The best way to summarize righthander Orion Kerkering’s season is by counting the levels at which he pitched.
The 22-year-old reliever started the season at Low-A Clearwater and finished it at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In between, he spent the bulk of the season with High-A Jersey Shore and Double-A Reading.
Before moving to Triple-A on Sept. 20, Kerkering recorded a 1.54 ERA in 52.2 innings over 48 appearances. He struck out 78 and walked 12 while allowing four home runs and a .180 opponent average.
Kerkering has elite stuff, including a slider that was recognized as the best breaking pitch in the Florida State, South Atlantic and Eastern leagues in Best Tools voting. But what makes him rare is his ability to command the pitch.
He throws a fastball that averages 97.6 mph and an 87-88 mph slider with 16 to 18 inches of sweep, both for strikes. It’s that combination of command and stuff that has allowed Kerkering to rise so quickly.
That wasn’t always something that came naturally to him. When he was at South Florida, Kerkering walked 35 batters through 50 innings in 2021. His coaches told him he’d have to cut back on walks to rise to the next level.
He went to the Cape Cod League that summer with a new mentality: “Throw it down the plate and let your stuff play.” It helped.
As a USF junior in 2022 he walked just 2.5 batters per nine innings, while still missing bats. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round.
“I just brought that same process to the minors,” Kerkering said. “If you can do that in college, you do that in the minor leagues. (In college) I was just trying to be like, ‘I don’t want them to hit it, so I’m going to throw it here, and here, and barely get the corner. Be too cute with it.’
“But I didn’t need to make it that complicated.”
Kerkering is trying not to think about a big league callup, but it doesn’t seem far away.
“If I do my job, I’ll get there sooner or later,” he said.