The San Francisco Giants front office has once again assembled one of baseball’s premier starting rotations, drafting Madison Bumgarner in 2007 with the 10th overall pick, signing both Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija in December of 2015, and trading for Matt Moore at last season’s trade deadline.
The San Francisco Giants current rotation is arguably superior regarding depth and quality to that of 2010’s, which featured a prime Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Jonathan Sanchez, as well as Bumgarner, albeit as a rookie.
Similar to the squad which brought the City by the Bay its first World Series title, there is a question mark regarding who should round out the very backend of the rotation. Before calling up Bumgarner in the middle of the season, Bruce Bochy had to utilize Todd Wellemeyer, ineffective and clearly on his last legs as a professional, as the team’s No. 5 starter. Entering the 2017 season, Bochy must decide who will inherit the role as the final starter. While the future Hall of Fame manager may choose to side with a veteran in Matt Cain, Bochy should select the 26-year-old out of Creighton University, who has patiently been waiting in the wings.
In his four years in the minor-league system, Ty Blach, a 5th-round selection by the Giants in 2012, has emerged as one of San Francisco’s most promising young prospects. Blach doesn’t have overpowering stuff, sitting in the high-80s, low 90s and topping out 92 MPH with a decent changeup, but he makes up for it with excellent control of his pitches. He isn’t going to put up Tim Lincecum-esque strikeout numbers, but he isn’t going to give away free bases either. Think of Blach as a starter built out of the Greg Maddux mold.
Blach pitched excellently in his first two years with San Jose and Richmond, posting a combined 3.02 ERA over 271.1 innings with a K:BB ratio of 3.65:1. After a rough 2015 in his first season at the Triple-A level, Blach bounced back strong, posting a 3.43 ERA over 162.2 innings and earning a spot on the 2016 All-PCL team, as well as a September call-up from the Giants. The Sacramento River Cats also named him their Pitcher of the Year.
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As a September call-up, Blach appeared in just four games for San Francisco around the conclusion of the regular season last year, but the young lefty flashed his potential in limited appearance when in 17 innings, he only allowed two runs and five walks while striking out ten, good for a 1.06 ERA. Blach made the most of his opportunities in the postseason as well, striking out three in 3.1 scoreless innings over two games against the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs. His performance from a statistical point-of-view is impressive by itself, but his final start of the regular season proved that the kid had ice in his veins.
On October 1st, Bochy selected Blach to start in a must-win game against San Francisco’s bitter rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who already clinched the National League West. If the pressure of facing The Blue Crew wasn’t enough, Blach was matched up against none-other than the 3-time Cy Young Award winner, 2014 National League MVP, and the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw. Blach rose to the occasion, blanking the Dodgers over eight strong innings while striking out six and allowing a mere four total baserunners. Not only did Blach out-duel Kershaw, but he recorded both his first and second career hits against his the fellow lefty, the cherry on top of an unforgettable day for the rookie.
Of course, the case for Blach as San Francisco’s fifth starter cannot rely solely on six appearances, no matter how irresistible it may seem. Compared to Cain, the one starter who may realistically take the final spot in the starting rotation, Blach has a couple of advantages which Bochy should take into consideration, the first of which being Cain’s production, or lack thereof, in the past couple seasons. The last season Cain started in 30 games was in 2013, but even at that, he pitched 184.1 innings, the lowest amount since his first full season in the bigs. Since then, the three-time All-Star has yet to throw more than 100 innings, and over just 240.1 innings in the past three seasons, has an ERA of 5.13 with a -0.5 WAR while averaging an HR/9 of 1.5. It may pain Giants fans to hear this, but Cain is a shell of his former self, and at age 32, he has shown absolutely zero signs of getting his career back on track.
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The pressure for Blach to produce would be at an all-time low next season as well, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to make mistakes and grow as a pitcher. With a frontline four of Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, and Moore, which can easily churn out four back-to-back quality starts, Blach doesn’t need to be lights out starting pitcher right out of the gate. Every player needs time to adjust to the big league level completely, and although Blach has been impressive limited appearances, he is inevitably going to endure some bumps in the road.
Blach is going to need time to mature in the majors, and the only way is to learn by experience. The young lefty may have competition come February and March in Spring Training, but if Blach flashes his potential, it will not be surprising if he nabs the final spot in Bochy’s rotation.
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