“It was a nice situation to have to decide something because we think the world of Morgan. He pitched very well this spring. We like both of them. We like Velasquez’ power arm. We want to see him in the big leagues. We know what Morgan is capable of doing. Nobody ever stays with five starters the whole year so he’s going to be back in the big leagues this year.“
That battle began as a four-man scrum among the righty/lefty incumbent pair of David Buchanan and Adam Morgan, and the righty/lefty newcomer pair of Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer.
Buchanan was knocked out early, as his Grapefruit League performances only served to remind everyone that he is a mediocre big league option at best. The club decision-makers then made the choice to go with Oberholtzer as a left-handed option out of the bullpen.
Those moves left the battle as a head-to-head one between Morgan and Velasquez. Both have pitched well throughout the spring, and Morgan was left-handed, so there were some who saw him as having the inside track.
However, the club decided to go with the power arm of Velasquez over the organizational pitcher Morgan.
Morgan battled back from shoulder injuries to finally make his big league debut last season. The 26-year old had been the Phillies’ 2nd round pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
Velasquez came in the big Ken Giles trade with Houston as one of the centerpieces of that deal. Many have seen him as a future bullpen arm, possibly a closer.
But at least for now, the 23-year old who was the Astros’ 2nd round pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft has earned a rotation spot.
Morgan did nothing to lose the battle. Over nine Grapefruit League innings he has allowed just four hits and two earned runs.
However, Velasquez has been overpowering at times. He has allowed just 15 hits in 20 innings, with a 24/7 K:BB ratio.
The Phillies would love to think that they can get through the season with the starting rotation of Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff, and Velasquez, but that is unrealistic.
Whether due to injury, ineffectiveness, or trade, there will be openings and opportunities. Morgan is putting himself front and center for the first shot.
The Philadelphia Phillies will have an interesting, competitive battle in spring training for the 5th starter role in the pitching rotation.
As pitchers and catchers begin their first workouts this morning, the working assumption among all of the experts and insiders that follow the team closely is that the first four spots in the 2016 starting pitching rotation are already set.
Newcomerfrom Arizona, newcomer from Pittsburgh, and returning sophomores and are pretty much penned into those first four rotation slots in some order.
That leaves the fifth starter role still to be decided. This is a spot that is frequently skipped over early in the season.
If managerwants to go with his four best as often as possible, giving them a normal four days of rest, then the fifth starter would only be needed twice in April.
The Phillies have three off-days built into the schedule during that first month of the 2016 regular season already.
Assuming no cancellations for inclement weather or other circumstances, a fifth starter would only be needed on April 13th at home vs. the San Diego Padres, and again on April 18th at home vs. the New York Mets.
Of course, the skipper may decide to spread his starters out a bit the first few weeks, giving them more rest early in the season.
In any event, as the calendar flips into May the need for a fifth starter will come on a much more consistent basis.
The fight for that fifth starter role is likely to come down to four pitchers:
Velasquez is the youngest, and may be the most talented of that foursome. The 23-year old was the 2nd round choice of the Astros in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school in California.
He made his big league debut last June 10th, and pitched in 19 games for Houston, making seven starts.
The 26-year old Oberholtzer is a native to our area, growing up as a Phillies fan in Delaware.
The left-hander was the 8th round selection of the Atlanta Braves in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, and has pitched in parts of three big league seasons, making 42 starts among his 45 appearances.
Buchanan was the Phillies 7th round selection in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of Georgia State University.
The right-hander will turn 27 years old in May, and has gone 8-17 in 35 appearances, all of them starts, over parts of the last two seasons with the Phils. He has allowed 229 hits over 192.1 big league innings with a 115/61 K:BB ratio.
The left-handed Morgan was the Phillies’ 3rd round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Alabama.
He will turn 26 years old at the end of February, and made his big league debut a year ago, going 5-7 over 15 starts. He allowed 88 hits in 84.1 innings with a 49/17 K:BB ratio.
Earlier this week, followers at TBOH were polled as to who they believed would end up the winner in this battle, and Oberholtzer was the clear choice, taking 50% of the vote among the four candidates:
While I believe that Velasquez is indeed the most talented of the group, and could well take the job with a sensational spring, I would tend to agree with the poll results in making Oberholtzer the leading contender for the role.
Oberholtzer is the most experienced of the group, and he is out of minor league options.
He certainly has proven ability. The odds are great that he will break camp and head north with the Phillies in some role.
If he is beaten out for the fifth starter job, Oberholtzer is sure to become a lefty option out of the bullpen.
Finally, he is left-handed, which would provide a contrast to the expected first four starters who are all righties.
Morgan is also a lefty, which is the reason that I think the real battle will come down to he and Oberholtzer in the end. Morgan was up and down during his rookie season with the Phils a year ago.
Eight of his 15 starts were of the Quality Start variety (at least six innings, three earned runs or fewer allowed) and he came close a couple of other times out.
Buchanan is really only included here because he has made those 35 starts over the last two seasons.
But in that time he has underwhelmed, and appears to simply be an organizational pitcher who will fill a role at AAA, with availability as an experienced arm should injuries strike at the big league level. He is the long shot candidate, as I see things.
will come to camp as a member of the 40-man roster, but the 24-year old was clearly not ready for the big leagues in his seven start audition last season after coming over as part of the trade package from Texas.
Asher went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA, allowing 42 hits in 29 innings. He is likely ticketed for AAA Lehigh Valley.
Three of the TBOH Phillies Top 10 prospects have been given spring training invitations, but for, , and it is really all about being around the big league environment.
During their first spring training experience, these prospects will be getting some initial action in during the Grapefruit League against Major League players, and starting to prepare mentally for a future role.
All three of those pitchers are potentially exciting parts of the future Phillies rotation. Thompson and Appel have a chance to pitch in a 2-3 role, while Eflin is a legitimate back-end rotation option.
Any of the three could see Citizens Bank Park later in the summer, but all three should realistically expect to make up 3/5 of the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs rotation for the first few months of the 2016 campaign.
So if you are laying odds on the fifth starter role, assuming health to all of the starting pitching options (always a dangerous assumption), then you can expect that Oberholtzer and Morgan will battle for a chance to become a lefty option, while Velasquez tries to show that he is not only more talented, but also fully ready to assume a big league role immediately.
There is more reason to be excited about the young, up-and-coming starting pitching options than at any time in recent memory.
While the combination of current talent and minimal experience will likely work against the team in 2016, the future is looking much brighter for the Phillies on the mound.
To fashion the worst Philadelphia Phillies season since 1972, a deficiency in talent and results from the 2015 starting pitching rotation was a key element.
However, mixed in with those deficiencies were a few notable bright spots.
Fifteen different pitchers took the mound at the start of a game for the Phillies this past season.
Thirteen of those made at least five starts apiece, while seven received double-digit starting assignments.
Those seven who did receive at least 10 starts all received at least 13. They will receive grades on their performances, along with the next highest, who received eight starts.
If others want to waste time grading the performances of the other seven starting pitchers individually, that’s fine.
Suffice it to say that both individually and as a group, they receive an ‘F’ from me.
The seven pitchers included in that ‘F’ group, with the number of starts made, are as follows:(7), (7), (7), (5), (1), and (1).
That’s a total of 28 starts, or just over 17% of the Phillies regular season games, that were made by pitchers who delivered a collective 6-18 record. Billingsley’s awful 5.84 ERA was the lowest of the group.
We know that of the following eight pitchers who are receiving grades, one is already off the roster.
At least two more, probably at least three, will definitely not be a part of the 2016 starting rotation. That leaves four of these pitchers with a very real shot at being a part of the rotation next season.
So let’s work through the eight 2015 Phillies primary starting pitchers, and hand out their individual grades for the season:
|After JRoll trade, Amaro still has a lot of work ahead of him|
There are two main things that we know for sure about the Phillies. First, they have publicly stated that they want to shed high-salaried and aging veterans, move on from the 2000’s core, and rebuild.
Secondly, the Philadelphia Phillies have to fill a roster and field a team in the 2015 season, even if we know in advance that the this team is not likely to be a contender for even a Wildcard playoff spot.
So with those two things in mind, let’s examine what is on the agenda for Ruben Amaro over the next 2-3 months, before and then into the opening of spring training in Clearwater in February.
SHEDDING SALARY, MOVING VETERANS
Amaro will be looking at any and all offers that come in for the group of players fitting the bill. This includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, and Carlos Ruiz. It also includes
continued entertainment of offers for ace pitcher Cole Hamels.
continued entertainment of offers for ace pitcher Cole Hamels.
There are logical targets for each of these players. The Phillies want a strong prospects package back for Hamels, for instance, while Hamels wants to play for a contender, preferably in the west or midwest.
The Hamels speculation will continue to center on teams with enough prospects and incentive to make such a deal. The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Saint Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Angels are the most likely matches.
Howard is most likely going to be peddled off to an American League club. Some team that could use him as primarily a DH, with some usage at 1st base, especially during Inter-League games. The Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and Oakland A’s might be matches. The Phillies will have to eat money in a Howard trade, for sure.
If the Marlins really want to contend, wouldn’t Jonathan Papelbon make a great closing option? It would allow Steve Cishek to become a strong setup man, and deepen their entire pen. Other clubs that would appear could use a closer upgrade include the Nationals, Blue Jays, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Mets, Rangers, Rays, and maybe even the, gulp, Red Sox.
FILL THE ROSTER, FIELD A TEAM
If Byrd is dealt, do the Phillies move Domonic Brown to right field, allowing he and Darin Ruf in left field to each play every day? That would leave Grady Sizemore as the only experienced outfield depth. Do the Phillies really give Freddy Galvis the everyday job at shortstop?
If both Howard and Byrd are dealt, does Ruf play 1st base? If so, who starts in the outfield? What do the Phillies do with both Cody Asche and Maikel Franco at 3rd base? Who makes up the starting rotation, especially if Hamels is dealt away?
There are many potential questions for the 2015 Phillies roster, lineup, and pitching staff, most of those based on any deals that do get made involving the veterans. What pieces to those deals bring back?
One likelihood is that the Phillies are going to get both Asche and Franco substantial at-bats in 2015 at some point, probably from the very beginning. We could see Franco at 1st base and Asche at 3rd, if Howard is dealt, maybe even if he stays. We could also see Franco at 3rd, with Asche either moved to leftfield, or worked in as a super-utility player in the infield and outfield.
The other thing likely to happen is full-time starting at-bats for both Ben Revere and Domonic Brown. This is the time to find out, once and for all, if either or both of these guys can be real, productive everyday MLB-caliber players.
One more thing that appears to be more and more likely, at least if public comments can be believed from both the player and the organization. That would be the return of Chase Utley, who would play 2nd base as long as he remains healthy. There is a chance that Utley could move to 1st base at some point if Howard is dealt.
In the rotation, if Hamels is back he is the ace. Cliff Lee returning to reasonable healthy and productivity would be a huge blessing, giving the club yet another trade chip during the 2015 season. David Buchanan and Jerome Williams are almost certainly to be in the rotation.
If Hamels is dealt, Lee becomes the ace, until he is inevitably dealt as well. If both of those things happen during the 2015 season, the pitching rotation could really deteriorate into a wide-open audition for any youngster from among Miguel A. Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan, and 2014 draftee Aaron Nola among others.
As far as free agents, the Phillies have been linked to longshot, inexpensive types such as shortstop Rafael Furcal. They could get in on any inexpensive free agent starting pitcher, such as Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Brad Penny, Johan Santana, and Aaron Harang. Anyone who wants a chance and is willing to take a cheap deal in return.
For sure, the 2015 and 2016 Philadelphia Phillies will likely be a far cry from a decade earlier, when they were building towards contending on a regular basis. This will be about gathering as many talented kids and giving as many of them a chance to prove they belong in the longterm plans as possible, while supplementing the roster with such cheap veteran options.
Phillies fans need to enjoy the ballpark, and the simple beauty of the game itself. It is likely to be at least 3 more seasons before we start to see the team even begin to contend again. Hopefully by the 2017 season, 4-5 youngsters will have emerged as legitimate future pieces, and the team will again begin to spend money on truly talented free agents.