It all started with the IronPigs Adam Morgan striking out David Ortiz, Big Papi, twice in a game against the Pawtucket Red Sox last Thursday. Next up was Nick Hernandez for the Clearwater Threshers who pitched six shutout innings last Friday night. Then it was the Threshers Percy Garner with six more zero innings on Sunday against the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Finally the grand finale was Reading’s Jesse Biddle’s 16 strikeout win over the Harrisburg Senators on Monday night. It does not get much better than that for those of us who follow the Phillies minor league baseball.
All four of them have moved to the top of the list as Phillies prospect starting pitchers currently in the minors. They all have earned run averages under three runs per nine innings. The have been commanding their pitches and going deep into games. Now the true test begins. Can they keep it up. The next time they take the bump starts tonight for Morgan and Hernandez. Baseball Betsy and I will head to Steinbrenner Field over in Tampa to see the suddenly emerging prospect Nick Hernandez pitch against the Tampa Yankees. Adam Morgan will pitch in one of the two, seven inning games in tonight’s doubleheader in Indianapolis.
It’s really about consistency in pitching. So far most of them have pitched well but at times they have struggled. Percy Garner pitched a gem in his first start of the season but in his next start he battled command issues. Jesse Biddle, as great as he was Monday night, in his second start of the season in Portland Maine went six innings, threw 93 pitches and did not strike out a batter.
Lack of consistency is why these guys are in the minor leagues. All of them are outstanding prospects and will be pitching in the major leagues someday. But first they must be consistently good start after start, not just brilliant one start and struggle the next.
This is the fun of watching minor league baseball. You see these guys developing from season to season even from start to start. We could see from the first start we saw Jesse Biddle pitch in Williamsport back in 2010 that he would someday be a No. 1 starter in the major leagues. We did not think he would be ready so soon after retiring 19 in row and striking out 16 in seven innings on Monday night. Last year we watched Adam Morgan open the season for the Threshers and when 94 mph went up on the speed gun at the Dunedin scoreboard after his first pitch we knew he had a major league arm. And in one game last year Adam retired 21 batters in a row for the Threshers.
We were not so sure about Percy Garner and Nick Hernandez. Percy struggled last year with the Threshers. His velocity and command were all over the place. This season he has turned it around with a 94 mph fast ball and as the Thresher’s play by play guy calls it, “an 89 mph two seamer”, to go along with an improved curve ball. Hernandez had not pitched in two years because of injury but this year he has used excellent control and command to be one of the top left-handed starting pitchers in the Florida State League
When Cole Hamels made his climb up the Phillies system in 2006 he made eight starts in the minor leagues to start the season with stops at Lakewood, Clearwater and Scranton/Wilkes Barre. In those games he compiled a 3-1 record with 68 strikeouts in 49 innings for a 1.10 ERA. He was then promoted to the Phillies where he made 23 starts with a 9-8 record as a 22 year old. Hamels provided a key spark to a team that was rebuilding under new General Manager Pat Gillick at the time and helped put the Phillies back into playoff contention where they remained until the final day of the season that year. For the next five years until last season the Phillies were in the post season, in two World Series and were one of the best teams in baseball.
Time has not been kind to the Phillies. The team is quickly aging. They need a boost from some young arm just like Cole Hamels provided them in 2006. Can one of these young minor league pitchers provide that spark like Hamels provided in 2006? Only time will tell. That’s why we follow Phillies the minor league system and are headed to Steinbrenner Field tonight.