SF Giants: Buster Posey and The Last 10 Prospects Who Lived Up to the Hype

Vince CestoneContributor IIIFebruary 3, 2011

SF Giants: Buster Posey and The Last 10 Prospects Who Lived Up to the Hype

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    Buster Posey during batting practice before a World Series gameEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    The San Francisco Giants struck out in developing major league talent for most of the 2000s, but that trend has turned around recently.

    Born and bred within the Giants organization, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Buster Posey are emerging as perennial superstars in the major leagues. They have demonstrated leadership and poise during baseball's biggest stage, the World Series.

    Many formidable predecessors donned the orange and black on day one of their professional careers. Will "The Thrill" Clark was one of them, along with many others.

    Posey has lived up to the hype so far, but who else in Giants history has preceded Posey? Here are the last 10 Giants' prospects who lived up to the hype.

     

    This article was featured on the blog Talking Giants Baseball.

    Follow me on twitter @vintalkingiants

    Should the Giants have let these prospects go? Click here to vote.

    Questions? Comments? Feedback? E-mail my blog mailbag at vc4re@yahoo.com. Your question may be posted on my blog, along with answers.

1. Buster Posey

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Buster Posey made his major league debut on Sept. 11, 2009 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although Posey looked foolish on a check-swing strikeout during his first major league at-bat, the AT&T Park crowd roared with excitement for their up-and-coming rookie sensation—and with good reason.

    Posey did not have many half-hearted strikeouts in 2010. In his first full rookie season, Posey hit .305, with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs in 108 games.

    If Posey can replicate his success in 2011 and beyond, the Giants may have a future Hall of Famer on their hands. Leading his team to a World Series title in his rookie season is an impressive feat.

    If Posey stays healthy, he will live up to the hype—and more.

2. Madison Bumgarner

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    On Sept. 8, 2009, the Giants were vying for a Wild Card spot with the Colorado Rockies. When Tim Lincecum was unable to make the start in a crucial pennant race game against the San Diego Padres, pitching phenom Madison Bumgarner stepped up to the challenge in his major league debut.

    Although Bumgarner lost the game, he pitched well. In 5.1 innings of work, he gave up just two runs on five hits and walked one—even when he lost about seven MPH on his fastball since the beginning of that year.

    Fast forward to 2010. Having already pitched a big game in a pennant race in 2009, nothing seemed to faze the 21-year-old left-hander.

    Although Bumgarner had some rough outings at Triple-A Fresno, he was ready for a big league challenge. In 18 starts, Bumgarner finished 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP.

    These solid numbers do not even tell the whole story. Game 4 of the 2010 World Series was certainly one to remember for Bumgarner.

    On baseball's biggest stage, Bumgarner dazzled in front of a national audience. In his eight shutout innings, he yielded three hits and two walks, while striking out six Rangers.

    Bumgarner is no ordinary rookie. When he takes the mound, he looks like he owns it. He has the confidence of a 15-year veteran and the heart of a champion.

3. Tim Lincecum

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Tim Lincecum was no stranger to the national stage, even before his legendary 2010 playoff performance.

    After learning about the live arm of the freakish-looking right-hander, Giants fans were excited when Lincecum made his major league debut on Sunday Night Baseball on May 6, 2007.

    His first big league pitch was to the Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins. The pitch was clocked at 97 MPH, leaving Giants fans roaring with excitement as they gazed, amazed at the radar reading.

    Lincecum took the loss that night, pitching just 4.1 innings, giving up five hits, walking five, striking out five and surrendering four earned runs. That night may not have been pretty, but the Giants knew they had something special—if Lincecum could control his pitches.

    He did.

    Lincecum developed a changeup (or split-finger), won a couple Cy Young Awards and lost a few feet on his fastball along the way, but his lines became better and better as time progressed. He was changing from a thrower to a pitcher.

    Although Lincecum had a horrible August in 2010, he shined in September and the postseason. His 14-strikeout, complete-game shutout in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Braves demonstrated Lincecum's capabilities when everything comes together for him.

    Then came every child's dream—winning a clinching World Series game. He did that and made it look easy during Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.

    On that fateful night, Lincecum pitched eight strong innings, giving up one run on three hits and striking out 10. Expect more of these thrilling moments from him.

4. Matt Cain

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Matt Cain was another highly touted pitcher within the Giants' ranks. However, at times, it seemed as though Cain's lack of run support was holding him back.

    Making him the longest-tenured Giant, Matt Cain debuted during the Barry Bonds era against the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 29, 2005. He was only 20 years old.

    Cain gave up just two runs and three hits in five innings on that night, but lost the game 2-1. That game served as a microcosm of how his next few seasons would fare for the gutsy righty.

    In 2007, Cain finished the season with a 3.65 ERA, good for the 10th-lowest in the National League. However, the Giants went 9-23 in his starts and scored two runs or fewer in 21 of his starts.

    As the Giants got better, Cain emerged as a candidate to strip Tim Lincecum of his ace status. He has yet to give up an earned run in postseason play and had a phenomenal 2010 season.

    With his blazing 91-93 MPH fastball that blows away hitters as if it were 98 MPH, Cain finished 2010 with a 13-11 record, with a 3.14 ERA, 177 strikeouts and a solid 1.08 WHIP.

    Expect more good things to come from Cain.

5. Jonathan Sanchez

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    In 2006, Baseball America ranked Jonathan Sanchez as the sixth-best prospect in the Giants' organization. In 13 appearances (three starts) at Double-A that year, Sanchez went 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA.

    The Giants were intrigued by Sanchez and called him up in May 2006. He made his major league debut on the day Barry Bonds hit home run No. 715, against the Colorado Rockies, retiring Todd Helton, Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins in order.

    Sanchez would go through ups and downs from 2006-2009 but put it together in 2010. He still had his moments, but Sanchez grew up dramatically as a pitcher that year.

    In his best season as a big league player, Sanchez went 13-9 for the Giants, had a team-leading 3.07 ERA, 205 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP, despite leading the league in walks. He was incredibly hard to hit, as batters hit just .204 against him.

    Sanchez had his brain lapses in the 2010 postseason, but he still pitched well in big games in September, including the National League West clincher. At 28, Sanchez is still improving and has the potential to measure up to his companions in the rotation.

    For more on Jonathan Sanchez, see this article here.

6. Francisco Liriano

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Francisco Liriano is healthy and ready to contribute to the Minnesota Twins, but this live-armed, left-handed pitcher came up through the Giants' system.

    Giants fans dread the date of Nov. 14, 2003, when Brian Sabean dealt Liriano, current Twins closer Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser to the Twins for A.J. Pierzynski, who would be released a year later.

    After years of health battles, Liriano pitched a formidable 2010 campaign. In 191.2 innings pitched, Liriano posted a 14-10 record, with a 3.62 ERA and 201 strikeouts.

    According to Kelly Thesier of MLB.com, the Twins see the arbitration-eligible Liriano as part of their future but are hesitant to sign him beyond 2011. Liriano is seeking $5 million, but the Twins do not want go that high.

    With Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Sanchez, the pain from 2003 has soothed dramatically, but Liriano is still capable of greatness.

7. Joe Nathan

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    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    Joe Nathan is another pitching star who slipped away from the Giants in the Pierzynski deal, but fans are not complaining about the current Giants closer.

    As a starting pitcher in the Giants organization, Nathan stood out. During his time at Single-A San Jose, Nathan posted a 3.32 ERA with 118 strikeouts and led his team to the California League Championship.

    On April 21, 1999, Nathan pitched seven shutout innings in his major league debut against the Florida Marlins. He had promise but could not completely put it together as a starter, finishing with an ERA of over five in 2002.

    After a solid 2003 season as a reliever (although he blew a save in his first postseason appearance against the Marlins), Nathan was traded to Minnesota, and the Twins stumbled upon a gold mine.

    In 2004, Nathan closed for the Twins. In his first full season as a closer, Nathan posted an impressive 1.62 ERA and saved 44 games in 47 opportunities.

    In his last full season (2009), Nathan converted 47 saves, with a 0.93 WHIP and 2.10 ERA. If he can successfully return from injury, Nathan may have a few more good seasons left in him.

    According to the Star Tribune, Nathan has started throwing breaking balls en route to his return from Tommy John surgery. He threw a bullpen session last Sunday, as he was in Minnesota for TwinsFest.

8. Rod Beck

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Before Nathan, the Giants struggled to produce great talent out of their farm system. Although the Oakland Athletics drafted Rod Beck, he blossomed in the Giants organization.

    In 1989, Beck's 11-2 record at Single-A San Jose opened the eyes of the Giants. He was promoted to Double-A and continued to pitch well in the minors.

    In 1992, Beck took over Dave Righetti's closer role. He posted a 3-3 record, converted 17 saves and had a 1.76 ERA in 65 games (he was not the closer in all of them).

    Rod Beck continued his success as a closer in the following years. In the 1997 season, Giants fans saw what Beck was really made of.

    On Sept. 18, 1997, Beck pitched the top of the 10th inning in the Brian Johnson home run game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the score tied at five, and the Giants one game behind the Dodgers for the NL West lead, the Dodgers loaded the bases on three consecutive singles.

    Seeing that Beck was struggling, Manager Dusty Baker paid a mound visit and told him, "You're the guy." Having lost the closer's job to Roberto Hernandez, Beck proved he had something left.

    He proceeded to strike out Todd Zeile looking on an inside-corner fastball. With the bases still loaded and one out, Beck induced Eddie Murray to bounce a splitter into an inning-ending double play.

    The crowd of 52,188 at Candlestick Park clamored with delight. Two innings later, backup catcher Brian Johnson gave the crowd reason to be elated again, as he hit a game-winning home run that beat the Dodgers, 6-5.

    Beck was traded to the Cubs in 1998 and did have some good years with the Padres. However, Giants fans will not forget the legacy Beck left in San Francisco.

    Sadly, Beck passed away in 2007 due to a drug overdose, according to his ex-wife.

9. Matt Williams

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    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Before "Pat the Bat," "Matt the Bat" patrolled the field for the Giants.

    Pat Burrell and other Giants fans had the pleasure of watching Matt Williams play in the '80s and '90s. His great defensive skill and dangerous bat in the minor leagues prompted the Giants to call him up in 1987.

    Williams, who was a first-round draft pick for the Giants in 1986, played in his first full season in 1990. That year, Williams hit .277, with 33 home runs and 122 RBI.

    Williams was traded to the Indians in 1997 as part of the Jeff Kent deal, but his success did not end. In 2001, he won the World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Williams is also tied for the Arizona Diamondbacks' all-time single-season RBI record at 142. He is currently the third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

10. Will Clark

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Will "The Thrill" Clark debuted with the Giants on April 8, 1986. In his 15-year big league career, he hit .303, with 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI. Currently, he works with the Giants in their front office, and fans love him just as much today as they did back when he played.

    On Opening Day 1986 at the Houston Astrodome, the rookie Clark stepped up against the Astros' Nolan Ryan. Clark, unfazed by his greatness, hit a Ryan fastball out of the ballpark. It was the first swing he ever took in the major leagues. The Giants ended up winning the game, 8-3.

    Clark's peers recognize him as one of the best clutch hitters of his time.

    One clutch hit came during Game 5 of the 1989 NLCS, when Clark broke a 1-1 tie against the Cubs in the bottom of the eighth inning. After an epic at-bat, fouling off two-strike pitch after two-strike pitch, Clark singled to center against Cubs closer Mitch Williams, giving the Giants a 3-1 lead and sending them to the World Series.

    Oddly enough, in his minor league debut, Clark hit a home run against none other than Dodger great Fernando Valenzuela.

     

    This article was featured on the blog Talking Giants Baseball.

    Follow me on twitter @vintalkingiants

    Should the Giants have let these prospects go? Click here to vote.

    Questions? Comments? Feedback? E-mail my blog mailbag at vc4re@yahoo.com. Your question may be posted on my blog, along with answers.