As the weather heats up, the seats at Coca-Cola Park have been filling up as well. With school out and the team doing well (Still 1st place as I write this), the crowds in Allentown have reached record setting levels. I’ve lost track of the consecutive sell outs, but I know they shattered their previous high and continue to build on the new one. Those fans have mostly come to see the bigger names like Kingery, Hoskins, and Crawford but on my last trip I had my sights set on one player, newly promoted starter Brandon Leibrandt.
Leibrandt was selected in the 6th round of the 2014 amateur draft by the Phillies after three successful years at Florida State. He reported to the GCL Phillies for five appearances before being assigned to Williamsport to finish the season. After two seasons spent mostly in Clearwater (A+), it was time for Brandon to make the jump to AA ball in Reading to start the 2017 season. After 13 starts, a number of injuries at both the MLB and AAA level necessitated a move of Leibrandt to Lehigh Valley(AAA) on June 26 to make a start vs Pawtucket. I didn’t get to see that start but my family and I were treated to his 2nd start this past Sunday vs Rochester.
Now, we were also fortunate to see Brandon start a game vs Hartford back in early June. I went into that game not knowing much about him and was intrigued by what I saw. Leibrandt showed an ability to get outs without overpowering stuff, a growing trend in the Phillies’ system. His start on Sunday in Allentown was another prime example of that.
When you watch Leibrandt you’ll see an upper 80s to 90mph fastball. It comes from a very fluid motion and doesn’t look to move much through the zone. What seems to make it effective is the location. In the two starts I saw, Brandon was impressive in his willingness to pitch inside to hitters. He also does a good job of moving the fastball up and down in the zone while staying out of the middle of the plate. Another key to his efficiency is his secondary stuff. Both times we saw him, Leibrandt stayed mainly with his 4-seam early in the game but started to mix in more changeups and curves the second time through the lineup. I also think I saw a few 2-seam fastballs sprinkled in but not too many. The changeup always seemed to be well located down and was around 81-83mph. The curve was used much less often but again was located well. Its much softer and loopy, ranging between 72-77mph on a wonky stadium gun. Mental note: it might be time to invest in my own cheapy gun instead of relying on CCP for my readings.
The bottom line on Leibrandt was successful. On Sunday, he navigated 6.0 innings on 89 pitches (58 strikes). Of the five hits he surrendered, three were infield singles, two of which were really weak. I only saw three 3-ball counts all day, and none until the 5th inning. It would be tough to ask for anything more from the 24 year old.
So why did I call this post “Another One?”. I think because when I watch Leibrandt I see another guy who is having success with an increasingly unique skill, the ability to pitch. Not over power hitters but keep them off balance and uncomfortable. Ben Lively and Tom Eshelman have also been wildly successful this season at multiple levels by just being tough and letting hitters get them selves out. Its kind of fun watching guys expose the lack of pure hitters in today’s game.