Phillies Can Boost Bullpen Long-Term With Morgan and Asher
The Phillies head into Spring Training with plenty of starting pitching. Provided all are healthy, the Phillies will feature a rotation of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, and Vince Velasquez. That is in addition to many arms that will not fit onto the roster: Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Adam Morgan, and Alec Asher, not to mention up and coming starters Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta. While injuries will surely eat into the planned rotation at some point, the Phillies still have enough arms for full rotations in the Major Leagues and at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, with some being bumped into Double-A if they are all going to remain starters. This is a nice problem to have and an opportunity to develop a bullpen.
In particular, two arms that might not make the long-term cut but have the ability to efficient in the big leagues are Morgan and Asher. Both pitchers have had some success at the big league level, along with some stretches that were a little tough. But looking at their makeup, it might be a good indication that both could succeed when they pitch more frequently in smaller doses. While the Phillies have such a surplus, 2017 is a good time.
Morgan is an interesting story. After shoulder surgery, extreme need led Morgan to rise all the way to the Major Leagues in 2015, perhaps sooner than the Phillies organization would have liked. Morgan also struggled at times when given many more opportunities in 2016 and even was demoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley at times. But as a left-handed pitcher, the Phillies have one real need in their bullpen right now. Morgan might be a good pick to fill it.
Morgan surprised many with increased velocity in 2016. If Morgan can maintain this velocity in shorter stints, he could be an effective left-handed option. The Phillies are currently stretching out Morgan as a starter, but will consider him for the bullpen. Getting some work in while in Spring Training could be helpful for Morgan in adjusting to these situations. As a reliever, Morgan will need to learn to get ready quickly and with fewer time to prepare than a starting pitcher. Now would be a good time. The Phillies currently have just Joely Rodriguez and Elniery Garcia as left-handed relief options on their 40-man roster. Sean Burnett is a non-roster invitee, but not a sure bet, making it a good time.
As for Asher, he was thrust into a starting role in 2015 after the Cole Hamels trade to Texas. Completely rushed to the Major Leagues, Asher went 0-6 with a 9.31 earned run average in seven starts. Asher got off to a strong start in the minor leagues in 2016, before being suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. After the suspension, Asher made five starts at the Major League level, going 2-1 with a 2.28 earned run average. It was a small look, but an impressive one.
There is nothing to completely rule out Asher's ability to start in the big leagues. However, last year's Phillies bullpen led to many losses that the Phillies would have had a chance to compete. The Phillies added veterans Pat Neshak and Joaquin Benoit as right-handed relievers to complement holdovers Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, and possibly Edubray Ramos, who remains a promising bullpen arm. The 2017 Phillies could use another stabilizing arm, particularly if Ramos is not ready to take a big league spot yet.
The 2017 Phillies face probable trade deadline exits for Hellickson, Buchholz, Neshak, and Benoit. This means the club will need reinforcements not only in the starting rotation, but in the bullpen.
Looking at the rotation, Thompson and Eflin probably are the first calls in the event of an injury or in the event of a trade. But, Lively and Pivetta are not all that far behind. So, the Phillies would have plenty of depth should Asher or Morgan be subtracted from the starting rotation depth.
The roster crunch is also reason to consider Morgan and Asher in bullpen spots. The Phillies have several relievers in camp as non-roster invitees. Besides Burnett, former Phillies Colton Murray, Dalier Hinojosa, and Michael Mariot, all of whom are not on the 40-man roster and are in camp, the Phillies have other signees Cesar Ramos and Pedro Beato. To add any one of these relievers, someone would have to be subtracted from the 40-man roster. In the face of an injury that requires a 60-day disabled list stint, the Phillies could spare a spot. But right now, the Phillies cannot.
In fact, adding a veteran backup catcher or a left-handed bench bat likely means that a reliever such as Luis Garcia is designated for assignment. Making that move could help encourage the Phillies to instead carry Asher and/or Morgan, because that will free up a valuable roster spot for another player.
Grapefruit League action could go a long way to determine the immediate and future Phillies plans. Developing a long-term bullpen solution with the talent already in the system could go a long way. Adam Morgan and Alec Asher might just be that talent.