Since the Phillies began an era of rebuilding post-dynasty, all fans have heard about is the collection of prospects within the farm system. The hitters are far and away the most talked about minor leaguers: JP Crawford, Mickey Moniak, Jorge Alfaro, and the list goes on and on. However, an underrated aspect of the “Phuture” (a term I explained in last week’s article about the 2020 lineup) is the pitching staff.
Last season the starting rotation in Philadelphia was amongst the youngest in all of baseball. And there is not much expected to change this year. Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz will be the veterans of the staff, but neither of them is a long-term Phillie. In fact, both will be shopped at the trade deadline and could don another uniform come season’s end.
Beyond the two aforementioned starters, Jerad Eickhoff (26), Aaron Nola (23), and Vince Velasquez (24) will begin the season in the rotation. Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Alec Asher, all of whom made major league starts last season and are candidates to replace Hellickson and Buchholz as starters, will begin the season in the minor leagues to develop while regularly starting games.
While the starting rotation for 2017, a season with low expectations, is set, there is much to be argued about who will be taking up the spots in 2020. The year 2020 is a highly anticipated one for Phillies fans, as the team is expected to be in contention within the next three years. By the time the new decade rolls around, Citizens Bank Park could be hosting some World Series games (if the Cubs allow it).
My projected 2020 starting rotation:
Vince Velasquez (27):
Vince Velasquez’s pitching is much like Maikel Franco’s hitting. At times they can be explosive, exciting, and dominant. However, they struggle to consistently play at the level that they are capable of, and if that is not fixed sooner rather than later, it could hinder their entire careers. Velasquez consistently throws in the mid-90’s. When he can control his pitches, he is one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the entire league. But Vince can not throw 30 pitches in the first inning and be pulled after 5. His stuff is much too good to let that happen as many times as it did last year.
There are critiques as to whether or not Velasquez can be a starting pitcher in the major leagues. There is speculation as to whether or not he will be moved to the bullpen at some point in the future. If he can figure out the mental aspect of the game (not throwing too hard, not letting an early walk fluster him for the rest of the outing, etc.), Vince Velasquez will the Phillies’ ace of the future. He is that good.
In 2016, Velasquez posted an 8-6 record with a 4.12 ERA, but he also struck out 10.4 batters per 9 innings pitched.
Aaron Nola (26):
Aaron Nola’s pitching style is much different than that of Vince Velasquez. He does not overpower the batter with a 97 mile-per-hour fastball. He fools the batter with an 89 mile-per-hour fastball that moves like a slider. Nola relies on control to make up for his lack of velocity. But last season, when he was struggling with an elbow injury, he lost the control and pitched less than 4 innings in 4 consecutive starts.
In his first 12 starts of 2016, Nola sported a 2.65 ERA and was a legitimate all-star candidate. But during his 13th start, when he lasted 3 2/3 innings against the Washington Nationals, he seemed to fall apart. After his streak of horrendous starts, Nola was given an extended all-star break followed by an early August stint of the disabled list that would last the remainder of the season.
Now healthy and ready to begin his third season as a major league pitcher, the expectations are high for the 2014 first-round pick. He is already an extremely polished pitcher at such a young age, and the hope is that he will be a rock for the rotation in 2020. Health is key for Nola, who only needs to stay on the field and get back to his early 2016 form to become a dominant pitcher for years to come.
At 26, Nola will be hitting the prime of his career at the exact time that the Phillies will need him to.
Jerad Eickhoff (29):
I have praised Jerad Eickhoff to the point that readers may be under the impression that I consider him my generation’s Nolan Ryan. While linking my previous words about Eickhoff, I will attempt to restrain myself from going on another tangent about just how valuable he is to the Phillies, or how he is the rotation’s rock, or how he does not get enough credit for how reliable he was last season.
If Jerad Eickhoff continues to perform as he did last season, he will be a part of this team for the long haul. In three years, he will only have gotten more major league experience, and will hopefully have improved as much as Velasquez and Nola will have. He will become the near-30 veteran of an otherwise young pitching rotation.
The ceiling is not as high for Eickhoff as it is for the aforementioned 2020 starters, but if the batting lineup is as efficient as it is expected to be, Jerad will be a fantastic third starter.
He completed the 2016 campaign 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA, which was the best of any starting pitcher. (Make this man the opening day starter, Pete!)
Franklyn Kilome (24):
The least known pitcher in this hypothetical rotation may well be Franklyn Kilome. The 21-year-old right hander played last season in Single A, but dominated the second half of the season after early struggles. His fastball has overpowered hitters throughout his minor league career, and it is scored at a 70 on the MLB’s 20-80 grading scale for prospects.
His ETA on MLB Pipeline is 2019, but if he can pick up where he left off in 2016 at the beginning of this year, he could join the Phillies as early as 2018. Kilome has the size (6”6″) and talent to earn a spot in the future pitching rotation despite the load of talent making its way through the system. He will have to significantly improve his control, but the sky is the limit for the Phillies 5th overall prospect.
Franklyn is also the most unlikely pitcher on this list to actually be a part of the rotation when the Phillies break back into contention; however, his potential earns him the benefit of the doubt, and he could be another Velasquez-like fire-powered pitcher who brings a spark to the lower half of the rotation. In 2016 at Lakewood Kilome had a 5-8 record with a 3.85 ERA.
Zach Eflin (25):
Zach Eflin did not have an ideal start to his major league career; after Vince Velasquez was placed on the disabled list in June, Eflin was called up to join the rotation and made his first start against the Toronto Blue Jays. As was expected for a rookie agains the frightening Blue Jays lineup, he was rocked, lasting 2 2/3 and allowing 8 earned runs. However, he settled down and went on a run of starts that lowered his ERA to 3.40, before he had a rough patch of three starts that resulted in a season-ending DL stint.
Within the hot streak for Eflin were two complete games–one shutout. He was dominant in both of the starts, and he threw only 192 pitches combined in the games. He will be coming off surgery on both of his knees, so the 2017 will be a big one for Eflin, who is expected to begin the season in the minor leagues.
He will get back to his best form in the minor leagues, and will make Pete Mackanin consider bringing him back to the mound at Citizens Bank. After the midseason moves have been made, Eflin will be another prime candidate to be called back up. If he can make good on the opportunity that he will receive this year, there will be no doubt as to Eflin’s role in the rotation of the future.
Honorable Mentions: Jake Thompson and Alec Asher
Photo by Bryan Green (via Flickr)