On the return of Eric Surkamp

Tony Medina

From June:

Add in that the Giants are probably going to be cautious with Surkamp's rehab, stretching him out a little bit at a time in the Cal League, and there's about a two-percent chance we see him this year.

But it's a two-percent chance I didn't think we had yesterday. Surkamp was one of my favorite prospects before he was hurt, and now he's back.

Things we didn't expect: 1. Mike Kickham's complete implosion; 2. the doubleheader; 3. the Inquisition. Add those up, and you get Eric Surkamp making his 2013 debut for the big club, just a couple months after it seemed like there was complete radio silence on his rehab and progress.

Surkamp was never a top prospect, but he did this before he was called up:

Year Age Lev ERA GS IP H HR BB SO
2011 23 AA-A+ 1.94 23 148.1 114 5 45 170
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/23/2013.

He was 23 -- not exactly young for his league, but all but one of those starts was in Double-A. Richmond is an extreme pitcher's park in an extreme pitcher's league, but at every level he had limited the walks, kept the ball in the yard, and struck out well over a batter per inning. He wasn't a prospect because he didn't throw 93, but then neither does Mike Leake, Mike Minor, Travis Wood, or Tommy Milone. It's possible to be a solid contributor without overpowering velocity, and the hope was that Surkamp would be one of those guys.

Then he came up, threw 85 to 89 m.p.h., and couldn't find the strike zone. I hadn't had such a disconnect between excitement and reality since the trailer for Terminator Salvation. Really, what it reminded me of, to a much lesser extent, was Jesse Foppert. I wanted to have a viewing party for his televised spring debut in 2003, and then … a bunch of 91/92 and breaking stuff that wasn't sharp.

In both cases, it was because Tommy John was lurking in the shadows. Literally. Like, I have two-thirds of a screenplay written about a guy going across the country, drugging young athletes, opening them up, and biting through their UCLs with his teeth. The twist is that it's actually Tommy John, who has completely snapped. If you know a producer … well, never mind. The point is that both of those pitchers broke.

And in both cases, there was a disturbing amount of non-news. A year passed in Surkamp's case, and there was still nothing. Some pitchers come back after a year. There wasn't even a blip on Surkamp, though. The offseason came and went, and he was never removed from the 40-man roster, but that was about the only good news. I fully figured I'd read about his DFA on afternoon in the bottom of a Baseball America update.

So that's one of the reasons why I'm excited about his return. Because he's returning at all. Tommy John surgery isn't magic, and sometimes the pitchers never come back right. Maybe the best example in baseball from the last decade is Foppert.

The other reason I'm excited is that the Giants need pitchers in the upper minors. Kickham wasn't necessarily ready, but the Giants didn't have a lot of options. This applies to next year, too. The Giants will need to replace Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum, most likely. And when they do, they'll still have to worry about pitchers being pitchers and getting hurt. They'll need fifth starters, but they'll also need depth.

In 2011, that depth was Surkamp. Turns out, we were only three or four seasons off. The Giants could have shifted Mike Kickham's schedule around if they just needed an arm, but they figured that Surkamp gave them a better chance to win. That's promising. There's probably going to be a lot of misery packed into Tuesday's doubleheader. But at least we get Eric Surkamp. Hopefully he does well enough to make us this excited in the offseason, too.

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