Phillies pitching prospect Ken Giles trying to harness his power

Ken Giles has hit 103 m.p.h.on the radar gun, but the 23-year-old has control problems. MIKE JANES / Four Seam Images
Ken Giles has hit 103 m.p.h.on the radar gun, but the 23-year-old has control problems. MIKE JANES / Four Seam Images
Posted: November 11, 2013

SURPRISE, Ariz. - The most powerful arm in the Phillies minor-league system twists a white towel into knots. The veins in Ken Giles' right arm bulge as he squeezes. There is tension, and this is a sunny afternoon on a day in which his activity at the Arizona Fall League was confined to sitting in the bullpen.

"I know I'm close," Giles says, "but I can't speed myself up."

Speed is what fuels Giles. Last weekend, he threw a baseball at 100.6 m.p.h. in an all-star game for this prospect-laden league. His fastball - which sits around 97 m.p.h. and has traveled as fast as 103 m.p.h. - is the type of pitch that titillates scouts.

The Phillies have not developed a hard-throwing reliever in years. There is no guarantee in Giles, 23, an inexperienced pitcher who has yet to harness his talent on a consistent basis. (A 6.31 ERA and two oblique strains last season at single-A Clearwater are evidence.) But this fall served as another chance to dream about his potential.

Giles has walked at least one batter in four of his seven outings for the Peoria Javelinas. He faced seven batters Oct. 19 and permitted four hits and three walks. He allowed six runs that day, but none in his other six AFL appearances.

He entered last Tuesday's game with the bases loaded and two outs. He walked in a run, although the umpire's strike zone generated groans from attentive scouts. He broke the next hitter's bat twice, and the second time generated a tapper that rolled for an infield hit.

Giles kicked at the mound dirt. He escaped with a groundout. He remained for the next inning and struck out the side on 12 pitches. The first two were recorded using his slider. The last punch-out came on a 97-m.p.h. fastball.

Some scouts have him pegged as a future late-inning reliever. Others are skeptical because of his penchant for wildness. Most evaluations begin with, "If he can throw strikes . . ."

Giles walked 19 in 252/3 innings at Clearwater. A career rate of 5.8 walks per nine innings is not acceptable in the majors.

The strikeout numbers are staggering. Giles fanned 34 last year and 152 in 1121/3 career minor-league innings. Because of their immediate need for relievers, the Phillies could invite Giles to big-league spring training for a cursory look, although the organization tends to be conservative when it comes to its younger players.

His stop in Arizona was designed to compensate for lost time due to two oblique injuries that cost him three months and valuable development time. The fast-paced pitcher was sedentary.

"I have to take one step at a time to calm me down," Giles said. "I get excited sometimes, and I need to remind myself to calm down and take a deep breath. I can't put everything in one little ball and hope next time I'm in the big leagues. It's a step-by-step process."

For that reason, Giles could return to Clearwater in 2014. A strong spring could elevate him to double-A Reading and on the precipice of the majors. Giles said he was always the hardest thrower, even as a kid.

"My life goal was I wanted to throw 100," he said.

He changed his mechanics during his freshman year at Yavapai (Ariz.) College. "Then," Giles said, "one day it just came out.

"It was a fall-ball game at Yavapai. I came back into the dugout and someone said, 'Did you know you just hit 100?' I was like, 'Awesome.' I just sat down. I didn't want to make too big a deal of it because we were still playing in the game."

But later?

"I was stoked," Giles said. "I was like, 'All right, now I want to throw harder.' "

Giles' fastball has averaged 97 m.p.h. during AFL play. That would have made it the fifth-hardest pitch among major-league relievers last season, according to FanGraphs.com data.

A slider with improved bite will help his cause. Improved composure and command are required. If it all clicks, Giles could quickly rise. There is one thing that will define him.

"Oh yeah," Giles said. "I love my fastball."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

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