Crash Bag Vol. 21: Can the Phillies Develop Pitchers

The Phillies won a game!

For now the best place to ask questions is on Twitter, either @ me (@Matt_Winkelman or @CrashburnAlley). But you can also reply in the comments here and I will will have some sort of better way for future mailbags.

@babsell_champ: Do the Phillies have a pitching dev issue in the minors? Their top young starters Nola and Eickhoff came into the org fairly polished.

It is always difficult to figure out who is to blame for a lack of development. The coaching staff is always a good place to start, but sometimes guys lose or gain velocity, sometimes a pitcher’s big breakthrough is someone else showing them a pitch grip. It isn’t that it is all random, it is that it is all noisy. Another problem with judging all of this is the timeline, when the Phillies rebuild began in earnest, the system was essentially bare, so any homegrown pitchers are really just starting to reach to the upper minors. Before going into that group, let’s take a look at the minor league pitchers brought in during the various trades.

Zach Eflin – He still hasn’t found the putaway pitch to put him over the top, but he is a much better arm than he was entering the system.

Tom Windle – He got demoted out of Reading this year, because he can’t find the strike zone.

Ben Lively – He entered the system as an essentially polished player, and two years later he is pretty much the same pitcher, he just had some stumbles on the way.

Joely Rodriguez – He struggled in the rotation, moved to the bullpen and had a decent run, now struggling in the majors.

Mark Appel – It is clear there are many things wrong with Mark Appel, but we are now on two organizations that have tried many things and failed at fixing him.

Nick Pivetta – Pivetta was a bit of a thrower before the trade, and his fastball command has taken a big step forward. He still needs more polish, and a changeup wouldn’t hurt, but he has seen big improvement.

Jimmy Cordero – Was on a fast track, but then an offseason shoulder injury set him way back.

Alberto Tirado – Tirado’s control has improved, but is still not great. We are still years from knowing the answers about him.

Thomas Eshelman – His stuff has improved, and this year Eshelman has found his college command. If he can keep up the improvement, he looks like a back end starter.

Jake Thompson – Thompson’s fastball velocity declined (the decline started before the trade), he lost feel for his slider, and then he lost delivery consistency. It has been up and down, as he has tried to put a lot of the pieces back together.

It is a mixed bag, and no one has really stepped up and become an impact starter, but for the most part we are dealing with finished or mostly done products. Does the Thompson decline look bad? Absolutely, but it is also hard to pinpoint who is to blame. He is also 23 years old, and maybe some of it can come back. What we do know going in, is that pitchers break and they fail, which is why you get a ton of them and hope for the best.

What I do want to point to on the Phillies pitching development is the number of unheralded arms that have emerged from nothing. On the domestic side, Drew Anderson and Tyler Viza have gone from late round picks to legitimate arms, but what really is noticeable is the emergence of Latin American pitchers. Since 2014 we have seen the emergence of Ricardo Pinto, Elniery Garcia, Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Taveras, Edgar Garcia, Adonis Medina, Ranger Suarez, and Sixto Sanchez out of nowhere. Within that group are true impact arms like Medina, Sanchez, Kilome, and Dominguez, as well as some guys who will be more in bullpen work or back of a rotation. The only one to really reach the upper minors so far is Ricardo Pinto (Elniery Garcia pitched in one of Reading’s playoff games last year), so we don’t know how the developmental story will end, but that is a lot of pitching out of nowhere. That really gets to truth of all of this. The actual development part of this rebuild is still in the middle stages. Even on the hitting side, we have yet to see non-trade players reach the majors, and while there are many on the doorstep, we are judging a half finished product.

So do the Phillies have a minor league pitching dev problem? No. They are actually really good in the low minors, and in the upper minors it has been a bit of a mixed bag, but with almost no track record of how they will develop players that have spent their whole career working through the system. Even if they are great there are going to be failures, it is the nature of the baseball development problem, the key will be whether they can get some quality major league arms out of all of this.

@dcallos: How good is the Lakewood rotation?
@brewington1997: Is ranger Suarez a dude?

For the low-A level, the Lakewood rotation is really good. I don’t think it is on par with some of the rotations the Braves have at Rome or some of their other affiliates, but it is pretty good. For those not familiar I am going to take the group one at a time and hit on Ranger Suarez on the way.

Sixto Sanchez – Sanchez has missed some time due to a sore neck (the Phillies said it came from a bus ride) and has really only been out this long because the Phillies are limiting his innings. He is already one of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues to me. He has touched 100 with his fastball and routinely works in the 94-97 range. He can command the pitch and has shown both the ability to cut and sink it (he throws it as a true 2 seamer in the low to mid 90s). The reports on the curveball are that it is a future plus pitch. It can still get a bit slurvy, and he will need to tighten it up as he goes up in levels. He throws a good changeup and in a recent start broke out some sort of splitter like version of it that was devastating to opposing batters. He needs to find what pitches work for him, but there is enough feel for him to come out of this with two plus or better offspeed pitches. He doesn’t turn 19 until July 29.

Adonis Medina – Sanchez is a bit of a freak, and Medina is more of a traditional good pitching prospect. His command has come and gone (he has 9 of his 17 walks in 2 of his 9 starts). He is missing more bats this year after there were some concerns following his year in Williamsport. His fastball is more in the 91-94 range with heavy sink, but he can ramp up to 96-97 if needed. He is mostly curveball-changeup, and both show above average to plus potential, but he unleashed a plus slider last year that is a work in progress. His feel for pitching is advanced for a 20 year old, and he has a little bit of room in his frame to add more muscle. He doesn’t have front line upside, but he could be a mid rotation starter long term.

JoJo Romero – Romero was the Phillies 4th round pick last year, and so far the short lefty has been off to a good start. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he can get it up to 94-96 to get a miss. His changeup is a long term plus pitch, and his slider has shown improvement this year. At times his control can waver, and he has yet to really show that he can command his pitches in the zone. The Phillies took him out of junior college last year, so he is only a few months older than Medina and has time to improve on his weaknesses. He has more of a #4 starter ceiling.

Ranger Suarez – Suarez now leads the Phillies system in strikeouts, as he has seen his stock improve this year. He is a short lefty with a fastball that is in the 89-92 range, but he has reportedly gotten it up to 94 this year. He has a slider and a changeup, and he can command both of them in the zone. He is able to dominate lower level hitters by keeping them off balance, which brings to mind Clearwater RHP Jose Taveras. Suarez has a bit more raw stuff than Taveras and is left handed, so I believe in his ability to start a bit more. If he can improve his offspeed pitches and maintain his command, he could be a back of the rotation starter.

Bailey Falter – Falter is the only Lakewood starter who has struggled this year, which is a bit surprising given that he has only walked 5 batters in 37 innings. For Falter, it is all about how much he will fill out his 6’4” frame, because right now his fastball velocity (88-91 was the last I had) is not going to cut it. He has a good changeup and curveball, and like many low minors pitchers, he needs to find consistency with both of them. If he can fill out to be more 91-93 touching 95, he has a chance to be a pretty good pitcher given how advanced the other parts of his game are.

Nick Fanti – After dominating the GCL last year, Nick Fanti has moved on to dominating the South Atlantic League. Unlike his rotation mates, Fanti’s stuff is more ordinary than special. His fastball sits in the mid to high 80s and can touch 90 occasionally. His changeup is fringy, and while he can get swings and misses on his curveball, it is more of a loopy pitch than a hard bat misser. What Fanti can do is command all of his pitches and keep hitters off balance. It is a formula that works in low-A, but won’t in the upper minors. In many ways, he is reminiscent of Lehigh Valley LHP Hoby Milner who also didn’t have great stuff but found a second life as a LOOGY when the Phillies changed his delivery. I am not advocating that the Phillies change Fanti’s delivery, but in short bursts his command from the left side could make him an interesting reliever, especially if he can improve his curveball and find a bit more velocity.

Felix Paulino – Paulino has been filling in for Sanchez and is a reliever going forward. But I wanted to touch on him because he is a legitimate pitcher in his own right, with a fastball that sits 91-95 touching 96 and a good slider. He needs to work on his command, but he could be an interesting bullpen arm down the line.

There are only two elite arms in the rotation in Sanchez and Medina, but the other 5 arms are guys with a decent chance to be something in the majors. You rarely see that at the low-A level.

@RichardHughes2: Looks like the Phillies will be picking first in next year’s draft. Thoughts on Seth Beer?

I don’t think Beer goes #1 overall next year. He is an amazing hitter, and his bat could be very special, but he is a first baseman. Even if we throw out all of the track record of first basemen picked early in the draft (it is really really bad), you are still committing to a very limited player. Beer may well be the next superstar first baseman, but by taking him #1 overall, you are committing to that belief because there is no alternative. If you are taking at the back of the top 5 in the range that someone like Kyle Schwarber went, that is much more palatable.

@GreenBlade111: Have you changed your appraisal of Canelo’s Major League potential?

Canelo shot up prospect rankings in 2015 after a great season in Lakewood and then a so-so end of year in Clearwater. He was seen as a plus glove shortstop who might be able to hit enough to be a regular. His stock took a hit last year when he was very mediocre with the Threshers. His glove was still good enough to think he could be a utility player long term, but most people had little confidence in his ability to hit. I think the promotion to Reading was a bit aggressive, but he has responded well, and for those not following closely he was hitting .281/.371/.412 at the time of me writing this.

He is still a great defender and I think the power is still quite low, but he will punish mistakes. He is striking out a ton this year, but also walking at a high rate. He has certainly moved up lists again, but I think he is more of the guy Freddy Galvis was when he broke into the majors than the current version of Freddy. That is probably a second division regular or good utility infielder. He has the bat speed and the glove to keep building on his hot start, but he is going to need to get the swing and miss under control.

@GMKevv: Despite his recent slump, does Herrera’s team friendly contract make him expendable at the deadline? If so, does that clear a path for Quinn

I don’t think Roman Quinn is as good a player as Odubel Herrera. Slump notwithstanding, he is a worse hitter and has less raw power. His speed impacts the game in exciting ways and his defense may be slightly better long term, but I trust Herrera’s hit tool much more. If Herrera were at peak, you would be trading him for more prospects and essentially pushing the rebuild back and adding more risk (maybe more upside). If someone goes nuts in a trade offer for Herrera, you have to listen, but I wouldn’t do it to clear a path for Quinn. This all mostly irrelevant. Because of his horrible May, no one is blowing you away with an offer right now.

@GMKevv: Will the Phillies regret trading away Josh Tobias? Currently slashing .345/.412/.494 in Salem.

Tobias is hitting decently well in AA at age 24 after tearing up Hi-A, but he is still not really the type of player the Phillies are going to regret trading. The Red Sox have played him exclusively at 2B, but I still don’t see how his bat plays there. Against AA pitching, he has 3 walks to 20 strikeouts, and he just doesn’t have the power to overcome those shortcomings. Maybe long term he is a utility player, but if we are talking about utility players, I would rather have the glove of someone like Canelo than a guy who can really only play second and left.

 

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22 comments

  1. Larry

    May 26, 2017 02:12 PM

    I don’t think McClure is a good pitching coach as far a as handling the young players. It seems like Hellickson is the only pitcher who has progressed as far as the starters are concerned, the young starters have all regressed.

    • Mike Fassano

      May 26, 2017 02:44 PM

      I think that Hellickson is a 13 – 14 win pitcher tops. You can’t really say that Nola has regressed, unless you want to blame his injuries on McClure. Eflin was supposed to be learning the trade in AAA this year. I am afraid that Eickhoff is going to be that pitcher who never gets any run support. Every team seems to have one. That leaves Velasquez. I’m encouraged by yesterdays start even though he only went 5 innings. Personally I’d have had him pitch the 6th inning.
      McClure may, or may not, be a bad pitching coach. Pitching is 99% between the ears, and I’m not privy to his conversations with the pitchers.

  2. Mike Fassano

    May 26, 2017 02:13 PM

    I’m very high on Aaron Nola. I don’t believe that he’s fragile, or that he’s reached his peak yet. He’s not going to overpower hitters, but has a knack for mixing up his pitches. Is there anybody similar in the draft (college level) that could help the Phils in the near future? Are there any younger pitchers who the Phillies might trade for at the deadline? I don’t want any more rentals or trade chips. What are the odds of Joseph or Hoskins being traded at the deadline?

    • Steve

      May 27, 2017 11:19 PM

      Who do you see playing 1b on the next Phillies playoff team?

  3. Peter

    May 26, 2017 02:53 PM

    What about trading Franco to a team like the Angels, Giants, or Red Sox for more major league ready pitching? Some of our current starters seamed destined for the pen and it would make sense for the Phillies to pay top dollar for Machado or Donaldson when they hit free agency regardless if Franco is here or not.

    • Mike Fassano

      May 26, 2017 03:24 PM

      It’s way too soon to give up on Franco. He is the youngest everyday player in the line up. I’d sooner like to see them sign Hellickson to a 2 year deal with a club option on a third year.

    • Romus

      May 26, 2017 05:55 PM

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      If Dave Dombrowski comes calling to Matt Klentak about Franco’s availability…I certainly would listen.
      I think Phillies could sway Trader Dave to give up a few arms like Groom and Shawaryn, and even 3ed baseman Dalbec….but I would also be certain Domrowski, who is willing to trade prospects for MLB players in a country second, would also insist on the Phillies taking Pablo Sandoval and his contract off their hands.

      • Peter

        May 26, 2017 09:14 PM

        I am not thinking of Franco for a prospect of any kind. In the end the Red Sox may not want Franco since they have Devers coming up soon enough (my mistake for including them). I am thinking of Franco for a young major league ready pitcher, primarily a left hander. Franco is not a middle of the order hitter and we have a ton of money. Franco is talented and is expendable considering the infielders that will be available in the next couple of years. We need competition for the starting rotation to the point where it forces players to the pen, not just to work out their kinks in the minors. What about Franco to the Angels for Skaggs or to the Tigers for Norris? Those are two cap strapped teams who could use an inexpensive 3B to give depth to their lineups. At this point, it seams like the Phillies have depth in the farm system, but no budding superstars like the Baby Bombers or the young Cubs. Am I missing something?

      • Edwin

        May 27, 2017 04:56 AM

        Klentak isn’t that dumb. Sandoval is something for the Redsox fans to live and cherish for the duration of the contract.

      • Romus

        May 27, 2017 07:49 AM

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        Peter………Skaggs would be a reasonable return…. as for the Tigers, they have Nick Castellanos at third already, unless they would see Franco as Miggy’s future replacement at first

      • Romus

        May 27, 2017 08:26 AM

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        Edwin……..’Klentak isn’t that dumb’…..its business … GMs sometimes do have to take on unwanted contracts, or pay out expiring contracts, to get what they may desire in the form of a prospect or MLB player. Phillies had to take on Matt Harrison’s contract in the Hamels deal. Its part of the business side of baseball.
        But do not get me started on Matt Klentak’s report card for his first 20 months on the job.

      • Carmine

        May 30, 2017 10:08 AM

        Isn’t a country second slower than a New York minute?

      • Bob

        May 30, 2017 07:24 PM

        I can’t believe how many downvotes Romus got for some pretty innocuous points. I haven’t seen that many downvotes in years. What is going on?

  4. Edwin

    May 27, 2017 04:55 AM

    Part of the problem with the pitching is the catcher. Rupp is either clueless or just totally unprepared for the game. Calling for a fastball inner third and belt high is a recipe for defeat. I don’t care how many hits or runs he collects – not enough to offset the ones he gives up – he is supposed to call the game and if you are losing like this and giving up all these home runs you cannot lay all the fault at the feet of the pitchers or the coaches.

    • TommyDigital

      May 30, 2017 08:37 AM

      I liked chooch, but he never was one of my favorites until now. I think a solid catcher who can call a game is KEY to a rebuilding team. Look at how much credit Halladay gives Chooch. If Kendrick is here to help some young outfielders then we certainly should have someone to work with these young pitchers.
      Question: Is Alfaro known to call a good game?

  5. Seth

    May 28, 2017 07:20 AM

    Seeing that the Phillies are having their worst record in half a century, what’s the downside in giving some promotions here? Why not promote Therrien to the Phillies Bullpen now? Promote Kingery and Hoskins. Why wait? So what if it is a little “early,” And so what if it upends the Phillies clubhouse team dynamic at the MLB level–maybe that would be a good thing. Right now the Phillies team is terrible. Why give so much deference to the MLB team, which is extremely bad and losing worse than we ever imagined? The organization seems too dogmatic and inflexible. Put Sixto Sanchez in AA or AAA. Some of these guys will shine. They certainly wouldn’t be blamed for the Phillies losing record this year. When the AA and AAA teams are winning and the MLB team is the worst in all of the majors, how can you not be actively moving players up? Give guys their shot at shining and turning around the worst team in baseball.

    • Steve

      May 28, 2017 07:41 AM

      I dont disagree with your general premise, but Joseph and Hernandez of 2 of the only 3 regulars playing well enough to been seen as either a part of the futurw or a trade chip. Bringin up Hoskins and Kingery means some will be sitting who shouldnt be right now.
      I think Quinn is a good candidate for your philosophy.
      Also, this might not go over well, but service time is a real issuse that best organizations dont ignore. Just because we are bad doesnt mean we should ignore it either.

  6. Keystone

    May 28, 2017 11:32 AM

    As of today:
    1. Hellickson – 10 GS – 4.28 ERA – 5.46 FIP
    2 Eickhoff – 10 GS – 4.74 ERA – 3.87 FIP
    3. Velasquez – 9 GS – 5.55 ERA – 4.96 FIP
    4. Eflin – 7 GS – 5.36 ERA – 5.06 FIP
    5. Nola – 5 GS – 4.34 ERA – 3.77 FIP
    6. Pivetta – 4 GS – 5.12 ERA – 5.75 FIP
    7. Buchholz – 2 GS – 12.27 ERA – 4.65 FIP
    = starter ERA of 5.09 (28th in MLB) and FIP of 4.76 (23rd in MLB)

    • Keystone

      May 29, 2017 03:21 PM

      *update
      Eflin – 8 GS – 6.13 ERA – 5.89 FIP
      = starter ERA of 5.24 (29th in MLB) and FIP of 4.92 (27th in MLB)

      • Keystone

        May 30, 2017 10:46 AM

        **update (because why not..)
        Hellickson – 11 GS – 4.45 ERA – 5.53 FIP
        =stater ERA of 5.25 (29th in MLB) and FIP of 4.95 (27th in MLB)
        side note is that the Phillies bullpen is 29th in MLB in FIP (5.00)
        and the offense is 27th with 201 runs.
        This team stinks.

  7. Bob

    May 28, 2017 07:31 PM

    I wasn’t high on any of our MLB or AAA starters to begin with other than Nola. I don’t think they are good or talented enough to be anything other than four-five starters. The key will be how our lower-level pitchers develop, and it sounds as though they are coming along.

    You can have the best coaching staff ever, and some players just will never be good enough given their physical limitations.

  8. Richard Kaffenberger

    May 29, 2017 01:00 AM

    Matt: I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to read your comments on Jake. He is the guy I thought I could put all my eggs in his basket when we got him and now after reading your assessment in here I at least have an explanation for his performance in the major leagues.

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