**Note: I realize baseball may not even happen this year. But will that stop me from discussing pitchers who, if the season was happening as planned, could have a breakout season? Of course not! Please hold onto your butts for this one and work with me here, I’m doing the best I can.**
Breakout seasons are a lot of fun to predict, primarily because there’s always the possibility you’re right and a player who didn’t play well the season before will suddenly be much better. What’s not to love about that potential? Of course, breakout seasons aren’t ever easy to foresee. Just look at how many Nick Pivetta breakout seasons have been predicted over the past few years.
It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that most people have Spencer Howard on their list of potential breakout seasons for the Phillies in 2020. We at The Good Phight have talked a lot about him, so I won’t rehash everything we’ve already said. But the difference in 2020 will be his health. We know he’s good even when he spends part of the season injured, but how good will he be when he can have a full injury-free season?
Besides Howard, the Phillies do have a few pitchers both in the minors and on the Major League team who could have a surprise breakout season in 2020.
Cristopher Sanchez is definitely one minor league pitcher to keep an eye on in 2020. In fear of losing Sanchez to the Rule 5 Draft, the Tampa Bay Rays, who signed him in 2013, made him available for trade in November. Meanwhile, the Phillies’ scouting system was extremely high on him and were campaigning hard for the club to find a way to acquire him. It was a match made in heaven, and all it cost the Phillies was Curtis Mead, a 19-year old prospect who didn’t require the Rule 5 protection that Sanchez did.
I recently spoke with someone who watched Sanchez a lot in 2019 while he was with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Tampa Bay’s Low-A affiliate. Here’s what he had to say:
“He’s an interesting prospect, kind of came out of nowhere. He’s a tall, lanky lefty who throws out of a low ¾ arm slot. Velocity seemed to go up as the year went on, so he was sitting 95-97 by the time he got promoted and reportedly hit 100 once on the road. Control is surprisingly good for that kind of velocity. He served as a solid swingman last year, though his best role is out of the bullpen. He can get both lefties and righties out. He could surprise some people.”
Right now, the Phillies have a substantial amount of future MLB-quality starting pitching prospects with Howard, Connor Seabold, Damon Jones and Adonis Medina. Where they really need more higher-end prospects is in the bullpen. Sanchez could fit that role well, should they decide to permanently move him to a reliever role.
Other Minor League pitchers to keep a close eye on this season are Seabold and Erik Miller.
Pitchers on the Major League roster are a bit more difficult to predict, since most of them aren’t primarily working on development and likely won’t be making huge improvements over the course of a single season. Of course, with major changes in both the manager and pitching coach positions, every single one of them could prove me wrong and have significantly better seasons in 2020. It’s actually that mentality that has me going out of the box with this choice and picking someone probably none of you are expecting: Aaron Nola.
Now I know what you’re thinking. This guy was a Cy Young finalist in 2018, how could he possibly be a candidate for a breakout season just two years later? The truth is, I don’t think we’ve really seen what Aaron Nola is capable of. I think 2018 was just the tip of the iceberg. After taking a slight step back in 2019, I think the personnel changes this offseason will most highly impact Nola going forward.
He now has a year of experience working with the best catcher in baseball. He has a pitching coach who knows how to get the best out of players like him. And he has a manager who knows how to appropriately manage his workload. Those three things will be tremendous for all of the returning pitchers, but should especially impact Nola, who is on the cusp of going from being “very good” to being “great.”
Other Major League pitchers to keep a close eye on this season are Zach Eflin and Jose Alvarez. Oh, and of course Nick Pivetta.
Now please go wash your hands, the computer/phone/tablet you’re reading this on is filthy.