Meet the New Phillies Prospects
Last week, just ahead of the July 31st Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Phillies made some moves to shore up their farm system. The big haul, of course, came in exchange for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, but trades sending Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere to Washington and Toronto, respectively, also added potentially useful pieces to the Phillies minor league system.
That’s good and all, especially when the fifth-place Phillies are rebuilding for the future, but prospects are just that: prospects. They are full of potential, but the overwhelming majority don’t end up in All-Star Games, if they even make it to the show.
We know who the Phillies are getting — catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitcher Jake Thompson, and outfielder Nick Willams are the major pieces from the Hamels deal. Now the question is, what are the Phillies getting? Where will these players fit into the Phillies’ bigger plans, and how limitless, or limited, is their potential?
Here, we break down what the major baseball scouting outlets are saying about each fresh face on the Phillies Pharm.
Jake Thompson, 21 yrs. old, RHP, ETA: 2015
The skinny: MLBPipeline, MLB’s prospect tracking network, sees Thompson, part of the Rangers haul, as a guy who can make a difference very quickly. He slots as the Phillies’ third-best prospect, behind J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola, who has already proven himself valuable in just a few starts with the Phillies.
Thompson has a 90-93 mph average fastball — which he can dial up to 95 — but his best pitch is considered to be his slider, which he can toss at 87 mph as what MLB Pipeline calls a “wipeout pitch” — and he adds a curveball and changeup to his repertoire.
Baseball America (BA) goes further in calling the slider a “plus” pitch with “flashes of plus-plus.” In normal-people talk, that means the slider has the potential to be extremely effective, especially against righthanded batters. BA calls Thompson a No. 3 starter who could flash No. 2 material on occasion.
The Baseball Prospectus Futures Guide (BP) gives Thompson credit for having a two-seam fastball with “arm-side action” in the 89-92 mph range. He can also pitch to both sides of the plate, and is said to be comfortable and is unafraid to aggressively work inside batters. He projects to be able to handle a major league starter’s workload without issue.
However, BP says he “lacks a consistent weapon against lefties” and that he can tend to drop his arm on his slider, leaving the pitch hanging. He also has inconsistent timing and command, and can rely too heavily on his slider, BP writes, adding that Thompson has immense potential, but will need to “more frequently and effectively tap into his changeup” to reach his ceiling.
Stats: In 87.2 innings pitched at AA Frisco, Thompson was 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA, 78 strikeouts, 94 hits allowed and a WHIP rate of 1.41. He is ranked 60th in MLBPipeline’s list of the top 100 prospects.
Projection: Thompson’s best-case scenario is as the Phillies future No. 2 pitcher behind Nola, but the scouting sources are saying he projects mostly as a steady mid-rotation presence.
Nick Williams, 21 yrs. old, OF, ETA: 2016
The skinny: MLBPipeline has the left-handed Williams ranked as the Phillies’ 4th-best prospect, saying the lefty was the most consistent of a bunch of highly touted outfielders in the Rangers system, where he’s played in AA so far this season. Pipeline likes his “lightning-fast” hands and raw strength, but notes he has had some issues with swinging at too many pitches, though he has improved there as well.
Baseball America says Williams is the “key prize” in the trade for the Phillies. He is deemed “high-risk” because of his propensity to swing freely and not recognize pitches well, though he has always produced well. However, he has upped his walk rate by 3 percent and knocked down his strikeout rate by almost 10 percent in AA. As for fielding, Baseball America gives Williams above-average speed ratings and an average arm.
Baseball Prospectus praises Williams for his quick bat speed, good plate coverage, compact swing and ability to use the entire field. He is also working on his baserunning and could be a solid threat on the basepaths, BP writes. However, he has issues with his instincts for the game, especially when in the field, BP says. Williams is seen as “overly aggressive at the plate” according to BP, and his “speed plays down due to reads/jumps.” He is viewed as a below-average fielder with a mediocre arm and a less-than-developed approach at the plate.
Stats: In 97 games with Frisco, Williams batted .299 with 113 hits, 13 homers and 45 RBIs, but also has 77 strikeouts. He is ranked 64th in MLBPipeline’s top 100.
Projection: BP gives Williams a nod for his hitting, saying he possesses a rare combination of potentially very good contact and equally good power. With fielding and running likely not his fortes, Williams’ best-case scenario looks to be as a corner outfielder, a strong hitter in the top third of the lineup, and someone who can on occasion steal bases.
Jorge Alfaro, 22 yrs. old, C, ETA: 2016/2017
The skinny: MLBPipeline has Alfaro, the third big piece of the Rangers deal, ranked as the Phillies 5th-best prospect, saying he has the best raw power and arm strength among all minor league catchers (he’s ranked No. 2 on that list) and that he has the ability to hit homers anywhere, though his raw power is all he really has. He’ll need to work on plate discipline if he hopes to become a true force at the plate, they add. If he figures himself out, they say, he can be a consistent 20-plus home run guy.
Baseball America gives Alfaro about the same outlook. He has very good power, they say, and “uncanny athleticism” for a catcher, meaning he can run well too. He still swings and misses on too many pitches, but if he can improve his approach, he could be an everyday hitter. However, while he has great arm strength, he has allowed a lot of passed balls and does not nab base-stealers at a particularly high rate. He allowed 23 passed balls in just 90 games last season.
The Baseball Prospectus loves Alfaro’s “big, strong athleticism” and “elite arm strength.” He is credited as “slowly refining as a receiver and technical defender.” His raw, brute power could be a true in-game weapon, BP says. However, his overall defense is still below average and he can “give away strikes” on the corners of the strike zone. BP also dislikes his aggressiveness and tendency to swing and miss, especially because he can come to expect only fastballs.
Stats: In 49 games with AA Frisco, Alfaro hit .253 with 48 hits, 5 home runs, 15 doubles, 21 RBIs and 61 strikeouts. He is ranked 69th in MLBPipeline’s top 100 prospects.
Projection: MLBPipeline says that though he has tried other positions, “it’s too soon to give up on the idea that he can become an All-Star catcher.” BP says he can “blossom into power/on-base bat capable of holding down a spot in the middle of a major-league order.” Alfaro looks like he could eventually become a strong 4-5-6 guy in the Phillies lineup. He is currently on the disabled list with an ankle injury and may not play again this year.
Nick Pivetta, 22 yrs. old, RHP, ETA: 2017
The skinny: Pivetta is the Phillies’ return in the Jonathan Papelbon deal. MLBPipeline likes Pivetta’s “prototypical starter’s build.” They note that he’s still very young and very raw, saying that there’s still some projection left for him. He has a low-90s fastball that he can reach back and zip at 96 mph on occasion, and his curveball and changeup could in time become good pitches. He’s still learning to repeat his mechanics consistently, Pipeline says.
Baseball America has Pivetta pegged as raw but developing. They like his build at 6-foot-5 and “long, loose arm action” that “produces easy velocity.” He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a curveball that can be brilliant and breaks from 11 to 5 on a clock, as well as a developing changeup. However, in just three starts at AA Harrisburg as part of the Nationals’ farm system, Pivetta has not done well.
Stats: In 11 games with Nationals A-level Potomac, Pivetta earned a solid 7-4 record with a 2.29 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 89.1 innings pitched. In three games in AA, including one with Phillies affiliate Reading, he’s gotten destroyed by batters, allowing 14 walks, 25 hits and 5 home runs versus just 8 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. He’s ranked 13th in the Phillies’ top 30 prospects by MLBPipeline.
Projection: Both MLBPipeline and Baseball America can’t accurately predict what Pivetta’s ceiling is yet, as he’s just too raw and far from the majors to get a sense of how he might contribute. Pipeline believes he has the potential to become a major league-caliber starter given some time. His struggles at AA suggest he might need some more fine-tuning with the Phillies’ A-ball team in Clearwater.
Jerad Eickhoff, 25 yrs. old, RHP, ETA: 2016
The skinny: MLBPipeline says Eickhoff has a sturdy build and has added velocity in his time in the minors. He reached the AAA level with Texas before being traded to the Phillies, and in 2014 led the Texas League with 144 strikeouts. Eickhoff has the speediest fastball of the Phillies’ starting pitcher prospects we’ve seen so far, with a fastball in the 91-95 mph range; Eickhoff can also fire it at 97 on occasion, Pipeline says. Pipeline also likes his “hard curveball” and slider. The only issues Pipeline sees in Eickhoff at the moment lie in his changeup and command.
Baseball America loves Eickhoff’s “big, strong frame,” which they say helps him repeat mechanics and throw a lot of strikes. He has the “stuff to miss bats,” BA says, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a sometimes flashy curveball.
Stats: In 18 games with Rangers AAA affiliate Round Rock, Eickhoff earned a 9-4 record but got roughed up a bit with a 4.25 ERA. In 101.2 innings pitched, he struck out 93 batters and allowed 95 hits and 33 walks. Eickhoff is 14th in the Phillies top 30, per Pipeline.
Projection: Pipeline thinks that if Eickhoff can improve his command and changeup as a fourth pitch, he could turn out to be a solid No. 3 guy. If that doesn’t pan out, Pipeline says, he could be a “strong late-inning reliever” who produces more power on his pitches in shorter stints. BA thinks Eickhoff could get a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation piece for the Phillies as soon as this season, when rosters expand to 40 players in September.
Alberto Tirado, 20 yrs. old, RHP, ETA: 2017
The skinny: The more promising of the pitchers (the other being AA middle reliever Jimmy Cordero, who’s been said to hit 102 on the radar gun) the Phillies got in return for Ben Revere. MLBPipeline is intrigued by Tirado’s ability to throw nasty pitches, but says he struggles with command. He has a low- to mid-90s fastball that can reach 98 mph on the radar gun, but his promising slider and changeup are inconsistent, Pipeline says. He has “never thrown many strikes as a professional,” Pipeline writes.
Baseball America likes his “electric arm,” but acknowledges strike-throwing issues as well. The Blue Jays moved him to the bullpen last year and he is enjoying success, lowering his walk rate and hitting 100 on the gun, BA says.
Baseball Prospectus praises Tirado’s “loose arm, easy release,” and “clean arm action.” He also has a “strong feel for his changeup” and a “deceptive release.” BP says he shows what could become “plus” material in the future. However, his grade is lowered by what BP says are inconsistent mechanics, with a varying release point that leads to poor follow-through and command. His pitches can fall flat at times, and he needs to gain strength, BP says, to improve his overall skill set.
Stats: This season at the Blue Jays advanced-A team as a reliever, Tirado posted a 4-3 record with a 3.23 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 35 walks in 61.1 innings pitched. He ranks 15th in the Phillies top 30, per Pipeline.
Projection: Pipeline thinks Tirado’s “wildness and smaller frame” make him a better reliever than starter. As mentioned above, BA says that he improved in a relief role, and BP likes his pitch arsenal as “rounding out as plus to better.” He handles himself maturely, BP says, and projects to “polish the rough edges” in the future, making him a potentially viable late reliever in the Phillies bullpen.
Alec Asher, 23 yrs. old, RHP, ETA: 2016
The skinny: MLBPipeline views Asher as a pitcher who was dragged down by injury — a bone chip in his elbow during high school, to be exact — but has mid-rotation potential. He’d reached Triple-A ball in the Rangers system this year before coming to the Phillies for Hamels, Pipeline says. On his best days, Asher can throw his fastball 96 mph and complement it with a hard slider, though in 2014, Pipeline writes, his velocity fell off a bit and his fastball traveled 89-93 mph on average. He also has a changeup and curveball.
Baseball America likes Asher’s ability to pitch efficiently in the strike zone, due to what they call “advanced control.” He doesn’t have “one true plus, swing-and-miss pitch” though, and his off-speed pitches — a slider and changeup — are inconsistent, BA says. Pitching “with little margin for error,” Asher has seen his ERA climb the past two years in the minors, BA mentions.
Stats: Though Asher began the season with AA Frisco, he was soon promoted to AAA Round Rock, where he posted a 4.73 ERA in 12 games, with 54 strikeouts, 71 hits allowed and 19 walks in 64.2 innings pitched. Since coming to the Phillies, he has a 6.00 ERA in one game for AAA Lehigh Valley, with three strikeouts and nine hits allowed in six innings pitched.
Projection: Because Asher doesn’t have a true whiff pitch, BA views him as a pitcher who could potentially make and stick around in the back end of a major league rotation, but his potential seems rather limited. Pipeline sees him as a guy who could eat innings, giving a bullpen less work to do, but is more optimistic than BA in calling him a mid-rotation starter.
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