Tag Archives: Damon Jones

Phillies suffering through a southpaw starting pitching drought

There was a time not all that long ago when the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation included outstanding southpaws among the group. And looking back through history, the team has nearly always presented a lefty option.

As recently as 2014, the season began with both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still in that starting rotation. The two left-handers had been teammates at that point for the better part of four of the previous five seasons.

When Lee first joined the Phillies in a 2009 trade from Cleveland he stepped into a starting pitching rotation that already included both Hamels and veteran Jamie Moyer.

Hamels was first called up to the big-leagues by the Phillies as a 22-year-old rookie in May 2006. The Phillies had no lefty options in their rotation as that season opened. Before it was over they would have three.

In the middle of the 2005 season, Randy Wolf, who had been a member of the team’s starting pitching group for the prior six years, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire second half of that 2005 season and the first four months in 2006.

Wolf returned to join Hamels in the Phillies rotation on July 30, 2006. Less than three weeks later, Moyer arrived in a trade from Seattle. The three would finish out that year together before Wolf moved on to the Dodgers via free agency.

Wolf had been promoted to the big-leagues back in 1999, joining the rotation for good in June. In the prior two seasons, Matt Beech had been the lone left-handed Phillies starting pitcher.

Back further into the 90’s, the club had seen Sid Fernandez, Mike Mimbs, David West, and a late-career Fernando Valenzuela take regular turns at one point or another. And in the early part of the decade, the duo of Terry Mulholland and Danny Jackson helped the 1993 team win a National League pennent.

Mulholland had joined the team in a 1989 trade from San Francisco which also brought southpaw Dennis Cook. Those two joined Bruce Ruffin and Don Carman, giving the Phillies four left-handed starting options.

Carman could trace his own career beginnings back to the final effective years in the career of not only the greatest left-handed starter, but also the greatest Phillies pitcher of all-time, Steve Carlton.

During the early 2000’s, Wolf would be joined in the Phillies pitching rotation at various times by other left-handed starters, including Omar Daal, Bruce Chen, and Eric Milton. After Wolf was lost to the elbow surgery, Eude Brito was called up and made five starts as a left-hander.

Some of these southpaws were among the greatest pitchers to ever pull on a Phillies uniform. Some were effective starters for short periods. Others were journeymen filling a rotation spot for just a short period.

But one thing that Phillies teams had in their pitching arsenal for decades was a legitimate left-handed starter. Even before Carlton’s arrival, the last place 1971 Phillies had veterans Woodie Fryman and Chris Short and young Ken Reynolds, all lefties, pitching out of the rotation.

The pipeline, if you will, of left-handed starters has dried up down at Citizens Bank Park since the departure of Hamels. The next-man-up was supposed to be Adam Morgan, but he was never able to secure a long-term role and has now settled in as a reliever.

After Morgan finished up the 2016 season still as a member of the rotation, the Phillies had no left-handers take a regular turn for most of the next two-and-a-half years.

Trying to keep his team in the playoff hunt last season, general manager Matt Klentak signed 30-year-old Drew Smyly in late July and a week later swung a trade for 36-year-old veteran Jason Vargas. That gave the Phillies a pair of southpaws in their rotation down the stretch. But both were short-term additions, and neither will be back for the 2020 season.

As the Phillies get set to open the Grapefruit League season down in Florida this coming weekend there are once again few legitimate left-handed starting pitching options for the rotation.

In a Wednesday piece on the rotation, Scott Lauber for The Inquirer wrote: “Lefty prospect Damon Jones is a dark-horse candidate.” I like Jones, a 25-year-old who went 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA. He allowed just 74 hits over 114.1 innings across 23 starts with a 152/59 K:BB ratio in a 2019 season split between three levels of the minor league system. However, I see Jones more as a power reliever.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lefty arms around camp, even a couple who could fill a rotation slot briefly at some point. The bullpen has a variety of left-handed options for new manager Joe Girardi, including Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano has made 300 starts in MLB over 14 seasons and could potentially be used as a spot or emergency starter. The only other two left-handers currently in camp who appear to have any chance to take the mound as a starting pitcher in the big-leagues at some point would appear to be Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez.

Irvin is now 26-years-old. He went 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA over 16 games, just three of those as a starter during his first taste of MLB play a year ago. However, Irvin has made 41 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the past two seasons. The Phillies are likely to keep him stretched out there again to begin 2020.

Suarez made three starts when first called up in 2018. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen in 37 games with the Phillies last season. Suarez made 28 starts over the last two seasons between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Down in the minor leagues the Phillies currently have only two left-handers who appear to have even a possibility of one day taking the mound as a starting pitcher. Those would be Erik Miller, chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft last June, and Ethan Lindow, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year last season. Both are a couple of years away, and neither can be considered a true top prospect at this point.

Is it important to have a left-hander in the starting rotation? Does it matter? That is a legitimate question. If the Phillies had five legitimate, effective, right-handers in their rotation at any point over the last half-dozen years it might not be an issue.

Showing opposing hitters the change of pace that a left-hander offers, neutralizing top left-handed hitters for the first two or three turns through the batting order. These are just a couple of ways a southpaw would help.

For my money, I would prefer to always have a right-left starting pitching mix that included two of one and three of the other. My preferred rotation would alternate lefties and righties against each opponent.

It would be nice if the Phillies could at least develop one truly legitimate starting left-hander. That, or trade for one who could be an effective member of their rotation for a few years. Right now, that arm does not appear to be on the 2020 roster.

 

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Sorting the pitching should be the story of 2020 spring training

There are a number of story lines set to play out as the Philadelphia Phillies open their formal spring training with workouts this week down in Clearwater, Florida. None is more important than the battles for a number of spots on the club’s Opening Day pitching staff.

New manager Joe Girardi will be paying special attention to the large group of arms in camp. It will be the successful or failure of the pitchers that will largely determine how the club fares over the coming 2020 season.

Also vital will be the ability of Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price to sort them all out. The two baseball veterans need to make the right decisions regarding who to keep on the big-league roster, who to stash away in the minor leagues for help later in the season, who to let go, and what roles on the Phillies staff each pitcher is best prepared to fill.

In the rotation, three arms are absolutely set in stone, assuming health. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta have roles locked up from the outset. Zach Eflin is less experienced and may not be an absolute lock, but he enters camp as a presumptive member of the rotation as well.

Assuming all four come through camp healthy it would leave any others to battle it out for the fifth starter role. Vince Velasquez enters camp as the most likely to fill that slot. His challengers will be right-handers Nick Pivetta and Enyel De Los Santos as well as the lone left-handed starter at the moment, Cole Irvin.

It’s great talent,” Price said of Velasquez and Pivetta per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “But we do have to refine that talent and the productivity.

I think there’s a lot of pitching here that has room to get much better and I’m looking forward to being a part of that any way I can.”

Velasquez will be a special challenge. This is likely his last chance to prove that he can be a reliable starting pitcher for a big-league rotation. If he doesn’t step up in 2020 in that role the likelihood is that he will either be permanently moved to the bullpen or traded away.

The coaches will take a long look at Spencer Howard, but the organization’s top pitching prospect is expected to open the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If the team needs an emergency starter early in the season the opportunity will likely go to someone else. But by no later than June, Howard should be ready to fill any such rotation opening.

Southpaws JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez and righty prospect Adonis Medina are in camp and still viewed as potential big-league starting pitchers. All are lower on the organizational depth chart and would only see an increased role if a series of disastrous injuries should strike.

The bullpen is the place where there will be plenty of competition involving experienced veterans and talented youngsters. Some of the more interesting battles of the spring and some of the biggest roster surprises emerge from the relief pitching corps.

Right-handed relievers in camp from the Phillies current 40-man roster include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, Edgar Garcia, Deolis Guerra, Reggie McClain, and Robert Stock. Neris, who has a contract arbitration hearing this month, is the presumptive closer.

Dominguez could be a particularly impactful addition after missing most of 2019 with an arm injury that both he and the club feared might require Tommy John surgery. Fact is, the talented 25-year-old may not be completely out of the woods yet. But he is ready to go at this point.

You get a Seranthony Dominguez that can stay healthy for the whole year, that’s a huge addition,” Girardi said per Matt Breen at The Inquirer. “You’re talking about a guy that was a closer and an eighth-inning guy that wasn’t there a good portion of the season.

Bud Norris, Blake Parker, Trevor Kelley, Anthony Swarzak, and Drew Storen are the more experienced members of a large group of non-roster invitee right-handed relievers. Each of them has the ability to make the club with a big spring.

From the left side, the 40-man roster group includes Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, Austin Davis, and newcomer Cristopher Sanchez. Non-roster southpaws in camp will include Francisco Liriano, Zach Warren, Tyler Gilbert, and prospects Kyle Dohy and Damon Jones.

Any of the arms who lose out in the fifth starter contest could also find a bullpen role. However, it is more likely that Pivetta, Irvin, or De Los Santos would instead be assigned to Lehigh Valley in order to remain stretched out as a starting pitcher.

In my pre-spring training evaluation and rankings of the starting pitching rotations for the teams in the National League East Division the Phillies came out fourth. The club came out third in my bullpen rankings thanks largely to those increased depth options.

If you look at this club last year, there were a lot of injuries, especially in the bullpen,” said Girardi per Evan Macy at The Philly Voice. “I did about five Phillies games at MLB Network and every time there was a different bullpen.

Girardi almost certainly remembered that situation when he took charge of the Phillies and pushed GM Matt Klentak to provide him with more potential veteran options. The bullpen now appears to have far more depth of legitimate talent this time around to weather any repeat of such an injury storm.

NOTE: As this piece was being published, De Los Santos became the first official casualty of spring. Matt Gelb reported that the pitcher injured his hamstring and will be out for a few weeks. Considering all of the competition this almost assures that he starts the regular season at Triple-A.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies top 20 prospects winter 2020 update

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Alec Bohm should arrive at some point in 2020 to take over the hot corner at Citizens Bank Park

 

Where minor league prospects are concerned, the Philadelphia Phillies system is extremely top-heavy at the moment. That is, at least as far as any who anyone could reasonably forecast as likely to make a real impact on the ball club in the near future.

Fortunately for the Phillies, their top two prospects appear to be extremely talented. Both should slip right into positions of need, and both should see action at Citizens Bank Park at some point in the 2020 season.

Beyond that it truly becomes a crapshoot. There are a couple more players who could come quickly, but whose ceilings are not as obviously high. And there are a number of others with talent, but who will require more developmental time before we can even begin to make real assessments as to their potential impact on the big-league club.

In putting together this list, I utilized my own knowledge based on following the minor leagues closely and on personal observations. One note on my thought process. Unless a younger prospect is so obviously talented as to warrant a bump due to their gifts, I tend to respect actual performance against more advanced competition at the higher levels of the minors over “toolsy” kids in the lower levels.

In addition to my own thoughts, I also gleaned the published opinions of a number of reliable and respected sources, including Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus and a few others who more intimately follow the Phillies on a regular basis.

The following represents the Philadelphia Phillies top 20 prospects list as I see them here on the first day of winter. They are shown with their most likely position at this time, and the age at which they will play most of the 2020 season.

I am providing writeups on the top ten and then a simple ranking of the next ten. I’ll be updating this list at some point in the spring, probably around April or May of 2020.

  1. Alec Bohm, 3B (23): I juggled Bohm and Howard in my mind for awhile when considering this list. Bohm’s solid play as the starting third baseman for Team USA in the Premier 12 tournament in which he homered, doubled three times, and played a solid third base pushed him to the front. The Omaha, Nebraska native was the Phillies first round choice at third overall in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Wichita State University. He has slashed .293/.368/.474 in two minor league seasons, advancing to Double-A Reading by the end of summer 2019. His scouting report at MLB.com tells the tale of why he is so highly touted: “Bohm has the potential to hit for average as well as power at the highest level. He has strength and excellent bat speed to go along with excellent strike zone control. As a result, he can draw walks and doesn’t strike out much, especially for someone who can generate plus raw power.” In his own report back in August, Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts tells the tale of why some still have slight reservations on Bohm’s ceiling: “The real remaining question facing Bohm is where he will play defensively. He has improved at third base, but his actions still aren’t great and he profiles as below average there. Long term he probably moves off the position and tries an outfield corner before moving to first base.” Unless the Phillies make a late push to sign free agent Josh Donaldson or swing a deal for either Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, all unlikely, Bohm will get every chance to be their starter at the hot corner at some point in 2020, and probably for years to come.
  2. Spencer Howard, RHP (23): The Phillies brought Aaron Nola to the big-leagues in recent years and he has developed into an ace-caliber starting pitcher. A year ago at this time, Sixto Sanchez was the club’s top prospect and also viewed as a future ace before being dealt to Miami in the J.T. Realmuto trade. Howard now takes up the mantle as the Phillies top pitching prospect and is beginning to gain similar predictions of eventual stardom. Howard lost a little more than a month in 2019 due to a shoulder injury. He returned by early July and as Baseball Prospectus reported “the Phillies made sure he got plenty of innings in Double-A and the AFL to close the gap.” While he can be inconsistent with his breaking balls at times, Howard’s overall numbers are exciting. In three minor league seasons he has allowed 166 hits over 211.1 innings across 47 starts with a 281/74 K:BB ratio, a 3.28 ERA, and a 1.136 WHIP mark. Baseball America’s scouting report on his potential reads “Other than his stint on the IL with shoulder stiffness, there were few blemishes in Howard’s outstanding 2019 season. He has taken massive strides in his two and a half seasons as a pro and now profiles as a potential No. 2 starter. He could be ready to pitch in Philadelphia by the second half of the 2020 season.” He reached Double-A Reading for a half-dozen starts at the end of 2019. Howard will start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and, if he stays healthy and continues to dominate, will be up when there is an opening in the Phillies rotation.
  3. Bryson Stott, SS (22): The Phillies first-round choice at 14th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. His MLB.com report includes “Nearly all of Stott’s tools grade out as at least above-average. He has the chance to be a plus hitter, with very advanced bat-to-ball skills.” Baseball America says “Stott has few clear weaknesses, but also few standout tools.” Some question whether he can stay at shortstop and he may eventually have to slide to second or third base, depending on both his own development and the Phillies future needs. It is likely that he stays at shortstop while rising through the minors over the next couple of seasons.
  4. Francisco Morales, RHP (20): Signed out of Venezuela in 2016 as a 16-year-old, Morales was rated by Baseball America as the top available international free agent that summer. The tall righty has lived up to the hype and could top this list by next off-season. At Low-A Lakewood this past summer, Morales allowed 82 hits over 96.2 innings across 27 games, 15 of those as starts, with a 129/46 K:BB ratio. The MLB.com writeup reflects how most feel at this point: “The raw stuff is all there, but it’s still very much about projection for the big right-hander.” I happen to be bullish on him. He’ll pitch at High-A Clearwater in 2020 with a shot at Double-A Reading if he stays healthy, shows consistency, and continues to produce.
  5. Adonis Medina, RHP (23): A year or two ago, many saw Medina as just slightly behind Sanchez on the Phillies pitching prospect pecking order. He seemed destined for at least a mid-rotation role. Now that is a little cloudier. Winkelman summed it up well: “Medina’s secondary pitches have not taken a step forward and still lack consistency and bite. At his best, Medina will show three plus pitches and look like a mid rotation starter, but there are a lot of times where he is pitching below that.” Medina’s ERA has risen from 2.92 at short-season Williamsport in 2016 to 3.01 with Low-A Lakewood in 2017 to 4.12 at High-A Clearwater in 2018 and most recently to 4.94 with Double-A Reading this past summer. His strikeout totals have dropped each of the last two seasons. His age and experience say that he will pitch at Triple-A Lehigh Valley at some point in 2020, perhaps from the start of the season. His performance and health there will go a long way towards determining his ultimate long-term role. Or he could be used as part of a trade package.
  6.  Mickey Moniak, CF (22): The top overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft out of a California high school, Moniak has been slow to live up to the status of a first overall draftee. While it’s hard at this point to see him ever being impactful enough to justify that lofty selection, his production over the last two summers is giving hope that he can find a big-league role at some point. In just 39 more plate appearances, Moniak increased his extra-base production from 36 in 2018 to 52 in 2019. He more than doubled his home run total from five to 11, and increased his stolen base numbers from six to 15. Moniak has proven to be an excellent outfield defender to this point. He should play at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2020, and could be ready for a backup role with the Phillies by 2021. With continued progress he looks like a future big-league fourth outfielder who can serve as a solid backup at all three positions.
  7. Luis Garcia, SS (19): I hate, hate, hate ranking teenagers who have not flashed much of their projected offensive potential this high. But when everyone else is as bullish as they are on Garcia, I’ll yield to that input. MLB.com says “It’s easy to see Garcia becoming the best prospect in the system in the future and eventually be thought of as one of the top shortstop prospects in the game.” That sounds pretty exciting, no? Baseball Prospectus evaluates him in this way: “We don’t know if he can hit yet. It’s likely to be a few years before we know. He’s very, very far away. Yet even if it takes a half-decade to sort everything out, he’ll only be 23 during the 2024 season.” After a poor 2019 season in which he slashed just .186/.261/.255 over 524 plate appearances as an 18-year-old at Low-A Lakewood, I need to see Garcia begin to produce some offense in order to move him up the list in the future.
  8. Enyel De Los Santos, RHP (24): Now this is more like it for my tastes. An arm who is ready to help the big-league club right now. The issue is, what is the best role for De Los Santos, and what is his ceiling? He signed with the Seattle Mariners as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic back in 2014. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres in November 2015 for veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, then to the Phillies two years later for shortstop Freddy Galvis. He has been solid at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in each of the last two seasons, but showed mixed results in a series of cameos with the Phillies. Unless he is included as part of a trade package, expect De Los Santos to compete for a bullpen role in spring training. His MLB rookie status still intact, De Los Santos could end up right back in the IronPigs 2020 rotation, waiting for another shot to help out in Philly when needed.
  9. Damon Jones, LHP (25): I’m as big a fan of tall, hard-throwing southpaws as you are likely to find, and that description fits Jones to a T. The Phillies grabbed him in the 17th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Washington State. In 2019, Jones rose through three levels of the minors, allowing 74 hits over 114.1 innings across 23 starts with a 152/59 K:BB ratio. He is almost certainly headed for a bullpen role in the big-leagues, and could fill such a role with the Phillies at some point this season. In fact, don’t be surprised if he emerges as soon as spring training and challenges for an Opening Day roster spot. While there is the potential for Mitch Williams-caliber wildness, he appears to have a bit more control than The Wild Thing. I like this guy. He could end up helping the pen for years to come.
  10. Cristopher Sanchez, LHP (23): Hey, a newbie! And a birthday present for me as well. The Phillies acquired Sanchez on my November 20 birthday this year from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league infielder Curtis Mead. The Rays had signed him as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic back in 2013. Like Jones just ahead of him on this list, Sanchez is a tall southpaw, though not with quite as big a fastball. Baseball Prospectus writes “The fastball is plus at 92-94, the slider is firm with tilt, and the change has a chance to be plus with quality separation from his heater and big sink. Tampa Bay had too many quality prospects to protect everyone in December’s Rule 5 draft, so they dealt Sanchez to the Phillies who had the 40-man space to protect this intriguing arm.” He reached Triple-A Durham in Tampa’s system last year, and will be another intriguing option who likely opens with the IronPigs but will be ready to help the Phillies if needed in 2020.
  11. Rafael Marchan, C (21)
  12. Simon Muzziotti, CF (21)
  13. Nick Maton, SS (23)
  14. Johan Rojas, OF (19)
  15. JoJo Romero, LHP (23)
  16. Erik Miller, LHP (22)
  17. Starlyn Castillo, RHP (18)
  18. Connor Seabold, RHP (24)
  19. Jhailyn Ortiz, 1B (21)
  20. Kyle Dohy, LHP (23)

Could make the next list: Jamari Baylor, SS (19)

Others like him more: Deivy Grullon, C (24)

I just don’t get it: Arquimedes Gamboa, SS (22)

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Phillies may finally have a legitimate lefty starting pitching prospect emerging

Damon Jones has emerged as a legit Phillies pitching prospect
Baseball America is one of the most respected resources in all of baseball for all sorts of information on the game. That is especially so regarding their evaluation and coverage of minor league baseball and top prospects.
In a regular feature, the periodical and website releases a monthly “Dynasty Stock Report” as a research tool for fantasy baseball players who might be looking for emerging prospects.
For their June release, Baseball America had an interesting name pop up in the “Surging” category of that stock report. The named belonged to a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, left-hander Damon Jones.
Jone is a 24-year-old southpaw (he turns 25 in September) from Idaho who was the Phillies 18th round selection in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft out of Washington State University.
After signing with the organization, Jones began his professional career that same summer at short-season Williamsport. He then advanced to Low-A Lakewood for his first full season in 2018 and began to excel. That season, Jones went 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA, striking out 123 batters over 113.1 innings across 23 games, 22 of those as starting assignments.
This year, Jones has upped his game. Over 11 starts at High-A Clearwater the lefty went 4-3 with a 1.54 ERA and 1.063 WHIP. He allowed just 38 hits over 58.1 innings, earning a promotion to Double-A Reading. There he has continued to dominate, allowing nine hits over his first 22 innings across four starts.

Jones has greatly improved his command and control as he has risen through the ranks. This season he has fashioned a 119/33 K:BB. He also has allowed just three home runs, and has yielded just 10 total long balls over his now 219+ minor league innings pitched.

Matt Eddy at Baseball America had the following to say in bestowing their “surging” designation on Jones:
The 6-foot-5 lefthander streamlined his delivery this season…Improved fastball velocity and enhanced feel for his slider enabled the 24-year-old Jones to record a 1.17 ERA in 30.2 innings in June, striking out 44 and walking nine. The biggest improvement had been much sharper control than he had shown in past seasons.
In his own piece for BA on July 2, Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb quoted Phillies director of player development Rafael Chaves: “Obviously, his stuff was always pretty good. Command was always the question mark. Now he’s throwing the ball not only with authority, but he’s commanding it.
Given his age and developmental path, it would not be surprising to see Jones surface in Philadelphia by this September, if not sooner. The Phillies pitching woes have been well documented, as has been their inability to develop a left-handed starter. Jones is at least putting himself in the picture for consideration to receive a shot sometime soon.
NOTE: Special thanks to Gail “Baseball Betsy” Dull for the pic of Damon Jones that accompanied this piece. She also shot the video within the piece as well. Follow her at BaseballBetsy.com, and her husband “Baseball Ross“, both providing fantastic Phillies and other Florida-based minor league coverage.

Originally published at Phillies Nation asDamon Jones surges into Phillies prospects pitching picture