If there was one strength you were going to name for the Philadelphia Phillies, the bullpen probably was not it in 2013. So, obviously, the big-league club will be looking to improve upon their performance last season and that could mean there are opportunities to be had for some of the best young pitchers found down in the Minor League system.
Capping off our week-long series, we take a look at some of the organization’s top relief pitchers and project what the Lehigh IronPigs’ bullpen might look like for the 2014 season.
Jay Johnson, LHP
The 23-year-old lefty made his debut with the IronPigs last season, appearing in 17 games and striking out 22 in 17.2 innings with an ERA of 4.08. After a bumpy start to his Triple-A career, Johnson really settled down and pitched well; he struck out 14 batters in his final 10 appearances with an ERA of 1.64.
Not enough can be said about Johnson’s resiliency. Having overcome a tumultuous start to his pro career that included each of the two teams that drafted him passing him over due to medical concerns, Johnson has made the most of his opportunities.
His repertoire features nothing fancy. However, he has learned to adjust at every stage of his career to get the job done. With the big league club in his sights, it will be interesting to see if Johnson can continue to overcome the odds.
Mike Nesseth, RHP
After pitching 45 games at the Single A and Double A levels, Nesseth finished his season with three appearances at Lehigh Valley. He should return this season with the IronPigs with a chance to continue his rapid ascension through the Phillies’ organizational ranks.
Despite an impressive ERA of 2.50 between all three levels last season, Nesseth struggled with his control, walking 20 batters and also surrendered a few too many hits (66 in 68.1 innings).
The 25-year-old continued his struggles in the Arizona Fall League, where he surrendered eight walks to just nine strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched. Opposing hitters had no trouble against him as they hit a solid .344. Nesseth was able to skate by with average stuff at the lower levels, but if his performance in the Arizona Fall League is any indication, he won’t be as lucky against batters at the Triple-A level.
Nefi Ogando, RHP
The Domincan-born Ogando comes to the IronPigs via a trade between the Phillies and Boston Red Sox back in September.
According to SoxProspects.com, he throws a fastball in the 92-94 mph range, but he lacks command of it as evidenced by his high walk rate. Of all his flaws, his delivery is the greatest and is likely the biggest detriment to his success. With immediate attention, it’s possible Ogando could take a huge step forward with better command of his pitches.
In 33 games for the Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League, he went 2-3 with a 4.09 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 27 walks in 55 innings pitched.
Ethan Martin, RHP
Sometimes, reality is too tough to handle. That may be the case when the Phillies and Martin must come to terms with the fact that the 24-year-old is simply better suited to pitch out of the bullpen.
Martin was hit hard when he was in Philadelphia’s starting rotation last season and that prompted a move to the bullpen. It appears likely that will remain the case and, at least for the start of the 2014 season, his official “demotion” to the pen could also include a demotion to Lehigh Valley.
Martin would get an opportunity to sharpen his while proving that he can handle himself when coming out of the bullpen. After eight shaky starts for the Phillies, he was a much better pitcher entering late in games. As was often noted, Martin fares much better against batters the first time around than he does thereafter; the Phillies ought to use that to their advantage with a talent of Martin’s caliber in their grasps.
Shawn Camp, RHP
The 39-year-old reliever doesn’t have much of a career left in front of him, so if he fails to make the Phillies’ big-league roster, he may just call it quits. But if he sticks, I feel pretty confident he’ll wind up at Lehigh Valley.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. The IronPigs could use a veteran presence in their bullpen alongside a crop of youngsters beaming with potential.
Camp spent time in the Minors last season for the first time since pitching seven games for the Syracuse Chiefs in 2008. He did well, pitching a total of 19 games (two for Chicago Cubs affilate Kane County and 17 for Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate Reno) with 19 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and an ERA of 2.13.