As I type this, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs are up 3-0 at Charolette, with chance to extend their International League-best winning percentage to .631 and strengthen their odds at their first winning season and their first International League North Title. The Ryne Sandberg-led club is filled with capable MLB replacement-level position players like Pete Orr (covered here), John Mayberry Jr. (covered here), Ronnie Belliard, and Scott Podsednik, as well as MLB replacement-level pitching like Brian Bass and Penn State product Nate Bump. The Pigs find themselves with a trio of players who will likely see time with the Phils in some capacity in the next year or two: 6’8 reliever Mike Schwimer, 26 year old starting pitcher Drew Carpenter, and fan favorite Vance Worley. There are also some interesting projects like former top prospect Scott Mathieson and last year’s 30-year old rookie Erik Kratz, but no project player may be more interesting than tonight’s pitcher of record for Lehigh Valley, Brian Gordon.
Gordon was taken in the 1997 MLB draft in the 7th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of as an outfielder with plus power and a plus arm. He spent his first ten minor league seasons making a natural progression through the minor leagues, never skipping a level and never getting sent back down.
Gordon showed power in each season he played, specifically in a standout year 21 season in A+ ball at High Desert hitting .311/.371/.496 with 26 doubles, 13 triples, and 12 home runs and a 32 doubles, 9 triples, and 10 home run performance with a .287/.343/.455 triple slash in his age 23 season in his only Double A stop in El Paso in 2002. His slugging percentage remained high in his remaining years as an outfielder, never falling below .428, his first year in Triple A and averaged 17 home runs a season in four full seasons as a Triple A outfielder.
Gordon took the mound after the 2006 season, with the help of then-Houston Astros’ special advisor Nolan Ryan. The Astros were his third franchise; he started the 2007 campaign on the hill for Double A Corpus Christi and finished the year with Triple A Oklahoma. In 2008, he was released shortly after Spring Training by the Astros but quickly picked up by the Rangers.
|2008||29||3 Teams||2 Lgs||AAA-AA||TEX,HOU||6||5||3.51||34||11||10||3||95.0||96||37||15||20||70||1.221||6.6||3.50|
Gordon pitched 22 scoreless innings for Double A Frisco, averaging a little more than a half a base-runner per inning pitched and striking out 4.5 for every batter walked. The Rangers gave him an opportunity to start in Triple A, where his WHIP rose, but K/9 and K/BB remained strong. After 12 seasons in the minor leagues, the 29-year old saw his first action in the Major Leagues:
|162 Game Avg.||0||0||2.25||68||0||0||0||0||0||91||91||23||23||0||0||0||23||0||0||0||363||214||1.000||9.0||0.0||0.0||2.3|
Fast-forward to 2011. Gordon is now a starting pitcher for Lehigh Valley after opening the season on the disabled list in Double A Reading. According to Michael LoRe of Lehigh Valley Live, Gordon was shifted into the starting rotation for the Pigs after three relief appearances to fill the hole that Worley left when he was called-up to Philadelphia on April 29. Gordon has not relinquished his spot. Steven Gross of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs Examiner beat relays the fact that Gordon became only the third Pig, joining Justin Lehr in 2008 and Nelson Figueroa in 2010, to win the International League Pitcher of the Week. With the completion of tonight’s game, a 3-0 victory over Charolette, Gordon earned his fifth win of the year, striking out 11 over 6 innings, giving up only 3 hits and one walk, and lowering his ERA to 0.74. Yes, 0.74.
Gordon will turn 33 on August 16 but has the benefit of logging only four and a half seasons as a pitcher on his his right arm. Gordon could be a terrific option in the event of an injury to a member of the Phillies starting rotation or bullpen, but there are a few obstacles in his way:
1.) Worley is likely the man to be called up should there be another injury to the starting rotation. Worley struggled in his last outing with the Phils but at 23, he is the youngest member of the Pigs’ starting rotation with the highest upside.
In Gordon’s favor: upper management may want to keep Worley in a regular rhythm and keep his arm stretched instead of shuttling him back and forth.
2.) If a righty member of the pen goes down, Carpenter has a shot be the next man called up. Carpenter made cameos in 2008, 2009, and 2010 for the Phils and is a former 2006 second round pick who received a sizable bonus. Carpenter made a successful transition this year in his age 26 season from starter to reliever, compiling a 2.10 ERA over 17 games with a 4.63 K/BB ratio. The other obstacles that Gordon would need to climb to claim a bullpen spot are righties Mathieson, who has made a 2011 cameo, and Schwimer, who at age 25, is in a make or break season and is excelling, posting a 1.78 ERA in Lehigh Valley in 20 games with 11.6 K/9 IP.
In Gordon’s favor: Carpenter and Mathieson have been inconsistent at best in the Majors while Scwhimer is a complete unknown in the Major Leagues.
I can’t be objective: I’m rooting for Brian Gordon to see Major League time with the Phillies in 2011. He’s far and away statistically their best starting pitcher and will continue to receive International League accolades. Time will tell if his strong performance will hold but his peripherals indicate that his improvement is for real. His K/BB in four years of Triple A ball have increased in each of the last three seasons (2.55, 4.53, 6.00), his BB/9 IP have dipped in that time period (2.3, 2.2, 1.2), and his WHIP has dropped from 1.190 to 1.179 to .797 before tonight’s game. Gordon, no doubt, will regress and the last of those numbers in each of the data sets will lower, rise, and rise in that order but he has been one of the best stories and best pitchers in the International League this season and the Phillies would be silly not to give him a serious look.