So the conversation came up this week on MLB Radio about the Phillies wanting to move Carlos Santana. The Royals were mentioned as a potential trading partner because the Phillies want to move Rhys Hoskins in to first base to get his glove out of the outfield and upgrade the outfield defense. Alex Gordon’s name came up as a guy who would immediately give them a gold glove caliber LF. It would be a little bit of a salary break for the Royals and they could put Santana at first base upgrading their lineup. Or they could try to flip Santana for a mid-level prospect. Alex wrote about his thoughts on moving Alex in this article a few days ago. He also mentioned trade target RHP Adonis Medina. I’m all for the deal he put together.
But I also thought we needed to look at another alternative the Phillies might present. And this is a guy that we should go get even if we aren’t making a Gordon/Santana deal with the Phillies. The guy I’m looking at prepares like a major leaguer for every start and continues to get better in almost every start.
Cole Irvin is a left-handed pitcher who the Phillies drafted in the 5th round in 2016. Irvin was coming off a TJ surgery and hadn’t fully recovered when he was drafted. He worked in the high-80’s coming off the surgery but has gotten back up to the low-90’s and is working 91-92 in most starts. There are times he can bump it up past those numbers, but he doesn’t work there. Irvin throws both the 2-seam and 4-seam. He also throws a curve, slider, and very good change up. Irvin will use both the slider and curve until he finds out which one an opponent struggles with more and then bump the usage of that pitch. He is a smart guy and knows his abilities and how to get the most out of them. One of the things that makes Irvin so tough is his ability to throw all four pitches for strikes. In fact, he rarely throws the same pitch consecutively but they have such a high percentage of strikes that hitters have to be able to hit all four pitches.
Irvin works very quickly which is probably a contributor to his success so far. He has a slightly hybrid stance with a smooth leg lift and release. He is deceptive because of his tempo and easy release. He also does a good job pitching in all four quadrants of the strike zone. Irvin gets a lot of quick at bats and quick innings.
Irvin has made 56 starts in the minors. He has a career 2.84 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP. Lefties hit .217 against him while righties only hit .230. He gets more balls in play in the air than on the ground, but not by much. He has a 47% ground ball rate.
In 2018, Irvin had a stretch of 31.1 innings in which he did not walk a batter. In fact, it was 31 days and encompassed a span of 6 starts between his walks to Adam Lind and Yu Chang. Obviously his control is one of his biggest assets. Irvin had a 2.0 BB/9 rate last season at AAA. In fact, he improved it from 2.3 in High-A and AA the year before. He also increased his 7.0 K/9 to 7.3 K/9 as he moved up levels as well. Irvin also lowered his H/9 rate going up two levels as well to 7.5 H/9. It’s unusual for a pitcher to get better in every aspect of the game as he jumps that many levels in one year, but Irvin just continues to get better and better after his TJ surgery.
Irvin will be 25 for the 2019 season and he doesn’t have much left to prove. He has a full year before he is Rule 5 eligible so you can evaluate him in Omaha this season if needed. He was described by several different MiLB.tv announcers as one of the best pitchers in the International League while I watched video of him. He needs a shot in a major league rotation. The problem for him in Philadelphia is the guys ahead of him might keep him from getting a timely chance. Nola, Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez, and Eflin make up the current MLB rotation while Enyel De Los Santos and Ranger Suarez debuted last year and are ahead of him in the minors. Right behind him in the system and ahead of him in the rankings are Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina. If the Royals do make a trade with the Phillies, Irvin is one of the names I would ask for back in the deal. He will compete immediately for a starting spot in the MLB rotation and could slide in if one of the starters is moved, injured, or falters.