Tag Archives: Robert Stock

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 December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Phillies making under-the-radar additions to bolster depth

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Nine-year big-league veteran Harrison could become a super-utility bench option for the 2020 Phillies

 

Not every signing by your favorite Major League Baseball team during the off-season is going to be of the mega-contract superstar variety.

While the Philadelphia Phillies have inked a long-term agreement with starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and a one-year deal with shortstop Didi Gregorius, the club has also shopped in the bargain bin in hopes of bolstering their bench, bullpen, and minor league depth.

The first such move came on October 30 when the Phillies claimed hard-throwing righty reliever Robert Stock off waivers from the San Diego Padres.

Stock turned 30 years of age on November 21. He was the second round choice of the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 2009 MLB Draft out of the University of Southern Cal.

Having pitched in parts of two big-league seasons with the San Diego Padres, Stock still cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season and is not even arbitration-eligible until after 2021.

Stock signed with San Diego two years ago as a free agent. He then delivered for the Padres in his MLB debut in the 2018 season when he saved nine games and allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings across 32 appearances with 38 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA.

In 2019, Stock’s season ended in early July due to biceps tendinitis. His fastball has been timed at 100 mph and over, and averages 98. If healthy, he has the talent to make the team out of spring training and impact the Phillies bullpen.

On November 20 (my birthday present?) general manager Matt Klentak made his first trade of the off-season. It wasn’t a blockbuster. He obtained 24-year-old lefty pitcher Cristopher Sanchez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for second base prospect Curtis Mead.

Sanchez is a Dominican southpaw who struggled during his first five minor league seasons. But last year across three levels he finally seemed to be putting it all together. He allowed 58 hits over 75.2 innings across 24 appearances, 10 of those starts, with a 73/26 K:BB ratio.

Having turned just 23-years-old exactly one week ago, if Sanchez continues the progression he showed while rising from Low-A to Triple-A last season the Phillies could have a helpful bullpen arm from the left side. That always has value.

Klentak brought in a familiar name to most baseball fans on November 26 when he signed infielder Josh Harrison to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.

Harrison has appeared in parts of nine seasons in Major League Baseball, the first eight of those with the Pittsburgh Pirates with whom he was a two-time National League All-Star.

After signing a one-year deal to play with the Detroit Tigers last season, Harrison went down in May with a strained hamstring. The Tigers released him as he was still rehabbing in early August.

He has tremendous versatility. Harrison has appeared in 431 games at second base, 266 at third base, 66 in right field, 46 in left field, and 37 games at shortstop. A friend of Andrew McCutchen‘s from their days together in Pittsburgh, Harrison has a great chance to break camp with the Phillies as a super-utility bench player.

On December 2, Klentak continued adding to his potential bullpen mix when he claimed right-hander Trevor Kelley off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Kelley is a 26-year-old who was Boston’s 36th round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina. Over parts of five solid minor league seasons he allowed 213 hits over 247 innings across 171 appearances with 228 strikeouts.

Finally getting a big-league shot this past summer, Kelley was largely unimpressive. He was beaten up by the Toronto Blue Jays in a one-game stint on July 2, then was scored upon in four of nine September appearances with the Red Sox. He is likely headed for Triple-A to serve as Phillies organizational depth.

As the Winter Meetings were coming to a close on December 12, the Phillies brought back utility man Phil Gosselin, inking him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training in Clearwater.

Gosselin slashed .262/.294/.308 with three doubles, seven RBIs, and five runs scored over 68 plate appearances. He appeared in 44 games with the 2019 Phillies, playing in six games in left field, five at shortstop, and one game at third base.

With parts of seven big-league seasons under his belt and experience at every position in the field other than center field and catcher, Gosselin should fill the same role as a year ago. Barring major injuries, he will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and serve as an experienced veteran should help be needed with the Phillies – hopefully on a short-term basis.

Then on Wednesday the club announced the signing of five-year big-league veteran outfielder Mikie Mahtook to a minor league deal with a spring training invite.

Mahtook was the first-round choice of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Louisiana State University. He made his big-league debut in 2015 with Tampa and then was traded to the Detroit Tigers in January 2017.

Mahtook has appeared all across the outfield during his time in the majors. He has 116 games in left field, 112 in center, and 61 games out in right field. He has a career .235/.292/.405 slash line.

During his best season, Mahtook got 379 plate appearances and appeared in 109 games during 2017 with the Tigers. He produced a dozen home runs, scored 50 runs, and hit .276 that year, showing that he can be a legitimate contributor to a big-league ball club.

Assuming that all of their other options are healthy, Mahtook would appear to be the outfield version of what Gosselin is to the infield. He would go to Lehigh Valley and become insurance in case of multiple injuries to the Phillies active roster.

The same can be said for 30-year-old Matt Szczur. The Cape May, New Jersey native and Villanova University alum also signed a minor league deal. He has experience in parts of five big-league seasons, four of those with the Chicago Cubs.

Szczur appeared in 107 games and received 200 plate appearances with the Cubs during the 2016 season in which Chicago finally broke the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ and won the World Series. He received a ring, but was not part of the postseason roster.

Over his career, Szczur has appeared in 147 games in left field, making 43 starts. He has 62 games in right field with 27 starts, and 56 games in center with 30 starting assignments. He has a career .231/.312/.355 slash line.

None of these deals resulted in excitement from the fan base or increased season ticket sales. In fact, there were many negative comments on social media from those fans, who understandably want every signing and trade to be for an obvious impact player or pitcher.

However, these are the exact moves that every organization across Major League Baseball makes during each off-season. They are designed to add players with some talent and/or experience to the organizational mix. Some won’t survive spring training and will be released. Some will end up as organizational depth in the minor leagues.

And maybe, just maybe, one or two will prove to be inexpensive additions to the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies big-league roster for Opening Day.

 

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