Last night, the Phillies had two picks within the first two rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft, at slots 7 and 47. Recent discussions of their draft philosophy came to fruition on Thursday as the team selected two college arms, RHP Aaron Nola from LSU, and LHP Matt Imhof from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Both are players picked with their fastball command in mind – a big deficiency in the farm system. An additional consideration has to be relative speed of development, and “safety” of outcome. These pitchers aren’t necessarily any safer in terms of health – that’s merely to say that the floors of the two, particularly Nola, are higher than raw high school talent.
RHP Aaron Nola – LSU
2014 Stats: 1.47 ERA | 116.1 IP | 10.37 K/9 | 2.09 BB/9 | .172 BA/A
Aaron Nola is the guy we’ve seen coming from a mile away. Every mock draft, every statement by the front office, and every sourced report from the media for the last couple weeks has pointed to the Phillies taking Nola if he’s available. The only question was the potential for a team like the Cubs or White Sox jumping on him earlier in the draft.
The logic behind that, for those teams, would have been sound. Nola has been the dominant Friday starter for the LSU Tigers this season, getting outs with the strong sink on his two-seam fastball and spectacular control. He’s widely considered to have the potential to be the fastest pitcher from the draft to the majors in this class.
The downside? His secondary pitches are currently average offerings with slight upside, and his fastball sits in the low-mid 90’s, although it has hit as high as 97 in front of Phillies scouts. He lacks projectability and is a little undersized at only 6′ 2″, 195 lbs, but the other side of that coin is his advanced feel for pitching, which will leave relatively little development time.
Overall, he’s not the sexy pick, but he’s a safe bet to contribute; he’s looking to be a solid 2/3 starter when he arrives in Philadelphia. Some people have a philosophical issue with the selection, as it appears the team wants to supplement the current major league roster, instead of rebuilding with a possible (but risky) stud prospect.
I would reserve judgement on these selections until at least the trade deadline, however, as it’s also possible that the front office wants to sell, but avoid Astros-style 0.0 Neilson Ratings and 100 loss seasons. That’s admittedly a stretch, but I wouldn’t consider the Nola pick a huge philosophical disappoint just yet.
LHP Matt Imhof – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
2014 Stats: 2.45 ERA | 99.1 IP | 11.24 K/9 | 3.90 BB/9 | .195 BA/A
Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever described Matt Imhof as a “middle to the back of the rotation [starter]” after the pick Thursday night. He’s a tall, 6′ 5″, 220 lb with a low 90’s fastball. His ticket to the majors is also his fastball command, although he pairs that fastball with an above-average curveball.
Despite his current weight, his lankiness still implies the ability to add a little weight, and to that, possibly a little extra velocity on his fastball. The deception in Imhof’s delivery is commonly mentioned in articles about him, and he also has a change-up, although it has been rarely used in games to date. He has the chance to move quickly through the farm system as well, but not before Nola already arrives.
His ceiling is that of a #3 starter in the big leagues, although more likely is a back of the rotation arm, unless he can add some weight and more velocity. He’s likely to begin his professional career in short-season Williamsport after signing.