Look Out for These Lefties: Two Giants Pitching Prospects to Watch in 2010

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2010

Eric Surkamp and Aaron King .

Not exactly pitching prospects that jump at you like Madison Bumgarner or Zach Wheeler.

That being said, while these two pitchers, both draft picks in the 2008 MLB amateur draft , may not deemed "Elite Prospects" by big-name publications, Web sites and blogs, they could be under-the-radar pitchers who could contribute to the Giants in 2011 or 2012 should they continue to make progress in 2010.

While both these guys aren't perfect or "sure things" by any stretch of the imagination, they certainly have the potential to make the Giants' 40-man roster in the future.

Eric Surkamp, LHP (22 years-old, Sixth Round Pick of the 2008 Draft from North Carolina State)

Why You Should Know About Surkamp:

I admit, I'm not the first guy to "discover" Surkamp in the blogosphere and give him some hype. That honor (or at least the first one who made it aware to me) belongs to Nathaniel Stoltz, a Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report and writer for Chicken Friars , a blog on the San Diego Padres.

He wrote a piece on Surkamp back in January , and though it was widely dismissed by some at the time, I did some more research on Surkamp and liked what he had to offer.

The thing about Surkamp is this: he doesn't have great stuff, but for some reason, he can strike guys out.

Grant from the McCovey Chronicles said this about Surkamp in his annual Top 30 Prospects rankings early in February (He ranked Surkamp at No. 13) :

"...So, fine, Surkamp doesn’t throw especially hard, and he’ll likely have a tough time as he moves up the ladder, maybe aping the Pat Misch career path. But until that happens, I’ll overrate Surkamp’s K-inducing curve, I’ll ignore that he’s a fly ball pitcher, and I’ll note that the bottom of FanGraphs’ velocity rankings have lefties who are still quite successful ."
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In many ways, Grant sums it all up: Surkamp doesn't throw hard but he has an ability to miss bats, which is ultimately what you want from a pitcher anyways. And while his numbers in Augusta were very impressive last year, they aren't fluky by any means.

He posted a similar strikeout rate numbers in a five game stint with Salem-Keizer (10.3) and a two-game stint in Rookie League Arizona (18.9, thanks to seven strikeouts in 3.1 innings pitched).

His college numbers also produced more of the same at North Carolina State, where he pitched for three years. During his junior season, Surkamp posted a 10.5 strikeout rate in 73.2 innings pitched, very solid numbers for a college starting pitcher.

If anything, Surkamp reminds me of a young Noah Lowry , who also posted similar strikeout rate numbers during his first couple of years of Minor League ball .

Like Surkamp, Lowry was also a player out of college and did not have intimidating stuff . Nevertheless, Lowry found a niche as a starting pitcher his first few years as a Giant by having good (though not great) control and command.

I could also see Surkamp having that "serviceable starting Major League pitcher" potential by 2011 or 2012.

Furthermore, I could see Surkamp be even better than Lowry if he doesn't run into the kind of arm problems Lowry had during his last few years as a Giant.

Why You Should Be Cautious About Surkamp:

Surkamp's 2009 with Augusta was good...maybe perhaps too good to be real. Just look at the stats: 11.6 strikeout rate per nine innings, 2.7 walk rate per nine innings, 4.33 BB/K ratio, 2.20 FIP. Those are the numbers of a really good starting pitcher.

Yet there are a two stats that worry me: 1.28 WHIP and 129 hits allowed in 131 innings.

Those aren't exactly the numbers of a pitcher who is dominating, especially at Single-A.

What does that mean? Surkamp is either striking guys out or he's giving up hits. His BABIP shows that (he had a .380 BABIP last season, exceptionally high).

That's fine if he's got incredible stuff, but other than a wicked curve, Surkamp doesn't sport "strikeout artist" velocity. His fastball runs in the mid 80's to high 80's (at best) range.

Those aren't exactly comforting qualities in a pitcher, especially when he's very low in the Minor League system at this point.

So, Surkamp dominated in Augusta in 2009. But can he do it again? He could.

His high strikeout rate in his first three levels of professional ball illustrates that he has a good understanding when it comes to getting guys out, and you could imagine him keeping that ability as he progresses into Advanced Single-A or Double-A next year.

Then again, it would not be surprising at all to see Surkamp get shellacked in Advanced Single-A or Double-A next year. That's the kind of risk Surkamp presents as a player.

He'll either continue to improve and continue to strike guys out despite "okay" stuff, or he'll get tattooed and won't be the same a la Pat Misch or Lowry post-2005.

He didn't exactly set the world on fire at NC State (he posted a 1.57 WHIP is last year at NC State, not exactly great), so it's totally plausible that he could come crashing down to earth once he faces better competition.

Aaron King, LHP (20 years old, Seventh Round Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft from Surry Community College)

Why You Should Know About King:

King can bring it. Plain and simple. He throws in the low to mid-90's (up to 95 MPH, or at least that's the "legend," according to the McCovey Chronicles) and he can strike guys out.

In 31.2 innings pitched in Rookie League Arizona, King posted an 11.65 strikeout rate per nine innings (he also made six starts in rookie ball).

Last season, his strikeout rate dipped to 7.57, but considering that he started all 22 games he pitched in and logged in 104.2 innings pitched in Augusta, the strikeout rate isn't all that bad (though it certainly is discouraging).

Another aspects in King's favor is that he isn't exactly easy to hit, especially in comparison to Surkamp. While Surkamp posted a better strikeout rate, King allowed less hits in comparison to innings pitched than Surkamp (he allowed 14 less hits than innings pitched while Surkamp only allowed two less), and that is comforting.

Then again, King benefited from a better BABIP than Surkamp last year (.281 in comparison to Surkamp's .380 BABIP), but if anything, last year, King showed that hitters aren't going to find gaps as easily as they did with Surkamp.

That being said, the kid is far from polished.  At this point, he sort of resembles a less-refined Alex Hinshaw (whether that's good or bad, I'll leave that you to judge; In my opinion, it's not bad).

Granted, he's only 20 years old, and with the kind of stuff and strikeout potential he possesses, King could be a very good pitcher with the right tutelage and if he finds the right role.

And you know what? Both those things could happen as early as next year. The Giants organization has a good reputation of finding and developing pitchers (as evidenced by Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, etc.).

Additionally, King may be better suited in the bullpen than in the starting rotation. With less innings pitched and opponents only seeing him once in a game rather than two or three times, it would not be surprising to see his strikeout rates increase should he make a move to the pen.

Why You Should Be Cautious About King: 

There's already a reputation around the Web concerning King's mechanics. Apparently, they're really, really, BAD. In this day and age of Kerry Woods and Mark Priors (both former Cubs!), you can't afford to take chances and spend money on guys with arm problem potential.

It killed Chicago financially and they in some ways never really recovered from it.

Now, nobody is comparing King to Wood or Prior (they all had way more hype), but arm problem potential is still arm problem potential. Will King have a future of injuries and extended time on the disabled list? Maybe, maybe not. I'm not God, so I can't say.

However, it's a huge red flag for his future, and it definitely keeps the expectations for him lower than they probably should be.

Furthermore, King's control is also a concern. The knock on him already is that he is very, very, VERY wild. Last year, he sported a 4.5 walk rate, but that isn't even the worst part. King also plunked 10 batters and threw 12 wild pitches. Those are the kinds of numbers that only Nuke LaLoosh and Ricky Vaughn would be proud of.

Now, is wildness an automatic career killer? No, but it certainly doesn't help. Just look at the stories of pitchers who never lived up to expectations because they couldn't throw the ball for strikes.

Daniel Cabrera is the poster boy for "guys who have great stuff but can't throw a strike to save his life."

Hinshaw went through the same control, command problems in 2009 and it may have shot him in the foot in terms of keeping his spot on the 40-man roster this season (especially with Guillermo Mota and Santiago Casilla signed to minor league contracts this off-season).

Is that going to happen to King? Like I said, I don't know. At 20 years old, he still has room to improve, especially with good coaching.

However, the history of guys succeeding with control problems isn't good. The history of guys succeeding with mechanics issues isn't good.

The history of guys succeeding with control problems AND mechanics issues?

Well...let's just say I don't want to see the odds on that one.


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