The Phillies made the first of their cuts from the #5 starter competition this weekend. They sent soft tossing lefty, Brett Oberholtzer to the bullpen. Oberholtzer is out of minor league options, so the Phillies needed to keep him in the majors to keep him in the org, and he has pitched well to earn the spot too. This leaves Vincent Velasquez and Adam Morgan in a competition that should not be a competition.
It is hard to have two more different pitchers. Velasquez has a dynamic fastball that routinely reaches 96 with life. His revamped changeup tumbles arm side and is a power pitch in the mid 80s. Velasquez will show two breaking balls, a power slider and a sharp 12-6 curveball. Velasquez misses bats with all of his pitches, but he can be wild in and out of the zone over stretches. Morgan, post-injury, is a soft tossing lefty who will top out at 93 and is laser straight. His second best pitch is a sweeping slider in the low 80s, that he can break out of the zone. His changeup is as straight as his fastball, but he does have good velocity separation. Morgan also throws a loopy show-me curveball. His command is better than Velasquez, but Morgan has always struggled to miss bats.
It is clear I am biased here based on those descriptions, but part of the problem is the differences between the two pitchers. Velasquez is a former Top 100 prospect who was rushed to the majors after dominating AA. Morgan is a former Top 100 prospect who is dealing with reduced stuff across the board, and he while he is improving and looks like a major league starter, his upside is now towards the back of a rotation. There is no problem with the Phillies having Adam Morgan in their starting rotation, but unfortunately there are 5 other pitchers for which that is also true.
Outside of just talking about their respective arsenals, it is important to consider some other factors that go into deciding which player to keep on the roster.
Due to his lack of upside and age, there is little reason to manipulate or think about Morgan’s service time. Since it has become in style to think about holding players down to gain an extra year, Velasquez has 86 days of service meaning that the Phillies would need to hold Velasquez in AAA until mid to late July to get an extra year, Super 2 is right out.
Things To Grow:
There is little question that the Phillies have some prospects in the minors who would upgrade the major league roster, right now. The developmental question is where the improvements can be best made for sustainable success. For Velasquez, he needs to work on his command and consistency. The problem is that Velasquez’s raw stuff overwhelms AAA level hitters, to get the best growth he needs to face hitters that are not overwhelmed by velocity and good breaking balls, in other words, the majors. In many ways Morgan has the same needs as Velasquez, but the straight fastball and changeup have created a need for something that moves in his arsenal, he has reportedly added a cutter and he needs to work on that to have success. Additionally, he needs to work on missing bats in the zone with his slider, and working on his curveball to a pitch that can change hitter eye levels more.
Major League Impact:
We have some data on both from last year. Morgan put up a 4.48 ERA, 89 ERA+, a 4.8% BB%, and 13.9% K%. Velasquez between the rotation and bullpen put up a 4.37 ERA, 93 ERA+, 9.1% BB%, and 25.1% K%. Now these are not large sample sizes, but the underlying numbers favor Velasquez greatly as he missed more bats and allowed fewer home runs. This spring it has been similar, with Morgan being homer prone and unable to miss bats. Morgan is likely to be a #4/#5 starter if given a season of innings. Velasquez has the opportunity to be an impactful major league arm.
Overall, this was a battle that Adam Morgan could do nothing to win. He was always outgunned, and once Velasquez started showing a full mix of pitches it was over. Having Adam Morgan in AAA is an asset for the Phillies as a pitcher is guaranteed to get hurt at some point. Morgan is going to pitch a good amount for this team this year, but Velasquez could pitch a good amount for the next great Phillies team.