With Vince Velasquez on the DL, the Phillies have named Zach Eflin as Tuesday’s starter. Here’s what you can expect to see out of the debuting righty.
The good news is, the injury that resulted in Vince Velasquez being pulled after just two pitches during Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs is just a sprain and that his time on the DL is likely more a precaution than something to be worried about. The better news is, while Velasquez is recovering, the Philadelphia Phillies have made the decision, and the right one I might add, to promote Zach Eflin to take his spot on the roster during the course of his DL stint.
The first of a slew of top-level prospects that the Phillies brought in from 2014-15, Eflin was still shy of the legal drinking age at the time of the three-team Jimmy Rollins trade which sent the Phillies’ franchise shortshop to LA alongside Yasmani Grandal, both Eflin (via San Diego) and Tom Windle to Philadelphia, and Matt Kemp to San Diego.
The 33rd overall pick by the Padres in the 2012 MLB Draft, Eflin was one of the fastest rising high school arms of his draft class. He graded out with an average fastball and below average slider, changeup and control, but all of those projected as being average as far as his slider and control and above average with his fastball and changeup. Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com’s draft and prospect expert, had this to say about Eflin in his 2013 Prospect Watch:
When healthy, he’s the kind of projectable right-hander who excites scouts. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he can reach back for more at times. The heater has good life to it, making it an even better pitch, coming from a downhill plane. His changeup might be a plus pitch, which is unusual for a high schooler. His breaking ball can be slurvy, but if he can throw it harder, it might develop into a third above-average offering. With good control, a good pitching frame, excellent stuff and outstanding mound presence, there’s a good reason why he was thought of so highly during the Draft.
The 6-foot-6 righty, who was listed as the Phillies’ fifth best prospect prior to the 2015 season, didn’t seem to miss a beat as he immediately joined Reading’s roster upon being traded to the team. Eflin put up solid numbers, finishing with an 8-6 record, 3.69 ERA and opponents’ batting average of 2.68 in a career-high 131.2 innings pitched. Proving to be every bit the workhorse Mayo profiled him in the 2015 edition of the Prospect Watch, Eflin, despite being just shy of 22 at the time, was a clear candidate for a Triple-A promotion in time for the start of the 2016 season.
With Lehigh Valley, Eflin, as the third youngest player in the entire International League (INTL), didn’t miss a beat during the transition. In his first start with the Iron Pigs, he pitched six innings of one-run ball, only to follow that up in his second start with eight innings of just two-hit ball. Never known as someone who would be a power or strikeout pitcher, Eflin has improved on his mound command and with experience, has been able to maximize when he does strike out guys in situations where putting the hitter away is better than putting the ball into play. But Eflin is still a contact, sinker-ball pitcher who is going to get more ground outs than fly outs.
And even though two of his last three starts have been less than stellar, Eflin still has one of the better resumes among INTL pitchers, including five starts of allowing no runs in a total of 33.2 innings, and two more starts in which he’s allowed just the one run. Additionally, in his time with the Iron Pigs, Eflin has yet to give up more than nine hits in any single start. Opponents are hitting just .199 against him and his WHIP of 0.88 (2nd best in the INTL) is excellent for someone his age and with his minimal experience.
A two-time pitcher of the week and one-time all-star with Reading, Eflin has helped the Iron Pigs this year to a 34-29 record, just 2.5 games out of first place in the INTL North. Now it’s time for him to help lead the Phillies as he prepares to make his first ever MLB start this Tuesday, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
So what can you expect to see from Eflin against the Blue Jays?
A ground ball pitcher with good mound presence, great command and whose bread and butter is a sinker that is absolutely lethal. His fastball tops out in the mid-90s but floats on a downward plane giving it that little bit of extra difficulty to hit which makes it a plus-pitch for the 22-year-old righty. Rounding out the pitch selection is his curveball, which is an average offering according to scouting grades but one that he very well could improve on given he just added it to his arsenal on a regular basis last season. He doesn’t throw many balls or walk many guys and he’s very efficient and economical with pitch count. Reasonably, if all goes well on Tuesday and Eflin pitches the way he is able, you can expect six innings out of him and a quality start that keeps the infielders busy for most of the night.
Overall, Eflin is not the guy who profiles to be your ace but as a middle-of-the-rotation kind of guy, the Phillies could do much, much worse.