The Phillies had a detailed plan for how they wanted to bring along Ken Giles last year, one that was designed well before the hard-throwing relief prospect even threw his first pitch in Spring Training.
Unfortunately, that plan experienced its first hiccup in Spring Training when Giles was diagnosed with an oblique strain. It was then completely derailed about a month later when the right-hander suffered another injury -- this time to his other oblique.
Giles, whose fastball has been clocked in excess of 100 mph, was limited in 2013 to just 25 2/3 innings over 24 appearances with Class A Advanced Clearwater. His injury-filled campaign resulted in an unsightly 6.31 ERA, nearly double the 3.51 mark he put up the year before while splitting time between Class A Lakewood and Clearwater in his first full professional season.
"It was about as frustrating as it gets," Giles said. "The first oblique problem during Spring Training, I felt something and didn't think it was a big deal, but it ended up getting worse and worse and worse. I go through the rehab for about a month and finally get back, then sure enough, second appearance of the season, the other one goes out. That one was even more painful. So it was incredibly frustrating."
A seventh-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Giles is no stranger to overcoming untimely injuries. He missed time in high school due to elbow tendinitis and then enrolled at New Mexico Junior College before later returning to the mound for one season at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona.
Unsure if one year was enough to prove he had fully returned to form, Giles next made plans to transfer to the University of Arizona. It turned out, however, he had impressed scouts enough during his brief time at Yavapai -- where he compiled a 1.18 ERA over 23 games and consistently hit 98 mph -- to earn a professional contract from the Phillies.
At the professional level, losing valuable time to injury during the season can be problematic for any prospect, but being a reliever adds another element to it. For prospects such as Giles, who has been viewed by the Phils as a potential back-end reliever from the start, innings are already hard enough to come by as it is.
"It's a challenge when you've got a guy you're hopefully going to see grow into a late-inning bullpen guy," said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan. "A lot of those guys develop from starters and they come from guys that get extended work early on, so it's a challenge with him because he's been a reliever from the get-go."
It's with that in mind that the Phils put together that structured plan, detailing each of Giles' projected game appearances, as well as controlling his off-day workout regimen. The two oblique injuries, though, changed everything.
"We were going to, from Day 1, schedule his bullpens and everything else," Jordan said. "We can do something like that, because I don't care how many saves a guy gets in the Minor Leagues -- it doesn't matter. We just want to get them their work. But because of the injuries, we really weren't able to do exactly what we wanted to do with Ken."
Giles made up for some of the lost time by making an additional 10 appearances in the Arizona Fall League. Though he held the opposition scoreless in nine of his 10 outings, Giles was tagged for six runs without recording a single out in that other appearance, producing a somewhat misleading 5.23 ERA.
"It was a big relief for me to get some of those innings back, because I did miss a lot of time last year," Giles said. "It went a long way in helping me get my confidence back and make up for some of the missed innings. And not just that, but there's some good competition there, so it was a great opportunity all around."
While in Arizona, Giles showcased his ability to overpower hitters, using exclusively a combination of fastballs and sliders. The 6-foot-2 righty tallied 16 strikeouts over just 10 1/3 innings with Peoria, right on par with the 12.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio he accumulated over his first three professional seasons.
At the same time, Giles also put on display his command issues, countering those 16 strikeouts with eight free passes -- nearly one an inning. In his three Minor League seasons, Giles has walked an average of 5.8 hitters per nine innings, including 6.7 last year. Though his high walk rates would be alarming if they continue, they are not necessarily uncommon among prospects his age who routinely throw 97-98 mph.
"We took some pitches away from him," Jordan said. "He had about five pitches he wanted to throw. Well, we went to fastball and slider, because we wanted to try to at least have some mastery of that before we went on to other stuff."
If Giles is to develop into the late-inning reliever the Phillies hope, he may not even need to worry about reintroducing any of those other pitches into his arsenal. As for the immediate future, Giles' goals for 2014 are simple -- start mixing in his slider more effectively and, as with any prospect, throw more strikes.
Though he knows he will start the spring in Clearwater at big league camp, Giles is unsure as of now whether he will remain there with the Class A club to begin the regular season.
"Wherever they want to put me is where I'll start off, that's really out of my control," Giles said. "I'm just going to go out there and do the same thing no matter where it is, and try to take advantage of wherever they put me."