Giles riding a flamethrower through the minor league ranks

Posted: May 22, 2014

ALLENTOWN - The first time a Ken Giles fastball registered 100 mph, the righthander didn't learn of it until after he had wrapped up his outing. When the then-college sophomore returned to the dugout, an excited group of Yavapai College teammates swarmed around to alert him of an accomplishment seldom witnessed at any level of baseball, let alone in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.

When Giles clocked in at 103 mph toward the end of last season with Class A Clearwater, the Phillies' pitching prospect could feel that particular fastball was different. After the game, he curiously glanced at the pitching chart, then immediately concealed its contents.

"It was a big series for us," he said. "So I'm like, 'I'm going to cover this up.' I didn't tell anybody until somebody asked me this year. I kept it to myself. We had a big win, so I wanted it to be all about the team and not just me."

These days, there is no more hiding Giles' flamethrower of a right arm. A fleeting stint with Double A Reading yielded routine triple-digit radar-gun readings, and his early-season success had fans clamoring for the Phillies to call up the organization's hardest-throwing pitcher. They did the next best thing a week-and-a-half ago, promoting the 23-year-old reliever to Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he is facing more seasoned hitters and refining his slider.

"Everybody is going to say they want to be there," Giles said last week when asked about a potential major league promotion. "For me, I'm going to focus on where I am right now. That'll be down the road. I can't tell the future or anything like that. I'm going to focus on what they want me to focus on right now and not get ahead of myself."

Before joining the IronPigs, Giles earned seven saves in 13 appearance with Reading, his first stint pitching above Class A. Over 15 innings, he recorded a 1.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts to five walks. Since his May 9 promotion, Giles is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five appearances but has issued five walks to four punchouts over his five innings. Yesterday, he pitched two scoreless innings to earn his first save in a 3-2 IronPigs win at Buffalo.

"He has something that other people don't have in this world, and that's that big arm, the ability to throw in the upper 90s," Lehigh Valley skipper Dave Brundage said. "Now it comes between the ears and something that he needs to learn along the way. This is a good steppingstone for him, hopefully."

Along with trying to command the strike zone more steadily, Giles continues to hone his slider, which ideally he would like to throw around 87 to 88 mph. Consistency with his mechanics is a focus - "I try to make it too nasty when I just need to take it nice and easy," he said of his slider - and something he's been working on with bullpen mate Justin De Fratus and former major league starter Ray Burris, the IronPigs' pitching coach.

Burris, who pitched for seven teams in a 15-year career from 1973 to '87, said he's also working with Giles on "the art of pitching" and other aspects, such as varying speeds on certain pitches, that will help him at the next level. Giles doesn't always need to try for triple digits on the stadium gun.

"We start with control. We migrate to command," Burris said. "And then when you can control and command at the same time, that's a whole different ballgame."

Giles grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., where as a kid he constantly found himself throwing a ball in some fashion.

"I'd be at school even playing wall ball by myself, just throwing the ball and trying to throw it as hard as I can," he said. "I think I just built arm speed when I was young. I started at a young age and kept just throwing and throwing and throwing and throwing."

His collegiate career began at New Mexico Junior College, but after only a year he transferred to Yavapai, the same Prescott, Ariz., community college that produced Curt Schilling. Upon Giles' arrival, his fastball hovered around 94 mph, but according to pitching coach Jerry Dawson, "it was everywhere." Each time he trotted from the bullpen to the mound, the other pitchers would guess how many batters Giles would face before he hit one. The over/under, Dawson said, was one.

Dawson, a legendary Arizona high school coach who has produced four major leaguers, broke down Giles' mechanics, eliminating as many variables as possible. No more windup; Giles would pitch only out of the stretch. No more split-finger or slider, only fastballs. Gradually, Giles reached Dawson's goal of throwing strikes 60 percent of the time and then 65 percent of the time. His confidence grew to the point at which he could let it rip.

"I think velocity increase happened," Dawson said, "because suddenly he didn't have to worry that he was going to hit somebody or worry that he was going to throw it to the backstop or worry that he was going to walk somebody."

Giles spent a season at Yavapai - where he first hit 100 on a radar gun - before the Phillies drafted him with the 241st pick of the 2011 draft. Since then, he's worked his way up the ranks of the organization, and, while in Class A Lakewood two seasons ago, garnered the nickname "100-Mile Giles" from teammate Mike Nesseth. On one side of Giles' black Rawlings glove, "100MGiles" is stitched in red.

When looking back on his personal goals entering this spring, Giles said he thought he'd pitch about 4 months in Reading before getting a chance to try his luck in Triple A. To perhaps even his own surprise, his time in Reading was brief, leaving him only a level away from his ultimate goal. Still to be determined is how soon he'll be ready to help a Phillies bullpen that entered yesterday 27th in the majors with a 4.42 ERA.

"That depends on him, how well he gets what's being taught to him and how well he can take it between the lines and make it work," Burris said. "That's all up to him. He's getting the meats and the potatoes now. He's got to go out there and make sure he don't overcook it and let it work."


On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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