Giants' Bumgarner struggling in Triple-A

Aaron Gleeman on Madison Bumgarner, until very recently one of our top pitching prospects:

    Certainly plenty of 19-year-old pitchers tire late during a season, so Baseball America ranked him as the game's 14th-best prospect this season and Bumgarner's declining velocity wasn't a huge story until he showed up at spring training to compete for the fifth spot in the Giants' rotation. His fastball rarely topped the mid-80s and he predictably got rocked for a 6.43 ERA while handing out seven walks with zero strikeouts.

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Giants pitching prospect Brian Bumgarner has had some issues in Triple-A this year.Bumgarner lost the fifth-starter competition to veteran Todd Wellemeyer and reported to Triple-A, where things have gotten even worse. He gave up 11 hits over three innings in his debut last week and was pasted for seven runs on 10 hits in four innings yesterday. Through two starts Bumgarner has a 14.14 ERA and .538 opponents' batting average after coming into the season with a 27-5 record and 1.65 ERA in the minors.

    In the span of just a couple months he's gone from elite prospect competing for a rotation spot at age 20 to likely midseason call-up to ... well, now it's tough to figure exactly what the Giants plan to do with Bumgarner. His fastball is missing 5-10 miles per hour and Triple-A hitters are teeing off on him. Something clearly isn't right with him physically at this point and the Giants need to figure it out before things get totally out of hand.

Before things get totally out of hand?

Aaron's on the right track, but I'm afraid he's still a half-hearted participant in what looks to me like a mass delusion. Here's an example, from Baseball America's "Prospect Handbook" (italics all mine):

    At this best, Bumgarner shows a mid-90s fastball ... He's an ornery competitor in the mold of Kevin Brown, and when the Giants needed him to make his major league debut on an hour's notice, he showed zero fear ... Bumgarner pitched at 88-90 mph for most of the second half of last season. A perfectionist, he may have lost velocity because he threw too much on the side ... Bumgarner has No. 1 starter potential, and his stuff would play against big leaguers now. He's just 20, so they'd prefer to let him work in Triple-A to start 2010.

Drink any good Kool-Aid lately?

According to John Sickels -- who still rated Bumgarner as "one of the best pitching prospects in the game" -- Bumgarner opened last season throwing 90-94 with Class A San Jose, dropped to 87-90 in the summer with Double-A Connecticut, and finished at 85-88 with the Giants in September. In spring training, the Giants let him throw seven innings, in which he recorded seven walks and zero strikeouts. And now he's throwing cookies in the Pacific Coast League.

I know, I know ... "He's only 20!"

For a pitcher, being 20 should be a good thing. At least a pitcher like Madison Bumgarner. When he was 18 in the Sally League, he struck out 164 in 142 innings, 15-3 record and a 1.46 ERA. A kid like that, you move him quickly and hope he wins some games for the big club before he hurts his arm.

It could have happened last fall. Bumgarner got one start and pitched well, but got stuck with a no-decision when the bullpen gave up a couple of runs. He also pitched a couple of shutout innings in another close game. No wins, though. Or losses. Bumgarner's record stands at 0-0.

I'm afraid it's going to be 0-0 for quite some time. I'm afraid this goes beyond "something clearly isn't right with him physically at this point ..." I'm afraid he's hurt. I'm sure the Giants would tell you that they've run all sorts of tests and they can't find anything and it's just a mechanical thing, and blah blah blah I've heard it all before. This kid's probably been lighting up radar guns since he was in the ninth grade, and now all of a sudden he's throwing 87 and all he needs to do is keep his elbow a little higher during his delivery?

Maybe. But probably not.