Madison Bumgarner is why spring training is great.
Every year at this time, somewhere in baseball there is a story just like this. This spring, when those seemingly meaningless exhibition games begin next week, this story will tantalize Giants fans. And they’ll be the better for it.
The 20-year-old Bumgarner serves as this spring’s gem for Giants fans to ogle; the shiny, new object of their affections at which they can lustily “ooh” and “ahh.”
Bumgarner is the latest ray of hope emanating from the pitching pipeline that gave them Matt Cain, then Tim Lincecum. More lightning in that bottle of pitching prospects the Giants have been pouring onto their pitching staff the last four-plus seasons.
When its Bumgarner’s turn to pitch, they’ll be reminded of Bruce Bochy bringing up the left-hander from out of nowhere on a cool, clear night last September when Lincecum succumbed to back spasms. With the Giants just four games back in the wild-card race, this was no small assignment.
That night, at the ripe old age of 20 years, 38 days — making him the youngest Giants starter since they came to San Francisco — Bumgarner held the San Diego Padres to a pair of solo home runs and a few
singles over 5¹⁄³ innings, and departed with a 3-2 lead.
This after finding out he was being called up just the day before, and finding out he was filling in for Lincecum just 3½ hours before taking the mound at AT&T Park. Bumgarner would make three more scoreless appearances in relief before it was back to oblivion. Giants fans, meanwhile, mostly worried this offseason about Lincecum and arbitration.
Until Giants pitchers and catchers reported.
Now Madison Bumgarner is back, and as bright and shiny a prospect as there is. He’s been named on a couple of Top-5, Top-10 “top prospect” lists that surface from Fantasy Baseball Web sites across the Internet.
With just 49 minor-league starts and eight major league innings to his credit, Bumgarner will be examined and re-examined under the magnifying glass of major league expectations while the Giants play their way from Scottsdale, Ariz., to the Bay Area.
From the looks of his 27-5 minor league record — and how he handled his major league stint — it appears as if Bumgarner will be a prospect described as “when” he joins the Giants rotation, not “if.” And if that “when” is now, then three-fifths of the Giants’ rotation will open the season 25 years old or younger.
Watching all this unfold will be the Giants’ gentle reminder why the spring is so beautiful to baseball.
Nothing but hopes and possibilities. Let the games begin.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.