Tag Archives: Spencer Howard

Phillies pitching X factors or non-factors?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies will be able to count on the top two pitchers in their starting rotation to produce results at levels competitive with any in the game.

As the month of May draws to a close and June begins in the coming season, Aaron Nola will turn 27 and Zack Wheeler will turn 30 years of age within a week of one another. The two right-handers are legitimate All-Star caliber talents. So we’ll call them givens in the rotation.

Now, let’s also assume that veteran Jake Arrieta, who turns 34 early in spring training and will be looking to establish his continuing value in what will be the final guaranteed season on his contract produces at a legitimate mid-rotation level. If Arrieta can stay healthy that should be considered a reasonable outcome.

And let’s finally assume that Zach Eflin, who will turn 26 as the regular season gets underway in early April, is ready to emerge as another legitimate mid-rotation option. Four of his final seven starts in 2019 were Quality Start outings, and Eflin went five innings in two of the other three. In those seven starts he registered a 2.83 ERA and .239 Batting Average Against, allowing 37 hits over 41.1 innings. So again, it is a reasonable outcome to expect.

All of that falling perfectly into place would give the Phillies four starting pitchers who would keep them competitive in the majority of their games. Given an average of roughly 33 starts for each of those pitchers over a full, healthy, effective season, that would leave at least another 30 games to be started by other pitchers.

In 2019, not counting ‘bullpen games’, the Phillies gave 36 starts to a group of pitchers who were not members of their rotation when the season began: Drew Smyly (12), Jason Vargas (11), Jerad Eickhoff (10), Cole Irvin (3).

As we approach the start of spring training, general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies brain trust appear ready to pass on the remaining arms available in free agency and go with what the team has right now at the back of the rotation.

So, what are the possibilities, and what are the probabilities? What can the Phillies reasonably expect to get from any of the current fifth-starter pitching options? I rank them here in order of most likely to produce real value to least likely.

    • Spencer Howard: I released my most recent Phillies top 20 prospects just prior to Christmas, and Howard ranked at #2 on the list. The 23-year-old has just a half-dozen starts at Double-A and is most likely to begin the season back at Reading or with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. I wouldn’t expect him to be ready, or at least for the Phillies to feel he is ready, until at least mid-late May, more likely in June or even in the season’s second half. But he is the most talented arm here, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Howard give the Phillies a dozen or so starts this coming season.
    • Vince Velasquez: Vinnie made 23 starts in 2019 and has made 92 over his four seasons with the Phillies. That experience and his natural talent make him the odds-on favorite to land a rotation spot out of spring training. Now, can he keep it? Over the last three seasons he has cumulative 4.93 ERA, 4.64 FIP, and 1.393 WHIP marks over 336 innings pitched. If those numbers don’t improve early on, the club can no longer wait to move on from Velasquez, who turns 28 in early June, as a starting pitcher.
    • Nick Pivetta: The righty will turn 27 on Valentine’s Day and opened last season filling the fifth starter role. After 13 disastrous starts in which he allowed 78 hits including 16 home runs over 69 innings with a 5.74 ERA and .307 BAbip mark, Pivetta was relegated to the bullpen, never to return to the rotation. His results were no better in relief, as he allowed 25 hits over 24.2 IP across 17 games with a 4.38 ERA and .333 BAbip. There is perhaps no pitcher with more to prove entering the spring, and no pitcher with as wide-ranging a possible outcome. Rotation? Bullpen? Riding buses back in the minor leagues?
    • Cole Irvin: The southpaw turns 26 at the end of January and will still technically be a rookie in 2020 since he pitched in just 41.2 innings with the Phillies last year. In those innings he failed to impress, allowing 45 hits across 16 appearances. He was given three starts in May. The first two were promising. But after he was blown up at Wrigley Field in late May, Irvin was relegated to the bullpen and never given another opportunity in the rotation. In the minors he was used almost exclusively as a starter, going 34-15 with a 3.07 ERA over four seasons. The Phillies infamously have been unable to develop a left-handed starter. It would not be a major upset to see Irvin beat out Velasquez and Pivetta in spring training and earn a role in the rotation to begin the season.
    • Enyel De Los Santos: Despite the fact that he has made appearances with the Phillies in each of the past two seasons, De Los Santos also maintains his official MLB rookie eligibility into 2020 and ranked #8 on my Phillies top 20 prospects list in December. The Phillies have used him in a dozen scattered games including giving him three starting opportunities. The righty turned 25 on Christmas Day and has produced solid results over five minor league seasons. He could become an effective reliever, but also could end up trade bait and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a few solid seasons at the back of the rotation for some team in the future.
    • Adonis Medina: Considered for a few years as one of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, Medina’s star has faded considerably over the last year or so. He still ranked #5 on my list of the club’s top prospects in December, but if I used such symbols it would have been with a downward arrow next to his name. Medina’s ERA has risen in each of the last three years, last season reaching an unacceptable 4.94 mark over 22 games (21 starts.) Also, his strikeouts have plummeted each of the last two seasons while his walk rate is rising. All of the trends are negative at this point. He turned just 24-years-old a month ago, so has time to turn it around. He and Howard will likely be the 1-2 combo at Lehigh Valley at some point in 2020, racing to see who gets the call to Philly first. Right now, odds are that won’t be Medina.
    • Ranger Suarez: A real darkhorse in this race. But as a left-hander with starting experience, Suarez has to be mentioned. Like De Los Santos, he also has made appearances with the Phillies in each of the last two seasons. Unlike De Los Santos, he no longer has rookie eligibility. Suarez pitched in 37 games with the big club in 2019, all out of the bullpen. That was after three of his four appearances in 2018 had been starts. All seven of his Triple-A appearances last year were as a starter, however. Suarez is just 24 years of age. He won’t turn 25 until late August. While he could make the big club out of spring training, the most likely scenario is that he opens the 2020 season back with Lehigh Valley as a starter. But at some point during the season, expect to see him back up to bolster the Phillies bullpen. Any opportunity in the big-league rotation is likely to be short-lived and on an emergency basis, based strictly on the timing of such a Phillies start coinciding with his turn in the Triple-A rotation.

Of course, there is always the wildcard possibility. No, I’m not talking about the playoff berth. I mean the wildcard that another pitcher could be added. Smyly remains available, and at the right price it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Phillies try to bring him back on a one-year deal.

Also, if the Phillies stand pat with what they have and still manage to contend, the month of July will almost certainly be filled with rumors of trades for some veteran pitchers who are available at that point.

Can any of these organizational pitchers emerge to become a true X factor in the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation this year? Or will they instead either flip to the bullpen, or in a worse-case scenario for some, become complete non-factors in the 2020 season?

 

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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.

 

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)

 

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Bryan Price brings tremendous experience as new Phillies pitching coach

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Price has been a pitching coach and manager in MLB for two decades

 

Just days after officially hiring Joe Girardi as their new manager, the Phillies have filled one of the key open positions on his coaching staff.

Bryan Price, who most recently served as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 2014 into the 2018 season, has been hired as the Phillies new pitching coach.

Price brings tremendous experience to the job. He previously served as pitching coach with the Seattle Mariners (2000-06), Arizona Diamondbacks (2007-09), and the Reds (2010-13) in addition to his managerial term in Cincinnati.

Girardi and Price have a recent link. Back in the summer, the Phillies new skipper was named as the manager of Team USA for the upcoming international Premier 12 tournament. Price was scheduled to be his pitching coach.

However, on taking the Phillies job, Girardi was replaced as Team USA manager by Scott Brosius. It remains unclear whether Price will remain with Team USA through the Premier 12 tourney, which kicks off the qualifying process for the 2020 Summer Olympics and runs from November 2-17, 2019.

The Mariners pitching staff led the American League in ERA in the 2001 season, earning Price the USA Today Baseball Weekly Pitching Coach of the Year Award. In 2007, his Dbacks staff finished fourth in ERA in the National League and helped the club reach the NLCS. For that performance, Price was named as the Major League Baseball Coach of the Year by Baseball America.

With the Reds, Price guided a pitching staff that twice finished among the top five in National League ERA. However, his managerial stint did not prove as successful. Cincinnati went just 279-387 in parts of five seasons, and he was ultimately fired after a 3-15 start in 2018.

Price was involved in a highly publicized and controversial incident in April of 2015 when he went on an expletive-laden rant against the Cincinnati media after a reporter published what Price felt was information regarding an injury to catcher Devin Mesoraco which put the Reds at a competitive disadvantage.

The 57-year-old Price is a native of San Francisco. He was the eighth round choice of the California Angels in the 1984 MLB Draft as a pitcher out of the University of California-Berkeley, the 190th player selected overall.

Price reached the Double-A level in the Angels organization before being released following the 2016 season. After taking a year off in 2017, Price signed with the Seattle Mariners and eventually reached Triple-A. Over a five-year minor league career he accumulated a 31-19 record with a 3.74 ERA across 90 games, 75 of those as starting assignments.

Price has other prior Phillies connections besides his brief period with Girardi in preparation for their Team USA assignment. Phillies Wall of Famer Pat Gillick hired Price as the pitching coach in Seattle when Gillick was the general manager of the Mariners.

Phillies 2008 World Series hero Jamie Moyer was a pitcher on those Mariners’ staffs under Price.

If I was looking for a pitching coach, he’d be at the top of my list.~ Jamie Moyer

“He’s a student of the game and he cares about his pitchers,” Moyer said per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think first and foremost that’s what jumps out about him — how much he cares about his pitchers. He was a first-time pitching coach when he came aboard and we had a lot of veterans on that team. He quickly earned their trust with great communication and with a lot of give and take. His style was basically, ‘What do you do well and what can we do with it to make you better?’

On Monday, prior to the announcement of Price’s hiring, Girardi had commented on the pitching coach position. “Just as important is a real ability to relate to the pitchers, sometimes the struggles they’re going through, and that there’s a deep relationship there,” Girardi said per Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The pitching coach has a tough job because there’s so many pitchers that they deal with. But he has to know each one of them really well, and they have to trust him, and that’s really important.

Based on his long history of success as a pitching coach and Moyer’s comments, it appears that Price fits that need for a strong communicator well. He looks like a perfect fit for the new Phillies coaching staff, which now seeks a similar strong addition for the hitting coach position.

Per Matt Gelb at The Athletic, Price turned down at least two offers to coach elsewhere before taking the job with the Phillies. One concern that he had was the ability to infuse the game’s new shift towards analytics with his more natural old-school style approach.

What I don’t know, I can learn,” Price said per Gelb. “But one thing I won’t forget is the fundamentals of pitching — of competitiveness and preparation and the detailed work that is really the lifeblood of being a competitive major-league pitcher. There are just essentials to it that aren’t going to be defined by a spreadsheet or technology that tells you if you’re doing it right or wrong. A reasonable mind says they both have a place. To think that one thrives without the other, it doesn’t. I can tell you, in pitching, there’s no uniformity.

Now, who exactly will be the pitchers under his tutelage during the 2020 season? The Phillies staff finished 17th in ERA, 20th in OPS against, and  22nd in batting average against among the 30 teams in Major League Baseball this past season.

Given health, the starting rotation in 2020 is almost certain to include Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Based on the majority of his performances combined with his age and upside potential, Zach Eflin would also seem a lock. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is likely to make a strong push for a rotation spot as well, possibly as early as spring training.

More questionable are the fates of Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. Each is talented, but neither has been able to establish themselves as a reliable starting pitcher for the Phillies. They both could end up as trade candidates this off-season, or end up in the bullpen if better options are found.

I don’t speak for the Phillies in any way, shape or form. I’m new to the organization,” said Price per Gelb. “We had a good talk about philosophy. We will use our analytics and technology department in a very strong and positive way. But I think the pitching coach’s job is to help extract as much talent and build as much confidence in the group as possible through relationship building. It’s through building trust. It’s through sharing experience and knowledge. We give these guys a goal of becoming something special, instead of something that’s specialized.”

Most observers believe that the Phillies are going to need to add two new, veteran arms to that rotation in free agency in order to compete against talented Washington and Atlanta teams in the NL East. At least one of those new starting pitchers needs to be ace-caliber, someone such as Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.

That will be the primary job of general manager Matt Klentak this off-season, providing pitching talent of a caliber that can help the Phillies to become winners and return to the postseason for the first time nine years.

 

More on the Philadelphia Phillies and Major League Baseball:

Phillies owner John Middleton shows he is clearly not “a potted plant”

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Gabe Kapler was fired after two seasons as Phillies manager

 

On Friday, October 11, 2019, less than two weeks after their once promising season came to an end with a final disheartening defeat that left the club without a winning record for an eighth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies held a press conference.

The purpose of the presser was ostensibly to address the firing of manager Gabe Kapler. However, as principal owner John Middleton sat down at the dais, flanked by general manager Matt Klentak to his right and Phillies president Andy MacPhail to his left, there was clearly an even broader agenda.

The goal of Friday’s session was undeniably to put out the fires now raging throughout the Phillies fan base. That flame sparked as the club slowly fell out of contention over the final two-thirds of the season, then completely collapsed over the final weeks for a second straight year.

But the flames are not out. In fact, judging by the response on both traditional and social media, those flames are only burning hotter today.

The bottom line appears to be that not only did the fan base want Kapler gone, but Phillies fans also wanted to see Middleton turn the page on what has thus far been a failed MacPhail-Klentak regime.

That will not be happening – at least not for now. Logic would appear to say that, now readying for the third manager during their term, both men are now squarely under the spotlight themselves, about to face increased scrutiny from the owner.

If the failures of the first four full years under MacPhail and Klentak continue next season, it would be absolutely negligent for Middleton to allow them continued management roles with the team.

The biggest takeaway from the show was that Middleton himself is clearly the man who will have the final say in every important matter as this organization attempts to reach its goal of becoming a long-term contender.

Middleton is involved. Not just in the way that an owner is usually in charge. He is going to not only be intimately involved in the biggest big-league talent acquisitions, but also have the final say in a new manager and other key personnel moves.

MacPhail opened the press conference with a statement in which he laid out Middleton’s decision-making process in releasing Kapler with one year to go on the manager’s contract.

The club president provided that, on the recommendation of he and Klentak, the owner had undertaken a wide-ranging, week-long process of evaluation which included receiving positive feedback on Kapler from a number of sources. However, MacPhail then stated the following:

What John didn’t hear was any explanation of why we were 20-36 over the last two Septembers. Or more importantly, what was gonna be in place to ensure that didn’t happen again.

What MacPhail never once addressed was his own role in the failures of those two September collapses. It is the job of he and his hand-picked GM Klentak to provide the players, in both minor league depth and big-league talent, for the manager to have as resources to compete and succeed at the highest level.

As the second questioner from the local media called upon, Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP FM and sports director at WTXF-TV wasted no time in asking the question of Middleton that was on the minds of most fans:

John, when you fired (former Phillies GM) Ruben Amaro, you said it’s a results based business…Gabe Kapler took the hit. And I’m wondering why it was just Gabe Kapler? And I, among other people, are wondering why…those two gentlemen are sitting with you today?

Middleton then went on a minute and a half spiel in which he questioned Eskin back, then tossed out some statistics showing improvement in the bullpen over the last couple months of the season. Bottom line, the owner failed to address the pivotal question directly.

MacPhail then jumped in, attempting to justify his and Klentak’s low-rated minor league system. The club president made excuses regarding picks lost due to free agent signings and the selection of high school players, and hung his hat on two or three recent draftees ranked by many services as among the top 100 in the game.

The fact remains that it was MacPhail and Klentak’s decision to select those high school players, including Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, over talented older prospects who have already impacted the big-leagues for other organizations, players who came from those same drafts.

Alec Bohm (34), Spencer Howard (88), and Bryson Stott (89) rank among the current top 100 prospects in baseball per MLB Pipeline, while Baseball America ranks just Bohm and Howard on their top 100 prospects list.

The draft is an inexact science, and teams are going to have hits and misses, even near the top of the first round. But talent comes to a Major League Baseball organization from more than the draft.

Despite four years of those drafts and four years signing international and other free agents to the minor league system, the Phillies organization is ranked among the bottom one-third in depth of minor league talent by nearly every reliable evaluator.

Baseball America had them at #25 back in mid-August. Fangraphs currently ranks the Phillies at #23 overall among MLB organizations. While MLB didn’t provide a recent full ranking, the Phillies were not listed among the top half of organizations back in August of this year.

When MacPhail took over as club president and hired Klentak as his general manager in the fall of 2015, the Phillies were clearly in rebuilding mode. They also had one of the top-ranked farm systems in baseball. Today, after four years, the club has still not registered even a winning season, and the farm season has virtually collapsed.

Both MacPhail and Klentak mentioned that outfielder Adam Haseley, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and pitcher Cole Irvin, the club’s fifth rounder in 2016, have already impacted the Phillies big-league roster.

Haseley slashed just .266/.324/.396 over 242 plate appearances this season, but did play solid defense. Irvin had a 5.83 ERA and 5.06 FIP while surrendering 45 hits over 41.2 innings in which he struck out just 31 batters this season. That is hardly a duo to hang your hats on as you try to defend your record in talent evaluation.

In response to a question posed by Kevin Cooney of PhillyVoice and Forbes, Middleton made it clear that the search for the new manager would be conducted by Klentak. But that would happen only after the GM sat down with he and MacPhail and laid out a profile of what to look for in a candidate.

Middleton will then be presented with the final name for an interview and evaluation. Clearly, the owner will have the final say on who is hired as the next Philadelphia Phillies manager.

During the course of the press conference, it was pointed out that the Phillies front office was “allowed to play the long game” by making the decisions not to give up young talent at the trade deadline in order to help the 2019 team reach the postseason. Meanwhile, Kapler was forced in the shorter term to try and compete with a lesser roster.

To that, Middleton stepped in with a matter-of-fact response: “That’s the inherent nature of the business. And it’s been that way for a hundred years, and it will likely be that way a hundred years from now. That just goes with the territory. And if the manager doesn’t like it or can’t handle it, then the manager shouldn’t be the manager.

What the owner was saying is a baseball truth that was known well to Kapler: managers are hired to be fired. The list of big-league skippers who get the job and then remain in the same position with the same organization over the long haul, eventually leaving or retiring on their own terms, is extremely short.

As the press conference wound towards a conclusion, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com questioned Middleton directly regarding the owner’s assertiveness in getting intimately involved in matters over the last year.

Especially, Zolecki questioned Middleton regarding any concerns that the owner may have that, had he not gotten so involved, things would be even more troubling today under the MacPhail-Klentak management team.

I’d like to think I actually bring value to an organization. That I’m not a potted plant sitting in the corner…This is what CEO’s do. You wouldn’t have a need for a CEO if everybody in that organization made every decision correctly every time.

Middleton never addressed, at least not in any way that will be accepted by the fans, the status of MacPhail and Klentak. But that is a bit telling in itself. If the two men do not see themselves as now more on the hot seat with the owner than even the new manager will ever be, they are sorely mistaken.

There is one man in charge of the Philadelphia Phillies these days. That man decided that it was time to change managers – again. It will be that man, John Middleton, who will now have to answer to his fan base should his decision to keep this upper management team in place backfire.