Now that the A.J. Burnett fiasco is over, Kyle Kendrick is a free agent and Cliff Lee will play at baseball age 36 with a failing arm, its clear the Phillies have a “help wanted” sign out for starting pitching. Signing Jerome Williams for the back end of the rotation who pitched well last season but has been with seven different teams in his nine year career and David Buchanan who is a No. 5 at best leaves a great need for starting pitching depth if the team is to be competitive in 2015.
This week General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seemed to all but rule out trading the No. 1 of the rotation Cole Hamels who is under contract for the next five years but is the only Phillis player with any trade value. You have to feel for Hamels who will pitch for a team whose Front Office has already thrown in the towel for next season.
Acting team President Pat Gillick last month seemed to all but ruled out the that the team will compete for the post season for the 2015 and 2016 seasons in order to rebuild the Phillies franchise aiming for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. If the team is not serious about competing for the post season then why keep Hamels around?
When Gillick was General Manager he believed that teams needed to develop pitching. Other wise it is to expensive on the free agent market. Clearly the Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay contracts prove that. It’s ironic the Phillies never did win a World Series with those expensive free agent starting pitchers.
The problem is the Front Office had loaded up the farm system with aging minor league free agent starters. Last season they had no young starting pitchers at AAA other than Buchanan who at best is a bottom of the rotation major league starter. Just this week one of the starters from last season at AAA Greg Smith signed with the Braves. It was simply amazing that they ended the season with a 35 year-old and a 30 year-old in the starting rotation at AA.
The only young pitcher who showed any promise as an innings eater last season was Severino Gonzalez. He had 27 states with Reading and led all the Phillies minor league pitchers with 27 starts and innings pitched 158.2. He finished strong going 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA in August. The problem was Gonzalez is a fly ball pitcher and gave up 23 home runs last season.
Another potential starter is Adam Morgan. Adam did not pitch last season because of a shoulder injury. He has been up, down and up in his Arizona Fall League starts. In his three starts there he was strong in his first start giving up only one earned run over four innings but was ineffective a week later in his second start.
In today’s third start he was strong again going four innings needing only 43 pitches in giving up three hits, one run, a walk and three strikeouts. The AFL season ends this coming Thursday. Adam looks ready to compete for a starting spot in the Phillies rotation when catchers and pitchers report to Clearwater on February 19th.
Aaron Nola is projected to be a soon to be ready major league starter. I saw him give up three of the four home runs he gave up with the Threshers in only 31 innings. He went on to give up four more homers in 24 innings with Reading. Nola still has to prove he can keep the ball in the park before he is ready for a major league rotation.
Two other pitchers who pitched above A ball have potential but struggled last season. One had command problems and the other throws to many pitches to get an out to ever be a starter. Jesse Biddle is pitching for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican Winter League. In his one start he had a lot of 2’s and 3’s in his line. IP-3, H-3, R-2, W-2, K-3. The over-hyped Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez simply did not have a put away pitch last season. Out of the pen as a September call-up with the Phillies in 5.1 innings he threw 130 pitches. Hard to believe he could ever be a starter with that kind of pitch count.
Amaro has said they need to build starting pitching depth in the system. This week in the Venezuelan Winter League Phillies reliever Cesar Jimenez went five innings as a starter striking out seven to pick up the win. Jimenez has been starting in the VWL but has only three starts in his major league career, all with Seattle. He was opposed by starter Ethan Martin who made his VWL debut and pitcher two shutout innings. It appears that the experiment to make Martin a power reliever is over. It’s now all about building starting pitching depth.
One of the highlights of watching Phillies minor league baseball this past season was being there for most of the final 33 games of the Clearwater Threshers. They went an amazing for them 17-16 over their last 33 games to finish up the season, after going 41 games under .500 until then. Hard to believe this team could do that but it was because of its starting pitching over the last third of the season.
The Threshers five man rotation at the end was outstanding led by Colin Kleven, ( 3-2, last 6 starts), Jordan Guth (2-1, last 7 starts), Miguel Nunez (4-0, last 8 starts), Mark Leiter (2-1, last 3 starts) and Kevin Walter ( 2-0 in his 3 starts). The best pitched game of them all was Miguel Nunez’s next to last start of the season when he went eight inning and turned a 2-1 lead over to the bullpen but lost the win when the pen came on and imploded in the ninth inning to lose the game.
Clearly, the Phillies do have some interesting starting arms at the top levels of its farm system. In 2015 Nola, Morgan, Biddle, Martin, Jimenez and Severino Gonzalez look ready to form a rotation at Lehigh Valley and Kleven, Guth, Nunez, Leiter and Walter are the favorites to make up the starting five at Reading. Unlike the 2014 season the Phillies are finally building young starting pitching depth at AAA and AA. Now all they need is for two or three of them to have breakout seasons and pitch effectively when needed at the major league level in 2015.