Let’s imagine a scenario.
In this scenario, the Phillies do not acquire another starting pitcher the rest of this offseason. They choose to either hold on to their minor league assets, not deeming the players being mentioned as trade bait this offseason as good enough to acquire or the asking price to be out of their comfort zone. Let’s also imagine in this scenario that they feel good about having to have surrendered their second-round draft pick already, as well as the $500k in the international market, and no longer wish to part with other compensation to sign a free agent pitcher.
Both of these are likely scenarios to actually play out over the next few months. While rumors persist that the team is looking to do something, it is entirely plausible that they stand pat, opting to run with what they have.
This only intensifies the argument that the most important player on this current roster is Vince Velasquez.
Let’s go back to 2015. Velasquez would make his major league debut that season with the Houston Astros and had some tremendous scouting reports to follow him. Below are some of these reports from Baseball Prospectus:
2015 (Astros’ #3 prospect), OFP - 6; no. 3 starter:
Velasquez needs to stay on the field if he is going to log the necessary reps to beef up the breaking ball. At present it’s a lightweight fighter who will soon be asked to take on middle- and heavyweight pugilists from Double-A on. Thus far his plus off-speed offering has been enough to keep both lefty and righty bats at bay, serving to disrupt timing and draft soft and empty contact alike. Were Velasquez to ultimately prove incapable of sticking in a rotation, be it durability or lack of a requisite third offering, he could thrive in the late innings.
2014 (#6 prospect), OFP - 6; no. 2/3 starter
The development of the breaking ball is key for Velasquez’s long-term success, although his fastball/changeup combo is strong enough to carry him to the majors, even with a fringe curveball. Depending on the source, projections on the present offering range from below average to average, with one source suggesting it could develop into a plus pitch next season. If that’s the case, Velasquez’s placement on this list could look foolish at this time next year.
He had believers. Even though in 2015, he was used more as a reliever for Houston during their postseason push, the plan was still to have him become a starter. Then, once he was traded to Philadelphia, the plan continued. He has made 39 appearances over the last two seasons, all of them starts.
We could go over and over those starts again, but that has been done to death. We all know the profile at this point - great fastball, but the secondary stuff is still a bit iffy. The command just hasn’t been good, leading him to average 89 pitches per start as a Phillie, lasting only 5.2 innings per start as well. He just can’t get deep into games, at least not deep enough to live up to that #3, let along a #2, pitcher.
But what if he did?
Imagine if something clicked with Velasquez this offseason, in which he suddenly finds that control of the offspeed stuff he has been looking for for so long. What if he suddenly realized the benefit of pitching to contact more often, letting his defense do more of the heavy lifting? What if he stops trying to nibble around the corners too much, naturally letting his plus fastball do the work?
What if he reaches that ceiling of a #3, or even...dare I say it...<extremely hushed tone> a #2 starter?
Suddenly, the team has Aaron Nola, a rejuvenated Velasquez, an injury free Jerad Eickhoff and whoever wins the spring training death matches to get the #4/5 spots in the rotation. It’s a rotation that all of a sudden doesn’t look quite as bad as it did at the end of 2017. Coupled with a bullpen that has the potential to be a top 10 bullpen, and this pitching staff begins to become a strength.
Conversely, if Velasquez is unable to improve and is forced into the bullpen, now his stuff might play up another tick, which could provide manager Gabe Kapler with another option at the end of games.
The domino effect that a good and effective Velasquez can have on this team is a big one. Whether it is him figuring out his issues as a starter, or beginning his career as a reliever, if he finds success in either role, the Phillies are a better team. It behooves Kapler and his pitching coach Rick Kranitz, along with assistant pitching coach Chris Young, to get Velasquez on track. It can only lead to better days for the team.