The Phillies have plenty of starting pitching between the majors and minors, and now they have to figure out where they will all start the year.
The Phillies have made it a point to acquire as much pitching as possible the past few seasons. In all of the trades they made in the past few seasons, nearly every single one brought back a pitcher, if not more. It hurt to see some of our beloved veterans go, but in return the club got assets for the future.
After completing all these trades and seeing many different pitchers develop and move through the system, many are close to, if not ready for, the major-leagues. However, only five can be in the big-league rotation, while the others will have to return to the minors.
Let’s try to break down who will end up where when camp breaks and the regular season begins.
The starting rotation was the main reason the Phillies got off to such a hot start in 2016. It carried the team through the first month and a half of the season, but injuries eventually depleted the rotation. Now that those injured players should be back for 2017, the rotation is poised for improvement.
The major-league rotation doesn’t really have any open spots in it at this point. Veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz should pair well with Vincent Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff, both of whom are entering their second full season in the majors.
The only question mark in the rotation is Aaron Nola and whether or not he will return healthy. There haven’t been any public setbacks in his recovery, and Nola’s agent said he is “100 percent healthy.” While that can only be taken so far, all signs are pointing to Nola starting 2017 in the rotation. For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume that is the case.
Triple-A Lehigh Valley
Since the major-league rotation doesn’t have any holes in it, Lehigh Valley’s will be filled with guys who have major-league experience but don’t have a spot on the major-league roster.
Two players who were top pitching prospects this time last year who will likely be back in Triple-A are Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson. Each exceeded their rookie status in 2016, but neither had any consistent success. Both would benefit from more time in Triple-A.
Lively pitched his way to minor-league pitcher of the year honors after posting a 2.69 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. Pivetta also had a respectable 3.27 ERA and 1.204 WHIP between Reading and Lehigh Valley. They are both on the 40-man roster but will likely start in Triple-A barring injury.
With their last spot in the Triple-A rotation, the Phillies may be forced to let someoe go as Alec Asher, Adam Morgan, and Mark Appel all have valid cases to be in that rotation. Appel is the most likely candidate as the lone prospect of the group, and the team has expressed that they will be patient with him. Morgan may find his way into the major-league bullpen as the team is thin on lefties there. Asher may also wind up in the bullpen, but he could be the odd one out if the team can’t find a spot for him.
Reading’s rotation is where we start to see far more prospects and far fewer players with major-league experience. A few will be on the 40-man roster, but most are still fairly young.
Ricardo Pinto, Thomas Eshelman, Jon Richy, Tyler Viza will all likely return to the Reading rotation. Pinto spent all of 2016 there, but I don’t think he showed enough to warrant a promotion and there really isn’t a spot for him in Triple-A regardless. The other three all came up midseason from Clearwater.
The fifth spot in this rotation is a toss-up as well between Drew Anderson and Elniery Garcia. Both were added to the 40-man roster this winter, so the team would like to have them as close to the majors as possible. Anderson has a strong case, but Garcia benefits from being left-handed and has more High-A time under his belt.
This is where things get interesting because at this level there are several players who will likely return from 2016, but there are also several players from Lakewood who deserve a promotion as well.
If Drew Anderson doesn’t make the cut for Reading – which he doesn’t in this scenario – he would be an obvious candidate to return to the Threshers rotation. Franklyn Kilome dominated Low-A in 2016 and it would be a waste to send him back there in 2017.
Jose Taveras and Seranthony Dominguez also both had strong seasons in High-A. Neither has the prospect power of Kilome, but each showed they could handle what the South Atlantic League can throw at them. One or both may be promoted to Clearwater, but this would require moving some other pitchers to the bullpen, either in High-A or Double-A.
Alberto Tirado, who was added to the 40-man roster this winter as well, has all of the pieces to be a starting pitcher but his lack of control will likely prevent him from ever becoming one. The team remains adamant about keeping him in the rotation, but he has been inconsistent there.
If they do keep Tirado as a starter, they will likely slot him into Clearwater’s rotation after spending 2016 in Lakewood’s.
Matt Klentak needs to start unloading some of this pitching depth because this is getting really hard. There are several pitchers who could return from last year, but several others are knocking on the door from the short-season leagues. The rotation could look very different at the end of the season compared to the beginning as players move up to Clearwater or go back to extended spring training.
Bailey Falter, Adonis Medina, and JoJo Romero will all likely be promoted from short-season Williamsport to start the year in Low-A. Each performed well enough there to warrant the opportunity to play their first full season.
If the team feels aggressive enough, they may also promote Sixto Sanchez after his breakout season in the Gulf Coast League. He will still be just 18 years old when the season starts, but it shouldn’t be too much of leap for Sanchez to overcome.
Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts actually projected Lakewood to use a six-man rotation with Kevin Gowdy and Ranger Suarez. Gowdy pitched just nine professional innings last year, but he “was the most polished high school pitcher in the draft, and without his injury him starting in Lakewood is probably not a question” according to Winkelman. Suarez posted a 2.81 ERA in Williamsport last season after four years in the rookie-level leagues.
Predicting Williamsport’s or the GCL’s starting rotation won’t do any good at this point in time because many players on each team’s roster will come from the 2017 draft.