Photo: Perfect Game

Giant-sized talent at every turn

Jeff Dahn

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Throughout his life-long baseball career, 23-year-old San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner has enjoyed the good fortune of being surrounded by exceptionally gifted teammates -- and, for that matter, gifted opponents. It's par for the course when you spend your entire life playing only with and against the best.

That has never been more evident than what the baseball world has witnessed over Bumgarner's first three full years in the major leagues when he and his Giants' teammates captured World Series Championships in 2010 and 2012. The Giants averaged 90 wins over those three seasons, won two National League pennants that led to those two World Series titles, and finished 2012 with a 94-68 regular season record and a four-game World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Bumgarner -- who packs 235 muscular pounds on his 6-foot, 5-inch frame -- was joined on those Giants' rosters by 2010 NL Rookie of the Year and 2012 NL Most Valuable Player Buster Posey, 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, three-time MLB All-Star right-hander Matt Cain and three-time All-Star and 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito.

Bumgarner's three-year MLB career parallels that of Posey's, who won the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year Award and missed most of 2011 after suffering a broken ankle, only to come back and win the 2012 MVP Award. These young Giants are so talented, they are considered among the favorites to win it all again this year, making it two straight and three in the last four years.

"It's really hard to describe," Bumgarner told Perfect Game last Friday morning before the Giants' scheduled Cactus League game with their archrival Los Angeles Dodgers at Scottsdale Stadium was canceled due to a freak rain/hail storm in the Valley of the Sun. "It's really special, and I've just been blessed to be able to be a part of it. It's what every little kid dreams about."

Just hanging out in this Giants' clubhouse before an early March spring training game can cause a long-time baseball fan's jaw to drop. There is so much All-Star and even potentially Hall of Fame talent in that small room at Scottsdale Stadium that it's easy to feel in awe. At the same time, the mood in the clubhouse is relaxed, with each player to a man exerting a quiet confidence.

This isn't Bumgarner's first brush with being surrounded by talented teammates. He was in attendance at the 2006 Perfect Game National Showcase in Fayetteville, Ark., an event that produced 23 first-round or first-round compensation draft picks in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft. That number included Bumgarner, who was selected by the Giants with the 10th pick of the first round right out of South Caldwell High School in Hudson, N.C.

"I went to the (PG National  Showcase) down in Arkansas and that was my first time ever doing anything like that," he said. "I was playing high school ball and (American) Legion ball, and then I went to do (the PG National). It was a different experience and it was a lot of fun, especially getting to see all the different talent that they had there. It's a good thing to get you out there and get you exposed and let all the scouts get to see you. That was the first time I got to do that."

Bumgarner's next stop was the 2006 Perfect Game All-American Classic, played that year at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the campus of San Diego State University. Pitching for the East Squad at the event, Bumgarner and a host of scouts watched as his fastball hit 93 mph.

"I was honored and humbled to get a chance to go to that one," Bumgarner said of the Classic. "It was fun and I was thankful for the opportunity. I'd love to be able to something like that again, but that's a one-time deal."

Seven of his teammates on that East Team were also made first round picks out of high school in the 2007 draft: Jason Heyward, Rick Porcello, Michael Burgess, Neil Ramirez, Justin Jackson, Michael Main and Joshua Smoker. In all, 11 prospects on that East Team were eventually selected in the first round of the MLB amateur draft.

With the possible exception of Heyward, none have had a more meteoric rise to big-league stardom than Bumgarner.

He made his big-league debut on Sept. 8, 2009 at age 20 after only two dominant minor league seasons. Bumgarner compiled a 34-6 record with a 2.00 ERA in 63 appearances in the minors, including 62 starts. While playing with Augusta in the High Class A South Atlantic League in 2008, he was named Pitcher of the Week five times, a Midseason and Postseason All-Star and, not surprisingly, the league's Most Outstanding Pitcher.

He earned a spot in Giants manager Bruce Bochy's rotation during the 2010 World Series championship season and is now the staff's No. 2 starter behind Cain; in three full big-league seasons he is 36-30 with a 3.20 ERA, and averages 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He was 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 208 1/3 innings in 2012, his second straight season with 191 punch-outs.

Bumgarner has been especially effective in the postseason. In six series in 2010 and 2012, he is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. But hold onto your hat: he is 2-0 in World Series starts, including eight innings of three-hit shutout ball in a win against Texas in 2010 and seven innings of two-hit shutout ball in a win over Detroit last October.

After his first three Cactus League starts this season, Bumgarner had worked 5 2/3 innings with a 3.18 ERA on eight hits and six strikeouts without a decision. But hey, it's early March in the Valley of the Sun -- even if the weather seemed to be absolutely freaking-out on Friday -- and there are seventh months left to determine if the Giants have earned a shot at yet another World Series Championship.

"It's going OK so far," Bumgarner said of spring training camp. "I think we're right on schedule -- not ahead of schedule or not behind schedule, but I think everything's going pretty good. I think we really have some good momentum going into this season."

With the talent the Giants' front office has surrounded Bumgarner with, momentum is definitely on their side.

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