It is no secret that the Phillies have a surplus of young starting pitching. Last I checked the Phillies had 16 starting pitchers on their 40 man roster with already graduated prospects such as Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Alec Asher on the outside looking in. This has left the upper minors a bit bare of higher upside pitching prospects. In place of polished starters, the system is producing high upside Latin American arms at an exciting rate. This year’s list is topped by three Dominican righties who represent the GCL Phillies’ big breakout prospect for the past 3 years running.
This list represents a collaboration by the prospect team of Dan, Victor, Jay, and myself and not anyone’s individual order. For the most part we agreed with the order at the top of the list. The Top 8 on this list all were in at least the top 9 of every ballot, but then things got a bit wonky as we tried to separate the back end starters and far away dreams.
1. Franklyn Kilome
Lakewood: 114.2 IP, 3.85 ERA, 113 H, 6 HR, 50 BB (10.0%), 130 K (26.0%)
Kilome’s season line still has the stink of his first 3 starts where he had a 15.83 ERA over 9.2 innings. After skipping a start, Kilome started 20 games with a 2.73 ERA with a 9.1 BB% and 27.9 K%. Kilome was even more masterful down the stretch when over his last 9 starts he pitched 48.1 innings with 11 walks and 64 strikeouts and a 2.23 ERA, topping it off with a 7 inning start in the playoffs in which he allowed 1 hit, no runs, 2 walks, and 9 strikeouts. Kilome’s profile is all about upside. He already has an electric fastball that sits 92-97 with great downward plane and heavy sink. His frame hints at the possibility for even a bit more velocity growth. He pairs his fastball with a plus curveball that by end of year he was able to throw for strikes and bury out of the zone for misses. The problems for Kilome are two-fold. The first is that he has yet to find a consistent changeup, with the pitch often too firm and lacking life; given his fastball and curveball, Kilome just needs to find an average pitch to keep hitters off balance. The other problem is that his size has led to inconsistency in his delivery, which has manifested in inconsistent velocity and wavering command. Kilome has frontline starter upside, but his combination of fastball and curveball could make him a dominant reliever if he falters along the way.
2. Sixto Sanchez
GCL: 54 IP, 0.50 ERA, 33 H, 0 HR, 8 BB (4.1%), 44 K (22.7%)
Sanchez is almost certainly the breakout prospect of the year for the Phillies. He started the year as a relative unknown throwing 91-95 with command and ended the year sitting 95-97 touching 99, with sink, in the GCL playoffs. To go with the electric fastball, Sanchez throws a curveball, changeup, and power slider that all show future plus or better potential. Sanchez also pitched almost the entire GCL season at age 17. The knock on Sanchez is his size, he is close to his listed 5’11” but is solidly built. He is low on future projection for his age, but his stuff does not really need projection to be dominant. In addition to the outstanding strikeout and walk numbers, Sanchez suppressed quality contact holding opposing batters to 59% ground ball rate during the regular season. He was so dominant that it is reflected in a suppressed K/9. During the regular season Sanchez faced only 3.59 batters per inning, whereas Kilome faced 4.34. If Sanchez had allowed baserunners at Kilome’s rate while still holding his strikeout rate, his K/9 would be 8.9. Sanchez is advanced enough that he should jump to Lakewood next year and could be on the fast track through the system. If he can move his secondary pitches from flashes to consistent plus pitches he has ace potential.
3. Adonis Medina
Williamsport: 64.2 IP, 2.92 ERA, 47 H, 5 HR, 24 BB (9.0%), 34 K (12.8%)
Medina is the middle of the Phillies’ breakout Dominican prospects. At his best, Medina can touch up to 97 with a heavy fastball from an easy delivery. He will pair that with a curveball and changeup that flash above average to plus potential, and a devastating slider that is new this year. He flashed this dominance in his one inning appearance at the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. The problem is that he didn’t miss bats all year and his ability to suppress solid contact wavered down the stretch. Medina also saw some velocity fluctuations, sometimes sitting more 88-92. Medina does have a good feel for pitching, but he lacks Sanchez’s high end stuff or Kilome’s projection leaving him a bit behind those two in ceiling, with mid-rotation upside more realistic for him. He should be part of a good BlueClaws rotation.
4. Kevin Gowdy
GCL: 9.0 IP, 4.00 ERA, 9 H, 0 HR, 2 BB (4.8%), 9 K (21.4%)
After saving money on Moniak the Phillies handed Gowdy $3.5 million at the start of the second round. What they got was one of the most polished high school pitchers in the draft. Gowdy already has a fastball that sits 90-94 touching 95, with the physical projection to add a bit more. He also has a slider that flashes plus and advanced feel for a changeup. Gowdy’s delivery is easy and he has good command for a high school arm. Gowdy did miss much of the GCL season due to a non-arm injury and when he was pitching he didn’t stand out like some of his peers. Gowdy’s polish and solid stuff could see him jump directly to Lakewood where he could move quickly as a mid rotation starter with possibly a bit more upside if he can add velocity.
5. Nick Pivetta
Reading: 124 IP, 3.41 ERA, 108 H, 10 HR, 41 BB (8.0%), 111 K (21.6%)
Lehigh Valley: 24.2 IP, 2.55 ERA, 20 H, 2 HR, 10 BB (9.9%), 27 K (26.7%)
With all of the Phillies graduations Pivetta remains as the top upper minors starting pitching prospect in the system. It was a bounceback year for Pivetta after he struggled in his first taste of AA. There are still concerns about Pivetta in the rotation, mainly his lack of a solid changeup, but he was about to show enough command improvement that he has a chance to stick in the rotation. Pivetta is mostly 91-96 with a heavy fastball and he matches that with a power curveball. He holds his velocity well and he has the frame to shoulder a large innings load. With his above average curveball and change of pace slider it doesn't take a lot of projection to see Pivetta as a Eickhoff-like starter even if his changeup development remains stunted. If Pivetta cannot stick in the rotation, he has already shown the potential to be a dominant high leverage reliever.
6. Alberto Tirado
Lakewood: 61.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 48 H, 3 HR, 36 BB (13.2%), 96 K (35.3%)
Clearwater: 3.1 IP, 16.20 ERA, 3 H, 0 HR, 6 BB (31.6%), 6 K (31.6%)
At this point the narrative of Tirado’s season has been well written. He struggled as a reliever and then after pitching in the complex he was dominant down the stretch for the BlueClaws with his final 10 regular season starts seeing him pitch 50.1 innings with a 1.97 ERA, 21 walks (10.2%), and 80 strikeouts (37.0%). As a starter, Tirado is able to hold his velocity over his starts and was sitting 94-98 touching 100 for Lakewood. His slider is a sweeping bat missing pitch with two plane movement, but it can get a bit loopy. Tirado still does not have a lot of command, but he flashed some ability to locate and a lot more ability to throw strikes consistently. Tirado still lacks a changeup and without an increase in command he is still probably a reliever. There is no reason for the Phillies to stop using him as a starter while he develops, but his destiny is probably being the key in the bullpen that terrifies opposing teams.
7. Mark Appel
Lehigh Valley: 38.1 IP, 4.46 ERA, 40 H, 3 HR, 20 BB (11.6%), 34 K (19.8%)
If you are still waiting for Mark Appel to be a #1 pick level talent, give up. However, there is still room for Appel to be a competent major leaguer. The problem is he is even more of an enigma than before. For the IronPigs, Appel flashed high-end stuff with a fastball touching 97, a bat-missing slider, and solid changeup. But, like usual Mark Appel, that stuff was not consistent and he had real problems pitching from the stretch and was prone to the big innings. He then went down with a shoulder injury and while recovering from that he had elbow surgery to remove bone chips. The reports out of Florida were that Appel was 100% healthy by end of season and looked better than he did to start the year. No one has seen the new Appel over any meaningful bit of time so there is no way of knowing what he worked to improve during his rehab. He still has the stuff to be a #3 or #4 starter, and it looks like the Phillies will give him one last shot at that. If that doesn’t work they could see if his stuff plays up in relief where his fastball-slider combo theoretically could make him a high leverage reliever.
8. Ricardo Pinto
Reading: 156.0 IP, 4.10 ERA, 150 H, 20 HR, 51 BB (7.7%), 101 K (15.2%)
Ricardo Pinto’s follow-up performance to winning the Paul Owens award in 2015 was a bit rough. The small right hander struggled to miss bats and, for the first time in his pro career, developed a home run problem. Pinto still has a fastball that sit 90-94 and will touch 96 and a changeup that looks like a plus pitch most days. He still fills up the strike zone and is not afraid to attack hitters. The problem has been finding a consistent enough breaking ball to keep them off balance. If Pinto can just have an average breaking ball he should be able to stick in the rotation long term, because he has shown the ability to handle a heavy workload. However, due to the Phillies pitching log jam and his fastball-changeup combination Pinto could find himself as the first starter to move to the bullpen where he profiles as a 7th/8th inning type reliever.
9. Seranthony Dominguez
Williamsport: 17.0 IP, 2.12 ERA, 8 H, 0 HR, 4 BB (5.9%), 15 K (22.1%)
Lakewood: 48.1 IP, 2.42 ERA, 34 H, 2 HR, 20 BB (10.4%), 50 K (25.9%)
Dominguez was a bit of a sleeper coming into this season. His fastball touched 95-96 in 2015, but he missed the GCL season due to injury. Then this spring he showed the same velocity to go along with much improved secondary pitches and control. Dominguez sits in the 92-95 range with an explosive fastball and reportedly has touched up to 97. He will flash an above average to plus curveball and changeup, but he does not throw either frequently or consistently. After a quick stint in Williamsport, Dominguez joined a formidable Lakewood rotation, where after a rough start he matched his fellow Dominicans in dominance with a 1.54 ERA over final 9 starts spanning 46.2 innings. Dominguez’s velocity and promising secondary pitches hint at mid-rotation upside, but his track record is short and he still has a long way to go. Right now he is more control over command with his pitches missing bats based more on their life than location. That and his diminutive size have some thinking he will end up in the bullpen. For now Dominguez should go to Clearwater where his biggest priority should be getting a full healthy season under his belt.
10. Thomas Eshelman
Clearwater: 59.1 IP, 3.34 ERA, 58 H, 7 HR, 11 BB (4.5%), 64 K (25.9%)
Reading: 61.1 IP, 5.14 ERA, 79 H, 4 HR, 17 BB (6.1%), 55 K (19.8%)
It is easy to forget that this was Eshelman’s first full season in pro-ball. There were some positives for the command-and-control righty as his fastball velocity increased a little from 88-91 to more 90-92 touching 93-94. There were also some negatives as his strike-throwing ways coupled with a lack of bat missing secondary pitches plagued him in AA. When Eshelman’s command is on, he is almost unhittable, when it is just a little off, hitters make a ton of hard contact off of him. Eshelman is still relatively young so he has time to improve his changeup and slider to the point where he could be a #4 starter. If not, his ability to throw strikes and locate his pitches give him the floor of an up and down #5/#6 starter. He almost certainly will get a return trip to Reading where the Phillies pitching depth will allow him to take his time developing.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Lively, Francisco Morales, Drew Anderson, Tyler Viza, Jose Tavares
Ben Lively and Jose Tavares are both similar pitchers. They both sport a collection of fringe average to average pitches (Lively’s slider might be above average) that they couple with their strike throwing abilities and deceptive deliveries to keep hitters off balance. Lively is more polished and is on the verge of the majors where he profiles as a back end starter. Morales is the front runner to be the next breakout pitching prospect for the Phillies. A 6’6” 17 year old who already can touch 96, Morales is a better starting talent than Kilome, Medina, or Sanchez. If the Phillies pitching staff can get him to harness his delivery and build on his potentially plus slider, he could shoot up lists. Drew Anderson returned from injury this year with some rust and a fastball that now sits in the mid 90s. He needs to prove he can stay healthy while also showing he has the 3-pitch mix to start. Viza is another back end starter in the mold of an Eshelman or Lively. Viza saw an increase in velocity in 2016, and still has the frame to add more. He has good control, but he still needs to polish his secondary pitches to be a back end major league starter.