Projecting Phillies' opening day pitching staff

Projecting Phillies' opening day pitching staff

A lot could happen between now and opening day — injuries, an unexpected move by the Phillies, an epic hot streak that helps a player make the team — but we can begin identifying who will probably be on the Phils’ 25-man roster come March 28. 

Today, we’ll focus on the pitching staff. Sunday morning, we’ll look at the position players. 

First things first: The Phillies are off three times within the first eight days of the season. Baseball does this every year to build in makeup dates in case of early-season postponements. 

This means that if the Phils use Aaron Nola on regular rest, Nola could start two of the Phillies’ first four games of the season and three of their first eight. 

The Phillies, barring postponements, really don’t even need to use a fifth starter until mid-April. It will be interesting to see whether they use the schedule to carry an extra reliever at the expense of a fifth starter during the first two weeks of the season. That could mean, for example, utilizing Vince Velasquez out of the bullpen early on. There would be positives and negatives to that — the Phils would get a look at Velasquez as a reliever, but it would also mess with his routine. The latter consideration probably outweighs the former. 

Let’s project this thing:

Pitchers (13)

RHP Aaron Nola
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Nick Pivetta
RHP Zach Eflin
RHP Vince Velasquez

You’ll notice that Jerad Eickhoff was omitted from this projected group. Eickhoff is working his way back from a stamina perspective. He faced Bryce Harper earlier this week in a simulated game. Harper struck out against him, walked and took him deep once. 

Even if Eickhoff finds himself in position to start a game in spring training, it’s unlikely he will have worked his pitch count up to the range that he could contribute to the Phils’ rotation in early April. Eickhoff has a minor-league option left and could start the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he’d be able to start every fifth and develop arm strength. 

Pivetta, Eflin and Velasquez all have an option left as well, for what it’s worth. 

RHP Seranthony Dominguez
RHP David Robertson
RHP Pat Neshek
RHP Hector Neris
LHP Jose Alvarez
LHP Adam Morgan or James Pazos
RHP Victor Arano
RHP Juan Nicasio

Know what the 2019 Phillies should do less frequently? Use Dominguez for more than three outs. The Phils did not have Robertson last year, and Hector Neris didn’t hit his stride until late in the season. Thus, they were forced to use Dominguez more than they probably should have. Of his 53 appearances, 16 lasted more than an inning. His effectiveness declined as the season wore on. 

Alvarez and Morgan are out of options. Pazos has one left. You’d think this gives Alvarez and Morgan the advantage of making the opening day roster as the Phillies would risk losing them if not. 

Nicasio is making $9 million this season so he will probably at least get an early-season look from the Phillies to see if he can recapture his effectiveness from 2017, when he had a 2.61 ERA in a National League-leading 76 appearances. 

If this is the opening day bullpen, one of the notable odd men out would be Edubray Ramos, who had a 2.32 ERA in 52 appearances with the Phils in 2018. Ramos has options left. 

This list also excludes Tommy Hunter, who was shut down for at least two weeks with an elbow strain in the final days of February. His opening day status is up in the air. 

Position players on Sunday.

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Phillies pick a convenient time to sit Maikel Franco for not hustling

Phillies pick a convenient time to sit Maikel Franco for not hustling

The Phillies' benching Tuesday of Maikel Franco is a pretty good example of players being treated differently based on how integral they are to winning.

Franco was out of Tuesday's lineup after not running full-speed down the line on a groundball to third base with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning Monday. It was the second time in three innings the Phillies stranded the bases loaded against Clayton Kershaw. Justin Turner's throw was wide of first, and if Franco was running hard, he may have beaten the play. He wasn't running hard, and the inning ended.

Kapler did not call it a "benching" by name but it's clear that it was. Franco is also experiencing some groin tightness but not significant enough to keep him out. 

"Maikey took responsibility immediately," Kapler said. "He said he had a hard time sleeping last night over it. He did mention that his groin was tight and that was the reason he wasn't able to get down the line. And I said look, I can't put you in the lineup today. He said he was ready to play today. I said I still can't put you in the lineup today because if you're not able to give us that 100 percent effort down the line in that situation last night, it's not right for me to start you today. 

"He understood that and accepted full responsibility for it."

It's interesting that Kapler chose this player, this instance to send a message. It's easier when it's a player like Franco, isn't it? A player the Phillies have benched multiple times over the last two seasons. At different points, Franco has been benched in favor of J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Sean Rodriguez, Brad Miller and Scott Kingery. 

Hustle has been an ongoing issue for the 2019 Phillies. Jean Segura had the two most egregious offenses, not hustling on the play that led to Andrew McCutchen's torn ACL, and then again on a bloop to left field to lead off a game against Max Scherzer. It was an issue with Cesar Hernandez. It came up for Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper, too.

In none of those instances was the player benched. Kapler said after the two Segura incidents that he did not believe benching Segura was the right way to get through to him. Which may be true. Different guys respond differently to punishment. (Segura, by the way, was out of Tuesday's lineup with a heel bruise.)

It's still pretty convenient that Franco was the only one to be benched the next game.

"I had a conversation with our club about how important it is to bust our asses down the line," Kapler said. "The one thing we can control all the time is our effort level. I just thought the time was right to address it with Maikel.

"I think you guys know that these decisions or me taking a player out of the lineup in a punitive way is not my natural way of handling these type of situations. In this particular situation, I felt it was critical to address right after some of the other incidents we've had. I had a conversation with the club. I shared with them that it's not an acceptable level of effort. We have to do a better job so I thought this was the right time to make a change in this situation."

That's all well and good. These conversations or responses to a lack of hustle just might have been more effective when the topic came up six weeks ago.

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Phillies' 40-year drought of homegrown pitchers is appalling

Phillies' 40-year drought of homegrown pitchers is appalling

Andy MacPhail’s mantra during his four seasons as Phillies president has been “grow the arms, buy the bats.” You can’t argue the team has made the effort to purchase and trade for position players, to varying degrees of success. General manager Matt Klentak added big names at four starting spots over the winter, spending big money (and prospects) in the process.

The “growing the arms” part of MacPhail’s statement has proven problematic. The farm system doesn’t exactly have a plethora of major league-ready pitchers waiting in the wings. Surely, if they had, with the season the big-league club has had on the mound, we would have seen them by now.

Upon further review, this is an organizational problem that goes back, seemingly from the franchise’s inception 136 years ago. Looking at the 2008 World Series-winning roster, the team had four homegrown pitchers on the staff: starters Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Kyle Kendrick, and Ryan Madson out of the bullpen.

The 1993 pennant-winning Phillies had exactly zero homegrown pitchers that made significant contributions. None.

With the help of, we examined the last 40 years of Phillies baseball — which featured two World Series wins, five pennants and nine playoff appearances. The results are staggering.

Top 10 Phillies homegrown pitchers over the past 40 seasons by career WAR:

1. Cole Hamels - 42.4
2. Aaron Nola - 19.2
3. Kevin Gross - 13.5 
4. Randy Wolf - 11.9
5. Brett Myers - 9.8
6. Ryan Madson - 8.9
7. Don Carman - 8.0
8. Kyle Kendrick - 5.9
9. Hector Neris - 5.5
10. Ricky Bottalico - 5.2

When you consider that this factors in 40 years of drafts, 40 years of scouting, both stateside and internationally, it’s even more appalling. In the MLB amateur draft alone, I estimate the franchise has drafted more than 1,000 pitchers over that span. Think about that. Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have. 

Looking at this list, from 40 years of scouting, it’s a wonder the franchise has had the success it experienced during that time.

This is an indictment of the entire organization, its talent evaluation process and its developmental programs. This talent drought has gone on too long. It’s long past time for the Phillies to evaluate the way they evaluate.

Start growing some doggone arms.

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