Two Six Year Minor League Free Agents May Alter 40 Man Plans
It is rare that a player sticks around a major league organization for 6 full years without once encountering the 40 man roster. For those that make it that far in their minor league career, free agency awaits. Their team may add them to the 40 man roster before the end of the league year to prevent this. For the most part, players that reach this distinction are players like the Phillies’ Carlos Tocci who were young international signings who developed late. While Tocci is probably the highest ranked prospect who could be a free agent, a pair of relievers offer the most intrigue.
The Phillies kicked off the 2011 draft with a complete dud in Larry Greene Jr, but the class will always be considered a success because of the reliever they took in the 7th round, Ken Giles. The rest of the class has marginal major leaguers (Adam Morgan, Cody Asche, and Colton Murray), a feel good story who is also a major leaguer (Brock Stassi), and an oft injured athlete (Roman Quinn). While the dust has settled on most of those players, it is the 18 year olds the Phillies took in the 12th and 17th rounds that are on the verge of making the majors.
Yacksel Rios has seen his stock go up and down over the years. When he was drafted, Rios was relatively raw as a converted 3B, and was 91-93. He has started in the past, but then moved full time to the bullpen and saw a velocity jump. He then got a bit stiff in his delivery, and his slider was no longer a good pitch and his command was poor. This year has seen Rios really take off. His fastball has been 94-97, touching 98. He is once again showing a good slider and solid command. Rios missed some time due to injury, but was just promoted to Lehigh Valley and is still showing the same velocity. He still needs some polish, but he won’t turn 25 until next June. Neither his fastball or slider is elite enough to say he has shutdown closer upside, but he could be a good arm.
In the 17th round the Phillies took a pitcher out of a Canadian junior college. Jesen Therrien, like Rios, was a bet on a body, not now stuff. He also has had an up and down journey through the Phillies season. He was up to 95 earlier in his career, but then saw his velocity drop to 89-91. His secondary pitches have gone through many transformations, with his splitter being his best pitch for a bit. Now Therrien is 91-93 touching 95 with a heavy two seam fastball. He has turned his slider into a plus pitch and has shown the ability to manipulate the shape of it. Therrien has walked just 7 batters this year. Since moving to AAA, he has generated more weak contact than swings and misses. His upside is probably a bit below Rios, but his slider has made him a legitimate major league prospect.
The Phillies have a very tight 40 man roster, which makes it difficult to predict spots going forward. While the Phillies need relievers, they have starting pitchers who will start to make that transition like Ricardo Pinto already has. Up until now, the Phillies’ 40 man questions have focused around the Rule 5 draft, but Rios and Therrien’s impending free agency change that equation. The Phillies have already pushed both to AAA, and Therrien has already excelled there (Rios only has 2 appearances so far). The next question is whether the Phillies are willing to commit a 40 man spot to both players.
Right now the Phillies are expected to trade Pat Neshek at the deadline. This will free up a spot in the bullpen and on the 40 man roster. The Phillies could promote Therrien into that spot. They could also turn to Edubray Ramos, who has been trying to get back on track in AAA. The Phillies could open up another spot if they manage to move Joaquin Benoit for literally anything, but otherwise the Phillies will have right handed pitching slots locked into Ricardo Pinto, Luis Garcia, and Hector Neris. They like having a long man like Mark Leiter Jr, and they have shown that they want to give some left handed pitchers a try. I think Therrien gets a spot by August 1, but if not, the organization seems high enough on him to give him at least a shot in September.
As for Rios, his arm is big enough that I think another team would offer him an MLB contract this offseason, meaning the Phillies would lose him for nothing. Given his upside, it is in the Phillies’ best interest to put him on the 40 man roster and probably bring him up this September. Both of these decisions will have ripple effects, which are likely to be felt most profoundly by Tom Eshelman and Scott Kingery, both of whom are not on the 40 man roster now, and don’t need to be added this offseason.