Every Major League team could use bullpen depth; it's just the nature of the game. The Philadelphia Phillies have had a relief corps that has performed well during the 2023 campaign. Despite the success of the bullpen, every team needs to develop pitching from within.
The club has some intriguing relief options in the minor league system heading into 2024. One such pitcher is Andrew Baker. Baker has insane stuff. He regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun with his fastball and has a really nice breaking ball as a compliment. He was invited to Major League spring training prior to the beginning of the season, and he showcased some of his potential.
Baker's path to professional baseball has not been easy, however. When he was just 11 years old the right-hander was drilled with liner to the head as he pitched— the injury caused him to become deaf in his right ear. Baker recalled the scary incident:
"When it hit me, I fully blacked out. When I woke up and there were like 50 people around me and my dad had his hands around my neck. I felt woozy and nauseous. I blacked out"- via Chris Duong/Reading Fightin Phils
After the head injury, Baker required multiple surgeries and became a catcher. It was not until he arrived at a prospect camp at Chipola College— a well-respected JUCO school— that Baker was offered the chance to pitch again. The opportunity allowed the hard-throwing right-hander to go to Auburn to play college baseball. His season was interrupted in 2020 due to COVID-19. Baker then returned to Chipola and was later drafted by the Phillies in 2021 in the 11th round.
Baker arrived in Clearwater this past spring as an invitee to Big League camp. He struggled in his short time with the Phillies during spring training allowing seven earned runs in two innings pitched. Baker's command was the issue. He allowed four walks in those two spring training innings.
His time in Clearwater was valuable, however. Baker was able to learn from some of the veterans at spring training— specifically Craig Kimbrel.
"One thing Craig [Kimbrel] told me that stuck with me was just to make sure that your body is ready every single day. It’s the reason why he’s been so successful. He’s able to put up great numbers because he is available every single day"- via Chris Duong/Reading Fightin Phils
While Baker is still an unpolished prospect, he has the potential to rise through the Phillies system quickly if he can get his command under control. Walks continue to hurt the 23-year-old pitcher. Through 32 1/3 innings, Baker has walked 29 batters. His WHIP is high and would not translate well in the Majors. The thing Baker has going for him is his strikeout rate. The righty has sat down 48 batters on strikes in those innings (K/9 rate of 13.4).
It is still unknown how close Baker is to reaching the Major Leagues. He has demonstrated that he has the stuff to be a big-league reliever, but he has allowed too many baserunners and has not shown command of the strike zone. It is important to remember that Baker missed close to ten years on the mound recovering from a brain injury that caused him to miss valuable time honing his craft. With some extra work it would not be surprising to see Baker make a run at the 2024 bullpen if he can find his command.