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Getting primed for Ranger Suarez’s MLB debut

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Here is what to expect out of the 22-year-old left-hander.

Philadelphia Phillies Photo Day Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

It was only four years ago that Ranger Suarez, at age 18, started 14 games for the Phillies’ affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League. Across those 14 starts, Suarez threw 80.2 innings and carried a 1.56 ERA. But the statistics that caught everyone’s eye were Suarez’s 78 strikeouts and one walk.

Those numbers are unprecedented at any level, never mind for an 18-year-old left-hander in the VSL.

Now, four years older and in his fourth full season stateside, Ranger Suarez is making his major league debut tonight in Cincinnati against the Reds.

It’ll likely be just a spot start situation for Suarez as the rotation fully recovers following a double header against the Padres. The start does hold more significance, though, and not just because it is his debut. Suarez will be the first left-handed starting pitcher for the Phillies since Adam Morgan back on September 28, 2016.

During his stint in the VSL years ago, Suarez looked like a long shot to be a major league pitcher. His command and control was evident, but with a fastball maxing out at 88 there was some real filling out to do. Yearly progression in velocity and offspeed stuff has led the Phillies to promote Suarez through the system quite rapidly. He spent his first season stateside in the Gulf Coast League in 2015 before pitching for Williamsport in 2016. Since then, Suarez has seen two levels per season: Lakewood and Clearwater in 2017; Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2018.

It is fairly common for a pitcher lacking elite velocity to struggle once reaching new levels, perhaps seeing walk numbers balloon or an influx of home runs allowed. Suarez, however, hasn’t had that problem. His highest BB/9 number while progressing through the system was a 2.9 in his 2016 Williamsport stint. He has also allowed just 15 home runs in 417.1 career minor league innings and not more than five at any level.

Suarez’s consistently low walk rate is a great sign, but don’t expect him to come out blowing pitches by hitters. He’ll get his strikeouts here and there, mainly by picking at the corners which is his calling card.

Scouting Report

Suarez is a three-pitch pitcher with at least above-average control of all three pitches. His arsenal begins with a fastball that sits 89-92, T94 and it’s a pitch that he has outstanding control and command of. Suarez has a slider that is 81-84 and has gotten pretty good during his stateside development. He tops off with a straightforward 82-85 changeup.

The key to Suarez’s long-term major league success will be his ability to control all of his pitches. It seems like an obvious statement and one that pertains to the success of all major league pitchers, but many high velocity guys can get away with walks and inconsistency if they’re striking out a ton of hitters. Suarez won’t have that velocity safety net, and therefore will have to prove he is worthy of a rotation spot by being consistently good at painting the zone.

At 6’1, 180 lbs., Suarez’s frame is pretty much filled out, meaning his velocity is probably limited to where it is now barring something unforeseen.

Personally, I like the idea of Suarez in a rotation long-term. He might not have a bullpen fallback option because of the velocity and a lack of a true wipeout pitch. Right now, the Phillies have one of the better rotations in the major leagues with arguably three triple-A pitchers — Suarez, Enyel De Los Santos and Cole Irvin — who can contribute at the major league level if needed. Tonight, Suarez will get that chance to show if he has a major league rotation future ahead of him.