Analysis

2017 Phillies depth chart breakdown: The pitchers

As we inch closer to the end of spring training, it’s about time to go through the Phillies depth chart – see how things look, what 2017 should bring, and who’s next in line to make an impact.

Obviously the Phillies are waiting on a few names to make those impacts. The team is well set up to contend starting around 2019, while this year’s group is a little more transitional.

Today we’ll look at the pitchers on the depth chart, starting with major leaguers, then players trying to make the club in 2017, then top prospects and, finally, what’s waiting further down the line. As part of this exercise, our writers offered major league predictions for players likely to perform in the show this year. 

This is our best guess as to what the depth chart looks like today.

STARTING PITCHER

(Or, who’s an ace out there?)

Major leagues

Jeremy Hellickson – Hellickson will get the ball on opening day for the second-consecutive season. The veteran’s fastball-changeup-curveball trio kept hitters off balance all season, contributing to his 3.71 ERA. Hellickson’s tenure as a Phillie could be cut short because of a trade in July. [Read more about Jeremy Hellickson here.]
Prediction: 22 GS / 9-10 / 3.93 ERA / 144 SO / 51 BB / 2.0 WAR
– Corey Sharp

Jerad Eickhoff – Eickhoff already has proven he can be a somewhat valuable part of the Phillies’ future. But if he can get over his sixth-inning issues, perhaps he can vault himself into the top of the rotation. [Read more about Jerad Eickhoff here.]
Prediction: 35 GS / 14-12 / 3.80 ERA / 175 K / 40 BB / 1.8 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Clay Buchholz – I’m bullish on Buchholz this season. Getting away from Fenway and out of the AL East is worth at least half run of ERA. If they can get this kind of production from Buchholz, it could mean the difference between 15 games back at the All-Star Break and on the outskirts of the Wild Card hunt. [Read more about Clay Buchholz here.]
Prediction: 30 GS / 13-7 / 3.45 ERA / 180 K / 45 BB / 2.7 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Vincent Velasquez – Vinny from Philly could be the most exciting or the most frustrating Phillie to watch in 2017. His potential is off the charts, but he was average in 2016 (with a 100 ERA+ and 1.33 WHIP despite striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings) and struggled to pitch efficiently and last into the late innings. He did have one stellar 16-strikeout game that showcased the pitcher he might eventually become, and fans hope to see more of that in the year ahead. He is reportedly working on improving his curveball, and a deeper repertoire may allow him to keep batters off balance enough to let him go on the attack and gain the efficiency he needs. [Read more about Vince Velasquez here.]
Prediction: 26 GS / 9-10 / 3.90 / 165 K / 50 BB / 2.0 WAR
– Daniel Walsh

Aaron Nola – This season is all about staying healthy for Nola after missing half of last season due to an elbow injury. If Nola stays healthy without any setbacks, this year should be seen as a success for the young righty. [Read more about Aaron Nola here.]
Prediction: 29 GS / 8-7 / 3.75 ERA / 164 K / 38 BB / 3.0 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

On the fringe

Alec Asher – Likely one of the first one or two pitchers called up, Asher will have opportunity to either prove he belongs as part of the long-term plan, or audition for another team come trade deadline time or in the offseason. [Read more about Alec Asher here.]
Prediction: 15 GS / 6-4 / 4.10 ERA / 60 K / 15 BB / 1.1 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Zach Eflin – Basically the same thing as Asher. He’ll get some opportunities and he’ll have to take advantage of them. [Read more about Zach Eflin here.]
Prediction: 10 GS / 2-5 / 4.90 ERA / 25 K / 15 BB / -0.7 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Jake Thompson – Thompson, who won the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher award in 2016, had a rough go in his first exposure to the big leagues last year, but it’s worth pointing out that he did improve after his first handful of starts— despite a 7.86 ERA in August, he pitched to a 3.62 ERA in September. He would have entered the conversation as a possible fifth starter for the Phillies if Buccholz had not been acquired, but fans should not be surprised to see him again in 2017, especially if he continues to dominate triple-A hitters. [Read more about Jake Thompson here.]
Prediction: 10 GS / 3-5 / 4.35 ERA / 40 K / 23 BB / 0.5 WAR
– Daniel Walsh

Ben Lively – Although Lively is slated to start the season in Lehigh Valley, he ‘ll be one of the first pitchers to be called up if one of the Phils’ pitchers is sidelined or struggles. In the meantime, Lively will look to continue his 2016 success that earned him the Paul Owens Award. His predicted line is tricky, as he can be recalled either as a starter or relief pitcher. Let’s assume he’ll be a starter. [Read more about Ben Lively here.]
Prediction: 8 GS / 4-2 / 3.30 ERA / 43 K /12 BB / 2.1 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Nick Pivetta – After a strong showing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Pivetta will start the season as part of the IronPigs’ rotation. If he continues to pitch well, he’ll get some innings in Philadelphia by the end of the season. [Read more about Nick Pivetta here.]
Prediction: 3 GS / 1-1 / 3.98 ERA / 9 K / 4 BB / 0.9 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Mark Appel – It behooves the Phillies, no matter how Appel pitches in Lehigh Valley in 2017, to get him a couple September starts to see if he can make some kind of impact. I’ll continue lobbying for Appel to move to the bullpen as a closer. [Read more about Mark Appel here.]
Prediction: 2 GS / 0-0 / 4.25 ERA / 14 K / 8 BB / 0.2 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Next in line

Elniery Garcia – Garcia went 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA in A+ ball in Clearwater last year. The young left-hander will be either be back in Clearwater or will start in Reading. Either way, the 21-year-old will climb the ranks quickly with numbers similar to last season. [Read more about Elniery Garcia here.]
– Corey Sharp

Thomas Eshelman – Eshelman may be best served to consider a move to the bullpen as a swingman when he likely repeats double-A Reading in 2017. [Read more about Thomas Eshelman here.]
– Michael Sadowski

Deeper down

Franklyn Kilome – Kilome is a highly touted right-handed pitcher who stands 6’6, 175 pounds. He’s 21 years old and pitched last season at single-A Lakewood to a 3.85 ERA. In 114.2 innings, he struck out 130 batters but walked 50. It will be a while before we see Kilome. [Read more about Franklyn Kilome here.]
– Corey Sharp

Adonis Medina – Medina is just one of the dozens of young promising pitchers the Phils have in the lower levels. He pitched well (2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 34 K/24 BB) in Williamsport last season and will likely begin the season with the Lakewood Blue Claws. Right now, the Phils have the flexibility to sit back and see how he develops. [Read more about Adonis Medina here.]
– Kirsten Swanson

Sixto Sanchez – Anyone looking to ride the “I heard of that guy before he was a stud prospect” train for Sixto Sanchez might already be too late. The righty starter allowed just three earned runs in 54 innings in 2016 and, at age 18, has started turning heads in the organization. In the year ahead, he should be challenged by a promotion and better opponents, but his easy delivery and mid-to-high 90s fastball provide a strong foundation. Continued development of his secondary pitches wouldn’t hurt. [Read more about Sixto Sanchez here.]
– Daniel Walsh

Kevin Gowdy – Gowdy was selected by the Phillies in the second round of the 2016 June draft. He started four games for the Phillies Gulf Coast League, throwing a total of nine innings and recording an ERA of 4.00. The 19-year-old is a-ways away from the show and could find himself in single-A Lakewood. [Read more about Kevin Gowdy here.]
– Corey Sharp

>>> Depth assessment >>>

So there’s depth, and plenty of it. But the big question now is: Who will rise above the crop? Nola’s health and Velasquez’s control issues are hurdles, and Eickhoff hasn’t yet proven himself a top-line starter. Beyond that, plenty of questions surround the likes of Thompson, Eflin, Lively and Appel. A bunch of Eickhoffs may be fine, but at some point, if a star isn’t born, then Matt Klentak and Co. will head out to find that ace. Or two. Look for the ship to be steady in 2017, but there may be some rocking in 2018.
– Tim Malcolm

RELIEF PITCHER

(Or, better than before.)

Major leagues

Jeanmar Gomez – Gomez took the bull by the horn in mid-April and closed for the Phils most of the year, before a September implosion inflated his ERA to 4.85. Pete Mackanin said back in February that Gomez ‘deserves’ to close, but in reality, that shouldn’t happen. Gomez is best suited as a middle reliever, and a good one at that. [Read more about Jeanmar Gomez here.]
Prediction: 3-3 / 3.32 ERA / 51 K / 19 BB / 4 SV / 1.1 WAR
– Corey Sharp

Hector Neris – Neris was no doubt one of the few bright spots for the Phils’ bullpen last year and with Pete Mackanin set on Jeanmar Gomez as the closer, Neris will once again be the set-up man. If Gomez struggles, however, Neris is a viable solution granted he pitches as well as last year. [Read more about Hector Neris here.]
Prediction: 4-3 / 2.75 ERA / 101 K / 28 BB / 7 SV / 1.1 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Joaquin Benoit – At some point, Jeanmar Gomez is going to lose his closer job, a closer by committee will emerge and Hector Neris ultimately will win the job, but not before Benoit impresses. Just not as much as Neris. [Read more about Joaquin Benoit here.]
Prediction: 2-4 / 3.25 ERA / 80 K / 20 BB / 6 SV / 1.8 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Pat Neshek – Neshek was brought in over the offseason to help stabilize what was a very shaky bullpen in 2016. He’ll look to continue what has been a successful career, and if the Phils find themselves out of the race by July, he can be a valuable trade piece. [Read more about Pat Neshek here.]
Prediction: 2-3 / 2.98 ERA / 46 K / 12  BB / 1 SV / 0.8 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Edubray Ramos – Edubray Ramos, who will begin the year in relative obscurity, will aim to cement himself as a mainstay of the Phillies bullpen. With a fastball that tops 95 mph and a tolerable 3.83 ERA in his debut season, he can become a useful bridge to the late innings— a role especially important on a team whose rotation struggled to go deep into games in 2016. [Read more about Edubray Ramos here.]
Prediction: 2-4 / 3.60 ERA / 60 K / 18 BB / 1 SV / 0.7 WAR
– Daniel Walsh

On the fringe

Joely Rodriguez – Despite playing in high-A ball as recently as last season, Joely Rodriguez is a near lock for the major-league bullpen due to a lack of lefty relief depth in the organization. The 25-year-old allowed three earned runs and walked four in 9.2 innings with the Phillies last year, striking out seven. It’s difficult to project from a small body of work, but Rodriguez throws hard and could be utilized as a LOOGY some of the time, maximizing his platoon advantage. [Read more about Joely Rodriguez here.]
Prediction: 1-3 / 4.00 ERA / 40 K / 25 BB / 0 SV / 0.2 WAR
– Daniel Walsh

Pat Venditte – If the Phils wanted to go with a dark horse, they’d select the switch-pitcher Venditte for the bullpen out of spring training. He gives the Phils a true advantage, one no other major league team can claim. [Read more about Pat Venditte here.]
Prediction: 1-1 / 3.77 ERA / 16 K / 9 BB / 1 SV / 0.2 WAR
– Tim Malcolm

Adam Morgan – Morgan’s best shot to have significant playing time in the big leagues –  barring significant injuries to the starting rotation – is as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. [Read more about Adam Morgan here.]
Prediction: 1-2 / 3.74 ERA / 19 K / 7 BB / 1 SV / 1.1 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Michael Mariot – Mariot struggled mightily in his 25 relief appearances last season, giving up five homers and ending the 2016 season with a 5.82 ERA. Still, he had success in Lehigh Valley last year and he will likely get another chance in the big leagues this season if he can improve his control. [Read more about Michael Mariot here.]
Prediction: 1-1 / 3.89 ERA / 25 K / 10 BB / 1 SV / 1.0 WAR
– Kirsten Swanson

Sean Burnett – The non-roster invitee lefty probably won’t make the club out of spring training. Maybe he’ll take a job in Lehigh Valley, but there’s a lot of depth before him. [Read more about Sean Burnett here.]
– Timothy Malcolm

Colton Murray – Murray, released from the 40-man roster this past offseason, still seems to be the odd-man out. Despite having a good spring, there are just too many pitchers and not enough spots. All could change if – knock on wood – injuries start to take players down. [Read more about Colton Murray here.]
– Kirsten Swanson

Dalier Hinojosa – Hinojosa was tasked with closing for the Phillies in the 2016 opening series in Cincinnati, but he failed miserably in his first save opportunity. He bounced back to a 3.27 ERA in 10 games, but went off the grid after an injury in late April. He has a career 1.51 ERA in 35.2 innings, but your guess is as good as mine as to where the right-hander will be. [Read more about Dalier Hinojosa here.]
– Corey Sharp

Next in line

Victor Arano – I can’t say with any kind of certainty that Arano will be in Philadelphia this year. He shouldn’t be. But he just seems like he’s got something that will push him quickly through the system and challenge for the closer spot in 2018. [Read more about Victor Arano here.]
Prediction: 0-2 / 4.10 ERA / 14 K / 2 BB / 1 SV / 0.7 WAR
– Michael Sadowski

Ricardo Pinto – The Phillies may be looking to transition Pinto into a relief pitcher this season to see if it helps him be more effective. He was a 7-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 156 innings in Reading last season. [Read more about Ricardo Pinto here.]
– Kirsten Swanson

Alberto Tirado – Tirado spent time as both a starter and a reliever in 2016, as was the case for him in 2014 and 2013. He throws hard enough that he’ll probably be compared to Ken Giles and Phillippe Aumont; whether those comparisons are meaningful remains to be seen. For now, he’s a thrower who struck out 102 batters in 64.2 innings across A and A+ ball last season, but he’ll have to graduate from thrower to pitcher at some point to repeat that success at higher levels. [Read more about Alberto Tirado here.]
– Daniel Walsh

>>> Depth assessment >>>

This isn’t last year’s grab-bag bullpen – it’s a better group, that’s for sure. Right now it’s nice that the Phils have an improved bullpen on paper, but the real test will be if any of the prospects (or a starter like Appel or Velasquez) can establish himself as an elite reliever. The real action will be in the minors this year.
– Tim Malcolm

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