Cain (Baseball America)
Background: The Memphis area has become a hotbed for baseball talent, and two of its best prep products reached the major leagues in 2005 as Cain and the Pirates’ Paul Maholm broke through. With all due respect to Maholm, Cardinals farmhand Stuart Pomeranz (Cain’s former Houston High teammate) and the rest, Cain is clearly the best of that group. He opened 2005 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A and led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts. He made his big league debut Aug. 29 against the Rockies and was impressive in a 2-1 loss. San Francisco won four of his last six starts as he led the majors in opponent batting average (.148) in September. He became the youngest San Francisco Giant ever to spin a complete game when he two-hit the Cubs on Sept. 9. Cain was the youngest player in the National League all season, and only former PCL foil Felix Hernandez was younger in the majors in 2005.
Strengths: Hernandez also is one of the few pitchers in Cain’s class in terms of upside. The Giants believe he has the stuff and intangibles to be a No. 1 starter. Cain has the kind of fastball that pitchers dream of, because he throws it hard with relative ease. He can throw it for strikes, and the more he uses it, the better he commands it. Cain realized that in the major leagues, pitched off his fastball and found he could dominate with it. His fastball velocity sits at 93-94 mph with good sinking life, and he can dial it up to 97. His curveball also is a plus pitch, a hard downer in the upper 70s. The Giants mandated that Cain use his changeup more often in 2005. He started to trust it more and it has become a solid-average third pitch. His delivery is fairly clean and repeatable, and he’s a student of the game who isn’t satisfied with being just good enough. After his first big league start, he was more interested to find out what he needed to do for his next outing than in reveling in his accomplishment. He even handles the bat well.
Weaknesses: The Giants’ biggest worry with Cain is throwing strikes. While he can pitch out of jams, he gets in trouble with walks and also takes himself out of games early because of higher-than-necessary pitch counts. He ranked third in the PCL in walks because he nibbled at hitters too much early in the count, and when he was ahead, he sometimes thought too much about setting them up rather than challenging them. He was more efficient down the stretch as he realized he was better when he attacked hitters relentlessly.
The Future: Jesse Foppert is the only homegrown Giants pitcher who has approached Cain’s stuff in the last decade. However, Cain’s mental toughness, dedication and preparation set him apart from Foppert, who got hurt in 2003 and was traded to the Mariners in 2005. Not only is Cain a lock to start for San Francisco in 2006, but he should front the Giants rotation for years to come. He’s the player most likely to be the face of the franchise after Barry Bonds’ retirement.