Of the eight starters in the system, does one rise above the others on the depth chart of the Philadelphia Phillies since Aaron Nola‘s arrival in 2015? Did the trades of Cole Hamels or Ken Giles produce a stud to head the five-man staff? Has 2016’s MLB Draft pool left general manager Matt Klentak without a true number one? And when the smoke clears, will the red pinstripes have an ace for tomorrow?
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Along life’s journey, many expectations, surprises and disappointments color the obvious, the hard to fathom, the unique and trending points of view.
If you remember, the front office philosophy is to develop arms in the system and sign free-agent bats. So, don’t expect them to spend millions on Jake Arrieta in 2018. That stated, management did not select a future ace in the MLB Draft. Could they believe they have one already?
If the Phils attempt to go only with a solid five-man staff in the future, a contender with a stud heading their rotation could spell trouble locally for serious October baseball. But the coaching here and Triple-A Lehigh Valley has every green starter following the same game plan. They are pitching to contact to go seven or eight frames per outing. Yes, the interviews of Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and even Vince Velasquez have a scripted ring to them. But who will be the veteran presence in ’17? Bob McClure?
If a number one is in the organization, he would be at Double-A ball or higher to front this rotation. Therefore, let’s eliminate them one at a time.
Many fans had hopeful enthusiasm for right-hander Ben Lively in June because he had a 2.45 ERA for his first six outings at Triple-A. But he had a 5.82 ERA for his next five appearances before finishing with a 1.98 ERA for his final eight starts. Overall, his 3.06 ERA is better than his Double-A statistics before 2016. In other words, he could be more than a bottom-rung starter if he succeeds.
Finished for 2016, righty Mark Appel had a strong April with a 1.64 ERA, but he had four straight debacles before going on the disabled list. Again, here is a story of excellence followed by consecutive disasters with the last one being very short: 2/3 of an inning. Basically, he pitched until he couldn’t, which is a common theme. Ergo, the jury is out on him until next summer.
When Alec Asher returned, he received a September call-up. He mixed his pitches and added movement to his fastball to produce better numbers. Yes, he could be the fifth starter if he outperforms Eflin and Thompson.
Asher’s stats for his five outings against stronger competition:
- 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA for 27 2/3 frames versus Washington, Pittsburgh, Miami and New York (NL).
Up next, Thompson settled down after his first four starts and performed decently in his final six appearances. But the Phillies do have one caution: The red and white are his third team because his addition in two trades was a balancing factor. However, Curt Schilling landed in Philly after a few stops also.
Thompson’s stats for his first four games and his final six contests:
- 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA for 19 1/3 innings.
- 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA for 34 1/3 frames.
In the five spot, Eflin is another hurler on his third club, but his journey was the result of a three-way swap. Then again, Gio Gonzalez went from Chicago (AL) to Philadelphia and back before his success in Oakland. And even though Eflin’s ERA was higher against tougher opponents, he had a difficult first start against Toronto and had a 1.29 ERA without it instead of a 4.18 ERA. Barring, however, a surprise, he’s a four- or five-slot arm if he gets past the league’s adjustment to him in May.
- 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA for 26 2/3 innings versus the Diamondbacks, Braves and Rockies.
- 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA for 23 2/3 frames against the Blue Jays, Giants, Mets and Pirates.
- 0-3 with a 13.85 ERA for his final 13 innings before his season ended (not included in above bulleted stats).
If a number one is here already, Eickhoff–a quick study–could eventually rise above the expectations of a two or a three. Against easier competition, however, his numbers are misleading due to his debacle in Denver: He went 5-7 with a 3.06 ERA otherwise.
- 5-8 with a 3.65 ERA for 103 2/3 innings versus San Diego, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago (AL).
- 6-6 with a 3.65 ERA for 93 2/3 frames against New York (NL), Cleveland, St. Louis, Miami, Chicago (NL), Toronto, Los Angeles (NL), Washington and Pittsburgh.
While Eickhoff appeared to battle his way through, Nola looked more fluid. And, hopefully, his struggles last year are a thing of the past. But keep in mind, the right-hander went 5-4 with a 2.65 ERA before his difficulties. And even though he’s more of a two-slot starter, many felt he would open the 2017 campaign and head the staff.
Nola’s stats before his struggles:
- 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA for 41 innings versus the Reds, Padres, Brewers and Braves.
- 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA for 37 frames against the Nationals, Cardinals, Marlins and Tigers.
- 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA for 43 1/3 innings versus San Diego, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Arizona and Colorado.
- 8-5 with a 4.93 ERA for 87 2/3 frames against New York (NL), Washington, Cleveland, Miami, Detroit, Chicago (NL), Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles (NL) and St. Louis.
As you can see, Velasquez has faced tougher opponents by a 2 to 1 margin, and there he has clearly struggled. However, McClure is grooming him to be a pitcher, not a thrower: Coach wants him to use his entire arsenal. In other words, Velasquez arrived as a max-effort starter: He didn’t pace himself in Houston but that might change next April.
To sum up, if Klentak doesn’t pick up a veteran starter during the offseason, Eickhoff could pitch game one next April. That stated, Velasquez has the stuff today’s brass wants to front a rotation, and they knew it when they acquired him. They also decided a more dominate hurler wasn’t available in the draft. In other words, Velasquez will be the ace and open a future NLDS for the red pinstripes. After a champagne shower.
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