Starting pitchers are many things in the minor leagues. They can be legitimate starting pitching prospects. They can be future relievers who are still working on getting everything to work before their flaws force them to the bullpen. They can be pitchers with fringe stuff hoping to be at the right place, at the right time when an inevitable injury strikes down one of their colleagues so they can get their shot at a start or two of glory. They could also just be filler, because an org needs a starting pitcher every game and killing your bullpen and other starters is often not advisable. Pitchers can often be a break or two away from becoming something better, whether it is improved command, a new pitch, or a surprise increase in velocity, pitching can just be plain weird in its outcomes. The pitchers on this list have many different backgrounds and futures, some are just teenagers with a arm that throws moderately hard and need to be shaped into something useful, others have made the majors and are awaiting a second chance. All of these pitchers have a chance to be minor league starting pitchers, though many will end up in opening day bullpens. For now, their dreams get to live a little bit longer.
Alejandro Arteaga 21 y/o 6’2″ 176lbs
Arteaga has been on a slow climb through the minors after making his pro debut in 2011. Arteaga has shown good control over the past through year, though the results have not been there. Arteaga has hit as high as 96, but he has dialed that back to 89-92 with more life. In 2015, his secondary pitches took a step forward, but none are dominant. Arteaga will need to separate himself from other starters in the system, but he has shown enough to be interesting.
Austin Davis 23 y/o 6’4″ 245 lbs
Davis has been up and down since before the Phillies took him in the 2014 draft. At his best he touches 94 from the left side while sitting 90-92. He flashes good secondary pitches, but lacks consistency. The Phillies had been using him in the bullpen before trade forced him into the rotation. His ERA went up in the rotation, but he walked fewer batters while striking out more. The Phillies sent him to Nicaragua this offseason and he was completely dominant in his 7 starts.
Brandon Leibrandt 23 y/o 6’4″ 205lbs
Leibrandt threw a bit harder in 2015 than 2014, but unfortunately the deficit was so much that his improved velocity was only 88-90 touching 91. Leibrandt has a good changeup, but still lacks a good breaking ball. Arm injuries shortened his year and he will need to fight for a rotation spot next year.
Denton Keys 21 y/o 6’3″ 190lbs
The Phillies gave Keys $400,000 out of HS in 2013 as a big bodied projection lefty. The velocity never came and the secondary pitches are just average, and without the fastball threat they were poor. The Phillies moved him to the bullpen mid season, and he might be there to stay. He also might not be long for the org without major improvements.
Drew Anderson 22 y/o 6’3″ 185lbs
Anderson showed promise in 2013 and 2014 seasons as a potential back end starter. He missed 2015 after Tommy John surgery, and we don’t know if the Phillies will pitch him the rotation or bullpen upon his return.
Felix Paulino 21 y/o 6’1″ 170lbs
Paulino is short right hander with a solid fastball among what is now a large contingent of short Latin starting pitchers. Paulino pitches at 90-94 and will show a cutter, a changeup, and a slider. The secondary pitches need work, but he already fills up the strikezone and is only 20 years old. He will need to show a more complete arsenal to jump into prospect rankings, but he is a player to keep an eye on.
Harold Arauz 20 y/o 6’2″ 206lbs
Arauz was the 5th piece in the Ken Giles trade. He has good size and can hit 94 with a cutter like fastball.. He struggled in short season ball in 2015, so it is hard to know what the Phillies really got. He should start in Lakewood next year.
Jhon Nunez 18 y/0 6’0″ 155lbs
Nunez is a young, small, lefty who the Phillies gave a decent chunk of money to during the summer of 2014. They sent him the DSL last season where he struggled, but he is very young and he put up a surprisingly large workload for his age and size. Nunez lacks the track record and skill set to expect much for his future, but the Phillies have been good at extracting good futures from less.
Jose Taveras 22 y/o 6’4″ 210lbs
If Taveras was in AA he would be one of those fringe #4/#5 starters getting passing attention. However, he is doing it in Shortseason ball. He has a 3 pitch mix, topped with an above average fastball. He throws strikes and could be a major leaguer eventually, but pitching is a game of attrition and Taveras starts at a disadvantage.
Luke Leftwich 21 y/o 6’3″ 210lbs
Leftwich was the Phillies’ 7th round pick in the 2015 draft. Leftwich was primarily a two pitch pitcher in college, and most evaluators think he will pitch in the bullpen. He will show a fastball at 90-94, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider is his best pitch and he has more control than command, which does lend credence to a future in the bullpen. The Phillies have said that they will continue to use him in the rotation, and if Leftwich can stick in the rotation he could be a #4/#5 starter, but that still appears to be a longshot.
Mark Leiter Jr. 25 y/o 6’0″ 195lbs
Leiter bounced around the Phillies’ organization this year, having success in A ball and struggles in AA. As a starting pitcher he throws 88-91 with a 6+ pitch mix. None of his pitches are plus with most being below average, but he can mix them all for strikes. As a reliever he is 90-92 and has enough of pitch mix to keep hitters off balance. It is a profile that works as a middle reliever, but he will need to consistently perform.
Matt Imhof 22 y/o 6’5″ 220lbs
Imhof really struggled in Clearwater this year for a supposedly polished strike thrower. His velocity was down, with many starts not hitting above 90mph. His changeup is still solid, but he still lacks the breaking ball to match it. The fringy back end profile would have been fine, except that Imhof was hurt for most of the year. When he was healthy he missed the zone and not bats.
Mitch Gueller 22 y/0 6’3″ 205lbs
When he was drafted Gueller flashed a fastball up to 96, an above average curveball, and feel for a changeup. It was a profile worthy of a supplemental first round pick. It has been 3 seasons and Gueller has mysteriously lost all of his velocity and now pitches at 88-91. His curveball is gone, but his slider shows promise. Overall, Gueller continues to battle, but he likely will never reach the majors.
Nick Fanti 19 y/o 6’2″ 180lbs
Nick Fanti was dominant as a prep arm in New York this spring. The Phillies took him in the 31st round and signed him for $100,000. Fanti is a projectable lefty who pitches around 90 mph. The reports on his delivery were poor, so there might not be much here, but Northeast pitchers can develop late.
Ranfi Casimiro 23 y/o 6’8″ 200lbs
Casimiro is a bit of outlier, he is going to turn 24 this season, has never pitched above low-A, is 6’8”, and if he turns sideways he might disappear. Casimiro throws in the low 90s, with a curveball and changeup. In 2015, Casimiro’s delivery was cleaned up and he saw his walks drop dramatically. He does not miss a lot of bats and his ground ball rate decreased this season, but there is some hope that he can stick in the rotation. Because of his lack of impact stuff, his ceiling is likely a #4 or #5 starter, but in the Phillies’ system he might end up in the bullpen.
Ranger Suarez 20 y/o 6’0″ 177lbs
Suarez’s 2014 season makes Thomas Eshelman look like Phillippe Aumont, but he showed up stateside and was 85-87 killing all optimism. This year his velocity took a step forward to 88-92. He won’t overpower batters, but he has good command and a feel for his secondary pitches. If he can stay healthy and handle a full season workload, he could profile as a back end starter.
Shane Watson 22 y/o 6’4″ 200lbs
Shane Watson’s career to this point could not have gone much worse. A promising 2012 GCL campaign was cut short by the discovery of his diabetes, he then was starting to impress and make adjustments in Lakewood in 2013 before a shoulder injury cut his season short, then he reinjured his shoulder needing surgery and missing the 2014 season, and while recovering he received a 50 game suspension for a drug of abuse. Watson returned to the mound for Lakewood towards the middle of the season, and he flashed some of his old potential. The former 1st round pick was 89-92 touching as high as 94, and showed a loopy curveball. His delivery was stiff and mechanical, and his command was poor. Unless he can make some improvements after a healthy offseason, he may be destined for the bullpen.
Tyler Viza 21 y/o 6’3″ 180lbs
In his first pro season, Viza was thrown into a bad situation where he had to survive the Lakewood rotation with limited stuff. This year he had much more success with an increase in stuff across the board. He saw an increase in his strikeouts in the first half of the season, but they dropped off precipitously in the second half, though he dramatically cut his walk rate during that time. During the second half he generated a lot of poor contact, with a high ground ball rate. Even with increased stuff, Viza profiles more as a back end starter if everything breaks right. There will not be a lot of spots for him to stay in the rotation, but he has as much a case as any of the 2015 Lakewood starters.
Severino Gonzalez 23 y/o 6’1″ 153lbs
|Lehigh Valley (AAA)||16||16||2-7||88.0||5.11||10.8||0.8||4.7%||11.8%|
Gonzalez still remains on the Phillies 40 man roster throughout the offseason turnover of the Phillies’ roster. Gonzalez made his major league debut in 2015 to disastrous results, after being meh in AAA to start the year. He still lacks impact stuff and while he has control, hitters make very hard contact off of all of his pitches.
Will Stewart 18 y/o 6’2″ 175lbs
Another high school lefty starter who lacks both velocity and secondary stuff. He is purely an arm, and a young one at that. Worth coming back and checking on in 2-3 years to see if there is anything there.
Will Morris 22 y/o 6’4″ 180lbs
Morris pitched almost exclusively as a reliever until trades and promotions opened up the Lakewood rotation. Morris is a big righty who throws in the low 90s with ground ball tendencies. His long term home is almost certainly the bullpen, but his numbers were certainly interesting in the rotation.
Yacksel Rios 22 y/o 6’3″ 185lbs
Coming into the 2015 season Yacksel Rios was viewed as a raw, loose armed long reliever. He lacked the pitches to be a starter, but also had the ability to go 5 innings on short notice. This season, the young right hander saw his velocity increase from 90-92 to touching 94-95 and sitting 93-95 in the bullpen. He started some during the regular season, and almost exclusively in the Arizona Fall League, but his more dominant role is in the bullpen. The reports in the desert were not complementary, with evaluators being unimpressed by his secondary pitches and finding his delivery stiff.
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