Hard-throwing prospect Klassen faces setback

May 4th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

has everybody’s attention.

He is the Phillies’ No. 29 prospect, and he is 2-0 with a 0.36 ERA in five starts with Single-A Clearwater. He left Friday night’s game with a right shoulder issue, but the Phillies do not believe it is serious.

“A lot of people are asking me about him,” Phillies Minor League pitching coordinator Travis Hergert said Friday morning.

People weren’t asking only because they saw Klassen’s numbers, although they are impressive. He has struck out 39 and walked eight in 25 innings. He's allowed only 10 hits. They were asking because Klassen, 22, did not pitch like that before the Phillies selected him in the sixth round of the 2023 Draft. Klassen threw hard at the University of Minnesota, but he never threw strikes. In two seasons, he walked 61 and struck out 57 in 64 1/3 innings.

Klassen, who was named the Phillies’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April, spent months following the Draft working on himself. He added muscle to control his body better, he fine-tuned his delivery to keep things simple and he learned where to look and what to target before he threw a pitch.

“George is incredibly talented,” Hergert said. “He’s incredibly raw. He’s an incredibly hard worker. He’s really at the ground floor of learning pitching with us, but he’s a great student. He continues to get better every day and every time out.”

Klassen's four-seam fastball averages 97.1 mph, the highest average velo by a pitcher in the Florida State League (min. 100 fastballs thrown) according to Statcast. His stuff is clearly overpowering the league’s younger hitters. He will face far greater challenges as he moves through the system.

A promotion could have been in the near future, but Friday’s setback almost certainly pushes back that timetable.

It’s all happening because Klassen found the strike zone. The Phillies started to see a turnaround in January. The Phillies use nine-pocket nets in Clearwater, Fla., so pitchers can work on throwing to certain parts of the zone. Klassen was throwing at one in January. He was missing. The Phillies asked him, “Where are you looking when you want to throw it [in a certain location]?”

Klassen said he just threw it forward.

There was no plan or visual in his mind. Now he has one.

“The challenge is still in front of us,” Hergert said. “We want to still craft him as a pitcher and be patient.”

A look at other pitchers in the system:

Triple-A Lehigh Valley: No. 2 prospect Mick Abel is 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA in five starts, striking out 22 and walking 12 in 21 2/3 innings. Abel’s velocity is down, but the Phillies say they aren’t concerned. “We feel the velo and stuff is going to tick up and that’s going to play into the command,” Hergert said.

Double-A Reading: No. 16 prospect Christian McGowan is 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three starts, striking out 11 and walking nine in 11 1/3 innings. Right-hander Max Lazar has struck out 16 and allowed three hits and no walks in 9 1/3 scoreless innings. The Phillies selected him in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

High-A Jersey Shore: No. 24 prospect Samuel Aldegheri is 2-0 with a 0.41 ERA in four starts, striking out 28 and walking six in 22 innings. He has developed a changeup, which has helped against right-handed hitters. “He continues to annihilate the strike zone,” Hergert said. “He’s learning how to throw inside. It’s a big piece to it. Just like [Zack] Wheeler, [Aaron] Nola and Ranger [Suárez] do in the big leagues, our guys have to learn how to do that as well.”

Single-A Clearwater: Right-hander Micah Ottenbreit (1-1, 4.58 ERA, four starts) is a formerly ranked prospect who missed time the past few years because of injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2022. He is finally healthy, and the Phillies are hopeful he can pitch 80-100 innings this year.