This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Three Giants to Double-A
Last week the Giants promoted three of their top prospects from High-A San Jose in the California League to Double-A Connecticut in the Eastern League. Two were pitchers: Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner; the third was a shortstop, Brandon Crawford. Giants fans are understandably excited about this intriguing trio, so let's take a look and get a read on how quickly each could contribute at the major league level.
Tim Alderson, RHP
Drafted in the first round in 2007 out of high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, as the 22nd overall pick, Alderson pitched last year as a 19 year old in the advanced California League and pitched brilliantly for San Jose, going 13-4, 2.79 with a 124:34 K:BB ratio in 145 innings. The Giants assigned him again to San Jose to begin '09. He posted a 4.15 ERA but an excellent 20:3 K:BB in five starts, leading to his promotion to Double-A last week. He was outstanding in his first start for Connecticut, throwing 6.2 hitless shutout innings, with 10 strikeouts. Alderson cuts a figure on the mound at 6-6, 217, though his fastball is just average at 88-92 MPH. It moves well, however, and he locates it with precision. Add in an excellent curveball and a rapidly-improving changeup, and you have one hell of a young pitcher. Alderson doesn't have the physical ceiling of some other top prospects, but his stuff is good enough, and his command and mound presence are exceptional. Despite his youth, he was ready for Double-A, and good performance at that level could get him a major league trial by the end of this season or in 2010. He projects as a number two or three starter.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Two years ago at this time, scouts were wondering where Madison Bumgarner would go in the draft. Considered one of the best pure arms available in the '07 class, the 6-4, 215 pound lefty out of high school in Hudson, North Carolina, concerned many scouts with a relative lack of polish with his secondary pitches. They all loved his mid-90s fastball, but his breaking ball and changeup needed a lot of work, and his command was shaky at times in high school. Bumgarner erased any doubts with a stunning 15-3, 1.46 season last year for Augusta in the South Atlantic League, posting a 164:21 K:BB ratio in 142 innings, giving up just 111 hits. His control was much better than anticipated, and he made huge progress with his breaking ball and changeup. The Giants started him off alongside Alderson this year at San Jose, and after a 3-1, 1.48, 23:4 K:BB mark in 24 innings, they had no hesitation about moving the lefty up the ladder to Connecticut with his teammate. Bumgarner is the top left-handed prospect in baseball now, and probably the best pitching prospect overall. As with any pitcher, we have to see how he adapts to better competition, but there are no sabermetric or scouting reasons to think that he'll be anything less than successful. Like Alderson, if he continues to pitch well, he could get a cup of coffee later this year, though 2010 is a better bet. He may be pushed at a slightly slower pace than Alderson, but his ultimate ceiling is higher. He could be a legitimate number one ace if he remains healthy, always a question with pitchers of course.
Brandon Crawford, SS
The Giants drafted Crawford in the fourth round in 2008, out of UCLA. A 6-2, 200 pound left-handed hitter but right-handed thrower, he was considered a first-round talent on physical tools alone: he's an excellent athlete and was rated very highly as a defensive shortstop. But his skills as a hitter were less impressive, and his junior year for the Bruins brought mixed results, with a .302/.394/.491 mark being less than scouts anticipated. He had problems with the strike zone, and scouts criticized his swing mechanics and wondered if he'd hit for wood, which dropped his draft stock considerably. Crawford got off to an excellent start at San Jose, hitting .371/.445/.600 through 25 games, showing excellent power and obviously a high batting average, leading to his promotion to Connecticut along with Alderson and Bumgarner. While the two pitchers project to do well at that level, I'm not so sure about Crawford: at San Jose, his BB/K ratio was 10 walks, 32 strikeouts in 105 at-bats, an awfully high strikeout rate. Double-A pitching will be a big challenge for him. If he solves it quickly, his defensive skills and overall tools will get him to the majors rapidly, but we need to keep track of how his strike zone judgment holds up. In his first two games, he's 2-for-9 with two strikeouts and no walks. Right now I am skeptical about Crawford's short-term outlook in Double-A.
For full reports on Alderson, Bumgarner, Crawford and over 1,000 others, order the 2009 Baseball Prospect Book, available only at Johnsickels.net. Now Shipping!
Article first appeared 5/12/09