You're gonna wanna root for Phil Klein. Well, you're gonna wanna root for him anyway, because he'll finally be wearing "TEXAS" across his chest, but you'd wanna root for him and his story even if it weren't for usual loyalties. His is a story of a scout seeing a glimmer, a team taking a chance, a development system working, and most importantly, a kid working very hard and buying in to what all of the above were saying. A 30th(!) round pick in 2011, Phil had a good, if unremarkable, career over 4 years at Youngstown State in Ohio. A native of Gahanna, Ohio, Phil hadn't traveled far for college, frankly, because his hurling at the time didn't warrant it. He had some good numbers at YSU and even earned a "Second-Team All-Horizon League" honor his senior year. A finance major, Klein was a consistent presence on the All Academic team and was an honor roll member every year in high school. Phil's a smart kid. He's also a big kid. Well, he's not even a kid at all. He turned 25 in April, and standing 6'7" and weighing 250lbs will always get you noticed on a baseball field...or anywhere really.
Roger Coryell is Texas' Midwest area scout and a front office member once described him to me as "an awesome scout when it comes to turning over rocks and finding guys who could develop into something, they just haven't yet." He's responsible for signing guys like Ryan Rua, David Lyon, Ryan Bores, and Jared Hoying. All mid-to-late round picks who had outstanding makeup and enough skills to get them watched. Phil is one of those guys as well and now he's on a plane, flying to his home state, to suit up for a big league club for the first time. That is so cool. Phil's journey was far from simple though. After having relatively low numbers of walks at previous stops in Hickory and Myrtle Beach, the wheels came off for Phil on more than one occasion in Frisco last season. I remember some pretty ugly games when he simply couldn't repeat his mechanics and get his giant frame to release the ball at the same spot and subsequently, the ball went nowhere near where he intended it to. 7.4BB/9ip during his 29 games in AA Frisco had him all but off the map completely for many scouts I know. Turn the page to 2014, and turn the page to success.
He's been dominant. Not good, not effective...dominant. Following a crushing performance in April, May, and June for the RoughRiders, Phil was promoted to AAA Round Rock at the end of June and has responded by ripping AAA hitters up, sporting a 0.00 ERA. Perhaps the most telling stat of his turnaround has been the fact that this season, he has yet to allow an extra-base hit. Not one. No hitter has even blooped a ball down a baseline for a double. He last allowed a run on May 8th. The great Scott Lucas went a bit further with his research and came up with this gem, [Phil] "has faced 328 batters without giving up an extra-base hit last August. Opponents are hitting .139/.244/.139 against him in that span." That kind of shit will get you fitted for a big league uniform. A BIG, big league uniform.
Just before he was promoted to AAA, I asked Phil what the biggest difference was for him this year versus last, "Just not thinking so much." was his response. Just throw it to the catcher's mitt, big fella. A very smart dude who enjoys the quiet serenity of bow hunting in the offseason, Phil had to learn to turn off the noodle a bit and just trust his stuff, his catcher, and his defenders. Phil's biggest attribute is his size and now, his command. Nothing worse than a reliever who walks guys and Phil's numbers this year are back down to his career averages of about 3.5BB/9 (while he's averaging 12.2K/9). A FB that will sit 92-95, but that according to several opposing players I've spoken with over the years "looks 95-98" is his most reliable weapon. He gets massive extension and drive from his mechanics and the ball simply jumps on hitters. He'll use the FB to set up a very good slider, that usually comes in around 82-84mph. He'll mix in a few 88mph cutters from time to time as well, but he's essentially a FB/SL guy who uses a bit of deception and a whole lot of his massive frame to give hitters a unique look.
I put that last part in bold, because it's basically the nut of the whole piece. Sorry for getting long-winded about a potential reliever, but what the hell else to we have to be excited about?
Phil Klein! You're first audition begins now. Love Ya!