Phillies finally have some lefthanded pitching prospects
There might not be another Cole Hamels en route to Citizens Bank Park, but there are some good lefthanded arms pushing their way to the majors.
The lefthanded pitching arsenal in the Phillies system has been pretty barren since Cole Hamels, the best lefthander in team history not nicknamed "Lefty," reached the majors. The Phillies have debuted just three southpaw starters – J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, and Adam Morgan – in the 11 seasons since Hamels arrived.
But help looks to be on the way, as the Phillies finally have some lefthanded starters in the minor leagues who have realistic shots to reach the majors.
JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez are finding success at high-A Clearwater after being promoted earlier this month from low-A Lakewood. No Phillies minor-leaguer has struck out more batters this season than Romero and Suarez. Nick Fanti has had two no-hit outings — one a complete game, another for 8 1/3 innings — for Lakewood. Cole Irvin has been solid at double-A Reading after leaving Clearwater, and Brandon Leibrandt has had three strong starts in triple A.
There might not be another Hamels en route to Citizens Bank Park, but there are some solid lefthanded arms pushing their way to the majors.
"We're fortunate. We've been able to add a good group," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. "You look up compared to 12 months ago, and we're in a lot better shape."
Romero, who will turn 21 in September, has a 2.13 ERA in 26 starts since being drafted in the fourth round in 2016. He reached Clearwater just 13 months after being drafted and could move quickly through the system. Romero has allowed just two earned runs in his first 17 1/3 innings for Clearwater. He combines a mid-90s fastball with a curveball, slider, and change-up. Romero is just 6 feet tall, and the Phillies have not used a shorter lefthander for more than seven starts in a season since 1976.
"I'm not that prototypical 6-5 lefty that you see in the bigs," Romero said. "You see these top prospects that are 6-3, 6-4, whatever. It just gives you extra motivation in everything you do. It's a reminder to keep pushing yourself and to prove everyone wrong."
Suarez has struck out 107 in 95 innings this season. He has allowed just 15 earned runs and 27 walks. Suarez dominated with Lakewood after fine-tuning his delivery and mastering the command of his low-90s fastball. He'll turn 21 in August and likely join Romero next season at double-A Reading in what is shaping up as a potent starting rotation.
Fanti is already proving to be a solid return on a 31st-round draft investment. He threw a no-hitter Monday and has yielded just 17 walks in 89 1/3 innings this season. The 20-year-old does not rely on velocity but rather on pinpoint command.
Irvin, 23, has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his first four starts at double A. Leibrandt, 24, has a 2.05 ERA in four starts at triple A but will have his innings monitored for the rest of the season as he works his way back from shoulder surgery. He is the son of former major-league lefthander Charlie Leibrandt. Irvin and Leibrandt, both former college pitchers, could advance to the majors next season.
Romero joined the Phillies after a season at Yavapai College, the Arizona junior college that produced Curt Schilling and Ken Giles. Romero planned to pitch there for a year between transferring from Nevada to Arizona. He had no plans to enter pro ball at the time. And then the season started. He was the ace for the Roughriders, who captured the national title. The Phillies drafted Romero and Irvin in consecutive rounds. Their lefthanded arsenal was finally being stocked.
"He's come in and pitched with confidence," Jordan said of Romero. "The first part of this has gone by pretty quickly. We'll see if he can keep doing what he's been doing. Use the same approach, trust his stuff and we'll see. It's been pretty impressive so far."