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6 Phillies minor league invitees who could make an impact in 2020

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These sx players invited to minor league camp have the best shot at being productive big leaguers this season.

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It looks as if the Phillies’ equipment manager’s sewing machine is going to be working overtime this spring putting names and numbers on the jerseys of all the players who have been invited to Clearwater for spring training.

So far, 69 players have been invited to big league camp, and a slew of them are on minor league deals. In fact, most of the bullpen could be made up of arms that come to Florida on those minor league contracts. This off-season, Matt Klentak’s plan for building the bullpen deviated from his strategy the previous two seasons when he paid big money to veteran arms like Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio and David Robertson.

That didn’t work out so well, so this time around, Klentak is attempting to blot out the sun with minor league arms, hoping to unearth some jewels in the rough. It’s a safer strategy that he hopes will bear fruit with new pitching coach Bryan Price in the fold.

Klentak also has decided he needs veterans on the bench, unlike last year when he depended on Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn to play important roles. This year, he’s invited a number of former big league veterans to camp on minor league deals in the hopes that experience will make for better part-time players.

Most of these signings won’t amount to anything, but some of the names are intriguing and could work out. Here are six I think have a legitimate shot to be productive members of the 2020 Phillies.

Francisco Liriano

The former starter had a lot of success out of the bullpen last year for the Pirates, with a 3.74 ERA in 70.0 innings. He saw his K/9 increase from 7.41 in 2018 to 8.10 last year, and in a season where balls were flying out of the park at a record pace, his HR/9 fell from 1.28 to 1.03. He was particularly good against left-handers, allowing just a .194/.326/.333 slash line against them, although he wasn’t terrible against right-handers, with a .246/.329/.401 slash line allowed.

That will mean something, given how pitchers must face at least three batters or finish an inning. No more LOOGYs. His fastball was up a full mile per hour last year (93.0 avg) from the season before, which is good news for a pitching staff that had trouble finding pitchers who could throw hard out of the bullpen last season.

Blake Parker

Look, Blake Parker was not awesome last year, but he wasn’t as bad as many of us might think he was. In fact, if you look at his peripherals, he was actually somewhat decent.

Parker had a 4.55 ERA in 60 games last season, but struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings and 3.2 BB/9. In 23 games with the Phillies, his 5.04 ERA was clearly bad, but had an 11.2 K/9 with a 2.2 BB/9. That’s a really, really good strikeout-to-walk ratio. The problem was he gave up 1.91 HR/9 last season and, in his 23 games he gave up six homers with the Phils.

Parker doesn’t throw hard, just 91.2 mph on his fastball on average. The dingers were his undoing. Those are two big red flags, and no one knows what the baseball is going to look like this season. If it’s the same, Parker’s homer problems could continue.

But if he’s able to get that one area under control, Parker could be a positive contributor to the ‘pen in 2020.

Drew Storen

Drew Storen used to be really good. He saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2011, suffered a nasty implosion in the playoffs, came back to be the team’s closer in 2015 and saved another 29 games until the Nationals traded for Jonathan Papelbon and the wheels came off everything.

Storen’s last appearance in the Majors was in 2017 with the Reds when he put up a 4.45 ERA and a 4.88 FIP. He got hurt late in the season and missed all of 2018 and most of last year with Tommy John surgery. He only pitched 10.1 innings in AAA last season, so no one is really sure what we’re going to get with him.

Storen may not be good anymore. His last good season was that ‘15 season, half a decade ago. But if there’s something left in the tank, Storen could be a good bounce-back candidate in the ‘pen for the Phillies.

Reggie McClain

The Phillies claimed McClain off waivers last week and they can thank the revelations stemming from the Astros cheating scandal for their interest in him.

The 27-year-old right-hander throws a 94-97 mph sinker and moved from high-A to the Majors all in one year last year. He was outstanding in A+ and AA and, upon reaching Seattle’s AAA affiliate continued to pitch well, despite a 3.29 ERA and 4.55 FIP, in a park where many of the stadiums are a higher elevations and the ball tends to carry.

McClain was called up to the Mariners in August and put up a 6.00 ERA, struck out just 4.71 batters per nine and walked 5.57. Ugly numbers but, in 11 of his 14 appearances he gave up just three runs in 18 innings. His other three performances were all in Houston, where he gave up 11 runs in three innings.

If you believe the Astros were doing funny, sign-stealing things at their home stadium last year, then perhaps you can chalk up a lot of his issues last season to Houston’s malfeasance. Either way, the Phils brought in a guy with a live arm and a chance to really be something in their bullpen this season.

Neil Walker

Last year, Walker played some first base, second base and third base and also played the two corner outfield spots in 2018, so he provides positional flexibility. And while his overall numbers weren’t so hot, when he came off the bench, he was outstanding.

In 40 plate appearances as a sub last season, Walker hit .324/.425/.588 with a 1.013 OPS and two pinch hit home runs.

That sounds like a very valuable bench bat to me.

Josh Harrison

Harrison’s days as a four-win player are long gone, and he’s not a starter anymore either. But he might be a valuable bench bat.

In 147 plate appearances last year he hit a meager .175/.218/.263 with just one homer for Detroit, a truly brutal season. But as recently as 2017 he hit 16 home runs in 128 games played and put up a .272/.339/.432 slash line and a wRC+ of 104.

Is that player still in there? It’s unclear, but he can play second, third and the corner outfield and the Phils are going to give him a chance to prove he still has a little of that juice left in him.

On Episode 356 of Hittin’ Season, I talked more about the minor league signings and chatted with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Scott Lauber about the potential for a Kris Bryant trade, the Mookie Betts deal and the Phillies’ decision to retire Roy Halladay’s number. Hope you’ll tune in!