When the Phillies took Joe Savery with the 19th overall pick in the 2007 Draft, they had a decision to make. Would they draft the Rice University product as a first baseman or as a pitcher? He had done both well while at Rice, but that's not the way things play out in the professional ranks, so there was a decision to make. The Phillies made the choice to draft him as a pitcher, considering that pitching is always at a premium and that Savery is a left-hander, which made him even more valuable.
Now, a little more than three years later, they have the same decision to make, but they have at least a small body of work from Savery in the pro ranks to help them make their decision. Assistant GM Chuck LaMar opened the door for the possibility of Savery converting back to being a hitter through recent comments to the press and announcing that Savery would go to the Florida Instructional League as a hitter and not as a pitcher. While Savery's struggles this season have put his future on the mound into some question, the Phillies still technically see Savery as a pitcher, although they're allowing him to explore the opportunity of hitting during the off-season. What's clouding the issue is that in the second-half of the season, Savery's pitching has started to come around and even Savery isn't quite ready to say that he can't still make it as a pitcher.
"He's [Savery] done everything that we've asked of him," explained Lamar. "He was a starter, I asked him to go to the bullpen, then we got hurt and we had to ask him to move back to being a starter. So I said to him, 'Joe, as a reward, if you will, I'm going to tell Hupp [IronPigs manager Dave Huppert] to put you in a couple of games before the year's out'. Which made his year."
Savery knows that while he has struggled through much of the season, he has still shown development overall. "I know that for sure and at this point, it's not that I can't get better, because I certainly can, but I've reached the point where if I can't compete with what I've got now, then there is no pitching and it is time to go do something else, but if I can throw strikes and can move the ball the way I have lately, then maybe I can compete here and maybe I do that the stuff that it takes."
Lehigh Valley manager Dave Huppert believes that even though Savery's numbers aren't very good, he has made some strides as a pitcher and there's no real need to close the door on him potentially reaching the majors as a pitcher. "As far as development, you look at what he's done here lately and you can see the strides that he's made."
If nothing else, this season has been a learning experience for Savery, who has had to adjust the way that he pitches. His velocity is down from where it was when he was drafted and he's learned that he has to take a different approach to getting hitters out, because of that drop in velocity. "You don't get drafted in the first round if you throw in the mid-to-high 80s, so I obviously wasn't throwing there when I was drafted," chuckled Savery. "So, for whatever reason, that's what it is now and I've had to try to find ways to sink it or cut it, or whatever and I certainly feel like I've made some progress."
Perhaps one reason why the Phillies have agreed to at least let Savery work on his hitting during the off-season, is that he has had some success at the plate in his professional career. The IronPigs went through a stretch where they had to play with just one or two extra players on the bench thanks to injuries or call-ups, so Savery and fellow starter Brian Mazone became pinch-hitting candidates. In two pinch-hit at-bats, Savery was 1-for-2, with his one hit being a pinch-hit home run. Mazone also provided a pinch-hit home run as his lone hit in six pinch-hit at-bats. On the season, Mazone is a .190 hitter, while Savery is hitting .269, including a 1-for-4 performance earlier this week when he started as the IronPigs designated hitter in a game against Rochester. In college, Savery hit .356 in his career at Rice.
"He's always loved to hit. So, we'll see how it goes," said LaMar.
After starting the season in the rotation at Triple-A, Savery struggled so badly, that he was moved to the bullpen in July and has only been allowed back into the rotation when absolutely necessary because of injuries to starters. Both Huppert and Savery believe that the move helped to get the 24 year-old over some humps both physically and mentally. "I think it's a lot mental with Joe. I think it just started to wear on him and the change to go to the bullpen, for him, was good," said Huppert.
For Savery, the move to the pen helped him both mentally and physically. "It's a combination of both," believes Savery. "I think making some of those spot starts out of the pen were especially helpful, because I knew that the team needed me to get through five or six innings and I became more aware of pitching to contact and getting at-bats over with quickly to keep my pitch count low."
Both LaMar and Savery stressed that Savery is a pitcher. There has been open communication between the Phillies and Savery and Savery has let it be known that he would like the chance to make it in baseball no matter whether it's as a pitcher or a position player. At the end of his career, Savery wants to know that he did all he could to succeed in baseball and won't have to wonder if he would have been able to make it had he converted to hitting. The Phillies are conscious of that and also want to know that they did all they could to help a first-round pick succeed and that their investment in him wasn't wasted.
"It's [hitting] really just an idea and it's something that I enjoy doing and you get a small window of opportunity to play this game and if pitching doesn't work out, then I want to know that I gave everything that I had to this game in the small time that you have. I don't know what's going to happen and I don't know what the plan is, but of course, if I pitch well, then none of this will matter," laughed Savery. "If nothing else, I get to go to the Instructional League and have some fun for a few weeks."