Last of a three-part series reviewing the Phillies' 2018 minor-league system.
Pitching was the Phillies' greatest strength during the 2018 season and that was also true in the minor leagues. While the Phillies now have a scarcity of high-level prospects among their position players, they are loaded with quality pitching prospects from top to bottom.
"I would say that is the case," said Bryan Minniti, the Phillies' assistant general manager in charge of player development as well as amateur and international scouting. "Our Lakewood starters and relievers were fantastic all year. Our drafts the last couple years combined with our Latin signings have really made us strong in the pitching department. Development is a volume game and we have good volume."
A National League scout who watched the Phillies' system from low-A Lakewood through the big-league level this season agreed.
"I would say that they're in the upper third echelon in the minor leagues," the scout said. "A lot of that is based on how well [international scouting director] Sal Agostinelli has done at finding arms from Latin America and [amateur scouting director] Johnny Almaraz has done a good job of projecting high school pitchers. Everybody wants the kid who can throw 97 in high school, but you end up with someone like Will Stewart in the 20th round when you project him doing that after a few years."
Here's a look at some of the best pitchers in the system, with comments from Minniti and several major-league scouts.
1. Sixto Sanchez: The 20-year-old Dominican native is the most prized prospect in the organization because he has triple-digit velocity and a command of the strike zone at such a young age. What he did not have in 2018 was good health. He made just eight starts before being shut down in early June with elbow inflammation and he never returned. He was ticketed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but that idea was nixed after he suffered a collarbone injury during the instructional league in Clearwater, Fla.
Minniti: "He throws 100 with command. I don't think we have too many other guys who are quite that high-profile, but we do have a lot of good ones."
Scout's view: "I did not get a chance to see him before he was hurt, but he is a guy you hope stays healthy because he is a special arm. Whenever I've seen him pitch he has been competitive and had a real feel for pitching, which is rare when you are that young and have that kind of stuff."
2. Adonis Medina: The 21-year-old right-hander was a name heard quite often when the Phillies were in trade talks with Baltimore for shortstop Manny Machado. Medina (10-4 with a 4.12 ERA) had his ups and downs at high-A Clearwater, but he finished strong by posting a 1.97 ERA while striking out 32 in 32 innings over his final five starts.
Scout's view: "I'm not as in love with him as much as some others in our industry, but he's going to be a big-leaguer. He could be better as a bullpen guy than as a starter."
3. Spencer Howard: The 6-foot-3 right-hander was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2017 and he showed overpowering stuff in his first full professional season. His primary pitches are a low- to mid-90s fastball and a power slider. Howard, 22, came on strong in the second half of the season, posting a 7-1 record with a 1.84 ERA in his final 13 starts, including a postseason no-hitter for Lakewood. He struck out 96 and allowed just 47 hits in his final 73 1/3 innings.
Scout's view: "It's a power arm and he's a really aggressive and competitive kid. The key components for an outstanding pitcher are there."
Another scout's view: "Great stuff. I have him right up there with Sixto Sanchez in that regard."
>> PART ONE OF THE SERIES: Luis Garcia, 17-year-old shortstop, is Phillies' most exciting infield prospect
4. JoJo Romero: The 22-year-old lefty had a rocky start at Reading, going 0-4 with a 6.38 ERA in his first seven outings. But he rebounded to post a 7-2 record and 2.44 ERA in his final 11 starts. A fourth-round pick in 2016, he has a huge upside and an array of pitches that impress scouts.
Scout's view: "I didn't think he was as good as I've seen him in the past, but I could see him fast-tracking to the big leagues as a bullpen guy."
Another scout's view: "I really like him a lot. He is very, very athletic. I probably saw his best outing of the year, against Trenton. He threw 108 pitches and the last one of the night was 96 mph."
5. Enyel De Los Santos: The Phillies acquired the 6-foot-3 right-hander from San Diego for shortstop Freddy Galvis, and the 22-year-old Dominican native had his best professional season while also pitching in seven big-league games. In five big-league relief appearances, he had a 2.16 ERA, and that role could represent his future.
Scout's view: "It was very interesting seeing him come out of the bullpen. I think he could be a force as a two-pitch guy like Hector Neris if he can improve his breaking ball."
Another scout's view: "I like him and I think he could end up in the bullpen."
6. Will Stewart: The 6-2 lefty was taken in the 20th round out of an Alabama high school in 2015 and had a breakout season with Lakewood, going 8-1 with a 2.30 ERA. He allowed just 90 hits, walked 21 and struck out 90 in 113 2/3 innings. His 0.98 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) was second-best in the South Atlantic League.
Scout's view: "He has a power sinker that makes hitters either swing and miss or beat it into the ground. I compare him to Romero."
Another scout's view: "I saw him pitch one of the better games I saw all year. He's really fluid and has almost a Chris Sale-like arm. I saw him get up to 95 and he was absolutely dominant. He has a breaking ball and changeup that are the makings of good secondary pitches. He's one of the best 20th-round picks you'll ever see."
7. Cole Irvin: The 2016 fifth-round pick out of Oregon had a sensational season at Lehigh Valley, going 14-4 with a league-low 2.57 ERA. The 24-year-old lefty also had a league-low 1.05 WHIP. The Phillies did not have to protect him on the 40-man roster, which probably kept him from getting to the big leagues in 2018.
Minniti: "He was probably the most reliable pitcher we had from end to end. He really had a nice year. In other years, he might have been right in the middle of the big-league rotation. He has earned a shot to make the team next year and we expect him to be in the big leagues soon."
Scout's view: "He has a really good feel for pitching and he's a good competitor. One thing that scares me is he had a decline in velocity from last year and it was pretty significant. I saw him early in 2017 touching 94 and he barely touched 90 this year. But he has a good mix of pitches and great command."
8. Ranger Suarez: The 23-year-old lefty from Venezuela overcame a slow start at Reading to put together another outstanding season that also included three starts and four appearances with the Phillies. He was a combined 6-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 21 starts at Reading and Lehigh Valley.
Scout's view: "I'm not a huge Ranger fan. I think he's a back-end starter or a long reliever. He does have pretty good stuff and I like him as a competitor. I think he's rated high by a lot of guys because he has touched 96 mph from the left side."
>> PART TWO OF THE SERIES: Mickey Moniak back on Phillies' prospect radar after strong second half with Clearwater
9. David Parkinson: Based on stuff, the Phillies' 12th-round pick in 2017 does not compare to a lot of other prospects on the list. But his ability to pitch allowed him to win the Paul Owens Award as the best pitcher in the organization in 2018. He went a combined 11-1 at Lakewood and Clearwater and his 1.45 ERA was the lowest in organized baseball.
Minniti: "He had an unbelievable year. He's a big, physical lefty with quality stuff."
Scout's view: "He's another guy I'm not in love with as much as some others. To be fair, I might not have seen him at his best, but nothing he did jumped out at me."
Another scout's view: "We will find out a lot about him when he pitches at double A next season, but what he did this year was very impressive."
10. Ramon Rosso: The Phillies picked up the 22-year-old right-hander after he was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization two years ago, and Rosso has made the most of his second chance. He was a combined 11-3 with a 2.04 ERA at Lakewood and Clearwater and struck out 139 in 123 1/3 innings.
Minniti: "The Paul Owens Award could have just as easily gone to Ramon."
Scout's view: "I think he could end up in the bullpen."
Another scout's view: "He has a good feel for pitching, but right now his stuff is kind of average."
Worth watching: Connor Seabold, a 22-year-old right-hander, had a combined 4.28 ERA at Clearwater and Reading but struck out 132 and allowed only 112 hits in 130 1/3 innings; Francisco Morales, an 18-year-old Venezuelan, struggled at Williamsport; A year after winning the Paul Owens award as the organization's top minor-league pitcher, Tom Eshelman had a disastrous season at Lehigh Valley; Kyle Young, a 6-foot-10 lefty, had another strong season; Bailey Falter, a fifth-round pick in 2015, had a terrific season with Clearwater.
Baseball has never put more emphasis on the relief pitcher and the Phillies have their share of good bullpen arms in the minors. Here are the top five.
1. Zach Warren: The Phillies drafted the former St. Augustine Prep star in the 14th round last year after he had a disappointing junior year at the University of Tennessee. The 6-5 lefty found his niche out of the bullpen with Lakewood this season, going 3-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 15 saves in 39 games. He registered 100 strikeouts while allowing 33 hits and 28 walks.
Scout's view: "He was awesome. He has a breaking ball that hitters could not hit."
Another scout's view: "He is definitely improving and a future bullpen piece."
2. Kyle Dohy: A 16th-round pick in 2017, the 22-year-old left-hander opened the year in Lakewood and finished in Reading. He had a combined 2.54 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. He walked 42 but allowed only 34 hits.
Scout's view: "Another lefty they have that could be an effective bullpen piece."
Another scout's view: "Swing-and-miss stuff."
3. Addison Russ: A 19th-round pick in 2017, the 23-year-old right-hander converted 27 save chances and posted a combined 1.96 ERA at Lakewood and Clearwater. He struck out 79 in 64 1/3 innings and had a 0.92 WHIP.
Minniti: "Another late-round pick for us with a great arm."
Scout's view: "He's an interesting kid. He has really good arm strength and is very aggressive. A lot of the time young kids don't have a closer swagger, but he really had it."
Another scout's view: "Another guy with major-league stuff."
4. Connor Brogdon: A 10th-round pick in 2017, he was also part of Lakewood's dominating bullpen, posting a 2.47 ERA while striking out 79 and walking just 16 in 69 1/3 innings.
Minniti: "I don't want to say I'm surprised we had so many late-round picks do so well. Our scouts did a good job of identifying what we're looking for and our development guys did a good job with them. We're hopeful on all of them."
Scout's view: "I think the others were a little ahead of him, but he was impressive, too."
5. Mauricio Llovera: The 23-year-old right-hander pitched almost entirely as a starter with Clearwater and had an impressive season, going 8-7 with a 3.72 ERA. Many scouts see him as a power bullpen arm.
Scout's view: "He is next year's version of Seranthony Dominguez."