Not unlike a lot of young pitchers, Tyler Viza had a difficult introduction to Double-A baseball last summer. Many times, a pitcher can be steaming through the organization, but Double-A is where the rubber tends to truly meet the road and separates the ones with a true future from the ones who are going to have to kick it up a notch. Viza has all of the talent, but adjusting to Double-A is a different animal. Hitters aren't fooled as easily by curveballs and are less inclined to swing at bad pitches.
For Viza, it's likely that the adjustment is just like the one he had to make when he went from the Gulf Coast League to Low-A Lakewood in 2014. That season, he saw his 1.41 GCL ERA balloon quickly to 5.29 with the 'Claws. The jump to Lakewood came after just one season in the GCL and the Phillies had skipped him over Williamsport, so struggling was almost inevitable. The next jump for Viza came in 2016 when he moved seamlessly from Lakewood to High-A Clearwater, but had two seasons at Low-A to prepare. He didn't even have a full season going from Clearwater to Reading, so again struggle was to be expected. Those struggles also shouldn't warrant any reason for concern, since obviously, the Phillies believe enough in Viza that they would move him quickly from Clearwater to Reading.
The thing with Viza is that he is surviving - actually, thriving - with less than spectacular stuff in his repertoire. One thing that has helped was that the Phillies recently worked with him to tweak his delivery and he has more of an overhand release, which has made him a bit more deceptive. The effect is that the deception added to his average stuff makes what he throws appear better than it actually is and makes him a more effective pitcher. While he was able to succeed with his basic stuff at the lower levels, he would have been eaten alive at the upper levels without the tweak in his mechanics.
Viza will be back at Reading to start the season and it's going to be interesting to see how quickly he turns things around from the performance that he had there last season.
One key for Viza is commanding his pitches. Viza has averaged just under two walks per nine innings throughout his minor league career and lowered that to a career-low 1.45 per-nine at Clearwater. He has also averaged 6.41 strikeouts per nine innings, but pushed that much higher to a career-high of 9.97 per-nine at Clearwater, with his previous high having come the previous season at Lakewood when he struck out 6.52 per-nine. In fact, Viza has upped his strikeouts per nine every season in the minors, going from 5.63 to 5.71 to 6.52 to 7.02 last season between Clearwater and Reading. Part of the reason is that his repertoire, while not great, has gotten better, and his more deceptive delivery has helped to fool hitters and get more strikeouts.
The improvements are going to be important, because when you look at the breakdown of how Viza has fared against hitters ranked among the Top 20 Prospects in baseball, his numbers shrink.
|vs Non-Top 20 Prospects||.269||.311||2%||5%||19%|
|vs Top 20 Prospects||.288||.320||1%||10%||4%|
Viza will need to improve his numbers against the better hitters that he faces, or risk becoming somewhat of a journeyman type pitcher. Odds are that he will improve on the numbers, although he may need a full season at the Double-A level to get the work that he'll need. Rushing Viza, who is just 22-years old, doesn't have to happen thanks to the fact that he's still at a good age for Double-A and there are plenty of young pitchers ahead of him to fill holes at the major league level.