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Phillies Frank's Monday Mailbag: What will the Phillies starting rotation look like?

It's Monday and that means it is time for the Philliedelphia Monday Mailbag.  Each week we respond to a few of your questions and on Tuesday we talk about it on 97.3 ESPN Atlantic City on "The Sports Bash" with Mike Gill.   This week's first question look at the Phillies starting rotation ended up being rather long-winded, so that will be our point of discussion this week.

What are your predictions for the Opening Day starting rotation?
~Eric

The Phillies have plent1y of starting pitching options as of right now.   While Matt Harrison is likely on the shelf for all of 2016, the potential starting staff for the Phillies is mostly healthy.   Here is a look at the likely candidates for the starting rotation and where I think they will end up.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
Hellickson has one year until he is a free agent and the Phillies will give Hellickson every opportunity to start.  The incentive for the Phillies is to make Hellickson into an attractive trade candidate to flip by the August 1 trade deadline.  Hellickson looked like a very promising young starter in the early part of his career, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2011, and picking up a gold glove en route to a 10-11, 3.10 ERA 2012 season.  Since then, Hellickson has dealt with some injury and has not matched those numbers.

Rotation status to open 2016: Lock

Charlie Morton, RHP
The Pittsburgh Pirates have seen a great amount of success the last few years, but they still lack financial resources in some areas.    So a pitcher like Morton, who will earn $9 million in 2016, is out of their budget.  Morton has basically been a 0 WAR pitcher throughout his career who has about a .500 record most years and an earned run average in the 3s or the 4s.   What the Phillies are looking for from Morton is stability.  Morton probably will not have frequent high-run, low-inning outings like happened to may of last year's staff.   Morton is not being paid to be in the bullpen and has one relief outing his entire career.

Rotation status to open 2016: Pretty much a lock

Aaron Nola, RHP
This one is easy.  Of course Nola will make the Phillies starting rotation.  The only question at the  moment is whether or not Nola will start Opening Day.

Rotation status to open 2016: Lock

Jerad Eickhoff, RHP
Eickhoff suffered a broken thumb, but he is fully expected to be ready for the start of 2016.  Eickhoff had a successful short run of starts in 2015 and the Phillies are eager to see more.

Rotation status to open 2016: : Lock, if thumb is healthy

Vincent Velasquez, RHP
As Grapefruit League competitive action beings, Velasquez is probably the leading candidate for the fifth starter's job. Velasquez was the centerpiece of the Ken Giles trade and he himself says that he wants to start.  At the time of the trade, some felt that Velasquez would make a very effective relief pitcher.  However, Giles was a steep price and the Phillies will try to to maximize his value to the team by having him start in camp.  If Velasquez struggles, he could find himself in the bullpen.

Rotation status to open 2016: more likely than not.

Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
Naming the above five starters, not a single one is left-handed.   That could bode well for Oberholtzer, who would be the Phillies' only left-handed starter if he edges out Velasquez.   But Oberholtzer is not the only left-handed candidate for the Phillies starting rotation.   Spring Training may unleash a big competition.  The Phillies also need left-handed options in the bullpen, so Oberholtzer may find himself there.

Rotation status to open 2016: Right now not a favorite, but could become one

Adam Morgan, LHP
Morgan was called up last season in the middle of starting rotation chaos, in a move that seemed to indicate lack of Major League resources more than the sign of maturity for Morgan.  But Morgan pitched admirably, going 5-7 with a 4.48 earned run average.    With the only left-handed bullpen pitchers on the 40-man roster being Elvis Araujo ,who could use more seasoning in the minors, and Mario Hollands, still recovering from Tommy John Surgery, the Phillies may consider Morgan for the bullpen.

Rotation status to open 2016: Iffy

David Buchanan, RHP
Increasingly in baseball, people accept that a won-loss record does not always tell a pitcher's story.  But Buchanan's 2-9 record with a 6.99 earned run average is usually enough to set off an alarm.   Buchanan struggled so mightily in 2015 that the Phillies had to send him to the minors.   The effects of Buchanan's early-inning troubles trickled down to the bullpen.  The Phillies may look to outright Buchanan to AAA at some point when they need 40-man roster spots for non-roster invitees.  He may go unclaimed.

Rotation status to open 2016: Doubtful

Alec Asher, LHP
Asher was rushed to the Major Leagues in the wake of his acquisition from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade.  It was almost unfair to Asher, who even after a demotion to the bullpen ended up starting the "bullpen" game and never made a relief appearance.   After an 0-6 record with a 9.31 earned run average, Asher probably will get some time at AAA Lehigh Valley to get more seasoning before the Major Leagues.

Rotation status to open 2016: Unlikely

Severino Gonzalez, RHP
Gonzalez was another pitcher rushed to the big leagues out of desperation in 2015.  After some struggles - Gonzalez had a 7.92 earned run average - the Phillies kept Gonzalez on their roster over the likes of Jesse Biddle.

Rotation status to open 2016: Unlikely

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