The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t had a surefire, homegrown front-line starter since Cole Hamels who broke into the league in 2006 at age 22 and helped lead the Phillies to their second ever World Series Championship in 2008, where he was named MVP of the series. Hamels is now with the Rangers, and the Phillies have spent the past couple of years plugging guys in and out of the rotation with very little success.
Peering at the state of the rotation now, Aaron Nola is looking more like a two or three starter rather than an ace and Nick Pivetta has impressive stuff, but looks to be more of a backend of the rotation guy. Vince Velasquez, currently on disabled list, is destined for the bullpen judging by his track record as a starter, and Jerad Eickhoff may end up falling out of the rotation entirely due to posting mediocre numbers for most of the season. The Phillies need somebody who they can hand the ball to every fifth day without hesitation, and these five players have the potential to be that guy.
Lively is the only one in this group who is currently in the majors and his first three starts with the Phillies have been nothing short of spectacular. He became the first Phillies pitcher since Bill Champion in 1969 to go seven innings or more in his first ever three starts. Lively has been able to keep the ball down, inducing a lot of groundballs and keeping hitters off balance.
Amazingly enough, he has been able to have so much early success with barely striking anyone out, only averaging 3.1 strikeouts per game, and he made it through his major-league debut without recording a strikeout. Lively’s delivery is clean and easy to repeat, allowing him to pound the strike zone at will. His big 6’4 frame gives him a huge presence on the mound, and he could become an absolute workhorse that has the ability to pitch a ton of innings with very little ware and tear. All signs point to Lively, who loves to compete, being something more than just a back-end of the rotation type guy he’s been projected to be, and to think the Phillies were able to get him straight up from the Cincinnati Reds for Marlon Byrd, currently out of the league, courtesy of Ruben Amaro Jr.
Standing on the cusp of the majors in Triple-A with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Eshelman by far has been one of the best players in the Phillies farm system this year, but you will not find him in the Phillies’ top 30 prospects list. Not many people knew who Eshelman was before this year and he was kind-of thrown into the Ken Giles deal by the Houston Astros after they decided not to send outfield prospect Derek Fisher to the Phillies.
Starting the 2017 season in Double-A, the 22-year-old quickly advanced to the next level after making five starts in Double-A, and he hasn’t disappointed. Through nine Triple-A starts, Eshelman is 5-2 with a 2.08 ERA, including two complete games with one of them being a shutout. His ability to go deep into ball games is an appetizing quality as he’s demonstrated quite consistently and has gone six innings or more in each of his nine starts. Another thing to like about Eshelman is his miniscule walk rate, only walking seven batters in 65 innings pitched, and he stays ahead in the count most of the time. He won’t strike a ton of guys out, but he’s able to keep the ball down in the zone consistently and induce a lot of groundballs. After the Phillies start shuffling players around at the trade deadline, Eshelman should find himself in the majors, if he hasn’t already forced his way in by then. He is continuing to look like the best piece the Phillies received in the Giles trade. The potential for what he could become is off the charts right now, and he’s trending toward being a top of the rotation guy.
Kilome, ranked as the Phillies fifth best prospect, has long been said to be the team’s next ace ever since signing him as an international free agent in June of 2013. The 21-year-old pitched his first full season last year in Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws and there were some growing pains, mainly Kilome trying to get used to controlling his 6’6 frame on the mound.
He finished the 2016 season strong though, shaking off a lackluster April and allowed three runs or more just once in his next 20 starts. Kilome has been really good this year in 12 starts with the Clearwater Threshers, only allowing three runs or more in two of his 12 starts and has racked up strikeouts at a decent rate, averaging eight strikeouts per nine innings. The walk rate is a bit inflated due to the fact he walked nine batters combined in two starts, but has nine starts where he has walked three batters or less.
The Phillies would definitely like to see go deeper into games and that should come more consistently once he’s able to become a better strike thrower and keep his body under control. Kilome’s 6’6 frame is why many believe the sky is the limit for him, and he could potentially become the Phillies’ first homegrown ace since Cole Hamels. Kilome is still a couple years away from the majors, so we will see how he progresses.
Medina, the Phillies’ 15th best prospect, has done nothing but deal since he signed with the Phillies in May of 2014 at age 17, and he’s heading into his first full season in the minors with the Lakewood Blue Claws at age 20. Through 12 starts, Medina is 2-6 with a 3.69 ERA and has racked up 76 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings pitched (10.8 strikeouts per nine), including three double-digit strikeout performances already this year. Medina got roughed up in his last outing, getting knocked of the game after three innings in which he allowed five runs, inflating his ERA a bit, and only recorded one strikeout.
He’s a bit undersized, but athletic enough and has the capability to develop a solid three-pitch mix. His fastball ranges from 90-95 MPH with a lot of life on it and it induces a ton of groundballs. He also has a curveball that can be good, but inconsistent at this point to really be relied on yet. He does have a pretty good feel for his change-up and it has a good chance to develop into solid Major League offering for him. Medina tends to be a strike thrower most of the time and he is starting to miss bats, which will help him out a lot. Though very young, he seems to have a strong mentality and that alone can help guide him as he moves through the minor-league levels at a decent rate. His estimated arrival time to the majors is 2019, which is the same time Franklyn Kilome is expected to break through, so that could be an interesting rotation if it pans out like that.
The Phillies were able to sign Sánchez, ranked as their seventh best prospect, for only $35,000 in 2015 and he’s been turning a lot of heads already with how advanced he is on the mound at such a young age. Sánchez did okay in the Dominican Republic summer league, but seriously showed what he was capable of with the Gulf Coast Phillies in the following year. He absolutely dominated the competition with an ERA of 0.50 and struck out 44 batters, while only walking eight in 54 innings pitched. Now with the Lakewood BlueClaws, Sánchez made five starts before being sidelined for a couple weeks with neck soreness, but has been stellar since coming off the disabled list, going 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three starts and has yet to walk anybody in 16 innings pitched.
Walks are rare for Sánchez, who is an efficient strike thrower and he has plenty of juice in his arm for a guy who isn’t the tallest with a fastball that usually sits at 93-96 MPH, but can climb up to 97-98 MPH at times. What separates him from others at his level is his outstanding control of his fastball that has movement in the zone, giving him the ability to force a lot of groundball outs and generate a ton of swings and misses. Sánchez is in the process of developing his curveball, which could become a plus pitch down the line and his change-up is a pretty good pitch already. Sánchez is only 18 and is still probably about three or four years away from the majors, but the early outlook for him is extremely high because he is so advanced, has the athleticism/strength, and his delivery is clean and easy to repeat.
An ace is somebody that is going to carry a team for a long time and despite a small sample size, Sixto Sánchez will be the Phillies next ace. He is one of the most advanced pitchers you will see at his age, has excellent command of his fastball that can reach almost 100 MPH at times, and rarely walks anyone. It’s time to start getting excited about him because he is the real deal and will be worth the wait.