CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wondering how many Phillies fans are aware of this ...
Last year, the organization could boast having the International League Pitcher of the Year.
That's pretty good stuff.
Cole Irvin is his name. He led the IL in ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.05) while pitching 161⅓ innings for Triple A Lehigh Valley.
The left-hander will get the ball Friday when the Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.
Irvin, who turned 25 three weeks ago, is pumped.
“First game of the spring, that’s what is really cool about it,” he said. “I love baseball season. I think we all do. And to be the guy starting the Phillies baseball season, whether that’s spring training, it doesn’t matter to me. This is the first game of the year for us and it’s going to be fun.”
The Phillies selected Irvin in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Oregon. He does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after this season but is in camp as a non-roster invite.
Despite his accomplishments last season, Irvin is not the most ballyhooed Phillies pitching prospect. You won’t find his name on Baseball America’s list of the team’s top 10 pitching prospects.
Irvin, bright and articulate, has an explanation for that.
“I’m not known as a prototypical prospect,” he said. “I’m a guy that gets outs. I don’t care how hard I throw. I don’t care about my spin rate. I care about the guy’s swing coming through the zone. I care about the guy leaning out over the plate to get the away pitch. I care about the stuff that actually matters in games. And I felt that there’s been a little bias toward some guys that can’t find the strike zone and I’m a guy that pitches in the strike zone and gets outs just the same.
“I’m not a hard thrower. I pitch at 88 to 94, 95 (mph). What’s wrong with a guy that goes out there and gets outs? That’s kind of where I stand.”
Irvin throws a deep repertoire of pitches. He relies on command. He doesn’t stress over velocity, though he can sneak a 95-mph heater up in the zone when he has to. Phillies minor-league pitching instructors love the way Irvin prepares for starts. He keeps a book on his outings — what worked, what didn’t — in his locker.
“I stick to the old-school thing about baseball,” he said. “I’m a big fan of breaking down hitters and swings. I’ve always been taught to pitch first, not throw. Everyone wants to prove they can throw hard.
“You have to understand who you are. I’m a pitcher. Get outs.”
Irvin will likely be applying his methods of pitching back at Triple A at the start of this season. On paper, the Phillies' rotation seems set with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. Jerad Eickhoff, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos are all on the 40-man roster if the Phils need immediate depth and it’s not out of the question the team would try to sign Dallas Keuchel.
As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. So it would not be surprising to see Irvin get a shot in Philadelphia sometime this season.
“We have a really good rotation,” he said. “I want to see my teammates do well. I’m excited to see what this team can do. My role right now is minuscule compared to the guys on the 40-man roster. All I can do is put myself in position to be the next man called up and be able to win that game if need be.
“In the business of baseball, the player doesn’t make the decision (when he’s called up). All you can do is focus on what you can do to get better.”
And that is what Irvin is focused on this spring.
It all starts for him Friday in the Grapefruit League lid lifter.
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