The 2016 season left many questions unanswered for the Phillies. Many fielding positions have been left unearned, consistent bullpen arms have been few and far between, and Jeanmar Gomez flashed the reality of his skills (that he is unable to be a big-league closer) throughout the second half of the year. However, amongst all of these uncertainties, there is one dilemma that seems as if it will be the top item on the 2017 season’s to-do list for the Philadelphia front office: construct a consistent pitching rotation. The Phillies’ organization is stockpiled with unproven arms considered to have all-star potential; many of those pitchers were given their shot in the bigs, but few were able to make the most out of the chance. Considering that there will only be five spots to be won in spring training’s rotation battle, familiarizing yourself with the competitors couldn’t hurt.
Not included in those “competing” for a spot will be Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff. If Hellickson opts to return to the Phillies for another year, there is no doubt that he will be one of the five pitchers locked into the rotation. He may even find himself on the mound on Opening Day, as he was last season. I have discussed Eickhoff’s value to the Phillies in a previous piece, but, as a 25 year-old coming off an extremely constructive 2016 campaign, he has guaranteed himself the right to begin the season as a top of the rotation starter (at least on the Phillies). If Hellickson decides to leave in free agency, Jerad would be a prime candidate to start on Opening Day.
Nevertheless, let’s move into some competition:
The 7th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft found much success in Philadelphia throughout his first 25 MLB starts, before seemingly completely losing his touch on the mound. Nola, who was known for his incredible fastball control, was leaving 90 mile-per-hour heaters over the plate. His once-feared curveball lost its break. Few were shocked when the news surfaced that Aaron had been pitching injured and that he would need time on the disabled list. He finished his 2016 season with a 6-9 record accompanied by a 4.78 ERA in 111 innings pitched. He is one of the favorites to regain his spot in the rotation, barring injury, and fans, not only in Philly but throughout the league (except maybe in New York, Atlanta, Miami, and D.C.), will be excited to see him back in action.
Acquired in the Ken Giles trade, VV showed flashes of absolute brilliance in his first major league season. Many fanatics remember his 3-hit complete game shutout of the Padres less than two weeks into the 2016 season. Velasquez, known for his blistering fastball, was one of the more consistent pitchers for the Phils throughout the past season. However, he was not always able to pitch deep enough into games to save an overworked bullpen from another day on the job. Averaging about 5.5 innings per start, there has been speculation as to whether or not Velasquez’s career would be best served as a closer. He finished 2016 with a record 8-6 and an ERA of 4.12 in 131 innings of work.
Eflin, like Nola, was dominating before injury struck. After a rough debut, the 6 foot-6 inch righty settled into the majors, and most notably pitched two complete games in a three week period; one of those games was a shutout. Attempting to pitch through an injury, Eflin struggled to find success in his final starts of the season, before being shut down and having knee surgery. In fact, both of the pitcher’s knees were hurt, and had been for much of his life. In 2016, he pitched to a 3-5 record with a 5.54 ERA in 63.1 MLB innings. Eflin’s health will be his main concern heading into 2017 spring training, but, if healthy, there are high hopes for the 22 year-old’s future with the franchise.
The main prize of the Cole Hamels trade was the most anticipated prospect to be called up to the Phillies in 2016. After a run of complete fire in AAA, and due to injuries in the major league rotation, there was no choice but to call up Thompson. Although he struggled to completely acclimate himself to big league hitting, he flashed signs of some dominant stuff, which is all the organization can hope for at this point. He may need a short while longer at Lehigh Valley before being able to be a productive big league pitcher, but there is much to be excited about with Jake Thompson’s potential. In just 53.2 MLB innings, he had a 3-6 record with a 5.70 ERA.
Perhaps the most obscure of the candidates for 2017 starting pitcher in Philadelphia is Asher, who was suspended for 80 games in 2016 and, thus, was only able to pitch 27.2 innings for the Phillies. In 2015, he was rolled by the major league hitters, pitching to a 9.31 ERA in 7 starts. However, the small sample size in 2016 was a positive one, because Asher achieved a 2.28 ERA.
It is extremely easy to forget about Charlie Morton, especially after he pitched in just 4 games before tearing a hamstring and missing the entire 2016 season. However, Morton brings to the table a trait that none of the previous pitchers on this list bring: experience. He is a 32 year-old who has pitched in the majors since 2008, and the Phillies value experience. If Pete Mackanin decides that the young arms are not prepared to pitch at Citizens Bank, the organization may just resign Morton and give him another opportunity to pitch with the Phils. In 2015 he was serviceable, pitching to a 9-9 record with a 4.81 ERA in 129 innings for the Pirates.
1. Jeremy Hellickson
2. Jerad Eickhoff
3. Aaron Nola
4. Zach Eflin
5. Vincent Velasquez
Photo by Arturo Pardavila III (via Wikimedia Commons)