It’s not unprecedented, but it’s incredibly rare for a pitcher to climb through all four levels in the minors and make his MLB debut just a little over a year after being drafted. However, that’s exactly what Orion Kerkering did in 2023.
Drafted in June of 2022, Kerkering started the season with Single-A Clearwater. He didn’t stay there long, though, and was promoted to High-A Jersey Shore after just nine appearances. 18 games later he made the jump to Double-A Redding where he made 21 appearances. Then, he took on Triple-A competition in Lehigh Valley for one scoreless inning before the end of the Minor League season. In total, he amassed 53.2 innings over 49 MiLB games. He gave up just nine earned runs on 36 hits and struck out 79. Yes, you read that number right. 79 strikeouts.
Almost more impressively than his astronomical rise through the organization, once he made it to the Phillies roster he was tasked with throwing some of the biggest bullpen innings for a team seeking not only a repeat NL championship, but a World Series championship.
2023 Stats (with the Phillies): 1-0; 3.00 ERA; 3 IP; 6 K; 1.67 WHIP (Playoffs: 5.1 IP; 3.38 ERA; 5 K; 1.88 WHIP)
Dad... he made it.
When your son, Orion Kerkering, makes his MLB debut and gets two strikeouts ... there IS crying in baseball. pic.twitter.com/7DFhixpcmb— MLB (@MLB) September 25, 2023
Kerkering only made three appearances for the Phillies in the regular season, but it was enough to convince the team that he needed to be on the playoff roster. And why wouldn’t they include him, when he did things like this?
Orion Kerkering, Slider Movement (front/hp view).— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2023
Good luck. pic.twitter.com/mKIlDFzWWw
Orion Kerkering's Ridiculous Stuff.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2023
"Orion is not just a star, he's a whole constellation." ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/uUpKSXmCMa
While his first three appearances in the regular season were fantastic, what really stood out was his absolute dominance over both the Marlins and the Braves in the first two rounds of the postseason. His confidence and calm demeanor in games two and one of those series, respectively, were reminiscent of a well-experienced veteran — not a 22-year-old who was making his fourth and fifth MLB appearances.
Orion Kerkering, Disgusting 88mph Sweeper. pic.twitter.com/scbeyokKHD— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2023
Kerkering struggled mightily after the NLCS moved to Arizona, and while he alone didn’t provide the nail in the coffin in any of the final three games he appeared in after that, his confidence was clearly rattled and he wasn’t as effective as he had been previously. In his final three appearances of the season, he gave up a combined two runs on five hits and two walks, in just 1.1 innings. He only struck out one. Kerkering may have only struggled a little bit in his first partial-season in the majors (can we even call it a partial-season when he only appeared in 10 total games??) but he happened to do it at the worst possible time — for both himself and the team.
Kerkering has an incredibly bright future, not only in professional baseball but hopefully with the Phillies. With the way Rob Thomson talked about him and his role in the postseason, it’s clear that he is the type of high-leverage reliever this team not only needs, but wants.
Rob Thomson on Orion Kerkering’s postseason role pic.twitter.com/ZKtDAAblZu— John Foley (@2008Philz) October 2, 2023
It’s possible he’ll start the 2024 season in Lehigh Valley but at this point there’s no doubt he’ll be back in the majors in no time. Pitching Ninja truly put it best: Orion is not just a star, he’s a whole constellation.