In two of his three professional seasons, left-hander Brandon Leibrandt has struggled with injuries. In 2015, he missed a month of action and last season, didn't take the mound until August and was only able to make 10 starts. The good news is that Leibrandt was effective in those 10 starts, but the missed time has slowed his progress tremendously.
When healthy, Leibrandt has put up good numbers in his minor league career, striking out 7.5 batters per nine innings, while walking just 1.9 hitters over that same stretch. His 1.02 career WHIP is strong and he's been able to pitch deep into games, with 11 of his 17 starts in 2015 being quality starts. Last season, two of his six starts with Clearwater were quality starts, but his innings and pitch count were being monitored closely, or at least two other starts would have also likely been quality starts.
Even from the time that he was drafted, Leibrandt was expected to move quickly through the Phillies organization. The sixth round pick in 2014 came in with the tools and command of his pitches to be able to climb the ladder. How Leibrandt gets hitters out isn't exactly fancy. His velocity isn't anything to rave about, as it's just slightly above 90 mph with his fastball and on most days dips even below the 90 mark. The 24-year old features an above average change-up and has a slider that's coming along, but for right now, is average, at best.
So how does Brandon Leibrandt continue to have success?
It begins and ends with his command and control. He has the control to stay away from walking batters, which limits the baserunners. With his pinpoint command, Leibrandt moves the ball around the strike zone and uses location to keep hitters guessing.
It's worth noting however, that as Leibrandt moves up the ladder, a couple more miles of velocity, and continued growth with the change-up and more importantly, the slider, is going to be important. Older, more experienced hitters had much more success against Leibrandt last season, than did younger hitters who faced Leibrandt.
Brandon Leibrandt vs Older and Younger hitters
|vs. Younger Batters||10||131||119||24||5||0||1||10||26||.202||.269||.269|
|vs. Older Batters||6||40||35||11||2||0||1||4||8||.314||.385||.457|
If you go on ratios, you see that younger hitters were more apt to chase pitches that Leibrandt put out of the strike zone than were older, wiser hitters, likely with more plate discipline. Leibrandt walked one hitter every 10 plate appearances against the older hitters, while walking just one every 13 plate appearances against younger hitters.
The difference suggests that Leibrandt will need to come up with more deception as he faces more and more experienced hitters in the higher levels of the minors. Improving his secondary pitches would help with that deception.
Another sign that Leibrandt may need to find other ways to success is the fact that facing hitters who were ranked among the top 20 MLB prospects, those hitters have hit .266 (34-for-128) against Leibrandt, while the rest of the hitters he's faced in his career have hit .217 (137-for-632). Again, a pretty large differential against better hitters. Overall, opposing hitters average .225 against Leibrandt in his career.
It's going to be interesting to see where the Phillies decide to start Leibrandt in 2017. He's made 23 starts for Clearwater over the past couple of seasons, but because of the injuries, they may want to see a few more from him. It wouldn't be a stretch though for him to start the upcoming season at Double-A Reading as they attempt to let him make up for some lost time. A lot will depend on what he can show in Spring Training.
Brandon Leibrandt's career stats
|All Levels (3 Seasons)||14||9||2.76||41||38||212.1||1.017||7.2||0.4||1.9||7.5||3.91|