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What would you pay for a 6'3", 190 lb pitcher with a mid 90s fastball, who was ranked as the 5th best prospect in Indiana by Baseball America? The Yankees decided that the price was the 440th pick in the 2008 amateur draft.
Born on October 9, 1986 and raised in Hazelwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, David Phelps played both basketball and baseball for Hazelwood High School. A National Honor Society student, he set the school record with a 30-inning scoreless streak and compiled a high school stat-line for the Wildcats consisting of a 2.96 ERA and 172 strikeouts in only 109.2 innings. Those stats helped him get named to the All-Conference team and All-Metro performer while serving as a captain his junior and senior year.
He committed to Notre Dame in 2005 while being ranked the sixth best prospect in Missouri. As a starter in his sophomore year, Phelps didn't disappoint by posting a stellar 1.88 ERA, five complete games and 102 strikeouts in 110 innings. The result of such a phenomenal season? He was named to the All-Conference First Team.
What may turn out to be a lucky break for the Yankees, he did not match his success as a junior by posting a 4.65 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 93 innings. Expected to be drafted in the first eight rounds, he fell in the Yankees' laps in the 14th round of the 2008 amateur draft.
Once signed, he moved through the Yankees farm system at a rapid pace. With the A ball Staten Island Yankees in 2008; he made 15 starts in a short season. Phelps showed what he was made of with an 8-2 record, 52 strikeouts, 18 walks, and a meager 67 hits in 72.2 innings. His ERA was a whopping 2.72 and batters hated facing him by posting a .245 BAA.
Phelps first full professional season in 2009 was even better. Starting the year with A ball Charleston and finishing with Tampa, he continued his rapid ascent through the system. Starting to show his stamina, he logged 151 innings while annihilating the competition with a 2.32 ERA, 122 strikeouts with a minute 31 walks, and a .263 BAA.
Another fantastic season led to another promotion and Phelps started 2010 in AA Trenton. He proceeded to go 6-0 in 4 starts posting a 2.04 ERA. He allowed 63 hits and 23 walks (good for a 0.98 WHIP) striking out 84 hitters in 88.1 innings. The cream of the crop in MLB prospects hit a meager .199 against him. The sky was the limit for David Phelps.
Midway through the 2010 season, the Yankees promoted Phelps to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. In 70.1 innings, his ERA was 3.07 while striking out 57 batters, issuing a microscopic 13 walks, and allowing 76 hits to the tune of a .274 BAA. Phelps continued to carve out his workhorse mentality with a combined 158.2 innings for the 2010 season.
The numbers say that Phelps is a ground ball pitcher, evidenced by a GO/AO between 1.12 and 1.56 throughout his minor league career. He does a good job of commanding the bottom of the strike zone and as a result does not allow a lot of home runs (20 HRs in 382.1 MiLB innings).
Sean S., from the Yankees Daily, reports “Phelps’ fastball has been clocked between 89 and 95 but will sit in the low 90s. He has a good sinking two-seam fastball along with a plus slider.” Phelps also features a change-up and 1-7 curveball that Sean says “if he gets to an 0-2 count, he’ll throw the breaking ball to strike them out.”
His 2.0 BB/9 average in the minors shows Phelps' control. If he can develop one of his offspeed pitches to become a plus pitch, it can put him at another level. He is a legit prospect that appears to have the chops as a third or fourth type starter that can eat innings.
Phelps has shown remarkable control with a WHIP of 1.16 through three minor league levels. Chances are he will never be an ace type but his potential to be a third or even second type starter is there with the right development.
As of right now he will probably be given a shot to earn the fifth starter job in spring training. If he does not, then he will start the year with Scranton Wilkes-Barre and probably be one of the first pitchers called up if the Yankees need him. Phelps is just another example of the remarkable scouting that Cashman's team has done to turn this once moribund farm system into one of the best in MLB.
The Patience Series:
Patience Part 1: Hector Noesi
Patience Part 2: David Phelps (above)
Patience Part 3: Brandon Laird
Patience Part 4: Adam Warren
Patience Part 5: Eduardo Nunez
Patience Part 6: Gary Sanchez