Interested in reading something Phillies-related that doesn't pertain to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado?
There are about 40 other players who could make an impact for the Phils in 2019 beyond the two superstars. And several of them are facing crucial, perhaps career-altering seasons.
In no particular order...
It's definitely make-or-break time for Vinny Velo. In his three seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez has a 4.63 ERA and below-average rates of allowing walks and home runs.
The biggest source of frustration with Velasquez has been the high pitch counts and early exits. In his 69 starts as a Phillie, he has averaged 5.05 innings per start.
In 23 of those starts — so exactly one-third of the time — Velasquez hasn't been able to complete five innings. In 39 of the 69 starts, he hasn't completed six.
Velasquez will turn 27 the first week of June. He's no longer a very young starting pitcher with tons of unrealized potential. This is the year he needs to definitively show the Phillies he can go deeper into games and be more than a strikeout artist.
Velasquez has struck out 381 batters in 350 innings as a Phillie, but this is an era when velocity and strikeouts are more common than ever before. He needs to take a step forward this season, and that step forward would involve getting closer to an average of six innings per start ... if he is indeed in the rotation to open the season.
It's also an important season for Nick Pivetta, but Pivetta is a bit farther along, has more weapons in his arsenal and commands more confidence from Phillies decision-makers.
Phillies president Andy MacPhail said at the end of the season that the 2018 Phillies were the most inconsistent team he's ever been associated with.
No player exemplified that in 2018 more than Neris, who had a 6.90 ERA from March 29 until being sent to the minors after his meltdown on June 29. Over those 33 appearances, Neris allowed 11 home runs in 30 innings and his opponents had a .981 OPS. He couldn't command his splitter, and his fastball was being launched with regularity.
Then Neris went down to the minors, regained confidence in the splitter, came back to the majors and was lights-out.
Over his final 20 appearances, Neris had a 2.04 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average. He struck out 35 of the 69 batters he faced.
This isn't a make-or-break season for Neris' MLB longevity but it could be for him as a trustworthy late-inning reliever. Relievers in high-leverage situations simply cannot allow as many home runs as Neris did this past season. So many mistakes cannot be left over the middle of the plate.
The Phillies have a host of late-inning options next season — Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano and Neris. If Neris can replicate that second-half success, it would do wonders for the Phillies' bullpen and could keep him in the mix in the years to come.
Neris turns 30 in June and has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.
Following a season lost to a nerve issue in his wrist/arm, Eickhoff is looking to reestablish himself as a capable major-league starter in 2019.
With the numbness and tingling gone from his right hand, the hope is that Eickhoff and that equalizing curveball can provide quality innings for the Phils. He sure did in 2015 and 2016, when he posted a 3.44 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 41 starts.
In those 41 starts, Eickhoff averaged 6.1 innings, struck out 7.8 batters per nine and walked just 2.0. Those are the stats of a low-end No. 2 starter or high-end No. 3.
Which is exactly what the Phillies need.
Eickhoff's fastball has been a concern through the years. There isn't a ton of bite or movement to it, and at around 90 mph, it gets hammered when it catches too much of the strike zone. Seven times in Eickhoff's career, his fastball has averaged between 92.0 and 92.9 mph in a game. But it's happened just once in his last 47 outings. We will see if a healthier arm and more normal throwing schedule lead to increased velocity.
There is no convincing reason why Eickhoff, who turns 29 the first week of July, cannot be a more reliable starter for the Phillies than Velasquez or Zach Eflin. Eickhoff's curveball is every bit as effective as Velasquez's fastball or Eflin's sinker and probably more so.
He also has the intangible traits that organizations and teammates love — a bulldog mentality, a desire to work and a willingness to hold himself accountable.
The Phillies need at least one young starter to step up in 2019, especially with how much the division has improved. Not just for five starts in April or a few starts in June, but for a stretch that lasts closer to two months.
Later in the week, we'll take a look at Phillies position players facing equally important 2019 seasons.
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