The Phillies had a bit of shuffling in the middle of their rotation this offseason. Each of Zach Eflin, Noah Syndergaard and Kyle Gibson went elsewhere in free agency. Philadelphia partially backfilled the starting staff by bringing Taijuan Walker aboard, but they focused the rest of their offseason attention on installing Trea Turner atop the lineup and stockpiling bullpen help.
Philadelphia has one of baseball’s best one-two punch atop the rotation in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Walker steps into the third or fourth role, pairing with southpaw Ranger Suárez in the middle. Losing Eflin and Gibson thins out the depth at the back end, leaving the Phils to rely on someone without much starting experience at the big league level in the #5 role.
Turning to those possibilities:
Some MLB Rotation Work
Falter, a 25-year-old lefty, made 16 starts out of 20 outings for the Phils last year. That came on the heels of a rookie campaign in which he was used almost exclusively out of the bullpen and posted a 5.61 ERA. Falter had a better run prevention mark last season, allowing just 3.86 earned runs per nine innings. Falter struck out a roughly average 21.2% of opponents and kept his walks to a sparkling 4.9% clip last season. His ground-ball percentage dropped from 36.1% as a rookie to 31.7%, though, and he surrendered home runs at a higher than average rate (1.71 per nine innings).
The former fifth-round pick has shown excellent control throughout his time in the minor leagues. He missed bats on a decent 11% of his MLB offerings last season. His strikeout and walk profile fits fine at the back of a contending rotation, though his fly-ball oriented approach could give him trouble in a very hitter-friendly home park. Falter doesn’t throw hard and gives up a fair amount of hard contact. That’s been a particular issue with right-handed hitters, who have a .266/.313/.486 line against him in his MLB career.
Sánchez, 26, only has four big league starts to his name. He’s come out of the bullpen 18 times at the MLB level and has logged 52 2/3 innings over the last two seasons. He owns a 5.47 ERA with worse than average strikeout and walk marks (20.3% and 10.2%, respectively). On the plus side, he’s racked up grounders on a massive 56.4% of batted balls.
The 6’1″ hurler has spent the bulk of the last two years starting games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He struggled with walks en route to a 4.68 ERA there in 2021 but had a much more productive showing last season. Over 57 1/3 innings spanning 15 appearances, the Dominican-born southpaw posted a 3.14 ERA with a 24.4% strikeout percentage, 8.4% walk rate and eye-opening 62% grounder percentage. While Sánchez hasn’t had much MLB success to date, he’s in the back of the rotation and/or long relief mix thanks to his quality Triple-A showing.
Arguably the top pitching prospect in the game, Painter ranks among the sport’s top 15 minor league talents at Baseball America, ESPN and The Athletic. Armed with an upper-90s fastball, the 6’7″ righty also draws praise from evaluators for a pair of impressive breaking pitches in his slider and curveball. His changeup is viewed as a little behind the rest of his power arsenal but a promising fourth pitch in its own right.
The 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft out of a Florida high school, he traversed three minor league levels last season. In a year split between Low-A, High-A and Double-A, he threw 103 2/3 innings of 1.56 ERA ball, striking out a laughable 38.7% of opponents with just a 6.2% walk rate.
It’s hard to draw up a better first full pro season. Still, Painter won’t turn 20 until April, and he has just five late-season starts in Double-A and zero experience at the top minor league level. Carrying him on the MLB roster from day one would be a risk, though president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said on a few occasions this offseason that it’s not out of the question (link via Andy Jasner of Sports Illustrated).
Abel was Philadelphia’s first-round selection the year before Painter. Also a high school righty, he’s likewise developed into one of the sport’s more talented young arms. Abel split last season between High-A and Double-A, also making just five starts at the latter level. He combined for a 3.90 ERA across 108 1/3 frames with a 27.6% strikeout rate but a 10.6% walk percentage. He’s a consensus top-100 talent but below Painter in the prospect hierarchy, with a little less velocity and a greater need to refine his control. Abel’s a very good prospect and could potentially put himself in the MLB mix midseason, but right now it doesn’t seem like he’ll get immediate consideration for an Opening Day rotation role. Of course, a standout spring performance could potentially change that.
McGarry, a Virginia product, was a fifth-round draftee in 2021. As a college player, he’s older than Painter and Abel. He spent most of the 2022 season as a starter at High-A and Double-A as well but got eight late-season relief outings at Lehigh Valley. McGarry combined for 87 1/3 innings of 3.71 ERA ball in his first full professional season. He punched out an enormous 35.7% of opponents but walked batters at a 14.6% clip. McGarry has had high-octane stuff but inconsistent control dating back to his time in college. He’s a well-regarded prospect in his own right and looks like a great find for the Phils in the fifth round, though he’d need a dramatic improvement in his strike-throwing to factor into the MLB rotation this year. A midseason bullpen debut might be more likely.
Minor League Depth
Acquired in a minor league trade that sent catcher Austin Wynns to the Giants last summer, Plassmeyer cracked the 40-man roster in August. He’d been hit hard in Triple-A with San Francisco but seemed to turn the corner in the Philadelphia organization. Over 16 starts for Lehigh Valley, the former fourth-round draftee posted a 2.41 ERA across 82 innings. He had some strand rate and BABIP help but also struck out 24.8% of opponents against a 7% walk rate. That’s enough to get Plassmeyer on the MLB radar, but he’d struggled significantly with walks and home runs on the road to a 7.38 ERA over 11 appearances with the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate prior to the trade.
McArthur made 13 starts for Double-A Reading last season before suffering a stress reaction in his throwing elbow. He struck out a quarter of opponents at that level but issued walks at a higher than average 10% clip. Over 57 innings, he managed a 5.05 ERA in a hitter-friendly home environment. McArthur’s 26 and has still yet to reach Triple-A. That he’s still holding a 40-man roster spot suggests the Phils still like his upside, though he’d presumably need to earn an MLB look with a strong showing in Lehigh Valley and might fit better in the bullpen regardless.
The Phillies figure to bring a few more arms to camp as non-roster Spring Training invitees. Philadelphia added Kyle Hart on a minor league deal this afternoon, while Hans Crouse remains in the organization after clearing outright waivers last November. It’s possible the front office looks for another starter with some MLB experience who’s willing to accept an NRI.
Unless the Phils surprisingly add Michael Wacha or pivot to the trade market, however, it’s unlikely anyone they bring in at this point would get an immediate MLB rotation job. The organization looks prepared to put a lot of faith in their highly-touted prospects, especially Painter. Whether that’ll be the case from day one is to be determined, with Falter and Sánchez in position to vie for key roles if the Phils determine more minor league time is necessary for their vaunted young arms.