Phillies 2018 season preview: Pitching prospect Cole Irvin

CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 20: Cole Irvin #74 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a portrait on February 20, 2018 at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 20: Cole Irvin #74 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a portrait on February 20, 2018 at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /
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Pitching prospect Cole Irvin has been a quick riser through the Phillies minor-league system. How soon can he be in the major leagues?

The top of the Phillies 2016 draft class has not fared well. First-round pick Mickey Moniak struggled heavily in his sophomore season. Second-round pick Kevin Gowdy had Tommy John surgery, and Cole Stobbe hit just .203 in short-season Williamsport.

However, the next two pitchers selected have shown some signs of promise in the minor leagues. JoJo Romero had arguably the best season of any pitcher in the system, causing him to rocket up prospect rankings.

Fifth-round pick Cole Irvin also had success in his first year of professional baseball. He came out of college and started his professional career in Williamsport, posting a 1.97 ERA in 10 appearances.

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Last year, Irvin skipped Low-A Lakewood and went right to High-A Clearwater. He didn’t miss a beat, logging a 2.55 ERA, 2.86 fielding-independent pitching, 3.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.22 WHIP. He was named a Florida State League All-Star.

Irvin then became the first pitcher from the 2016 class to reach Double-A Reading after a midseason promotion. In his first six starts there, he still had success with a 2.70 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.

However, Irvin ended the season on a poor note as he carried a 5.28 ERA through his last seven starts. He couldn’t avoid home runs, allowing eight in 44.1 innings.

In Irvin’s defense, he was one of the heaviest-worked pitchers in the system. His 151 innings pitched were second-most behind only Jose Taveras, who pitched at three different levels by season’s end. The organization isn’t worried about an innings limit despite Irvin undergoing Tommy John during his college career.

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Irvin is in major-league camp with the team as a non-roster invitee. He is getting a chance to work with the new coaching staff and find out what the team is looking for in their pitchers. He has appeared twice so far in games this spring, once against the University of Tampa and once against the Orioles in a split-squad game. Combined, he has struck out two hitters, walked none, and allowed two hits in 2.2 innings.

Irvin is viewed as one of the most major-league ready pitching prospects in the system, and perhaps the readiest lefty. His fastball generally clocks in the low-90s and he has an above-average curveball.

Irvin’s slider and changeup both project as average. Irvin has a similar profile to Tom Eshelman but without the pinpoint command.

When Irvin has all of his pitches working, he projects as a back-end starter. However, if any part of his game falters, he doesn’t seem like much more than a depth piece.

With a stacked major-league and Triple-A rotation, Irvin will likely return to Reading and hope to avoid giving up as many home runs. From there, Irvin has to show continued success in Triple-A before ever reaching the majors. If things break just right for him, he could wind up in Philadelphia by the end of the season. On the other hand, a 2019 debut seems far more likely as he doesn’t need to be rushed.

Next: Phillies begin first round of Spring Training cuts

In the end, Irvin’s trajectory could benefit from being left-handed in an organization lacking them. How Irvin handles Double-A and potentially Triple-A this year will ultimately determine how soon he can make it to the big leagues.