Phillies Acquire Solid Bullpen Arm

In the first significant move of the Phillies’ offseason, Matt Klentak acquired reliever Pat Neshek in a trade with the Houston Astros. The Phillies immediately exercised the 2017 team option in Neshek’s contract for a reported $6.5 million. Packing their bags for Houston are either a PTBNL or cash considerations, which is baseball parlance for “who cares?”

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Phillies Voted to Have MLB’s Best Farm System

Update 11/3/2016: There are actually conflicting signals about whether the Phillies won the fan vote or the staff vote. While the “table of contents”-style infographic in the announcement indicates “fan”, other sources indicate “staff.” Knowing that, take some of what’s below with an additional grain of salt.

Yesterday, MiLB.com announced the winners of the 2016 MiLBY award for the Best Farm System in baseball, and the Philadelphia Phillies received top honors – in the fan vote. The prospect staff of the site instead opted to pick the New York Yankees for their variation of the award. This offers a good opportunity to discuss the merits of such an award, and the Phillies’ system’s place in Minor League baseball. These awards occur every year, from a variety of sources, and can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, a person who is purely a fan of Minor League baseball might select the winning-est farm system, because winning is the end goal to that individual. However, a Major League farm director might vote for the team who ended the season with the most Top-100 prospects in their farm system.

What can winning this award tell us about the Phillies farm system? We can start by asking what an award like this supposed to measure. Per the award’s description in 2014, the year of its inception, the Best Farm System award is meant to “honor the organization whose system made the most strides [during the season]”. That description is a little ambiguous, but at minimum the phrase “made the most strides” can reasonably be interpreted to mean “most improved.” “Improved” is, itself, a loaded term. Does “most improved” entail seeing already top prospects move to higher levels? Does it mean the team that added the most noteworthy prospects throughout the year? Is it tied to winning at the Minor League level? It is referencing the team with the most significant number of breakout prospects and draftees (prospects who initially emerge in the system) during the year?

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Crashburn Roundtable: World Series Edition

As some readers may be aware, the World Series is currently going on, pitting one team with a long championship drought against a team with the long championship drought. As Cleveland and Chicago face off over the next few days, it understandably dominates the world of baseball. As a result, I thought it would be fun to temporarily change course on the round table series and ask some World Series-themed questions this week. Joining me on this Phillies-free affair are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther and Michael Schickling.

Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and Chicago ace Jake Arrieta are a month apart in age, each made over 30 starts in 2016, and each saw strong results. Kluber’s 73 ERA-, 76 FIP-, and 44.5 percent groundball rate compare well to Arrieta’s 75 ERA-, 85 FIP-, and 52.6 percent groundball rate in 2016. However, Arrieta also experienced an arguably higher peak just one season ago. If both were free agents this offseason, who would receive a larger contract?

Timothy Guenther: Kluber is coming off the better season, and has the better projection going forward. But to me, the most telling stat is the K-BB percentage.

2014: Kluber 22.9%, Arrieta 20.5%
2015: Kluber 22.6%, Arrieta 21.6%
2016: Kluber 19.8%, Arrieta 14.3%

The reason for Arrieta’s precipitous drop: hitters stopped chasing his pitches out of the strike zone. It may be a correctable issue, but it’s an issue that would give Kluber a leg up in this hypothetical contract battle.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Lost

If you’re just joining us, I’ve been spending this week working through the Phillies’ 40-Man roster crunch, and taking a look at which prospects may be added in advance of the Rule 5 protection deadline. On Monday, I cleared some space on the current roster and found what might be up to ten spots available for Rule 5 eligible prospects. On Tuesday, I looked at the players who are basically locks to be added to the roster. On Thursday, I examined seven players with strong, but not guaranteed, cases for receiving a roster spot. To summarize, the following players have already been examined earlier in the week:

Locks: Elniery Garcia, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Andrew Knapp, Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams

Likely: Mark Appel, Ricardo Pinto, Alberto Tirado, Jesmuel Valentin, Carlos Tocci, Malquin Canelo, Seranthony Dominguez

Today, we finish up by discussing the players who are potential targets for other teams in the Rule 5 draft. Obviously, I consider the above players most likely to be picked if available. Because not all of them have room to be protected, a couple may be selected. However, the large majority those players are going to be off limits.

Subtitling this article as “The Lost” is only really relevant for alliterative purposes – at worst, the Phillies would only lose a couple players in the draft. The below is a list of the players who just missed the cut, but are intriguing Rule 5 eligible prospects. It is feasible, but not too likely, that any one of them will end up on another team’s active roster in Spring Training.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Likely

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.

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: The Locks

Yesterday, I looked at the current Phillies’ roster in order to ascertain just how many roster spots are available as the Rule 5 protection deadline approaches. By my estimates, the team may have as many as ten roster spots to work with to protect their Rule 5 eligible prospects. As a refresher, Minor League players with four (for college draftees) or five (for high school draftees and international free agents) seasons of professional experience, and aren’t on a 40-Man roster, are generally eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 draft. The acquiring team must keep them on the active roster for the entirety of the next season, or offer them back to their original team.

The Phillies are fortunate enough to have a large number of players worth protecting from the draft. However, finding enough room for all of them is a problem. Today, we look at the six players that are definite locks to be added to the 40-man roster.

C Andrew Knapp

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Knapp is already factored into the roster under this scenario. With Jorge Alfaro‘s likely promotion to triple-A in 2017, there isn’t room for two everyday catching prospects on the roster, and Knapp will still need regular playing time. As the Major League team also needs a backup catcher, he may fit in that role. Knapp is a switch-hitting catcher and was drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 2013 draft. While his ability to catch has reportedly improved, his bat will likely determine his success at the Major League level. He wasn’t able to reproduce his explosive 2015 Reading season at Lehigh Valley, and hit at a roughly league-average rate (107 wRC+).

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The 40-Man Roster Crunch: Finding Room

Welcome to 40-Man Roster Crunch week here at Crashburn Alley. Over the next few days, I’m going to distract from the fact that nothing is going on with the Phillies as the World Series continues by focusing on the impending struggle to keep all of the team’s best prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For those two don’t know, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every December on the final day of the Winter Meetings. That day, every Minor League player not currently on a team’s 40-Man roster is available to be claimed by another team, providing a couple conditions are met.

Generally speaking, to be eligible for this draft, a player drafted out of high school or signed as an international free agent must have spent five seasons in the Minor Leagues. If drafted out of college, the player must only have spent four seasons in the Minors. There some edge cases (if a player’s original contract is voided, for instance, they are often immediately eligible), but generally, if those conditions are met, a new team can acquire the player for $50,000. The catch is, they must then not only spend the entire next season on the acquiring team’s 40-man roster, but also the active roster. That is often prohibitive. There are some loopholes, as suspended or injured players are not returned, but generally, that’s the idea.

The Phillies have a notable number of players who are not only Rule 5 eligible this season, but are also worthy of protecting from the draft. It’s not the worst problem to have. This series is split into four parts, including one examining prospects who are locks to be added to the roster, another for prospects who are likely to be added to the roster, and a final one for those who have the potential to be lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today, we’ll begin by clearing the table, and examining the Phillies’ current 40-man roster. Doing this will hopefully give an idea of how many spots are actually available for Phillies’ Minor League prospects. This series begins with the basic assumption that the Phillies aren’t interested in selecting a player themselves in the Rule 5 draft, but were an available prospect from another team more valuable than the current player in the 40th roster spot, that might effect their decision. I don’t think that’ll happen though.

Already Gone

We can begin by acknowledging the six players already removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster. Last week, it was announced that Emmanuel Burriss, Jimmy Paredes, Patrick Schuster, Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray were the first wave of outrights for the Phillies this offseason. None of those moves are very shocking, but I would say that Hinojosa and Murray, relievers who hit 95-96, are the most likely of the bunch to spend significant time on the Phillies in 2017, as bullpen depth. While this move subtracts six players from the end of season 40-Man roster, there are three players (Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Matt Harrison) on the sixty-day disabled list who will need to be given roster spots in the offseason.

Roster spots filled: 37

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Crashburn Roundtable: Former Phillies in the Playoffs

With the focus of the baseball world placed firmly on the playoffs, Philadelphia has been able to latch onto one story line this October – the large number of former Phillies on other teams’ playoff rosters. While Los Angeles features the most, with Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Joe Blanton on hand, former Phillies are also represented on the Rangers, Blue Jays, Indians, and Nationals. Here today to answer a few questions about these players are Crashburn Alley staff writers Michael Schickling, Timothy Guenther, Dave Tomar, and Ben Harris.

Jayson Werth (101 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR) and Chase Utley (97 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR) faced off in the NLDS as members of the Nationals and Dodgers, respectively. They also both enter the 2017 season as 38 year old veterans with injuries in their past. Disregarding contract status, who will be the more valuable player in 2017?

Michael Schickling: At this point in their careers, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are no longer the All-Star caliber players they once were in their Phillies days, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been productive late into their thirties. As it stands they both project as close-to-league-average hitters with extreme injury risks. However, because “whichever one of them doesn’t get hurt” isn’t an option here, I’m going to say Chase Utley. He provides a similar offensive profile to Werth but also provides some defensive value, whereas Jayson Werth’s glove has eroded so much that he’s essentially a DH shuffling around the outfield.

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Arizona Fall League Begins With Seven Phillies Prospects

While the closest thing to Phillies news at the Major League level is the preponderance of 2008 heroes on other teams in the playoffs, there is some news going on at the Minor League level. In Scottsdale, Arizona, seven Phillies prospects joined prospects from the 29 other teams in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.

On the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies players join those from the Angels, Mets, Yankees, and Giants. None of Philadelphia’s highest ranked prospects are here (although Scott Kingery is probably near the team’s top 10), but it is an important opportunity for these interesting players to develop and potentially demonstrate enough progress to earn a 40-man roster spot. Below is a quick guide to the seven players representing the Phillies.

Victor Arano – RHP

A 21-year old righty, Victor Arano was an interesting piece brought over from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. At the time of the deal, he was generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Los Angeles’ farm system, and was noted for his advanced physical maturity for his age, advanced feel for pitching, low 90s fastball, and above-average slider. He spent 2015 in the high-A Clearwater rotation where his strikeout rate (and results) dropped precipitously. He was still only one of the youngest players in the league, but converted to relief in 2016 after a dominant Mexican Winter League stint in the bullpen.

He’s since been called one of the best relief prospects in the farm system. The only solid velocity reports I’ve found are spoken in this video from July, where his fastball sat 94 mph (hitting 97 mph), and his slider was in the low-mid 80s. Anecdotally, his command was also very strong in that appearance. This increase in velocity is backed up by his 23.8 percent K-BB rate in high-A and double-A this season. He’s still a year away from being Rule 5 eligible, so there’s no rush make a decision here (and likely no roster space anyway), but a continuation of his dominant season in the AFL could feasibly fast-track Arano to begin next season in Lehigh Valley. He could certainly pitch Major League innings in 2017.

Brandon Leibrandt – LHP
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Crashburn Roundtable: Free Agent Pitchers, Hellickson’s Injury, and the September Bullpen

In this week’s Crashburn Roundtable, we discuss veteran starting pitchers that are available on the free agent market, the implosion of the Phillies’ bullpen in September, and a minor injury to Jeremy Hellickson in his last start of the year. Contributing today are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther, Ben Harris, and Michael Schickling.

Recent rumors have stated that the Phillies will pursue a veteran starting pitcher in free agency this offseason – if not Jeremy Hellickson or Charlie Morton, who fits the bill in this light free agent class?

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