The Philadelphia Phillies are set to promote pitching prospect Orion Kerkering to the majors. To make room for Kerkering on the 40-man roster, Drew Ellis has been designated for assignment. Additionally, Yunior Marte has been sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make room on the 26-man roster.
The Phillies selected the contract of RHP Orion Kerkering from Lehigh Valley (AAA). To make room for Kerkering on the 28-man roster, RHP Yunior Marte was optioned to Lehigh Valley. To make room on the 40-man roster, INF Drew Ellis was designated for assignment.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 22, 2023
Kerkering is the Phillies’ seventh-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline rankings. In 49 minor league games this season, he has a 4-1 record with a 1.51 ERA along with 79 strikeouts. Kerkering also recorded 14 saves in a closing role. This season, Kerkering has spent time with each of the Phillies minor league affiliates. He is now eligible to be on the Phillies postseason roster. It is impressive to see Kerkering reach the majors after starting the season with Class-A Clearwater.
Phillies Promote Kerkering To Aid Bullpen
The Phillies’ decision to promote Kerkering this late in the season shows the team has a long-term plan for him. Closer Craig Kimbrel is on an expiring contract and nearing the end of his career. The Phillies need to find a long-term replacement in the high-leverage role held by Kimbrel. This is where Kerkering enters the picture. It will take some time, but Kerkering should eventually join Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez as the Phillies’ key relievers. These remaining games will be a trial run for Kerkering to see how he handles different spots in a game. He is set to become the first Phillies pitcher since Aaron Nola to debut in the season after they were drafted. In light of the Phillies bullpen struggling at times lately, having Kerkering as an option should help manager Rob Thomson make pitching decisions easier.
In the long term, Kerkering should be the Phillies’ closer of the future. Given that Kerkering closed out games in the minor leagues this season, he already has some experience in that spot. Promoting Kerkering now will allow him to gain valuable experience in the major leagues. If possible, Thomson should use him in a high-leverage situation at least once during this stretch. This will be a good indication of his potentially being on the playoff roster. In addition, this can be a good way to evaluate if Kerkering can fulfill the closer role on a long-term basis. Giving the bullpen a fresh arm will be crucial in managing reliever usage for the remaining regular season games. Ideally, Thomson should make sure as many pitchers as possible are well-rested and prepared for a postseason run.
How This Decision May Impact The Phillies Playoff Roster
According to MLB rules, Kerkering is postseason-eligible because he can be considered an injury replacement for Rhys Hoskins. This is how he would be allowed on the playoff roster despite not being on the 40-man roster by August 31. If Kerkering continues to deliver in his major league appearances, he deserves consideration for the postseason roster. MLB rules state that a team can carry 13 pitchers in the playoffs. The decision for the last spot will likely come down to Dylan Covey and Kerkering. Even so, putting Kerkering on the postseason roster would be a risk. A player who debuts at the end of September making the postseason roster is rare and usually involves special circumstances. This is not a decision the Phillies should take lightly, considering the potential long-term effects.
At the end of the day, however, this may be a risk worth taking. At multiple levels in the minor leagues this season, Kerkering showed he can perform at a high level. If he can do the same in this brief stint, it is worth putting him on the postseason roster. Ultimately, the player the Phillies feel most confident with will be selected. History may also offer some advice to the Phillies. For the record, the most recent instance of a Phillies pitcher making his debut in September prior to Kerkering was Marty Bystrom in 1980. If you know anything about the history of the Phillies, that year carries some significance as they won their first World Series championship that season. To add to that, Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb notes that both will have worn uniform No. 50 during their debut.
Bystrom wore No. 50. Kerkering will wear No. 50. https://t.co/7y3lmDkFMh
— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) September 22, 2023
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports