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Ex-Gibbs star shines for Giants' farm team

How has Boof Bonser been doing since the San Francisco Giants drafted him in the first round last year?

For a briefing, just log on to Click on "Giants" and their minor league Mid-Season Report will pop up. The first category is "Best Player."

That's where you'll find Bonser listed _ as the Giants' best minor league player.

Barely a year removed from Gibbs High School, Bonser, 19, has made the jump from prep phenom to minor league standout.

Playing his first full professional season for the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the Class A South Atlantic League, Bonser is 10-2 in 18 starts with a 2.38 ERA. In 83 innings, he has allowed 58 hits and 42 walks and struck out 110.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander always has been blessed with a laser fastball.

Mastering control of his heater and developing strong complementary pitches _ a curveball and changeup _ are the most important factors in his development.

So far, so good.

"I'm learning how to pitch," Bonser said. "My curve and changeup, I'm throwing them more and learning different grips. And I'm getting my pitches over."

Suns pitching coach Jerry Cram said Bonser, who is allowed between 80 and 100 pitches a start, has been an apt student.

"We calmed his delivery down a bit and made it as compact as we can," said Cram, who said Bonser averages about 92 mph on his fastball and tops out at 96.

"He wants to learn. He wants to improve, and some of this stuff is really starting to kick in. He's had a handful of games where he's been outstanding."

Of course, the jump from preps to pros involves a lot more than improving your pitching mechanics.

Bonser is coping with 12-hour bus rides and extended periods on the road. He's playing against older and, in some cases, better players. And the season is much longer.

"I'm getting used to the long, boring bus rides," Bonser said. "You have to grow up some time, and I'm doing that right now."

There was some initial turbulence last season. Bonser struggled in rookie ball, going 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA at short-season Salem-Keizer (Ore.), and some questioned if he was worthy of the 21st overall pick.

Bonser responded with some hard winter conditioning workouts, trimming his weight to 215 pounds by the start of spring training.

He has been mowing down opponents ever since, averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

"He's a proven power pitcher," said Giants farm director Dick Tidrow, who was a big-league pitcher for 13 years. "He's one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, and he's done real well.

"He's sharpened up his breaking ball, added a changeup, and he still has the power we thought he'd have, 94, 95, 96 mph, with pretty darn good control. He's really dominating that league."

Bonser said Thursday his goal is to do better in the second half of the season. That night, in his first start of the second half, he was superb. In 5 innings, he allowed one hit and two walks and struck out 10 in earning his 10th win.

Cram spent 26 years coaching in the Kansas City Royals system, working with such top-notch breaking ball pitchers as Brett Saberhagen, Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier and David Cone.

For the past three seasons, Cram coached in the Colorado Rockies system, and he compares Bonser's stuff to that of Shawn Chacon, a right-hander who cracked the Rockies' major-league rotation this year.

At this rate, Bonser could be called up to the Giants' highest Class A team, San Jose (Calif.), by the end of the year.

"I can't worry about that, just about how I'm doing," Bonser said.

"I'm feeling fine. I'm feeling strong. I've got no worries."