I could talk about pitching for days. I’ve always had a fascination with pitchers and being a minor league baseball fan, there’s a lot to be fascinated with in the Phillies organization right now. The 2016 season brought us the debuts of a few of the young guns the program had to offer (Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson) but even the more established guys in the rotation are comparatively young. Today, I want to take a look at where those two groups meet as they compete for spots on the Phillies 2017 starting rotation.
Just to make things easier, lets examine the list of candidates in Phillies camp this year:
40-man Roster(16): Drew Anderson, Mark Appel, Alec Asher, Clay Buchholz, Zach Eflin, Jerad Eickhoff, Elneiry Garcia, Jeremy Hellickson, Ben Lively, Adam Morgan, Aaron, Nola, Ricardo Pinto, Nick Pivetta, Jake Thompson, Alberto Tirado, Vince Velasquez
Immediately, the names of Drew Anderson, Elniery Garcia, Ricardo Pinto, and Alberto Tirado can come off of this list. This group will garner consideration one day, but not for 2017. A few others with uphill battles are Appel, Eflin, Lively, and Pivetta. Eflin is coming back slowly from two off season knee surgeries. Reports had him showing some discomfort which slowed down his return to action. My guess is if he gets healthy they’ll have him work in the minors to start the year. Continued discomfort could mean extended spring training. The other three are much closer than the first four I eliminated but none have MLB experience and are competing against guys who do. Its not impossible, but highly unlikely as they all have things to still work on.
That leaves us with eight candidates remaining. At this point it always seems to be prudent to pull out the certainties (barring injury) to narrow down the battles. It would seem that there is little doubt that Eickhoff, Hellickson, Nola, and Velasquez are four of your five man rotation come opening day. Eickhoff and Hellickson aren’t spectacular but are very solid MLB arms for a young team. They will eat innings and keep you in most games. Nola and Velasquez each have higher upside and showed brilliant flashes in 2016. However, each also battled injuries at times and still lack extensive MLB experience. Both look healthy to open camp and should they stay that way, are locks for the rotation.
That leaves me with four names from the 40-man roster battling for one final spot: Asher, Buchholz, Morgan, and Thompson. Ultimately I think Buchholz has a good grasp on this final spot but I don’t believe its enough to call him automatic. I think if one of the other three makes a leap this spring, Clay could find himself in a long relief role in the pen. Realistically, I think Morgan has little to no shot of winning this battle and is another candidate for a bullpen spot. Alec Asher has had mixed results in his two September call ups and is an absolute wild card in my eyes. I still think it would take an injury above him to gather any real traction on a rotation spot. And lastly, I believe the Phillies would love Thompson to grab the last spot and run with it, but are also willing to wait for something to break to give him another shot with the big club.
So, with all of that said, here are my best guesses for landing spots for these 16 names:
Phillies: Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez
Iron Pigs: Mark Appel, Alec Asher, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson
Reading: Drew Anderson, Elniery Garcia, Nick Pivetta, Ricardo Pinto
Clearwater: Alberto Tirado
Bullpen: Adam Morgan