As we draw closer to Opening Day, the Phillies bullpen remains a source of consternation. The question marks from the end of last season have spilled over into Clearwater. It will be up to manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure to sort through the cast of thousands to determine who gives the club the best chance of success in 2014.
The bullpen was one of many leaks the team sprung last season. Every time a hole was plugged, another popped up. There is, however, relief on the horizon. The stable of quality young arms, acquired a robust amount of experience last season. Experience that should translate into future success.
Jonathan Papelbon (RHP): Yes, he has lost 4-5 mph off his fastball. Yes, he is owed $12.5 million this season. Yes, the Phillies tried like heck to trade him during the offseason. Yes, he is a lightning rod. But, as long as he is wearing a Phillies uniform, he is a lock to be the closer. (Barring a trade or implosion.)
The most alarming statistics for a closer are, a decrease in SO/9 and an increase in WHIP. When they happen simultaneously, like in Papelbon’s case, it usually doesn’t end very well. The Phillies have two more years to squeeze out or find a trade partner.
Mike Adams (RHP): If healthy! The health of Adams will be the linchpin to the success of this group. This is a pitcher who consistently sported a sub-2.50 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP during his days with the San Diego Padres. From his first appearance in a Phillies uniform, something seemed amiss. Adams’ velocity and command had completely deserted him.
As it turns out, he had two labrum tears and a torn rotator cuff. He underwent surgery in August. It doesn’t look like Adams will be ready by Opening Day, but he should be back sometime in April. When fully healthy, he will once again be dazzling hitters with his slider.
Ethan Martin (RHP): Like Adams, Martin is another pitcher that makes this list with a question mark. In Martin’s case, it has nothing to do with his health, but the health of the starting rotation. The Phillies are planning on keeping Martin ‘stretched out’ during Spring Training. He will, in all likelihood, be moved back to the rotation should Cole Hamels and Jonathan Pettibone start the year on the disabled list.
Martin impressed during his time in the bullpen last season. His mid-upper-90′s fastball and devastating, 12-to-6 curveball are legitimate weapons coming out of the bullpen in late-inning situations. He, very possibly, could be the closer-of-the-future.
Jake Diekman (LHP): Another pitcher with ‘closer stuff.’ Diekman is a rare pitcher in that he is a flame-throwing, strikeout pitcher who induces groundballs by the bushel. A handy weapon for Sandberg to have at his disposal at Citizens Bank Park.
Diekman possesses a mid-upper-90′s fastball and a mid-80′s slider that is as devastating to righties as it is to lefties. If he can keep his walk rate down, he will be a force in the bullpen for years to come.
Antonio Bastardo (LHP): Any good bullpen needs two lefties on-call. While Bastardo may never be as dominant as he was in 2011, he is still a very valuable pitcher. His velocity has dipped over the last few years and he is a fly ball pitcher – not a great tandem playing in a bandbox. That being said, he still knows how to get hitters out. If he can keep his BB/9 around 3, he should have a solid season.
Justin De Fratus (RHP): DeFratus is one of the young pitchers who should really benefit from last season’s experience. He possesses a four-pitch repertoire – which is a bit unusual for a reliever – highlighted by a mid-90′s fastball. McClure might try to streamline the arsenal by scrapping one pitch.
DeFratus has all the makings of a seventh and eighth inning reliever – he strikes hitters out and keeps the ball on the ground. Should he, for some reason, start the season in Triple-A, it shouldn’t take long for him to end up back in South Philadelphia.
Luis Garcia (RHP): This is a classic dark horse, if there ever was one. Garcia came out of nowhere last year to provide the Phillies with some solid work, and quite-a-bit of not-so-solid work. He has a mid-90′s fastball with late movement and a tight, low-mid-80′s slider. Both above average pitches.
Garcia’s problem, however, can be summed up in three words: base on balls. He averaged 6.6 BB/9 last season. Unacceptable. If he can cut that rate down to three, to go along with the groundball-inducing sinker, the Phillies will find a spot for him in the bullpen.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Michael Stutes (RHP): Stutes has his work cut-out for him this spring. Injuries and subsequent control issues have derailed a once-promising career. After a stellar rookie campaign, Stutes hurt his shoulder in 2012 which required surgery later that season. He hasn’t been the same since.
The velocity which was 93-94 is now 89-91. The slider also lacks the bite it had pre-injury. Stutes is now a ‘contact pitcher.’ Unfortunately most of the contact is of the fly ball variety. He will probably start the season at Triple-A. If he is healthy and effective, he will be one of the first in line to get the call to drive down the Northeast Extension.
Brad Lincoln (RHP): Brad Lincoln was the fourth-overall pick in the 2006 draft. He was drafted ahead of both Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. That’s right! Oh, those Pittsburgh Pirates. So, what does he bring to the table? He throws hard and has control issues.
He relies primarily on his 92-94 mph fastball. He also has a low-80′s curveball, and splitter at his disposal. It sounds like a solid arsenal. But, if you can’t throw it over for strikes, it won’t do any good. If he can miraculously regain his control, he will be given every shot to make the team. If not, he will be riding the buses to-and-from Allentown.
Phillippe Aumont (RHP): This is the mountain of a man who was the ‘centerpiece’ of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. There is an old axiom for pitchers of his ilk: million-dollar arm, ten-cent head. He possesses a mid-90′s fastball and an assortment of breaking pitches that make major league hitters look like little leaguers. So what’s the problem?
Last year with Lehigh Valley, he walked an astonishing 38 batters in 35 2/3 innings. He didn’t fare much better with the Phillies, walking 13 in 19 1/3 innings. Throw strikes! For some, it’s much easier said than done. If he’s not traded, chances are better than 50/50 that he’s ticketed for Triple-A.
Jeremy Horst (LHP): Horst had a magical maiden voyage with the Phillies in 2012 – posting a 1.15 ERA and 11.5 SO/9. Nobody expected an encore performance in 2013, but, nobody expected the wheels to come off, either. His ERA ballooned to a hideous 6.23 and his SO/9 was nearly cut in half. On top of that, his WHIP was pushing 2. Everything across the board was bad. Very, very bad.
The reason, most assuredly was a sore elbow that ended his season well before the All-Star break. Horst decided against surgery, instead opting for rehab. It remains to be seen how he looks once the exhibition games commence. With Diekman and Bastardo in the fold, Horst will more than likely start in Triple-A. If healthy, he would more than likely, be the first left-hander called upon when needed.
B.J. Rosenberg (RHP): Rosenberg is another one of those pitchers that the Phillies seem to have an excess of. A flame-thrower who can’t find the strike zone half the time. He possesses a mid-90′s fastball and power slider and splitter. He gives up too many hits, too many walks, and is prone to the gopher ball. Fans of Rosenberg should plan on making the trek to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown to see him toil. Or, they can wait until his cameo appearance this summer.
Kevin Munson (RHP): Munson was selected by the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Like everyone else, it seems, he throws hard and as little control. He throws a low-mid-90′s four seam fastball and sinker and a mid-80′s power slider. However, in his minor league career, he has walked 98 batters in 181 1/3 innings. His WHIP is a shade under 1.4. Simply put, numbers like that won’t cut the mustard at the major league level.
The Phillies are trying to catch lightning-in-a-bottle with Munson. Unless he completely impresses this spring, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see him offered back to the Diamondbacks. But then again, the Phillies do fall in love with their Rule 5 picks…
Ken Giles (RHP)
Shawn Camp (RHP)
Jeff Manship (RHP)
Sean O’Sullivan (RHP)
Cesar Jimenez (LHP)
Four out of five on this list are pretty much ‘organizational fillers.’ Journeymen and career minor-leaguers hanging on for one more chance. Camp, Manship, O’Sullivan, and Jimenez will either be playing in Lehigh Valley or for another team’s Triple-A affiliate.
The one intriguing name on the list is that of Ken Giles. He throws 100 mph. That’s it. However, (stop me if this sounds like a broken record) more often than not, he has no command of the strike zone. During his 3-year minor league career, he averages a whopping 12.2 SO/9 and 5.8 BB/9. Thanks to those walks, his WHIP is nearly 1.5.
McClure will work closely with him in camp. If he can halve his walk rate and master an off-speed pitch, the Phillies will have a gem on their hands. A tall order. After all, McClure did mold Greg Holland into on of the elite relief pitchers in the game.
Potential. That is the first word that comes to mind when describing the 2014 Phillies bullpen. A world of potential. There is a lot of swing-and-miss ‘stuff’ that comes trotting in when that gate swings open. Unfortunately, most of that ‘stuff’ needs to be harnessed.
The key will be the health of the Big Three in the starting rotation. If Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett are healthy and performing at full capacity, the bullpen will not be as overused as it was last season.
The bullpen should be significantly more productive in 2014.