Phillies Prospect Watch: Trio of Hot Young Arms
As the Philadelphia Phillies continue the rebuilding process in 2016, more opportunities will be available for young players to prove themselves at the big league level.
In this piece, I’ll take a look at three young pitchers who have yet to make their Major League debuts, but who are likely to receive a call up to the Phillies over the course of the upcoming season as the club searches for pieces that will comprise the next contending team.
The first is Tom Windle, the 23-year old left-hander whom the Phillies received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in last December’s trade of iconic shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Windle was a second-round pick of LA in the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of Minnesota. He was the Dodgers’ ninth best prospect according to Baseball America following the 2014 season.
After coming over to the Phillies, Windle left 2015 spring training slated to make up part of a talented AA Reading rotation along with fellow prospects Jesse Biddle, Zach Eflin, Ben Lively and Aaron Nola.
Things didn’t start off the way Windle or the Phillies had hoped, as he went 2-5 with a 5.35 ERA over his first 14 starts. Shaky control plagued Windle, as he walked 40 batters compared to 43 strikeouts.
In late June, the Phillies made a move that many had been speculating for some time, moving Windle from starter to reliever. In the bullpen he rediscovered the success that he had in college, recording a 1.69 ERA over 26.2 innings to finish out the year.
After the 2015 season, the Phillies sent Windle to the Arizona Fall League to develop a third pitch to go along with his already solid fastball and slider. Pitching with the Phils’ prospect contingent for the Glendale Desert Dogs, Windle thrived in a relief role, posting a 1.74 ERA in 10 innings pitched. He walked four and struck out seven.
With the Phillies dearth of left-handed relievers, Windle stands a good shot to make the big club out of spring training in 2016. Fellow southpaw Elvis Araujo pitched well last year before suffering a season-ending injury, and should have a spot in the pen.
Mario Hollands is another lefty option on the roster with big league experience, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery, and it remains unclear if he’ll be ready for spring training. The club also signed veteran James Russell, but he was ineffective in 49 games with the Cubs last season, pitching to a 5.29 ERA in 34 innings.
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As a reliever, Windle has been able to refine his changeup, which should prove to be a nice complement to his mid-90s fastball and sharp slider. If he has a good showing in Grapefruit League play, I believer that it is likely he will have a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster.
The second pitcher we’ll examine here is the other piece of that Rollins package from Los Angeles, righthander Zach Eflin. Eflin was a Comp-A pick for the San Diego Padres in 2012, and was one of the top arms in the Friars’ farm system before being dealt to the Dodgers for outfielder Matt Kemp. He was then subsequently flipped to the Phillies just a day later.
Eflin enjoyed a solid start to his career in the Phillies organization. The righty went 8-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 23 starts at AA for the Reading Fightin’ Phils. In 131.2 innings, Eflin struck out 68 and walked just 23 opposition batters.
A guy who doesn’t possess put-away stuff, Eflin relies on pinpoint command, the biggest reason for his success thus far over his short minor-league career. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but his changeup is his out pitch. The 6’4’’, 200-pounder also possesses a nice breaking-ball, but it could use some sharpening.
The youngest player in the Eastern League to start the 2015 season, Eflin also got some valuable experience with Team USA at the Pan-Am games last summer in Toronto.
It is safe to assume that the 21-year-old Eflin will get some innings in Grapefruit League games next spring, and should find his way into the AAA Lehigh Valley starting rotation to begin the season.
With the current Phillies’ starting rotation consisting of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Adam Morgan, new-addition Jeremy Hellickson and a TBD fifth starter, Eflin should get his shot at the big leagues by mid-season, assuming success after getting some more experience in the minors. If all goes well, Eflin projects as a viable back-end Major League starter.
The last player I’ll discuss is one of the names headlined in the return from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal. That would be big righthander Jake Thompson. According to MLBPipeline, Thompson is the top-ranked Phillies pitching prospect. While he’ll likely start the season along with Eflin in AAA, he has the chance to make the largest impact in the Majors out of the three pitchers mentioned in this piece.
With a strong build, mid 90s fastball, devastating slider, and room for development with his changeup, Thompson has big upside and could evolve into a number two or three starter for the Phillies as he develops further.
Selected by the Detroit Tigers in the second round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Rockwall-Heath High School in Rockwall, Texas, Thompson was shipped off to the Rangers for reliever Joakim Soria in July of 2014. After the 2014 season, Thompson was ranked the 43rd best prospect in all of MiLB, and second best in the Rangers’ system following the 2014 season.
The 21-year-old spent the first half of the 2015 season with AA Frisco, where he went 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA in 87.2 innings in 17 starts. While those stats weren’t overwhelming, Thompson really turned it on following his trade to the Phillies and a move to the Eastern League with Reading. In seven starts with the Fightin Phils, Thompson was virtually unhittable. The 6’4’’, 235-pound righty went 5-1 with an excellent 1.80 ERA. He struck out 34 batters in 45 innings, and opposing batters hit a meager .217 against him.
Trades over the last year have netted the Phillies some intriguing pitching prospects, helping revamp a previously depleted farm system. Phillies fans should look forward to seeing this trio of pitchers make their MLB debuts in 2016, providing some excitement as the Phillies enter year two of their rebuild with serious, legitimate, talented pitching competition.