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Breakout Potential: Rise of the HS Pitcher

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Gowdy, Anderson, Falter, and Viza lead next wave

Philadelphia Phillies Photo Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Phillies farm system has received mixed reviews this offseason. It has gotten positive reviews for its major league ready hitting and pitching. The development of Latin American pitching prospects has provided a lot of excitement and reason for optimism. One area that has been a black hole for the Phillies for the last few years has been homegrown high school pitchers. On some level pitchers are pitchers regardless of where they were signed from. However, high school pitchers represent untapped potential that is not available in college arms. This of course comes with more risk.

The Phillies once had a bevy of high school pitching prospects with the “Baby Aces” of Trevor May, Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Pettibone, and Brody Colvin. Pettibone represents the last homegrown high school arm to make the majors for the Phillies and Trevor May now represents that group’s only real hope for major league success for any team. The Phillies spent high picks on high school pitchers in the 2010 and 2012 drafts, with no success. This led to the darkest point in this development process when on May 12, 2016 the Phillies released one of those players in supplemental 1st round pick Mitch Gueller. Here was the Phillies system at the time.

Player (round) - no longer in org injured

2010: Jesse Biddle (1), Kevin Walter (20), Jonathan Musser (21)
2011: Yacksel Rios (12), Braden Shull (27)
2012: Shane Watson (1s), Mitch Gueller (1s), Ricky Bielski (14), Drew Anderson (21)
2013: Denton Keys (11), Tyler Viza (32)
2014: Sam McWilliams (8)
2015: Bailey Falter (5), Will Stewart (20), Nick Fanti (31)

I don’t really want to dwell on past failures in drafting and development, what I really want to talk about is what happened from this point forward. In the 2016 draft the Phillies added Kevin Gowdy (2), Justin Miller (12), Andrew Brown (13), and Kyle Young (22). That wasn’t the biggest difference as much as for the first time in a long time, the Phillies had some high school arms take a step forward and put themselves on the map as potentially the core of the next waves of Phillies prospects.

The Big Money Signing

Signing Mickey Moniak to an under slot deal with the first overall pick of the draft allowed the Phillies to give Kevin Gowdy a top 10 signing bonus after taking him in the 2nd round. Gowdy was not a top 10 prospect, but his combination of stuff and projectability makes him potentially special. His fastball already sits in the low 90s and he has shown the ability to touch 95+. He mixes that with a potential plus slider and a promising changeup. He has enough polish and feel for pitching that he could move quickly as a backend starter. If he adds velocity and sharpens his off-speed stuff he could see his ceiling and stock rocket up.

The Tommy John Survivor

By the winter of 2013, Drew Anderson was already a success story. The 21st round pick was coming off a good year in Williamsport where his combination of polish and command had put him on the back end of some Phillies Top 30 lists. His fastball was 89-92 and he had a solid slider and some feel for a changeup. He hurt his elbow early in the 2014 season and after battling back and rehabbing it, he finally had to have Tommy John surgery in early 2015. He was back on the mound for Lakewood in May, taking the spot of the released Gueller and he was immediately better than he had been before. He powered through Lakewood before ending the season in Clearwater. His fastball was touching 94 early in the year, but was up to 97 by late in the season. His curveball was now his dominant off-speed pitch and flashing plus potential. Anderson still struggles with command (typical post TJ) and his changeup still needs work, but his added velocity and quick growth hints at a lot of future potential. He will start in Reading with an eye on a full healthy season.

The Persistent One

The Phillies handed overslot bonuses to two starting pitchers in the 2013 draft. The bigger bonus went to lefty Denton Keys who was big and projectable, but ultimately never saw his stuff increase. The smaller bonus went to righty Tyler Viza in the 32nd round. Viza was thrown into a 2014 Lakewood rotation low on talent and in need of innings, and he was hammered by the competition. A return trip to Lakewood in 2015 went better, but Viza still was throwing around 90 with no real off-speed pitches. In 2016 he took the Florida State League by storm with a 2.54 ERA and a 10.0 K/9 with only a 1.4 BB/9 before being promoted to Reading. More than numbers, Viza’s fastball was sitting 90-93 touching 94 with some cutting life to it. His slider and changeup still need work, but they show future average potential. Viza does not have the big time potential of some of the other pitchers on this list, but his polish could see him make the majors as a back end starter one day.

The Big Lefty

When the Phillies selected a 6’4” California lefty in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, the name Cole Hamels was thrown around. Bailey Falter is not Cole Hamels, but he still is a very good pitching prospect in his own right. His fastball mostly sits 88-91, but with some help from Williamsport coaching staff he started to flash some velocity growth, touching 94 late in the season. He shows a good curveball (that can get a bit loopy) and an above average changeup, but more importantly he can locate all three of his pitches. Falter still remains a projection bet, but he has the frame and feel for pitching to add velocity and consistency. He may not be an ace, but a full year in Lakewood could see him establish himself alongside players like Gowdy, Sanchez, Kilome, and Dominguez.

The Even Bigger Lefty

There is no way to describe Kyle Young without using the word projection. At a lanky 6’10” Young has plenty of room to add to his frame. His fastball already sits 88-90 and he shows feel for a change and a good slider. More impressively for a player of his size he has shown the ability to throw strikes. Long term the Phillies think his velocity will sit in the mid 90s and that is potential is near limitless. The problem is we are projecting a teenager and we are not just projecting added velocity, but also that his delivery holds up to throwing strikes on a larger workload, and that he doesn’t get hurt in the meantime.

Back From the Dead

There was a lot to be excited about when the Phillies took Shane Watson in the first supplemental round of the 2012 draft. He had prototypical size, a good fastball, and an excellent curveball. Then things went wrong. After the draft it was discovered that Watson had diabetes and so his debut was cut short as the player and team got the disease under control. He then missed half of the 2013 season, all of the 2014 season, and then half of the 2015 season to shoulder injuries including surgery. During that time he had a 50 game suspension for a drug of abuse. Watson was back fully healthy for 110.1 innings in a 2016 season split between Lakewood and Clearwater. His fastball velocity is back and by the end of the year he was sitting 89-93 touching 94-95. His once vaunted curveball is more a loopy slurve with some thinking it works better as a slider long term, and his changeup progress has been mostly wiped out. The injuries and the lack of impact stuff make a move to the bullpen likely in the future, but he probably stays in the rotation for now. Another full healthy season might put Watson on the edge of the majors, something that seemed impossible a year ago.

The Rest in Rapid Fire Format

  • Yacksel Rios - Rios has a big time arm and a big time problem find the strike zone.
  • Nick Fanti - Fanti is young and projectable, but his fastball is below average and his curveball is a bit loopy. He does throw everything for strikes which gives him a base to work with if anything more comes.
  • Justin Miller - Miller is a young projectable righty with a high 80s fastball and control issues in his MiLB debut.
  • Andrew Brown - Repeat a lot of what was said about Justin Miller, but smaller and with better control.
  • Will Stewart - Stewart is still really young (he won’t turn 20 until July) and he has some projection left. He took a slight step forward in 2016, seeing his velocity tick up from 86-90 to 90-91, touching up to 93.