Buchanan making a name for himself with Phillies

Posted: February 27, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - You won't find David Buchanan's name on any of those Top Prospects lists that garner so much publicity this time of year. You won't find newspapers that update his every move. Nevertheless, while Buchanan might not be Jesse Biddle, he just might make his major league debut before the Phillies' top pitching prospect.

In a perfect world, at least according to his employer's perspective, the 24-year-old righthander will spend the entire season at Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he made six starts in 2013 after a late-season promotion from Reading. But the Phillies are well aware that the world is rarely perfect. You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time they made it through a season with four pitchers who made at least 30 starts. During that span, only two teams in the majors have had five pitchers make at least 30 starts in a season (the Giants and Reds, both in 2012).

Injuries happen. They are why you know the names J.A. Happ and Vance Worley and Jonathan Pettibone. In fact, they are the reason you were introduced to the pitcher whose name is most often invoked when the discussion turns to Buchanan: Kyle Kendrick. One day earlier this spring, Buchanan heard a voice call in his direction near the training room. It was Pat Gillick's.

"Hey, K.K.," the former general manager and current senior adviser yelled.

"Nope," Buchanan said. "It's Buchanan."

The similarities are more than just physical. Buchanan is a control pitcher who relies heavily on his sinker (he walked 2.8 batters per nine innings in his 28 starts last year, with a strikeout rate of 5.7 batters per nine), while mixing in a cutter and changeup (he also throws a curveball).

Kendrick's abilities to throw strikes and keep his sinker down in the zone were the reasons the Phillies called on him from out of nowhere to make 20 starts as a 22-year-old in 2007, when he went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA. Actually, the biggest factor in Kendrick's promotion was a lack of other options, a situation that could have some relevance this season as the Phillies attempt to make the best of their depth issues behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, and Kendrick.

Free-agent signee Roberto Hernandez is expected to man a spot in the rotation at the start of the season, but he was booted from the Rays' rotation last season after 24 starts, in which he went 6-13 with a 4.98 ERA and allowed 23 home runs.

Behind Hernandez is a plethora of question marks. Pettibone is battling the same type of shoulder soreness that brought a premature end to his 2013 season. Fellow righty Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is El Hombre Misterioso, an unknown quantity who last summer was said by various unnamed scouts across the game to be ready to help a major league rotation, but who is now eliciting talk of "patience" from the Phillies. Aside from nonroster invitees Sean O'Sullivan and Jeff Manship, who made a smattering of spot starts for the Padres and Rockies last season, there are few obvious options if the Phillies need to fill a rotation spot early in the season (which they might, depending on the progressions of Hamels and Pettibone from their ailments). Righthander Ethan Martin will get plenty of consideration, but after an eight-start cameo last season in which he allowed 24 earned runs, eight home runs, and 22 walks in 33 innings (2-4, 6.55 ERA), the Phillies might opt for a safer pick.

The major league alumni roles are filled with pitchers with middling stuff who got the call to The Show because they were able to throw fastballs for strikes without fear. That characteristic has been featured on Buchanan's resume since the Phillies selected him the seventh round of the 2010 draft out of Georgia State. The past 4 years have seen him climb from Williamsport (4.21 ERA in 13 starts) to Lakewood (3.38 ERA in 20 starts) to Clearwater (3.90 ERA in six starts) to Reading (4.48 ERA in 34 starts) to Lehigh Valley, not because he has swing-and-miss stuff (a 5.6 K/9 rate in his career), but because he commands the stuff that does have (a 2.8 BB/9 rate and 0.7 HR/9 rate). In short, he is the kind of guy the Phillies might decide at some point this season will throw strikes and give their fielders a chance to keep the team in however many ballgames they need a replacement starter for.

They saw that kind of guy yesterday, when Buchanan pitched two scoreless innings in an intrasquad scrimmage, allowing a Bobby Abreu single and then retiring six straight: John Mayberry Jr. struck out swinging, Maikel Franco struck out looking, Clete Thomas struck out looking, Wil Nieves popped out to second, Tony Gwynn Jr. flied out to right, Jimmy Rollins grounded out to second. That's the type of efficiency the Phillies will want to see out of anybody they promote from the minors. It's an efficiency Biddle is still attempting to find, which is why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has already emphatically, and appropriately, declared that his top pitching prospect will not be a member of the Opening Day roster. Biddle flashed the stuff that prompts projections of a future middle-of-the-rotation arm in striking out Marlon Byrd and Cody Asche, but also the erratic command of his fastball that plagued him at times last season; the first four batters reached base as he worked from behind in the count.

Buchanan, on the other hand, is at a different stage in his development. A late invitee to a seminar the Phillies held for some of their prospects in mid-January, he nevertheless impressed manager Ryne Sandberg with the attitude and leadership he displayed during the event.

"He was one of the leaders of the group, as far as asking questions," said Sandberg, who did not know much about Buchanan's repertoire until the pitcher arrived at spring training (courtesy of an invitation that also was extended late).

"Throwing strikes is the philosophy in the camp," Sandberg said. "Down at the knees, working ahead in the count. He's an example of a guy today who executed that and got the results."

As for Buchanan, a self-described country boy from south of Atlanta who wears cowboy boots made from the skin of a python, his goal is to focus on the strike zone and little else.

"When I didn't get the invite initially, I was upset, but it was just some motivation to work harder and continue to have success on the field and give them no choice but to give me the invite, just by the way I pitch," he said. "When I found out, I was ecstatic . . . I just want to go out there every time and compete, show that I'm not afraid to throw the ball in the strike zone, that I'm going to work quick, that I'm going to have confidence in all of my stuff."

As pitchers such as Kendrick, Happ, Worley and Pettibone have shown, that mentality can mean plenty of big-league paychecks.

Email: dmurphy@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

comments powered by Disqus