Charlie Morton Gone for Good

Back in mid-December, new Phillies general manager Matt Klentak completed one of his first trades, sending organizational pitcher David Whitehead to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for veteran starting pitcher Charlie Morton.
The move was made to add an eight-year veteran to a rotation that was going to be relying heavily on a handful of inexperienced starting pitchers, while another handful percolated at the top of the club’s minor league organization.
Morton had made 157 big league starts, most of those coming in seven seasons with the Pirates, who had acquired him back in June of 2009 from the Atlanta Braves club that had drafted him back in 2002.
So Morton was slotted into the rotation as a veteran innings-eater, someone who hopefully would provide the team with 15-20 starts leading up to the 2016 MLB trade deadline.

The club would then hopefully have a couple of those prospect arms ready, and could swap Morton out to a contender for a minor league piece
perhaps better than Whitehead had been for them.

Well, as the old saying grown out of Robert Burns’ 1786 poem “To a Mouse” goes: 

“the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

In just his fourth regular season start with the Phillies this past Saturday night in Milwaukee, Morton surrendered a run on three hits to the host Brewers. He also struck out the side
When Tyler Goeddel led off the top of the 2nd inning with a base hit, Morton came to the plate. He grounded back to opposing pitcher Chase Anderson, who turned to gun down Goeddel at 2nd base, starting a potential double play.
Morton busted out of the batter’s box to try to get down as fast as possible, hoping that a bobble or errant throw or some other Brewers misfortune would in some way allow him to avoid the twin killing.
About halfway down the first base line, Morton took a strike, and his leg stiffened up awkwardly. He took one more step, and then crumpled to the ground in a heap. He was helped off the field, and initial medical tests revealed a hamstring problem.
Apparently his MRI wasn’t as good as we were hoping,” manager Pete Mackanin said in the aftermath of the initial medical results coming back. 

“We’re going to see what happens the next two or three days and see what the next step is. I really don’t know what the next step is. I just know it’s not as good as we were hoping. We won’t find out for a few days.

Well, it turns out that hamstring is more than a small problem. It’s a torn left hamstring that will require surgery, six to eight months of recovery time, and will knock Morton out for the remainder of what was going to be the only season of his Phillies career.
In all, that Phillies career consisted of 17.1 innings over which he allowed 15 hits, with a 19/8 K:BB ratio. He had a 4.15 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, and 3.04 FIP over the course of those four starts in which he accumulated a 1-1 record.
The Phillies are expected to promote lefty Adam Morgan from AAA Lehigh Valley to take Morton’s spot in the rotation. Morgan is likely to make his 2016 big league debut on Friday night when the club returns home to Citizens Bank Park for a weekend series against the Cleveland Indians.
Morton will undergo the surgery and then his rehabilitation. He is being paid $8 million for this lost season, and will receive a $1 million buyout from the Phillies come the off-season. He will then become a free agent, and some team is likely to offer him a contract to come to spring training with them for the 2017 season when he will be 33 years old.

Hot Prospect Jorge Alfaro Injured Again

Catcher Jorge Alfaro, rated here at TBOH as the Phillies #6 prospect in our 2016 preseason evaluations, has suffered an oblique injury while playing at AA Reading. 
While the severity of the injury is to be determined, it is likely that Alfaro will be out for a number of weeks.
The injury is particularly unfortunate for Alfaro and the organization as a whole. He was off to a scorching hot and impressive beginning to this season, batting at a .500/.526/.750 slash clip.
Alfaro had a half-dozen extra-base hits, and had driven in 10 runs over his first eight games played. Just yesterday, Alfaro was named as the Eastern League’s Player of the Week thanks to his hot start.
Just today, MLB Pipeline named Alfaro and Phillies’ prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford, a teammate of Alfaro at Reading, as one of their Top 10 Prospect Combinations in the game.
The club immediately placed him on the 7-day minor league disabled list, retroactive to April 18th, and more information should be forthcoming soon. 
While an oblique strain itself is not career threatening, the fact is that with Alfaro it is just one more in what is becoming a pattern of injuries.
A year ago, Alfaro was unable to play at Reading after coming to the Phils as part of the big haul in the Hamels deal with the Texas Rangers due to a severe ankle injury suffered early last summer. 
He did recover in time to get six plate appearances over three games with the club’s rookie-level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League.
He has missed time already with that 2015 torn ankle tendon and two other injuries over his 6+ minor league seasons. 

I mean, to stay healthy…all year long.  Stay healthy and keep playing how I play.  Give 100-percent all the time.” 

That was Alfaro in the preseason, as quoted by Jay Floyd at ‘Phillies Nation‘ back on April Fool’s Day.
Well, the April Fool’s joke is now on Alfaro and the Phillies. A best-case scenario probably has Alfaro back in full action by around June 1st. These oblique injuries always take 3-4 weeks to heal, and a number of players have reinjured themselves trying to come back too soon, including the Phillies’ own Cody Asche.
This is no permanent setback for Alfaro or the organization, but it may be a harbinger of future club planning. Alfaro is a serious masher, and his bat should be able to play in Major League Baseball, even at a corner outfield spot or at 1st base.
The Phillies, of course, would love to see him remain at catcher and become an offensive force behind the plate. That is what Alfaro would prefer as well. 

“I played first base two years ago in low-A, but I don’t really like it,” Alfaro explained to Floyd.  “I just like to be in the game, pitch by pitch, as a catcher.”

With the 2015 Paul Owens Award winner as the Phillies’ top position prospect, fellow catcher Andrew Knapp, playing well at AAA Lehigh Valley, the practicality of a position switch may become a reality that both the team and the player will eventually have to embrace.

Phillies Pitching Carrying the Club’s Improvement

The Phillies 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon behind a dominating performance by 22-year old Vincent Velasquez was a perfect summation of why the team is back at the .500 mark and showing improved competitiveness thus far in the 2016 season.

The performance also highlighted why the Phils are only a .500 team, and will struggle to get much above that mark, possibly even to maintain that level for very long here in the early stages of their rebuilding program.
Velasquez tossed the first complete game of his professional career, and the shutout was the third produced by the pitching staff in these first 10 games. 
As shown in this Tweet put out following yesterday’s game by Comcast SportsNet’s Corey Seidman, that staff is putting up some league-leading numbers to date.

Updated MLB ranks for Phillies rotation:

• 2.14 ERA (1st)
• 0.81 WHIP (1st)
• .173 opp. BA (1st)
• .498 opp. OPS (1st)
• 10.7 K/9 (1st)

Velasquez has yet to allow a run of any type over 15 innings in which he has allowed just six hits and has a 25/3 K:BB ratio. In his first two starts, Jerad Eickhoff has a 1.50 ERA, and has allowed just nine hits over 12 innings with a 12/2 K:BB ratio.
Jeremy Hellickson has a 1.54 ERA, having allowed just six hits in 11.2 innings with an 11/1 K:BB ratio. Aaron Nola has allowed just 10 hits in 14 innings with a 17/0 K:BB ratio.
The bullpen, much maligned and rightfully so following the season’s first four games, all losses, has recovered wonderfully led by surprise closer Jeanmar Gomez
Seen as the perfect swingman, instead Gomez has, at least for now, solidified that closer spot by earning Saves in his first four opportunities. He has a 1.80 ERA, and has allowed just three hits over five innings.
Also strong thus far out of the pen have been Hector Neris, who has allowed no runs and just one hit over his first 4.2 innings across five appearances. He has a strong 6/1 K:BB ratio. Lefty Brett Oberholtzer has a 2.70 ERA and a 5/1 K:BB ratio over 3.1 innings.
David Hernandez, who could still end up as the longer term closer in the end, has now registered five consecutive scoreless outings since allowing three earned runs in an Opening Day meltdown at Cincinnati.
But with all the quite obvious improvement across the pitching staff, the offense continues at an unacceptable pace. 
To date, the Phillies have scored just 29 runs over these first 10 games, a 2.9 runs-per-game pace that ranks 12th of the 15 teams in the National League.
The current run-scoring pace lags behind even that of a year ago, nearly a full run behind the 2015 season, when the clubfinished just 27th in all of Major League Baseball with a 3.86 runs-per-game average. This current pace would have put them well at the bottom of the MLB rankings a year ago.
Not only is the club just 12th in the NL in runs scored, but they are also just 12th in stolen bases and walks. That is really going to make things difficult as the season moves along, should those trends continue.
The Phillies do not possess much power in their current lineup, with only Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard as consistent longball threats. They are seventh in the league in homers, but five of the team’s seven dingers have come off the bats of those two power sources.
There are three positions in particular where the Phillies are receiving little or nothing as far as offensive production is concerned. 
At catcher, Cameron Rupp is hitting for just a .217/.217/.304 slash line with no homers or RBI across his first 23 plate appearances. Carlos Ruiz has a home run, but has just two other hits over his first 16 plate appearances.
At shortstop, Freddy Galvis is at a .182/.200/.303 slash line with just two extra-base hits and not a single stolen base attempt over his first 35 plate appearances of the season.
The corner outfield spots, places where every contending MLB team receives production, have given the Phillies none. 
Peter Bourjos has 31 plate appearances with just a .172/.200/.310 slash line, and despite possessing good speed, he has attempted no stolen bases. Cedric Hunterand Tyler Goeddel have just one extra-base hit, a homer by Hunter, over their 36 combined plate appearances.
The punchless Phils have tried to swipe a bag just eight times thus far over these first 10 games, and the results are ugly. Two of those attempts even came from players who will not and should not be running much, Ruiz and Darin Ruf.
The speedy Cesar Hernandez has run four times, but been caught on three of those attempts. Hernandez, center fielder Odubel Herrera, and utility player Emmanuel Burriss own the Phils’ three successful stolen bases to this point.
There are no easy answers for these Phillies, considering the talent of the players currently on the big league roster. 
An influx of talent from the minors later in the summer could inject some offensive spark, with the bats and legs of J.P. Crawford,Nick WilliamsRoman Quinn, and Andrew Knapp
But barring major injuries, those players are not likely to see Citizens Bank Park until at least the summer months.
For now, the best that Phillies fans, and that outstanding pitching staff, can hope is that the Phils decide to push the running game more, finding success in producing runs in that manner. 
That, or some of those listed above have to begin hitting much more consistently, while Franco and Howard continue to provide real power.

Franklyn Kilome Has Rough Start

On a freezing cold Thursday afternoon at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, Kentucky, the Phillies A-level affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws opened their 2016 season with a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the host Lexington Legends.
When the BlueClaws starting pitcher, Franklyn Kilome, strode out to the mound the thermostat read 37 degrees on an overcast afternoon that blotted out any chance of a warming sun. The 18mph winds blowing out of left field made the temperatures on the field feel more like it was in the low-teens.
The 20-year old Kilome was ranked by our staff here at TBOH as the Phillies’ #7 overall prospect back in February. He is a tall and lanky native of the Dominican Republic whom the club signed as a 17-year old international free agent back in January 2013.
A huge spike in the velocity of his fastball and improved command of his secondary pitches shot Kilome up all of the major scouting boards last summer, to the point now where he is considered as a Top 10 organizational prospect by evaluators across the game.

Very little of that was on display on Thursday afternoon, as Kilome appeared overwhelmed by the weather conditions. He was crushed for five earned runs on five hits including a home run in just two innings pitched. He also walked four batters while striking out just two.
Prior to the start, Lakewood skipper Shawn Williams had said that Kilome “was very impressive” during spring training. That spring performance and last season’s results had led Williams to name the youngster as his starting pitcher on Opening Day in the minor leagues.
While the weather was certainly a major factor for Kilome on Thursday, it didn’t seem to affect 22-year old fellow Dominican Jose Taveras, who followed Kilome with three shutout innings over which the 6’4″ righty struck out five and walked two. So the weather cannot be considered as the sole issue with Kilome’s performance.

Kilome is next scheduled to take the mound for the BlueClaws on Tuesday night in Hagerstown, Maryland on what is likely to prove to be another cool evening. The Phillies would love to see their young prospect gut up some mental toughness and overcome the typical northeast April chill, and begin to bring some of the heat that he showed a year ago.

Cedric Hunter an Early Feel-Good Story

On January 12th, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak made what seemed to be an uneventful free agent signing when he inked outfielder Cedric Hunter to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Hunter had been a 3rd round choice of the San Diego Padres back in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft out of a Georgia high school. 
He rose slowly through the Friars’ farm system, and finally received his first big league shot at the start of the 2011 season.
Over the Padres’ first seven games that season, Hunter appeared in six of them, but did not start a single game. 
He went 1-4 with a run scored in those seven games, including his first Major League hit on April 5th, 2011 as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 6th inning against San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Guillermo Mota.
But those seven games would prove to be the extent of Hunter’s big league career.

Over the ensuing four years he bounced from the Padres to the Saint Louis Cardinals then to the Cleveland Indians, and on to the Atlanta Braves.

He played in places like Tucson and Akron, Memphis and Columbus. But none of those are Major League towns.
So when the Phillies made their signing and handed him that invitation to come to Clearwater, it was with few expectations. 
The hope was that he could become a reliable player for AAA Lehigh Valley, and possibly veteran depth should the Phils need some help at some point during the season before their prospects were ready for a promotion.
Hunter was having none of it. Early on in the Grapefruit League season, on March 4th to be exact, Hunter blasted a walkoff grand slam at Bright House Field to give the Phillies a 12-11 victory over the Braves.
He continued to impress all spring long, finishing with three homers and a dozen RBI, tied for 3rd on the club. Thanks somewhat to a season-threatening injury to Aaron Altherr and his own strong play, Hunter did indeed make the Opening Day roster.
More than just making the roster, Hunter has become a starter for these rebuilding Phillies. 
While the club anticipates the arrival of the speedy Roman Quinn and the powerful Nick Williams, and with young Tyler Goeddel deemed not quite ready for a full-time role by the club decision makers, Hunter is being leaned on to provide those placeholder innings.
On Thursday in Cincinnati, all of Hunter’s hard work and perseverance finally paid another dividend. 
Leading off the top of the 4th inning against the host Reds top prospect, right-hander Robert Stephenson, Hunter ripped the first home run of his big league career out on a line drive to right field.
When he sliced that first career base hit all the way back in 2011, Hunter never received the ball, something that is highly unusual in today’s game. 
He will be receiving this ball, and the memory will be especially sweet. Not because of anything that it helped the team to achieve, as the club would go on to lose on this day. 
But the ball will be special because he never gave up on himself, and as a result, he is finally getting a chance to live the dream as a big league regular.