The focus on young pitching for Phillies fans has centered squarely on Spencer Howard; and it should. Howard is undeniably the best pitching prospect in the organization and the closest to making an impact at the major league level. It won’t hurt fans though to shift a bit of their focus to another young pitcher, who has pitched well both at Double-A and now in the Arizona Fall League, where he and Howard have both been impressive.
23-year old Connor Seabold allowed his first earned run of the AFL season in his last outing and his ERA “ballooned” to 0.75 because of the outing, which covered five innings. Among AFL pitchers with 10 or more innings, Seabold’s ERA leads the league and his 18 strikeouts in 12 innings puts him second in the league in strikeouts. He lands 10th in the league with a 0.58 WHIP.
Seabold suffered an oblique strain just before the start of the season and opened the year on the IL rather than at Double-A Reading where he was ticketed to be part of a six-man rotation. In some ways, the injury turned into a blessing because while Seabold was rehabbing in Clearwater, he started to think about how he was throwing his change-up and the fact that he needed it to be a better pitch for him. Once he was able to throw, he began “messing around with it” and tweaked his release when throwing the pitch. Basically, he turned his wrist more and found the pitch to be much more effective.
Once he was able to pitch in games, he found that what he discovered during his bullpens translated to games and he was striking out more hitters with the change-up. The rest is history. In rehab starts with both GCL teams and then with Clearwater, he struck out 22 batters in 16 1/3 innings of work. Once he joined Reading, he found that even more advanced hitters were having difficulty laying off the pitch.
As Seabold went up the ladder and faced more disciplined hitters, his strikeout numbers leveled off, but he found that hitters weren’t generally getting good swings or solid contact on his change-up. He was also able to command the pitch better, which resulted in a mild drop in his walk percentage.
The pitch has become something of a wipe-out pitch to compliment his mid-90s fastball, giving Seabold the added pitch that he needs to get hitters out at higher levels.
Seabold will likely open 2020 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and could move up to the Phillies at some point during the season. It would be a stretch to see him make the team out of camp, but it’s likely that he will get some looks during spring training. The Phillies don’t need to protect Seabold from the Rule 5 Draft until after next season, so there’s no rush to add him to the 40-man roster or to get him to the majors. A season at Lehigh Valley would likely go a long way toward helping his development for a potential spot in the rotation with the Phillies in 2021.