Rookie Review: David Phelps, RHP, New York Yankees
Rookie right-hander David Phelps was the goat in Game Four for the Yankees, giving up the winning run in the 13th inning against the Orioles. I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself, and that his 2012 season is remembered for something more than last night.
I don't normally root for the New York Yankees, but when I do, I root for David Phelps.
David Phelps had a poor freshman year for Notre Dame in 2006. In contrast, his 2007 season was brilliant: a 1.88 ERA with a 102/30 K/BB in 110 innings for the Fighting Irish. He was positioned as a potential early pick for 2008, but an erratic junior season (4.65 ERA, 75/28 K/BB with 102 hits in 93 innings) depressed his stock.
Scouts reported slippage of his secondary pitches and a slight loss of velocity. The Yankees drafted him anyway in the 14th round, then signed him for a $150,000 bonus. His pro debut was quite good (2.72 ERA with a 52/18 K/BB in 73 innings in the New York-Penn League), and he looked like a nice sleeper prospect heading into 2009. I gave him a Grade C in the '09 book, but noted him as a guy with "higher potential" who was an astute draft pick.
He was terrific in Low-A, posting a 2.80 ERA with a 90/25 K/BB in 113 innings, followed by a 1.17 ERA with a 32/6 K/BB in 38 innings after moving up to High-A in August. Some scouts (perhaps thinking too much about what happened in college in 2008) were skeptical and panned him, but Yankees officials were impressed with his steady progress improving his secondary pitches. I gave him a Grade C+ in the '10 book and noted him with the "Sleeper Alert" tag.
His strong performance continued in 2010: he posted a 2.04 ERA with an 84/23 K/BB in 88 innings of Double-A, then continued to pitch well in the second half in Triple-A (3.07 ERA, 57/13 K/BB in 70 innings). I moved him up to a Grade B-, and wrote "Phelps doesn't get as much attention as he deserves. I think that's a mistake."
Phelps returned to Triple-A in 2011 and was effective once again (3.19 ERA with a 90/26 K/BB in 107 innings, 115 hits) although he missed two months with some shoulder tenderness. He was healthy in the Arizona Fall League, then earned his way onto the major league roster with a strong 2012 spring training. I had him as a Grade B- in the 2012 book, projecting him as a "decent fourth starter or long reliever."
Phelps ended up pitching 99.2 innings for the Yankees this year, starting 11 games and relieving in 22. He posted a 3.34 ERA with a solid 96/38 K/BB ratio and 81 hits allowed. His ERA overstates his performance, according to FIP anyway, which was almost a full run higher at 4.32. His xFIP was better at 4.01 though, and he helped stabilize the pitching staff with his versatility.
The thing I like about Phelps is that he snuck up on people and was often underrated. I root for guys like that, the guys who had to work for it. This doesn't mean that he's going to be a star going forward, of course, but he's a useful major league pitcher, and that's a good thing to find in the 14th round.
If he continues to grow as a pitcher, he'll have a better career than a few hundred guys drafted ahead of him.