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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

3/29/23 : Spring Camp Notes & Observations - Part Two of Three

A three part series on this year’s Phillies spring training, this is part two - minor league pitchers who stood out. If you missed part one here is a link -

Our camp coverage started in January with the big league camp early arrivals activities concurrent to Minor League Mini Camp.  We were afforded multiple opportunities throughout the past couple of months to interact and chat baseball with many Phillies folks as well as scouts from other organizations, always appreciative of the chances to learn more about the game.

Minor League Spring Standouts :

Pitchers :

RHP Mick Abel - 21 years old - Birthdate : 8/18/01 - 1st round draft choice - 2020 - Jesuit High School - Portland, OR  - He’s got four plus pitches, he’s also now incorporated a “sweeper” pitch into his arsenal which will give him five options to use.  A cordial young man who’s a baseball sponge - very receptive to coaching and wants to excel - that was evident in a backfields live bullpen session where he faced Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins, they told him that he was tipping his slider with a slower arm delivery, Mick made the adjustment and moved forward.  He had a great outing on March 18th in a Grapefruit League start against the Braves where he went two innings and faced Albies, Olsen, Riley, d’Arnaud, Harris, Grissom and Hilliard - a lot of big league success in that group.  Mick held them hitless, issued just one walk and blew his fastball past lead off hitter Ozzie Albies for a strikeout and later Austin Riley 💪👏⚾️🔥.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 93 to 98 mph - max 99), change up (84 to 90 mph), slider (83 to 85 mph) and curve (77 to 83 mph) plus a new sweeper (77 to 85 mph).  What's next -  He will be in the Reading rotation to begin the season picking up where he left off last season (5 starts, 23 IP, 3.52 ERA).  Mick has the tools to be a very good major leaguer in the relatively near future.

RHP Alex McFarlane - 21 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 6/9/01 - 2022 4th round draft selection - University of Miami - top two pitches in college were a high velocity four seam fastball and a hard slider, both strikeout pitches but what got folks excited this spring was the addition of a two seamer that has big time movement giving him a four pitch arsenal (change-up is fourth).  He showed that he is able to put the four seamer at the top of the zone and use the two seamer’s darting action as a primary.  In the side bullpen sessions we watched he’s got seemingly effortless giddy up on his pitches and the movement is ridiculous.  It’s big league stuff which coupled with his athletic build and capabilities bodes well for a bright future.  The speed gun : both fastballs (sit in a range of 93 to 97 mph - max 98), slider (82 to 87 mph), change up (83 to 90 mph) and occasional curve.  What’s next  - we envision a slot in the Clearwater Threshers rotation continuing to refine pitches and sequencing with a eye towards an upward climb as the season progresses.

RHP Andrew Baker - 23 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 3/24/00 - 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 and curve which are also put away pitches.  He added a cutter to the mix this off-season and spring.  Andrew has a passion to succeed and the ability to do so at the highest level.  It’s just a matter of continuing to refine his control, mix and command to where he’s consistent each appearance.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 97 to 100 mph - max 102), change up (84 to 86), slider (78 to 83 mph) and curve (80 to 81 mph). What’s next  - will start the season at Reading as a backend of the game option, could progress to a big league debut before the season concludes.

RHP Andrew Schultz - 25 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 7/31/97 - 2019 6th round draft selection - University of Tennessee - has a short arm unique 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, the slider is also a put away weapon.  Andrew showed those abilities in six Grapefruit League appearances (4 2/3 IP) posting six strikeouts and three walks with a 0.64 WHIP.  In one game against the Yankees he impressed the Yankee television broadcasters so much that they couldn’t stop gushing over his delivery and pitch movement.  He’s got a big league arm and the makeup to pitch in high pressure innings - 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). What’s next  - will be part of the Reading bullpen to open the season as a back end option, certainly has the tools to make his major league debut at some point this year.

RHP Tyler Phillips - 25 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 10/27/97 - originally claimed off waivers from Rangers 7/24/21 - re-signed as a minor league free agent to a two year contract 11/6/21 - He’s got a very smooth delivery, no wasted motion - we saw a slider/curve with late break and a change up that has really good “dance” - tumbling action.  His changeup is a plus pitch and the heater plays better than it’s velocity because he commands it well down in the zone.  Reminds me of Zach Eflin in approach and mix.  He generates a lot of weak ground-ball contact because he creates tail and sink with his fastball and changeup.  Tyler impressed this spring as he progressed from moving out of the rehab group ( missed last season with TJ recovery ) into a starter’s role during camp. He’s a Bishop Eustace Prep graduate from Pennsauken, NJ  and grew up a Phillies fan.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 90 to 94 mph - max 96), slider (83 to 85 mph), change up (86 to 89 mph) and curve (78 to 80 mph). What’s next - will begin the season as part of the Reading starting rotation with an eye towards upward progression, we feel he’s capable of pitching well in the show this summer when needed.

RHP Orion Kerkering - 21 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 4/4/01 - 2022 5th round draft selection - University of South Florida - 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. The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 94 to 96 mph - max 97), slider (84 to 87 mph) and change up (85 to 87 mph).  What’s next - an opening day backend of the pen role with either Clearwater or Jersey Shore where he can continue to refine mix and focus as a full time reliever, another hurler with the ability to move up the ladder quickly.

RHP Alex Rao - 23 years old - RHP  - Birthdate : 10/25/99 - 2022 8th round draft selection -University of  Notre Dame - plus fastball that can reach high nineties, pairs it with a split finger off speed pitch that tumbles. We got to watch a few bullpen sessions and could envision a combination of pitches with the addition of a cutter that are similar in action and a role akin to Connor Brogdon.  Alex has the look of someone who’s gonna succeed, just get that feeling about him.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 93 to 96 mph - max 98), slider (83 to 84 mph) and splitter (84 to 86 mph). What’s next  - will likely break spring camp with either Jersey Shore or Clearwater - another reliever who could advance quickly this summer.

RHP Tommy McCollum - 23 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 6/8/99 - signed as an un-drafted free agent - 7/20/21 - Wingate University, Wingate, NC - Some pitchers just look the part of a major leaguer and when you see them throw the baseball it becomes even more evident.  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 action on each of his off speed pitches, nothing comes out of the hand without movement - the splitter is a put away pitch.  The fast ball seems akin to a heavy sinker although it has four seamer action which when up in the zone can be overpowering.  He was the camp winner of the Bill Giles Award.  Tommy is a big fella at 6’5” which portrays the part of an intimidating back end reliever.  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).  What’s next  - likely opens the season with Jersey Shore with an eye towards Reading.

RHP Jaydenn Estanista - 21 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 10/3/01 - signed 11/8/19 as an international free agent - Willemstad, Curacao - when scouts gather en masse behind the backstop of home plate at the complex with radar guns in tow you know that a pitcher of intrigue is throwing.  It’s not just the velocity that plays on his fastball but the movement - it jumps.  The young man from Curacao doesn’t have a great deal of experience so the talent is still relatively raw yet there’s no denying the upside once you’ve seen him in action.  Jaydenn pitched for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic and turned heads in his one appearance, that continued with his outings in spring training camp. The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 93 to 96 mph - max 97), slider (83 to 84 mph) and curve (75 to 79 mph).   What’s next  - we believe a full season opening day assignment with the Clearwater Threshers is very likely.

LHP Tristan Garnett - 25 years old  LHP - Birthdate : 3/29/98 - signed as an un-drafted free agent - Cal State Domingues Hills - 7/20/21 - Is a big fella at 6’6” that gets on top of his deliveries, it’s an intimidating pitching style, even at a three quarter arm slot his length is a weapon.  Has an outstanding change-up that is a swing and miss strikeout pitch for him, also gets a natural lefty tail on his fastball. The stuff can play, especially as a left hander with downward tilt - he is a dedicated hard worker that has benefited by attending the off-season High Performance camps both in regards to strength and conditioning and maximizing his pitches.  Very pleasant young man to boot.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 90 to 92 mph - max 94), slider (80 to 86 mph), change up (77 to 81 mph) and curve (71 to 72 mph). What’s next  - a return to Jersey Shore out of spring camp seems likely however Reading is within reach - one to watch.

RHP Braden Zarbnisky - 25 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 12/26/96 - signed as an un-drafted free agent  7/21/20 - University of West Virginia - quietly had a very solid spring camp appearing in six Grapefruit League games (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP).  He has good movement on all his deliveries, gets after it and generally throws strikes, was a two way player at West Virginia - Back end of the game reliever however can also pitch multiple innings if called upon.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 93  to 95 mph - max 96), curve  (81 to 82 mph) and slider (84 to 85 mph).   What’s next -  a return to Reading seems likely as part of what lines up to be a strong bullpen.

RHP Billy Sullivan - 23 years old - RHP - Birthdate : 4/16/99 - signed as an un-drafted free agent - 6/16/20 - University of Delaware - He delivers pitches with a quirky motion and arm angle which looks painful to me but it works for him - it certainly hides the baseball from hitters, tucks his arm inwards towards his body before bringing arm back and exploding forwards with thrust.  Is a high velocity reliever - the stuff certainly can play, it earned him a non roster invitation to big league spring camp, harnessing of control/command is a continuing development.  The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 94 to 96 mph - max 99) and slider (77 to 80 mph). What’s next  - Update 3/29 - was traded to the Oakland Athletics

LHP Andrew Walling - 23 years old - LHP - Birthdate : 10/29/99 - signed as an un-drafted free agent - 8/1/22 - Mississippi State - a well respected scout asked me one day this spring who the big arm lefty was that was just throwing on Ashburn Field, he had been very impressed with how Andrew got after it with a mid nineties fastball and off setting slider.  He pitched in the MLB Draft League for Williamsport prior to signing with the Phillies last summer and is from the state of Washington - originally pitched collegiately for Oregon State, then transferred to Eastern Oklahoma State Junior College and lastly Mississippi State in 2022.  The Phillies may have found themselves a hidden gem based on what we have seen this spring. The speed gun : fastball (sits in a range of 92 to 95 mph - max 97), slider (85 to 89 mph) and curve (77 to 78 mph). What’s next  - a likely assignment with either Jersey Shore or Clearwater for opening day.

One can’t help but notice the extensive work that is put into weight room training, conditioning and nutrition.  It’s helped multiple players reduce body fat while adding muscle and strength.  It is also something that shown in results - for example Matt Winkelman of sent me a note regarding RHP Matt Russell and LHP Jordi Martinez.  Matt noticed that both hurlers had increased their average velocity in their outings that were captured by statcast - Jordi was up to an average of 95 mph and flashed 98 on a couple of occasions while Matt was averaging in the 94-96 mph range.  While I believe each may have tweaked their mechanics a bit it’s my opinion the velo jumps are due to increased strength and conditioning, it will be fun to see how wide spread that is reflected this summer when we get game action reads for all of the pitchers.  Good stuff 😎.

In our next article in this series we will chat about some standout position players we saw this spring in minor league camp.

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Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

Mick Abel - photo by Cheryl Pursell

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