As spring training drew to a close earlier this year, it was clear the Phillies were intent on keeping first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi on the 25-man roster, which meant someone would have to be removed from the 40-man roster to make room.
Remember when we were all wringing our hands over this? Remember when this was a big story? Yeah, well, with virtually no positional battles going on as things wrapped up in Clearwater back in March, this is what we were left with.
At the time, I was not high on Luis Garcia or Adam Morgan being a part of the 2017 Phils. Both had received numerous chances to make their marks and both hadn’t done much with it. So when it came time to make some people expendable, I was all set to release Luis Garcia, for one, to the hounds.
Then you need to cut just one person from the 40-man, which I would make Luis Garcia.— John Stolnis (@FelskeFiles) March 13, 2017
I get the Phils have a bullpen shortage on the 40-man, but Luis Garcia isn't good. He's just not. I'd have kept Goeddel.— John Stolnis (@FelskeFiles) March 30, 2017
And while I predicted Morgan would make the roster as the team’s long-man/left-handed relief option in the bullpen, I wasn’t doing cartwheels about it. And neither were the Phillies, who sent him down to the minors less than two weeks into the regular season after allowing four homers in a 14-4 loss to the New York Mets in early April. Here’s what he said after the game.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Morgan said. “Right now I think the best thing to do is be around family. Just take it as it comes. Really, I think the biggest thing right now is happiness. You never know what’s going to happen in this game, so you’ve got to be content wherever you are. Can’t let it get you down.”
Happily, for these two relievers, their seasons finished up much better than they started. And now, both are sure-fire locks for the 2018 bullpen, provided they stay healthy.
In 71.1 IP, a career high, Garcia put up a 2.65 ERA and a 3.12 FIP in 66 appearances. He posted a strikeout rate of 20.3% and, most significantly, lowered his walk rate from a career mark of 12.1% to 8.8% last season. And one year after allowing batters to hit .313 against him, opponents hit a measly .227.
It was a remarkable improvement. His WHIP went from 1.60 in 2013, 1.93 in ‘14, 1.64 in ‘15, and 1.89 in ‘16 to 1.22 last season. Garcia has always thrown hard, but last year was especially fiery, with a fastball averaging 97.2 mph in 2017 that was tied for 14th-hardest among 155 qualified Major League relief pitchers. Here he is throwing 99 mph past some Braves fool last season.
Garcia was especially dominant against right-handed hitters (.472 OPS against), while lefties hit him around just a bit (.729 OPS against). But those are certainly acceptable numbers for a late-inning reliever brought in to face mostly right righties. He also did pretty well in late and close situations (.607 OPS against), with a 3.82 ERA in the 8th inning and a 2.70 ERA in the 9th.
Never forget that Garcia was working in a barber shop back in 2011.
As for Morgan, his 2017 season was even more surprising. He came into the season knowing he was making the transition to the bullpen full-time, which made sense given his career 5.43 ERA in 194 innings as a starting pitcher. The transition turned Morgan into a completely different arm.
In 2015, his fastball averaged 89.0 mph. In 2016, it was 90.7. Last year, he averaged 94.4 mph, and would often reach into the upper 90s. His slider also had a lot more movement on it, as he relied on those two pitches to dominate left-handed hitters to the tune of a .193/.245/.352 slash line. Righties fared a bit better, with a slash of .276/.341/.496.
From June 14th until the end of the season, Morgan had an ERA of 2.84 and a FIP of 2.95, averaging 10.76 K/9 while walking 3.05 per nine. Between August 2 and September 29 (26 IP), he went 3-1 with a 0.69 ERA. He struck out 32 batters and walked five.
Morgan, by the way, is the last left-handed starter to pitch for the Phils, which he did on September 28, 2016, a streak of 166 games of all right-handed starters.
Garcia and Morgan are two guys I didn’t want to see make the 40-man roster at the start of the year. It seemed for all the world that they were two pitchers who had gotten their chance and were never going to realize their potential.
But that’s the beauty of a rebuilding team. Sometimes, you have the roster flexibility to give guys one more chance. Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan both received one more chance, and took advantage of it.
The Phillies will be counting on them to do it again in 2018.