Right at the July 31st trade deadline in 2015, the Phillies sent outfielder Ben Revere to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitchers Jimmy Cordero and Alberto Tirado. Last November, the Phillies shipped Cordero to Washington after designating him for assignment. The Phillies had protected Cordero on the 40-man roster the previous Winter, but arm issues limited his workload last season and the Phillies decided he was expendable. Cordero, 25, opened the season with Double-A Harrisburg for Washington. Tirado, meanwhile, continues on in the organization, and at just 22-years old, still has a future with the Phillies and opened the year with Clearwater.
Both pitchers were very similar. They were more throwers than pitchers, with high readings on a radar gun, but little idea exactly where the ball was going to wind up. Try as the Phillies might, Tirado still struggles with control, but generally finds a way to get hitters out, mainly by blowing pitches past them. The Phillies may have inadvertently stumbled on a way to get Tirado to be more of a pitcher than just a guy who throws really hard. In the middle of the season last year, they moved him into the starting rotation at Lakewood. Suddenly, Tirado couldn't worry just about throwing hard, he had to worry about pitching deeper into games, using more of his pitch repertoire and finding ways other than blowing a fastball by a hitter to get a guy out.
Even as a starter, Tirado still walked 25 batters in 53 1/3 innings of work, but it was a big improvement. He also still struck out 83 batters over that same span, showing that he could find ways to get guys out. Looking closer, he walked just seven batters in his final 22 innings of work last season, giving hope that he might be on the right path. He also finished with a 2.19 ERA as a starter and a 7-1 record, so the experiment has continued this season with his promotion to Clearwater. The wildness was still there in his first start of the season, when he walked four batters in six innings, but he allowed just three hits and no runs in six innings of work.
Odds are that Tirado's command is never going to be where the Phillies would like it to be, so the trick is going to be whether or not he can get hitters out at higher levels. Hitters at those levels are more patient and will avoid pitches out of the strike zone, which will make Tirado's work much harder. Odds are that at some point, the Phillies are going to have to move Tirado back to relieving, because he lacks a third pitch and those better hitters will have more success against him the more they see him.
What Tirado does have is the exploding fastball that sits in the upper-90s, and a slider that breaks down and away from right-handed hitters and is generally in the mid-80s, giving him excellent speed separation from his fastball. Hitters have trouble with both pitches, partly because Tirado maintains his mechanics and disguises the slider well. What Tirado doesn't have is a quality third pitch. He does throw a change-up, but it's not much of a pitch. Odds are that at this point, he's not going to develop a third weapon to go with the fastball and slider, and without that, he's a reliever long-term.
The good news though is that Tirado would still have the ability to be a huge threat out of the bullpen. While teams like to see more command from a closer, the good ones have been able to live with some control issues and still get hitters out; remember a guy named Mitch Williams? That could be the type of pitcher that Tirado winds up being, where he'll scare the Hell out of you one day and be lights out, game over, the next.
At 6' 0", 180 pounds, Tirado doesn't have the big build that screams durability and because of the wildness, Tirado's pitch count tends to rise pretty quickly, which allowed him to reach six innings of work just twice last season. In most of his other starts, he lasted five innings and left with a pitch count in the high-80s. Tirado's inability to limit his pitch count is another reason why he projects more as a reliever than as a starter.
So why are the Phillies continuing to let him start? The added work will be good for Tirado as he tries to get his command issues - pardon the pun - under control. If he does find a way to develop into a potential starter, so be it, but the Phillies will be happy to just give him the extra work for now until they make a final decision on him.
An encouraging sign is that dating back to 2013, Tirado has pitched well against prospects ranked among the Top 20 in baseball, with the best prospects hitting just .225 against him in 236 plate appearances. He's also struck out 21% of the Top 20 prospects that he's faced, while walking 12% of them.
When hitters do manage to make contact, they're primarily hitting groundballs against Tirado, but not by the type of percentages that would be ideal.
There's a lot to like about Tirado, but the clock is going to start clicking now, since the Phillies added him to the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 Draft last December. Tirado burned the first of three options this Spring when he was sent out by the Phillies, meaning that each of the next two Springs they can ship him out again. The timing will work out okay, as long as his progress isn't slowed and he can move a level each season and be ready for the majors to open the 2020 season. If things slow down for Tirado, the Phillies will have a tough decision to make on him at some point down the road.
|2012||GCL Blue Jays||1||2||2.68||11||11||0||37.0||28||12||11||0||12||34||2||1.081||6.8||0.0||2.9||8.3||2.83|