A Phillies’ pitch won’t officially be thrown for another 36 days, but the Spring Training roster is starting to take shape midway through January. Along with the usual cast and crew of Phillies’ Major Leaguers on the 25-man roster, eight players were chosen from the farm system as non-roster invitees. These eight include five pitchers, a catcher, one infielder and one outfielder all hoping to leave an impression in Clearwater in February to find themselves a roster spot in Philadelphia in April.
Among the five non-roster invitee pitchers vying for a crack at the big leagues are two arms acquired via trade over the last six months.
The newest member of the club, Enyel De Los Santos was given an invite to camp after being the return in a trade that sent shortstop Freddy Galvis to San Diego this offseason. The 22-year-old was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2015. Later that season, he was shipped to the Padres as part of a deal that sent Joaquin Benoit to the Mariners. In the two seasons with the Padres farm system to follow, De Los Santos climbed from Single A to AA, going 18-11 in 46 starts over 271 innings pitched. The righty has a career minor league ERA of 3.70, which he tossed nearly identically in 2016, when he posted a 3.72, and again last season, with a 3.78. The move makes sense as the team and fans alike will want to immediately see what De Los Santos can do against Major League hitters seeing he was traded for a Major League shortstop.
The second new addition to get an invite to camp is the rapidly rising strikeout king J.D. Hammer. The key cog in the deal that sent Pat Neshek to Colorado midway through 2017 has advanced from Rookie Ball to Advanced A in just two seasons, striking out 137 batters in 101.1 innings pitched. In 12 appearances with Clearwater last year, Hammer tossed 15.2 innings, striking out 20 and posting a 0.57 ERA. While it’s unlikely that Hammer will make the jump from Single A to the Major Leagues, this is a good test for the 24-year-old to prove his fastball’s worth against big league hitters. I’d expect Hammer to garner some experience and then begin 2018 with the Reading Fightin Phils.
An arm that does have a real chance of breaking camp with the Phillies is Tom Eshelman. Eshelman has been invited to Spring Training after a stellar 2017 season in which he made the jump from AA Reading to AAA Lehigh Valley with relative ease. Eshelman made 18 for the Iron Pigs in 2017, posting a 10-3 record with a 2.23 ERA over 121 innings pitched. Eshelman isn’t a strikeout pitcher, having put away just 80 batters over that span via the K, but he appears to have a mastery of his command. The righty walked just 13 last season and allowed opposing batters to hit .227, bringing his AAA WHIP to under 1.00 for the season. If Eshelman can pound the lower third of the zone and avoid giving up extra base hits, he has a legitimate shot of making the team, if not out of Spring Training, at some point in 2018. Consider him the next-man-up if he doesn’t make the Opening Day 25.
Next, come a pair of lefties. 23-year-old Cole Irvin will join the Spring Training fold after having an up and down season in 2017. Irvin split time between Clearwater and Reading, and his numbers varied from one level to the next. The lefty thrived against Single A hitters in 12 appearances, going just 4-6, but posting a 2.55 ERA over 67 innings pitched. When he got the call to Reading, his numbers seemingly went in the wrong direction. The ERA went up, as did the number of walks. The biggest concern in Reading was the 12 homeruns he allowed in 84 innings as opposed to just two allowed in Clearwater. The most telling sign of Irvin’s split season is actually indicative of why he got the invite, though. While his ERA was much higher in AA, statistically speaking, Irvin was better in Reading. His average against dipped nearly 40 points, from .265 to .228, and his WHIP went down accordingly. Irvin has gone from Short Season A to AA in just two full seasons, and will likely report back to Reading to begin 2018. Don’t be surprised to see him make a jump to Lehigh Valley midway through the season if he continues to impress.
The second lefty is the longest rostered Phillie out of the non-roster invitees. Brandon Leibrandt is going into his fifth season as a Phillies’ farm hand. He started his professional career in 2014 after playing at Florida State. He’s climbed from Rookie ball all the way to Lehigh Valley last season, where he appeared in 12 games, starting all of them. His numbers were decent for a first time AAA starter, as Leibrandt went 5-3 with a 3.94 ERA in 64 innings pitched. What concerns me is the lack of quantity of innings, as Leibrandt averaged just 5.1 innings pitched per start. Similarly to Irvin, Leibrandt actually has better numbers outside of ERA in AAA than in AA. He lowered his opposing batting average by 40 points, from .284 to .244 when he made the jump. He also struckout one more AAA hitter in 8.2 less innings. The pair of lefties will likely head back to the minors with Major League experience, and look for injuries or demotions before making their move to Philadelphia for the first time.
After the Phillies re-signed Cameron Rupp earlier this month, I was surprised to see that the team also elected to give an invite to catcher Edgar Cabral. Cabral participated in the Fall League this season, representing the Phillies along with other minor leaguers,after wrapping up a season spent with Lakewood and Clearwater. The 22-year-old appeared in 91 games last season, getting 319 at-bats. He turned those at-bats into a .260 season with four homeruns and 26 RBI’s. My concern on Cabral, of course, is his low OBP. Cabral got on base more so in Clearwater than in Lakewood, but overall, the .332 season OBP is still too low for my liking. I understand a defensive catcher is vastly important, but I need some offensive production from Cabral before I can get him much past AA.
The invite that should surprise no one was handed out to infielder Scott Kingery. Kingery is listed as the Phillies’ number three prospect and is the most likely out of the eight to see Major League action this season. You know all about Kingery and how he burst onto the scene last season, so I won’t bore you with too many numbers, but the multi-purpose infielder hit .304 with 26 homeruns 543 at-bats in 2017. He struckout at just a 20 percent clip, and if that number can decrease a shade, he’ll be dangerous at any level. Kingery’s versatility will have him in the Major Leagues at some point, in some facet with the Phillies in 2018. Whether he is spot-starting at short and second or taking over as the every day third baseman for Maikel Franco, there is almost no conceivable way that Kingery doesn’t make his debut in 2018, after the Super Two’s deadline has passed of course.
Finally, we finish with a man that briefly retired from baseball in 2016. Outfielder Andrew Pullin stepped away from the game, albeit just for a few months, to right his head and find a love for baseball again, and he’s been much improved since his return. Pullen rose from Clearwater to Lehigh Valley in two seasons, making a stop in Reading along the way. Last year, he played an identical 67 games in both Reading and Lehigh Valley, hitting .272 with a career high 20 homeruns and 69 RBI’s. He’s walking more and striking out less, and now has an invite to Spring Training. Pullin is your feel good story of the 2018 season, but it will be difficult for the 24-year-old to crack the Major League outfield already crowded with Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. Pullin will likely be the odd man out barring an injury to one of the four or an unbelievable spring by Pullin himself. He’ll start the season in Lehigh Valley, but may have to be put on the 40-man roster if the Phillies prefer him over Dylan Cozens this season.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports