Although Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson (two players I profiled last week) get all the attention among starting pitching prospects in the Giants system, the team's third-best starting prospect is their teammate at high Class A San Jose.
Scott Barnes, SP, Giants: Drafted in the eighth round last year out of St. John's University, Barnes dazzled in his first 11 games as a pro last year, striking out 63 in 43 2/3 innings in the low minors while allowing just 24 hits, four walks and no home runs. He impressed enough and showed enough of an advanced feel for pitching that the organization decided to let the 21-year-old skip low Class A this season.
A tall, lanky, 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty, Barnes has a quick arm that can get his fastball up to the 92-93 mph range with tail, and he can add and subtract velocity as needed. Like Bumgarner, he shows the ball a bit on the backside of his delivery, but then it disappears as his arm starts to come forward, and he throws it with a whippy, slingerlike arm action that makes it tough to pick up as he releases the ball. However, he can control and repeat his delivery, and there really isn't anything that would raise a big red flag. The Giants did a good job cleaning up the delivery, and he doesn't jerk his head at the end as much as he did in college.
His circle changeup has gone through marked development since he became a pro, as it's now a low-80s pitch with excellent arm speed and a consistent slot. His third pitch is a mid-70s curve that still needs work. When I talked with him recently, he mentioned the usual things a pitcher at this level is focused on -- locating, being consistent and refining the breaking ball.
Barnes had his toughest outing as a pro Tuesday, as he failed to get out of the fourth inning. So far this season, however, he still has fanned 19 in 22 1/3 innings while giving up just one homer in a tough league for pitchers, making four of his five starts on the road in some launching pads. As a fly-ball pitcher, the California League will be a good test for Barnes. He's a little ways off from reaching the big leagues but projects as a solid starter down the road.
Phillippe Aumont, RP, Mariners: One thing you notice when watching Cal League games is that no matter how far behind a team is, it is never out of the race. I had resigned myself to not seeing Aumont on a recent trip until a furious High Desert Mavericks comeback in one game put a save situation on the table, so I saw him for one inning.
Of course, the reason he pitched only one inning was the well-publicized move the new Mariners front-office regime made to convert Aumont to relief, in the belief that it could put him on a "real fast track to the major leagues," according to general manager Jack Zduriencik. Regardless of pundits' thoughts on the merits of that decision, the team is going down that path. Aumont seems to be taking to it, allowing just one earned run in his first 13 games with 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
Aumont was the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of a Quebec high school. He's seen as a project with huge raw ability.
A big, 6-7, 220-pound righty, Aumont has some power sink down and in on right-handed hitters with his mid-90s fastball, but he also can dial it up into the high 90s when he needs to. In the outing I saw, his fastball generally fell between 94-96 mph, and one was at 98. That spawned a discussion with a San Jose pitcher charting pitches who showed me the 100 mph reading on his gun. That pitcher had been 1-2 mph higher on each pitch compared to the other guns, though. Regardless, Aumont's arm strength was impressive, and the ball jumps out of his hand from a low three-quarter slot, as he throws slightly across his body.
Aumont threw two sliders in this outing, one an 80 mph power offering and one a 78 mph slurvy pitch. He has flashed good ones in the past and during warm-ups, but his slot makes it tough to stay on top of it and make the pitch consistent. However, his slider has definite potential. He threw a split as an amateur and a change last year, but I didn't see anything like that in this outing. He's basically a two-pitch guy in relief, with the second pitch still needing work. He's fairly athletic for his size but occasionally gets off-balance in his delivery.
The 20-year-old had a sore elbow for part of last year but seems to have bounced back. You obviously could make the case that he should be allowed to fail as a starter first, or that working as a starter would give him more opportunity to develop his secondary stuff, but as long as the team truly plans to slot him in the closer role, he has prototypical closer stuff. Still, I can't argue he'll get to the big leagues faster in relief. The question is whether that is the proper use of this premium arm.
Some final quick notes from this scouting trip:
• Clayton Tanner was the Giants' third-round pick in 2006 out of a California high school, and he is repeating high Class A ball because he has been a bit hittable at the Class A level the past two seasons. He throws 86-89 mph with some tail and deception in his delivery but lacks command of his fastball thanks to an inconsistent release point. He relies a lot on a 79-82 mph changeup that has fair tumble and depends on his ability to locate on both sides of the plate. But his mid-70s curve, which was reportedly his best pitch in the past, lacked depth in the outing I saw. Although he was a high pick, I don't see him as a big league prospect.
• One of the Padres' better pitching prospects (in a system lacking depth) is Jeremy Hefner, 23, a fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Oral Roberts. He has a durable 6-4 frame with easy arm action and good control. His sinker is 87-91 mph and has a lot of movement at times; however, it is still somewhat inconsistent, and he can have trouble commanding it. He also mixed in a slurvy low-70s breaking ball and a fringe average 79-82 mph change with slight sink and fade that he can locate. He posted 144 strikeouts in 140 innings at low Class A last year and has a 33-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 2/3 innings this season, so the numbers make him a pitcher to monitor, although he's a bit old for this level.
• I highly recommend you check out Keith Law's take on Buster Posey if you haven't already, and I echo his observations. I had mentioned during Hawaii Winter Baseball last year that he wasn't generating a lot of backspin on the ball and was showing limited raw power, and that a couple of scouts who hadn't seen him play before were concerned about how much pop he would show at the big league level. However, I also was giving him the benefit of the doubt because of his intermittent pro schedule last year.
He sat for two months after being drafted, then played in 10 games at the rookie and low Class A levels, including just DH work. Afterward, he sat for another three weeks, then went to Hawaii, where he was playing only about every third day. After that, he was sent to instructional league for 2½ weeks because he wasn't getting enough work, then went back to Hawaii. Meanwhile, he was making the transition to wood bats.
The bottom line is that he's generating some backspin and getting some more loft in his swing now, so he might have a bit more power than initially expected when he was drafted.
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