San Francisco Giants
Position: RHP Height: 6-3 Weight: 180 Born: 10/1/84 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Matt Cain was drafted in the first round in 2002 out of high school in Germantown, Tenn. Some experts regarded his selection with the 25th overall pick as a slight overdraft; many teams saw him as a second-rounder. But the decision looks excellent now because Cain has met or exceeded the Giants' expectations. Although an elbow injury limited him to 14 starts in 2003, he pitched well and positioned himself for a big step forward in 2004. That's exactly what has happened as he has emerged as the dominant pitcher in the California League this spring. He was promoted to Double-A Norwich a few days ago and pitched very well in his first start.
Cain was raw when drafted, but has made tremendous (and rapid) strides developing his talent. Tall and projectable, he is filling out his body and should increase velocity as he matures. Because he already throws 92 to 96 mph, additional speed on his heater would make him dominant. Cain's breaking ball was inconsistent in high school, but he's refined it into two different pitches, a traditional slider and a hard curveball, both of which have the potential to be out pitches. Cain's changeup was weak in 2002 and mediocre last year, but has been more effective in 2004. Another area of improvement is his mechanics. They were somewhat unpolished when he signed, which hurt his control. But he's cleaned up his delivery and has repeated it very well this year, leading to improved command. Cain has a good feel for pitching and has adapted well to the professional environment. If he continues to improve his changeup and keeps his mechanics in gear, he will be a complete power/precision pitcher.
Cain's statistics have improved at every level, an outstanding sign for his future. His K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP ratios were all excellent last year in the South Atlantic League and were even better this year in the Cal League. He didn't have trouble in his first Double-A outing this past week. He also has shown the ability to keep the ball in the park, an underrated marker. There are essentially no holes in his statistical record.
This is the main concern. Cain was limited to 14 starts in '03 because of a stress fracture in his elbow. The Giants shut him down quickly, and he's returned fully healthy in '04 with no sign of any lingering effects. The question, of course, is how long that will last. Cain is an efficient pitcher, which helps. But his curveball and slider stress his elbow, and this will have to be monitored closely in the future.
What to expect
The Giants' farm system is weak in hitting, but the organization has shown an admirable ability to develop young pitchers in recent years. Cain pairs with Merkin Valdez to give San Francisco another pair of potential mound aces. Cain's rapid improvement and stellar performance this year puts him in the elite category of mound prospects. He has a bright future if his elbow doesn't get in the way.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.