MURFREESBORO – Forty miles from where he plans to settle in as a collegiate pitcher, Philip Pfeifer threw his name into the record books – and did so in dominant fashion.
The senior left-hander for Farragut High School out of Knoxville broke the state record for career wins with his 43rd, a 2-0 victory Friday against Columbia in a first-round game at the Blackman Invitational. Pfeifer, a Vanderbilt signee, struck out 12 and allowed just one hit in a complete-game, seven-inning shutout. He surpassed Brad Howard’s mark of 42, set from 1992-96 while at Oakdale.
“He is an impressive young man,” Farragut coach Matt Buckner said of Pfeifer. “I’ve talked over and over about him and time and time again. But he has some intangibles that are very rare for any kid. He is so competitive and he is so driven. To me, he is the whole package.”
Pfeifer showed off those skills in front of a handful of professional scouts on a frigid, damp spring day.
He wasn’t the only prospect they were looking at. Farragut catcher Nicky Delmonico, the son of former Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico, is expected to join his brother, Joey, at the University of Georgia but, like Pfeifer, could entertain the idea of skipping college if he is drafted high in June. Columbia pitcher David Horne, a right-hander who struck out eight and allowed two runs on three hits in four innings, has signed to play at Tennessee next spring.
For Pfeifer, it was his first start in nine days and the combination of the time off and cold weather showed at times. He walked five batters and plunked Michael Whitaker on the helmet.
Whitaker, who batted ninth, gave Pfeifer the most fits as he reached base safely three times. He also was responsible for Columbia’s lone hit. It was a bunt in the gap between second and first in the third inning and the tiny but speedy Whitaker beat out the throw by half a step.
“It is a rough giving up a bunt for one hit,” Pfeifer said. “But it is OK. That is baseball. He played it smart and you just have to take it in stride.”
Pfeifer’s biggest jam came in the fifth inning when Columbia put runners on first and second with one out. Pfeifer forced a pop up to first base. Then Horne smacked a deep drive to the right-center gap. But Anthony El Chibani, who also knocked in the Admirals’ two runs, chased the ball down and extended his glove to make the third out.
From there, Pfeifer retired six of seven to improve his high school record to 43-3.
“It is really neat,” Pfeifer said of the record. “I was able to be on the field and let my team be able to help me win the game. Obviously our right fielder [Chibani] made awesome plays and he scored some runs for me. He was able to let me come away with that ballgame and get that record. ... [Columbia] made me earn that 43rd win.”
At the alma mater of David Price, a former Vanderbilt standout and current Tampa Bay Rays ace, Pfeifer showed his dominance. He used both sides of the plate along with his arsenal of fastball –which can go as fast 92 miles per hour – curveball, changeup and splitter kept the Lions grounded. In addition to the 12 strikeouts (five were on called strikes), Pfeifer allowed just two balls out of the infield – both fly outs.
“He hits spots well, there is no doubt about that, and he can throw any pitch at any count, which not a lot of high school kids can do,” Columbia coach Mark Pickle said. “He is an advanced pitcher. He is to the point where he is well beyond years in terms of stuff and command and it makes it tough for high school hitters to be able to handle that.”
Pfeifer will get the chance to see if he can wreak havoc on professional hitters – maybe soon, too. He is projected to get drafted this June. Draftsite.com has him as an early third-round pick, going 100th overall to the Chicago Cubs. Deepleagues.com projects him as supplemental pick in the first round to the New York Yankees.
“Projections are tricky. There is nothing really sure about them. That is going to come down to what happens in the spring and what happens in June,” Pfeifer said. “However, my mom is a teacher and my dad is a lawyer and obviously they put a huge importance on education. So, I mean, it is going to be hard.
"... The [MLB] team is almost more important than the dollar figure. It is kind of like picking a college. You pick a college based on how well they are going to develop you and the same with the draft. You want to pick a team that is going to develop you well, that has a need for guys like you and just wants you and shows interest.”
Though Pfeifer didn’t shut the door on the MLB draft this year, he sounded optimistic when talking about wearing his future with the Commodores.
“It is hard to predict but Vanderbilt is a wonderful place. I can see myself there,” Pfeifer said. “It is possible for me to get drafted pretty high [this year]. But I think if I went to Vanderbilt it would be even higher. ... One thing that I liked about Vanderbilt, that kind of sold me, was not only would I be able to leave there being the baseball player that I wanted to be but because of the people that I would be around and the people that would help guide me, I would be able to leave there being the man I would like to be.”