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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

8/8/23 : Stockpiling the Pen - Part Two of Three

Second in a three part series on the bullpen crews in the Phillies minor league system.  First part was on Lehigh Valley - if ya missed that one here’s a link -

Today we write about the Reading relievers, definitely can be a team strength with multiple high octane arms but also pitchers who have specialty pitches than can get them to the show as well.  It’s a strong group than can dominate the opposition, they showed as much this past week when the club went 5-1 in their series against Hartford.

Double A Reading :

RHP Orion Kerkering (22 years old - 2022 5th round draft selection - South Florida) - has had a stellar first full season as a pro, started the year with Clearwater (0.00 ERA in 9 games 10 1/3 IP - 18 K’s - 1BB), was promoted to Jersey Shore on May 9th (1.77 ERA in 18 games - 20 1/3 IP - 27 K’s - 6 BB) and to Reading on July 6th (3.00 ERA in 9 games (9 IP) with 12 K’s, 1 BB).  He’s a power pitcher with a high velo four seamer (96 to 99 mph - has reached 102) and a wipeout slider (84-87 mph).  One well regarded scout told me that Orion could pitch in the big leagues right now.  He has dominated hitters at every level posting 64 K’s while walking just 9 in 46 2/3 IP.  With some off season fine tuning he could be a big league option next year.

RHP Andrew Baker (23 years old - 2021 11th round draft selection - Chipola JC, FL) - began the year in big league spring training camp with a new pitch in tow, a cutter added to the mix of a fastball (95 to 99 mph, has reached 101 mph), hard slider and big break curve.  Had his struggles during the first half of the season in control, command and mix.  Seemed that hitters would sit on the hard stuff.  Just before the All-Star break Andrew came to Clearwater to work with the pitching lab coaches on mechanics, sequencing and to develop a new pitch, a splitter.  He returned to Reading armed with an adjusted approach and a new bullet in the arsenal, didn’t yield a run in four July appearances.  The four pitch mix is now fastball, slider, curve and splitter.  We’ve never doubted that Andrew has big league talent, if you watch him throw that’s readily evident.  It’s a matter of commanding/controlling the zone, sequencing pitches and repeating mechanics, from there the talent will shine.

RHP Tommy McCollum (24 years old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 7/20/21 - Wingate University, NC) - began the year with Jersey Shore and posted a 2.31 ERA in 34 appearances (35 IP) with a whopping 56 K’s and 23 walks.  Is the definition of a strikeout pitcher with two put-away deliveries, a heavy fastball that generally sits in the 94-96 mph range but often reaches upper nineties and a devastating splitter that drops off the table.  Opposing hitters hit just .143 against him at Jersey Shore, he’s an imposing figure on the hill at 6’5” and has an easy delivery, the baseball gets on the batter quickly and comes out of the hand with lots of movement.  He’s also got a slider he will use for good measure.  Tommy was promoted to Reading on 7/26/23 and has made four Fightin’s appearances thus far (no runs in 3 1/3 IP, 3 K’s, no walks).  Another big arm talent that when he controls the zone has the goods to be a big leaguer.

RHP Andrew Schultz (26 years old - 2019 6th round draft selection - University of Tennessee) - throws a fastball (95 to 99 mph - has reached 101 mph), slider and change up and occasionally a cutter.  Andrew has a short arm delivery where the baseball appears to get on hitters even quicker than an already high velo output.  He’s had some struggles this season with walks and pitch location however focused side sessions in July helped as he was sharper in his three appearances.  Has the stuff to be a high pressure situation impact reliever and generally that’s how he’s deployed.  Harnessing the zone and finding consistency are the two areas he needs to conquer to move up the chain, another big league “stuff” guy who’s capable of reaching the show.

LHP Tristan Garnett (25 years old - signed 7/20/21 as an un-drafted free agent - Cal State Dominguez Hills, CA) - Tristan hails from the Portland, Oregon area and was a starter in both high school and college however has adapted nicely to a multi inning capable reliever, went more than an inning in eleven of his thirty four appearances for Jersey Shore where he posted a 2.39 ERA in 37 2/3 innings with 36 K’s and 15 walks.  He was promoted to Reading on August 4th after two stellar months at High A in June/July where he recorded a sparking 0.47 ERA in 16 appearances (19 IP).  His release point comes on a downhill plane, he’s 6’6” - put away pitch is his changeup, excellent deception from the same arm slot as the heater and no slowing of his arm motion.  We’ve seen the fastball up to 94 mph this summer, generally in the 91 to 93 mph range, with a differential of over 10 mph on the change it’s more than enough to be successful at the upper levels.  Tristan will also throw a curve and slider to keep batters honest.

RHP Dominic Pipkin (23 years old - 2018 9th round draft selection - Pinole Valley HS, CA) - began the season on the IL with some elbow soreness and spent the first couple months of the year working with the rehab group at the Complex.  I remember watching one of his early live bullpen sessions and told him that the fastball was getting on the hitters but because of his smooth delivery it didn’t seem like at a high velo - he laughed and said he was “sneaky fast” - turns out the gun read the heater at 99 mph that day - sneaky fast indeed 😂.  After five rehab appearances with the FCL team and Clearwater he was taken off the IL and assigned to Reading on 7/4/23 where he’s appeared in nine games posting 12 K’s and has delivered the fastball consistently in the upper nineties, even reaching 100 mph on multiple occasions.  He’s converted from being a starter earlier in his career, has a starter’s mix with a cutter, slider and change up but it’s the velo that can make him standout as a back end reliever - very like-able young man - 99 to 100 mph fastballs that rise aren’t generally sneaky but they are indeed good.  Keep an eye out for this fella.

RHP Max Kuhns (28 years old - signed as a free agent 2/8/23) - is a fastball/slider pitcher who has touched 98 mph with the heater this summer and generally fires in the 93 to 97mph range.  He had a rough patch during May and June, thereafter spent time in Clearwater working on mechanics and returned to Reading on July 26th, big arm skillset.

LHP Keylan Killgore (26 years old - 2018 17th round draft selection - Wichita State) - for most of the season was the only left hander in the Fightins bullpen.  He put together two outstanding months (June and July - 2.14 ERA in 21 IP - 17 games) featuring 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.

RHP Carlos Francisco (24 years old - 2019 28th round draft selection - Hillsborough CC, FL) - is a young man who generally pitches the entire year around, for the past couple of seasons he’s played winter ball in Puerto Rico where he was named a league all-star last year.  Carlos has had his best Phillies season this year this far, he won the System’s Pitcher of the Month Award in June (0.93 ERA for Jersey Shore in 8 appearances) and was promoted from Jersey Shore to Reading on June 29th.  He features a fastball (generally 92 to 96 mph), slider, change up and curve ball.

RHP Cristian Hernandez (22 years old - signed 7/9/17 as an international free agent from Cumana, Venezuela) - has had a very solid season as a bulk type reliever, he’s appeared in 29 games, has made 4 appearances as an opener and posted a 3.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings pitched.   Cristian has pitched two innings in thirteen of his games and three in one, in May he recorded a 0.77 ERA in 11 2/3 innings and in June he had a 2.87 ERA in 15 2/3 innings.  He features a four pitch mix (fastball, slider change up and curve) with the heater sitting in the 92 to 95 mph range.  Last fall he was a member of the Phillies Arizona Fall League contingent and was selected as a league all-star.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

Next we will review Jersey Shore and Clearwater relievers in the third and final part of the mini series.

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