Patrick Murphy won’t be available in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Along with four other players, the 23-year-old right-hander was added to the Toronto Blue Jays’ 40-man roster yesterday. His addition was well-earned. A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Murphy has been a picture of perseverance. As noted in the feature we did on him last February, Murphy has undergone Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and had a nerve moved in his elbow.
This season, he went from question mark to fast-mover. In 27 starts — all but one with High-A Dunedin — Murphy fashioned a tidy 2.64 ERA and fanned 141 batters in 152.2 innings. Those numbers earned him an accolade; Murphy was named the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Year.
The innings total was especially meaningful to him, as was the fact that he made all of his scheduled starts. Calling it “a big step,” the Chandler, Arizona native was able to show the organization — and prove to himself — that his am and body could hold up over a full season.
He also showed that he could hit triple digits. But while he considered it “pretty cool” to have hit 100 mph on the radar gun, Murphy was more enamored with a pitch that traversed 60-feet-six-inches in a comparably meandering manner.
“Changeup development was huge for me this year,” Murphy told me late last week. “That was my biggest need for improvement and I really took those strides. I was able to give myself that third pitch I didn’t really have before.”
Technically speaking, Murphy already had a changeup in his repertoire. What he didn’t have was a changeup he could trust. As a result, it had largely taken up residence in his back pocket.
“A changeup is a big feel pitch, and having not thrown one my whole life until the last few years, I had to get comfortable with it,” said Murphy. “It came to the point where I realized, ‘Yeah, I might not get the results I want early on, but I’d rather work out the kinks now as opposed to down the road.’ So I stuck with it and threw it as much as possible. Then, once I got comfortable with it, I started doing more than simply throwing it to get my reps in. I started to actually pitch with it.”
Adding a viable third pitch to augment his heater and hook qualifies as an obvious plus. As for which of the original mainstays he considers his best pitch, my ears perked up when he suggested it was his fastball. Reminded that he’d called his curveball his “go-to” in our previous conversation, Murphy offered a clarification: best is a relative term. His bender remains his favorite pitch.
It’s also an improved pitch. While “still kind of big,” it’s become tighter and harder, with more late bite. Murphy told me that his curveball was “anywhere from 80 to 84” this past season, whereas in our 2017 conversation he estimated it as being “around 77-79” MPH.
The extra bite and velocity are accompanied by a third attribute — added deception. Not having a light bulb pop up in a hitter’s head when a hook leaves his hand is a primary objective.
“I want all of my pitches coming from the same release point,” Murphy explained. “I want my curveball coming out without any bumps, or loops. I’m trying to get it tunneling with my fastball as much as possible.”
As noted above, this would be a fastball that was clocked as high as 100 mph this summer. It’s an eye-opening number, one that wasn’t seen from Murphy prior to this season. In February’s feature, Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim had referred to the 6-4 righty’s fastball as having “good life in the low-to-mid-90s.”
The reasons behind the velocity bump are twofold. A return to health is the obvious one. The other has been good old-fashioned hard work. Murphy adheres to a strict training routine and continues to get stronger. He was throwing harder in July and August than he was early in the season.
His heat comes in two varieties. Unlike many power pitchers, he throws both four- and two-seam fastballs. Equally uncommon is the fact that the one that dips is as quick as the one that darts.
“I don’t notice a velo difference between them,” said Murphy. “I like to throw both. If anything, I’m more two than four, which I think surprises some people. My two-seam isn’t what you’d call a power sinker, but I do get some movement on it.”
Now that he’s been added to the 40-man roster, any moving Murphy does in the upcoming months will be within the Toronto organization. He won’t need to be on pins and needles when the Rule 5 draft takes place on December 13. Needless to say, he’d pondered that possibility.
“The Blue Jays have treated me great, so I’d obviously love to stay,” Murphy told me prior to yesterday’s deadline. “But that’s out of my control. I had the season that I did — I was healthy and did what I could — and now all I can do is go with the flow. Whatever happens, happens. My goal is to get to the big leagues as soon as possible — hopefully with the Jays — and that’s what I’m going to keep working toward.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.