Despite a shortened-season taking some polish away from the eventual World Series champion, the Phillies are entering the 2020 season with heightened anticipation and expectations. Say what you want about the club, but with the fifth best odds to win the NL it’s clear this team is being viewed as a potential contender for the first time in about ten years.
While there’s much ado to be made about the bats populating the lineup (a surefire strength for this team) and our starting rotation (loaded with potential), the bullpen is universally agreed upon as the area that will prevent the Phillies from competing in 2020.
While the group of names currently expected to man the pen when the season starts isn’t too inspiring, it’s important to realize that the organization is loaded with arms at the minor league level who are ready or near-ready to take on big roles out of a big league bullpen. Here are the five names who I think are most likely to be called up to the pen over the course of the summer:
Jones has been a starter for most of his minor league career but his two-pitch fastball-curve offering could play in a big league pen right now. The fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s and his long frame (6’5”) and deceptive delivery allows it to play up a little. Pair that with a true wipeout curveball and it’s clear why Jones could be a power lefty out of the pen by the end of the season.
In the long run if his slider and change continue to develop he has real starter potential, but it’s hard to ignore how far ahead the other two pitches are. The Phillies are loaded with arms to start for them, and will likely be scrambling to fortify their bullpen over the course of the year—expect Jones to be one of the first reinforcements to be called up.
Brogdon has been a career reliever in the minors since being the odd-man out of the rotation back in Lakewood in 2018. All that he’s done since is dominate out of the pen at every level—moving from Clearwater (A+) to Lehigh Valley (AAA) through the course of 2019, and striking out 35.8% of batters in the process.
At 6’6” he pairs a mid-90s fastball with a circle changeup that is one of the best put-away pitches in the entire organization. Minor league relievers are never the top prospects, but Brogdon is one of a few who have panned out in such a role for the Phillies. He’s already made a few appearances in summer camp where he’s looked excellent—check out this sequence against Nick Williams:
Russ is similar to Brogdon in that he’s been a career minor league reliever who’s excelled at each level and is approaching MLB-ready. His calling card out of the pen is his splitter, which generally disappears at the bottom of the zone leaving hitters baffled. 49 minor league saves over two seasons is proof of his consistency despite a lack of overwhelming stuff and more than one plus-pitch.
He’s made a handful of appearances this summer and unlike Brogdon he hasn’t been quite as sharp, but that runs in contrast to his stellar performance earlier this spring where he allowed just one run over six appearances. Russ is a guy who the organization would love to see add something more to his arsenal (tight breaking ball, more velocity), but as long as he’s able to locate his fastball his splitter is ready to play out of the pen right now.
Enyel De Los Santos
De Los Santos is lumped in with Cole Irvin as a player who’s reputation as a prospect has taken a hit after a bad first impression in the big leagues, but at one point in time he was one of the organizations top pitching prospects (and still is). He profiles a little better out of the bullpen, which is where he’ll find himself when he eventually gets called up.
His fastball plays up to mid to high-90s with solid action, and he found a decent slider to pair it with when he was moved to the pen last year. In the past his changeup has flashed as a plus-pitch, and if he’s able to consistently throw all three of those pitches he could quickly turn into one of the top arms in the entire bullpen.
Rosso had a dominant 2018 in Lakewood and Clearwater, and held his own in Reading last season before struggling with Lehigh Valley. His fastball isn’t overpowering, but there’s a thought that given his size (6’4” 240) his stuff will “play up” coming out of the bullpen more than most, though that’s more wishful thinking than fact. Rosso flashed a tight slider in Spring Training that he wants to pair with a changeup that’s considered above average. If he continues to throw all three of his pitches as well as he did earlier this spring then he’ll be hard to keep off the big league staff.