A couple of reports yesterday gave some major hints at who will be in major league camp for the Phillies. The big name according to Jim Salisbury who will not be in camp is 2014 first round pick Aaron Nola. The initial reaction is that the dumb Phillies are holding down prospects because they want to play old players and rob us fans of seeing young exciting players. But in this case the Phillies move with Nola (and it appears Eflin, Windle, and Lively) makes a ton of sense given where the Phillies have situated themselves this offseason. Lets look at the reasons why this might be better for Nola in the long run.
1. He was never going to break camp with the Phillies.
The Phillies have been signing and trading for starting pitchers left and right all offseason to build depth in the major and minor leagues. Part of their stated strategy has been to not rush any prospects up a level until they are ready. Nola may be the Phillies 3rd-5th best pitcher right now (based on who is actually healthy), but the Phillies were never going to have him break camp this year. Bringing him to major league camp would have had no bearing on his future placement.
2. There are limited innings and starts in major league camp.
Amaro is quoted in the Salisbury piece with this to say on Nola:
“We just didn’t feel like it was necessary,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We need to take a look at some other guys.”
By a quick count the Phillies right now have 12 starting pitchers coming to camp this year (Biddle / Billingsley / Buchanan / MAG / Hamels / Harang / Lee / Morgan / Rodriguez / Williams / O’Sullivan / Slowey). If everyone is healthy and ready to go, the first 4 spots of the rotation are locked into Hamels/Lee/Billingsley/Harang, which leaves a lot of guys competing for 1 rotation spot. This means that the three minor leaguers (Biddle/Morgan/Rodriguez) are probably all going to go down to minor league camp rather quickly to get regular work. Even though Nola is a top talent in the system, if he is not going to win a spot in the starting rotation, his innings are going to go to the players who are competing for that spot right now.
3. The Phillies don’t need to “see what they have” with Nola, they need him getting ready for 2015
They know this guy really well, they don’t need to see him handle big league life, they need to have him pitching. Once again here is Amaro:
He’s not one of those kids that we need to see mature or develop mentally. We think that he’s got other things he needs to work on on the field, other parts of the game that he needs to continue to work on.
To this point Nola still has not really had to pitch in a major league style rotation with 4 days rest between starts. His offspeed pitches are good, but he needs to find consistency in release and movement. These are things that Nola could work on in the majors, but the Phillies can let him work on them in the minors right now. By sending him to minor league camp right now, he can begin that work without being interrupted by the efforts to finalize the big league roster.
4. This doesn’t slow down his path to the majors at all
The Phillies know they drafted a guy who can arrive quickly to the majors. They pushed Nola to AA in his first year, the general expectation is that unless things go really bad, he will make his major league debut this season. Amaro talked about that process and what they think about Nola:
“He’ll get into minor-league camp and get into the program there and it will be good for him and when he’s ready to come to the big leagues, he’ll come to the big leagues.”
“A lot of it depends on his performance and how he continues to develop,” Amaro said. “But he’s a fast-track guy and there’s a reason why. He’s got pitch-ability that’s beyond his years. He’s got great poise. But he still needs work.”
When Nola is ready he is going to be a major league pitcher. Given the Phillies major league options, that could also depend a lot on injuries and trades, but more than likely when Nola is ready they are going to make room for him. If anything they are starting him on that path right now, with the goal of aiming for midseason and not opening day.
5. Minor league camp is right next door
If the Phillies are wrong and everyone they signed is pile of garbage while Nola tears up minor league camp, they can just bring him back up. This is not some big permanent obstacle, nor is it like they sent him to Siberia. If the Phillies want him to go work on something with a coach they can send Nola to the coach or the coach to Nola. Given their rebuilding cycle and the quotes to the media, it seems that a large focus of instruction will be at minor league camp anyway.
In general this kind of sucks for fans because they don’t get to see Nola or other prospects playing in televised games, but this works out better for the Phillies going forward. It looks like the only major prospect likely to stick around major league camp for any serious amount of time is Maikel Franco.
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