Phillies Rebuild Finally Transitioning from Lost Cause to Genuine Hope

December 24, 2015 by Anthony Witrado  
Filed under Fan News

Being blinded by the captivating sunset and completely overlooking the edge of the oncoming cliff leads to an obvious outcome. 

That is what happened to the Philadelphia Phillies over the last four seasons. Their front office, led by former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his mission to make his faulty plan look like a genuinely wise one, found itself at a peak and believed it to be a plateau rather than the top of a steep drop. Winning 102 games in a season can do that, but it was the job of Amaro's construction team to project the future and see the fall coming.

He—and, in turn, the Phillies—did not. So rather than selling high and getting optimum returns on players who still had some value, the Phillies plummeted to the tune of 358 losses over the last four seasons. The reality of the situation smashed the organization in the face, as many of its former stars lost that value and aged rapidly, and Amaro's tenure came to a deserved end in September.

By that time, though, the Phillies had recognized the fault in their ways. Ace Cole Hamels had been traded, as had closer Jonathan Papelbon along with others. And this offseason, with new GM Matt Klentak running things, the Phillies, in a shift from the previous regime, actually sold early on a player, dealing back-end reliever Ken Giles to the Houston Astros.

Now, finally, the Phillies are fully rebuilding. No more foolishly patching holes. No more clinging to the dream that aging players will suddenly resurrect their careers. Now, there is again hope in Philadelphia.

The Phillies started this only a couple of seasons too late, as it is difficult to sell a plan that includes trading away stars months after the team wins 102 games in 2011. Still, after a .500 finish in 2012, the writing on the wall was clear and legible.

Taking so long to move veterans Hamels, Papelbon, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was a bad look. It was equally as bad, if not worse, for the club to not rid itself of veterans like Carlos Ruiz or Cliff Lee when they still had value and the losses were already stacking.

Alas, the mistakes were made. What the Phillies have done since, including with Amaro still as an employee, has been impressive.

Sure, maybe they could have gotten a much bigger haul for Hamels had they dealt him sooner (the same could certainly be said for Utley). But what they did end up getting back for Hamels before last season's nonwaiver trade deadline was a solid haul.

The team was wisely willing to pay down some of Hamels' contract in return for a better package of prospects because in the end, they have the money. They needed the players.

Earlier this month, Klentak struck another big trade. He moved Giles to the Astros, a club with a win-now window. Giles had a 1.56 ERA over the last two seasons, but a team challenging to lose enough games to get the top overall pick in the 2017 draft has no need for such a bullpen weapon. So Klentak traded him for a load of pitching promise.

Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, could eventually be the prize of the group. He had not lived up to expectations in the Astros organization, but he is only 24 years old and still possesses a live arm and plus stuff.

"We talked in the last two months about the importance of augmenting our pitching and maintaining balance in everything that we do," Klentak told reporters. "And with these trades...we feel like we made our club better, both in the short and the long term. It improves our pitching up and down the system."

The Phillies had the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, and that selection, right-hander Aaron Nola, has already debuted for the big league club. They had the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, will have the first pick next June and are the front-runners to have the top overall pick in the 2017 draft.

You see how the Phillies are stockpiling young talent to go with players like Nola, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. You see they are positioned to get impact players in the coming drafts. And finally, you should see that the team's television contract is worth more than $2.5 billion, giving it the financial flexibility to push its payroll beyond $200 million soon enough.

And just in time for a free-agent class after the 2018 season that could potentially include Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, David Price and Clayton Kershaw.

No longer are there cries about the Phillies' failing rebuild. Amaro is gone, and the false hope he saddled the organization with for too long is gone, too.

Philadelphia baseball has a new wave of hope. The rebuild is underway, finally. And the promise is blinding in a way that nobody has to worry about falling off a cliff anytime soon.

 

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Mark Appel’s Fresh Start with Phillies Could Help Former No. 1 Pick Thrive

December 12, 2015 by Anthony Witrado  
Filed under Fan News

The news was stunning, unexpected but completely understandable.

The Houston Astros completed their trade with the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire closer Ken Giles, a flamethrower with huge upside and under club control for the next five seasons. The trade happened Wednesday but was not made official until Saturday afternoon.

And when all the participants were announced, they were accompanied by a bombshell of sorts.

Mark Appel, the Astros’ No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft, was included as part of the impressive package going to the Phillies. Appel was once a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, depending on the publication, and was at one time viewed as a potential front-end starter and ace after a stellar career at Stanford.

However, professional baseball has not gone according to plan for Appel or the Astros. So to nab Giles and revamp its bullpen, Houston moved its former elite prospect, providing Appel a fresh start with a new organization.

“I think about the times that I’ve gone through. It hasn’t always been easy going through the minors, but I feel like I’ve learned so many lessons being in the Astros' organization,” Appel told Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I’m so thankful for the front office giving me the opportunity in drafting me.”

Larry Brown of LBSports tweeted: "Astros trading 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel for Ken Giles is clear admission they screwed up draft. Who went 2nd that year? NL ROY Kris Bryant."

The Astros had a chance to draft Appel in 2012 when he came out of Stanford as a junior, but there were issues regarding his bonus expectations as the No. 1 draft prospect. So in a surprise move, the Astros went for signability rather than the guy who was major league ready, and it ended up being an excellent decision.

They took shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick. Appel fell to No. 8 and ended up back at Stanford for his senior year before the Astros, again holding the top pick, took him first overall in 2013.

Correa is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, and Appel, who grew up in and around Houston, is now with the Phillies in part because he has not lived up to expectations in the minors.

In 253 innings, topping out at Triple-A Fresno, Appel had a 5.12 ERA and battled control issues, with 3.5 walks per game in 2015 to go with a modest 2.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Because of those numbers and trends, Appel went from can’t-miss prospect to potentially never making his mark in a major league rotation, with his 25th birthday looming in July.

Appel has not lived up to his expectations as a No. 1 pick, according to JJ Cooper of Baseball America.

"This is absolutely true." tweeted Ortiz in response.

"Some of the, not really bitterness, but some of the sadness is knowing that my Major League debut most likely won't be in Houston in front of my friends and family in my hometown,” Appel told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “Definitely my friends and family will still be there when that time comes, but it will be in a different city."

The Phillies and Appel are hoping the different city is the one of brotherly love. Philadelphia’s original package, as reported, was strong and included young major league arms Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer as well as outfield prospect Derek Fisher, who is No. 7 in Houston’s MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.

Saturday’s announcement included the pitchers, but not Fisher. Instead the Phillies landed Appel, who is now the organization’s No. 2 prospect, along with Velasquez, Oberholtzer and right-handers Harold Arauz and Thomas Eshelman. Those arms should go a long way in eventually re-establishing the Phillies’ staff as one of the better ones in the National League, even if not every prospect hits.

The haul is seen as a win for Philadelphia, which might not have much need for an elite closer, even one under team control, during its massive rebuild.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, "Phillies-Hou trade much different: Phils get Mark Appel with Velasquez, Eshelman & Arauz in Giles deal; like it much better for #Phillies now."

Appel could end up being the steal of this deal. While he is getting up in age for a prospect, he still pitched at nearly four years below the Triple-A weighted average age in 2015. That keeps him as a promising prospect.

Beyond that, Appel’s stuff continues to rate as elite. His fastball can still touch 98 mph, his slider is still a wipeout pitch and he still flashes the mastery of both. In fact, last season he went through a stretch where he was as impressive as he’s ever been as a pro. There were bumps near the end of his time with the Fresno Grizzlies, though he finished with three consecutive quality starts.

If Appel can turn the corner in a new setting with a new organization, he still profiles as the kind of arm that can help lead a rotation, if not carry it. The Phillies believe that. Now Appel just has to prove them right and become Houston’s regrettable trade.

 

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Mark Appel to Phillies: Latest Trade Details and Scouting Report

December 12, 2015 by Adam Wells  
Filed under Fan News

In a surprise twist to a deal that was reported earlier this week, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies pulled a sleight of hand with 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel going to the Phillies as part of the Ken Giles trade. 

The deal was made official on Saturday, with the Phillies' Twitter account confirming Appel as one of five players coming to the team. 

Appel has had a brutal stretch in the minors since Houston took him with the top pick two years ago. He owns a 5.12 ERA with 280 hits allowed, 221 strikeouts and 84 walks in 253 innings. The Astros did promote him to Triple-A last season, but his results continue to lag behind his stuff. 

MLB.com had Appel ranked as the No. 43 overall prospect coming into 2015, highlighting his power stuff while expressing confusion at why the results have never matched: 

Appel's first half struggles in 2014 were difficult to explain, as his stuff never regressed. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, routinely reaching 98 mph. His changeup and slider give him a pair of above-average secondary pitches.

Appel has a good understanding of pitching and controls his whole arsenal effectively. His all-around package still gives him the chance to become a frontline starter in the big leagues.

ESPN's Jayson Stark did note that people within baseball no longer see Appel as a future star, making it easier for the Astros to deal him, but this is a clear buy-low situation for the Phillies: 

The Astros failed to unlock what Appel showed at Stanford and convert it to success in professional baseball.

The Phillies can give the right-hander a low-pressure spotlight because they are rebuilding, let him re-establish himself in the minors early next year before giving him a shot in the big leagues next June. 

Appel is not far removed from being the top player taken in a draft that also included Kris Bryant. He may never live up to that billing, yet the 24-year-old has the kind of arm and stuff that every team can dream about. 

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Brett Oberholtzer, More to Phillies: Trade Details, Scouting Report

December 9, 2015 by Joe Pantorno  
Filed under Fan News

In a deal that sent over closer Ken Giles to the Houston Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired pitchers Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, a minor leaguer who is reportedly outfielder Derek Fisher and a fourth player on Wednesday, pending physicals, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki

The Phillies took advantage of the Astros' need for bullpen help to address their starting-pitcher predicament.   

Last season, Philadelphia starting pitching allowed an average of 4.99 runs per game, ranked 27th in the major leagues and won a league-worst 38 games. While Oberholtzer and Velasquez might not yield positive results immediately, Zolecki noted that acquiring two starters who could one day string together 300-400 innings combined for a late-inning pitcher who will only pitch between 60-80 innings per season seems like a favorable trade-off. 

Oberholtzer started more games than Velasquez last season, going 2-2 in eight starts with a 4.46 ERA. Velasquez saw his time split in the rotation and bullpen, appearing in 19 games and posting a 4.37 ERA.

Per Zolecki, Velasquez was the fourth-ranked prospect in the Astros' farm system and 69th among all prospects around the league. In nine appearances in Double-A ball in 2015, the 23-year-old dominated, going 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA. 

A right-hander, Velasquez has a lively fastball that can reach upward of 96 mph with the ability to tail away from left-handed hitters. He pairs that with a solid changeup and breaking stuff that can really move when he's on his game. 

He showed just what he's capable of in his major league debut against the Chicago White Sox, per MLB:

At 26 years old, Oberholtzer has had some trouble sticking with the big club in Houston over the first three years of his career. He went 7-4 in 12 starts in Triple-A in 2015 with a 3.86 ERA while splitting time in the majors. 

He's probably best remembered during his stint with the Astros for throwing at Alex Rodriguez during a game in June. 

The lefty doesn't have overpowering stuff. His fastball won't go much higher than 90 mph, but he has some off-speed pitches that could baffle opposing hitters. 

According to Brooks Baseball, Oberholtzer has a changeup, slider and curve that are all within four miles per hour of each other. With a nearly identical release for all of those pitches, it's difficult for batters to recognize which pitch is coming at them.    

You can see his arsenal in work here, per MLB:

Ideally, these two could become a solid duo placed in the middle of the Phillies' rotation as the team looks to be in the process of building itself a nice young rotation that could be led by 22-year-old Aaron Nola, who went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA. 

The third player in the deal, Fisher, spent 2015 playing A-ball, where he hit .275 with 22 home runs and 87 RBI. 

At 22 years old, he still has plenty of work to do on his game both offensively and defensively. His arm is average, which would be an invitation for aggressive runners to take advantage of if he does one day patrol the outfield and Citizens Bank Ballpark. 

His swing, while nice, is a bit long, and he needs to work on making contact at the plate. If he can't put the ball in play, promotions to the upper levels of the Phillies organization will be few and far between. 

Moore Baseball takes a look at some of his swings during his time in A-ball this year:

It's a solid haul for the Phillies, who are gaining a pair of arms that could make an immediate impact along with a bat they could possibly mold into a productive outfielder. After a 63-99 2015 season, though, almost anything looks better than what they previously had.

 

Stats courtesy of FanGraphsMiLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.

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Peter Bourjos to Phillies: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

December 2, 2015 by Adam Wells  
Filed under Fan News

Needing depth for their rebuilding roster in 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies claimed outfielder Peter Bourjos off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday. 

Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reported the move. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com added the Phillies avoided arbitration with Bourjos by signing him to a one-year contract.    

Bourjos was originally drafted and developed by the Los Angeles Angels, making his MLB debut in 2010. He became an everyday player in 2011, appearing in 147 games and hitting .271/.327/.438 with 49 extra-base hits and playing stellar defense with 12 runs saved, per FanGraphs, in center field. 

Since that breakout season, however, Bourjos has never been able to hit at the same level. Injuries hampered him along the way, as the Illinois native appeared in 156 games from 2012-13 and needed wrist surgery in September 2013. 

The Angels dealt Bourjos to St. Louis prior to the 2014 season. His offensive struggles continued and limited him to 236 games during that stretch. He posted OPS totals below .650 in each of his two years with the Cardinals. 

Going to Philadelphia is a perfect scenario for the 28-year-old Bourjos. The team will not be competing for a playoff spot this year as the front office continues to build through the minors, so he can play without fear of being demoted and work on showing his bat will play in the big leagues. 

In an ideal scenario for both Bourjos and the Phillies, he will rebuild his value early enough in the year to convince a team it should trade for him at the deadline if it needs help in the outfield. He's a strong glove in center, so his bat doesn't need to be great to provide value. 

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