This week, I’ve been spending some time examining the Phillies’ impending roster crunch. On Monday, I looked at the current roster to see how many spots the team is working with. Having determined that there may be up to ten open spots on the 40 man roster, on Tuesday I continued on to those who are basically guaranteed to be added In advance of the deadline. After all of that, we suddenly have five potential spots available for remaining players. Let’s take a look at the group of players who each have compelling cases to join the 40-Man roster, but each also have warts that make them less than certain additions.
RHP Mark Appel
It’s hard to know exactly what to do with Mark Appel. The former number one overall pick in 2013, Appel has never performed at a level commensurate with his raw stuff. After climbing the ranks to triple-A in Houston, he was included in the Ken Giles trade. As a younger prospect, Appel featured a high 90s fastball and two plus potential secondaries. However, in 2016, Baseball Prospectus’ Adam Hayes reported that Appel featured more of a mid 90s fastball and two average secondary pitches in Lehigh Valley. He’s never struck out as many batters as his stuff would indicate, and he hasn’t featured quite the command expected of a college pitcher selected with the first overall pick.
Compounding his problems was the early end to his season – Appel required surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. However, despite all this, I’d argue he’s a borderline lock for the 40-man roster. While the elbow surgery clouds the picture, every report you’ll see pegs him as a Major League starting pitcher. Having watched this MLB postseason, and really the last couple of years, it’s easy to see a scenario where he is transitioned to the bullpen and has the potential to dominate. The Phillies may not prefer that course, but the problem is, we’re talking about the Rule 5 draft. Some other team would absolutely be willing to give a player with Appel’s stuff and pedigree that opportunity. If the team wants to keep him, they really have no choice. If he’s healthy, Appel will probably see time in Philadelphia in 2017 – in one role or another.
RHP Ricardo Pinto
Ricardo Pinto is, admittedly, probably something close to a lock. There’s a strong argument that I probably should have included him in the “Locks” post on Tuesday. He entered the 2016 season as a top 10 prospect in the Phillies organization, with an above-average fastball, a plus changeup, and above-average command. I would argue that, for having Reading as your home ballpark in 2016, producing a 4.85 RA/9 is disappointing, but only moderately so (and let’s not start judging prospects by Minor League run prevention numbers anyway).
His principal problem is the lack of at least an average breaking pitch, but with his advanced fastball there is a role for him in a Major League bullpen if a team wanted to stash him now. Of slight concern is Pinto’s drop in strikeout rate since reaching the high-A level, but there are developmental reasons that can happen to a young pitcher as well. In 2017, Pinto will either initially return to Reading, or begin in the Lehigh Valley rotation. A strong season could have him in Philadelphia in September.
RHP Alberto Tirado
I wrote about Tirado last month related to exactly this exercise. He is a power-armed prospect who came over with Jimmy Cordero in the Ben Revere trade. He’s moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and many evaluators think his future is in the latter. Not to rehash the GIF-laden arguments I made in September, but Tirado basically features two potential plus-plus pitches and ended the season on a dominant stretch. Based on the precedent of other young, raw prospects who have flourished in Major League bullpens, I think that not only will an opposing team be excited to take him, but that he has the potential be quickly successful in that role.
Tirado probably begins 2017 assigned to the high-A Clearwater Threshers. His time table for arriving in Philly depends a lot on two factors: whether the improved control of his late season stretch continues, and whether the team believes they can still develop him as a starting pitcher long term. The former being true improves the likelihood of the latter, but a conversion to “future closer” could bring him to Philadelphia much faster. If he’s a reliever, he could probably be seen in the Majors in 2018. If he’s a starting pitcher, he’s probably in the Major Leagues in 2019-2020.
Valentin is maybe the most likely player in the Phillies farm system to become a utility player in the Major Leagues, for a couple reasons. First, he split 2016 between double-A and triple-A at age 22, so he’s relatively close to reaching the Major Leagues. Second, he’s a good defender at second base and could move around the diamond. Third, his offensive profile is not quite exciting enough to expect a traditional everyday player.
Valentin was a supplemental round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, and somehow came over with good relief prospect Victor Arano for Roberto Hernandez in 2014. He has a good approach at the plate and works counts well, and rarely strikes out. Valentin doesn’t have a lot in the way of power, however. While his willingness to take a walk is good, it’s unclear how that skill will transition to the Majors for a player without much power. If pitchers are more willing to throw him strikes, that figure may drop. Short of an exceptional Spring Training, he’ll return to Lehigh Valley to begin the 2017 season. He should be expected to reach Philly during the 2017 season.
OF Carlos Tocci
Ah, Carlos Tocci. Tocci is a 21 year old surefire center fielder who has somehow been on the Phillies’ prospect radar for the last five full seasons. He was somehow even eligible for the Rule 5 draft after last season, but managed to sneak through un-selected. Tocci has roughly the same skill set that he possessed three or four years ago – good bat-to-ball skills, a plus arm in the outfield, plus running ability, and above-average defensive skills. However, he also maintained his most discussed skill, which is the inability to gain enough weight to increase his raw power above a 30 grade.
However, he has hit well enough at the high-A level while only 20 years old that, combined with his advanced skills everywhere else, he might just have done enough to be picked by a team in the Rule 5 draft. Many reports think that he could be a usable defensive outfielder at present, and he has similar Minor League experience as Ender Inciarte, who the Phillies picked in the Rule 5 draft before the 2013 season. Tocci will likely begin next season at double-A, and there’s still a lot of variability related to his expected arrival in the Majors, but it may potentially be in 2019.
Malquin Canelo is not dissimilar from Tocci in some ways. Tocci probably has a higher potential hit tool, but Canelo features a similar lack of power, plus run, plus arm, and plus defense. However, the most stark difference between the two is that Canelo’s defense comes at shortstop. Like another Phillies’ former prospect (and now Major League shortstop) Freddy Galvis, his glove is so advanced that he could be protected despite his lack of hit projection.
He could be selected in the Rule 5 draft and will probably be a successful defender in the Major Leagues today, but with such a limited hit tool (and no experience above the high-A level), it would be difficult to keep him for a full season. If the Phillies gamble and he is selected by another team, there’s a decent chance that he would be returned anyway. Canelo would begin next season at double-A Reading, and could reach the Majors by the 2019 season.
Dominguez is a smaller starting pitcher, with a fastball that some sources have reported to sit 95-97 mph in starts. Matt Winkelman also reports that he features two potential above-average breaking pitches and a long term mid-rotation ceiling. Dominguez spent four seasons in foreign and rookie leagues from 2012-2015, and performed very well in full-A Lakewood in 2016. However, a young starting pitcher with three above-average pitches is an exciting commodity – why isn’t he a lock?
Generally, that’s because he’s even more raw than someone like Tirado, and has a total of 10 starts in full season ball. His walk rate climbed above 10 percent in Lakewood, and there’s a ton of development left for him. A particularly aggressive team could select Dominguez, but the Phillies may be able to sneak him through the draft. He would probably begin the 2017 season in either Lakewood or Clearwater, and would not potentially reach the Major Leagues until the 2020 season.
Well, we’re over the 40 man roster constraints. With up to five available spots, Appel, Pinto, Tirado, Valentin, and Tocci might be protected in that order (based on talent, and likelihood of being selected by another team). There is also always a little calculus played with the Rule 5 draft, related to guessing which players could last a full season on another team’s Major League roster. In that case, you may be confident that Tocci could be sneak through the draft or be returned for another season, but he’s also now had a full season at Advanced-A ball, and is ready to contribute now defensively. No matter what you do, there’s some gambling involved.