It’s been quite a while since the Phillies had a lefty in their rotation each cycle through. Really, you have to go back to Cole Hamels, who was traded to Texas in 2015.
In non-bullpen games over the last four seasons, the Phillies have started a left-handed pitcher 29 times. Of those, 23 came from half-season rentals Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas, with the other six belonging to Ranger Suarez and Cole Irvin (three apiece).
The Phillies have a 26-year-old left-handed pitching prospect in Damon Jones who was added to their 40-man roster three weeks ago. It protected Jones from being selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft, which will be held virtually this Thursday, December 10.
Jones was invited to Phillies spring training back in February, and he was later added to the Phillies’ 60-player pool, though he was not called up.
In 2019, Jones pitched at three levels: High A Clearwater, Double A Reading and Triple A Lehigh Valley. He excelled at his first two stops and struggled at the third.
At Single A and Double A, he had a 1.34 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 80⅓ innings and 3.7 walks per nine.
At Triple A, he had a 6.62 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 34 innings and 6.9 walks per nine.
Part of Jones’ overall success in 2019 was owed to the development of a slider. He talked last year about learning the grip by watching Trevor Bauer. While the two don’t know each other, both have spent time at Driveline Baseball, which specializes in data-driven player development programs.
On Monday, Kyle Rogers, a performance consultant working with Jones, posted this video.
Now, a fastball thrown in a warehouse is the equivalent of a Ben Simmons three-pointer against air in practice. Hitting 99 mph indoors in December is different than hitting 99 mph in the middle of the summer in the major leagues.
But the clip is still intriguing because Jones hadn’t previously exhibited that kind of velocity. Throughout his minor-league career, the fastball has been closer to 92 to 94 with some flashes of 96-97.
Though 45 of Jones’ 59 career minor-league appearances are starts, his most immediate impact could come as a reliever. The Phillies’ top two left-handed relievers the last two seasons were Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan, who are both free agents.
And if shorter bursts can result in Jones’ fastball ratcheting up to the high-90s, that’s an appealing weapon to have.
Either way, Jones figures to make his MLB debut in 2021, barring injury. The Phillies have little to no starting pitching depth after their first five and also have at least a handful of spots up for grabs in the bullpen.