LOS ANGELES -- Most of the Giants' top minor league talent is at the lowest stages of the farm system, but one former phenom stands out on the roster at Triple-A Fresno.

Right-hander Jesse Foppert was assigned to the Grizzlies after an encouraging spring. Four years after elbow reconstruction surgery, he hopes to re-establish himself as a relief pitcher.

"It's the best I've felt in three years," said Foppert, 27. "I'm just starting to get the feel back. Sometimes it's like I'm throwing for the first time."

Once considered the best pitching prospect in baseball, Foppert made 21 starts as a rookie in 2003 but required "Tommy John" surgery. He made two brief appearances the following two seasons before the Giants shipped him to Seattle in the trade for Randy Winn.

Foppert had another procedure after the '06 season to remove scar tissue that was pressing on a nerve, which caused numbness in his hand. He never pitched for the Mariners, and when they released Foppert last spring, the Giants immediately picked him up.

Foppert began to give glimpses of his old self in minor league games this spring, though they weren't consistent.

"The arm strength is still there," said Giants catcher Steve Holm, who worked with Foppert in minor league camp last year. "We'd go play long toss and you'd see the ball jumping out of his hand like it used to."

Said minor league catcher Todd Jennings: "He'd blow away one batter, then walk the next guy on four pitches. But the stuff is there."

Now it's up to Foppert to harness it.

"I know I've got that life back," he said. "Relieving is the thing for me now. I think that's the way my arm is responding the best."

Moving up the ladder

Another surprising name on the Triple-A roster was infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who is skipping a level even though he was overwhelmed when he started last season at Single-A San Jose.

General manager Brian Sabean said Burriss is ready to play at a higher level, and he didn't want to subject him to the rough weather that is common early in the season at Double-A Connecticut.

Burriss will play shortstop until Brian Bocock returns to the minor leagues in another week. Then Burriss will see time at both middle infield positions.

Short hops

Sabean said the Giants haven't found much trade interest for Steve Kline, who was designated for assignment on Sunday. The team has a little more than a week remaining before it must trade or waive the veteran left-hander. ... The Dodgers' pregame festivities Monday inspired Giants right-hander Keiichi Yabu, especially when Fernando Valenzuela was introduced to wild applause. Yabu played with Valenzuela in Mexicali in the Mexican winter league in 2006. "Fastball, 81 mph. Screwball, too," said Yabu, looking heavenward as he imitated Valenzuela's delivery. "He was good."

-- Andrew Baggarly, MediaNews staff