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10.10.2005

Cain: Following Noah's Arc? 

Late last week Baseball America posted its top 20 list for 2005 Pacific Coast League prospects. As with the '04 list, the Giants had exactly one name on the list. And just like in '04, the name was called up to the bigs before a full year at Fresno. In '04, it was Noah Lowry, who placed 20th. This year it was Matt Cain, who placed 5th.

Both pitchers' late-season debuts were big successes, though Lowry had twice as many starts as Cain:

Lowry (14 starts)
92 IP / 28 BB / 72 K / .728 OPS against / 3.82 ERA

Cain (7 starts)
46 IP / 19 BB / 30 K / .477 OPS against / 2.33 ERA

The glaring differences: Lowry struck out batters at a much higher rate, and Cain gave up hits at a much lower rate. Cain seemed to get one harmless pop-up after another -- will some of those pop-ups start falling in next year with Bonds and Alou in the outfield at the same time?

As Cain needs to make adjustments in '06, let's hope he takes a cue from Lowry, who was lousy the first couple months this year but made mechanical changes (apparently something with his footwork) and forced hitters to stop sitting on the change-up. In fact, over a full year in '05, Lowry raised his K rate, struggled more with walks, but lowered his SLG against, resulting in a very solid sophomore year.

Was Lowry's the best year of any pitching prospect on BA's top 20 for the 2004 PCL? The other pitchers were Edwin Jackson, Joe Blanton, Juan Dominguez, Clint Nageotte, and Bobby Madritsch. The only challenger is Blanton, who arguably had a better year than Lowry: same innings pitched, lower ERA, lower WHIP, nearly the same OPS against. Not as many Ks. (Of the position players on the list, several made an impact in '05, including Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, Yadier Molina and Clint Barmes.)

If you're wondering why Todd Linden wasn't on the '05 PCL top prospect list despite his monster year, this bit from a BA chat session should answer:

Q: Doug Kripp from Hagerstown, MD asks:
OF Todd Linden put up some eye-popping numbers for Fresno but I assume from his major league performance that he can be pitched to. Is there any chance he can become a solid regular in the majors?

A: Jim Callis:
Maybe, but scouts who saw him in both place[s] still think his swing is too long and that it's easy to jam him when he bats lefthanded. And you're right, he's also pitchable.

Much of the Giants' off-season makeover depends upon that "maybe, but." If he can't pull his weight as a lefthanded batter, there's no reason to keep him around. It'll be interesting to see if he plays winter ball to work on this problem.

If he's still struggling in spring training, how much slack will the Giants give him? He could be kept around as a 5th outfielder, but the Giants' 4th OF needs to be nearly an everyday player -- like Michael Tucker, but a lot better -- given how much time Bonds and Alou will miss.

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