SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When asked about the young starting pitchers the Giants invited to camp, Brian Sabean was careful not to raise expectations, saying he didn't want to add unnecessary pressure. But not two minutes later, the general manager completely switched gears when talking about minor league reliever Derek Law.
"He's a name that we hope can carry over the fall league performance and actually try to make our club," Sabean said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he's in contention based on what we saw."
The Giants aren't setting a spring ceiling for Law, for good reason. The 23-year-old right-hander is coming off a remarkable minor league season. Law had a 2.31 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while pitching at three levels in 2013, and the higher he climbed, the better he pitched. In 22 relief appearances for the San Jose Giants, his last stop, Law gave up 20 hits and had a 2.10 ERA.
But the stat that really stands out is 45-1. That was Law's strikeout-to-walk ratio in 252/3 innings for San Jose.
"I just felt more comfortable with attacking hitters and not giving them too much credit," Law said. "They're going to swing and miss and ground out as long as I execute my pitch. For the most part, it was just attacking guys."
Law took that route Friday, pitching a quick 1-2-3 inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in his spring training debut. Whether it's March 31 in Phoenix or some time this summer, Law is a good bet to come storming out of the big league bullpen before the year is up. When he arrives, Giants fans will see one of the organization's most eye-opening deliveries. Law fully turns his back to the plate as he starts his delivery, the ball hidden from hitters who get nothing but a long look at his No. 64 before Law's momentum takes him forward. He has experimented with the turn and different leg kicks since high school, tweaking the delivery over time.
Giants fans have fond memories of twisting Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto after he bowed out of Game 1 of the 2012 National League Division Series, helping to set the stage for a Giants series victory. Law has different memories of Cueto; he watched him face the Pittsburgh Pirates last postseason and incorporated part of Cueto's exaggerated turn into his own delivery. Law also has watched Tim Lincecum closely.
"He doesn't really turn his back as much, but he really gets it going toward the plate," Law said of Lincecum. "The momentum, that's what I'm going for."
The Giants immediately moved Law from the rotation to the bullpen after selecting him in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, but they didn't ask him to alter his funky mechanics and haven't since.
"Maybe because they already have Lincecum," Law said, laughing.
Law can be just as unique when the ball is in the air. During a late August game last year, the closer entered in the ninth and immediately pumped in two 95 mph fastballs to get ahead of the count. "Watch this," a Giants executive said, turning to a row of scouts and winking. The strikeout pitch that came next goes by different names. Law says he throws two variations of a slider, but the front office has a different description for Law's "out pitch."
"He's got a pitch that you don't see: It's a down curveball that's almost like a real hard (split-finger fastball)," Sabean said. "This guy has got legitimate stuff."
Law has heard it described as a "drop-ball." His catcher in San Jose, Jeff Arnold, says the pitch has "really late downward movement from a high arm slot." It tends to produce a familiar result.
"The ball breaks so much that you see that body lean from hitters," Arnold said. "They lean back and their knees buckle. And because they start preparing for that, they're late on his fastball."
Mix the arsenal with pinpoint command, and you have a pitcher who is rising through the organization as quickly as that fastball gets on hitters. Law solidified his status in the Arizona Fall League, where the game's best prospects gather every October. He was the only pitcher to not give up a run, striking out 16 in 121/3 innings. Sabean called those performances "lights out."
"You can't do what he did in the fall league and not be taken seriously," he added.
In his first big league camp, Law is being taken very seriously. The Giants have two spots open in the bullpen, and closer Sergio Romo is a free agent at the end of the season. Law and Heath Hembree are the most intriguing in-house replacements. Hembree debuted last season, and if Law makes it this year, he'll edge his father, Joe, who was called up for three games by the A's in 1988 but never saw the field. A path to family bragging rights has been laid out for Law, and his friends back home have made sure he knows it, sending texts any time he is mentioned by management.
"You try not to read all of that stuff," Law said, pausing and shaking his head, a wide smile breaking across his face. "But I have the mentality that I can compete against everybody."
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Giants reliever Derek Law shot up the farm system in 2013, putting up stellar
numbers at three levels. Here's a look at his season:
Class IP ERA SO BB
Rookie 5.2 3.18 9 1
Single-A 35.0 2.31 48 10
High-A 25.2 2.10 45 1
Totals 66.1 2.31 102 12