As manager Pete Mackanin has just announced that Jeremy Hellickson will indeed make his second consecutive opening day start, I think he’s made the wrong decision. Even though Hellickson had the most wins, started the opening day last year, and led the rotation the majority of the year a change would benefit not only the team this season but in years to come too.
So why not Jeremy Hellickson? The answer is simple. Both the Phillies and the fans know that this upcoming season will likely not be the one where they rally and rise back to October. With blue chip prospects in the system such as J.P. Crawford and Mickey Moniak the future is only going to get brighter. So why would the opening day job be handed over to a player who is likely to exit the organization in the next year or so? Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff have all showed flashes of brilliance in their Phillies tenure and one of them should be given the nod.
Aaron Nola has an electric delivery, there’s no way to sugar coat it. The movement on his curve ball can make batters look absolutely fooled. At just 23 years old he has only pitched in 33 games, but the potential is still evidently there. Before he imploded dealing with his elbow issues last season Nola commanded the strike zone and controlled his pitches excellently, forcing lots of ground balls out of his hitters. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning last season, Nola is a strikeout machine who will only continue to fool batters throughout his career.
In his first season with Philadelphia Vince Velasquez proved he is another pitcher with an electric delivery like Nola, but needs to focus on his command. However, Velasquez lasted past the sixth inning only three times last season, and his 4.02 pitches per batter was near the bottom of the league. Still, Velasquez posted an impressive 10.44 strikeouts per nine innings and in five of his starts he didn’t allow an earned run before he was replaced. If Velasquez can control his walk rate and extend his innings per start, he should easily become a top of the line starter.
The prize of the trade return for Cole Hamels, Jerad Eickhoff hasn’t been as spectacular as Nola or Velasquez but has been much more consistent. With a full season’s workload, Eickhoff only gave up five or more earned runs three times and actually led the team in not only ERA, but innings pitched and quality starts as well. Coming into where pitchers begin to hit their prime at the age of 26, it’ll be exciting to see him pitch this upcoming season.
The bottom line is all three of these pitchers are entering their third season in the MLB and are still very raw. Giving the opening day nod will give one of these three pitchers will give them experience and confidence they can continue to build upon throughout their careers, benefiting the Phillies much more than having a pitcher destined to leave before 2019 having the starting nod.
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