Giants Top 50: #23 - Joe Bateman

The move from successful San Jose closer to pitching-friendly Double-A doesn't always go smoothly. And going into a year where a pitcher will turn 27 and hasn't yet pitched above Double-A is not a good recipe for a prospect. But with a sidearming motion, the reliever from Massachusetts still has some intriguing potential. #23 is Joe Bateman!

Date of Birth: 05/06/1980 Position: P Height: 6'2" Weight: 170 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 32nd Round (#967 Overall) of the 2002 Draft
2006 Stats
Connecticut - AA 4 6 3.75 53 0 10 72.0 65 37 30 3 23 77 .238 1.66

Joe Bateman wasn't just going to a pitcher friendly league; he was almost going home.

At 25, Bateman was coming off a successful 2005 season as closer in the California League, with 21 saves and a 1.91 ERA.  The move to Double-A was going to be his second stint at the level, after a late season callup in 2004.  But it was also about a three hour drive from where Bateman played college baseball, at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in northwestern Massachusetts.  Bateman might have been old for a prospect at the level, but him playing near home was expected to give him some extra motivation.

Unfortunately, things didn't start out right.  Bateman was hit hard in his first month, giving up 12 runs (9 earned) in just 7 innings in April.  While Bateman picked up 4 saves, more than in any other month, he eventually lost the fulltime closer to job to Billy Sadler, who had a very strong year.

Luckily, April didn't make up the 2006 season.  Bateman had a 2.60 ERA the following month, and a 2.91 ERA for the rest of the season after April, and while he only gained 6 more saves during the season, he posted very respectable stats overall despite the rough April he suffered.

That's not to say that Bateman's April was his only flaw in 2006.  He was uncharacteristically wild in August, giving up 10 walks in 16.2 innings, almost half of the 23 walks he gave up the entire season in one month.  He was also particularly susceptible to left handed batters, giving up a .288 average against.  But for all the dark spots in his 2006, there were just as many silver linings, which brings up a number of questions.

Was Bateman's sidearm motion the fault against left handed batters, with the baseball coming right into their bats, or can Bateman simply adjust to better left handed hitters with experience?  Was Bateman's April simply a bad month or a slow adjustment to the level, or is it (along with his wild August) an indication of streakiness he will battle his entire career?  And is he simply too old?

The hope for Bateman is to become like a former Giants farmhand, Scott Linebrink.  Linebrink is also a sidearmer who came to be one of the most successful setup men in a good San Diego Padres bullpen the past four seasons.  But does Bateman match Linebrink's career path?

Initially, the answer is no.  Linebrink moved through the minor league system with poorer numbers, but he also did it much young, and he made his major league debut in 2000 at the age of 24.

But he wasn't successful at a young age, and bounced between the majors (first with the Giants, then with the Houston Astros after being traded for Doug Henry) and Triple-A until 2003, just before he turned 27.  He was waived by the Astros in May after posting a 4.26 ERA in the majors, and was claimed by the Padres.  Now 27, he had a 2.82 ERA for San Diego that season and has been a lights out member of the Padres setup-rotation since.

It's notable that Bateman had far more success in the lower minors, but he did it at a younger age.  It's more notable that Linebrink didn't reach his peak until he turned 27, and that it's a possible that his rush to the majors despite poor minor league performance delayed his success, and wasted the years the Giants and Astros had rights to him with sub-par performances that hurt their teams more than helped.

Will the patience shown with Bateman pay off at the major league level?  Maybe.  Bateman, who turns 27 in May of 2007, still needs to face the pitcher's nightmare that is Fresno, and that's no small task, and then deal with the majors.  He's not likely to suddenly perform at the majors like Linebrink did, since Linebrink had gone through parts of 4 different seasons already at the big leagues.  But Bateman shouldn't have as long an adjustment period either, doing all of his adjustments at lower levels.

Bateman thrown a mid-90's sinking fastball, and mixes it with several breaking pitches.  He learned a cut fastball from former Salem-Keizer pitching coach Trevor Wilson (who could be reunited with Bateman if Wilson remains the pitching coach in Fresno), and that helped him out.  Sharpening the cut fastball with Wilson may help Bateman's luck with left handed hitters.

Bateman's ceiling isn't high.  He's not overwhelming enough to be a major league closer, but a sidearm pitcher is a valuable commodity in a bullpen.  His motion throws off traditional timing, a nice trick in late innings with the game on the line.  And Bateman's relative control and health is a bonus.  A setup man is not only realistic, it's what Bateman told in 2004 he prefers.

Whether or not this late-bloomer can stay on that track is a big question.  Before any major league questions can be answered, Bateman has to pass the Fresno test (and get there, for that matter).  2007 may be the last year for Bateman to make that final step in the minors, and set himself up to prove himself in the big leagues.

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