When the Phillies took Aaron Nola in the 1st round of the 2014 MLB Draft, they had hopes of him becoming a front line starter who could lead them into the future. 5 years later, Nola is the ace of the staff, locked up to an extension, and coming off another solid season.
Other than Nola (and the newly signed Zach Wheeler), slots 3 through 5 in the rotation may still be up for grabs. There may be some clear front runners for these spots, but yet again we thought that last year. For example, Nick Pivetta went into the season as our 2nd starter. By the end of the year, he was lacking a set role and pitching out of the bullpen. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Phillies starting pitching options beyond Aaron Nola, and Zach Wheeler.
Arrieta is the closest thing we have to a “lock” out of this group to hold a rotation spot for next season. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner will look to turn back the clock and serve as a steady veteran presence on the Phillies staff. If Arrieta can get his elbow taken care of, I feel his best season in Philadelphia is yet to come.
Eflin had an up and down 2019 campaign, but he ended the season on a high note. He may not be the “All-Star” caliber pitcher Gabe Kapler alluded to last summer, but nonetheless, I am excited to see how Zach fares in 2020. I still see him as a starting pitcher (rather than a reliever) long term.
I am a huge fan of Velasquez, but not as a starting pitcher. The 27-year-old has great stuff, but he tires quickly, and often times struggles with command. I feel he could play a more pivotal role as a reliever. The Phillies need the arms in the back end of the bullpen, so I think they should give it a shot.
Despite all the preseason hype going into last season, 2019 did not go as planned for Nick Pivetta. The Canadian born right hander got off to a slow start and could never get it going. Like the two names above (Eflin & Velasquez), Pivetta spent time pitching out of the bullpen. He also spent time pithing with Triple A Lehigh Valley. If I had to guess, Pivetta will most likely be heading back to the minors.
Enyel De Los Santos:
Even though De Los Santos made only 5 MLB appearances in 2019, I still see him as a potential candidate to fill a rotation spot next season. The #7 ranked prospect in the Phillies system made 19 starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley, as he continued to work on his command while in the minors. I expect De Los Santos to do well in 2020, if given the opportunity to do so.
Irvin was named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher for the 2018 season. He won this award as a starting pitcher. Irvin may have struggled in 2019, but so did a number of young arms across the organization. The Phillies lack left handed starting pitching, and Irvin has had success in the upper levels of the minor leagues as a starter. I think he is at least worth considering.
Howard is the only pitcher on this list to have not made their MLB debut. The #2 prospect in the organization made it all the way to Double A Reading this past season, and he pitched well at every stop along the way. It’s looking more and more likely that 2020 could be the year Howard gets the call.