The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies won the second World Series championship in franchise history. That team also captured the first of back-to-back National League pennants and the second of what would become five straight NL East Division crowns.
But even a talented ball club that will go on to become a world champion is going to have need over the course of a six-month long, 162-game regular season to call on players from its minor league system for emergency duties now and again.
That was the case in the middle of the summer that year when the Phillies reached into their system for some bullpen depth and called up 25-year-old southpaw R.J. Swindle.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Swindle became the 14th round choice of the Boston Red Sox back in the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft out of Charleston Southern University in South Carolina.
After enjoying success out of the bullpen at Low-A Lowell that summer, Swindle suffered a back injury. That injury caused the Bosox to give up on him and he was released during spring training in 2015.
Swindle played in the 2015 season as a starting pitcher in Independent ball, both having success and demonstrating that he was healthy. That caused the New York Yankees to purchase his contract in early June of 2006. Despite a strong season in their minors system, the Yanks released him at the end of spring training in 2007.
Some team is always willing to give a shot to a young left-handed pitcher who is healthy and who has enjoyed some measure of success. That next team became the Phillies, who signed Swindle on May 29, 2007.
In 2007 at Low-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater, Swindle was particularly effective. That strong pitching continued as he rose from Double-A Reading to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the 2008 campaign.
Part of the problem for both Boston and New York with Swindle was that he was a soft-tosser. He simply didn’t light up radar guns enough for their evaluators during an era when power arms were in vogue.
“It takes a special person, and with the Yankees there wasn’t that guy at the highest levels to give me that chance,” said Swindle per Jeff Schuler at The Morning Call in May 2008. “They ended up saying, “No, we don’t think you can do it.’ With the Phillies, it’s been the opposite. There are people saying, “No, he can do it,’ and that’s the reason why I’m here. They’re giving me that shot.”
Over the four minor league stops with the Phillies organization in 2007-08, Swindle went 5-3 with 14 saves. He allowed just 72 hits over 97 innings across 70 games with a phenomenal 124/16 K:BB ratio.
That strong performance led the Phillies to promote him when they needed some bullpen depth just prior to the MLB All-Star break in mid-July 2008. Unfortunately for Swindle his success in the minors did not translate to Major League Baseball. Over three games and 4.2 innings the lefty allowed four earned runs thanks largely to a pair of home runs.
On his 25th birthday, July 7, 2008 at Citizens Bank, Swindle made his debut and allowed a home run to the first big-league hitter he faced, David Wright of the New York Mets. On July 12, 2008, Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks crushed a three-run homer off Swindle.
With one out in the top of the 6th inning and a man already on base during that Saturday afternoon game at Citizens Bank Park, Swindle allowed a single to Chad Tracy. Manager Charlie Manuel went to the mound and lifted the left-hander, and Swindle walked off a big-league mound for the last time.
Despite finishing up with more good work at Lehigh Valley, Swindle was not called upon when rosters expanded in September. He was granted free agency when the season ended. In November 2008, Sanji Watsuki at SB Nation‘s Beyond the Boxscore wrote on Swindle:
“R.J. Swindle has been dominant for his entire minor league career and no team has truly given him a shot. How could such a talent go so ignored? The answer is, quite simply, scouting. Swindle’s fastball tops out at a grand total of 82 miles an hour. His curveball averages 55 mph and his slider rarely goes above 75 mph. Swindle throws slower than Tim Wakefield, yet he somehow posts video game-like numbers.”
Watsuki finished up with a call for some team to give Swindle a shot:
“Overall, there is almost nothing to lose by signing R.J. Swindle to a contract. He’s a minor league free agent currently and he has massive upside. Personally, I can see Swindle finding success as either a LOOGY (and I was surprised not to see this junkballing lefty in the F.A.T. LOOGY list) or perhaps being dominant enough to hold a setup man job. If some team is willing to take a shot with a pitcher who is hated by scouts but loved by statistics they might find a gem in the rough with R.J. Swindle.”
Two weeks after that piece published, the Milwaukee Brewers became that team to take a shot. It wouldn’t last, and over the next four years he bounced across a handful of organizations, including two stints with the Tampa Bay Rays. Swindle pitched in 129 games at the Triple-A level during that time but never got back to the majors.
Retiring from his pro baseball career after 2012, Swindle moved into the financial field at age 29. He now works as a financial representative with the Guardian Life Insurance Company in South Carolina.