10/30/22 : 2022 Phillies Minor League Standouts - Part Two - Relievers
Updated: Nov 6, 2022
Thought I’d sneak in an article on the minor leagues during the World Series off day - it’s a continuation of the series I started back on October 3rd. While the present is a really cool time with the Fighten’s battling for the 2022 top crown the future is still a vital focus for sustaining success - so here’s a look on some intriguing relievers we saw this past minor league season that may just push their way to the show one day soon. Note : I believe that many folks will be pleased with the depth in pitching that presents itself in a positive light next season - it’s gonna be a surprise to some but not to those of us who’ve been watching with more intent, good things are gonna happen. Ya heard it here 🤓.
I’ll focus on just a few hurlers that I believe have put themselves in a good position going into 2023 spring training. While my opinions are not built upon seasonal or short term stats I will reference them but note that I rely more upon my observations, coaches/scouts feedback and positive values I saw develop as the year progressed. Since Fall Instructs were cut short ( due to Hurricane Ian ) the new draftees and un-drafted free agent signings will be out of scope for this series - I simply haven’t seen them enough nor did they play enough games this summer to consider them as 2022 standouts.
This will be a limited list of pitchers - in my ongoing off-season “work” I will write my observations on every pitcher I saw play this past summer either in person or via our daily/nightly routine of MILB TV viewership or other video feeds.
Having a reliable bullpen has become a major league requirement for success as further evidenced by this season and post season. The ability to produce internal options for either full or part time roles is vital for the Phillies to have ongoing winning ways, the goal is to become a pitching factory that develops multiple options.
If ya missed part one on position players here’s a link - https://www.philliesbaseballfan.com/post/10-3-22-2022-phillies-minor-league-standouts
So here goes - A fan’s view of the 2022 Phillies Minor League Standouts - Relief Pitchers. Part three will be coming later on starting pitchers.
RH Francisco Morales : 22 years old - signed as an international free agent on 7/2/16 - no one doubts the quality of the pitch repertoire that Francisco possesses, his slider is truly major league plus and his capabilities of fastball velocity in the upper nineties are what make the well liked young man so intriguing. The club moved him exclusively to the bullpen this past season so that he could focus primarily on the slider and it got him to the big leagues in May.
The primarily issues that Francisco has battled throughout his career are both control and command related. Even when we first saw him on the backfields and marveled at the “stuff” he was inconsistent in his ability to throw strikes. This year the player development emphasis in pitching has been on trusting your abilities and letting pitch movement override necessarily “pitching to spots” which for Francisco is a great approach … however finding consistency remained a 2022 season long process.
He’s been very good in the Arizona Fall League ( 7 appearances ( 8 2/3 IP ) with a 0.92 WHIP and has struck out 12 batters ) - that’s a great sign - took it as a challenge to prove that he’s a big league back end weapon. We’ve believed all along he’s gonna get there - spring camp should afford a long look for him.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 92 to 96 mph - max 97-99 ), slider ( 84 to 89 mph ) and change up ( 86 to 89 mph ).
RH Brett Schulze : 24 years old - 2019 seventh round draft selection - University of Minnesota - Brett had Tommy John surgery and missed the entirety of the 2021 season - in fact he hadn’t appeared in a pro game since pitching for Williamsport in 2019. We saw multiple bullpens and live BP sessions this spring and early summer at the complex before he returned to game action on July 2nd with the FCL Phillies, from there he moved up the chain pitching at Clearwater and Jersey Shore before finishing at Reading.
He’s a power pitcher with his fastball sitting in the mid nineties and he has shown the ability to reach the upper ranges - he’s tightened up his secondary offerings - has a sweeping slider with a sharp curve ball in reserve to use against lefties. Brett pitched very well this summer - he had a stellar month of August - a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 IP with 12 K’s and 6 walks. He has pitched in 7 Arizona Fall League games - 1.23 ERA ( 7 1/3 IP ) with a 1.09 WHIP.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 93 to 97 mph - max 97 ), slider ( 82 to 85 mph ) and curve ( 74 to 82 mph )
LH Taylor Lehman : 26 years old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 6/18/18 - Penn State - Taylor had Tommy John surgery in June of 2021, he returned to game action in July of 2022 initially with the FCL Phillies eventually working his way back to Reading where he appeared in 15 games ( 4 as an opener ) and posted a 3.74 ERA in 21 2/3 IP - however that number is inflated by one bad outing on August 27th when he was touched for six runs in 2/3 IP - in the other 14 appearances his ERA was 1.28.
When he was at the complex earlier this year his velocity had ticked up on his fastball to sit in the 93 to 95 mph range and he was further developing spin and break on his slider to go along with a curve and change up. He’s appeared in 6 games in the Arizona Fall League as he continues to pitch there to conclude the initial season in his comeback. We think that 2023 will be a strong one for the 6’8” lefty.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 90 to 94 mph - max 96 ), slider ( 78 to 86 mph ) and curve ( 77 to 79 mph )
RH Andrew Baker : 22 years old - 2021 11th round draft choice - Chipola Junior College, Florida - When you watch him pitch the elite level velocity certainly stands out but I’m equally impressed with his slider which in itself is a put away pitch. We see both as big league quality pitches.
Andrew began the year with Jersey Shore and had a rough start to the season in April, things improved in May where with the exception of one bad outing he yielded only one run in seven appearances. June was similar as a singular bad outing skewed the stat line. Consistency was found in July - August was stellar ( 14 1/3 IP in 10 games - 1.89 ERA ) and September was even better ( 0.87 ERA in 5 games - 10 1/3 IP at AA level Reading ).
He finished the season with 72 K’s in 54 1/3 IP combined ( Jersey Shore & Reading ) and a 3.98 overall ERA ( 1.34 WHIP ). Cutting down on free passes ( 4.80 BB/9 ) is key to future success - has strikeout stuff ( 11.93 K/9 ) along with the strength and moxy to be a big league back end reliever. Should start 2023 in Reading with a good chance of reaching the show at some point during the summer. Can become a real backend weapon.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 97 to 100 mph - max 101 ), change up ( 84 to 86 ), slider ( 78 to 83 mph ) and curve ( 80 to 81 mph )
RH Andrew Schultz : 25 years old - 2019 6th round draft selection - University of Tennessee - has a short arm delivery where the baseball gives the appearance to the hitter of getting to the plate even quicker - that’s huge when the velocity is already in the upper nineties to 100 mph range to begin with.
When he’s able to repeat his mechanics and stay in the strike zone Andrew can dominate hitters - he struck out 62 batters in 44 2/3 IP this past season with Jersey Shore & Reading - actually pitched better at the AA level than High A - a 2.45 ERA in 14 games ( 14 2/3 IP ) but a 1.84 WHIP. The slider is a put away weapon - as the summer progressed he got a better feel for it.
2022 was his first year back from a two year absence from pitching ( 2020 lost season & 2021 Tommy John surgery recovery ). That being considered this coming season could be an even more successful one as it’s not unusual for the first year back to include some command struggles. He’s got a big league arm and the makeup to pitch in high pressure innings - likely starts with Reading in 2023 but could have higher level impact thereafter.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 95 to 100 mph - max 100 ), slider ( 84 to 93 mph ) and change up ( 87 to 88 mph ).
RH Jonh Henriquez : 22 years old - signed as an international free agent 6/7/22 - from San Francisco de Marcaris, Dominican Republic. We only have seen him pitch once in person - in a live BP session during Fall Instructs but the stuff was so electric he makes our list here. The fastball has rising level life, velocity and movement and the slider was biting - we’ve seen a lot of pitchers but few show stuff that jumps at you in a first impression like what we saw from Henriquez.
Jonh pitched for the DSL Red team this summer in 5 games and struck out 7 batters while walking 4 in 6 IP. He converted 2 of 3 save opportunities. A walk on to the academy this summer he just might become a great discovery.
We expect to see him stateside this spring and in the mix for a full season assignment - if he continues to throw like what we saw this fall then it could become a quick climb up the ladder.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 94 to 97 mph - max 97 ) and slider ( 79 to 83 mph )
RH Nicoly Pina : 23 years old - signed as an international free agent 5/3/18 from San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. Nicoly missed over two seasons of baseball after incurring Tommy John surgery - ignore the limited stats from this year as they are not reflective of the power arm he possesses. In this coming season we expect to see the hurler we first saw in action in 2019 on the backfields during Gulf Coast League play - a dominant fastball with late life and a put away slider. He’s been working on a change up as well - that’s a good offset as his two primary pitches are velo driven deliveries. I’ve been touting him for awhile now - think it’s gonna come to fruition in 2023.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 92 to 96 mph - max 97 ), change up ( 85 to 86 mph ) and slider ( 79 to 85 mph )
RH Eiberson Castellano : 21 years old - signed 7/2/18 from Maracaibo, Venezuela. Has a presence about him on the mound and big time movement and spin on his deliveries ( in particular the curve ball ) - the RPM is consistently above major league average. We saw him first in 2021 Fall Instructs and then in extended spring before he debuted with the Threshers. I list him as a reliever but he’s capable of starting as well, certainly can pitch multiple innings. He had a very good stretch of games in May and June with Clearwater ( 9 appearances - 31 IP - 2.03 ERA - 40 K’s - 10 BB ) in which he showcased his abilities - it was decided to shut down his season after reaching 50 innings. We see him as either returning to CW to begin 2023 else as part of the High A staff at Jersey Shore with a very bright future ahead of him.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 90 to 94 mph - max 95 ), curve ( 77 to 81 mph ) and change up ( 85 to 87 mph ).
RH Tommy McCollum : 23 years old - signed as an amateur free agent from Wingate on July 20, 2021. Some pitchers just look the part of a major leaguer and when you see them throw the baseball it becomes even more evident.
He was dominating Low A play this summer with Clearwater before incurring an ankle injury ( 1.45 ERA in 23 games - 31 IP with 52 K’s and 16 BB ). Tommy sits mid to upper nineties with his fastball and has a sharp slider and drop off the table splitter that are capable of being plus pitches at the highest level. He gets great movement on each, nothing is straight - the splitter is a put away pitch. He’s a big fella at 6’5” which portrays the part of an intimidating back end reliever. We saw him throw again this fall at the complex and continued to be impressed.
We envision a quick climb up the ladder in 2023 with the outside chance of even helping the big club at some point - just think he’s that good.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 94 to 97 mph - max 98 ), splitter ( 83 to 88 mph ) and slider ( 82 to 87 mph )
LH Erik Miller : 24 years old - 2019 4th round draft selection - Stanford. The development plan for Erik this past season was to acclimate a routine where he could focus on his power arsenal, work between appearances with side sessions and weight lifting training and build back repetitive strength in his shoulder which had been a lingering issue. He’s no longer hindered by the shoulder and is now a full time reliever going forward. A lefty with a power arsenal can be a valuable asset. The numbers at Reading are more in line with expectancies and capabilities ( 2.23 ERA in 36 IP ) than his late season stint with Lehigh Valley however that experience can prove to be valuable for next season. Erik needs to be much more consistent in both control and command ( 5.77 BB/9 is way to high ) but the stuff can certainly play at the highest level. He will come into 2023 spring camp with an opportunity to turn heads.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 91 to 96 mph - max 96 ), slider ( 85 to 86 mph ) and change up ( 81 to 84 mph ).
RH Cristian Hernandez : 22 years old - signed as an international free agent 7/9/17 from Cumana, Venezuela. Cristian moved to a multi inning bullpen role with Jersey Shore this summer after having a strong season in 2021 as a starter with the Clearwater Threshers. He’s got a plus change-up and sweeping slider and can pop the fastball consistently in the mid nineties. He will flash the use of his curve ball - particularly against left handed hitters. He’s had a very good extended season in the Arizona Fall League - has appeared in 7 games ( 10 IP ) and has posted a 0.90 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP with 9 K’s and 2 BB - he’s yielded just 4 hits and the only run he has surrendered came on a home run. Another young man who could either start or relieve going forward - has the mix to do both. Should make his way to AA level Reading at some point in 2023 if not directly out of spring camp.
The speed gun : fastball ( sits in a range of 93 to 95 mph - max 97 ), slider ( 90 to 93 mph ), change up ( 83 to 85 mph ) and curve ( 76 to 78 mph )
Thanks to Matt Winkleman ( Phillies Minor Thoughts ) for his diligent efforts in detailing the speed gun readings.
Part three if this series ( starting pitchers ) is on the horizon - Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
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Photos by Mark Wylie, George Youngs Jr and Casey Burns