Ever since the Phillies completed the trade of Marlon Byrd to Cincinnati for Ben Lively there has been whispers of a stacked Reading rotation. It turns out those whispers have become truth and the Fightin Phils will roll out a rotation of Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Jesse Biddle, Ben Lively, and Tom Windle that has 5 Top 15 prospects and should match any other rotation in minor league baseball. Outside of the rotation, J.P. Crawford’s oblique injury this spring prevents this from being one of the best rosters in the minors, and the hitting side a bit thin. Roman Quinn in the outfield is exciting, but beyond him there are a bunch of question marks outside of the return of Aaron Altherr and Cam Perkins. The bullpen doesn’t have quite the star power of the rotation, but Ethan Stewart, Elvis Aruajo, and Nefi Ogando have the talent to be elite relievers.
Aaron Nola – RHP – Top 50 #2
There isn’t much else to say about Nola other than he is very good. If is cameo in spring training is any indication he is going to be 91-93 with the fastball with the ability to go a bit higher and paint the corners. His changeup was devastating this spring, he just needs to find some consistency in his curveball as well. The things Nola will be working on in AA include maintaining a consistent arm slot and keeping his stuff steady on a normal 5 man rotation.
Zach Eflin – RHP – Top 50 #5
Eflin has a big workhorse frame and throws a ton of strikes. He will add and subtract from his fastball, often going to a 2-seamer to generate ground balls. Normally he is 92-94 but has been clocked as high as 97. He will show a plus changeup and a work in progress slider. Eflin has been a ground ball machine so far, but in order to have a higher ceiling he is going to need to miss bats. He has mid-rotation upside and enough floor to have a reasonable chance at being a back end starter.
Jesse Biddle – LHP – Top 50 #6
It has been a tough two years in Reading for Jesse Biddle, so hopefully this a short stop. His velocity was 93-94 all spring on the Clearwater radar gun, but he typically is 90-92 T94. His curveball has good depth and movement, but it can get long and loopy if he doesn’t stay on top of it. His changeup hasn’t come along yet, and his development hinges on getting a feel for the pitch. He has gradually been bringing back his high school slider, which has looked devastating in small sample sizes. The key to Biddle’s success will be staying on top of his pitches and using that to develop command with the control he was starting to show again this spring.
Ben Lively – RHP – Top 50 #11
Livley ended 2014 in the AA rotation for the Reds, making this his first attempt at the Eastern League, but not the level. Lively brings a fastball at 90-92 that can get to 95. He pairs it with a plus slider, and average curveball and slider. A lot of his success stems from his ability to pound the strikezone and have good deception from his delivery. His ceiling is a tick behind the top 3 starters, but if he can keep hitters off balance he could carve through AA.
Tom Windle – LHP – Top 50 #12
Windle has the raw stuff to match the top of the rotation with a plus fastball and plus slider. However, his changeup is a good step behind the other two pitches and his delivery can lead to both control problems and consistency issues that have some wondering if he is actually a reliever. He will also mess with the slider too much in trying to manipulate its shape and end up with a pitch that is more average. The key for Windle is consistency, if he can be consistent and show a better changeup he could climb up the org rankings next year.
Elvis Araujo – LHP
Fans got a preview of Araujo this spring with the big league club. He will bring a fastball at 93-96 and a hi-80s slider. The big thing from Araujo is control and consistency. This will be his second full year in the bullpen and he could move quickly if he puts it together.
Nefi Ogando – RHP – Top 50 #29
The results have not caught up to Ogando’s jump in stuff. His fastball is now 96-98 T100, but he lacks good command of it. His slider is gradually going from fringe offering to a true plus pitch. He now needs to miss bats and throw strikes with his pitches. If he can put it together he could put together a lesser version of Ken Giles’ 2014 season.
Mike Nesseth – RHP
The big righty throws strikes with a good fastball. However, while he has good movement on the pitch, he just can’t seem to miss bats and hitters square up his stuff with regularity.
Ryan O’Sullivan – RHP
Much like his older brother, O’Sullivan fills up the strikezone with average pitches. He pitches into a lot of contact and when he is on it is weak ground balls, when he is not he gets hit around the park.
Stephen Shackleford – RHP
Shackleford is a journeyman reliever with a low-90s fastball than can touch a bit higher. He has had some success missing bats in AA, but has yet to prove he can have consistent enough control to move up.
Ethan Stewart – LHP
As has been detailed on this site many times, Stewart saw a huge uptick moving to the bullpen. His control is still an issue, but now that he is fastball-slider he has been able to miss a ton of bats. His fastball is in the low-90s but has been clocked as high as 97. His slider is the best in the system and his destructive to both RH and LH batters. If Stewart continues to take steps forward now that he is a full time reliever he could be in the same conversation as Araujo and Ogando in short order.
Anthony Vasquez – LHP
Vasquez will likely serve as the swing man as he continues to try and make it back to the majors after his near career ending brain surgery. Vasquez sits in the hi-80s and gets hitters out more with command than overpowering stuff.
Gabriel Lino – C
It feels like it has been forever since the Phillies received Lino back from the Orioles for Jim Thome (2012). Lino is only 21 (turns 22 on May 17) and still has plenty of potential behind the plate. He was rushed to Clearwater last year due to injuries and did some interesting things. He has plus raw power, but his swing has holes. He has a plus arm but his receiving leaves a lot to be desired. It could go many ways for Lino, but he should hit some out at home this year.
Logan Moore – C
Moore makes a return trip to Reading after finishing the year there. He has a bit of pop, but overall his hit tool is pretty weak. He is a good defensive catcher and the Phillies staff has really liked throwing to him in the past.
Carlos Alonso – 2B
Alonso is in a tough place. He is a good defender at second base, but his bat is a bit weak for the position. He set a new career high for home runs last year while not sacrificing his stellar approach at the plate. If he was 23 and not 27, some team would give him some run, but for now he toils away as the rock of Reading’s lineup.
Art Charles – 1B
Charles is another highly flawed player. He has big raw power, but is near useless against left handed pitching. When he does have the platoon advantage he can really mash (.248 ISO against RHPs in 2014). Charles has a long swing and a ton of swing and miss, but when he gets a hold of one, few hit it farther. He might put up some silly power numbers in Reading’s park this year, but there is not a lot of major league future here.
Harold Martinez – 3B
After 3 years in Clearwater, the former 2011 2nd round pick finally reaches AA. In many ways his overall numbers went backwards last year, but he has become to show some of the power that made him a high pick in the draft. Martinez is prone to streakiness so be careful before latching on to any small sample size streaks.
Gustavo Pierre – 3B
Pierre was the prize of the trade that sent John Mayberry Jr. to Toronto last season. Pierre is a former top international signee who has been forced off short to third (where he is still a bit of a butcher). His approach at the plate is horrible (13 walks to 112 strikeouts in 2014, which was an improvement on the 4 to 128 ratio in 2013). Pierre has some power and speed, and a cannon of an arm. At age 23, time is running out to prove that he can handle professional pitching.
KC Serna – 2B/SS
With Edgar Duran moving up to AAA and Crawford out injured, the former Indy ball player should be Reading’s shortstop to start the year. Serna hit a respectable .273/.290/.364 for Reading last year in his first year back in affiliated ball. He can handle shortstop (plus second and third) defensively, which means he is
Brock Stassi – 1B
Stassi can do everything, or rather he can play first, he can play outfield, and occasionally he can pitch. He lacks the power to make it has a first baseman in the majors, but he has been a solid bench player for the Phillies since he was drafted in 2011.
Tony Thomas – Util
A late addition to the roster after being released by the Twins, Thomas can play 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF which should help with Reading’s depleted middle infield depth.
Aaron Altherr – OF – Top 50 #25
Altherr makes a return trip to Reading after at times a difficult .237/.292/.400 year. In 2014, Altherr showed the best power potential up to this point in his career. He has been slowed by an injury so far and will be moving to a corner to accommodate Roman Quinn in center field. If he gets hot, he could move quickly to AAA and could even challenge for a major league spot given the OF weaknesses on the big league club. Long term Altherr is a good bench OF candidate given his ability to play all three OF spots.
Cam Perkins – OF – Top 50 #32
Perkins returns to Reading a year after be rushed out of it when he had a hot start. Perkins can play both outfield corners and first base, which hints at his future role, which is as a solid major league bench player. Perkins makes a lot of contact, but at times he lacks impact and at 24 years old it is time to question whether he will fill out enough to add power.
Brian Pointer – OF
Pointer is a complete enigma. In theory he has both power and speed, but he at times he looks completely lost. In 2014 he hit .188/.269/.319 one month and then .370/.446/.507 the next. He hit .272/.363/.500 in the second half of the year, but he struck out 72 times in 66 games. Pointer is probably a 4th outfield, but if he can get more hot streaks than cold streaks he could do some special things in Reading.
Roman Quinn – CF – Top 50 #7
Quinn might be the most exciting player in the system. With all his speed back and a move to centerfield he looks happy, and it is showing in the improved numbers. His switch hitting is coming along well and it is becoming more clear that his new LH swing shows more promise with its better power potential and hard contact. Quinn will likely spend the entire year in AA, hopefully getting his first full healthy year in.
The Rest of the Year:
The big addition that should arrive at some point this year is the Phillies top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford. Crawford should be back playing games by the end of April, but he might get a month in Clearwater before coming north. His presence will make Reading a must see team. The other reinforcements from Clearwater are likely to be on the pitching side with Miguel Nunez and Colin Kleven being the first to make the trip. Both project as good relievers or back end starts and probably would have started in Reading if it weren’t for the offseason trade acquisitions. Sadly this means that piece of the vaunted rotation have likely moved on. All year Reading should be the top affiliate for the top of the Phillies system.