His future remained murky when I wrote about him nine months later on the heels a promotion to Toronto’s 40-man roster. Murphy was again coming off a good year — this time in High-A — but there was nonetheless still a lot to prove. He entered 2019 ranked No. 26 on our Blue Jays list, his FV an uninspiring 35+.
Fast forward to last month: Seven years after the Blue Jays selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft out of a Chandler, Arizona high school, Murphy made his major league debut. It came against the Philadelphia Phillies, and one of the first batters he faced was a close friend.
“It was cool,” Murphy responded when asked about his September 18 relief outing at Citizens Bank Park. “One of the dudes I work out with, and live right next door to, is Scott Kingery. I faced him, and that was pretty funny. I mean, I was trying to be as serious as possible, but as soon as I looked up he was cheesing, so I couldn’t help but break a smile.”
Th smile only got wider. Murphy retired his friend, one of six Phillies he faced in a scoreless three-strikeout stint. The lone base hit he allowed was to his first batter. Didi Gregorius singled, prompting the less-nervous-than-expected right-hander to tell himself, ‘OK, here we go; buckle up.’ Murphy took a deep breath, then fanned Phil Gosselin to finish the frame.
His second outing came three days later, against the team he grew up rooting for. Murphy’s father is from New York, and like his brother, he inherited an allegiance to the Yankees.
“I’ve been watching Brett Gardner since I was in middle school, so it was pretty cool to face him and the top of that order,” said Murphy, who on this occasion went an inning and two-thirds scoreless. “[DJ] LeMahieu and [Giancarlo] Stanton got knocks off me, but fortunately I was able to work out of it.”
Which us brings us to the obligatory reworking of his delivery. He’d just pitched in a road game at Double-A Altoona, and one of that night’s umpires approached him as the team was loading the bus. “I hate to be the one breaking the bad news,” the arbiter told him. “But your delivery is illegal.”
He had an inkling it might be coming. Murphy had been given a heads up that his delivery was being reviewed, and that a verdict would be forthcoming. The issue at hand was a modified toe-tap, which was ultimately deemed to be, as Murphy recalls being told, “an extra step.”
He’d been getting away with it for years.
“What happened is that I was rehabbing from an injury,” explained Murphy.”I was watching Clayton Kershaw and kind of picked up the toe-tap idea from him, even though he doesn’t actually tap. I always thought he did, but he just hovers. Anyway, I got the idea, got comfortable with doing it, and never had any issues. Then last year, about halfway through, they told me ‘no more.'”
Unsurprisingly, the acclimation period that followed was anything but smooth. Revamping a delivery midway through a season is far from easy, and after a few shaky outings, the Blue Jays shut him down so he could work out the kinks on the side. More trouble was in the offing. After he returned to game action, Murphy experienced shoulder fatigue and was shut down for the rest of the 2019 season.
When our 2020 Blue Jays Top Prospects list came out this spring, Murphy’s ranking had slid to No. 32, while his FV remained a pedestrian 35+. The potential was still there — Eric Longenhagen’s writeup cited an “upper-90s fastballs [and] occasionally nasty curveball” — but with his 25th birthday coming in June, Murphy’s future was no less clear than it was two-plus years ago.
Now it looks a little brighter. A strong showing at the team’s alternate site led to a big-league call-up, and he performed admirably in his four-game, six-inning cameo. All told, Murphy allowed one run on six hits, and his fastball averaged a crisp 96.7 mph. Just as importantly, he wasn’t told that his delivery was a no-go. Couple that with an injury-free summer, and Murphy’s murkiness might finally be a thing of the past.