Meet Ken Giles, the Phillies' 100-mph man

Meet Ken Giles, the Phillies' 100-mph man
January 20, 2014, 1:30 pm
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In 112 1/3 minor-league innings, Ken Giles has struck out 152 batters and walked 72. (USA Today Images)

By his own admission, Ken Giles is “a little out there.”

The 23-year-old relief pitcher, who will be in spring training with the Phillies next month, offered a glimpse into his world during the club’s annual prospect seminar last week.

And it sounded a lot like Jonathan Papelbon’s world.

“When I’m at the ballpark -- people have seen it, my teammates have seen it -- it’s like I flip a switch,” Giles said.

His eyes grew wide and fiery.

“I have like a second personality,” he said. “I’m very hard to approach when I’m at the park. It looks like I don’t want to talk to anybody, but I’m in the zone right there and then.

“I love to compete. I love a challenge. People always say I have the personality to be a late-game reliever and I agree with that.”

Giles is an extreme long shot to make the Phillies' club out of spring training. In fact, he will probably be among the first group of cuts when team officials start sending youngsters to minor-league camp in early March so they can get ready for their seasons.

But as long as Giles is in big-league camp, he will be fun to watch.

His personality ensures that.

So does his right arm.

Giles is the hardest thrower in the Phillies' organization.

“Yes, I really do throw 100 miles per hour,” he said during his visit to Philadelphia last week.

Last season, while pitching for Single A Clearwater, he reached 103 mph on the radar gun in a game at Daytona.

“I’ve only hit that once in my life so far,” Giles said.

So far?

It doesn’t matter the setting, Giles is always asked about his fastball.

He often gets the question from other pitchers.

“They’ll say, ‘How’s it feel to throw 100 miles per hour?’ “ Giles said.

He answers with a question of his own.

“I’ll ask them how it feels to throw a changeup,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m really struggling to throw my changeup right now. It’s a teach-me-and-I’ll-teach-you-something kind of deal.”

Giles’ hard-stuff repertoire includes a slider that can reach 90 mph. He would like to complement his pitch mix with a changeup, something softer to get hitters on their front foot, and calls the pitch a work in progress.

But adding a changeup is not Giles’ biggest challenge as he looks to make the Double A Reading club this spring.

Improving his control is.

Since joining the organization as a seventh-round draft pick out of Yavapai (Arizona) College in 2011, Giles has struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings, but walked 5.8 per nine.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, would love to see Giles make the jump to Double A.

“But he’s going to have to earn it,” Jordan said. “He’s going to have to pitch under control and throw strikes.”

Giles, a New Mexico native who stands 6-2 and weighs 195 pounds, missed time last season with two oblique strains. Phillies instructors have worked to improve his delivery so he can stay healthy and throw strikes, but there are still times when the temptation to throw harder and harder and harder causes Giles to come out of his delivery and lose command.

“A fastball like that can be intoxicating,” Jordan said. “But he’s got to learn to stay in his delivery, stay on his legs, and not revert back to the old way. He’s got to get over that. If he doesn’t, he’s not going to move as quickly.

“When he’s right, it’s fun to watch. It’s the stuff that pitches at the end of games in the big leagues. But he’s not there yet.”

Giles knows improving his control is his biggest challenge.

“That is the main goal,” he said. “When I was drafted I had the talent but I needed more information on how to pitch with that kind of velocity. My pitching coach in college helped me out kind of slowing things down and throwing strikes. When I got drafted they started to teach me more of the information I needed to know and since then it’s been one major adjustment a year and that’s how we’ve been working.”

Giles is not on the 40-man roster. Team officials love his potential and invited him to camp so they can get a first-hand look at him. And though it’s unlikely that Giles will make the big club, he is conceding nothing. Relievers can move up the ladder quickly and he’s looking to open eyes.

“Getting invited to big-league camp boosted my confidence greatly,” Giles said. “Going into camp, I’m going to finally kind of prove myself and show them what I have, see if I can get big-league hitters out. I want to experience that.”

And there’s something else Giles wants to do in camp.

He wants to meet the other pitchers on the Phillies' roster, especially Papelbon, another guy known for being, well, a little out there. Like Giles, Papelbon admits to having a second personality when he’s in the heat of competition. It even has a name -- Cinco Ocho.

“It sounds like we have the same mentality,” Giles said with a devilish grin. “I’m excited to meet him.”