It's pretty safe to say almost nobody expected this young pitcher to make the splash he did at spring training. No one expected this guy to make an honest bid to make the Opening Day roster for the San Francisco Giants. No one expected him to go three perfect innings while striking out four against the Milwaukee Brewers. No one expected him to lead the Giants staff with a 1.12 ERA through 8 innings, before sinking back to a more human ERA of 4.91 in 11 innings. No one expected this guy to shine like he has.
Then again, just five years ago, no one even expected Jesse Foppert to pitch.
So how talented is this kid? Well consider this: in 2002 after only 14 games, Foppert was named the top prospect in the Pacific Coast League by Baseball America. Overall, Baseball America ranked him as the fifth best prospect, the highest pitcher ranked. Also consider that Benito Santiago and Felipe Alou have been around this game for a significant amount of time, so the rave reviews Foppert has drawn from the two must equate to something.
And can you imagine? His coaches back at University of San Francisco had to literally beg him to just try pitching. When his Valley League team needed pitchers in the summer of 2000, Foppert finally agreed. No one's looked back since.
The converted infielder's rise through the minors has been rapid. A mere 12 months after signing with the Giants, Jesse Foppert was pitching for the Fresno Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants' AAA affiliate. He then went on to lead the minors with a ratio of 11.7 strikeouts every 9 innings. Standing at 6'6" and weighing in at 210, the slender pitcher has the perfect pitcher's physique and fluid mechanics to accompany it.
Foppert's repertoire comprises of a mid-90s fastball, a shuuto –a slider that takes a reverse action and runs in on righties, filthy splitter, and a changeup he almost never uses. (Foppert has also been learning to throw a curveball, though he has yet to try it in a game.) His fastball is absolutely dynamite and just jumps out of his hand, simply fooling hitters. Foppert's fastball averages between 94-97 mph, and has been clocked as high as 99 mph in Double-A Shreveport. Foppert got so many swings and misses with his fastball Double-A Shreveport, he hardly had to go to other pitches. However, if he wants to succeed in the majors, Foppert needs to develop his changeup and curveball.
Now, before you start screaming and demanding that Jesse Foppert be in the Giants rotation right now, there are a few things to consider.
At this point, it's highly unlikely that Jesse Foppert cracks the Opening Day roster for many reasons. First off, the Giants' rotation is pretty much set. With Livan Hernandez now gone, the rotation will consist of Kirk Rueter, Jason Schmidt, Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Ryan Jensen. It's improbable the Giants carry him as a long reliever either. The Giants don't plan on carrying 12 pitchers, and it's better for Foppert to spend time in Fresno, starting every fifth day than sitting in the bullpen waiting for a blow-out. Besides, Jesse Foppert's not your run-of-the-mill prospect – keeping him on the roster as a long reliever may do more harm than help.
The biggest question for Foppert is stamina. Also, unlike many of his peers, the 22-year-old righty was not groomed as a starting pitcher. He has been a full-time pitcher for merely two years and clearly lacks the endurance to go a full season. From August on, Foppert was obviously fatigued. Last year, he pitched only 140 innings in AA and AAA combined and only went over six innings just six times in 25 starts. He also yielded homeruns in 9 of 14 starts in AAA, including 3 games where he gave up a pair. Foppert also needs to work on pitch efficiency to lower his high pitch count.
The most likely scenario is that Foppert will return to Fresno to start the season. At the latest, he'll debut as a September call-up. Should any of the starters get injured, Foppert should be ready to spot start.
Jesse Foppert's got the stuff, talent, mindset, attitude, and mechanics to take him all the way to the top. It's just a matter of time.