Rookie pitchers giving Giants a lift

In response to Wednesday's column, a number of readers wanted to bring to light various Rookie of the Year candidates I somehow neglected to mention, including Scott Podsednik, Jason Phillips, and Jody Gerut. Good players all. But this is the message that piqued my interest ...


    For NL Rookie of the Year, I think Jerome Williams deserves honorable mention, though his stats don't quite measure up to Brandon Webb and Dontrelle Willis:

    IP W/K W-L ERA
    Willis 90 30/85 9-2 2.59
    Webb 112 31/99 7-4 2.42
    Williams 70.2 32/50 5-2 2.80

    A pretty amazing trio of pitchers to burst on the scene in one year, and this doesn't even include Jesse Foppert, who everyone thought would be the best. I'd never heard of Webb before this year (John Patterson was supposed to be the D-Backs' top rookie pitcher). Williams and Willis were touted, but were supposed to be a year away. In retrospect, all this makes spring-time predictions seem silly, at least when it comes to young pitchers.


Correct on all counts, Matt.

Williams has pitched well, but his Rookie of the Year chances currently reside somewhere between the hamlets of Slim and None, for two reasons. The first is that he's got only five wins, and the second is that Dontrelle Willis might have locked up the award with his highly visible win over the Diamondbacks -- and Randy Johnson -- on Wednesday night (which doesn't show up in the numbers Matt sent).

You're also right about spring-time predictions, and the nature of young pitchers in general. After last season, here's how the Giants' three most advanced pitching prospects were rated by John Sickels and Baseball America:

Sickels BA
Ainsworth A- No. 2
Foppert A- No. 1
Williams A- No. 3

Explaining that chart ... John's a tough grader. He almost never gives a pitcher a straight "A" grade, and in fact he didn't hand out an "A" to even one pitcher in his book this year. He did rate Foppert the No. 1 pitching prospect in the game, with Williams No. 4 and Kurt Ainsworth No. 5 (Ainsworth is no longer a Giant after having been traded to the Orioles for Sidney Ponson on Thursday). Obviously, that's pretty incredible, for one team to have three of the five best pitching prospects (at least according to Sickels).

Baseball America doesn't have a comprehensive ranking of prospects; those numbers in the table tell us that Foppert, Ainsworth, and Williams were considered the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 prospects in the Giants' organization. Baseball America's analysts didn't rate the trio, except Foppert, as high as Sickels did, but the Giants were obviously in an enviable position.

How stocked were the Giants? When the season started, only one of their great prospects was penciled into the starting rotation.

When I talked to Giants GM Brian Sabean during spring training, I asked him what he'd do with all those young pitchers.

"Well, it's a nice dilemma," he answered. "It's not a problem as much as it's an opportunity to find out how and when these guys are ready. Of course, Ainsworth has really distinguished himself in the past and probably has the inside track, but then you have Foppert and Williams who are just a hair away from the big leagues.

"On the one hand, you don't want to overexpose them or push them too much at the risk of hurting one of them, or giving them false hope. But by the same token, if they're ready you can't send them all back to Triple-A."

When I spoke with Sabean, the Giants still had Livan Hernandez, which left room in the rotation for Ryan Jensen or one of the rookies. But Hernandez got traded before Opening Day, so Jensen and Ainsworth got slots in the rotation.

So when the season started, the rotation was

The Giants treated Ainsworth with great care -- he never threw more than 106 pitches in one game -- and after 11 starts he was 5-4 with a 3.82 ERA. In his 10th start, he pitched seven innings and allowed just four hits and one run ... at Coors Field. In his 11th start, he pitched into the seventh inning, and again allowed just one run against the Rockies (this time at Pac Bell).

And that's how Ainsworth's season ended, as a fractured shoulder blade sent him to the disabled list.

Meanwhile, Jensen didn't last long in the rotation, and on April 22 his spot was taken by Foppert.

Foppert's pitched well enough for a rookie with limited Triple-A experience and he's flashed occasional hints of brilliance, but he also sports a 5.22 ERA (5.85 away from the friendly expanses of Pac Bell Park). Foppert's future is bright, but to this point he's been far from a big success.

Which leaves Williams, who took Ainsworth's spot in the rotation. We've already seen most of his key numbers, but here's one we haven't seen (and it's the best one!): in 71 innings, Williams has given up one home run (a two-run shot by Phil Nevin that accounted for all the scoring in a 2-1 Padres victory).

So as it turned out, the Giants have needed all three of their young phenoms this season, which just goes to show you can never have too much good young pitching. We might wonder, though ... How many of them will make good on all their promise?

That's the Question of the Day, but unfortunately I don't have an answer. Here's a good guess, though ... One of them will spend years fighting off injuries, one will become a decent major-league pitcher, and one will win more than 100 games in his career.

But which will do what? In a larger sense, that's the Question of the Century.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.