The Philadelphia Phillies have brought a number of young starting pitchers to the big leagues over the last two seasons who have a shot to become members of their rotation over the long term.
In 2015 it was Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Adam Morgan, and Alec Asher getting their shots. Eickhoff has become perhaps the club’s most reliable starter. Nola has a world of talent, but is now battling injury concerns.
Asher and Morgan started slow a year ago. Morgan struggled even more mightily this season, but Asher righted his ship and put himself back into the long term conversation.
In 2016 the debut came for both Zach Eflin, now also battling back from injury, and for Jake Thompson, who held his own in a late season promotion.
At some point in the 2017 season, possibly right away depending upon the health of some of the other starting pitchers, right-hander Ben Lively should get his own shot.
Lively will turn 25-years old in early March down in Clearwater as he fights to impress the Phillies coaching staff and team management.
MLB Pipeline currently has him listed as the club’s #23 prospect. None of the major evaluation resources have him ranked as highly as I have him here. So why do I have Lively as my #7 Phillies prospect for the Fall of 2016?
For me it’s easy. While I do care about scouting reports and the opinions of professional evaluators, I am also a results guy. All Lively ever does is produce and perform.
For his 2016 performance, Lively was honored with the Phillies organizational Paul Owens Award for pitchers, representing that he was the top performing pitching prospect.
Lively went 18-5 this season, making nine starts with AA Reading and 19 with AAA Lehigh Valley. He produced a 2.69 ERA, 0.938 WHIP, and allowed just 118 hits over 170.2 innings.
Lively came to the Phillies from the Cincinnati Reds in one of the first moves of the rebuilding program. On New Year’s Even in 2014 the Phils sent outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Reds in exchange for Lively, who was the Cincinnati organizational Pitcher of the Year that season.
“Everything that I’ve worked on and that was preached to me before during spring training has all been clicking together,” Lively told MiLB.com per Bill Vilona with pnj.com back in early September.
“I know what I need to do mentally when I get out on the mound from pitch one. I’ve been staying closed more and not opening up, which has kept the ball down and led to my success this year.”
The Phillies will have to protect Lively on the 40-man roster this off-season for the first time, and they are certain to do so.
The MLB Pipeline folks describe his repertoire and defend his relatively modest #23 ranking with this scouting report:
“None of Lively’s pitches jump off the page, but he does have four of them that he can throw for strikes. His fastball can touch 93-94 mph, and he was hitting that more consistently while regaining command of it in 2016. His slider, also improved, flashes above-average as well. Lively mixes in his curve and changeup to keep hitters guessing. All of his stuff plays up because of the deception his unusual delivery creates.”
It’s funny, but it’s not just his results, but a scouting report like that that has me bullish on him. Four pitches that he can throw for strikes, with an unusual delivery.
Lively is not going to be an ace, and is not likely to be a Hall of Famer. So what? He doesn’t have to be in order to have a lengthy, successful big league career.
I see Ben Lively as a mid-back rotation starting pitcher for a long time. That may be with the Phillies, or may be elsewhere, depending on his and other pitchers development and other needs of the team moving forward.
But until other prospects prove themselves at higher levels, as Lively has, then he gets the respect of this high ranking from me.