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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

11/7/23 : Annual Phillies Minor League Player Notes - Pitchers - Part Ten

Last off-season I started a different writing venture - rather than producing a hard copy version of what was an annual Phillies Minor League Digest I went with a new approach and posted a series of articles on the webpage instead.  A large portion of the digest was my player notes - views that are not entirely built upon seasonal or short term stats - while I referenced them I relied more upon my observations and feedback from players and coaches.

This off-season we continue the series  “Annual Phillies Minor League Player Notes”with profiles presented in groupings by defensive positions.  I intend to offer notes on every stateside player I watched perform this past season (191 in total) that finished the 2023 season with the organization.  I can attest that I actually watched most every Phillies minor league game each evening, attended practices and interacted with a vast amount of players, coaches, scouts and front office folks.  Recently I sent a couple questions to the players - asked them what was their  biggest personal takeaway from the 2023 season and what they are focusing on this off-season to prepare for 2024.  Where I have responses I will include them in the notes.  Also where I’m able I will include feedback from coaches and player development leadership.

The initial set of articles will be on pitchers.  I’ll present notes on 103 pitchers done in alphabetical order. The first nine articles previously published - see the links if you missed them.  Today we focus on group ten.

Group 10 : Estibenzon Jimenez, Damon Jones, Nathan Karaffa, Orion Kerkering, Keylan Killgore

Group 1 :  Mick Abel, Samuel Aldegheri, Luis Alcala, Shaun Anderson, Erubiel Armenta -

Group 3 : Malik Binns, Josh Bortka, Ben Bowden, Connor Brogdon, Blake Brown -

Group 4 : Cam Brown, Jean Cabrera, Eiberson Castellano, Starlyn Castillo, Ethan Chenault, Ty Collins -

Group 5 : Gabriel Cotto, Hans Crouse, Jack Dallas, Trey Dillard, Jake Eddington -

Group 6 : Jaydenn Estanista, Braeden Fausnaught, Jordan Fowler, Carlos Francisco, Javier Fuenmayor -

Group 7 : Marty Gair, Alex Garbrick, Eric Garcia, Tristan Garnett, Drew Garrett -

Group 8 : Luis Gomez, Mavis Graves, Zach Haake, Daniel Harper, Josh Hendrickson -

Group 9 : Jonh Henriquez, Cristian Hernandez, Jakob Hernandez, Chase Hopewell, Drew Hutchinson -

The following groups will be discussed in future articles :

Group 11 : George Klassen, Taylor Lehman, Adam Leverett, Hunter Loyd, Rafael Marcano

Group 12 : Jordi Martinez, Gunner Mayer, Tommy McCollum, Alex McFarlane, Griff McGarry

Group 13 : Christian McGowan, Tyler McKay, Oswald Medina, Daniel Mejia, Jhordany Mezquita

Group 14 : McKinley Moore, Wesley Moore, Nick Nelson, Mitch Neunborn, Luis Ortiz

Group 15 : Matt Osterberg, Micah Ottenbreit, Andrew Painter, Wen Hui Pan, David Parkinson

Group 16 : Jose Pena Jr, Hector Perez, Jonathan Petit, Tyler Phillips, Dominic Pipkin

Group 17 : Michael Plassmeyer, Alex Rao, Jason Ruffcorn, Matt Russell, Luke Russo

Group 18 : Rodolfo Sanchez, Brett Schulze, Andrew Schultz, Eduar Segovia, Enrique Segura, Casey Steward

Group 19 : Noah Skirrow, Saul Teran, Paxton Thompson, Braydon Tucker, Erich Uelmen, Guissepe Velasquez

Group 20 : Ezequiel Ventura, Jace Vines, Andrew Walling, Jeremy Walker, Danny Wilkinson, Cam Wynne

So we continue - the tenth article in the 2023 series on pitchers  ⚾️🤓.

RHP Estibenzon Jimenez  - 21 years old - signed as an international free agent 11/27/19 - San Felipe, Venezuela

2023 Stats :  appeared in 21 regular season games for the Low A Clearwater Threshers making 19 starts.  He recorded a 3.60 ERA in 90 innings pitched during the regular season with 78 strikeouts and 39 walks, posted a 1.36 WHIP.  Averaged 16.28 pitches per inning pitched and had a 64 % strike ratio.  An additional seven innings over two games in the playoffs brought his career high in innings for a season to 97 which is more than double what he threw in each of his first two years as a professional.  He was dominant in his second playoff game recording six strikeouts in three scoreless frames.   “Jimmy” has a career 2.81 ERA in 51 appearances (DSL,FCL, Low A) over 179.2 IP with a 1.36 WHIP, a 68 % strike ratio and a 12.36 pitches per inning pitched average.

2023 Notes :   have liked his game since I first saw him on the backfields a couple years ago.  Voted the best changeup in the Florida State League in a Baseball America poll for this season.  He gets after it, doesn’t waste pitches, doesn’t back down from situations and displays a passion for the game.  Has the ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes - a sinker in the 91 to 94 mph range, four seamer sitting 92 to 95 mph, touching 96, slider,changeup,cutter and curve ball. Focuses on fastball, changeup and slider, is a smart pitcher who can read hitters reactions and use that to his advantage.  The repertoire of pitches along with the skill set and moxie is his ticket up the ladder.

Pitching Coordinator Travis Hergert : “Fills up the strike zone with three quality pitches. A durable arm that continues to increase velocity each season. Great feel for his change-up.”

2024 Projection :   should bump up to High A Jersey Shore out of spring camp as a starter.

LHP Damon Jones - 29 years old - drafted in 18th round of the 2017 draft from Washington State University, WA

2023 Stats :  did not appear in games - spent the year at the complex working with the rehab team.

2023 Notes :   has missed most of the past two seasons, had shoulder surgery in 2022.  Last game hit pitched in was 5/22/22 for Lehigh Valley against Rochester.   He made the big league opening day roster out of spring training in 2022, has pitched in five major league games.  When healthy he’s got major league stuff - plus slider and solid fastball - 6’5” frame extends release point - slider is a dominant pitch, swing and miss - can be a key contributor in a major league bullpen.  His fastball sits in a range of 90 to 94 mph - max 96, plus slider, change up and curve.  We saw him in a bullpen session in September, continues to progress towards a return.

Damon’s reflections :  “Hi Steve, I’d have to say just learning how every little detail matters coming back from surgery and every day isn’t going to be great but you have to push through and find the effort each day.  I’m still not where I want to be yet but I’m confident that I can put every bit of effort I have in each day of the off-season to be a good healthy pitcher, a good husband, and a good father.  If I can take care of those things then wherever baseball takes me next year I’ll be in the right place.”

2024 Projection :  eligible for minor league free agency

RHP Nathan Karaffa  - 22 years old - drafted in 20th round of the 2022 draft from Ohio State University, OH

2023 Stats :  pitched in 19 games (33.2 IP) between the FCL Phillies (8 games - 14.1 IP - 1.88 ERA) and the Clearwater Threshers (11 games - 19.1 IP - 3.72 ERA) posting an overall ERA of 2.94 with 25 strikeouts and 21 walks, 1.54 WHIP, an average of 13.87 pitches per inning and a 61 % strike ratio.  Also pitched in three playoff games, two and a third innings.

2023 Notes :  was a two way player in college, pitched and played center field so this year’s development focus was on gaining mound experience.  Started the year in extended spring training and pitched very well, threw 12 innings and posted 11 K’s with a 1.50 ERA.  Was promoted to the Threshers on 7/18/23 and after initially struggling settled in nicely - 2.70 ERA in last nine regular season games - 16.2 IP.  Features a fastball (90 to 93 mph), cutter, slider and curve.

Nate’s reflections :  “Biggest takeaways were learning how to be a pro and learning about yourself with a longer schedule and getting into routines and staying consistent.  Off season I’m looking to improve velocity and get in depth with some mechanical changes.”

2024 Projection :  will compete for a Jersey Shore or Clearwater roster spot in spring training.

RHP Orion Kerkering - 22 years old - drafted in 5th round of the 2022 draft from University of South Florida, FL

2023 Stats :  an overall 4-1 minor league record with a 1.51 ERA in 49 games (53.2 IP) with 79 strikeouts and only 12 walks.  He posted a 0.89 WHIP and a .186 BAA.  Average number of pitches per inning pitched was 15.24 and his strike ratio was 67 %.  Pitched in 9 games at Low A Clearwater - 0.00 ERA, 18 games at High A Jersey Shore - 1.77 ERA, 21 games at AA level Reading - 2.05 ERA and one game with AAA level Lehigh Valley - 0.00 ERA before being promoted to the major leagues on 9/22/23 and appearing in three major league regular season games (3 IP) and seven playoff games (5.1 IP).

2023 Notes :  1990 was the first year that the High A classification was separated and made distinct from Class A in the minor leagues.  By doing so it established four levels of minor league full season classification; Triple A, Double A, High A and Low A. No minor league player in Phillies history had ever played at each full-season level and in the major leagues in the same season before Orion did so this year, to top it off he also pitched in the major league playoffs.  Back in spring training I was told by a scout to go watch him pitch in a live BP session on Ashburn Field, he dominated that outing and it was a preview of what would come.  He’s a power pitcher with a high velo four seamer (96 to 99 mph - has reached 102) and a wipeout slider.  Another well regarded scout told me that Orion could pitch in the big leagues out of spring camp.  He dominated hitters at every minor league level.  A historic and meteoric rise thru the system.

In retrospect :   On 2/16/23 in spring camp I wrote “RH Orion Kerkering also impressed, slider has big horizontal movement coming in to the dish and drops vertically as it approaches the plate - he’s got a very quick fastball as well.” On 3/29/23 I wrote “a back end of the pen reliever with his slider being the primary pitch - swing and miss capabilities.  We got to see him pitch in person for the first time this spring and he certainly impressed, the slider is flat out nasty, perhaps the best slider in the system at this point. There’s velocity and movement on the fastball as well.  In the couple of outings we watched he blew away hitters.” - Who knew 🤷‍♂️🤓

Pitching Coordinator Travis Hergert :   “Kerkering was placed in Clearwater to start the year to make sure we prioritized his day to day routines in the weight room and throwing.  We knew he had big league stuff and ability but wanted to make sure he was built to be durable from start to finish.   He features a big sweeping slider that is unique because of how hard he throws it for the amount of movement it sweeps and he can land it in the zone early in at bats.   He continues to develop a two seamer, riding fastball vs right handed hitters.  He met every challenge thrown at him this season and continued to do that in the big leagues. Orion is a byproduct of good scouting and work from our performance staff in our offseason High Performance camps. Our pitching coaches along the way did a great job of managing his workload and prioritizing his development in pitch execution.”

2024 Projection :   a major league bullpen weapon.

LHP  Keylan Killgore  - 27 years old - drafted in 17th round of the 2018 draft from Wichita State, KS

2023 Stats :   appeared in 46 games (55.1 P) with a 5.20 ERA with 67 strikeouts and 28 walks with AA level Reading.  Posted a 1.57 WHIP, averaged 18.49 pitches per inning pitched and had a 63 % strike ratio.  Pitched multiple innings in 17 of his 46 appearances.  He had two outstanding months (June and July - 2.14 ERA in 21 IP - 17 games) in the middle of the season showing the potential he possesses.

2023 Notes :   Keylan was a workhorse for the Fightins and for a good part of the season was the only left-hander in the Reading bullpen.  This was his first full year of game play back from Tommy John surgery (appeared in just 10 games in 2022 with the FCL Phillies, Threshers and BlueClaws) after missing the entire 2021 season.  We got to chat a bit while he was working with the rehab team at the Complex during his recovery work, very intelligent young man.  He features a fastball, change up and slider with the heater generally in the 92-94 mph range, knows how to pitch and never turns down taking the baseball.

2024 Projection : will compete for a AAA level Lehigh Valley roster spot in spring camp.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

Orion Kekering bullpen session on 2/16/23

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