Coming into this season, there was a solid chance the Phillies rotation was going to be rough. If the 2015 rotation was any indication, the Phillies weren’t going to have anything close to solid starting pitching. While Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola were prepped to bolster the rotation, Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hellickson were big question marks.
However, this graphic put out by Fangraphs today shows the Phillies’ starting pitchers have the best FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) in the major leagues as of April 17th.
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) April 17, 2016
While this is from a small sample size, the Phillies have shown they have enough pitching to keep the team in games. Hellickson has been a pleasant surprise in his own right, turning in a FIP of 3.41. Eickhoff has been strong as well, allowing only two earned runs through his first two starts.
Then, of course, it’s hard to mention the Phillies rotation without talking about Vince Velazquez. His 16-strikeout shutout of the Padres quieted doubters of the Ken Giles trade. Even in the ninth inning, Velazquez’s fastball was still hitting 97 and his changeup was still solid. If his curveball develops more, he has the top-of-the-rotation potential.
What all this success from the major-league starters means is that the pitchers still in the minor leagues have more time to develop. While Nola was developing quite quickly after his selection in the 2014 draft, it is possible his quick promotions were hastened by the lack of talent in the majors. This season, that shouldn’t be the case.
Triple-A Lehigh Valley has Top-30 prospects Mark Appel, Zach Eflin, and Jake Thompson. Appel has had experience in Triple-A with Houston, but Elfin and Thompson were in Double-A all of 2015. If the starting pitching was lacking on the major-league team, all of these players could be forced to the big show before all of their tools have developed properly.
This effect should transfer down to the Double-A and Class-A levels and the pitchers there. Ricardo Pinto (pictured above) and Ben Lively are in Reading, with Pinto getting his first crack there this year. Franklyn Kilome, who could have the most upside of all Phillies pitching prospects, is at Class-A Lakewood. All of these top pitchers should have a more relaxed pace on their way to the majors thanks to the solid performance being turned in by the guys already there.