Last Friday (March 10th), the Phillies announced two of their starting pitchers were dealing with arm issues. One is minor, while the other is going to impact the look of the starting rotation to begin the season.
After pitching for Team Venezuela in an exhibition game against the Houston Astros on March 8th, Ranger Suárez felt tightness in his left forearm. He returned to the Phillies spring training complex in Clearwater, Florida out of precaution. Both Suárez and manager Rob Thomson spoke to reporters on Friday, and neither felt concerned about the lefty’s ability to be ready for the start of the season.
The other bit of information the organization released was the much anticipated news on top pitching prospect, Andrew Painter. A day after his first Grapefruit League start on March 1st, the right-hander told the team he was experiencing right-elbow tenderness. The team quickly sent Painter out for tests.
The Phillies announced Painter suffered a right proximal UCL sprain. Right now, he will not have to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Instead, he will stop throwing for four weeks from the injury date. The 19-year-old right-hander will start a light throwing program around Opening Day. He will then be re-evaluated shortly thereafter.
Andrew Painter was in competition for the team’s fifth starter job. With the young righty now hurt, Bailey Falter is the leading candidate to be the final starter in the Phillies rotation. In 2022, Falter made 20 regular season big league appearances 16 of which were starts. He pitched 84.0 innings, finishing the year with a 3.86 ERA, 74 strikeouts, and 17 walks.
Right now, it doesn’t look like the Phillies are going to have to dig too deep into their starting pitching depth at the start of the year. However, it is more than likely they will have to do so throughout the upcoming season.
The club will likely attempt to limit the work loads of their starters throughout the year. It should also be expected that they will have to deal with injuries. That means there will be pitchers who start games in 2023 that won’t be in the Opening Day rotation.
That being said, now is a good time to look at who some of those pitchers could be.
LHP Michael Plassmeyer
Now 26 years old, Michael Plassmeyer spent the first four years of his professional career in the minors as a starter. He enjoyed success in both the Mariners (2018) and Rays (2019-2021) organizations. But, after joining the Giants minor league system (2021-2022), the left-hander started to struggle. However, after being acquired by the Phillies last summer, Plassmeyer found success once again.
As a member of the club’s Triple-A affiliate, the 26-year-old made 16 starts. He pitched a total of 82.0 innings with a 2.41 ERA, 9.00 K/9, and 2.52 BB/9. He made his major league debut on August 23rd last season, but only made 2 major league appearances in 2022. He pitched 7.1 innings with 7 strikeouts and 1 walk, and allowed 3 earned runs.
Plassmeyer isn’t a hard thrower. His 4-seam fastball sits in the high-80’s to lower-90’s. He also offers a look at a changeup and slider.
Right now, Plassmeyer is the next man up when it comes to Phillies starting pitchers. He is on the club’s 40-man roster, and so far this spring hasn’t allowed an earned run in 7.0 innings.
LHP Cristopher Sánchez
Cristopher Sánchez was originally a member of the Rays organization (2014-2019) and was acquired by the Phillies in November of 2019. As a Phillies minor leaguer, he has been mainly used out of the rotation, but during his stints in the majors, Sánchez has mostly been used as a long-man out of the bullpen. The lefty made his major league debut in June of 2021 with the Phillies.
As a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the now 26-year-old Sánchez made 17 starts in 2021 and 14 last season. In 2022, he made a total of 15 minor league appearances. He pitched 57.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA, 9.10 K/9, and 3.14 BB/9.
The Dominican born left-hander made 15 appearances for the Phillies last season, 3 of which were starts. In 40.0 big league innings, Sánchez posted a 5.63 ERA, 7.88 K/9, and 3.83 BB/9.
Sánchez’s repertoire consists of a sinker that sits in the low-to-mid-90’s, changeup, and slider.
At the moment, the left-hander isn’t stretched out to be a starter. After dealing with a back injury at the start of spring camp, Sánchez has only made 2 appearances so far, both of which only lasted a single inning.
Even though Cristopher Sánchez isn’t currently ready to be a starting pitcher, there are still a few weeks until the season begins. He is on the Phillies 40-man roster, but doesn’t seem to be an option for the Opening Day roster. The team hasn’t used Sánchez as a starter much in the majors, and while he profiles as a reliever down the road, the Phillies will likely look to stretch him out to make sure they have enough starting depth this season.
RHP Nick Nelson
A fourth-round pick in 2016 by the Yankees, Nick Nelson was acquired by the Phillies in November of 2021. As a minor leaguer for New York, Nelson started his career off as a starting pitcher. But, after getting the call to the big leagues in 2020, the right-hander was then moved to the bullpen.
Nelson made the Phillies Opening Day roster last season and spent the entire year with the big league club. He made 47 appearances for the Phillies a year ago, 2 of which were starts. However, those 2 starts were a part of bullpen games, so the righty only went 2.0 innings in each of those outings.
While being primarily used out of the bullpen, Nelson was utilized as a multiple inning reliever throughout 2022. In total, he pitched 68.2 innings with a 4.85 ERA, 9.04 K/9, and 4.72 BB/9.
The righty did allow a large amount of free passes last year, but he did post some pretty impressive numbers otherwise. His HardHit% (32.5%) fell into Statcast’s 88th percentile, while his xSLG (.323) was in the 85th percentile, Barrel% (3.6%) in the 96th percentile, and Whiff% (28.5%) in the 71st percentile.
Nelson throws a 4-seam fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball. The 27-year-old’s fastball sits in the mid-to-high-90’s, and his slider was his best pitch in 2022. Batters hit just .161 against Nelson’s slider, while slugging just .196. The Whiff% on the righty’s primary breaking pitch a year ago was 37.1%.
Even though Nick Nelson hasn’t been used as a starting pitcher that works through a lineup multiple times during his short big league career, it is possible the Phillies look to turn him into that this year for depth purposes.
Nelson’s spot in the team’s Opening Day bullpen isn’t a guarantee at the moment. There are other arms the organization could put in their bullpen to start the year. Since he does have minor league options remaining, the Phillies could option the right-hander to the minor leagues after spring camp in order to stretch him out and get a look at him as an actual starting pitcher early in the year.
RHPs Griff McGarry and Mick Abel
Between the two, McGarry is closer to pitching in the big leagues. The 23-year-old right-hander was a fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft by the Phillies. In his first full minor league season a year ago, McGarry pitched across three levels － High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. He made 27 appearances, 19 of which were starts, and pitched 87.1 innings with a 3.71 ERA, 13.40 K/9, and 5.46 BB/9.
The right-hander throws a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, and cutter. His fastball sits in the high-90’s and he added a cutter late last season. While he isn’t the top pitching prospect in the Phillies system, he does have the best raw stuff.
McGarry made 2 appearances before being sent down to minor league camp this spring for the Phillies. His first outing did not go so well, but his second outing was much more impressive. McGarry is currently ranked as the 51st prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus.
As for Mick Abel, he isn’t quite ready to face big league hitters. The Phillies selected the right-hander in the first-round of the 2020 draft. The 21-year-old saw his first full season in the minors last year. He pitched in High-A and Double-A games.
Overall, Abel threw 108.1 innings with a 3.90 ERA, 10.80 K/9, and 4.15 BB/9 in 2022.
Mick Abel offers a look at four pitches － a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. The right-hander’s fastball usually sits in the mid-90’s, but he can hit the high-90’s at times. His slider is his second best pitch.
Abel only made 1 appearance with the Phillies this spring. He is considered the second best prospect in the Phillies system by many and is ranked in the top-half of most top 100 prospects lists.
Griff McGarry always seemed like a pitcher who would see time in the big leagues this season. If Andrew Painter isn’t ready to pitch in the majors during the first few months of the season, and the Phillies need pitching help, McGarry could get a look in the majors sooner rather than later.
Mick Abel probably isn’t towards the top of the club’s pitching depth at the moment. However, if he has a break out type season in the first-half of 2023, the team could promote him to the majors, if needed, after the trade deadline in August or when rosters expand in September.
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