Three Arguments for Alberto Tirado to be Rule 5 Protected
The Philadelphia Phillies’ impending Rule 5 roster crunch is going to receive a lot of attention in the coming weeks and months. With a large number of young prospects to fit on the 40-man roster, the Phillies have several difficult decisions to make and even still may lose a player of value this December. We will certainly provide more comprehensive coverage in the future, but for now, I’d like to present three separate arguments for the protection of one young pitcher in particular – Alberto Tirado.
These three separate arguments can be seen in the fuzzy frames of the below video, from the 17 second mark to the 21 second mark.
— Phillies (@Phillies) September 7, 2016
The 21 year old righty from the Dominican Republic was originally signed by the Blue Jays in 2011 and has always been known as a live-armed prospect without much in the way of command (he has a 14.5 percent career Minor League walk rate). That lack of command is why a pitcher capable of the above wipeout slider and fastball combination (two potential plus-plus pitches) was one of two pieces included in the Ben Revere trade of 2015. A completely reasonable person could argue that the walk rate, combined with zero experience above the high-A level, makes him an unappealing Rule 5 candidate.
However, in his final six starts of the season, Tirado turned a corner. After copious work on his mechanics, struggling in the bullpen, and a brief stint in Clearwater, Tirado returned to the Lakewood starting rotation for the final months of season. Despite struggling badly for four months, his August (and technically, September 1) formed what is probably the strongest single month of performance for any Phillies prospect this season.
The change in K-BB% is monumental, but the 6 percentage point increase in strike rate is really what excites here – it went from almost unusable as a reliever to what would probably be above-average as a starting pitcher. It’s still only six starts, but he got hot at the end of the season, and these six starts are the last impressions on the minds of the Phillies’ front office (and more significantly, opposing scouts).
As far as his lack of experience goes, if he has two potential 70 grade pitches, and even moderately improved command, the level of the batter striking out at the plate doesn’t really matter. There is a recent precedent of young, raw arms succeeding at the Major League level with little or no Double-A experience. Jose Fernandez is probably the most obvious example of this, but I would look at two of Tirado’s former teammates from the same 2011 Blue Jays international signing class as stronger comparable prospects.
Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro were both a little bit ahead of Tirado based on command, but each was a starting pitching prospect in 2014, limited to relief in 2015 Spring Training, and debuted at age 20 that season. Combined, both Osuna and Castro had less than half as many innings at the high-A level as Tirado currently possesses, and neither had advanced to double-A. Osuna immediately became one of the best closers in the Majors, and Castro was a competent reliever before being traded to Colorado (everyone can imagine how that’s gone).
This isn’t to say Tirado’s success is guaranteed at all, but if a team believes in what was seen at the end of the season, it isn’t too hard to talk yourself into seeing a potentially free impact reliever. If that team believes Tirado can develop a passing changeup, that’s a pretty exciting prospect as a starter as well. At minimum, he’s a high ceiling arm who has the potential to contribute and even develop while stashed in the Majors. Luis Perdomo was a Cardinals’ starting pitching prospect acquired by the Padres in last year’s Rule 5 draft. He was a similarly high ceiling arm, was stashed early in the bullpen, and has actually contributed as a starter over the last couple months. Perdomo had spent no time at double-A, and struggled during the only time he spent in high-A.
Teams, especially those who don’t expect to compete in 2017, will take a risk on a guy like Tirado. If he wasn’t already a member of the Phillies, they might select him in the Rule 5 draft. However, that’s enough analysis – I consider all of the arguments I’ve laid out above to be incidental.
Let’s take one more look at the truly important reasons to add Alberto Tirado to the roster, this time in convenient GIF format.