Nobody was surprised when the San Francisco Giants sent down Madison Bumgarner to the minor leagues this spring. Though greatly gifted, Bumgarner was never able to show the velocity and command that had made him such a coveted player in the Giants' farm system.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Bumgarner was considered the Giants' next great ace, the complement to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, which would give the Giants the most formidable rotation in the majors. Bumgarner was known to have a devastating slider and powerful fastball. The problem was that nobody at the major league level saw that powerful fastball. In a four-game stint with the Giants last year, Bumgarner's fastball averaged just 89.2 mph, according to PitchFx.
Bumgarner rationalized that his arm was simply tired at the end of the year and that some rest would bring back the sizzling fastball. And yet it never came back this spring. The left-hander rarely hit more than 90 mph this spring while posting a 6.43 ERA in three games (one start). That performance dashed any hopes that Bumgarner would start the year as San Francisco's fifth starter. So the Giants sent him down to the minors.
Aside from the obvious velocity issues, Bumgarner also attended the funeral for his half sister this spring. Needless to say, it was a tough spring for Bumgarner.
Yet, for all of Bumgarner's issues, there remains the hope that he can reclaim his lauded arsenal, and once he does, he will again be considered one of the elite young pitchers in the game.
At that point, the Giants can then place him into their vaunted rotation, or they can simply dangle him as trade bait in order to acquire the power hitter the team has craved for the past several years.
Most important in any evaluation of Bumgarner is the realization that he's only 20 years old, and just three years removed from pitching for the South Caldwell High School (N.C.) Spartans. He has plenty of time to develop. And once he does, nobody will be much surprised.
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.