Ruben Amaro Jr. recently met with CSN reporter Jim Salisbury for a one on one interview in which the status of Jesse Biddle was discussed. Biddle, 22, had been recently placed on the temporarily inactive list to clear his head of some growing frustrations. Having grown up in Philadelphia, the young pitcher was placing a tremendous amount of stress on himself to perform for his home town team. After stringing together a few poor starts headed by a 10 run 3 inning appearance on June 23 it became apparent that he needed a mental regrouping. Unfortunately for the Phillies and their fans there is no guess as to when he might return to action, and it is possible that Biddle could take the rest of the season to recharge. Biddle was the top pitching prospect the organization had to offer. With his progress stagnating, an already thin and injury riddled group of starting pitching prospects suffers another blow. With no Biddle to keep an eye on, and an addition of prospects from this year’s draft, we’ll take this time to re-inform you of who there is to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season, try to remain positive.
When I said the group of starting pitching prospects was slim and injury riddled, I wasn’t kidding. From the levels of AAA to hi-A ball the Phillies do not have many intriguing names taking the mound for their affiliate clubs. Our search begins with those levels however, as we work our way down the ladder. First up…
Lehigh Valley Ironpigs (AAA):
Not much to see here. At the highest level of minor league baseball for the Phills there are only two names that stick out, both whom we have seen with the big club in stints. They are the recently demoted David Buchanan and the injured Jon Pettibone. Buchanan is what he is at this point, and that is at best a fringe number 5 starter. Pettibone came up in 2013 and did some nice things for the Phillies, but since has faced injury problems pertaining to his shoulder. This past June there was no option left for Pettibone to heal his shoulder but to go under the knife. Unfortunately the luck doesn’t get much better as we travel 37 miles southwest to the Phillies AA team.
Reading Fightins (AA):
To open the year Reading featured Jesse Biddle and control artist Severino Gonzalez, two of the best starters down on the farm for the Phillies. There were hopes that Biddle would pitch well enough in his second season in Reading that he would soon find himself on the way up to Lehigh. Biddle started out having some really good starts, and then some starts that left people scratching their heads. We know where he stands now, and it would seem that Jesse will have to wait till next year to get his first taste of AAA. Gonzalez on the other hand, shot out of no where last year quickly rising through Lakewood and Clearwater and making his final start of 2013 in Reading. So far this year Severino has been durable; making 20 starts for a total of 119.2 innings. The rest of his stats though aren’t where one would hope. In those 20 starts and 119.2 innings he owns a 4.81 ERA, and has given up 127 hits, good for an unhealthy 9.6 hits/9. Still, he is young for the league at 21 and with his exceptional command and control there is room for hope that Severino will get better as he matures. Also currently on the Reading roster are former top prospects Adam Morgan and Austin Wright. The pair have been struggling with separate injury issues since their break out years in 2012, and are both currently on the DL. There’s that injury theme again…
Clearwater Threshers (A+):
That A+ also stands for the fact that Clearwater now has the most exciting pitching prospect to watch in the Phillies organization, and no it isn’t Jeb Stefan. Rather it is this year’s 7th overall selection, a 6’1” right handed pitcher from LSU, Aaron Nola. Nola is very much a pitcher who commands the ball well, perhaps even better than Severino, but Nola also has the advantage in velocity. All of Nola’s pitchers are average or better, and they play up due to his impeccable accuracy. Many pegged Nola as the first pitcher that would reach the MLB out of the 2014 draft so watch out for this potential fast riser. Outside of Mr. Louisiana there isn’t much left for exciting prospects on this staff. Mark Letier Jr. has proven he can strike people out this year, but he is also giving up nearly 10 hits/9 over 101.1 innings at A and hi-A this year leading to a 4.53 ERA.
Lakewood Blueclaws (A):
For most of the year Lakewood was fairly baron when it came to pitching prospects. They had many of the organization’s top position prospects, but it wasn’t until very recent that their staff got a little aide. 20 year old Yoel Mecias just recently made his first start with Lakewood coming off Tommy John Surgery. The young Venezuelan went 5 innings with 2 hits, 3 walks, 0 runs, and 7 punch-outs. Definitely keep an eye on Mecias as he continues to prove his health and legitimacy as a pitching prospect. Also now joining Mecias on Lakewood is 2014 2nd round pick Matt Imhof from Cal Poly State University. Imhof so far has pitched 15 professional innings and owns a 0.60 ERA. His skill level was above the GCL (Gulf Coast League) and Williamsport teams, where he made his first 4 starts. Lakewood should be more of an appropriate challenge for the college lefty. Shane Watson, the Phillies 40th overall selection in 2012 is currently on the Lakewood roster, but occupies the DL list while he continues to recover from shoulder surgery done prior to the season.
Williamsport Crosscutters (A-):
There are a handful of interesting names out at Williamsport participating in the short season New York Penn League. For starters there is a pair of 2014 draftees in Chris Oliver (4th round) and Brandon Leibrandt (6th round). So far Oliver’s control has really been non existent as he sports a 11.1 BB/9 over 11.1 total innings. While this is an extremely small sample size that many walks so soon is still some kind of flag. Leibrandt has experience much better results thus far and in his first start with the Crosscutters he went 6 innings allowing 1 run while striking out 7 and walking only 1. Mitch Gueller, former 54th overall selection in 2012, is also on the Williamsport staff. Gueller has struggled in his first two years, but has done OK so far in 6 starts this year at Williamsport. Like Oliver the key thing to watch with Gueller moving forward is to see if the two can improve their control and not give out so many free passes. Missing more bats would also help both of these prospects, but that will come with improved command of their pitches.
Gulf Coast League (GCL Phillies)
Our last stop on the ‘which starting pitchers to watch for tour’ brings us to the home of the GCL Phillies. There are a few names worth remembering here, but at this point remembering them is all you should do because these guys are years away from making an impact should they even make it. What these pitchers do provide us with though is some height. Standing in at 6’7” is right hander Sam McWilliams, this year’s 8th round selection by the Phillies. After getting his feet wet in 3 appearances, McWilliams made his first start going 4 scoreless innings. An 11th round selection in 2013, 6’4” lefty Denton Keys is also of note on the GCL starting rotation. Keys currently owns a 3.00 ERA over 5 appearances, four of which have lasted 4 innings. Last but not least is 19 year old, 6’6” righty, Franklyn Kilome. Like the other two, the Phillies are being cautious with the workload they put on some of their youngest pitching prospects. Kilome so far has amassed 13 innings with a 1.38 ERA. Hitters are only batting .178 against him so far this season and he has 8 strike outs.
As you can see the Phillies just do not have all that much depth in the starting pitching department in their organization. The temporary loss of Jesse Biddle and slew of shoulder injuries to prospects Jon Pettibone (not really a prospect, but a young arm), Adam Morgan, Austin Wright and Shane Watson only exacerbate matters. Many of the intriguing prospects the Phillies have on the mound reside in the lower levels of the minors, leaving the big league club devoid of impact arms ready to fill holes created by injuries or free agency. Most of these pitchers have multiple years ahead of them with lots of learning to do and plenty of adjustments to make before they can smell the cheese steak laden air of Philadelphia. That concludes our roundup of starting pitching prospects to keep an eye on as the 2014 minor league season finishes out.