Alberto Tirado the Latest Bullpen Conversion for the Phillies

The Phillies entered the year with a thin bullpen. A 40 man roster stocked with prospects, and in particular starting pitching prospects had left the organization with only 8 relievers on the 40 man roster. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that at some point the Phillies were going to need to move some starters to the bullpen to make the math work long term. Before the 2017 season, the Phillies had been hesitant to move starters to the bullpen with only marginal pitchers or those that had failed in the rotation like Adam Morgan, Mark Leiter Jr., Joely Rodriguez, Tom Windle, and Hoby Milner making the change (Leiter has since transitioned back to the rotation due to the Phillies’ pitching injuries). This year the Phillies have started to move some of their more highly thought of pitching prospects into the bullpen.

The big new addition to the bullpen is RHP Alberto Tirado. The Phillies acquired Tirado at the 2015 trade deadline in the deal that sent Ben Revere to Toronto. Tirado had long had an electric arm and Toronto had already moved him to the bullpen for their Hi-A team. The Phillies kept him in that role, but he walked 18 in 16 games for them. Last year he ended up back in the bullpen to start the year, but after a stint in Extended Spring Training, he emerged as a starting pitcher with Lakewood. In the rotation he started 11 games with a 2.19 ERA over 53.1 IP, with 25 walks to 83 strikeouts. This earned him a spot on the Phillies 40 man roster this off season and a spot in Clearwater’s opening day rotation.

This year Tirado has been much less electric. In the rotation he had a 3.64 ERA to go with 36 walks and 54 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. He was particularly bad against left handed batters with 24 walks to 16 strikeouts. In addition to poor stats, Tirado’s stuff was not where it had been the previous year and he was sitting more in the mid 90s than the upper 90s. On July 1, the Phillies moved Alberto Tirado back to the bullpen and July 5 they promoted him to AA Reading.

As a reliever, Tirado should be able to junk his changeup, a pitch that has not shown signs of progress in the past two seasons, and just use his fastball in slider. It is not unreasonable to think that has a reliever, Tirado’s fastball should sit 96-98 touching 100. His slider is a bit slurvy and can get loopy at times, but he will also break off pitches with wicked two plane movement that leave right handed batters helpless. He still will need to harness his control enough to live in the strikezone, but he has impact reliever potential.

So what does this mean for his path to the majors? It is much clearer now. As a starter, Tirado had 3 years to figure things out before he ran out of options. He still has that time constraint as a reliever, but he is not in AA and there is a reasonable path to him helping the Phillies during the 2018 season. This was long seen as the role Tirado would hold in the majors, so while losing some of his ceiling, his prospect stock doesn’t actually take a huge hit.

Tirado is not the only conversion so far this year, I want to quickly check in on two other conversions in progress.

  • Shane Watson, RHP, Reading
    • Watson was the Phillies top pick in the 2012 draft. He missed all of the 2014 and most of the 2013 and 2015 seasons due to a shoulder injury.
    • Watson was a darling in camp this spring as he finally showed some pre-injury velocity and was up to 95. The problem was that his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup were underdeveloped.
    • Shane Watson as a starting pitcher – 5.52 ERA 44 IP 26 BB 24 K
    • Shane Watson as a relief pitcher – 2.70 ERA 13.1 IP 1 BB 11 K
    • Watson does not profile as an impact reliever, but if his stuff continues to be solid he could pitch in a major league bullpen.
  • Ricardo Pinto, RHP, Phillies
    • Ricardo Pinto has been a top prospect for the Phillies the past two seasons, but he has yet to show the breaking ball needed to stick in the rotation.
    • The Phillies moved him to the bullpen on May 24 and then called him up to the majors on May 31 where he was rocked by the Marlins.
    • Pinto in the bullpen in LHV – 13.1 IP 6 H 0 R 1 BB 10 K and since returning to the majors, he has pitched 6 innings and has given up 1 run while walking 2 and striking out 4.
    • In the majors he has been averaging over 95mph on his fastball and he profiles as a late inning reliever.

These three don’t project to be the only conversions for the Phillies. Even if the Phillies trade Jeremy Hellickson they project to have Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta, Mark Leiter Jr., Vince Velasquez, and Ben Lively in the majors with Tom Eshelman, Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, and Zach Eflin in AAA. That doesn’t include the Phillies trading or signing a front end starter at some point. Some of these pitchers will continue to regress, and others will suffer injuries. Even with those caveats, the Phillies are going to start to build their bullpen with these conversions. This was always part of the plan, but we are just now starting to see these projects start and join previous conversions like Victor Arano, Yacksel Rios, and Jesen Therrien and pure relievers like Austin Davis and Edubray Ramos.

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9 comments

  1. Romus

    July 05, 2017 03:42 PM

    Tirado assigned to Reading yesterday, so as a reliever he will now be facing a pretty stiff test against AA hitters.

    • Mike Fassano

      July 05, 2017 06:05 PM

      Even though we don’t have an “Ace” starter, I’m pretty comfortable with what we do have. What we don’t have is a lot of bullpen depth, especially with Benoit and Neshek leaving soon. I assume that Leiter will fill one of the holes when Eickhoff returns, and maybe the Phillies bring back Edubray Ramos for a second shot.

  2. Egg

    July 05, 2017 03:51 PM

    Do players balk at these conversions, given the vast gulf between starter and reliever salaries in the big leagues?

    • Mike Fassano

      July 05, 2017 06:07 PM

      Players want to be successful. Although I do remember Smoltz freaking out when the Braves moved him to the bullpen.

      • Kram209

        July 05, 2017 07:12 PM

        Most of these conversions are in the minors and those players will do anything it takes to get to the bigs. A player (Leiter) might express his comfort as a starter but won’t ‘balk’ at all if it means a ticket to the Majors.

        One conversion everyone brings up is Appel. I asked him about it before the season and he wasn’t the least bit hesitant telling me that he has relieved before at Stanford and could do it again. One other aspect of that I couldn’t help think of when reading about Tirado above is that when a player is working things out (read: struggling with control) it’s probably better to let him get consistent innings in the rotation and save the conversion for after things have evened out. If the other starters get healthy I wouldn’t be surprised to see Appel in the pen late in August and into the AAA playoffs, then for the big club in September to see what he’s got for his roster spot.

      • Kram209

        July 05, 2017 07:43 PM

        Course as I was typing that last comment Appel was busy not getting out of the first inning. Hope he’s not hurt.

  3. Mike Fassano

    July 06, 2017 08:54 AM

    Adam Morgan can’t seem to get through the line up the second time. In Pete’s mind, this qualifies him as a long reliever. As a fan, it’s depressing to see him enter the game. I wonder if his teammates get the same vibe?

    • Yoyo

      July 06, 2017 11:24 AM

      Nowadays “long” relievers are still only facing 8-12 hitters, so struggling a second time through a lineup really isn’t a problem.

    • Chris S

      July 06, 2017 11:41 AM

      Adam Morgan’s last 7 innings have been great (3 outings). He has given up 1 run while giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, while striking out 8. He has also seen a huge uptick in velocity since his latest recall back to the Majors. I would feel pretty confident in that pitcher entering the game.

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