When talking about pitching prospects in the Yankee minor league system the past couple of the seasons, the discussion has always been centered around the “Killer B’s,” Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman. Brackman is gone while Banuelos and Betances remain top prospects. But the undercards for the remaining Killer B’s are the Yankees starting pitching depth in Triple-A: David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell. Today we’ll talk about Phelps, and even though he is not a top prospect, he has been a pitcher who has put up impressive numbers wherever he has gone (including myself when I was just starting out as a writer), and let’s see what he can do.
The scouting report on Phelps is that he has a five-pitch mix of four-seam and two-seam fastballs, two breaking balls, and a changeup, and his entire arsenal plays up thanks to Phelps’ superlative control. His fastball hits the low to mid-90’s while his two-seam comes in at 90 MPH. Phelps’ best breaking pitch is his curveball with nice depth, although he has worked hard to improve his slider and changeup. Phelps may not get many swings and misses, but he forces groundballs and has back-of-the-rotation upside.
Is this scouting report truly the case? Let’s take a look at Phelps’ Pitch F/X data from the Arizona Fall League and 2012 Spring Training from Brooks Baseball, which I’ll display with one of my original Pitch F/X graphs.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
Looking at this graph, Phelps has a nice arsenal of pitches. But the problem is that his fastballs are sub-par pitches. In this sample, which is hopefully from Phelps’ perspective an aberration, Phelps’ fastball averaged under 91 MPH with average run and sink, and that won’t cut it against major league hitters. In this sample, Phelps forced just a 0.60 groundballs to flyballs ratio (according to Brooks) as hitters were able to see Phelps’ fastball and hit it hard. He did control it extremely well, but he doesn’t have the pure movement on it to avoid getting hammered when he makes mistakes with command. Phelps’ two-seamer showed some improvement, but he threw it for a strike just over half the time, not nearly enough. But his secondary pitches do show some promise. Phelps slider shows late break as it approaches hitter, forcing groundballs and swings and misses, and Phelps controls it pretty well, making it his most dependable secondary pitch. Phelps’ curveball shows dynamic break and forces whiffs as well, but he struggles to locate it for strikes. But Phelps did control his changeup extremely well, and he was able to force empty swings when he could set it up with his fastball. The big problem is that all of Phelps are hittable when he’s unable to set them up with a solid fastball. That lack of anywhere near a plus fastball limits Phelps’ upside. Phelps’ fastball is supposedly up to the 92-93 MPH range according to River Avenue Blues, and that will definitely help him, but it still doesn’t look like a plus pitch.
Phelps is a Minnesota Twins-type pitching prospect in that he features great control and nice stuff but will allow far too many home runs at the big league level. We already saw that in 2011 as Phelps’ home runs per 9 innings ratio jumped from 0.5 from 2008 to 2010 to 0.9 when he reached Triple-A in 2011. Phelps has the ability to keep hitters off-balance and won’t beat himself with walks, but at his best he’s a big league 4th starter. That doesn’t mean Phelps won’t be a valuable pitcher someday, but in an organization like the Yankees, David Phelps ever being a full-time starter would mean that many things had gone wrong.
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