For those Philadelphia Phillies fans dismayed by the team’s seeming inertia regarding roster changes this offseason, let us notice together two developments suggesting some outside-the-box thinking. Of course, by that phrase we don’t mean much of a shake-up, but still, two somewhat under-the-radar news items may be encouraging.
The first of these was that the Phillies signed a league MVP. That would be Lachlan Wells, the 2023-24 Australian Baseball League MVP, a left-handed starter. A native Australian, Wells was originally signed in the U.S. by the Minnesota Twins after extremely limited action down under from 2013-15 when he was 16 and 17.
Between ’15 and ’19, then, the hurler compiled decent minor league stats in his late teen years (3.02 ERA, 1.115 WHIP), and had impressive FanGraphs scores – 50/50 for his fastball with 45/50 for his curve and change-up.
Wells missed all of 2018, however, for Tommy John surgery, his stats slid down, and he sort of slid away from American baseball because COVID eliminated MiLB here in 2020. He did pitch well in three games for Sydney in their 2020-21 season, though. He sat out all of 2022 because he “lost his passion for the game,” according to Brad Wakai.
He returned to action in 2023-24 with the Adelaide Giants, however, and became a star, posting a 0.94 ERA and a 6-0 record. His WHIP was a sterling 0.734.
For Phillies fans, perhaps the year lost due to a lost “passion” is concerning, but the signing could be encouraging for two reasons. The team has finally found a foreign player from the very far west with some credentials, and Wells may have learned how to pitch very well with his repaired arm.
Look for the bespectacled lefty (who bears a remarkable resemblance to 2008 Phillies champion Brad Lidge) to start the 2024 season at Double or Triple-A. He is 26.
The second “development” regarding the Phillies' pitching staff is, perhaps, less a news item than an inference made by a veteran Philly reporter. On January 26 Scott Lauber’s Inquirer.com piece on the Phillies bullpen and team president Dave Dombrowski’s lack of movement to fill the void left by jettisoned closer Craig Kimbrel suggests strongly that “they think Orion Kerkering can do it.”
By now Kerkering’s story is well known to Phils fans. Pitching at every MiLB level possible besides Rookie Ball in 2023, he made his Phillies debut September 24 at the age of 22, pitching in three games before the end of the season. He had been promoted because of a killer slider, and in two of his three appearances he gave up no runs in an inning in each game.
In his third game, he surrendered a run, and in the postseason (yes, the Phillies trusted him in seven games), he didn’t do quite so well. However, he was not a disaster.
That he is being considered a front runner for the closer’s job in his age-23 season is remarkable. It also gives Phillies fans someone to cheer on early in 2024 after last year’s disappointing campaign.