Prospect Notes: Two Phillies Pitchers To Watch
MANCHESTER, N.H.—Phillies lefthander Ranger Suarez smiles when asked about his 2014 season in the Venezuelan Summer League. Suarez was 18 years old that season, when he walked only one batter in 80.2 innings, with 70 strikeouts and a 1.56 ERA.
At the time, Suarez was a longshot prospect—a pitchability lefty with an upper-80s fastball who the Phillies had signed for $25,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012. Two years later, Suarez continued to show pitching savvy beyond his years in the short-season New York-Penn League, but his strikeout rate was modest with his stuff yet to tick up much.
That changed in 2017. Suarez added velocity, sitting in the low 90s and reaching 95 mph. The combination of improved stuff to go with the ability to locate and keep hitters off balance led to a breakout season. His strikeout rate rose from 6.5 K/9 in 2016 to 9.4 K/9 in 2017 while splitting time between low Class A Lakewood and high Class A Clearwater, and Suarez entered 2018 ranked as the Phillies No. 11 prospect.
What led to the extra velocity?
“My work in the gym and my work with the trainers,” Suarez said in Spanish. "And I changed my mechanics too. I stayed more into my back leg.”
The Phillies worked with Suarez to incorporate his lower half into his delivery more, with the belief it would help him generate more power. The adjustment paid off. Suarez made just eight starts last year in Clearwater, but he was advanced enough that the Phillies pushed him this year to Double-A Reading.
Pitching against New Hampshire on May 1, Suarez, 22, showed the makings of a back-end starter, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He threw 90-95 mph with a mix of four-seamers and mostly heavy sinkers. Suarez’s fastball was his most effective pitch that night, getting swings and misses when he elevated with it, including one each from Blue Jays' top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
With Reading coming off three games that were postponed due to field conditions in Portland, it was the first time Suarez had pitched in nine days. As a result, his command wasn’t at its best, but location is typically a strong spot for him. His go-to secondary pitch is his mid-80s changeup, which flashed as a solid-average pitch. His slider his improved too, a low-to-mid-80s offering that was an average pitch when he snapped it right out front. Suarez hides the ball well in his delivery, so his deception helps his stuff play up.
Suarez showed his baseball smarts in multiple ways. He varied the speed of his pickoff moves, lulling runners into a sense of safety with a slower, mundane pickoff attempt early in the game, then using his quick feet to pick a runner off first base with a swifter move later. Suarez has good body control and fielded his position well.
The start lowered Suarez’s ERA to 3.90 with a 24-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings through his first five starts. Suarez is on the 40-man roster, so there’s a possibility he could make his major league debut by the end of the season, with a chance to help the back of Philadelphia’s big league rotation in 2019.
Edgar Garcia Takes One Step Closer To Philly
Garcia and his outstanding slider should get a look in the big league bullpen in 2018 after he joined the 40-man roster in November.
Edgar Garcia, RHP
The Phillies have shown a knack for developing quality pitching prospects who have signed for lower bonuses as teenagers in Latin America. Suarez fits that mold, as does 21-year-old Dominican righthander Edgar Garcia—a $30,000 signing from their 2014 class.
Garcia, ranked as the Phillies’ No. 28 prospect entering the season, has pitched well this season out of Double-A Reading’s bullpen, with an ERA of 0.51 and a 17-to-7 strikeout-to-walk mark in 17.1 innings.
Garcia came on in relief of Suarez on May 1 and threw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit with no walks and three strikeouts. Garcia pounded the strike zone (20 of his 25 pitches were strikes) using a 90-92 mph fastball with good armside run. His bread-and-butter pitch is an 80-84 mph slider—a plus pitch with hard downward action that’s effective when he keeps it down or below the strike zone, eliciting six swings and misses in his quick appearance. Garcia doesn’t have a powerful fastball by modern reliever standards, but his slider is an effective weapon for him to carve out a middle relief role and reach the big leagues within the next couple of years.