Phillip Diehl wanted to get away and experience life, and he has certainly gone and done that over the first two years of his career in the New York Yankees system.
Diehl grew up in the Cincinnati area and wanted to get away to play baseball. “I had a decent amount of schools recruiting me. A lot of northern schools, but I was set on leaving the cold and going down south to play college ball,” Diehl said about how he ended up at Louisiana Tech University to play for the Bulldogs. “I never been home sick and I always wanted to go out and do my own thing. I’m still in contact with my family all the time. I wanted to go explore and go have a good time away from Cincinnati.”
While at Louisiana Tech, Diehl played along side some serious talent and he still keeps in touch with his former teammates. “We do keep in touch. Phil Maton of the Padres made his big league debut about three weeks ago and is just absolutely carving. Braden Bristo is in the organization; I talk to him, I always check to see how he’s doing. Adam Atkins is with the Columbia Fireflies, so I got to see him a couple of times.”
During his time at Louisiana Tech, Diehl had a setback in 2015 and came down with an elbow injury that wiped out his season. “It was tough. A lot of early mornings in the physical therapy room and then once I was cleared to do more than just some grip stuff, it’s like starting all over again. I had to kind of learn how to throw again. My first rehab throw, I threw about four feet into the ground. You didn’t do that motion in a long time, but I mean I knew I could do, but it was just a matter of taking your time and don’t rush it. You need to do all this to get back.”
As a result of that injury, he was medically redshirted and came back in 2016 still considered a junior. He finished 5-5 in 15 starts with a 4.39 ERA heading into the draft. When the Yankees came calling, Diehl was ready to go. “I was pretty set on leaving. I had a great time at Louisiana Tech and can’t thank the coaches and everyone else enough, but I thought it was time for me to go get my career going.”
Diehl was filled with pride when the Yankees came calling. “I was unbelievably proud and just a whole lot of emotions. The organization itself, how prestigious is, basically going to the best sports organization in the world. I was excited that lifelong dream come true.”
Diehl was signed on June 22, 2016, and was immediately assigned to the Pulaski Yankees of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Diehl struggled a bit as far as life off the field. “It was honestly tough for me at first because I had gone from college playing in a regional where every pitch mattered and winning was the absolute only goal to where it was about development now. We struggled a little bit,” Diehl said.
On the field though, Diehl was excellent. He went 4-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 31, and two-thirds innings pitched. Those numbers earned him a call-up to the New York – Penn League Staten Island Yankees where he pitched in one game for the Yankees and picked up a win in a two-inning appearance. “The competition was a little bit of a step up. I played in Conference USA, so I played some really good teams, but just everyone was trying to do damage, and if you missed, you’re going to get hurt,” Diehl said of the step up from playing college ball to professional ball.
Diehl’s impressive first season in the organization earned him a promotion to the Charleston RiverDogs of the low-A South Atlantic League. “It’s definitely a step, all the three-four hitters in the Pulaski league are now hitting one through nine here. You got a ton of prospects with just incredible talent here. It’s tough, but I think I’m doing a good job,” Diehl said of the competition level in Charleston.
Diehl pitched well out of the bullpen and then earned a shot in the starting rotation where he struggled. Diehl has since been moved back to the bullpen. He’s been one of the more consistent members of a bullpen that’s one of the best in the South Atlantic League. He’s 7-2 this season with a 4.47 ERA. He’s pitched 54 and one-third innings and has struck out 64 batters. His ERA is a little bit inflated due to two bad outings. In a start against Greenville on May 28, he allowed seven earned runs in two innings and on July 5 coming out the bullpen against Asheville, he had allowed five earned runs in one inning out of the bullpen. Other than those two hiccups, he’s been solid.
Diehl didn’t feel any different as far as starting and coming out of the bullpen. “Starting, you have two bullpens a week, and then you pitch. When you’re in the bullpen, you normally go game to game. Just go in there and compete. I don’t think it’s a big difference.”
In the bullpen, Diehl thrives off the team atmosphere. “We’re always talking about hitters and certain stuff and mechanics. There’s a competition always for the amount of strikeouts and who throws the hardest, but we just feed off each other, and it’s to dominate. I think it’s good because we’re all pulling for each other. We’re all trying to beat one another to get to the big leagues, but I think we’re a bunch of great guys, great teammates. They’re going to cheer for you in the game because they want you to succeed just as bad as they want to.”
According to Diehl, the coaching staff, more specifically manager Patrick Osborn and pitching coach Justin Pope, is the reason for his and the team’s success this season. “They’ve been tremendous. The stereotype sometimes is that pro coaches aren’t the best, but these guys have been unbelievable. I feel like I’ve gotten so much better mechanically, learning about the game. It’s a lot of fun to go to work with them,” he said.
Osborn considers Diehl to be a key member of the pitching staff both on and off the field. “He’s been a huge piece to this team. Those guys that have that kind of versatility are important to the makeup of a ballclub. You’re always going to need guys to start. You usually have to bring those guys out of the pen, so he’s been able to do both. He’s fun to watch pitch, he works fast, he throws strikes, he challenges hitters. He’s a great kid, he works hard, and he’s a joy to have around,” Osborn said.
Diehl features a fastball, slider, and changeup. “I consider my fastball my best pitch. Low 90s fastball from the left side and I command it really well. It’s got good life to it. I pitch off the fastball, and then you can throw in some sliders and changeups. If you throw them a fastball, guys are gonna sit on the offspeed stuff and crush it.”
When on the mound, Diehl goes after hitters and isn’t afraid of the other team hitting the ball. “Approach-wise, just staying in attack mode. Don’t be afraid to pitch to contact a little bit. Again, here or there – away, away, away and missing, trying not to get hit. I think we got that figured out. And then mechanically, just trying to repeat my mechanics. Having the good tempo and just compete. That’s what it comes down to.”
Diehl also credits his success to his fiancee, Sarah Cady, for keeping him focused and grounded. Sarah has been to several RiverDogs games this year, both in Charleston and on the road. “It’s amazing what you can do when you have a great support staff around you. My fiancee Sarah, my family, my friends, they’re all cheering for me. She watches every game. I get a good luck text and a text saying, ‘I support you 100%’. All of this whether I strike out nine or give up nine,” Diehl said.