The Phillies have done an incredible job rebuilding their minor league system in the past 12 months. They have built up incredible depth and acquired some real cornerstone pieces to put around their existing pieces like J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola, and Maikel Franco. The hitting side of the system has some real impact talent, but a big complaint is that the pitching side lacks a real impact talent. Aaron Nola, Jake Thompson, and Zach Eflin all look like really solid major league pitchers, but none of them are a guy who you are confident growing into someone who hitters fear. The problem is those type of players are really hard to acquire (just look at the trade packages that moved for Cole Hamels, David Price, and Johnny Cueto), and while the Phillies may get the opportunity to draft one next June, it isn’t worth taking any chances.
For me ace level pitchers come in three big categories (there are lots of fringe cases, but I can’t write 10,000 words today).
- Always looked like an ace – The rarest of unicorns, only two current minor leaguers can make a claim for this (Julio Urias and Lucas Giolito) and really only Giolito is a lock here. From the past think guys like David Price, Clayton Kershaw, etc. there was no doubting they would be really good.
- If it all comes together – This is the vast majority of aces fell in their development. The guy that comes to mind here from this year is Chris Archer of the Rays, everyone recognized the talent, but each sentence was punctuated with “if he does this”. A lot of guys here fall to the side and don’t make it, but you always knew the talent was in there.
- Where did he come from – Pitching is weird, guys pick up a ball different one day and suddenly have an out pitch, or they are like Jake DeGrom and magically start gaining velocity and never really stop. In general these pitchers focus around an 80 grade pitch or ability, they are extreme outliers and often bad for future prediction.
So if you are looking for an ace, category 1 is right out, you either get one or you don’t, they go top in drafts and never get traded. As for category 3, you are always trying to do this, have guys tinkering and growing, some guys just take to it more than others, as soon as you find a pattern, that type of pitcher moves into category 2. So if you want to find an ace, we are all about category 2.
Before talking about future efforts, the Phillies do have a guy in their system in category 2, so let’s briefly talk about Franklyn Kilome. Kilome is everything you dream on in a pitcher, he has size, his delivery is easy, he has present velocity, room for more velocity, and he has feeling for offspeed pitches. If everything goes right, that is a #1 starting pitcher. Kilome is still really early in the process and not all the pieces work together and the control is not there to tie it all together. Outside of that, Kilome is an example of building an ace level pitcher. When he signed he was in the mid to upper 80s, the Phillies liked his size and projection. They rebuilt his delivery to use his lower half and all you have to do is dive into the archives to see what happened next. They also lucked out, his body worked, his hands had feel for spin, and he is an absolute student of the game. I say all of this to say that in development you need some luck too (by luck I mean the confluence of the right circumstances that you can’t 100% plan for).
I have talked about the Phillies dev staff building pitchers from the ground up before (Sam McWilliams comes to mind, and soon they will start work on Bailey Falter). So today I want to talk about how depth allows you to take a raw arm and see if you can make something out of it. First let’s briefly talk about depth, because this wouldn’t have been possible a year ago. The two players in question are relievers in the Clearwater bullpen, and good ones too. Without the pitchers in front of them and around them, both would need to be rushed to the majors to fill holes, but right now, both are outside the Top 20 prospects in the system, and so while the Phillies risk breaking pieces, this is not Phillippe Aumont where they risk breaking an important piece of a trade.
The first player I am talking about is RHP Alberto Tirado, Tirado was the more highly regarded part of the Ben Revere deal, but Jimmy Cordero has taken the crown with 103 mph fastballs leaving Tirado out of sight and mind in Clearwater. Tirado has been “good” since coming over with a 0.64 ERA over 14 IP but he has 6 hits 2 HBP 13 walks and 14 strikeouts in that time. Overall, it has been a successful year in the bullpen for Tirado, but that is not where the Phillies want to keep him. It is key to remember that the Phillies player dev staff has yet to really mess with Tirado, for one they don’t really know the player as Joe Jordan’s staff doesn’t do the scouting they just get the reports, and there is only 1 month to really tinker and make adjustments which is not really enough to get it to work in games. So the work on Tirado will be done this fall and next spring. What the Phillies are messing with is a potential closer with nasty stuff, but some control problems. The payoff and why this is so interesting to me is that Tirado as a starting pitcher has a chance for a 70 fastball, 70 slider, and 60+ changeup. That is a good starter with average control. If the Phillies can make it work they can find themselves an ace here.
The other player is not highly rated or even well know, but I am interested because he has grown so much this year. This player is RHP Alexis Rivero, who came a bit out of nowhere this year. Rivero is only 20 years old (he turns 21 this fall) and while he lacks ideal size, that isn’t something the Phillies have shied away from in Latin pitchers. What is so interesting about Rivero is that this spring he was 91-93 and showed an average curveball, overall he sounded like an interesting bullpen option if he kept developing. Right now, he is 94-97 in the Threshers bullpen while adding a slider that has surpassed his curveball in terms of projection and his comfort with it. After struggling to start his time in Clearwater, 4 ER in first 4.1 IP, he has allowed 4 ER in his last 20.2 innings, while limiting walks (6 in 25 innings) and striking out a lot of batters (28 in 25). He has been near unhittable and emerged as the Threshers most reliable arm, capable of going for as many as 3 innings. The rumor is that the Phillies will be stretching him out as a starter this fall. Rivero still lacks a changeup and we don’t know where the growth ends and where he can sit as a starting pitcher. However, when you have an arm emerge in the way Rivero has done this year, you would be remiss to not try and see if you have something special.
Ace pitchers are hard to come by, so sometimes you have to risk something to gain something. The Phillies scouting department (amatuer and pro) has given the player development staff some things they can work with and that is really all you can ask for. These experiments may go wrong, but the Phillies are not counting on Tirado and Rivero right now, so there is no reason not to try. We will check back next spring to see where he are, until then, enjoy some videos by Baseball Betsy.
Image of Alexis Rivero by Baseball Betsy