The Situation: One of the brightest stars of 2016 has been Vincent Velasquez. Because the universe hates us, he’s been put on the DL. In his place, we will get to see another interesting arm in the Phillies system: Right-hander Zach Eflin.
Background: Eflin was rated as one of the top prep pitchers in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Hagerty HS in Oviedo, Florida, and at one point was considered a top-ten selection. Bonus demands and an inconsistent season year caused him to slide, but the Padres scooped him up with the 29th pick that June. After two solid—if not awe-inspiring—seasons with San Diego, he was dealt to the Dodgers in the Matt Kemp trade. His stay in Los Angeles was short, however, as he was traded a short time later from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in the Jimmy Rollins deal. After a pedestrian year in Double-A Reading, Eflin appears to have turned a corner in 2016, posting a 2.90 ERA in Lehigh Valley and striking out 55 in just over 68 innings.
Scouting Report: Eflin was seen as an extremely projectable right-hander as a prep, and while he has filled out his frame some, the plus-plus fastball never came. What he does have is an above-average offering that will touch the mid 90s; sitting 90-93 mph with excellent sink. His best offspeed pitch is his change—a pitch that he can locate for strikes and has excellent deception with tumble that leads to lots of weak contact. He throws both a slider and a curveball, and while neither pitch flashes much more than average, the pitches don’t run into each other, and that gives him four useable offerings. It’s not the sexiest arsenal, but it works.
And the reason it works is because Eflin flat out throws strikes. He repeats his delivery as well as you can for a 22-year-old, and he gets ahead of hitters to make that stuff play up. He also can “pitch backwards” and can locate any of his pitches on any part of the plate for strike one. I wouldn’t go so far as calling his command elite, but I’d give his control a plus grade, and his overall command isn’t far from that area.
Immediate Big League Future: We’ve seen lots of guys who show quality control at the minor-league level come up and struggle to show the same ability to locate at the big-league level. I can’t guarantee Eflin will throw strikes because my time machine is out of plutonium, but assuming he shows a semblance of that command at the highest level, he’ll be successful. If you expect him to be a top of the rotation guy—or even a number three—you’re expecting too much, but with two above-average pitches and two other useable ones, he can pitch in the back of a rotation for a long, cost-controlled time. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: Eflin has put together a sterling Triple-A campaign for the Phillies’ organization this year, posting a 2.90 ERA with a 20.9 percent strikeout rate and a minuscule 4.2 percent walk rate. He thrives by pounding the strike zone with his fastball/changeup combination, but it’s not a repertoire that’s going to result in gaudy strikeout numbers. It’s a back-end fantasy profile that’s going to entirely depend on his ability to maintain quality ratios. If he tightens the screws and limits both walks and runs, he’ll be useful enough in deeper leagues. As a guy who projects to have a below-average strikeout rate, though, the upside isn’t tremendous—especially for a pitcher who lacks a quality offense to inflate his expected win totals.
It should be expected that 22-year-old hurlers improve from year to year—which is to say, we shouldn’t put too fine a point on this—but he did only strike out 68 batters in 131.2 innings in 2015. Eflin is a potential back-end fantasy starter, much in the same mold as Rick Porcello when he broke into the majors back in 2009. It’s worth throwing $4-5 in FAAB at Eflin in mixed leagues, perhaps $7-9 in NL-onlies, as new faces with attractive ERAs in Triple-A will garner attention. It’s just that the right-hander is probably a better real-life prospect than a fantasy one. And there’s some early bust potential due to his lack of strikeouts and the fact that he’s still developing as a starter. —J.P. Breen
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now