The Pitching Rich Get Richer

With a starting rotation that already boasts the likes of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, the San Francisco Giants organization debuted yet another impressive starting pitcher over the weekend. Southpaw Eric Surkamp made a one-and-done appearance against he hapless Houston Astros but there is no doubt that he’ll be back after being optioned back to the minors after this start. Prior to the season, I ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Giants system.

Surkamp allowed just one run in six innings of work. He showed outstanding poise with 52 of his 87 pitches going for strikes (60%). He walked three batters but also struck out four. In his career, Surkamp has shown a tendency to induce fly-ball outs but six of his 10 in-play outs were recorded on the ground.

At double-A this season, the 24-year-old has a 10.43 K/9 rate and over-powered hitters with his plus command of a repertoire that includes an 86-90 mph fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He showed good control, as well, and posted a walk rate of 2.78 BB/9. After missing some time in 2010, Surkamp showed good durability for 142.1 innings of work with a FIP of 2.37 (2.02 ERA). If there is one knock against him it would be his fly-ball tendencies.

Surkamp does not have a high ceiling but the North Carolina State grad has an excellent pitcher’s frame, solid mechanics and above-average command and control for his experience level. His easy-effort, low-three-quarters pitching action, four-pitch mix and strong build should allow him to provide plenty of innings. The pitching-rich Giants have a perfect No. 4 starter in Surkamp, which will allow them to focus their money on improving the limp offense, rather than throwing money at 30-something retread to provide less value for much more money than the league minimum.

There is nothing “sexy” about Surkamp in terms of his stuff, but this is one prospect that has a chance to play a key role on a playoff-calibre team.

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To make room for Surkamp on the 40-man roster, the organization made an interesting choice in designating Clayton Tanner for assignment. The young southpaw was a teammate of Surkamp’s in double-A Richmond. Both pitchers are left-handers with average-at-best fastballs, solid repertoires and above-average control. He’s repeating double-A in 2011 but he’s still young and induces more ground-ball outs than Surkamp. Tanner has pitched at least 117 innings each year for the past five seasons.

Tanner, 23, could make an excellent addition for a team looking for cheap bullpen options for 2012 and beyond. Even better, he has an option remaining for next season. After giving up top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in the trade with New York for veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, it’s more than a little surprising that the organization would risk giving away the upper-level pitching depth.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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You’re right that Surkamp will save the Giants some money. They’ll probably try to trade Sanchez to free up a (less-expensive) rotation slot for Surkamp, and use the savings to cover part of the large raises due to Lincecum, Cain, and Wilson.