Few names outside of the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves system have been discussed more over the last year than Phil Pfeifer. If you followed me (@berrys_baseball), or really any Braves prospector on Twitter during 2019 for that matter, you know he was doing things not many of us expected him to do.
Just because expectations weren’t high entering the 2019 season doesn’t mean they weren’t high at certain points in the lefty’s career. Pfeifer was a member of the 2015 College World Series runner up Vanderbilt Commodores where he tossed 96 innings in an unbelievably crowded pitching staff that featured the likes of Walker Buehler, Kyle Wright, Carson Fulmer and a handful other pros. That success led to the Knoxville, TN native being selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third round of that years draft.
— Jheremy Brown (@JBrownPG) June 9, 2015
After a heavy college workload Pfeifer tossed just 1.2 innings in Rookie ball in his draft year before making the jump to full season ball in 2016. Pfeifer hung around Single-A for just six innings, exclusively as a reliever, before the Dodgers moved the polished arm to a more challenging environment in the California League. Again, Pfeifer was used only as a reliever up until he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Bud Norris as the Dodgers looked to shore up their rotation during a tight NL West battle with the San Francisco Giants
The Braves felt good about the trade as they turned a revitalized Norris into a decent prospect return and the thought was that the trade would be good for Pfeifer as well as he was returning close to home. However, the results weren’t quite what the pitcher or the team had in mind in the early going. Over his 30.1 innings as a reliever with the Dodgers org in 2016, Pfeifer posted a 2.67 ERA with 42 strikeouts. After the trade the Braves gave the Vandy product a shot at both High-A and Double-A as a late inning guy and while it was only about half the sample size, the ERA and BB/9 both went up.
Fast forward to 2017 where we enter the year of no control. The Braves were comfortable sending the then 24-year-old pitcher with an SEC pedigree back to Double-A to start 2017 and the results were great, with the exception of one major aspect to a pitcher’s game. He wasn’t quite a three true outcome pitcher as he only allowed two homers in 59.1 innings, but more like a two true outcome arm. Let’s focus on his 44 Double-A innings. A 3.45 ERA is never a great number for a reliever, do with ERA what you will, but it is always interesting to see a number like that paired up with a 1.58 WHIP. You all know I love my ratios and the 13.8 K/9 matched up with the 6.7 BB/9 catches your eye as well. Despite the command issues Pfeifer was moved up to Triple-A that same year where struck out nine and walked nine in 15 innings.
#VandyBoys Pro Pitcher report for games through 7/1:
Mike Minor, Walker Buehler, Jared Miller, Philip Pfeifer & Collin Snider lead the way. pic.twitter.com/UeW98WHa5Y
— Chris Mahaffey (@cmahaffeyVU) July 2, 2017
We won’t dwell too much on 2018 because I already told you expectations were low entering 2019. How does that make you think 2018 went? Pfeifer found himself back in Double-A where he pitched well over 14 innings, albeit with 11 walks, before he was called back up to Triple-A where had the worst stint of his career. Pfeifer pitched 40 innings and the walks were still sky high as they had always been, but suddenly the strikeouts evaporated. After posting a 6.86 ERA with a 1.672 WHIP and a 6.4 BB/9 in Gwinnett, the Braves decided it was time to go back to the drawing board. After all, they knew this young man had too much talent to give up on.
2019 started with Pfeifer as a, you guessed it, reliever in, you guessed it, Double-A, and after again not finding a terrible amount of success, the lefty found himself demoted. The Braves did things a little bit different this time. Pfeifer was immediately moved back to starter upon his return to High-A and while he did walk a lot of guys in that first outing, all of a sudden things clicked. Pfeifer ran his way back up the ladder all the way back to Gwinnett and ended 2019 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.163 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 over 133 innings.
Look, I wish I could tell you what changed, but that is not my job. My job is to give you fantasy advice and what I know is we saw 45% of Pfeifer’s career innings in 2019 and they were dominant. I’m not telling you to stake your dynasty team future on him, but what I am telling you is to use his age and lack of numbers leading up to 2019 as an advantage in trade negotiations.
— handlit33 (@handlit33) March 4, 2020
Pfeifer’s baseball career has been a roller coaster ride since the Dodgers took the now 27-year-old in the 2015 draft and while that coaster is riding high right now, he isn’t exactly cracking top 20 Braves lists. In deep leagues he fits everything from a contender to a rebuilder. There is a lot of unknown here and I think you should take a risk if the price is right.
With pick 1,350 in #PLiveBestBall 250 lg 2 I just got Phil Phreakin Pfeifer and that pheels pretty phreakin phenomenal.
— Jake Berry (@berrys_baseball) February 18, 2020