Introducing Phillip Irwin. Irwin was the Pirates 2009 21st round pick (625th overall) out of Ole Miss. Coming out of the draft, Irwin was lauded for a solid frame and the ability to throw three pitches and mix them well, but a lack of a dominant pitch kept him from being a particularly sexy prospect. That hasn't stopped Irwin who's pitched well in every stint of the minors. In 2009, he debuted for the State College Spikes and struck out nearly 10 batters every 9 inning while walking less than 2 walkers per 9 innings. He finished with a 2.29 FIP in 29.2 innings. The one negative was Irwin had already turned 22 in February of 2009.
In 2010, Irwin maintained similar numbers, this time pitching for the West Virginia Power. In 113 innings as a 23 year-old, the Pirates prospect posted a 2.99 FIP on the strength of strong peripherals - 8.8 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. 2011 quietly brought more success for Irwin who pitched over two levels, finishing the season at AA. He continued to post very strong walk numbers, although his strikeout numbers diminished somewhat. Irwin also saw his groundball/flyball ratios improve greatly, nearly doubling compared to the ratios he posted in 2009 and 2010. Irwin also finished the year with a slightly better age-relative-to-league, age 24 at AA.
Last season, Irwin started the year at AA. He again posted great peripherals - a 7.1 K/9 and a 1.5 BB/9 over 104.1 innings and earned a late season promotion to AAA. In his late season trial, Irwin began missing bats, putting up a 12.0 K/9 rate, but he also started walking more batters at 3.0 BB/9. Still, his 3.40 FIP at AA was impressive, especially followed by the 2.30 FIP he posted in his 21.0 innings at AAA. Irwin had turned 25 in February, so his performance needs to be taken with a grain of salt. That's especially true considering Irwin's scouting report, which doesn't read too impressively. Irwin's fastball sits in the high 80's to low 90's on a good day. He adds a good curveball and changeup. Irwin will be 26 on opening day and will probably start the year at AAA. He's not a particularly sexy prospect, but he's got a shot to be a back-of-the-rotation option, similar to Jeff Karstens. That's always valuable.