In last night’s win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Giants’ left-handed pitcher, Barry Zito, suffered what team officials are calling a ‘mid-foot sprain’. Zito landed awkwardly in the 2nd inning while trying to field Joe Saunders bunt pop-pop, and had to be pulled on the next pitch. In the post-game wrap, Barry Bloom made mention that Barry Zito’s ankle was swollen and he exited the ballpark on crutches. For all the heat that Zito gets, he’s been an incredibly reliable starter in terms of health. Since 2001, his first full season, he’s made at least 32 starts per year. And, even though everyone understand that he’s vastly overpaid, he’s been around a two win pitcher for the Giants over the past two seasons.
Zito’s frustrating to watch, but having a two win pitcher on your staff is a helpful thing to have. He’ll eat innings, occasionally twirl a nice game, and occasionally struggle. Yet, he’s probably a near lock for 1.5 to 2 wins above replacement. Losing Zito for a stretch isn’t the same as losing Lincecum or Cain, but replacing him could be a concern for the Giants.
If Zito does need time on the DL, who will the Giants tab to replace the curveball tossing lefty?
Already on the 40-man roster: Clayton Tanner, Henry Sosa
Tanner is currently in AA pitching for the Richmond Squirrels. He’s a left-hander that works a fastball/sinker in the mid to upper 80s that he compliments with a change and a breaking ball. When the Giants added him to the 40-man roster over the offseason, I wrote the following:
The good news is that Tanner has shown the ability to coax groundballs now and then in his career. His GB% rate this season in AA Richmond was 55% — not an extreme groundball rate, but hey, it’s a building block. The bad news is that Tanner lost 3 strikeouts per 9 (4.77 vs. 7.82) in his transition from the California League to the Eastern League. The 22-year-old Tanner was age appropriate for his level (the average pitcher in the EL was 24.2 years of age) but he lacks “stuff”. He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher and it’s hard to imagine him being successful at the next level with his current K-rate. If Tanner can push his K-rate back between 6-7 he’s kinda interesting in a 5th starter kinda way. But, other than that, he doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room as a prospect.
The Giants did not promote Tanner to AAA this season, instead opting to let him return to AA. Despite his lack of “stuff”, he’s probably the first in line to replace Zito because he’s already on the 40-man.
Henry Sosa pitched in swing role last season in AAA — he appeared in 32 games, 14 of which were starts — to middling results. He posted a 4.01 ERA in the PCL that he coupled with a K/9 of 6.5 and a BB/9 of 4.3. Sosa had a lot of people talking in 2007 when he pitched across two levels — Augsta A, San Jose A+ — while posting a K/9 of 10. Once a fire-baller, Sosa seems to have lost some velocity as he’s progressed in the minors and he’s been working as a reliever so far this year in AAA.
Not on the 40-man, would require some roster finagling: Eric Surkamp, Ryan Vogelsong
Outside of Zack Wheeler, Eric Surkamp is the best (and closest to the majors) pitching prospect in the Giants system. He was BCB’s #10 prospect before the season started. You can read our thoughts on him, here. The short of it: developing fastball velocity (still not overpowering), very good curveball, great feel for pitching, battled some injuries last season. Surkamp is currently pitching in AA and it should prove to be a good test for him. If he shows he’s healthy, while succeeding in AA, the Giants could push him further up the minor league ladder this year. Still, jumping him the majors is probably a stretch.
Ryan Vogelsong, the former Giants prospect sent to Pittsburgh in the Jason Schmidt deal, was a nice story this spring. Vogelsong returned to the Giants as a non-roster invitee and made the most of it, posting a 3.27 ERA in 22 IP with 20 Ks and 11 BBs. Vogelsong is off to a hot start in Fresno rotation. He’s gone 2-0 to start the year while punching out 17 batters in 11.1 IP. If the Giants value experience, and don’t mind moving some pieces around on the roster, Vogelsong could be their pick.
If Zito needs to be placed on the DL, I still think Tanner is the leading candidate to get the call. He’s already on the 40-man roster and he’s had some success (even if his peripherals tell another story) in the minors.
Comment starter: Your pick to replace Zito?