With Charlie Morton out for the season, which starters move up a level to fill starting jobs in the Phillies organization?

When Charlie Morton went down with a hamstring injury in Milwaukee, at least in the minds of the Phillies brass, the shuffling of players was already underway. Who goes where as dominoes fall in the wake of losing a veteran starter for the season?

The perfect world scenario for the Phillies with Charlie Morton this season was that he would pitch well early in the season and then wind up being a valuable trade chip come deadline time and would add even more prospects to the Phillies system. Worst case scenario was that he would get hurt early and their young starters would have to push up a level to fill holes. Guess which happened.

First, is a deal for a veteran pitcher possible? Technically, yes, but why? First, there aren't teams exactly shopping veteran pitchers at this point in the season and the Phillies don't want to give up a young player or two for the chance that they would be able to get a young player or two in return come deadline time. Plus, it's not like they have to rush someone to the majors to fill Morton's spot, so a trade is far from likely.

First up seems to be Adam Morgan. The 26-year old lefty was the last starter cut in Spring Training in a battle for the fifth starter's spot, so it's not like they haven't considered him before. He's already pitched in the majors, and prior to the season, manager Pete Mackanin spoke glowingly about Morgan and how the Phillies knew that he would be a valuable major league pitcher, but they needed to see Vincent Velasquez to open the season.

Mark Appel (3-0, 1.62) and Zach Eflin (2-0, 2.70) could be in the discussion, but Morgan was so close to making the roster in the Spring, that he seems to be the obvious choice. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to add a left-hander to an all right-handed rotation in Philadelphia. David Buchanan (0-1, 4.58) and Jake Thompson (1-3, 6.16) just haven't pitched well enough to be in the discussion.

That's the easy part.

With the expected exit of Morgan, who was scratched from his scheduled start for Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, who moves from Reading to Lehigh Valley? Reinier Roibal has made three spot starts for the IronPigs because of double-headers, but hasn't pitched well as a starter (0-0, 8.68), so he's not going to step into the rotation. 

Alec Asher opening the season at Reading was a big of a surprise. After all, Asher did pitch in the majors for Philadelphia last September, albeit in a struggling fashion, and figured to be at Triple-A to open the year. Instead, he was sent to Reading and although he wasn't happy with being at Double-A, he's a smart kid who knows the best way of reaching Lehigh Valley is simply to pitch well, which he has done. In four starts, Asher has a 3.20 ERA and a 1-2 record. He's walked just four batters in 25 1/3 innings of work, while striking out 16 and has a 1.35 WHIP on the season.

Coming off an Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honor could help Ben Lively (2-0, 1.50) get the call to join Lehigh Valley. Currently, Lively has a 16-inning shutout streak going and has pitched at least six innings in three of his four starts for the Fightins. If Asher's walk numbers are good, Lively's are great; two walks in 24 innings, with 27 strikeouts. Anthony Vasquez spent last season with Lehigh Valley and has pitched well for Reading in his three starts, going 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA, throwing 20 2/3 innings with three walks and 12 strikeouts. While he's got Triple-A experience, Asher and Lively are considered better prospects and likely ahead of Vasquez in the promotion charts. 

Ricardo Pinto (0-1, 5.48) and Nick Pivetta (1-1, 4.12) simply won't garner any thought for a promotion.

Just about any one of Clearwater's six starters - yes, six starters - could be considered worthy of a promotion. Right now, Matt Imhof is likely low man on the totem pole, with a 2-1 record and 3.97 ERA. The biggest concern is that he leads the staff in walks - by far - with 16 in 22 2/3 innings of work. Next closest pitcher in walks is Tom Eshelman, who has walked six in 25 innings. Eshelman (1-1, 1.80) could get some consideration, since he has pitched near flawless baseball early in the season. One drawback is that Eshelman is in his first season in High-A ball and the Phillies might want him to get a little more work in there before heading for Double-A.

Next up would be Ranfi Casimiro (3-0, 1.69) who has also shown strong control - four walks in 16 innings - and has struck out 20 batters on the year. Opponents are batting just .214 against him and his WHIP stands at an even 1.00 through his three starts. Will Morris (1-1, 3.07) has started three games, throwing 14 2/3 innings for Clearwater. Morris, who turns 23 on Monday, pitched just two games for the Threshers last season and one for Reading, so he's a little under experienced to make the jump to Reading. 

Tyler Viza (3-0, 1.04) and Elniery Garcia (2-0, 0.47) may be the most impressive among the Clearwater starters this season. Viza currently has a 0.92 WHIP thanks to just 14 hits and two walks in 17 1/3 innings, while Garcia has a WHIP of 0.68, having allowed nine hits and four walks in 19 innings of work. Opponents are hitting .201 against Viza and .141 against Garcia this season. Like Eshelman, Casimiro and Morris, Viza and Garcia are in their first go-around with a High-A team, although Viza did pitch each of the last two seasons with Lakewood, having made 47 starts for the BlueClaws, giving him a little more experience.

The edge - and it's a slight one - probably goes to Garcia, with definite consideration also given to Eshelman. Both are 21, so there's no age advantage, but when in doubt, promote the lefty.

So, who moves up from Lakewood? The pitching staff at Lakewood hasn't been as strong as at the other levels. The name Shane Watson (1-1, 2.63) seems to jump out, if only because he's healthy and pitching well. The 22-year old has already pitched 28 games with the 'Claws in his career and the challenge of Clearwater might do him some good. Luke Leftwich (0-1, 3.75) could get a look, and it would be very telling about how the Phillies feel about him if he is the one to move up. The 21-year old righty was just drafted last June, so a move to Clearwater might be a little quick, but not out of the question.

It's also well known that the Phillies love Harold Arauz (1-2, 3.94), who came over in the Ken Giles trade with Houston. Arauz is a month short of his 21st birthday and is in his first foray above Low-A level, so again, it would be very telling if he were the one to get the move.

Keep in mind, that with the Threshers having six starters, technically, nobody would have to move up from Lakewood. With Watson's previous injury concerns, they might not want to adjust his pitching schedule too much, so maybe everybody just stays put at Lakewood. As for who would move from extended camp to Lakewood, it's anybody's guess, since nobody really knows how guys are throwing. 


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