Can Kevin Slowey Help the 2015 Phillies?

ethanwitte
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Kevin Slowey made his spring debut with the Phillies on Wednesday, yielding one hit over 2 innings of work, going along with two strikeouts and no walks. His fastball reportedly topped out at 89 miles per hour. That fastball velocity is not exactly what one looks for in a big league starter, but since it is early March, it’s nothing really to get worked up about.

Reading over box scores from Spring Training can be tedious, as these early days are when coaches are looking at players signed over the winter for the first time. It’s imperative for these players to make a strong first impression, and it seems Slowey has now made one. To the average Phils fan, the first question that probably pops into their head is: who is Kevin Slowey?

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Slowey was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2005 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of Winthrop University. It was thought that he might be a fast mover through their minor league system, and indeed was such. Slowey his MLB debut in 2007, hurling 66.2 innings of 91 ERA+ ball over 13 appearances, 11 of those as starts.

Slowey has 7 seasons of big league experience, last 2 with Miami.

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

He then had a decent 2008, making 27 starts and compiling a 3.99 ERA, a 6.9 K/9 ratio, and just a shade over 9 hits per nine innings, which helped him produce a 105 ERA+. His outstanding control translated to a Tewksbury-esque 1.3 BB/9, and he has continued to carry that control as a signature throughout his career.

However, that 2008 was also the season that would begin a major storyline in Slowey’s major league career: injuries. He missed 28 games with a right biceps strain, missing a scheduled starting outing here and there with other minor injuries.

2009 brought him a 60-day DL trip to remove bone chips in his wrist. In 2012, he missed essentially an entire season with a ribcage issue in the minor leagues. All the while, he had been missing time in the majors. From 2009-2014, Slowey only made 97 appearances (68 starts), throwing 435 innings of below average work.

Through it all, his control remained (1.6 BB/9 during that time), but his pitches weren’t missing bats (6.8 K/9), and those that were contacted were getting hit for base hits (10.8 H/9). Add it all up and you have a pitcher compiling an 85 ERA+ and 2.2 rWAR. He essentially was a below replacement-caliber starting pitcher.

With all of this in mind, Slowey was signed by the Phillies in December as a minor league free agent. It’s not a franchise-altering deal by any means, but it was still necessary for the team. He has experience, and he has shown the ability to compete with big league hitters.

Slowey will battle for the 5th starter’s job, but odds are that he will at least begin the season in the starting rotation at AAA-Lehigh Valley. So, what might he do for the Phillies in the big leagues?

The key word to remember with Slowey is depth. Last year, the team had only nine pitchers make a start, a surprisingly low number if you consider how poorly the team performed, and also considering the Lee injury troubles that lasted essentially all season long. The pitchers stayed relatively healthy, sans Lee, and minor league reinforcements weren’t needed as much.

It’s important to remember that Ruben Amaro held a deluded belief at the beginning of the season that the team could still contend. That was why he signed A.J. Burnett to go with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, making what he thought was a playoff-caliber rotation.

Amaro believed that the team had the necessary components to make a run at a playoff spot, and did not shop any of his tradeable commodities to begin a rebuild. Even when the team was out of contention, Amaro refused to deal his assets. In any talks, he reportedly placed a ridiculous price tag on his aging, high-salaried players.

The script has been flipped this year. Amaro has stated that anyone is available for the right price, and he has consummated several deals already. With more trades on the horizon, it is possible that four-fifths of the team’s Opening Day rotation will not be with the team come August 1st.

Hamels has been publicly shopped already. Lee only needs to prove he’s healthy before he is placed up for auction. Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang were both signed to short contracts that will make them attractive, healthy and effectiveness permitting, come the trade deadline. That means pitching depth at the Triple-A level is likely to be a key to this season at some point.

It would be counterproductive for the team to rush its talented AA rotation of Nola, Biddle, Eflin, Wendle, and Lively into roles in the major league rotation if they aren’t ready. It also doesn’t make sense budget-wise, since beginning the arbitration clocks of those young arms in a lost season would be extremely unwise.

All of this makes players like Slowey valuable to the front office. They cost nothing more than a minor league contract, so they will not break the bank, yet they have shown past ability to pitch effectively at the major league level should they be called upon to do so.

Slowey probably won’t be more than mediocre if he does indeed get called to Philadelphia. A simple look at his past performance portends that truth. But think Kyle Kendrick: he’ll be able to soak up innings while not getting blown out of the water most outings.

As I stated before, Slowey won’t alter where the franchise is headed in the future. Yet players like him are valuable to a rebuilding club. If Slowey does pitch this year for the Phillies, it’s reasonable to expect a line something like this: 4.60 ERA, 7 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 9 H/9. It isn’t great, but it’s simply something that Phillies fans might have to live with if they want the team to rebuild properly.

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