The International League's (AAA) Most Valuable Pitcher of the Year, Tyler Cloyd, will finally get his chance to prove to all of those in the baseball world that his insane minor league numbers are more than just a fluke.
It was reported earlier this morning by several sources including Matt Gelb and Bob Brookover at Philly.com that the Phillies have pushed back the scheduled start for Cole Hamels tonight because of an illness. In scratching Hamels, the team has finally decided to give the start to Cloyd, who in this past year has done nothing but prove he is ready for the chance.
The 25-year-old righty has been an interesting story to follow this past year, starting with the fact that he practically came out of nowhere.
There's the Baby Aces, the Baby, Baby Aces and Then There's Tyler Cloyd
It is no surprise to anyone that closely follows the organization that the Phils best pitching prospects are currently in the Gulf Coast and Class A teams of their farm system. This was the design as the expectation is that when Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are done, some of these guys can step right in. So far, this has worked out to plan as the baby, baby aces of the future in Jesse Biddle, Austin Wright and the recently promoted Adam Morgan, all shined as part of a fearsome threesome with the Clearwater Threshers. With Morgan already in AA, it would be surprising if these two didn't join him.
That said, the Phils also have the baby aces to think about. Trevor May was expected to make his major league debut sometime around 2013-14. He pitched well at the beginning of the season for Reading but stumbled recently, giving some reasons to be nervous if he is major league ready. He has yet to be promoted to Lehigh Valley.
Then there is Cloyd, who at 25 years old, was not ranked among the best in the Phillies organization. In fact, seen as just a marginal prospect, he was not protected last season during the Rule Five Draft. Still under the radar, Cloyd put together a 2012 season that has him and not May or Jonathan Pettibone making the major league start in place of Hamels.
The Early Years in Clearwater
Cloyd was drafted in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Player Draft. He began his career in the Gulf Coast League and then was moved to the NY/Penn League for further development. Here he struggled a bit posting an ERA over 4.00 and a K/BB ratio of just under 3.00.
It was really at this stage that people following the organization could pinpoint Cloyd's strengths and weaknesses. He wasn't going to be a power pitcher. His velocity wouldn't break 90 MPH and at the time he had control issues.
Since Cloyd didn't have the speed, he needed that command if he hoped to have any sort of major league career. When he received the promotion to Reading at the end of the 2010 season, it began to show that his command was improving. He was starting to throw his fastball with more accuracy even if it only topped out at 88 MPH.
The 2011 Breakthrough
The Phillies decided to keep Cloyd at Reading for the 2011 season and finally Cloyd's career began to take off. The man who pitched to a 9-4 record with a 2.77 ERA was a different pitcher than the guy the team saw in the developmental stages. In almost all areas of his pitching, Cloyd improved.
Typically, to see a player have career best numbers at AA such as Cloyd did is exactly what an organization wants to see. Because Cloyd's numbers improved when he reached the AA level, it showed that his time in the developmental stages were working. Upside was discovered and Cloyd really began to pinpoint his strengths and pitch to them. He was becoming a better pitcher right under the still-not-so-watchful eyes of the Phillies organization.
2012: An Unforgettable Season for the Ages
In 2012, Cloyd was slated to begin the year with Reading. All of that changed, however, when a day before the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' season was about to start, Cloyd got the call. Dave Bush was on suspension and the team needed Cloyd to step in.
It was just expected to be a spot start. When Bush came back from suspension, Cloyd would go back to Reading. That is unless he proved he had a reason to stay, which as it turns out, is exactly what he did.
With a perfect 3-0 record and 1.80 ERA in four starts at Reading sandwiched in between, Cloyd has gone on to have one of the best seasons for a minor league pitcher. His numbers are incredibly impressive as he posted a 15-1 record, 12-1 at AAA and has an ERA of 2.26.
On top of this, Cloyd was named the International League's Most Valuable Pitcher, the equivalent to a minor league Cy Young. In a sign of his continued improvement, he also was voted to have the Best Control in the same league.
With numbers this monstrous and control issues left in the past, Cloyd finally forced the organization to watch and to put him on the radar.
Is He Major League Ready?
Despite the numbers, the progress and the way he has improved at every level, the question still has to be asked if Cloyd is in fact major league ready.
Obviously before today, the Phillies didn't think so. If they had, they would have opted to start Cloyd instead of pitch a bullpen game earlier this season, knowing that the bullpen has been nothing but terrible. If they had, Cloyd could have gotten a chance to start when Kyle Kendrick was struggling or when Vance Worley was on the DL.
For whatever reason, the organization was not sold on Cloyd, possibly because they believed his success wouldn't translate at a major league level.
With Hamels sick, however, the team is finally wising up. Coupled with his age and level of improvement if Cloyd isn't major league ready now, it is unlikely he will ever be. It only makes sense then for the Phillies who have nothing to lose to see what exactly he can bring to the table.
Now is also the best time for the Phils to tryout the Cloyd experiment. With Kendrick pitching well as of late, it seems like once again he will get a shot to earn the job in spring training. If he does, that only leaves one opening that will likely go to Worley. The thing about that, however, is that Worley has to get offseason surgery and may not be ready to start at the beginning of 2013. In this case, Cloyd, if he pitches well tonight, could get the nod to take over.
The Cloyd Era Begins
Regardless of whether he sticks or not, though, he at least deserves the chance. Who knows, maybe the Phils will have found a diamond in the rough? Maybe Cloyd will go on to be a solid major league pitcher. Maybe he could even win a spot on next year's starting rotation.
The Phils will never know unless they try.
His potential may have been delayed if Bush never got suspended. Cloyd may have spent most of the season in Reading instead of being put on the fast track to the majors by going to Lehigh Valley. If Worley does in fact miss time or any of the other pitchers goes down to an injury, Cloyd could likely be the benficiary. And maybe just like when he received the promotion from Reading to Lehigh, he will make it stick.