Phillies Mailbag: Venditte, Bats and Eickhoff the Hamels Prize?
We are just two weeks out from the opening of the 2017 season. As we get closer to the Opening Day roster decisions, we take your questions about the Phillies. We will talk about them Tuesday at 2:30 on 97.3 ESPN during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill.
Listen online at 973espn.com or tune in on your radio dial in South Jersey at 97.3 FM.
Does Pat Venditte have a shot to make the Opening Day Roster?
The Phillies picked up Pat Venditte in a Spring Training trade with the Seattle Mariners, a rather surprising trade. Already, Venditte has been fun to watch. In Venditte's first outing, he struck out the side, at first pitching right-handed, then left-handed, then right-handed again. However, Venditte will have an uphill climb to make the Phillies 40-man and Opening Day 25-man rosters.
I think that the trade happened because the Phillies were concerned about their left-handed pitching depth. The Phillies have veteran Sean Burnett in camp, along with Joely Rodriguez and Adam Morgan. Right now the favorites are Rodriguez and Morgan, if for nothing else, that they are members of the 40-man roster.
As we looked at last week, the Phillies would probably make Luis Garcia their first 40-man roster cut. Then, the likes of Tyler Goeddel could risk losing a roster spot. Barring an unexpected trade or an injury that requires the 60-day disabled list, the Phillies will have to very carefully proceed with the 40-man roster.
Morgan has pitched well this Spring, and Rodriguez has been decent enough this Spring. While it's true Venditte can pitch from both sides of the plate, the Phillies right-handed bullpen staff is full with Jeanmar Gomez, Pat Venditte, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.
I think someone like Venditte and the likes of Burnett are going to be in Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the day that the Phillies make some mid-season trades. As the likes of Neshek and Benoit and Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders are traded in July, the roster spots will open up along with some flexibility. Then, we might see Venditte make a Phillies debut.
Do the Phils add any more bats before Opening Day?
The Phillies added two primary bats heading into the 2017 season in Kendrick and Saunders. Also in camp are veteran bats Daniel Nava and Chris Coghlan. The Phillies face the same roster crunch we mentioned in terms of Venditte making the bullpen as they do with the bats.
However, I do not think it would be fair to say that the Phillies would completely rule it out. You never know when a player that could serve as an upgrade becomes available. If the Phillies do acquire such an upgrade, I think it would have to be a controllable player with minor league options available.
The Phillies have no clear front runner to be backup catcher. Jorge Alfaro has been optioned to minor league camp already. Andrew Knapp has struggled, but might make the team out of roster necessity. You might say that the Phillies could use a bat at that position. If the Phillies were looking to upgrade at the catching position, they will probably have to first trade someone to clear space.
The other bats on the bench will likely be filled by the likes of Coghlan, Nava, or Brock Stassi. Goeddel could make the team not because he necessarily fits, but because he is on the 40-man roster. If I were the Phillies, I would see if Goeddel could play some this spring at third base his primary positions in the minor leagues in the Rays system prior to 2015. Goeddel does not have to be a stellar third baseman, but good enough to help the Phillies in a pinch.
I think if the Phillies had a 40-man roster spot to spare, they would be looking to pounce if someone became available at the end of Spring Training. But with the roster jam-packed and plenty of options, it might be difficult.
Is it safe to say Eickhoff has become the center point of the Cole Hamels trade?
When the Phillies sent ace Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers, they got three starting pitcher prospects in return, in very different categories. Jake Thompson was supposed to be the top starting pitcher prospect with lots of upside. Alec Asher was someone who was a lesser prospect, with a bit of upside that was more of a long shot to work out as a Major League pitcher. Jerad Eickhoff was the last pitcher - part of the deal mainly because he was a body who was close enough to the Major Leagues that could jump right into the Phillies rotation.
Today, I would actually rank those three pitchers in the opposite order. Eickhoff has been a brilliant surprise not just to the Phillies, but to the Rangers and the rest of baseball.
The website minorleagueball.com offered this scouting report in 2014:
The Rangers drafted Eickoff in the 15th round in 2011 from Olney Central Community College in Illinois. He hasn’t received a lot of attention but he did have a good 2014 season in Double-A, showing a low-90s fastball (occasionally a little higher) with a good curve and an adequate change-up. He’s a fly ball guy and gopher-vulnerable when he makes a mistake with location, but he eats innings and stays healthy, which covers many sins. He could see major league action as a fifth starter or bullpen reinforcement type. Grade C.
By the end of 2015 and a small sample size, people took notice. Fangraphs felt that Eickhoff was even worth a late-round fantasy baseball pick heading into last season. Not getting a lot of attention initally because he is not a flashy, high-fastball pitcher, Eickhoff used a slider and a curve to get pitchers out. Scouts today see Eickhoff as someone who knows what he is doing on the mound, who can mix things up and be a very solid big league starter, perhaps a number two or number three starter on a strong staff.
For the Phillies, Eickhoff is a model of consistency. You go into each Eickhoff start feeling like he will give you six, or in a lot of cases seven innings, without a major blowup on the mound. The Phillies have a real gem on their hands. So yes, looking at the young starters in the deal, Eickhoff very well could be the top piece.
But let us also not forget that Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams have a very high upside. We have seen their tools this Spring Training, both in Phillies camp, and in Alfaro's case, for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. Either player could still grow to be a star for the Phillies. Time will tell.
But your point is well-taken. Eickhoff has certainly been the first to show that he is very much worthy of a starting spot in the Major Leagues. Of those in the trade, he is certainly the first to do so.
(Note: The team also took back Matt Harrison, who they knew likely would never pitch for them, but whose contract helped increase the return. The Phillies will collect some insurance money on Harrison, which has helped negate the cost. But Harrison was never more than someone who could help balance the payroll sheets.)