8/7/23 : Stockpiling the Pen - Part One of Three
The 2023 Phillies bullpen has been a team strength, they have a collective 3.72 ERA (7th best in MLB) compared to 2022 when they posted a 4.72 ERA (23rd in MLB). The collection of Phillies starters have averaged just under six innings per start this season which means that multiple relievers are required every game (note - just for kicks I checked into the average length that starters went for the 2008 World Series Champions - they were also thereabouts six inning per game, also checked the 1993 Phillies - their starters went about six and and half innings per game on average - two last comparisons - the Phillies dream starting staff of 2010 - the primary four starters that year averaged slightly under seven innings per start as did the 1980 World Series Champion Phillies.)
The importance of having good relievers in order to win consistently is a baseball fact, has been for years. Back in the day relievers would often pitch multiple innings per outing, those who do that in today’s game are entitled “bulk relievers” which has become a specific role as opposed to others who are generally one inning relievers and developed as such. Developing pitchers who can fill the middle and later innings of games is just as much a focus of player development as building starters, perhaps even more so. Here’s a look at a few of the relievers in the Phillies minor league system being developed to fill those roles. Will be a three part series - first Lehigh Valley, second Reading and a third part spotlighting Jersey Shore and Clearwater.
Triple A Lehigh Valley :
RHP Tyler McKay - 25 years old - 2018 16th round draft selection - Howard JC, Howard JC, TX - In 2022 spring training Tyler converted from a starting pitcher to a reliever and hasn’t looked back. This year he began at Reading where he posted a 2.54 ERA in 25 appearances in 28 1/3 IP converting six of eight saves, he was promoted to Lehigh Valley on July 14th and hasn’t yielded a run to date there in seven appearances (eight and one third IP). Tyler has a riding two seam sinker (92-94 mph), a sweeping slider and a heavy tumbling change up to go along with a cutter that he will primarily use against left handed hitters. He is a strike thrower who attacks the zone, reminds me a lot of Connor Brogdon both in build and approach, I’ve always thought of him as a major league candidate ever since I first saw a side bullpen session back in 2018, we’ve witnessed that there’s more velocity there if he needs it but the movement he gets on his pitches, especially the changeup, give him an arsenal that doesn’t necessarily require it to get hitters out at any level. Fun fact - he spent time this year with the big club pitching to Bryce Harper when he was going thru his rehab BP’s.
RHP Brett Schulze - 25 years old - 2019 7th 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 before making his return last summer (July) and pitching at four levels. He finished the 2022 campaign by pitching in the Arizona Fall League. Brett will generally sit with his sinker in the 92 to 94 mph range, he’s developed a five pitch arsenal including a sweeping slider, sharp curve ball, cutter and a four seamer, will use any of those pitches in any count. He began this season with Reading and earned a promotion to Lehigh Valley on July 26th after stellar months of June and July at the AA level (0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 IP). He’s been deployed as a multi inning pitcher but not necessarily as a bulk reliever, he’s never went beyond two innings in any outing. Is a strikeout pitcher who’s posted 63 K’s in 41 innings thus far this season, was a reliever in college who’s continued that path as a professional.
Two others in the mix include RHP Braden Zarbnisky (26 yrs old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 7/21/20 from the University of West Virginia) who was promoted from Reading on 7/26/23, he’s been used in both bulk and single inning situations, has a four pitch mix and LHP Taylor Lehman (27 yrs old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 6/18/18 from Penn State). Taylor began the year with Reading and was promoted to Lehigh Valley on May 22nd. He’s a tall, lanky southpaw with a three pitch arsenal who returned to action last summer and also pitched in the Arizona Fall League after missing most of the previous two seasons rehabbing from TJ surgery. Started slowly with the IronPigs after bumping up but had a very good month of July.
Don’t forget about RHP’s Connor Brogdon & Luis Ortiz - both men have pitched previously in the big leagues, both are on the 40 man roster, they are also former summer ball teammates in their amateur playing days. Ortiz is being used in back ends of games for the IronPigs, Brogdon recently went on the Development List (the purpose of the list is to allow players to remain with the affiliate team to train however while on the list they are ineligible to appear in games, it’s a roster mechanism, if not on the development list and not active on the roster the player must be transferred to the Player Development Center in Clearwater where there are no roster limits or restrictions specific to a particular team). Connor is working on his mechanics while on the DL, the talent is there, just needs some tweaking and confidence building before he’s back to form.
Veteran relievers who’ve had good seasons for the Iron Pigs include RHP Andrew Bellatti (on the 40 man roster), LHP Ben Bowden and RHP Jeremy Walker.
Next time we will chat about the Reading bullpen which has been relatively recently loaded up with some exciting new additions promoted from Jersey Shore. Lots of heat coming out of the Reading relief corps nowadays with multiple hurlers lighting up the radar in the 95 to triple digit range - good stuff.
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
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