In order to fix the well-publicized disaster that was their 2020 bullpen, the Phillies will have a lot of pitchers in camp vying for relief roles. However, aside from Archie Bradley and Hector Neris, the competition won’t include a lot of “sure things.” Instead, they have a lot of candidates who are far from proven commodities, but who also possess high ceilings.
Three of the more volatile pitchers in that mix are Sam Coonrod, Kyle Dohy, and Seranthony Dominguez. All three of them could contribute - potentially at a high level - at some point this season. But it’s also possible that none of them throw a single pitch for the big league team in 2021.
Coonrod was a 2014 San Francisco Giants draft pick whose development was delayed due to an elbow injury that cost him most of the 2018 season. He came back from the resulting Tommy John surgery throwing the ball harder than ever. His four-seam fastball consistently sits in the high 90s and he tops 100 MPH on a semi-regular basis.
He reached the majors in 2019, and pitched well enough that the Giants were counting on him to take a bigger role in 2020. While his strikeout numbers improved, his overall performance did not, and his ERA shot up to 9.82. Worse, he had two consecutive late-inning meltdowns in September, which helped cost the Giants a playoff spot.
Those failures - combined with a refusal to participate in a team-endorsed moment of unity - prompted the Giants to move on from him. He was traded for prospect Carson Rasgdale, as part of the campaign to remove all professional athletes named Carson from the city of Philadelphia.
What could go right in 2021
Coonrod is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and that’s always a good base for a pitcher. His four-seam fastball averaged 98.7 MPH in 2020, ranking among the top five fastest in baseball. He also has strong secondary pitches in his sinker and cut fastball.
His problem has been maintaining his command of those high velocity pitches, as he doesn’t always seem to know where the ball is going when he throws it. While he’s not young at age 28, Coonrod wouldn’t be the first flamethrower to take a little longer to develop, especially considering an injury cost him a year of development time.
The change of scenery might also do him some good. The Giants insist that the trade was made for “baseball reasons,” but making a highly-publicized conservative stance didn’t necessarily go over well in a liberal city like San Francisco, and with a manager like Gabe Kapler. He also won’t have the specter of those late season failures looming over his head with a new team.
#SFGiants manager Gabe Kapler has talked to his team about respecting one another's views on social issues and actions. That premise could be tested by reliever Sam Coonrod choosing not to kneel during a pregame moment of solidarity for Black Lives Matter: https://t.co/i3uraCRNPB— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) July 24, 2020
Coonrod’s ability to blow batters away with velocity could be very useful in key spots when the team needs to get a strikeout. If he can consistently throw strikes, he could soon become one of Joe Girardi’s go-to options.
What could go wrong in 2021
Coonrod has the stuff, but Major League history is littered with pitchers who had a solid arsenal of pitches but couldn’t command them well enough to succeed. The Giants ran out of patience with him, and I can’t imagine Joe Girardi will give him a long leash if he’s unable to get batters out. If he continues to have command issues - or can’t handle the pressure - then he’ll find himself buried in the back of the bullpen or in the minor leagues.
Taken by the Phillies in the 2017 Amateur Draft, the left-handed Dohy has steadily risen through the Phillies’ system. He spent the majority of the 2019 season at AAA, and was added to the 40-man roster this offseason.
What could go right in 2021
Similar to Coonrod, Dohy is a hard thrower with command issues.
Kyle Dohy, who the Phillies added to the 40-man roster yesterday, has a shot to be a MAJOR bullpen piece for the Phillies in the future.— Alex Carr (@AlexCarrMLB) November 21, 2020
He has filthy, filthy stuff; a plus fastball (95-97), a Hader-esque slider, and a workable change.
He just needs to learn to control it...
His strikeout numbers have been impressive throughout his ascent through the minor leagues, with his success partly attributed to his work with Caleb Cotham, who happened to be named the Phillies’ pitching coach for 2021.
While the Phillies have plenty of lefty candidates for the bullpen, there isn’t anyone who is considered a lock. With an impressive Spring Training, Dohy could make the Opening Day roster. And if he can harness his stuff without allowing too many walks, he could quickly find himself in a key setup role.
What could go wrong in 2021
Losing the 2020 season was a setback for Dohy’s hopes. In the past, he’s struggled upon first reaching a new level, and his numbers in 2019 at AAA were not good. The expectation pre-pandemic was that he would have started out at AAA in 2020 with a promotion to the big leagues later in the season.
Unless he greatly outperforms the other left-handed bullpen candidates in the spring, Dohy will probably begin the season in the minors. Depending on his performance - as well as the performance of the other lefties on the big league roster - he could potentially spend the entire season there.
Based on his track record, expecting immediate success upon reaching the majors seems improbable. Until he can improve his command and cut down on his walks, Dohy won’t be counted on to contribute much.
Kyle Dohy threw 23 pitches for LV yesterday, just 8 of those strikes. He has now walked 17 in 13IP with the Pigs— Phuture Phillies (@PhuturePhilz) May 30, 2019
In 2018, right-handed reliever Seranthony Dominguez was called up early in the season, and became an instant success out of the bullpen.
Seranthony Dominguez is doing things no one has ever done before.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 21, 2018
Presented by Stroehmann Bakeries. pic.twitter.com/GqIwMifErZ
He was so good that manager Gabe Kapler leaned on him heavily - perhaps too heavily. Dominguez’s effectiveness waned as the season progressed, and after an inconsistent start to the 2019 season, he was sidelined with an elbow injury.
Dominguez attempted to rehab the injury non-surgically, but ultimately realized a Tommy John procedure was his only option. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, he was unable to have the surgery performed until July of 2020, which means he is likely to miss most - if not all - of the 2021 season as well.
What could go right
Dominguez could have a quick rehab and make it back to the big leagues sometime in the second half of the season. Assuming the surgery adequately fixed the injury, he could return to his form of early 2018. In case you forgot what that looked like:
Nasty slider from Seranthony Dominguez to lock down the save pic.twitter.com/ZrIoydBxJb— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) June 28, 2018
That version of Dominguez was practically unhittable, and would instantly give the Phillies a late-inning lockdown reliever.
What could go wrong
Even though pitchers regularly come back from Tommy John surgery, there are certainly no guarantees. Simply making it back to the majors this season would be an accomplishment, and even if he returns, it will probably take additional time to round back into form.
What to expect
The Phillies are expected to carry eight relievers on their Opening Day roster, so there are plenty of jobs to be won. With his major league experience, Coonrod would seem to have the best chance of the three, and I expect that he’ll spend at least part of the 2021 season on the big league roster.
Dohy will also probably make an appearance in the big leagues, but I don’t expect him to win a job out of camp. While he’s got an advocate in Cotham, it feels like there are too many other left-handers ahead of him in the pecking order.
As for Dominguez, I’d be shocked if he appears in a Phillies’ uniform this season. Tommy John recovery typically takes over a year, so August would seem to be the best case scenario for his return. Perhaps if all goes well, he could make an appearance down the stretch run, but I think its far more likely that he spends the latter part of the season rehabbing and preparing to come back close to full strength in 2022.