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August 02, 2016

No trades, but how about big league promotions for top prospects?

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022616_Williams-Crawford_Phillies Ryan Lawrence/PhillyVoice

Nick Williams, chatting with fellow top prospect J.P. Crawford during batting practice.

In Seattle, the Red Sox were awaiting the arrival of their top prospect Andrew Benintendi (selected three picks before Cornelius Randolph) for their Tuesday night game against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Infielder Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the same draft, joined the Houston Astros lineup last week.

The Milwaukee Brewers unloaded their catcher and two important pieces of their bullpen before the deadline and then called up their own top prospect, shortstop Orlando Arcia, for their game in San Diego on Tuesday night.

So what’s up with the Phillies? No trades before Monday’s deadline and no prospects on arrival with the start of August either?

Right-hander Jake Thompson (who wold have replaced Jeremy Hellickson had he been traded), outfielder Nick Williams, and shortstop J.P. Crawford, arguably the team’s top three prospects, all suited up in IronPigs uniforms at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown on Tuesday afternoon. The trio may or may not arrive before Sept. 1, when rosters expand.

A day after standing pat at the deadline, first-year general manager Matt Klentak was asked about the importance of seeing some of his top prospects at the big league level before the end of the 2016 season.

“I think it’s important that when players are ready to come up here that they come up here and do well,” Klentak said on Tuesday, when the Phillies returned following a lengthy three-city road trip to host the San Francisco Giants. “When those players have proven their development at the Triple-A level is complete, we will be glad to make room for them here and get them the reps they need at the big league level. But I also think it’s important that we do it right, that the development is complete.”

As we noted last week, development isn’t limited to a prospect’s statistics. And it should be fair to point out that two of the three teams listed above (Astros, Red Sox) are contending teams that could stand to benefit immediately with the addition of new talent onto their roster.

The Phillies can afford to be patient as guys like Thompson, Williams, and Crawford continue to get reps at Triple-A. When you look at the big picture, an extra week or three in the big leagues in 2016 isn’t likely to have much effect on their overall development or their readiness for 2017.

Now, seeing them in September could be a different story. Maikel Franco appeared to have benefited from his own September call-up two years ago, more from a mental standpoint than a statistical one, making him a bit more comfortable when he arrived on a full-time basis the following spring.

“Those guys in Triple-A right now are playing and they’re (in contention),” Klentak said of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who entered Tuesday tied with Scranton for the best record in the International League (67-42). “They’re trying to make the playoffs and playing meaningful baseball at the Triple-A level, playing important games. I don’t care what level it is – that’s an important developmental step. Right now we’re happy with where those guys are, we’re happy with the way that they’re playing and we’ll see them here soon enough. I’m sure of that.”

On Monday, Klentak did say he expected that at least one of his prospects will arrive to Citizens Bank Park within the next two months. 

If you read the tea leaves, though, it sounds like if Crawford or Williams arrive in 2016, it might not be until after the IronPigs season is over. That could change, however, with an injury on the big league roster or if either prospect goes on a tear in the next week or two.

Six Man Staff?

Scott Boras kept his client Jeremy Hellickson in the loop on Monday. But when 4 p.m. arrived, Hellickson wasn’t aware if he had been traded or not.

Hellickson didn’t stay glued to his phone or tuned into MLB Network. He marathoned the Netflix series “Stranger Things” on trade deadline day, also an off day on the Phillies schedule.

“I don’t want to say it’s tough, but it’s not really something you want to go through,” Hellickson said of the trade deadline. “I’m happy it’s over and happy I’m still here.”

Hellickson could also return next year, now that the Phillies face the reality of likely tendering him a qualifying offer as a free agent this winter. For the next two months, the veteran Hellickson will continue to lead a youthful staff that could still see some change in the next two months.

Every starter other than Hellickson is in their first full season in the big leagues and the front office and coaching staff will likely monitor their respective workloads down the stretch. Could adding Thompson and going to a six-man rotation be a route to cutting back on everyone’s innings?

“It's a possibility,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We haven't really discussed it.”

“We’re open-minded to anything,” Klentak said. “The health of our pitchers and making sure we do the right thing developmentally for our young pitchers is definitely important. If at some point we felt a six-man rotation made sense we would consider it. If we felt like skipping a start for a certain pitcher made sense, as we’ve done, we’d consider that and similarly if we feel that shutting a pitcher down before the end of the regular season makes sense, we’ll consider that too.”

Ken Giles, Closer

Nearly a year after he took over for Jonathan Papelbon as the Phillies closer, Ken Giles is a big league closer again.

Houston manager A.J. Hitch announced before Tuesday’s game that the former Phillies reliever would take over the ninth inning role for the Astros, who entered the day 5 1/2 games behind Texas in the American League West and 2 1/2 games behind Toronto (who they were hosting on Tuesday) and Boston for a wild card spot. Giles started the year off slowly but has a 2.20 ERA and a .207 opponents batting average since May 1.

Since the beginning of July, Giles hasn’t allowed a run and has struck out 21 of the 36 batters he’s faced.

Klentak’s first big move on the job was dealing Giles to the Astros for five pitchers, including Vince Velasquez and former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel in December, less than two months after he was hired. The Phils GM may have started a trend of teams shipping proven relievers in trades to help re-stock their farm systems.

The San Francisco Giants, who arrived in town Tuesday, were one of the teams that added bullpen help in acquiring veteran left-hander Will Smith. It cost them their top prospect (right-hander Phil Bickford) and catcher Andrew Susac.

“I think the industry is shifting, they’re paying a lot for elite bullpen arms,” Klentak said. “We learned that a little bit last offseason ourselves and I think that’s been reinforced through some of the trades this year and it makes sense. Dominant bullpen guys in the back end of the game give you a better chance to win. It makes sense.”

Given that trend, maybe the Phillies should have traded reliever Hector Neris, whose strikeout rate ranked among the top 10 in baseball among relief pitchers heading into the weekend.

The Phillies did make one move with their bullpen prior to Tuesday's game: struggling reliever Andrew Bailey was designated for assignment and replaced on the roster with Luis Garcia.

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