Orion Kerkering sure had one heck of a season in 2023. Ranked in the Phillies Top 10 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, Kerkering took a huge leap in his development last year when he ascended four minor league levels.
Collectively, he pitched to a stellar 4-1 record with 14 saves, along with a 1.51 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, giving up only nine earned runs while walking 12 and striking out 79 in 53 2/3 innings. It earned him a surprising promotion to the big leagues near the end of the regular season, in which he made three appearances.
Kerkering impressed so much that he was included on the Phillies’ playoff roster as well. That was surely an amazing way for the 22-year-old to cap off his stellar 2023 baseball season. He actually held his own during the first two rounds of the playoffs when he yielded zero runs in three appearances.
However, he finally faced adversity when he was brought into more high-leverage situations during the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He gave up two runs on six hits in just 2 1/3 innings of work. Unfortunately, it included the game-tying run in Game 3 that ultimately helped the Diamondbacks turn the series around.
Aside from the small blip on his resumé from the NLCS, Kerkering had a memorable season that he will never forget for the rest of his career. With Kimbrel gone via free agency this offseason, Kerkering is a prime candidate to take his place in the Phillies’ bullpen, as he could potentially be the heir to the closer role down the road.
The odds are in his favor to make the 2024 Opening Day roster for sure, but whether or not he'll remain with the team all season will depend on how fast he can adapt to the rigors of the major league season, along with the maturity of his game. Otherwise, he could see a stint or two back in the minors to fine-tune his game to become MLB-ready and be as polished as possible.