’t thrown a pitch at Triple-A since he was optioned back to the minors, don’t be surprised if you get another glimpse of Joaquin when the rosters expand in September.
Dan Runzler—LHP, Double-A Connecticut
Unless you scope out the minor box scores everyday, you probably have never heard of Runzler. It’s not like relievers taken in the ninth round out of UC Riverside get a whole lot of attention to begin with.
Coming into 2009, the 24-year old Runzler’s numbers were nothing special since being drafted in 2007.
Now as we close in on the final weeks of the minor league season, Runzler’s numbers are the relief pitcher’s equivalent to Madison Bumgarner’s dominance as a starter.
In 38 games between both Augusta and San Jose, his ERA is a microscopic 0.76 with an even thinner WHIP at 0.69 while recording 16 saves along the way (11 with Augusta and six with San Jose). He’s allowed just 16 hits in those 19 games at each level of Single-A.
Here’s where the numbers go from dominating to downright scary.
In his 47.2 innings pitched, he has struck out 71 and walked just 17. His last 10 games have seen him strike out 15 and walk only one batter.
Runzler has limited hitters just a .098 batting average and he has limited left-handed hitters to just two hits since his promotion to San Jose on June 8.
These numbers aren’t typos. Runzler’s stats are for real.
Equipped with a mid-90s fastball, it’s won’t be any surprise to see Runzler move quickly through the Giants system again next year.
Before San Jose's game on Wednesday, Runzler was promoted to Double-A Connecticut. That makes another reliever to make a appearances at three different levels this year in the Giants system.
*You can find the 2010 Fate of the Franchise Major League Bullpen Edition by Evan Aczon here.
*Also, a special thanks to Dave Nelson for permission to use this photo. You can find Dave's great work on milb.com or his flickr page.