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Prospect Spotlight 🔦

George Klassen – Age: 22 – B/T: R/R, 6’2” 170 – Phillies (Single-A)

  • Born: 1/26/2002 in West Bend, WI

  • Draft: 2023, Philadelphia Phillies, Round: 6, Overall Pick: 193

  • College: University of Minnesota

Few pitchers in the minor leagues have as much helium as George Klassen does right now. A sixth round pick by the Phillies in the 2023 draft out of the University of Minnesota, Klassen was known by many draft analysts due to his fastball topping triple digits multiple times during the spring, but extremely poor walk numbers coupled with disappointing strikeout rates pushed him all the way to the 6th round. To start 2024, he has turned in three dominant starts, showing plus major league level stuff without the control issues that bothered him in college. People have begun to take notice. Let’s look to see what has changed since college and what he projects to be at the major league level.

Photo credit: Tori Heck

After redshirting his freshman year at Minnesota due to injury, Klassen threw just 7.2 innings as a redshirt freshman in 2022, where he recorded a 14.1 ERA and an 8/14 K/BB ratio. In 2023, Klassen started 12 games and threw 50.2 innings, with an ERA of 6.22, a K/9 of 7.99, and a 7.99 BB/9. Put mildly, these are not numbers you would expect out of a draft pick, even on Day 2. What prompted the Phillies to spend a 6th round pick on him? Premium arm talent, and ridiculous spin on his breaking ball. In 2023, Klassen sat 98 with his fastball, and touched 103 mph, though his whiff rate was just around 17%, indicating that there were some command and shape issues. His two breaking balls sat in the mid 80s, with the slider having more of a downer shape with tighter, late movement, and his curveball having monster two-plane break that was too much for him to command. Klassen comfortably showed 20-grade command at Minnesota, though it was odd that his electric stuff didn’t generate higher whiff totals. On a more positive note, his 2.3 GB/FB rate showed that he can limit batted-ball damage, which helps balance out the underwhelming whiff rate. It’s a strange draft profile, one where he could mature into the goldilocks zone of generating a ton of whiffs while also limiting batted ball damage with a high groundball rate, or just end up as an extremely wild fireballer who bounces around the low minors for a bit and doesn’t strike out as many hitters as you would expect given the stuff. The Phillies were fine with the risk in the 6th round and made a savvy pick.

To begin his professional career, the Phillies opted to send him to Single-A Clearwater to develop as a starter against an age-appropriate level. Through three starts, Klassen has dominated Florida State League competition. He has yet to allow an earned run, while recording a 45.3% strikeout rate with just a 7.5% walk rate. His fastball velocity has stayed constant at around 97 mph, but he’s added a couple ticks to his curveball and his slider/cutter. His cutter is his best pitch right now from a stuff perspective, though he doesn’t have a ton of feel for the pitch yet. It has a ridiculous 63% whiff rate despite his lack of command. Klassen’s fastball shape lands right in the dead-zone, with its horizontal and vertical break being roughly the same, though it’ll play up some due to the velocity, and it also fits well in his arsenal to get groundballs and limit batted-ball damage. So far, he’s recorded a 56.5% ground ball rate, which is similar to what we saw in college. He rounds out his arsenal with his curveball, which has two plane break and plenty of movement, which also projects as plus. This is a power pitcher’s arsenal that is hard to contain, but will have no issues getting guys out at the major league level if he can maintain his decent strike throwing ability.

Seeing his strikeout numbers pop the way they have isn’t completely unsurprising given that he sits in the upper 90s, but the walk numbers are a lot better than expected. From a mechanical standpoint, not a ton has changed from college to the pros. He still throws across his body, with a pretty major head-whack, which are typical indicators of poor command. His fastball is living in the zone more than it used to in college, though both his cutter and curveball are thrown in the zone less than 40% of the time, which is a well below-average rate. Klassen’s pure command over his arsenal hasn’t improved all that much, but if he is able to convert more of his pitches that end up in the shadow zone to chases from takes, he will be able to outperform his raw command. That’s a lot easier to do in Single-A than at the big league level given his overall command grading out as a fringy 40.

While I try to avoid comps, for someone as unique as Klassen I wanted to see who in the major leagues sort of resembles him. To do so, I looked at Steamer preseason projections for this year, and looked at starting pitchers who were projected to have a strikeout rate one standard deviation above-average, a walk rate one standard deviation below average, and a groundball rate above 50%. This is my peak projection of him as a starter; someone who has plus stuff and gets a ton of strikeouts, while limiting batted ball damage in the form of ground balls, but also walks more than his fair share of batters. Only two pitchers met this criteria, Jordan Hicks and Aaron Ashby. Hicks is a reliever turned starter, who has seen success this year but is still largely untested, and Ashby has been a starter so far in the big leagues, but has struggled with command and may end up as a reliever. Comps can be tricky because Klassen is different than both of these players, but I think the relative rarity of this demographic and overall quality of the demographic at the big league level makes me think that Klassen projects more as a #4 type of starter than someone anchoring the rotation, if he becomes a starter. Even after taking out the groundball piece, there are still just 12 pitchers in this group, with Snell being the best and the average WAR being 1.7.

In short, it’s clear that George Klassen has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, but I have some level of concern that the outlier results we’ve seen so far will not translate as he moves up the minor league ladder. I would say that it’s a 90% chance he ends up as a reliever, but the Phillies are doing the correct thing and letting him start to see if he can make it to that 10% outcome and become a starter, which realizes far more value. The Phillies love betting on pitchers with massive stuff and poor command. If he keeps it up, and the Phillies are in playoff contention, I could easily see Klassen following the Orion Kerkering path and end up in the Phillies bullpen by the end of the year.

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