By JAY LeBLANC
No minor league pitcher in recent memory has overwhelmed the competition quite like Madison Bumgarner. After selecting Bumgarner with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of a small North Carolina high school, San Francisco Giants officials simply hoped he would hold his own, learn and make progress last year in his pro debut; instead, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound southpaw went 15-3 with a 1.46 ERA and 164-to-21 K-to-walk ratio in leading the Augusta GreenJackets to the Class A South Atlantic League title. In his encore performance, Bumgarner - who turns 20 on Aug. 1 - has continued his rapid climb up the Giants’ organizational ladder while staking his claim as the top pitching prospect in baseball.
Assigned to the advanced Class A San Jose Giants to begin the season, Bumgarner went 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA and 23-to-4 K-to-walk ratio in five starts to earn a quick promotion to the Double-A Connecticut Defenders. Eastern League hitters have had no better luck in their attempts to solve Bumgarner, who has continued to put up video-game numbers against the older, more experienced competition. Bumgarner has posted a 7-1 record, 1.56 ERA and 52-to-20 K-to-walk ratio with Connecticut and is now 25-5 with a 1.49 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 239-to-45 K-to-walk ratio in 235 1/3 professional innings. His quest for a challenge could lead him to San Francisco by the end of the summer.
I had the chance to speak with Bumgarner on Monday night while he and his Connecticut teammates were in Bowie, Md., to take on the Baltimore Orioles-affiliated Bowie Baysox.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I just throw a fastball, a slider, a curveball and changeup. Right now I’m just getting comfortable throwing them in any count. I’m trying to do that and trying to remember what I do to the hitters - you can’t get caught up in a pattern and throw the same thing to each guy every time he comes up. So I’m just trying to mix it up.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout guy, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: Probably a mixture. Some games I can just go out there and throw a lot of fastballs, and guys will get themselves out. Some games I have to try to strike them out more, if they’re putting a lot of good swings on ‘em. It just depends on the situation, I guess.
Q: What are some of the things you do off the field to help prepare you to succeed on it?
A: A lot of running and stuff. You’ve got to work hard and stay mentally strong and work on all your pitches in between starts and just have confidence in them when you go out there.
Q: What are some of the things you still need to work on in order to be a successful big league pitcher?
A: Probably everything. I’ve still got a lot of stuff to learn - throwing all my pitches for strikes, learning how to pitch and everything you can think of.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I get asked that question quite a bit, but I can’t really think of anybody right off the bat. I’ve thought about it a little bit, and I don’t really know anybody that I feel like I look like.
Q: What did you learn by being around guys like Randy Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain during spring training?
A: Not as much as I would have liked to. I didn’t get to hang out with them that much; I just went up there three times. I had a lot of fun but I didn’t really get to watch them. I just went there right before the games, so I didn’t really get to do anything but sit in the clubhouse and go get ready. I didn’t get to watch them pitch or anything either, so not as much as I would have liked to.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Giants?
A: Whenever they think I’m ready. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it’ll be this year; if not, then just whenever they think I’m ready. They know a lot better than I do, and they’ve been doing it a lot longer than I have. I’m just going to continue working hard and trying to get better each start here, and we’ll see what happens.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 - Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; Robbie Grossman, Pirates; Brandon Waring, Orioles; Casey Kelly, Red Sox; Michael Taylor, Phillies; Brandon Snyder, Orioles; Kyle Drabek, Phillies; Drew Storen, Nationals; Nick Hagadone, Red Sox; Matt Moore, Rays.
2008 - Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.