Say what you will about former GM Ruben Amaro Jr., but the turnaround of the Phillies minor league system started under his watch. The biggest move was when he orchestrated a deal to send Cole Hamels to the Rangers for a boat load of players who aren't just prospects, but legitimate prospects. Amaro's replacement, GM Matt Klentak has taken over where the Hamels trade and the resurgence of the minor league system were left off when Amaro's contract was't renewed. Klentak's big move, so far, has been sending closer Ken Giles to the Houston Astros for five players, including some quality young arms.
Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer appear ready to help the Phillies right out of the gate in 2016. Oberholtzer, a left-hander, will likely fit into the rotation, especially since he's out of options and the Phillies don't have a lot of other options for a lefty in the rotation. Last spring, Oberholtzer was sidelined with a lat strain and then missed considerable time with a blister on his left hand. On June 27 of last season, Oberholtzer allowed a first inning grand slam against the Yankees and a second inning home run to Chris Young, putting the Astros down 6-0. After Young's home run, Oberholtzer threw inside on Alex Rodriguez and was ejected by home plate umpire Rob Drake. While Oberholtzer maintained that he wasn't throwing at Rodriguez, the Astros weren't happy with him and optioned him to Triple-A Fresno after the game. Oberholtzer returned to make on start with the Astros in July and was again optioned out and didn't return to the majors again last season, even though he pitched well at Fresno, finishing with a 7-4 record and a 3.86 ERA.
The truth is, that the Phillies could use a pitcher with a bit of a mean streak in him. Many times, Phillies pitchers were maligned for not pitching inside and allowing hitters to get too comfortable in the box last season.
Velasquez is an interesting addition. He's basically got just two quality pitches - a fastball and slider - that he uses to get hitters out. On the upside, he throws in the mid-90s. Without a third quality pitch though, it's tough to keep hitters from sitting on the fastball. When facing hitters for the third time in a game, opponents hit a combined .321 against Velasquez last season, his first in the majors.
If the 23-year old right-hander doesn't pick up a third weapon and nobody from the assembled mass of reclamation projects that the Phillies have assembled to find a closer from claims the closer's role convincingly, Velasquez could find himself working into being a closer at some point. Of course, Velasquez had a 5.09 ERA last season as a reliever in 12 games, so there would be some work to be done to convert him to the bullpen as well.
While it's likely that Oberholtzer will make the club out of spring training, Velasquez could be the odd man out because of a numbers game. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton seem like locks to make up what should be an improved Phillies rotation. That leaves the likes of Velasquez, Oberholtzer, David Buchanan, Alec Asher and Adam Morgan to fight for the fifth spot in the rotation. Morgan, like Oberholtzer is a left-hander, but has two options remaining and would likely benefit from more work at Lehigh Valley.
It's possible that another arm acquired in the Giles trade, righty Mark Appel, could also see time in Philadelphia this summer. Appel, who was the first overall pick in the 2013 Draft, hasn't reached the majors yet, but continues to inch closer. At just 24, there is time for Appel to rediscover the groove that made him good enough to be the top pick in the draft in 2013 and the change of scenery may be just the thing to provide him with a jump start.
The forgotten members of the trade, Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz, are much further away from having any impact on the Phillies big league club. Eshelman will open the year no higher than Clearwater and could start at Low-A Lakewood, while Arauz will probably go through extended camp and join Williamsport when their season opens in June.
The deal with Houston seems destined to work out well for both clubs. With plenty of young pitching, the Astros had some arms to spare, but were in need of help at the back end of their bullpen and Ken Giles fit the bill. Not only can he close, but he's young and under team control through the 2021 season. He isn't even eligible for arbitration until after the 2018 season, so he's going to remain easy to afford as well. The Phillies were in the opposite position, in need of young arms and having a closer be somewhat of a luxury for a team that isn't likely to contend for another season or two.