Phillies prospects

Phillies have arms (and names) coming

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Phillies have arms (and names) coming

The Phillies have a growing number of pitching prospects and along with good arms they have some colorful first names.

It might not be long before you hear Dan Baker shriek, "And tonight's starting pitcher is JoJo Romero."

Or maybe it will be Ranger Suarez getting the start (and the win) with a save going to Seranthony Dominguez.

And, of course, you've already heard about Sixto Sanchez. Who hasn't? The power-armed, strike-throwing 19-year-old phenom is one of the game's hottest prospects and a target of every general manager who tries to play Let's Make a Deal with Matt Klentak.

The Phillies are hosting their annual prospect education seminar this week at Citizens Bank Park and Romero, Suarez and Dominguez are all in town for the event. All three could be right back in Eastern Pennsylvania in April. They will all report to spring training in February with a chance to win a spot on the Double A Reading roster. Franklyn Kilome, another top pitching prospect in town this week, figures to open the season back in Reading, as well.

The Phillies went through the 2017 season without using a left-handed starting pitcher for the first time since 1918 and don't project to open the new season with one — unless Klentak, who is actively looking to add a pitcher, brings in a lefty before then.

Not too far down the road, if all continues to go well in the development process, the Phillies will have some choices from the left side. Cole Irvin, another prospect in town this week, could be ready for the Triple A rotation in April. The University of Oregon product, who will turn 24 later this month, is a lefty. And behind him is the lefty duo of Romero and Suarez.

Romero, 21, is a native of Oxnard, California. He pitched at the University of Nevada as a freshman and moved on to Yavapai College (Curt Schilling and Ken Giles are products of that program) in Arizona for his sophomore season in 2016. He was drafted by the Phillies in the fourth round that year. In his first full season of pro ball in 2017, Romero posted a 2.16 ERA in 23 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater. He gave up 104 hits, struck out 128 and walked 36 in 129 innings.

"He had a great year developmentally," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He really figured out what he had and how to use it."

Romero throws a sinker and a four-seam fastball up to 95 mph. He complements that with an off-speed repertoire highlighted by a good changeup. He was born Joseph Romero, but JoJo evolved into his baseball name over the years and he's sticking with it.

"I like it," he said with a smile in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday.

Suarez, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, posted numbers similar to Romero's in 2017. He also pitched at Lakewood and Clearwater and registered a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts. He gave up 95 hits and struck out 128 while walking just 35 in 122 2/3 innings.

On Wednesday, Suarez was asked about his goals for 2018.

"Grandes ligas," he said.

He smiled and explained himself to Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies' Spanish language translator.

"The goal of every baseball player is to make it to the big leagues," Suarez said.

The Phillies signed Suarez for $25,000 in 2012. He has two brothers, Rayner and Rosmer, and a sister, Rangerlin.

"We have a family tradition that every name starts with the letter R," he said.

Dominguez, a 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is often asked about his unique first name. He said it was something his parents heard on television.

On the diamond, Dominguez's arm stands out more than his name.

"Ninety-eight, 99," he said when asked how hard he throws.

The Phillies will begin converting him from starter to reliever this spring. He has future closer written all over him.

"He has a chance to really dominate in the late innings," Jordan said.

Detailed look at 40-man roster decisions Phillies face this winter

Detailed look at 40-man roster decisions Phillies face this winter

If you follow the Phillies, you've likely heard or read the phrase, "crowded 40-man roster" quite often in recent months. It's come into play in their call-ups, trades and signings.

The construction of the 40-man roster matters because an organization risks losing a player in the Rule 5 draft if he is not one of its 40 protected players. 

The quick refresher there, from the CBA:

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization's 40-man roster and:

– were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or

– were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.

The Phils, after their recent flurry of moves, have 39 players on the 40-man roster. The following players could be selected by another team in December's Rule 5 draft if the Phillies don't first add them to the 40 this winter:

• 1B Rhys Hoskins
• SS J.P. Crawford
• RHP Seranthony Dominguez
• LHP Ranger Suarez
• RHP Franklyn Kilome
• OF Carlos Tocci
• OF Andrew Pullin
• LHP Brandon Leibrandt
• RHP Yacksel Rios

Those first six players are no-brainer additions to the 40. The Phils probably would like to figure out a way to protect all of them, but that will depend on how they approach adding veterans this winter via trades and free agency.

Adding eight or so players to the 40 would require trimming six or seven others. So, how do they make the pieces fit? 

3 players have expiring contracts
INF Andres Blanco
OF/1B Daniel Nava
LF Hyun Soo Kim

10 players the Phillies could consider removing from the 40 — sorted by most likely to least likely based on replaceability/value/ceiling
RHP Pedro Beato
OF Cameron Perkins
RHP Alberto Tirado
1B Brock Stassi
LHP Adam Morgan
INF/OF Ty Kelly
LHP Hoby Milner
INF Jesmuel Valentin
RHP Mark Appel
OF Roman Quinn

Let's examine each case in order:

Beato is a 30-year-old reliever who's been with six different organizations and has a career ERA 10 percent below the MLB average.

Perkins is essentially the outfield version of Stassi — he's been a solid minor-leaguer in this organization but hasn't hit enough to cement his role as a major-league bench piece.

Tirado has walked 56 batters in 74⅓ innings this season at Clearwater and Reading. That won't sit well when it comes time to make roster decisions, but since he's already on the 40 he'll probably get an audition in the majors when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Tirado was one of two pitchers the Phillies acquired from the Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline for Ben Revere. The other player was hard-throwing reliever Jimmy Cordero, who was designated for assignment by the Nationals last Monday to make room for Brandon Kintzler.

Stassi plays very good first base defense, which is important moving forward because that's not exactly a strength for Tommy Joseph or Rhys Hoskins. But Stassi just turned 28 and hasn't hit enough for a first baseman/corner outfielder. The Phillies would like to keep him around, but if they have to remove him from the 40, finding an inexpensive defense-first 1B in free agency wouldn't be too difficult.

Morgan has become something of a scapegoat among Phillies fans, kind of like Luis Garcia once was. But Morgan's throwing harder than ever before, flashing a mid-90s fastball this season, and the Phillies don't have a whole lot of close-to-major-league-ready left-handed pitchers. They could find some lefty specialists in free agency this winter, though, and those decisions will determine Morgan's fate.

Kelly has had some clutch hits this season, no doubt about it — three-game winning knocks and six go-ahead RBIs. He could have a career in the National League because he's a switch hitter with the ability to play so many positions — for the Phillies this season, he's played 2B, 3B, LF, CF and RF. Still, he's a .209 career hitter in 156 plate appearances.

• The Phillies will probably try to keep Milner as an inexpensive lefty specialist. The 26-year-old has been just OK in 12 appearances this season with the Phils but has pitched very well at Triple A. You'd rather have a lefty reliever for $600,000 than $3 million so it's worth giving Milner some more time. 

Valentin's season-ending shoulder injury opened up a natural spot at second base at Triple A for Scott Kingery, who has thrived. Valentin himself is a nice little player, though, a potential utility infielder. Valentin had a decent 2016, hitting .269/.341/.395 at Double A and Triple A, then impressed in spring training, going 15 for 41 (.366) with six doubles and four walks. He's not a lock to remain on the 40, but he's a pretty good bet to stick.

• If you looked at Appel's career arc in the minors and did not know he was a former No. 1 overall pick, you might wonder why he's on the 40-man roster. Appel has not had a good year. He has a 5.27 ERA in 17 starts with 60 strikeouts and 53 walks in 82 innings. He has a 4.82 career ERA at Triple A. 

Will the Phillies non-tender him this winter? They could choose instead to try him out as a reliever next season to see if they could salvage some of his strengths. If they give up on Appel, they'd be giving up on a major piece of the Ken Giles trade, which looked like a win at the time.

Quinn's case is the most interesting. He's so talented that if he were Rule 5 eligible this winter, he'd probably get picked pretty high — he's exactly the type of high-reward player another team would seek. But he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Quinn has been in pro ball since 2012 and his career high during that six-year span is 382 plate appearances. He's yet to play 90 games in a season. 

Throughout his career, Quinn has dealt with a broken wrist, a torn Achilles, a torn hip flexor, two oblique strains, a quad strain and now a ligament injury in his non-throwing elbow that has kept him out since Memorial Day and looks like it will end his season.

There are pronounced pros and cons with keeping Quinn on the 40. You'd think the Phillies would try their best to keep him in case he ever does play a full season.

The last group
Lastly, there are two players — 2B Scott Kingery and right-handed starting pitcher Tom Eshelman, another member of the Giles trade — who don't yet need to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection reasons, but who could help the Phillies as immediately as opening day 2018 and thus would need to be added to the 40.

If Kingery is up here on opening day 2018, it likely means either Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco is no longer in the picture, so you'd think that would be a 1-for-1 roster swap.

Hernandez is a valuable leadoff hitter, and Franco could hit 200-plus home runs in the majors, but Kingery might be a better all-around player who makes one of them expendable. Teams were interested last offseason in Hernandez and will certainly be calling the Phillies about him again this winter.

Eshelman was on the DL for three weeks with an elbow strain, and the Phillies will be cautious with his workload the rest of the summer. The 23-year-old is already at 113 innings, seven shy of his career high.

Eshelman allowed eight runs in four innings in his return Friday night, but he's been so good at Triple A this season that his ERA is still 2.86. Prior to Friday night, he was 7-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 12 starts with the IronPigs, even better numbers than he had at Double A.

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin make for six starting pitchers ahead of Eshelman on the depth chart, but he's probably next on the list at this point. If he gets a spring training invite in 2018 and impresses, he could move up a spot or two.