Phillies Mailbag: Velasquez’s Workload, Howard and Ruiz, Alfaro
It is time once again for a Phillies 97.3 ESPN Monday Mailbag. We take your questions every Monday and then we talk about them during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill on Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. If you are not in South Jersey, you can listen online at 973espn.com.
The Phils will shut Velasquez down in September in order to save his arm and prevent injury, correct? He's a component in a pending trade in fantasy baseball.
Phillies starter Vince Velasquez has an agent who may have something to say about Velasquez's innings: super agent Scott Boras. Boras clients are known to seek innings limits. Just last year Mets pitcher Matt Harvey engaged in a very public battle about his innings. Harvey did pitch into the World Series, but in early 2016 Boras expressed his concern for the way Harvey pitched in 2015. Harvey is now shut down for the season with an arm injury.
Of course, there is no proof that a certain number of innings makes all the difference. Boras client Stephen Strasburg was shut down early, despite the Nationals being playoff-bound. Without Strasburg, the Nationals were quickly eliminated from the playoffs. The Phillies do not face such a problem.
Unlike the Nationals in 2012, he Phillies can afford to shut Velasquez down in 2016, or at the very least limit his innings. With rosters expanding on September 1, the Phillies will certainly add talent from the minor leagues to help fill some of the innings their young starters will not pitch. I suspect the Phillies will also watch the innings of Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Jerad Eickhoff.
That could mean a six-man rotation that includes Jake Thompson, or it could mean the Phillies stick with five and give starts to the likes of David Buchanan and Adam Morgan. Even Brett Oberholtzer could get some starts, while the Phillies rely on innings from current minor leaguers on the 40-man roster Elvis Araujo, Michael Mariot, Severino Gonzalez, Dalier Hinojosa, Luis Garcia, and Colton Murray.
The Phillies may patch September together with a lot of arms. I am by no means a fantasy baseball expert, but to answer your question, Velasquez probably sees a great reduction in his workload, if he is not shut down altogether.
Will Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard be with the Phillies when they appear on the "Pride of the Phillies" poster in August?
The two veteran Phillies holdovers will be recognized with this year's "Pride of the Phillies" poster. The giveaway does not take place until August, which could mean that the Phillies may have moved on from either player by then. Of the two, Carlos Ruiz may be more likely to be traded than Ryan Howard.
On Friday, Ruiz told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Matt Gelb that he would "like to taste that again", referring to the playoffs. At 37 years old, opportunities for Ruiz to play on a playoff team are declining. A potential landing spot opened for Ruiz when Indians starting catcher Yan Gomes was lost for the season after injuring his shoulder on Sunday. While the Indians have said that they would give playing time to Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez. The first place Indians may not wish to spend big for catcher Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers, so the veteran Ruiz may be a strong alternative to lead the Indians into the playoffs.
Other catchers who could be moved include Nick Hundley of the Colorado Rockies and Kurt Suzuki of the Minnesota Twins. But Ruiz has the better track record in the playoffs and reputation as a backstop. If the Phillies move Ruiz, it may be out of respect for him and not so much the compensation they will receive.
As for Howard, there probably is not a taker out there. Howard would only interest a team as a left-handed pinch-hitter who can come off the bench and provide a power threat. The Phillies have been playing Howard more recently, perhaps as a means of showing teams that he might have a little bit to offer them, but that may not be enough. Howard is having a better July, but is batting just .227, which would be the highest batting average in any month. Howard's 13 home runs probably are not enough for people to think of him as an offensive threat.
The Phillies would probably pay all of Howard's salary and his full buyout for any acquiring team. But for all the trouble that the Phillies would have to go through to move him, they might as well simply keep him for a Phillies farewell tour. All reports are that Howard has been a fine mentor to the team's young players. That value might be his best value in 2016. Heading into 2017, Howard may have to accept a minor league deal and invitation to Spring Training as former teammates Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino did this season. Of course, neither player is in the Major Leagues today.
Where do you think Jorge Alfaro fits along with the other young Phillies catchers?
Catching prospect Jorge Alfaro is probably the best-ranked Phillies catching prospect in their system. While Alfaro is at Double-A Reading and Andrew Knapp is at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the Phillies believe that Alfaro has a potential higher ceiling. However, both players remain legitimate prospects for the Major Leagues.
Alfaro was an All-Star at Double-A. Alfaro is batting .294 with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in, with an OPS of .819. In other circumstances, Alfaro may have advanced to Triple-A already. The problem is, there is another catcher who needs to play, too, and to keep one behind the other would be a disservice to both players.
Knapp was an All-Star at Triple-A. Batting .267 with seven home runs, Knapp could be looking at a promotion to the Major Leagues soon. That may happen if the Phillies trade Ruiz prior to the July 31 trade deadline. Knapp's numbers are lower due to a month of May when he batted just .221. Knapp batted .286 in June and is batting .318 in July thus far. Should Knapp get promoted to Philadelphia, Alfaro probably will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Cameron Rupp has given the Phillies much more offensively than originally expected. At the time of Rupp's promotion in 2014, he was batting just .165 at Triple-A. Then, Rupp batted .185 in the Major Leagues. But, the Phillies really had no overwhelming need to go outside the organization for a backup catcher in 2015 and Rupp played himself into the starter for much of late 2015 and 2016. Rupp has been a solid bat in 2016, batting .284 with an OPS of .825. Rupp is sixth among catchers in extra base hits.
However, I think Alfaro is still viewed as the top catching prospect in the system. Being that Knapp is a level ahead, he will probably get a look at the Major Leagues before Alfaro. Rupp has played well enough that the Phillies may find a trade partner for him somewhere along the line. Rupp could stay and serve as a backup option for whoever ultimately gets the starting job of Knapp or Alfaro, but Rupp's play may warrant that he gets a starting job elsewhere, too.
As we saw with Tommy Joseph, a catching prospect can be derailed very quickly. Therefore, I think the Phillies will wait and see how this plays out, even though Alfaro is currently regarded highest.