Being a major leaguer has value, even if the player is not a particularly good major leaguer. For three players here they could be very valuable to a team, or just a value compared to the peers on this list of won’t make the majors. The margin between those two things is very small for this group, which is why they find themselves outside of the traditional Top 30. But, all three could be major leaguers for the Phillies in 2017 and that points to just how far this system as come. Joining them are two players who have been part of every list I have written, and now are at their lowest ranks to date. Becoming a major leaguer is hard, and while both of them have big time tools, they are still very far from helping a team in the majors.
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31. Victor Arano – RHP (Profile)
DOB: February 7, 1995 (22)
H/W: 6’2” 200lbs
Acquired: Signed as an International Free Agent by the Dodgers in April 2013. Traded along with Jesmuel Valentin to the Phillies for Roberto Hernandez on August 28, 2014.
Role: Late Innings Reliever
Risk: Medium – Arano’s full time transition to the bullpen went better than expected, and he dominated in both hi-A and AA before stumbling in Fall League. His command puts him above his reliever peers, and while he still needs some polish, he is near major league ready.
Summary: The Phillies acquired Arano as a PTBNL in a trade that sent Roberto Hernandez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the time, Arano was a 19 year old who had just finished up a solid year in the Midwest league, where he showed 3 potential above average pitches. The Phillies started him in Clearwater in 2015, and he struggled to limit contact despite a solid arsenal of pitches. Last winter Arano returned to his hometown team (Obregon) to work out of the bullpen and was dominant (0.72 ERA 25 IP 3 BB 21 K). It has long been rumored that Arano prefers to pitch in relief, and many evaluators thought the role suited him better. In 2016 the Phillies moved him full time to the role. Immediately his velocity went from 91-94 to sitting 93-97, and he began missing bats at a high rate. Arano was eventually promoted to Reading at the beginning of August and proceeded to miss more bats. Arano does have the ability to go multiple innings in relief, having pitched 79.2 innings in only 46 games this year. Arano is still young, but his frame is maxed out and he is unlikely to add any more velocity, so future growth will need to come from improved secondary pitches or command. He does lack the elite pitch needed to be a top end closer, but his combination of plus stuff and command makes his ceiling a second division closer or high end setup man in the mold of current Phillies reliever Hector Neris.
2017 Outlook: Arano only pitched in 11 games for Reading in 2016, and while they were dominant, he probably will make another trip to Reading in 2017 to log a few more AA innings. He could still advance like Edubray Ramos and reach the majors at some point next season.
Previous Rank: 24
32. Ben Lively – RHP (Profile)
DOB: March 5, 1992 (25)
H/W: 6’4” 190lbs
Acquired: Drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft by the Reds. Traded to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd on December 31, 2014.
|Lehigh Valley (AAA)||19||19||11-5||117.2||3.06||6.3||0.8||5.9%||19.6%|
Role: #5 Starter
Risk: Low – Ben Lively is essentially a finished product, and he has conquered the highest level of the minors. It is all down to whether he can keep major league hitters off balance with control and deception.
Summary: Statistically Ben Lively bounced back in a large way in 2016. After putting up an ERA over 4 in Reading during the 2015 season, Lively put up a 2.69 ERA across AA and AAA with a minor league leading 18 wins. On the surface, Lively should have shot up prospect lists and be at the top of the Phillies’ minor league pitching depth. The problem is that the only difference between 2015 Ben Lively and 2016 Ben Lively is fastball command. Now that is significant, as he looked horrid at times in 2015, and the added command allows all of his pitches to play up. Lively’s fastball still sits 88-92, and if you catch him on the right day it will bump 94. Lively’s best secondary pitch is a slider, which has flashed as high as plus in the past, but is probably more above average. He mixes in an average loopy curveball, that he can throw for strikes as well as a fringe average straight changeup. Lively has more control than command, and he fills the zone with all 4 pitches. The thing that potentially separates Lively is a deceptive delivery that gives hitters a late look at the baseball. As we saw in 2015, this factor becomes irrelevant if Lively cannot spot his pitches, as hitters are willing to just wait on his fastball. None of Lively’s pitches are bat missers, and his K% under 20% in AAA hinted at how he is going to fare against advanced hitters. At this point, Lively is what he is, and the next real challenge will be how he reacts against major league hitters. If he can maintain his command and keep hitters off balance with his deception, he can be a back end starter. If not, his pitches give him nothing to fall back on, though a move to the bullpen could see enough of his pitches play up to make him a solid middle reliever.
2017 Outlook: Given the Phillies’ pitching depth, Lively is probably 8th or 9th on the depth chart. This means Lively returns to Lehigh Valley to make minor improvements and bide time for an injury or trade.
Previous Rank: 31
33. Jesmuel Valentin – 2B (Profile)
DOB: May 12, 1994 (22)
H/W: 5’9” 180lbs
Acquired: Drafted in the first supplemental round of the 2012 draft by the Dodgers. Traded along with Victor Arano to the Phillies for Roberto Hernandez on August 16, 2014.
|Lehigh Valley (AAA)||36||123||4||0||9.8%||19.5%||.248||.325||.381|
Role: Second Division Regular/Utility Infielder
Risk: Low – Valentin’s bat is not quite ready for the majors, but his glove is. With some more seasoning at AAA, Valentin could slide onto a major league bench soon.
Summary: Not every player needs to be a star or has the potential to be a star. Saying that Valentin does not have a chance to be a regular might be a bit cruel, but that does not seem to be where his future is. Valentin returned in 2016 for a full season of games after missing nearly all of 2015 due to a domestic violence suspension. At the plate, Valentin makes a solid amount of contact (though his strikeout rate spiked in AAA) to go with high rate of walks, thanks to a good approach. Valentin has below average power from the right side, but he does hit some home runs and gap some doubles. While Valentin was a good base stealer early in his career, he lacks the speed to make an impact on the bases going forward. What makes Valentin what he is, is his glove. Valentin is a good defender at second base, but he can play every position other than catcher and probably center field. This allows Valentin to have more floor than most second base prospects, because he can be a utility man on a bench for years. Valentin is in AAA already and could step into a utility role this season if needed. His bat has shown enough potential that he could fill in as an everyday second baseman if he continues to make improvements, but he is unlikely to be a long term solution for any team.
2017 Outlook: Unless the Phillies see injuries mount in Spring Training, Valentin will be returning to Lehigh Valley to work on some things at the plate before likely coming up as an injury replacement or September call up.
Previous Rank: 38
34. Deivi Grullon – C (Profile)
DOB: February 17, 1996 (21)
H/W: 6’1” 180lbs
Acquired: Signed as an International Free Agent by the Phillies in July 2012.
Role: Average Regular
Risk: High – As many expected when he signed, Grullon has not hit at a high level since his debut in the GCL. However, Grullon’s glove is advanced enough that he might be able to carve out a major league future on his defensive abilities alone.
Summary: Deivi Grullon made a third attempt at low-A in 2016, despite the fact that he won’t turn 21 until mid-February and has already been Rule 5 eligible. Grullon’s bat took a few steps forward with a large uptick in walks, and he also hit for a higher BABIP and consistent strikeout rate. The key is Grullon’s glove, which is still very good. Opposing baserunners stole a lot off Grullon this year, but that was more a product of a pitching staff (looking at you Franklyn Kilome) who were terrible at holding on baserunners. Grullon still has a strong arm and is good at blocking pitches, allowing pitchers such as Kilome to bury breaking balls in the dirt for strikeouts. Grullon has made improvements as a framer, and his glove is mostly quiet behind the plate. In addition to the measureable catching attributes, Grullon works really well with his pitchers and has the knack for calming them down. Grullon’s bat is never going to be anything but a liability. He has the raw power to run into 10 home runs a year at his peak, but his contact abilities will always be suspect. If Grullon hits his defensive ceiling, he can be a regular with a poor bat. If his bat is non-existent, then he could be the kind of defensive backup that sticks around the league for a decade, bouncing between teams.
2017 Outlook: Grullon held his own in Lakewood, and he should start in Clearwater. Grullon is young enough that he can spend the whole year in Florida trying to improve at the plate, while his bat catches up to his glove.
Previous Rank: 17
35. Jose Pujols – OF (Profile)
DOB: September 29, 1995 (21)
H/W: 6’3” 175lbs
Acquired: Signed as an International Free Agent by the Phillies in July 2012.
Role: Above Average Regular
Risk: Extreme – Jose Pujols struck out 179 times in 128 games in low-A. There are many who think he just won’t make enough contact to get past AA. If he can just have semi-competent contact abilities, he has the bat speed and power to hit a lot of home runs.
Summary: No one ever really doubted Jose Pujols’ raw power. Even when he wasn’t hitting home runs in games, he was putting on batting practice displays. This season he showed off that power in games, leading the South Atlantic League with 24 home runs. If you want to ignore downside, then Pujols is a dream. He already has plus to plus plus raw power stemming from great bat speed, present strength, and a leveraged swing. The scary thing is that he still has room to add 20+ pounds of muscle and strength. His arm is a weapon in right field, and he can gun runners down and leave the rest scared to leave the safety of their bases. The problem is the parts of baseball that tap into those tools. He has the swing to handle any pitch, but his pitch recognition led to a strikeout rate over 30% in low-A. He made some improvements late in the season, which brought it up to just poor. His routes in the outfield are improving from grand adventures to wandering jaunts. Put it all together, and Pujols’ ceiling is a big power threat in right field. His floor is someone who has an Anthony Hewitt level bench role in AA. Pujols is still young enough to make the improvements needed, but there is not a long track record of players improving their contact skills from as poor a position as Pujols in.
2017 Outlook: After leading the South Atlantic League in home runs, Pujols will almost certainly be the everyday right fielder for the Threshers. The Florida State League suppresses power as a whole, but Clearwater is a nice place for power. The key will be whether he can get his strikeout rate under 30% again.
Previous Rank: 16