If you didn't know the San Francisco Giants had starting pitching depth in their minor league system, the Minor League Baseball Yearly Awards should fill you in on what kind of talent the Giants now have.
Top prospects Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson both nabbed the best starter honor at both Single-A levels, solidifying each's status as one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
Bumgarner was simply sensational with Low Class A Augusta, going 15-3 and leading all minor leaguers with a 1.46 ERA, earning him the Minor League Baseball Most Spectacular Pitcher award for sporting the lowest ERA. The 6'4" lefty's 164 strikeouts placed him third in the minors, while his 15 wins placed him fifth.
"I'm running out of superlatives," Augusta manager Andy Skeels told mlb.com. "I've never seen a player do the things he's done. I've never seen a player grow that fast and quickly. What he did was staggering."
The talent was there from the start, but when he was drafted as a 17-year-old in 2007, there were worries that he might not be able to develop a secondary pitch to go along with his mid-90s fastball.
Worry no more, as "Mad Bum" has developed both his curveball and slider, ending doubts that he would have to overly depend on his big-time fastball.
"My slider and curve got a lot better," he told mlb.com. "I didn't really have a breaking ball coming into the instructional league last year. It just got better and better (as the year went on).
"It just kind of clicked. You just have to have confidence in what you're doing. If you don't believe in yourself, you're not going to be able to get it done."
Fellow first-rounder Alderson also had quite the season. Although he didn't have the eye-popping ERA that Bumgarner had, he was still dominant with High Class A San Jose.
He finished the season 13-4 with a 2.79 ERA. More impressive was his 7-1 record after the All-Star break and 1.09 WHIP. Or maybe it was that the 6'6" righty only allowed four home runs and held right-handed hitters to a .201 batting average.
Whatever stat you pick, it will prove that Alderson, whose 20th birthday is Monday, had a great season.
"It was a crazy ride this year. But being on a good team helped out. I think I exceeded expectations that I had going in," Alderson told mlb.com. "I knew it would be tough with all the older players and the college guys.
"But I was going to go out and battle and hold my own. I wanted to go out and have great outings, and it worked out for me."
However, there is a new name to add to the list to keep your eye on.
Even though he is 23, Kyle Nicholson was completely in control picking up the Short-Season MiLBY award. In 11 starts with the Giants Arizona Rookie League affiliate, Nicholson went 6-1 with a 1.15 ERA. The most impressive number of all is his strikeout-to-walk ratio—54:3 in 62.1 innings.
Despite Nicholson's stellar season, the attention is certainly, and rightfully so, on Bumgarner and Alderson.
Alderson will start the season at Double-A Connecticut and will undoubtedly be one of the youngest players not just on the Defenders' roster, but in the entire Eastern League. And although the Giants have said they want him to progress quickly, a promotion to Triple-A Fresno might be out of the picture in 2009.
As far as Bumgarner goes, High Class A will likely be his destination to start the 2009 season, but, as many fans will hope, a spot in the Defenders' rotation with Alderson might not be outrageous to imagine.
No matter where they are, things are looking good. The Giants' best pitchers in the minors have picked up the top awards; is it time for Tim Lincecum to get his turn to put something on his mantle?
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