It’s not often a 27th-round draft pick finds his way to the major leagues, but Phillip Diehl might just be the exception. After the Yankees selected Diehl in the 2016 draft, he’s quietly put up strong numbers at every level, and now he’s turning heads in big league camp. He’s quietly approaching the majors, and another strong performance in 2019 could land him in the Bronx by season’s end.
To say Diehl is an under-the-radar prospect would be a bit of an understatement. He didn’t get a mention way back in our 2016 draft class review, but admittedly, the author of that piece is a bit of a schmuck. Still, that hasn’t stopped Diehl from putting up some eye-catching career numbers to this point. Across parts of three minor-league seasons, he’s accumulated a 2.78 ERA, 11.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and 0.4 HR/9. Suffice it to say, batters haven’t been able hit Diehl, and he hasn’t given up many free passes either.
Such a solid career line is pretty surprising for a guy like Diehl. His fastball won’t touch 95 mph, and he’s not exactly a physically imposing figure on the mound at 6’2”, 180 pounds. Aaron Boone recently told Brendan Kuty, “[Diehl] looks young. Sometimes you ask how old he is and you say 14.”
That hasn’t stopped Diehl from finding some early success this season. As of this writing, Diehl has struck out seven in 3.2 innings while allowing tjree hits and one run. This is a undoubtedly a tiny sample size, but Diehl hasn’t been throwing against total nobodies. He faced some actual big league talent on Wednesday versus the Cardinals and struck out Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez. Last week, he faced and struck out Blue Jays prospect, Cavan Biggio. Here’s a look:
LHP Phillip Diehl has now appeared in two Yankees Spring Training games. He struck out the only batter he faced on Saturday, and he added two Ks today while allowing no base runners in a full inning of work. pic.twitter.com/Tl1fXFz33L— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) February 25, 2019
Diehl is not a prototypical reliever, and his arm slot and velocity might suggest a LOOGY role. However, Diehl can locate his fastball and has a strong slider, which has allowed him to perform equally well against lefties and righties to this point in his career. Take a look at his 2018 highlight reel. He made a lot of guys look silly last season:
LHP Phillip Diehl led all Yankees farmhands in 2018 with a 12.90K/9.0IP between @TampaTarpons and @TrentonThunder (min 75.0 IP). It was announced today that he's been invited to Major League camp this Spring. pic.twitter.com/EqwQP27XU0— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) February 13, 2019
Something to be aware of is that his numbers did take a slight step back when he made it to Double-A last season. His strikeouts dipped to 9.79 K/9 and walks rose to 3.71 BB/9. Not bad for a reliever but still a noticeable step back from his career rates. On the season as a whole, he threw 75.1 innings, striking out 108 while walking just 23.
Even if fans have taken a while to notice Diehl, the Yankees organization hasn’t been so slow. After the Trenton Thunder were eliminated from the Double-A playoffs, Diehl got moved up to Triple-A and finished the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Plus, even when the actual games finished, Diehl’s season wasn’t exactly done.
Diehl, along with Chance Adams and A.J. Cole, faced Aaron Judge in some live at-bats as the Yankees’ slugger was rehabbing his broken wrist. No doubt, getting lumped in a group with Adams and Cole can be seen as a negative, but for Diehl, it looks like a positive. At the time, he was a pitcher with fewer than five innings at Triple-A, and he was tasked with helping get one of the league’s best hitters ready himself to face the Boston Red Sox. Bryan Hoch had a cool write-up for MLB.com at a time about their encounter.
There’s also the fact that Diehl did get invited to major league spring training this year as a non-roster invitee, no small feat. Plus, he’s survived the first round of cuts. Other bigger name prospects, such as Domingo Acevedo and Trevor Stephan, have already been cut, but Diehl is still hanging around.
Diehl won’t make the team out of spring training, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be up with them at some point this season, especially in September. The Yankees clearly see something in him, and to this point in his career, he’s done nothing but be an effective pitcher. As a former 27th-round pick and a guy who doesn’t throw very hard, he’s the ultimate underdog, and I, for one, hope he continues to defy the odds. He’ll likely open the season at Double-A or in Triple-A, but I’m rooting for him to finish the season in the Bronx.