These days in Major League Baseball, there seem to be dozens of no-name relievers that pop up every year and have success. The Seattle Mariners have notably been one of the best teams at turning unknown pitchers into average or better big-league relievers. Some notable names include Paul Sewald, who went from signing a minor-league contract to being a high-leverage reliever for a winning team. Another is Penn Murfee, who went from 33rd-round pick to big league reliever.
Last offseason, I wrote about Penn Murfee being a candidate to be a real contributor out of the bullpen because of his minor league numbers. When he was in Triple-A last year, not only did I see him dominate hitters with his funky delivery, but he was striking out over 30% of the batters he faced. I did not think that Murfee would have as much success as he did in 2022, he ended up posting a 0.7 WAR with a 2.99 ERA and a 3.10 FIP.
Looking ahead to 2023, there are a few players in the minor leagues that could be this year's Penn Murfee, and come from nowhere and turn into a solid reliever. The first is Isaiah Campbell, who is a favorite to be the prospect who comes up from the minors to contribute to the big club. The reason that he has been talked about in this role is that he had some absurd numbers for Double-A Arkansas in 2022.
Campbell posted a 16.62 K/9 and only walked 1.38 per nine. That is absolutely incredible. Campbell was striking out just under 43% of the batters that he faced. He was absolutely dealing out of the Travelers bullpen in 2022. Since Campbell is the favorite reliever to come up from the minors, here is another player who could have a similar path to Penn Murfee.
Travis Kuhn is a perfect under-the-radar reliever prospect to come up and be a middle reliever for the Seattle bullpen. When looking at Murfee's numbers from 2021 at Triple-A, they are similar to Kuhn's Double-A numbers from this past year. Kuhn struck out 27% of opposing hitters and walked 13.5%. Murfee struck out 30% and walked 13% the year before, so there really isn't a huge difference in their numbers.
MLB Pipeline ranks the 5-foot-10 righty as the 28th-best prospect in the M's system. They give him a future 60 grade on his high 90s fastball to go along with his slider that they said "flashes above average and can be a true out pitch." If he can get a better grip on his control and command, then he could be a solid middle reliever at the big league level.
Obviously, the walks have to come down for Travis Kuhn, but I think that there are a lot of people already talking about Isaiah Campbell being a possible rookie relief contributor. I think it would be great to see another late-round draft pick beat the odds and make the big leagues.