AnalysisNL East

A Look At The Phillies’ Pitching Depth

The Philadelphia Phillies had one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball last season. Philadelphia’s pitchers ranked first in combined fWAR (24.4) and finished the year 12th in ERA (4.03) and sixth in FIP (4.00). Breaking it down even further, their starting rotation was 15th in ERA (4.30) and fifth in FIP (4.07) when ranked against other rotations. The Phillies’ stock of relievers was seventh in ERA (3.58) and fifth in FIP (3.88) among MLB bullpens.

The core of the Phillies’ pitching staff hasn’t changed, so the belief is they’ll continue to be one of the game’s better clubs on the mound. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are going to lead the club’s starting rotation again. Out in the ‘pen, José Alvarado, Seranthony Domínguez, and Jeff Hoffman are in place to be late-inning, shutdown relievers. It also seems that the organization is high on reliever Orion Kerkering, who turns 23 in early April and worked his way from Low-A all the way to the majors last year.

Beyond those six names are other key members of Philadelphia’s pitching staff. Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, and Cristopher Sánchez will make up the rest of the rotation in that order. Left-handers Matt Strahm and Gregory Soto will be solid options in the bullpen.

It will take more than those pitchers to make it through the regular season, though. That being the case, the Phillies’ front office has been active recently, tweaking and adding to the organization’s pitching depth. Here’s a look at where things stand regarding that depth as spring camp gets underway.

Starting Rotation Depth

Kolby Allard

The Phillies signed Allard in late January to a split minor-/major-league contract. A former first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves, Allard has appeared in 69 major-league games to this point in his career, 38 of which have been starts. In those 69 appearances, the 26-year-old southpaw hasn’t found much success. He has a 6.10 ERA and 5.31 FIP in 245 innings. Per nine innings, he’s averaged 7.5 strikeouts and 3.1 walks.

In the minors, Allard has strictly been a starter. In 108 starts, he’s logged 566 2/3 innings with a 3.41 ERA and marks of 8.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He was limited to just 19 innings between the minors and majors last year after dealing with a strained right oblique early in the year and then left shoulder nerve inflammation later on.

Allard has one minor-league option left. Unless Philadelphia wants an extra long-relief option in their bullpen to start the year, the lefty will likely start 2024 at Triple-A. Having an option left is important because it means Allard can be sent up and down between the minors and majors this year without being placed on waivers. Look for the Phillies to use him when they need a spot starter or multi-inning reliever throughout the season.

Dylan Covey

Philadelphia claimed Covey off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last May. He’s been hit around during his big-league career, posting a 6.18 ERA in 307 1/3 innings. His 10.3 H/9, 6.3 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 marks are not great.

However, after a disastrous second outing with the Phillies — Covey faced 9 batters, allowed seven runs, and recorded just two outs in a start at Truist Park against the Braves — he finished the year with a 2.70 ERA and 3.92 FIP in his final 33 1/3 innings. All of those appearances were as a reliever. He didn’t strike out a ton of hitters (5.7 K/9) and walked a lot (4.0 BB/9), though. The right-hander wasn’t on any of the Phillies’ three postseason rosters in October.

Covey is out of minor-league options, so he’ll either have to make the Phillies’ Opening Day roster or be placed on waivers unless he starts the year on the injured list. He’s currently the favorite to be the Phillies’ long reliever/spot starter at the beginning of the season.

Nick Nelson

Nelson, a right-hander, was mainly a multi-inning reliever for the Phillies in 2022. He made 49 appearances, finishing 68 2/3 innings with a 4.85 ERA and 3.04 FIP that year. He was in the mix as potential starting pitching depth last spring, but began dealing with a left hamstring injury in mid-March. Nelson eventually got healthy and was a starter in the minors.

In 20 starts at Triple-A, Nelson tossed 97 1/3 innings to the tune of a 4.35 ERA and 5.31 FIP. The right-hander struck out just 6.9 batters per nine and walked 3.4 per nine. He made one appearance in the majors last year, tossing 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the final game of the regular season.

Nelson is entering his age-28 season. He has one minor-league option left, so like Allard, he may find himself going back and forth between the minors and majors this year depending on injuries and the performance of himself and others.

Spencer Turnbull

Turnbull recently signed a one-year contract with the Phillies. The deal comes with the potential to earn $2 million in incentives on top of $2 million in guarantees. He’s somewhat of a project for the Phillies who they hope, at the very least, can stay healthy this year. After making 20 combined starts between the shortened 2020 season and the beginning of 2021, the now 31-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of 2021 and all of 2022 while recovering from the operation. He then dealt with neck and foot injuries last year. Those injuries limited him to 15 starts between the major and minor leagues.

That 20-start stretch between 2020 and 2021 was good for Turnbull. He pitched 106 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 3.24 FIP, averaging 8.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. Last year he was way less effective. In his 15 starts between Triple-A and MLB, the right-hander finished just 57 innings and posted a 6.79 ERA with a 1.70 WHIP.

Turnbull has 99 career minor-league starts under his belt with 60 starts in the majors (all with the Detroit Tigers). He has a minor-league option left and will likely start 2024 as starting pitching depth in the minors. The Phillies could resort to moving him to the bullpen if they feel he’d be a better fit there, though. Given the deal he signed, with a good spring, Turnbull may start the year sixth on the Phillies’ rotation depth chart if he’s not on their Opening Day roster.

Mick Abel

Andrew Painter is the Phillies’ top prospect. But he’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch again until 2025. That means Abel, Philadelphia’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft, is their best, healthy prospect heading into spring training.

Altogether, Abel has a career 4.09 ERA in the minors in 60 starts. He posted a 4.13 ERA in 113 1/3 innings a year ago with 132 strikeouts and 65 walks. The 6-foot-5 right-hander impressed in his final five starts of 2023, the final of which came at Triple-A. He posted a 1.63 ERA in those final five outings and struck out 29 batters across 27 2/3 innings.

Abel’s biggest issue is his inconsistent command. As a result, he isn’t ready to face major-league hitters. But if he can fix the command issues and start the year strong at Triple-A, he might be in the mix to get some big-league starts in the latter part of the season. He’s not on Philadelphia’s 40-man roster, but will be in big-league camp as a non-roster invitee. It’s an important camp, and season, for the 22-year-old.

Other Options

Outside of Allard, Covey, Nelson, Turnbull, and Abel, the Phillies have a few other starting options. They recently claimed Max Castillo off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. They also recently brought back David Buchanan, who last pitched in the majors for the Phillies in 2015, on a minor-league deal. Buchanan has been pitching overseas since 2017 and was rather effective.

Prospect Griff McGarry could also become an option at some point this season. The 2021 fifth-round pick has to prove himself capable of finding the strike zone consistently to even be considered a starting pitcher moving forward, though. It’s a big year for McGarry.

Bullpen Depth

Connor Brogdon

Brogdon was a good option for the Phillies in 2022. He appeared in 47 regular-season games, posting a 3.27 ERA and 3.43 FIP. In the playoffs, he pitched 8 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out 13 batters. He wasn’t as good last year, putting together a 4.03 ERA and 5.15 FIP with less swing-and-miss stuff, and spent most of the year at Triple-A. The right-hander is out of minor-league options, but could make the Opening Day club with a strong spring training. It’s also possible the Phillies look to replace Brogdon on their 40-man roster. They can designate him for assignment and acquire someone else who has a minor-league option left — the exact thing they just did with Andrew Bellatti.

Yunior Marte

The right-handed Marte had a few stints with the Phillies last year. He was good in June and July, posting a 3.21 ERA in 21 appearances. He wasn’t so good outside of those two months and posted a 5.03 ERA for the year in 40 appearances. While his stuff can be nasty, his biggest issue is command. The 29-year-old has one minor-league option left and probably finds himself going up and down again this season. If he can command his stuff more frequently this spring and prove to be effective, he’s also an option for the final bullpen spot.

Michael Mercado

The Phillies acquired Mercado in a November trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. The soon-to-be 25-year-old hasn’t made his major league debut yet. He transitioned into a full-time reliever last year and finished with a 4.79 ERA in 62 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The right-hander struck out a ton of batters (13.8 K/9), but also walked a ton (5.1 BB/9). Mercado is on the 40-man roster and seems like a wait-and-see type of reliever who isn’t toward the top of the depth chart right now.

Luis F. Ortiz

Ortiz was up and down between Triple-A and the majors last year. He had a 3.32 ERA with the Phillies in 14 appearances and a 4.60 ERA with the IronPigs in 45 innings. He worked as a multi-inning reliever at both levels last year. With one minor-league option left, he’ll likely be used much like last year. With a good spring, the Phillies may want him and his ability to go more than one inning in the majors to start the year.

Michael Rucker

Earlier this month, the Phillies acquired Rucker from the Chicago Cubs for cash. He has a minor-league option left, giving Philadelphia another arm in their stock of relievers that can go between Triple-A and the majors when needed without being placed on waivers. The right-hander pitched to the tune of a 4.91 ERA in 40 1/3 innings for Chicago last year. He also had a 1.69 ERA in 21 1/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa.

Other Options

There are a few relievers that will be in big-league camp that are non-roster invitees. The previously mentioned Bellatti is one of them (he recently cleared waivers). The right-hander had a 3.31 ERA and 2.87 FIP in 59 appearances for Philadelphia two years ago, but struggled in the big leagues last year with an ERA just north of 5.00 in 27 appearances.

None of the non-roster invitees currently profile as options for the Opening Day roster, but could eventually be considered as big-league relief options down the road if they pitch well enough in the minors. The front office could also continue to look towards the waiver wire, trade market, or free agency over the next few weeks to add more bullpen options as spring training progresses — an approach they could also take to continue to add to the club’s rotation depth.

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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