The Winter Meetings came and went and Marlon Byrd was still a Philadelphia Phillie. Then, just as we were about to close the books on what was a dismal 2014, Amaro finalized the highly speculated trade that had been discussed in the days leading up to December 31st, dealing Byrd to the Cincinnati Reds for right-handed pitcher Ben Lively. With the acquisition of Lively, the Phillies have filled what I believe to be the final spot in a new-look Reading Fightin Phils starting rotation consisting of Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Tom Windle, Severino Gonzalez, and the aforementioned Lively.
1. Aaron Nola – The 2014 Phillies 1st round pick (#7 overall) may be the least experienced out of the group, but by far has the highest ceiling. The 22-year-old right-hander, drafted out of LSU, was deemed as one of the most experienced pitchers heading into this year’s draft. In his junior season, Nola pitched to an 11-1 record with a 1.47 ERA in 116 1/3 IP. His 134 strikeouts ranked 3rd in the nation. The 2014 National Pitcher of the Year’s collegiate success carried over to begin his professional career, starting six games for A+ Clearwater before being called up and making fives starts for AA Reading. In 11 starts (12 games total), Nola pitched to a 4-3 record in just over 55 IP with a 2.93 ERA. His low-mid 90’s fastball comes from a low three-quarter arm slot and produces sink, but his plus changeup and slider are what will help in making him a mainstay in the Phillies rotation for years to come. Nola is rated across the board as the Phillies #1 prospect and is ranked by MLB.com as the #43 prospect throughout all of baseball. Nola will start the year as the ace of the Fightin Phils rotation, but if his early professional success continues into this year, finishing out 2015 by pitching in Citizens Bank Park may not be out of the question.
2. Zach Eflin – Eflin will start 2015 as the youngest of the likely starting rotation at just 20 years of age. The 6’4″ Florida native was a 1st round pick (#33 overall) by the San Diego Padres in the 2012 MLB Draft. Part of the package that was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason in return for outfielder Matt Kemp, Eflin was immediately dealt to the Phillies as part of the package for shortstop Jimmy Rollins. In just over two professional seasons, Eflin carries a 3.41 ERA in 253 2/3 IP. While he doesn’t blow batters away with only 183 strikeouts through his professional career, he does manage to get hitters out. Like Nola, Eflin has a low-mid 90’s fastball, but his plus pitch is definitely his changeup. Prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America rated Eflin’s off speed pitch as the best in the Padres system. Eflin figures to have a middle of the rotation ceiling at the Major League level, but for now should pencil in as the #2 starter for the Fightin Phils.
3. Tom Windle – The second part of the package received from Los Angeles in the Rollins trade, lefty Tom Windle was a 2nd round pick out of the University of Minnesota. The lanky southpaw possesses a low 90’s fastball and plus slider, but his off speed pitch is something that the Dodgers have had to work with him on since draft day. Through just over 139 IP this season, Windle had a 111-44 strikeout to walk ratio with a 4.26 ERA. While he may get his shot to start for the Fightin Phils in 2015, he may be destined for a relief role if he’s going to make it at the Major League level. For now, MLB.com ranks Windle as the #6 prospect in their system and the top lefty, surpassing former Phillies first round pick Jesse Biddle.
4. Severino Gonzalez – Gonzalez is one of those prospects that I am probably higher on that most scouts and analysts. The native of Panama was signed by the Phillies in April of 2011 for just $14,000. He came out of nowhere in 2013, pitching both in the starting rotation and the bullpen across three levels of the organization. In 103 2/3 innings, Severino had just a 2.00 ERA with 119 strikeouts. More incredible though may have been is WHIP at just 1.02. He regressed considerably in 2014, given a starting role for AA Reading. While his strikeouts still touched the century mark, his 23 HR’s allowed were second most on the team and his ERA skyrocketed because of it jumping to 4.59. While not overpowering, Gonzalez’s fastball sits between 89-91 MPH. His average curve, slider, and changeup give him shot at a Major League career, but at best may slot in as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
5. Ben Lively – As the most addition to the Phillies organization, Lively arrives as the reigning Cincinnati Reds Minor League Player of the Year. The former 2013 4th round pick out of the University of Central Florida pitched between Class-A Bakersfield and AA Pensacola in 2014 with a 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Between the two teams he was 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA. Lively boasts a mid-90’s fastball as well as a slider, curve, and changeup which given his deceptive release, have left hitters struggling to find the ball coming out of his hand. The right-hander may be on a fast-track to the major leagues and has a ceiling that may place him as high as a #2 starter, but for now ranks as the 8th best prospect in the Phillies system per MLB.com.