The Philadelphia Phillies got 20 starts from an unexpected source this year: rookie right-hander David Buchanan. He threw 118 innings with a 3.75 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 0.6 fWAR, with a 71/32 K/BB and 120 hits allowed. As with Chase Anderson in Arizona, Buchanan's performance was not tremendous but it was certainly useful, helping stabilize the back end of the Phillies rotation and putting him in the mix for 2015. And as with Anderson, it was unexpected: Buchanan spent much of 2013 pitching ineffectively in Double-A.
Buchanan was a talented but erratic pitcher at Georgia State University, posting a 4.72 ERA with a 53/25 K/BB in 55 innings as a junior in 2010. He had the arm strength to be drafted in the third round, having been clocked as high as 95 MPH, but fell to the seventh due to problems with his secondary pitches and shaky command. Selected by the Phillies, he posted a 4.21 ERA with a 30/23 K/BB in 62 innings with 61 hits allowed for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League. I did not file a report for him entering 2011.
He split 2011 between Low-A Lakewood (3.38 ERA, 86/32 K/BB in 125 innings, 115 hits) and High-A Clearwater (3.90 ERA, 24/11 K/BB in 32 innings, 37 hits). He didn't stand out especially. His command was better than it was in college, but reports on his stuff were muted and the numbers were not distinguishable from the broad mass of A-ball pitchers. I did not write a report on him for '12.
A finger injury limited him to 12 starts and 72 innings for Double-A Reading in 2012, resulting in a 3.86 ERA and a 40/23 K/BB. Again, the improved control was good to see, but his strikeout rate was notably low and fit reports that he still needed work with his secondary pitches. Once again, I did not file a report on him.
Buchanan returned to Reading in 2013 and did not have a particularly good year: 4.82 ERA, 86/41 K/BB in 131 innings, 142 hits, 15 homers allowed. And again, I did not file a report on him for '14. However, he earned a non-roster invitation to spring training and impressed Phillies officials enough to put his name on the potential major league promotion list.
He was pitching for Triple-A Lehigh Valley (5-1, 3.98, 31/17 K/BB in 41 innings, 47 hits) when he was promoted to the majors in late May. At the time this looked like a temporary expedient, but he pitched well enough to keep his big league job the rest of the season.
Buchanan does not throw as hard as he did in college, working at 89-93 now, averaging about 91. This is OK because his command seems better at the lower velocities. He used a slurvy slider when drafted, but swapped that out for a more traditional slower curveball, a changeup, and a cutter which is now his go-to pitch. His secondary pitches are better than they were three years ago and the sinker and cutter help him generate ground balls.
As you can see, Buchanan was never dominant in the minors. The stats weren't great, scouting reports were unenthusiastic, and he just never stood out. Phanatic Phillies prospect folk were aware of him as an organization guy, but there was virtually no buzz about him anywhere else until he impressed brass in spring training. I never saw a reason, scouting or sabermetric, to file a report on him, and Baseball America never put him in their prospect book. Everyone missed on this one.
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For the future, I would be more confident in Buchanan if he rang up more whiffs, but he's already exceeded expectations. Although I don't think he'll improve much from where he currently is, I would not put it past him to keep going at this level for longer than people expect, surviving as a number four/five starter.