Going to Minor League Camp Might Be Best For Aaron Nola

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.

Image by Baseball Betsy

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman

Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

4 comments

  1. Good stuff, Matt. I agree completely. If (read: WHEN) Nola’s ready, they’ll take the struggling starter of choice and either move him to the ‘pen or send him down–option if it’s a young guy or DFA if it’s one of the vets.
    The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the stuff Nola has to work on in the minors would be better done at AAA–unless he starts slowly in S/T. But, just like with the big club, I know they’ve got a lot of veteran arms around and if everyone’s basically healthy, then the innings may have to come in Reading to start.
    One more thing: They often bring guys over from the minor league side for road games and other spots, as needed. Like you said, it’s not Siberia. Don’t completely rule out seeing Nola on TV at some point this Spring, regardless.

  2. andyb

    I would also almost guarantee it that Nola gets a start with the major league team late in camp when someone like Hamels or Lee just wants to get their work in and is fine doing it in a AAA game. Agree with the strategy. I think we assume Nola is up mid-summer, likely after a trade of some other rotation member. Works for his arbitration eligibility too. Would also keep him to about 180 innings in games this year (not counting spring).

  3. Steve

    When Williams was originally signed to a major league contract there was a consensus that he would get a rotation spot unless he gave it up through ineffectiveness. Do you see the situation that way? Id like to think MAG could build on his finish to 2014 enough to take the 5th spot, but thats admittedly optimistic.

    • Matt Winkelman

      I think it is a true competition between Williams, MAG, and Buchanan for the 5th spot. If Williams loses, he should be the long man. The other two if they lose should go to LHV rotation if they prove they can handle workload. There is a non-zero chance MAG doesn’t show enough stamina for rotation, but looks good enough that he gets a bullpen spot.