Since Ruben Amaro still seems determined to at the very least stand pat at the deadline, I’m going to hold off on doing any trade deadline preview things. The wisdom in this plan is certainly questionable; they’re back under .500 again, and when you need a laundry list of things to break just right to even have a chance of making the playoffs, it’s not a favorable position to be in.
When I was working on my top prospect list last week, looking through lists of players, I narrowed down the potential player list to 42 players. What surprised me, and this was quite concerning, was that only 15 of them were pitchers. This list of 42 is basically any player I think could possibly land in a top 30 list, but there simply wasn’t much pitching to consider. What are some of the key factors for this lack of depth?
Whether they’re good major leaguers or not, four players from my pre-season top 30 prospects list, three of which were in the top 12, no longer have prospect status: Jonathan Pettibone, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus and Tyler Cloyd. That’s a large chunk of a list to have to take out. Pettibone was the third best starter in the system, and Aumont and De Fratus were the two best relievers. If all three of those still had prospect eligibility, they would probably be on the list, and suddenly the depth looks a little better. Prospect graduations are a good thing to have because it means major leaguers are being produced, but it becomes a problem when they’re happening at the same time as some of the other factors.
Unproductive 2013 draft
The Phillies could very well get a lot of value from last month’s draft, but it’ll probably be entirely because of the hitters they took. They took three pitchers in the top 10 rounds, and they weren’t able to sign the first they drafted, Oregon State’s Ben Wetzler in the fifth round. The other two, Southwestern Oklahoma State’s Shane Martin and Seton Hall’s Jon Prosinski, don’t really have much upside. They signed two high school pitchers: Denton Keys in the 11th round and Tyler Viza in the 32nd. They’re not top 30 prospect caliber right now, closer to names to file away for a couple years if they can improve their stuff. The draft was so slanted toward position players that they just didn’t acquire anyone who could help make up for the graduating players.
This is always an obvious indicator of a struggling farm. This section is led by Ethan Martin, acquired in last year’s Shane Victorino trade. After a 2012 season where he made significant strides in his control, he’s gone backwards once again and is no longer a top 10 prospect in this organization. Martin is healthy, but injuries can also lead to down performances. That’s the case for five more pitchers I had on my pre-season top 30: starters Adam Morgan, Shane Watson and Austin Wright and relievers Kenny Giles and Kyle Simon.
These injuries aren’t necessarily minor either; in order, they were a partial rotator cuff tear, shoulder soreness, elbow tendinitis, back/rib injuries and elbow soreness. Wright and Simon were pitching poorly long before going on the DL too. For all of these pitchers, some more than others, this is not only lost development time, but potentially serious injuries that can alter careers. I still feel that Morgan is a top three prospect in the organization, but whether his stuff will return now that he’s off the DL is still up in the air.
Lack of breakout performances
A tangentially related problem is the lack of more unknown players stepping up with unexpected results, so in addition to players graduating, remaining players regressing and making nearly no additions in the draft, there is simply no one rising to take these spots. Severino Gonzalez is one exception to this and maybe the only one. The young Panamanian righty has struck out 69 and walked just nine batters so far this year and has the stuff to keep an eye on. Other than that, surprise performances from pitchers are scarce if they exist at all. Gabriel Arias was having a solid season but hasn’t pitched in two months, and Hoby Milner’s first professional season has been too inconsistent to have much confidence in.
So while a lot of focus for fans is still on adding power to the organization (which they do need), I think pitching is another major area of need if they decide to do any selling this month. The axiom “you can never have too much pitching” will probably always be around, and it really applies to the Phillies right now. Several things had to go wrong simultaneously to end up in this position, and it seems like all of them did. Luckily, despite his up-and-down 2013 season, they still have a homegrown ace in Cole Hamels, so they shouldn’t need to worry about producing a frontline starter for a few seasons. They’ll need to get arms to fit in behind him though, but it’s tougher when the depth is thinning.
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