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Prospect Press: Eric Surkamp, San Francisco Giants
Dan Port | Wednesday September 7th, 2011
Despite his size, Eric Surkamp is a control pitcher. (Icon SMI)
Despite his size, Eric Surkamp is a control pitcher. (Icon SMI)

From young minor league prospects to rookie big-league talent, Prospect Press will be providing an inside look at baseball's best talent for years to come. Today's Prospect Press focuses on San Francisco Giants prospect Eric Surkamp.

The Giants are already a pitching-rich team, but just two starts into his big league career, lefthanded starting pitcher Eric Surkamp looks like he is well on his way to fitting in with ace Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants rotation.

Surkamp was recalled directly from Double-A Richmond in late August and, in a pair of major league starts (with a brief demotion in between), he has already made a good impression by tossing 11 innings and tallying a win, with six strikeouts, four walks, and four runs allowed.  Those two turns came after a stellar minor league season, mostly for Richmond, in which the 24 year old had an 11-4 win-loss record, a 1.94 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and 170 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings (24 games).  Those numbers came on the heels of a strong (but injury-shortened) 2010 season for High-A San Jose that propelled him to the number nine spot in Baseball America's ranking of Giants prospects.  The 2010 injury was a dislocated hip that, so far, hasn't had any lingering effects on Eric's game.

Despite a fastball that only tops out in the high 80s, Surkamp has averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) in his minor league career, including a 10.3 rate during his 2011 minor league campaign.  The reason for this high strikeout rate is three-fold: Surkamp's fastball has a natural sink and deceptiveness, he has advanced command of his curveball and changeup, and he has excellent overall control and an ability to work within the strike zone (as evidenced by a minor league career 470 to 111 strikeout-to-walk rate).  Most pitchers of Eric's six-foot four-inch stature have blistering fastball velocity, but the North Carolina State product is really more of a finesse and control pitcher, though his large frame may allow him to add a bit more velocity as his professional career advances.

In his two big league starts, Surkamp has relied mostly on his fastball and his curve.  He's averaged 87.5 miles per hour on his heater and has thrown it about 60 percent of the time, while he has averaged 76.8 miles per hour on his curveball and has thrown that for roughly 30 percent of his pitches (source: Fangraphs).  He hasn't been forced to enlist his changeup very often in those two outings, which is certainly a good sign thus far.  When he does start utilizing his change, which Baseball America also considered a "plus pitch", Surkamp might start piling up more strikeouts and asserting himself as one of baseball's better young pitching prospects.  If he can, he could develop into a pitcher similar to his teammate Madison Bumgarner, to whom he is sometimes compared.

From a fantasy baseball perspective, it's probably too early to draw any big conclusions on Surkamp.  His efficient and control-oriented arsenal might not lead to as many big league strikeouts as he had as a farmhand, which would put him on the fantasy fringe.  Right now, he's serving as the Giants fifth starter, but his role there is completely contingent upon the progress that incumbent starter Jonathan Sanchez is making in his recovery from a sprained ankle.  If Sanchez does not make a return this year, Surkamp will almost certainly stay in the rotation, though he could be skipped regularly to help him avoid arm fatigue and to place more of the Giants' playoff hopes on the already-established top four of Lincecum, Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Ryan Vogelsong.  Owners in deeper leagues could play him based on matchups, but until we see more out of Surkamp, his potential fantasy contributions are still unclear.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.